The 2010 World Expo brings the best from 192 countries together in one two-mile area of China's largest city
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Sep 26, 2010
SHANGHAI » I walked around the world in China and have the blisters to prove it.
You can, too, if you visit Expo 2010 in Shanghai by the end of next month, when the latest and largest version of the World's Fair is scheduled to close.
The Shanghai World Expo covers more than two miles on both sides of the Huangpu River in the center of the city. There are 192 countries represented, with China having the largest pavilion — a giant red pagoda — in the center of the grounds.
Here you can see a Japanese robot play the violin; view the Little Mermaid statue from Denmark; drink a Foster's at the Australian Pavilion; ride a chairlift in Switzerland; and even see a little of Hawaii at the USA Pavilion. (Hawaii spent about $450,000 to be part of the expo and promote tourism.)
China has spent a reported $58.6 billion to mount the expo and spruce up the city for what it hopes will be 70 million visitors, mostly domestic tourists. Corporations and countries are spending big, too, hoping to make an impression on the Chinese visitors.
Think of the expo as part Disneyland and part Chamber of Commerce information booth — with really, really long lines. It can take hours to get into the most popular pavilions, with the China pavilion having the longest waits.
IF YOU GO ...» Website: Take an online tour at the official Expo website, en.expo2010.cn.
» Tickets: Prices range from about $13 for an evening pass to $130 for a seven-day pass.
But walking the world requires a really comfortable pair of shoes ... and lots of time. Plan on spending all day and staying late into the night. Don't worry about food and drink; there are plenty of restaurants, serving food from all over the world. And there are beer gardens, too, serving beer from all over the world.
I entered from the Puxi side of the Huangpu River and took a ferry across the river to the country pavilions. Africa, Europe and South America are on the west side in Zone C.
The Hawaii exhibit is tucked away in a corner of the USA Pavilion, overshadowed somewhat by the New York Stock Exchange exhibit where visitors can take a picture pounding the gavel of the ultimate symbol of capitalism.
The USA Pavilion has been criticized for its understated message that one person can make a difference, rather than overtly promoting the United States. It features a multimedia show — including a rainstorm with mists of rain — of a little girl who persuades her neighbors to create a garden. But the Chinese in the audience seemed to enjoy it — even after braving lines of two to three hours.
There are long lines to go inside the United Kingdom Pavilion, an imaginative building made of 60,000 acrylic rods that sway with the wind and light up at night. Even if you don't go inside, the structure is amazing from the outside.
If you want to see the front of the Little Mermaid statue, you also have to stand in line for the popular Denmark Pavilion. But the back of the statue can be seen from the street.
Southeast Asia didn't have long lines, and the Indonesia Pavilion, made of bamboo, is worth seeing. Malaysia and the Philippines also feature entertainment at their sites.
There also weren't any lines at what's been dubbed "Axis of Evil Square," where North Korea, Iran and Burma have pavilions. You can buy a rug at the two-story Iran pavilion. The North Korea and Burma pavilions are sparse, with a few souvenirs and trinkets for sale. I picked up some postcards from Pyongyang, since at least for the near future, it is unlikely I'll ever visit the North Korean capital in person.
After dinner wander over to the riverfront near the Expo Culture Center at night to watch the dancing water fountains and light show.
To really see the Expo requires planning and time — at least three days to brave the lines to visit all of the most popular exhibits.
But Shanghai — China's financial capital and one of the world's great cities — lies just outside the World Expo gates. With its restaurants, night life, culture and history, Shanghai is an attraction in itself and, given a limited amount of time to visit, more enticing than spending a second day seeing the rest of the world.