Returning to the line at the security tent, waiting to enter the fair for a second day, we fell more comfortably into the routine. Our complexions and demeanors continued to attract attention, but we felt the calm of having been here before. We'd tossed our extraneous survival guide notes, we had our plastic folding chairs and cardboard fans. We knew the score. The heat - again, supposedly a lucky break for foreign visitors hoping to avoid the fair's famously protracted lines - inspired the crowd to bubble into tiny cones of community. Nearby, a guy flicked his fan to thump cool air toward an elderly woman. At the same time my own burden of heat lightened a bit when a neighbor lifted his umbrella high enough to cover us both. Whipping out my fan, I waved in broad strokes, making sure to send extra breeze his way. Now and again we would smile at each other in quick glances, advancing in broken waves to the entrance.
After passing through the security queue we took the metro to the Pudong side this time, alighting near the national pavilions. Checking our directions we fast-walked toward our goal: the UK Pavilion. I'm glad we did. The line had already stretched past the 20 minute mark when we arrived, and it quadrupled in size while we waited. We felt pretty good about our progress up until the very last moment when our section of line was set to enter the pavilion, only to be stopped near the door for a maddening delay of 20 minutes. We sat and stewed and then, without a hint of explanation, were finally admitted.
|Andy in front of UK Pavilion|
|Seed Cathedral Interior|
|Receiving henna tattoos at the Mauritania Exhibit|
|Shopping in the Africa "Gift Box"|
|Netherlands Pavilion seen from UK Pavilion queue|
|Stairway to Happy Street|
|Plastic sheep at the Netherlands Pavilion|
Inside Chile we explored a fascinating inquiry into urban life. A rolling view of suburban living is augmented by a disembodied voice that asks, "What is a city?" An upside-down apartment complex invites visitors to consider the koan, "If no one knows anyone… then why live in the same city?" Nearby, a chasm of video monitors creates a Blade Runner vibe. And toward the end of the show, a "Well of the Antipodes" presents viewers a chance to gaze downward onto a video display of life on the other side of the planet.
|Looking down the Well of the Antipodes|
|Buying trinkets at a souvenir shop|
|Expo 2010's "Axis of Evil"|
Adding to the friendly atmosphere, the exhibit displays Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a smiling pose, professing his love for humankind and his confidence that city life is living for each other, not just with each other. A scale model of a nuclear power plant showcases the country's peaceful application of atomic power, without the tiniest hint of weaponized potential. I joked with Jenny about being a CIA agent and that we were secretly gathering intelligence on Iran's nuke plans.
|Iran nuclear plant model|
|North Korea doesn't quite get the concept of subtlety|
I packed a spine-bending bag of souvenirs (anticipating a delightful conversation with a San Francisco customs official upon our return) and returned with Jenny outside, where the temperature had dropped to a mere 90 degrees Fahrenheit. We dropped by an information station, though by now we'd long gotten used to the pleasant green-shirted, English-speaking volunteer guides having no clue how to interpret our questions. Having had some luck with the bus getting to the Axis of Evil, we climbed aboard again, anticipating a quick ride to the area where the U.S. Pavilion is lumped.
|Haibao reminds bus-riders to be courteous|
|Famous expo theme buildings (and the Statue of Liberty)|
Our evening would conclude at the China Pavilion, that new symbol of the PRC's 21st-century might. But first, we trudged around the U.S. Building, with no intention of joining the two-hour line for a pavilion universally panned as a disappointment, before catching a bus heading toward that huge, red inverted pyramid. We got close enough, and I sat up the tripod and furiously composed the shot, the camera's power indicator blinking rapidly - and then off.
Frustrated, Jenny and I walked into a tiny mall of restaurants and shops, looking for a power outlet. Nothing, not a single place to power up. We thought about giving up until we stepped into a pleasantly titled Official Merchandise Store. That's where I spotted an outlet behind a display of Haibao dolls. Over the next 20 minutes, Jenny and I "looked at souvenirs," while the camera sucked some juice (how happy I was to have packed a converter this time!). We'd bought so many expo souvenirs over the past two days, I felt OK about the subterfuge.
Finally I got some decent photos and video of that bold, tacky, and gloriously confident China Pavilion. Getting inside was never an option, of course. Lines were said to stretch for hours and hours. You'd have to arrive at the gates earlier than five in the morning just to get a chance to run toward a reservation desk in hopes of snagging one of 30,000 tickets. Yeah, that would happen. No pavilion is worth the eight hours I'd read this one would take to enter. Eight hours!
|Last night at Expo 2010|
We snapped our last pictures, took a walk along the Expo Axis, and made our way to a bus promising a quick ride to a nearby metro station (the wait for the ride to start was interminable, but never mind). Walking under the arched bridge with its animated, blinking colors, our eyes were drawn forward to that city of 20,000,000 people that stretched beyond the fairgrounds. Amnesty International reports that 18,000 households were evicted to make room for the world's fair, but we see no signs of that strife tonight. We only see the towering ambition of a nation shoving the past aside for a glittering tomorrow.
Sometimes we are dubious, sometimes we are amused, and sometimes we are horrified. But always at the fair, always, we are amazed. That night back at the hotel I expect to hear a cacophony of voices in my ears; there's no way I can sleep after our adventures in China's glorious future! Still, I drift away immediately. We've toured ourselves to near-exhaustion in only three days - and our Asian adventures are only just getting started.
See More: Check out my 2010 Expo Video!