I had been to the World Expo a couple of times already over the past 6 months, but it was always business related so I didn’t get to see many pavilions yet. I had planned to take a day off from work to go here for a while already, but somehow never managed to do so. And because the Expo will close in less than 2 weeks I decided to bite the bullet despite being flooded with work & travel, and invite my wife and parents-in-law for a VIP visit to the Expo.
It seems that it’s getting more and more busy at the Expo before the gates will close for the last time next week Sunday. Last Saturday over 1 million people visited the Expo, despite the fact that the official maximum is 600,000 people. Today around 3 pm we saw that about 570,000 people had entered the Expo grounds so far, which explains why it was so extremely busy everywhere. Waiting lines for popular pavilions were 3-4 hours and some had waiting lines of 7 hours or more (Saudi-Arabia was rumored to have had a 12 hour wait last weekend!). Who in his right mind would line up for 7 hours or more just to visit a pavilion? Well, I for sure would not, so I had arranged a special tour. This means that you don’t have to wait at pavilions so you can see a lot more in a few hours than normally. It becomes more and more difficult to arrange this now that the Expo is almost coming to a close, I guess too many people found out about the trick and a lot of pavilions got tired of all the so-called VIPs.
The only line we could not avoid was at the entrance, but because we did not come very early (I first did my mails and RSS feeds at home and worked on a presentation) we got in within 30 minutes. I brought my Kindle, so I didn’t really notice it actually. The first pavilion we visited was that of The Netherlands, the one that I had been most times already. I very much like the architecture (it’s one of my favorites in that respect) but find they could have shown more about ‘real’ life in The Netherlands, instead of focusing on art, culture and new technologies. Other pavilions like Belgium and Germany did a much better job at that.
After The Netherlands we walked over to Belgium that shares its pavilion with the EU. I liked this one a lot, some very nice audiovisual presentations that give you a good feel for what Europe (and Belgium) is all about. I guess this Expo is different from most others, because most pavilions focus mainly on Chinese visitors (potential future tourists) and were trying to brand their country. In my opinion Belgium did a great job, for example by giving every visitor a free chocolate bonbon. Next was Denmark, where a huge line of several hours would have stopped me from visiting, but also here we could just walk in. The Danish pavilion features a bike path inside and you can bike through the pavilion. Downside is that you have to wait another hour in line for that, but still people did so. At the Danish pavilion I saw the Little Mermaid for the first time (I realized I had never been to Copenhagen, except to change flights at the airport), the Danes had flown in the original sculpture!
Next was lunch, we had made a reservation at the Belgian pavilion. This place has some excellent food, once again fantastic branding for Belgium. I had among others fresh salmon, cheese croquettes and a salad, and combined that with Belgian fries with a Chimay beer. One of the better lunches this year! After lunch we watched a short Expo parade with some marching bands and floats, before heading to the German pavilion. Germany is pretty strict in who they let in at the VIP entrance (except when you are a German national and bring your passport) and the waiting lines there are huge as well. But also here we had no problems and could enter right away. I liked the pavilion very much, a great combination of culture, technology and real life. Plus some good shows that kept people inside the pavilion for a long time. Very well done, it’s just a pity that most people had to wait in line so long. A nice touch was that Grace and mine former employer Daimler Northeast Asia also had its own presence at the German pavilion (they showed a Mercedes-Benz passenger car), so of course we took a picture there.
France was next on the list. I didn’t hear too many good stories about this pavilion and now I understand why. The pavilion itself is not bad, but you have to wait several hours to get in and it’s not worth the wait if you have already been there before. The wall projections of scenes from France are okay, but compared to other pavilions not very special. I liked the pieces of art from the Musee D’Orsay, however, but it was too crowded and noisy to really appreciate them. The last part was paid for by Louis Vuitton, they built a whole brand experience for Chinese customers. Very smart marketing! We wanted to buy a baguette afterward, but the lines to get into the bakery and souvenir shop scared us away…
We ended the tour at the Israel pavilion, which was a bit of a deception. It was just an audio-visual show in Chinese (with subtitles on panels next to the people) about how great Israel is and what kind of technologies come from Israel (“During the London Olympics you will watch the sports in Beijing through a new satellite from Israel!”). After the show the doors to the rest of the pavilion open and then you realize there is no other part, and you’re back on the street again. Glad I did not have to wait in line there!
My parents in law decided to stay, watch some shows and maybe visit some other pavilions, but Grace and I had too much work to do so we decided to head back. We had both been on the phone several times during the day and my phone’s battery was almost empty from continuously checking and answering emails, so I wanted to get back to my laptop. We took a walk along the Huangpu river waterfront (the only quiet place at the Expo) and took a ferry to Puxi (the corporate pavilions and the city pavilions are on that side). At exit 1 there are always a lot of taxis, so we hopped on one and were home 30 minutes later. I had a great time today despite the crowds. The Expo caused a lot of trouble for people in Shanghai and I am happy that it will be over in 10 days, but on the other hand I may miss it a bit as well.
A full set of pictures of today’s visit you can find here on Flickr.