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Fang Wu

Fang Wu

Posted: October 26, 2010 11:34 PM

Not So "World-ly" Expo 2010

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"Skype was developed in Estonia." I recited this newly acquired knowledge like a mantra in search for my inner calmness, as I moved in ant speed along the never-ending queue of the Estonia pavilion. Here I was, being a proud Chinese-born in Shanghai, at the 2010 World Expo in my hometown. July in Shanghai is humid and 100 degrees. I was sandwiched between a few thousand people in a line that puts Disneyworld and Chanel sample sale to shame. an hour and 15 minutes later, I was allowed to step in, only to get a glimpse of 20 giant acrylic pig coin banks that occupied the entire room. I was speechless; it was absolutely irrelevant to Estonia nor innovation. I vaguely overheard a staff mumbling about some rain forest foundation, but that became all too irrelevant as I was once again pushed out of the pavilion by the tailwind of people.

And that was the Estonia pavilion, one of the 'least hot' pavilions to visit amongst the 200 (needless to say why), hence supposedly the shortest line. Yet the experience was so exhausting and traumatizing, that I did not even go near the "hottest" the -- Saudi Arabia pavilion with 3D movies that cost $20 million to build, and a whopping 9-hour wait with no leeway to use the bathroom without repeating the queue. Average wait time for most popular pavilions are 3-4 hours long. How can one expect to see the 'World' Expo when 95% of time is spent on queuing, let alone enjoy it at all? No wonder there were hardly any foreigners on premise except staff, and I'm guessing whoever who came close must have run away ASAP, just as I did. Everyone knew China had many people, but not this many in one place.

China is a country with 1.3 billion people. That is one-fifth of global population. Double digit GDP growth over the past several years has fueled its influence economically and politically on the global spectrum. I'm sure the Expo participants all came with the ambition to penetrate this dynamic market. I'm guessing, with high conviction, that they are all dreaming of a vacation on no-man's island by now.

500,000 visitors per day over 180 days (that is, the entire population of Luxembourg on 35 football fields, everyday), Shanghai World Expo's attempt to attract 70 million visitors is comfortably on track. The World Expo takes place every few years, like the Olympics or the World Cup. It is an arena of cultural exchange, as participating countries present to the public their latest innovations in settings intertwined with their unique heritage. Notoriously this could be one of the most non-worldly "world scale event" that took place in this era of globalization. No one had adequate access to the quintessence of a World Expo. It was more of a "China Expo," revealing the surface glory and latent ugliness of modern day China.

The scale is indeed magnificent. 8 years of ambitious planning and $60 billion investment (vs. $40 billion spent on Beijing Olympics) manufactured the biggest World Expo ever. The infrastructure is impressive, not to mention the doubling of subway lines across the city. Admittedly, it reassured the world that financial crisis was at most a small tickle to this economic powerhouse, though a simple visit to Shanghai's streets would also suffice this observation.

To me, the most saddening part of this not-so-World-ly Expo, was not even the lack of stimulation and meaningful exchange of ideas and culture. It was the crude, ugliness of today's Chinese culture that surfaced so vividly during my experience there. In general, people were rude and pushy, verbally and physically. It was hard-line 'my interest before yours' in a grand scale. I was overtaken by at least 10 people during my 75-minute Estonia line, all occurred blatantly with me there. Many were carrying a foldable 2-in-1 walking stick plus stool, which conveniently smacked me a few times, though never a word of "excuse me" or "sorry" was heard. Worst of all were the con artists, playing injured on wheelchair (boyfriends pushing perfectly healthy girlfriends) or bringing 7 year old "babies" on strollers in order to get into the VIP lines. Benches are much-appreciated commodity in anyone's eye, and of course there were many monopolizing nappers. What a freak show, I thought.

Where did the good old Confucian mentality go? Respect the elderly, be courteous, be polite, all wiped out during the Cultural Revolution (a 10 year upheaval in the country that resulted in nationwide chaos and stagnation) in the 1960s? When did parents stop teaching children to say 'excuse me'? Is this a product of overly spoiled one child policy (a population control policy that allowed married couples to have one child only, introduced in 1978)? Or the rich is getting richer too fast that the society encourages people to be so hungry and competitive at all times? I do have doubts about the direction of where Chinese people are going, culturally. The government is doing a phenomenal job with development and wealth creation. Hardware is superbly setup in most major cities, with supreme highway reaching far country. Software though, has some long catching up ahead. It takes years of appreciation of culture, diversity and arts and generations of value system education to engender a group of civilized citizens who appreciate the concept of mutual respect. This is what China desperately needs to showcase to the world to attain an indisputable seat on the world hegemonic leaders' table.

Not until then, should China, a nation with way too many people, hold such a "global" event where people must physically attend and interact to enjoy the full scope of it. China can 'show off' its capability, power and influence in many other ways. The execution of the 2008 Olympics is worthy of utmost compliments, and should be repeated; everything was in order, television broadcasting mitigated human drama and it was a true international success. President Hu Jin Tao has said "Shanghai's holding of World Expo is the pride of all Chinese people." I have to say, reluctantly, that it does not work, with so many people, particularly whose behavioral traits I'm not proud of as a fellow Chinese.