Update from China: June 19, 2010

Since it’s really long, I don’t want to clog up the forums so I published it here. Enjoy.

Since I had received a surprisingly enthusiastic response from my previous thread, I’ve decided to write a little update here.

A few days after arriving in Tianjin, I went to Shanghai to see an uncle and visit the Expo. Spend 3 days (June 15-17) exploring the Expo. Yeah, I’ve heard of a lot of bad things about it, like long line-ups, chaotic atmosphere, sweltering heat, etc etc etc, and, in a way, they were right, but I think it’s still worth going to. Everything in the site was very well-planned, and it was generally a good experience. It was pretty hot (though not as bad as I expected), but there were fans and mist-sprayers everywhere, plus drinking water stations. The temperature was high, but the smog blocked out direct contact with sunshine and it was bearable.

The site is freaking huge! 20 minutes to walk from one end to the other without stopping. Fortunately there’re dozens of free buses running across the area.

Unfortunately, the first day I was there, the 15th, saw a record number of visitors, at over 540,000. I waited about 2 hours at the UAE pavilion, and about an hour at the India pavilion. The Chinese provinces pavilion had no line-up, and, finally, the Japan pavilion took about 3 and a half hours. UAE, with several spectacular multimedia presentations, was worth visiting, as was Japan, with some pretty impressive exhibits and displays, but the Chinese provinces and India didn’t have much in them. The main problem happened at around 11pm when I lost the address to the hotel and no taxi driver knew which location of the said hotel I was referring to, despite my best efforts to describe a general area. Not to mention that it was extremely difficult to hail an empty cab at that time. A policeman finally realized what I was talking about and directed me back.

The next day was much better visitor-wise, at only 370,000. Lines were much shorter and I waited at the extremely popular Saudi Arabia pavilion, which at its peak had lines of up to 7-8 hours, for only about 4 hours. I visited a lot of other pavilions that day: New Zealand (about 1/2 hour, but worth visiting), Denmark (1 hour, not much except for the little mermaid and bike riding, which required an additional 2-hour wait), USA (1.5 hours, pretty good), Canada (1 hour, nothing special, but it’s my other home country), South Africa (1/2 hour, full of World Cup themes, but not much else) and Africa Joint (no line, definitely worth a visit, since it has a lot of amazing cultural artifacts).

The worst part was that that afternoon, I pulled muscles on both legs, and injured both heels (hopefully nothing worse than bruises), so standing was extremely painful, especially during the Saudi pavilion lineup.

The third day, I decided to take it slower, and only lined up at the French pavilion. The legs and feet were better but still showed signs of wear from the 20+ hours of standing and walking in the previous 2 days. I scrapped plans to visit the Germany and Switzerland pavilions, considering my poor physical condition. Instead, I walked around the city cases, and visited the Pavilion of the Future. The Future pavilion was pretty good, but in some ways it reminded me a 1984-like utopian world (even though I haven’t read that book) and was kind of creepy. I guess I’m just afraid of the unknown. Still, it was interesting to see some wildly imaginative cities of the future. Went to dinner with my uncle in the biggest shopping mall I’ve seen, and had shark fin soup for the first time. Nothing really special, but it was something I had always wanted to try.

Went around a bit of Shanghai the next day, including Yuyuan Garden, with it’s famous street food. Perhaps the most interesting item was tiny little birds, no bigger than eggs, fried and spiced with cumin. You’re supposed to eat them whole, bones, organs, and all. They were very good. Walked down the Bund, with its very impressive architecture and cross-river skyline. Unfortunately the heavy smog limited the impressiveness of the skyline, but it was very nice all the same. My uncle was driving, and when we got pulled over for an illegal turn (he didn’t know the area well and was only following the GPS), the policeman noticed we weren’t wearing our seat belts either. Crap, I didn’t think they really cared about that over here.

Anyway, right now I’m in Hangzhou, after having visited the Yuanlin caves (pretty nice, but it’s been thoroughly modernized, with colored lights, walkways, etc, which can be either good or bad depending on how you look at it. Personally, I was hoping for a more natural environment). Going tomorrow to climb Mount Huang. Should be exciting, but I’ll need a lot of rest afterward.

I’ll upload pictures as soon as I can, since I feel that pictures should explain things a lot better. Whenever I take a picture, I almost always think of a caption (some brief, some paragraphs long) to go with it, so my accounts should be much more interesting.

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