Once upon a time, the World's Fair (or World Fair, Universal Exposition, and Expo) used to be a big deal. From London in 1851 to Chicago in 1893 to Paris in 1900 to St. Louis in 1904 to New York in 1939 to Stockholm in 1949 and even Seattle in 1962 and Montreal in 1967, the world's fairs were places where history was made. During their runs, they were the focus of much media attention and people across the globe learned about the wonders being unveiled.
Over the years, that changed. While residents of Knoxville were no doubt thrilled when the visionary "Sunsphere" was erected in their fair city as part of the 1982 World's Fair, the rest of the country, and the world for that matter, merely yawned. Outside of hard-waxing nostalgics like James Lileks, it was hard to find anyone expressing much of an interest in the World's Fair or even being aware that they were still being held.
But if there's one country with the will, time, and resources ($) to bring the World's Fair (or Expo) back to global center stage again, it's China. The jury is still on whether the Chinese effort will succeed and whether it will be viewed as being as good or better than its predecessors, but there's no doubt that when it comes to being bigger it's going to be hard to top Shanghai's Expo 2010
Expo 2010, officially Expo 2010 Shanghai China is being held on both banks of the Huangpu River in the city of Shanghai, China, from May 1 to October 31, 2010. It is a World Expo in the tradition of international fairs and expositions. The theme of the exposition is "Better City--Better Life" and signifies Shanghai's new status in the 21st century as the "next great world city". The expo Logo features the Chinese character 世 ('world', Chinese "shì") modified to represent three people together with the 2010 date. It is the most expensive Expo in the history of the world's fairs. The Shanghai World Expo is also the largest World's Fair site ever at 5.28 square km.
More than 190 countries and more than 50 international organizations have registered to participate in the Shanghai World Expo, the largest ever. China expects to receive almost 100 foreign leaders and millions of people from across the world to come and visit the World Expo. More than 70–100 million visitors are expected to visit the expo, which would make it the most visited in history.
Count me as one of those millions of visitors. I attended the 2010 Expo a few weeks ago on a Thursday with eighteen work colleagues and 400,000 some others. If you travel to big cities in Asia and don't want to lose your mind, you have to learn how to deal with crowds and to be patient. This was never more true for me than when visiting the Expo.
It begins on the way in, when you get herded through a series of gates before going through security and then getting your ticket beeped to pass through the entrance turnstile. We only had to wait about twenty minutes, but I heard some people have spent up to two hours just to get in.
There's so much to see at the Expo that you could never hope to cover it all in one day. Especially since you could easily spent most of that day waiting in line to just visit two or three of the more popular pavilions. Yes, four and even five hour waits are the price that must be paid to get inside the pavilions of countries like Saudi Arabia, Japan, Germany, USA, and China.
A typical queue:
Huddled masses yearning to breathe free in the US pavilion:
In a historical turnabout, they needed to stop people who wanted to get in to Russia at the Expo:
You can only imagine what the line was like to get into this exciting exhibit:
No one will be admitted after the demonstration begins.
An announcement was made every few minutes updating the queue times at the popular pavilions and also letting us know where there was little or no waiting required. Since I'm usually not happy about waiting twenty minutes to get a table at a restaurant, there wasn't much chance that I was going to spend three or four hours online for one of these "must-see" pavilions.
Instead, the smaller group I was with spent most of our time wandering the grounds and taking things in from the outside. We also ventured inside some of the pavilions and case exhibits that could be easily accessed. I discovered this interesting acronym at my namesake country's display inside the African pavilion:
That's one that you want to be careful with.
I'll have more pictures of the many sights of Expo 2010 when time allows. Of all the countries, companies, and organizations that were on display, this was undoubtedly my favorite:
While the beer was a tad on the expensive side, I liked the fact that you were to allowed to take your bottle wherever you went at the Expo instead of being penned up inside a designated drinking area as you all too often are at similar (but obviously much smaller) events in the United States. Maybe we can learn something from the ChiComs yet.