Travel Dispatch: Surviving the Shanghai World Expo 2010

Even before I got here, I knew it was going to be a shitshow. The most anticipated World Expo to date, Shanghai 2010 has been packing in a daily average of 45,000 spectators within its two-square-mile site (imagine the crowds), and with limited shuttles, there’s a lot of walking involved. Throw in the Shanghai summer humidity and constant rain throughout the day, and you’ve got a traveler who’s kind of over it before it really begins. So why go?

At the Expo, there are more than 100 pavilions divided into five zones, each pavilion representing a country that showcases their latest technology and culture. I never expected to actually make it inside any of the pavilions, as the lines are ludicrous. The most popular pavilion, China, had a wait time of eight hours; even smaller pavilions like Denmark and Germany, about four hours. It felt kind of like a perk-less theme park with regulations tougher than an airport security gate. You can’t bring in lip balm, lighters, water.

You go to admire the showy architecture of the pavilions, especially this year’s most talked about: Korea, Spain, Denmark, United Arab Emirates, Poland. Structurally, the exteriors can be commanding, some soaring into the sky, others capturing clever design aesthetics. Watching the queue’s are also a trip. Each pavilion’s officials cordon off spectators in grouped sections, herding them like cattle every seven to ten minutes closer to the entrance and further into the queue, which never seems to move. The die-hard spectators bring their own stools and ice buckets; overhead mist sprayers keep them moist. For those who can’t travel the world, the rewards inside the pavilions are actually worth the wait: Denmark’s iconic statue, The Little Mermaid, was lugged over from Scandinavia; Japan has awe-inspiring robots playing violins with highly-pressure sensitive fingers. Otherwise, guidebooks and the Travel Channel will do just fine. Getting home from the World Expo? That’s another story.

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