So I just arrived in Shanghai yesterday, and everything is going fine already. Of course, I left my dorm room late yesterday and my cab driver took me to the wrong terminal, but the Beijing Airport is easy even for a non-Chinese speaker and there is zero security so I ended up making my flight very easily. On the short 2 hour plane flight, I was sitting amidst a large British tour group who were delightful, but I swiftly fell asleep and didn’t talk to any of them.
In Shanghai, my cab driver showed me the lay of the land and took me to my hotel. To be quite honest, I was a little skeptical. I found this hotel on the Chinese version of Expedia called elong.com. Even though a really expensive hotel like the Ritz is only about 2000kuai per night (which is only about 320 dollars) and that’s like the price of an adequate hotel in NYC. So I chose one that was about 600 kuai per night or $80 and lo and behold, it was really nice. It’s in the fancy shopping district of Shanghai, called the Jing’an district And it’s wedged between the Ritz and Gucci. As the smallest of plugs, my hotel, the Golden Tulip something or another Suites Hotel, it’s clean and in a great location.
Yesterday night, me and my friends went to a famous restaurant called Xiao Yang’s Shengjianbao which specializes in Shengjianbao. I can hear people asking “What the heck is Shengjianbao?” so I’ll respond by saying it’s these fried balls that have pork and soup in the middle. Needless to say, they’re delicious.
This morning I braved the Shanghai 2010 World Expo. I always thought Expos were a kind of fictitious thing. You know how the Eiffel Tower or something could have been built for a World Expo in the 1800s? I didn’t think they still existed, but they do! And I went! Apparently, these expos are for every country to gather and give insight to their way of life to people and also to show off some new technology.
After a hectic subway ride, 30 minutes in security, and then another subway ride, I was in the middle of the World Expo.
Finland: The concept of Finland was to show a futuristic version of their capital city Helsinki. They did this through a combination of television screens (which I would soon find to be all to common) and various Finnish commonplace items. It was kind of cool, but ultimately just a giant Nokia ad. However, I got there early, the line was short, and it was definitely worth the 15 minute wait. The real story is when I exited the exhibit, I went to the Finland gift shop where I wanted to buy water, because China is really hot in the Summer. The only brand of water those crazy Finns had was “Ice Age Water.” This nonsense was apparently extracted from a glacier and was 8,000 years old. I paid an arm and a leg for this water bottle, and unbeknownst to my thirsty mouth, it wasn’t your average water. It’s not spring water! It’s not sparkling water! It’s naturally carbonated by time!!!! (re: tastes like bitter sewage). I had to throw away the whole thing, but only after having all of my friends taste the awful.
Denmark: One of my favorites. Denmark wanted to emphasize transportation. And to do so, all you had to do was wait in a small line and you got to ride a bike around their pavilion! In the line for the bikes, I had some awesome conversation with the Danish staff and I was soon biking around the exhibit. I couldn’t tell you much of what they had, but biking sure was fun!
Philippines: I think this was my favorite in concept. They had many stages around the pavilion and they would take turns using different Filipino instruments to give a different feel to the music. There were so many different fun and unique sounds that you could almost hear the nuance of the Filipino culture. However, they mostly sang American songs and one group even did “Happy Birthday”… disappointing.
Brunei: Small, yet trendy looking. Just a lot of Brunei related things. But really, Brunei is so small that it was just impressive they had that much thrown together. Fun fact: It’s pronounced Brew nye.
Spain: Fortunately, my friend Gavin’s Uncle’s friend from high school (can you say random?) was the person in charge of the line at the Spanish exhibit, so we got to cut the 1 hour plus wait! Inside the exhibit was divided into three sections: Past, Present, and Future. The Past was a TV screen that showed a lot of waves and things. So nature. The Present was actually cool. And was a room full of TV screens that had all sorts of modern conventions such as cell phones and solar panels, but also the mixed and broken and unique families we have today, an excellent observation by Spain. The future was just bizarre… it was a giant 15 foot baby with a 40 year old’s face and a lazy eye. I’m still scarred.
Indonesia: This was an absolutely massive undertaking. It was a giant zigzag of ramps that showed off the culture and the nature of Indonesia. I learned a little bit about their biodiversity, but overall, more TV screens, more tired feet. Nothing new. On the plus side: the signs in the line were hilariously translated.
Nigeria: This was the worst by far. The rude staff was somehow overshadowed by the fact that while trying to show off their country in a positive light, actually just had negative facts about famine and war in the pavilion. It was quite the downer when it was supposed to be an upper. And they wouldn’t stamp my passport!
Cuba: This approx. 50 square foot room didn’t have a line, so I went in just to say I did. It has a bar with lots of rum and Cuban cigars. Typical cuba.
Czech Republic: They had a concept going on, but I never quite got it. They had all these different cubed off areas to look at on the walls or the ceilings, and they had different installations. But none were connected in any coherent way. There was a cool kaleidoscope of the attractions of Prague and it looks like a gorgeous city. I hope to go someday!
Between lines and walking and walking and standing, we spent 6 or 7 hours at the Expo and actually enjoyed ourselves. I think that’s all of the countries I went to, but I plan on returning to go to the important countries like UK and Japan, but we’ll see! I then went to the train station to buy a ticket to Suzhou, a canal town near Shanghai. This train station is the first place I’ve been in all of China that does not have a word of English. It was almost refreshing to find a bastion of the country that still remained untouched by globalization. I thrived on the challenge of having to read the timetable and talk with the clerk on my own. Mission Accomplished! On my way back to the hotel, I stopped by a near by grocery store, only to find out that it was an entirely expat grocery store! The concept still astounds me. It’s all American brands, and all white people. There was only one Asian shopping in the entire grocery store. Everyone was speaking english and talking about peanut butter and soda. It felt almost eerie, especially in contrast with the train station!
This evening we went to a restaurant called Haijinzi Canting with my friend and her Aunt and Uncle. The Uncle went to good old University of Rochester for his undergraduate! The world is so small I can’t even take it. But the food was delicious and I called it an early night.