Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Shanghai - Day 14 - Expo Site

The Last visit to the 'The Arse End of the World'

sunny 27 °C
Since the waiting lines in the Expo to pavilions we want to visit were so long, thought we would start later in the day. From our last visit, we saw that the queues are much shorter after 7pm. The best strategy would be to take photos outsides the pavilions in he late afternoon, had dinner, and then queue up for one of our short-listed must-visit pavilions like China (host country), Japan (Expo expert), Saudi Arabia (being the most expensive pavilion to build), and Denmark (with her iconic Little Mermaid coming on all the way in a ship, not below it).

We each had our fave activity in the Expo: mine was photography, and Atta was collecting stamps for her passport from different pavilions. By 5 to 6pm, most of the small pavilions would have short queues with waiting times under 10 mins. So we were able to divide and conquer as many as 8 pavilions in less than an hour as she zipped in and out of pavilions for stamps, while I snapped photos away like there was no tomorrow. Well, I won't be coming back tomorrow.

I noticed about the curious placing of DPRK and Iran pavilions that cosied up together. As far as I can see, pavilions are placed according (roughly) to their actual geography. So Japan's is placed next to ROK's; and HK's sits right next to Macao's and China's; the Scandinavia's are all cuddled up in the same area; and Australia's quite appropriately locates between Asian and European Zones. It's understandable that DPRK is separated away from ROK to avoid any potential diplomatic awkwardness (we don't need a line of soldiers patrol along the shared border of their pavilions). But putting DPRK next to Iran is somewhat interesting. Geographically and culturally, they're nowhere near one another, but they share the same political hot potato - being the two 'rogue states' that develop nuclear weapon capability under the protest of the big boys. You can say they are brothers-in-nuclear-arms. One might argue that Iran is nuclear aspirant, not a state with full fledged nuclear power facility. Not yet. Another commonality is that both of these countries are political thorns on the USA's side. Their 'holy' mission is driving US up the wall (Not the Berlin Wall, which had crumbled to bits and pieces now sitting in some museums and homes of curio collectors. Not The Great Wall, which now is invaded by hordes of foreigners, arming with cameras up to the hilts, shooting everything in sight. But there's always a wall for US to go up).

I decided to actually visit these two pavilions. This is as close to going to these countries - especially DPRK - as I can ever hope. DPRK can't really afford financially to build a pavilion (it's quite small and Spartan), but can't afford not to politically. PRC is just about the only important ally/comrade/big bro that DPRK has left. I did feel sad wondering around this pavilion, but not as much as I feel for her people. It's impossible to remain unmoved. Iran, on the other hand, is quite spacious with air-cons going full blast, thanks to its abundant oil wells.

Speaking of placement of pavilion, what about Taiwan Pavilion? Quite unimaginable 20 years also (but then the same can be said about the Shanghai Expo or the Fall of Berlin Wall 20 years ago. What a different world we lived in). Unlike HK or Macao Pavilions, which cozied up right next to the China Pavilion. The Taiwan Pavilion is some distance from China or HK and Macao Pavilion, but still in plain sight of them. This Taiwan Pavilion position describes the relationship between Taiwan and PRC nicely. It's not very remote, but there's some distance between them. In the last 10 years, there's a gradual thawing of tensions across the Taiwan Strait. This melting accelerated in the last 3-5 years by the increasing warming of relationship, which culminated in the signing of ECFA pact (which post dates this post on 29-6-2010).

Another pavilion I should mention to some of my mates in Sydney is my visit to the Vietnam Pavilion. In contrast to the queue that matches the length of the Great Wall outside Japan Pavilion, the Vietnam Pavilion right next door has no queue this time of the day. That suits me dandy. I went in to check it out. A musical performance was in preparation, and I haven't seen most of these traditional Vietnamese instruments. Shame on me, I know. And when they started to play, its fast and furious tempo knocked my socks off (not that I was wearing any). It was so absolutely unexpected, and quite an eye - I mean - ear opener. In the (first) 16 years of growing up in Vietnam, I heard nothing but slow traditional Vietnamese music that sung by a heart broken old lady on a single stringed instrument (didn't know the name. Shame, shame, shame. I know). In fact, I didn't even know such tempo can exist in Vietnamese folk music. The slow, melancholic music that I heard in all those years was probably the requiem to mourn a country that had been ripped apart from limb to limb by the Vietnam war. And the lady always represents Vietnam, and the map of Vietnam shapes like her too, wearing the Vietnamese conical straw-hat. Now they're celebrating a new prosperity with the happy tempo music. Short memory is a blessing in this case.

You can also see that Vietnam Pavilion is a more presentable than DPRK's, which gives you an idea that they're much better off than DPRK. They share so many similarities, but the paths they're taking can't be more divergent. Both are commie countries that torn by the eponymous wars that share Chinese border and shaped the 2nd half of the 20th century world history; but one is stuck in a bygone era of poverty, absolute dictatorship, and hermit kingdom similar to China pre-1979 (before the Opening-Up and Reform), while the other tails China on this new blazing trail of rags to (relative) riches almost to a 'T'. Vietnam used to follow the Soviet model (so was China), and now Vietnam's switching to China model. Survival of the fittest ('fit' isn't so much 'strong', but 'suitable', 'adaptable'). Good on them.

We grabbed some Italian grubs at Bricco Café next to the Italian Pavilion. the pizza isn't bad, but the cappuccino tastes typically weak as in most places in China. They should take a tip from Portuguese pavilion. Look around, minority of the customers here are Chinese. Most of the Chinese here are speaking Cantonese (from HK). Pizza aren't catching on in China. The stiff prices may have barred some locals.

It was after 8:30pm and we looked around at the queues of our short-listed pavilions, and decided that we just gave up on the idea of going there. We grabbed what we can, and entered any pavilion that didn't have a (long) queue. We visited a few European pavilions including Denmark to see the Little Mermaid and even the rocks she sits on were shipped here all the way from Copenhagen. We also visited Holland, which was a playful pavilion, not taking itself too seriously.

Although the official closing time for the Expo is 11pm, but many pavilions knocked off work as early as 8-9pm. Some don't even bother to open for business on some days. Even the hard working Swiss stop taking people up onto their chairlifts at 10pm or so.

As we going to the metro station to finish for the day, we saw that the Aussie Pavilion that locates next to the station entrance was still open for visitors, and no queue. I went in for a looksee.

I did enjoy the Aussie Pavilion, probably because I was able to crack the cultural codes readily. Take the architecture of the Aussie Pavilion. The rusty red most likely represents the Red Centre. The wavy structure symbolises both the wavy formations in Ayres's Rock, as well as the corrugated irons of the roofs of Aussie sheds in the outback. The cartoon figure of the sheep shearer bears the likeness of ex-PM Bob Hawk. Sydney Harbour Bridge and a classroom of students were hung upside down on the ceiling as the school pupils look up (or is it down?) at us. It's a fun display even if some of the Chinese visitors wouldn't get the running gag about Australia being 'Down Under' or 'The Arse End of the World' as our ex-PM Paul Keating so delicately, and poetically put it. Well, this is very Aussie, nothing is too sacred or off limit. We poked fun at the politicians, and they poke fun at the country.

Fair dinkum (some linguist suggests this very fair dinkum Aussie slang has Chinese root. It said to have come from 頂金 in Cantonese. Most Chinese diaspora in the 19th and 20th century are coming from the southern provinces of Fujian, and Guangzhou where locals speak Cantonese. Only since 1979 would you meet Mandarin speaking Chinese 'migrants'. Chinese has a very interesting, and checkered history in Australia. In fact, it defines Australia in some ways.

The whole Aussie pavilion seems to aim at the kids, and so it's a good pavilion to bring your hubbie/wife and your 2.3 kid(s) along. From time to time, artists dress in various costumes roamed around the pavilion. In my last visit when I walked past, a spotty cow and a Aussie bloke with giant head and visibly bad dental works donned in corks-dangling hat entertaining kids around pavilion. Some Chinese youngsters got so cosy and excited with these cartoon characters that they rumbled them to the ground (the top heavy character is very unstable). The Aussie fun factor and laid-back attitude does show through in this pavilion, and suitably appeal to kids and kids at heart.

At the wall near the exit were names of companies who sponsored this pavilion (like the running credit at the end of a film). I spotted the usual suspects like BHP Biliton (The Big Australian), Rio Tinto (espionage scandal), and ANZ (whose ex-HSBC boss intends to expand ANZ into Asia, especially China in a big way). But much to my surprise, I couldn't find Fortescue. China made Andrew Forrest the richest man in Australia at the heyday of commodity boom of 2007 by buying up shiploads of iron ores from Fortescue where he's the CEO and major shareholder. Maybe we missed it, but our six eyes (Atta's 4, and my 2) made a point of combing the wall, and failed to find it.
'The Arse End of the World' Pavilion seems like a fitting end to our last pavilion visit to the Expo.

For people who want to visit the popular pavilions like China, Germany, and especially Japan, etc, either you prepare to spend hours of excruciating boredom queueing up or simply forget it. China Pavilion is one of the few permanent structure in the Expo. So if their exhibits remain after the Expo ends (I hope so), then I can visit it in some future Shanghai trip (Fraser is planning to open up shop in Suzhou this year).

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