May 2, 2010

Shanghai Secrets Learned Just in Time for Expo 2010

One of my travel destinations that is near the top of my list is China, all of China. My Labor Day weekend spent in Hong Kong years ago only whet my appetite for more. Living in San Francisco, with our huge Chinatown and all of its people, restaurants and shops, keeps me thinking about planning a trip back too.

Today I just found out that the International Expo in Shanghai has begun. The newspapers and internet have in-depth coverage of the city and the Expo 2010. All I can is WOW, now I really need to plan a trip. I've always been interested in seeing Shanghai and its old neighborhoods. Remember the Spielberg movie, Empire of the Sun? It was so dramatic and captured my imagination forever!

It wasn't set in Shanghai but Bertolucci's The Last Emperor was the other huge movie (9 Oscars!) that made me want to know more about China and its history. There is a lot to learn about this city. I can see why it has been the setting for lots of well-known novels and movies. Did you ever see the famous movie Shanghai Express (1932) starring Marlene Dietrich?

Expo 2010

Behavioral adjustment squads have been deployed in Shanghai just in time for the many millions of expected foreign visitors. They sound more interesting than scary to me for some reason, certainly a reminder than one isn't in a regular democratic society. Their role is to be at metro stations urging people to stand to the right on escalators, to discourage spitting, line-jumping, pushing and shoving. Reports say that all of those habits are indelibly Shanghainese even if the government wants them to suddenly disappear.

These squads are also tasked with encouraging diners to take home restaurant leftovers, something that makes me happy since I know this is not so common in many cultures outside of the US. The squads will penalize smoking in public too, also a job I'm hoping remains permanent. My years in Tokyo probably scarred my lungs for life! I can't forget sitting down for dinner in a restaurant with an ashtray next to my fork! Then having neighboring diners stop mid-bite to take a drag off their smoldering cigarette. Bleck.

Pajamas in Public - Something I see around my neighborhood in San Francisco is apparently a well loved and well known habit in Shanghai, wearing pajamas in public and not just by the teen crowd. Ladies will match their handbag to their best pajamas for their shopping excursions! And maybe a not so attractive vision is those of the old men who like to wear only boxers out on the streets. Well, the Behavior Adjustment Squad will be out politely encouraging residents not to wear their pajamas in public, especially now that the Expo is here.

Most Desired Exhibit I Want to See at the Expo - The Dandalion! Okay that isn't what it really is but doesn't it look like one?!

I love it! This is part of the United Kingdom Pavilion at the Expo, it is called the Seed Cathedral. Here is what you can expect:
Visitors will be invited to watch, touch and recognize seeds of different plants as the core exhibition of the UK Pavilion. They will be surrounded by the seeds in a 20-meter-high hollow cube-like structure with the seeds embedded in the walls and ceilings. The "Seed Cathedral" is itself an object formed from 60,000-plus transparent acrylic rods containing seeds. The seeds demonstrate the concept of sustainability, the diversity of nature and the potential of life. During the daytime, each of these 7.5-meter-long rods will act like fibre optic filaments, drawing on daylight to illuminate the interior. At night, light sources embedded in each rod will allow the whole structure to glow.
This is the kind of concept where art meets technology that I will stand in front of and contemplate for hours. I want to know how they did it, what it means, do I get it, notice if other visitors get it and then imagine what happens next. And since I am in China, go sit with a cup of tea and just absorb it all.

Other Interesting Shanghai Secrets - I'd love to know how they have toilet technology that expels odors below the level of the human nose! I read about this ability in the Financial Times last week. Since I did live in Japan and know first hand that people care about this sort of thing, and have the tenacity and skill set to tackle figuring out an answer - I believe the story. However I am dying to see how that one works!

Wujiang Lu - this is the city's famous snack street and is set to be sanitized and redeveloped. I understand concerns about a level of cleanliness that foreigners may expect but that makes me sad. Chinatown in San Francisco has its own streets that could use some cleaning now and then but they are never that bad. We also have our own Shanghai Dumpling King, which serves killer soup dumplings.

So I suppose if I get to Shanghai some day, I will focus my snack discovery more on the yummy octopus on a stick instead of the soup dumpling. Nah...all of that is too delicious sounding and like my pet, I'm very food motivated.

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