Monday, May 31, 2010

Saturday at the Expo

Waking up early in the morning, the travel agency at the hotel still had tickets for the Expo and therefore my plans for the day were fixed. After a quick breakfast, I walk towards the subway station, just before reaching it; I discovered that there was a boat terminal for the expo nearby, which would provide a great alternative to a subway ride. Tickets were controlled before boarding and the usual security checks were done in the meantime. The boat was quite large and looked stylish. On the way, we passed in front of the famous skyline of the city and had a beautiful view of the Bund from the river. The buildings like the Pearl Tower looked mystical in the morning drizzle.
After an hour on the boat, the first glimpse of the Saudi and Chinese pavilions appeared out of the fog. When ashore, we could enter directly as all the controls happened upon boarding. The queue at the Saudi Pavilion did not give much hope to the visitor, as even the queue for handicapped people looked like it would never end, and the Expo site had only been open for half an hour. People were queuing to enter the Chinese Provinces pavilion, and a notice indicated 90 minutes waiting time, whereby it still would have taken along time to reach this sign. Some warnings about long queues were already given on information boards and loudspeakers, for the most popular pavilion. My first destination was thus the Pacific joint pavilion, where the small island countries of the Pacific were represented. Each nation showed its own combination of information about lifestyle, traditions, tourism and investment opportunities, represented where the Marshall Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Niue, Palau, Tuvalu, the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, the Federal States of Micronesia and the world’s smallest nation Nauru. There was a souvenir shop selling specialties from all those countries and a café selling espressos and cappuccinos made of organic Vanuatuan coffee.
Energised by those new learning experiences and the cup of coffee, I decided to stay in Oceania by heading towards the New Zealand pavilion, in front of which a Maori band was playing some traditional music. However because of the queue I did not enter that pavilion. Along the same square, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia and Thailand looked likewise crowded. Queuing time for the USA, Saudi Arabia and Japan pavilions were already 4 hours and visitors were kindly requested to alter their visit plans. Other popular pavilions with over two hours queuing time were South Korea, France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom , Brazil, Italy, Spain and India. Some places with shorter waiting times were suggested, like joint pavilions of Europe or Asia, where a few of the lesser known countries are sheltered under the same roof. The next logical step was to take the elevated pedestrian walkway to the African area, forgetting about visiting anything European. The Libyan delegation was announcing in big letters that visitors where welcome, unfortunately on that day a small note on the door knob apologised for the house being closed on that day. The daily parade was about to start with Chinese acrobats and people dancing on trucks on Chinese music. One group was representing Monkey King from Journey to the West a famous Chinese novel. Another group was playing shamanistic music from Inner Mongolia. They were followed by a Norwegian brass band who had stayed here since the day before was the Norway day at the Expo.
Nigeria has its own building whose entrance shows the wonders of the African coastline and near the exit there is a section dedicated to business cooperation between China and Nigeria. As most African countries cannot afford a standalone building and large pavilion they were grouped in the Joint Africa Pavilion. The list of countries includes most African nations. At the entrance there were big statues in African style. The highlights were for example Botswana, which reminded us of its wealth in diamonds. Mali was represented by Tuaregs in traditional costumes. Togo was showing its plan of a future high speed train similar to the French TGV. Sudan displayed its rich ethnic diversity. Tchad was proud of its development projects to improve the life of its people. A large section of the Sierra Leone area was dedicated to handicrafts.
Leaving the Joint African pavilion, the exploration of African culture continued at the Angola pavilion, where the importance of oil for the nation was displayed and joint-ventures between Angola and China were praised for the cooperative effort. As it was lunch, I had some seafood in Angolan style there. The food was quite expensive for the quantity eaten, especially when thinking of the prices one would pay for that amount of food in other districts of the city, but as one does not get many chances of experiencing Southern African food in this part of the world it was a worthwhile investment and enjoyable discovery.
After a morning dedicated to Oceania and Africa, the exploration was to continue to the Americas. The Argentinean pavilion was showing the beautiful landscapes of Argentina in addition to local handicrafts. There is also a large Argentinean restaurant inside to quench a visitor’s hunger. Thereafter the queues at most South American pavilion looked overwhelming, whether Brazil, Peru or Columbia. Attached to the latter was a small café selling Columbian Coffee and provided an opportune break to assimilate gathered information and plan the remaining of the afternoon. The joint South American pavilion was less crowded. Uruguay showed a video where Chinese expatriates living in Montevideo were interviewed and in particular the owners of the oldest Chinese restaurant in the capital. Guatemala was showing its Mayan heritage with amongst others buildings in the style of El Mirador, likewise Honduras was proud of its Mayan past. Salvador was represented by one of its typical volcanoes. From Ecuador were pictures about life in its cities and nature wonders like the Andes and the Galapagos Islands. The Dominican Republic was highlighting its tourist industry and the pavilion looked partly like a reproduction of a central square in former Spanish colonies. Nicaragua and Costa Rica were again showing the wonders of nature in their respective countries. The design of the Panama pavilion was inspired by the Panama Canal. Bolivia showed its rich diverse cultures and the pavilion was the largest inside the joint pavilion, there was also the need to queue. Exiting the pavilion, the walk gave a nice view of the external architecture of the Chilean, Mexican and Venezuelan pavilions.
The mid-afternoon queues to the standalone pavilions being very long, I proceeded to the joint Caribbean pavilion. Most countries were showing their attractions for tourists. There was somewhat less for potential investors. There were reproductions of the landscapes of Dominica, typical towns of Guyana, traditional housings of Surinam and many other attractions.
Even though I have been to most countries in Europe, there are still a few I know very little about. My first stop was San Marino, the world’s oldest and smallest republic with the oldest constitution still in effect. In the queue, wondering why the country was generating so much interest amongst Chinese people, a local told me they were interested in learning about a country that was so small. Inside was a small replica of its own statue of liberty, pictures of local castles and traditional costumes. Malta had a traditional café where I took a break sitting outside enjoying a Maltese cappuccino. Albania showed traditional architecture and old walls. Moldova displayed its rich landscapes with forests and prairies. Azerbaijan presented itself as a bridge between orient and occident with its heritage from the Silk Road, an interior designed in traditional Islamic style from the area. Bosnia Herzegovina has a large pavilion with a traditional coffee set at the entrance followed by other local handicrafts, pictures of various sites across the country and a local pastry shop with delicious Bosnian cakes. Belarus revealed its beautiful cities and also showed its rich biodiversity, promoting its national parks. The pavilion also had a souvenir shop selling plenty of Belarusian handicrafts. Bulgaria exhibited its old past. Montenegro was closed for the day. The last pavilion for my European tour would be Georgia, whose design represents a traditional courtyard in a Georgian house, besides there were pictures from the wonderful mountains of the Caucasus and one could see the comments in Georgian alphabet. To end my European tour, I walked past the Romanian, Dutch and British pavilions, taking some pictures of the delightful architecture, saving time by not entering them.
Back in Africa for some souvenir hunting, a band from Mali was playing traditional Saharan music. I also visited some pavilions that I had forgotten on my morning visit like Ghana and the Comoros. There was of course exquisite coffee coming from its very country of origin, Ethiopia. Most shops were selling jewellery and other handicrafts. There were few representations selling music CDs though I was looking for some Congolese music. The Algerian pavilion had a sumptuous reproduction of the old city, the Kashba, and some displays about traditional lifestyle before presenting a possible future integrating technological progress and customs. The Tunisian displayed old ruins and also elements of a Mediterranean lifestyle. The pavilion of Egypt and South Africa were still attracting many visitors, the latter had a giant football ball standing at the entrance, reminding the public that the country is hosting the soccer World Cup this year.
After culinary experiences from Asia, Europe and Africa, the arrival of dinner time pushed me towards America to finish this trip around the food world. Remembering a delightful fish dish in a Uruguayan restaurant a few years ago in Guatemala, I proceeded to that country’s eating place. There was only beef on the menu, so the choice was made simpler. There was some information about the country on the table where it highlighted its attractiveness for both tourists and investors, as one of the best place in Latin America to do business.
Due to the high prices of food at the expo, many people leave at dinner time and after sunset some pavilions can be visited more easily than during daytime, in addition some pavilions reveal beautiful night colours at that time. At the entrance of the Indonesia pavilion was a stage with instruments of a Gamelan orchestra though there was no performance the time of entrance. The large pavilion has exhibits on a few floors, showing both traditional and modern elements of lifestyle, information for tourists with pictures from a few World Heritage sites like Borobodur, old cars, local handicrafts, highlights of its environment, the diverse cultures of the archipelago, a large souvenir shop and featuring a restaurant with Indonesian food for the hungry.
The Chinese Pavilion having special access rules, it was too late to find out how to make a reservation. On the other hand, the queue for the Chinese Provincial Pavilion had dwindled, from more than 90 minutes to maybe five, and it became the opportunity to discover provinces still unknown to me, or almost. Therefore my first choice was logically to be the province of Gansu, which featured some replicas of Buddhist statues found around the province like the Mogao Grottoes near Dunhuang and its rich Silk Road heritage. Qinghai was displaying itself as a world of ice and reminding visitors that it was were the great rivers of China and South East Asia take their source, namely the Mekong, the Yellow River and the Yangtze inspiring people to take better care of the environment. The Ningxia pavilion was build in Islamic architecture and gave valuable information about Muslim culture on the Yellow River. The main theme of Sichuan is the “wisdom of following nature”, the land of the panda’s main focus was indeed nature. Inner Mongolia shows its famous grassland and reveals the importance of the horse in Mongolian culture. Xinjiang revealed its cultural richness at the meeting place of Chinese and Turkic cultures, and showed elements of life in the desert. The Shaanxi pavilion is in the style of the Tang dynasty and shows the life at that time especially showing the traditional dresses of the royal family of that time. The Tibet pavilion exhibited elements of life in the high Himalaya with images of landscape and reproduction of local houses. Yunnan is a place of high cultural diversity and this was reflected by elements of Bai and Dai life and display of its varied ecosystems. Guizhou likewise put the emphasis on its ethnic minorities and its main source of wealth, handicrafts of silver. Guangxi is the home of the Zhuang, a group related to the Thai, and hostesses dressed in traditional costumes were present on site. The focus of Hainan was as a paradise for tourists, this island having a tropical climate attracting many visitors from the North especially during the cold winter. The inspiration of the Guangdong pavilion came from its cities to show possibilities for a green life in a city. Chongqing was also focusing on the development of the city, with a sustainable touch. It was also possible to learn more about the history of Hunan. The development of human civilisation could be observed in the Henan pavilion. Shandong was focusing on its rivers and mountains. The speciality of Jiangxi is porcelain, and many pieces were on display throughout its space. Likewise the importance of tea in the province of Fujian was omnipresent. Jilin was showing its renowned Changbai Mountain and reproduced a world of snow. Further North is Heilongjiang, the world of Ice by the Amur River with interactive games allowing visitors to play curling or simulate a skiing race. A dinosaur fossil greets visitors at the entrance of the Liaoning pavilion before visitors can enjoy the contribution of that province to the advancement of Chinese civilisation. The entrance of the Shanxi pavilion looks like buildings in the old town of Pingyao and inside, besides history, people can have a look at ideas for a greener life and living a life with low carbon emissions. And Tianjin was demonstrating the potential of technology to contribute to development, showing off the intensive cooperation with foreign companies attracted by its nearness to the sea and to the capital. Missing some provinces as it was hard to keep track of every step and some places had long queues, maybe only opening once every thirty minutes, it was time to discover a few more countries, after all, there will be plenty of opportunities to visit Chinese provinces later during my stay in the country.
Continuing towards the West, I reached Pakistan with its motto “Harmony in Diversity”. The façade is a replica of a fort in Lahore. Various displays showed for example the Buddhist heritage of the country, famous pieces of architecture, the was Islam is practiced along with elements of past and modern ways of living, with a section dedicated to women who did a great job for that country. In addition a space was dedicated to the friendship between Pakistan and China with a display of the diversity of cultures living in the border area. Oman is a seafaring nation and this is reflected in the choice of its design, with a representation of life in the desert and a historical perspective to life in the country.
Most pavilions close at some time between half past nine and half past ten, sometimes not allowing visitors to enter or join the queue already some quarter before, it was then time to go back home , having learned a lot about many countries and with plenty of pictures to share with people from where I live and beyond through Internet to the whole world.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Norway at the Expo

Today was the Norwegian Day at the Expo in Shanghai. My arrival in the metropolis of the East was smooth and it was delightful to be in a warm part of China. Yesterday after checking-in at the hotel in the North of the city I went for a walk to the Bund at Sunset. For dinner I was surprised at the restaurant, as I did not manage to find the few Chinese characters I know for meat, namely beef and mutton. Luckily more people here speak some English than in the remote West and I followed the recommendations of the waiter.
We met with other NTNU alumni in the French concession to go to the Expo by bus. Our guide was a Shanghainese lady full of energy telling us the advantages of this city compared to the capital Beijing, namely better weather and better food. The entrance took its time as the delegation of the university was more than 150 people, including some guests from Chinese universities cooperating with NTNU. After clearing the security check, we went to the Norwegian Pavilion were a private guided tour was organized. The motto of the pavilion is “Norway, powered by nature”. The pavilion is made of pine and bamboo, as a symbol of cooperation between Norway and China. Around the pavilion various screens show elements of life in Norway, including its breathtaking scenery and modern technologies.
After this one-hour tour, a Norwegian brass-band was playing outside the pavilion, waiting for the next guests. We split from the remaining NTNU delegation to have some tea with fellow alumni in a nearby café before exploring the site on our own. Large crowds had already gathered everywhere and queues seemed endless, even the Latvian pavilion seemed to attract many people, maybe because of last night’s report on CCTV 9 about its attractions. The Ukrainian pavilion included a fine restaurant in traditional style and some inspiration about life in the city. After more than twenty minutes waiting, I managed to enter the Estonian pavilion, where various philosophical ideas were shared. The other European pavilions had a large attraction power for the local Chinese people, and as I had already visited most of those countries during my stay in that part of the world, I moved on to explore Asian pavilions.
The Thai pavilion is nicely decorated, resembling a Buddhist temple. The sultanate of Brunei shows highlights for both tourists and investors of this “Gateway to Borneo”. The Philippines showcased elements of cultural life in the archipelago, including music instruments. The Cambodian pavilion was a replica of famous tourist sites like Angkor Vat, full of statues and imitation of traditional walls. As Malaysia and Singapore were highly popular there, it was time to walk further towards the Exit Gate number 4. Events were not only happening in the pavilions. On the road there was a parade with some people in typical Mongolian costumes performing traditional dances. I had my first glimpse of the Chinese pavilion and the nearby Taiwanese in the heavy rain. As entries were restricted and required advance booking, it could not be visited on this day as my schedule was limited. From the elevated pedestrian walk, I could also observe the Indian, Pakistani and Nepalese pavilion, which were pieces of art already from the outside and of course crowded at that time of day. The queue for the Sri Lankan pavilion was somewhat shorter and offered a great offer for lunch. Besides food, one could admire Buddhist sculptures and replicas of housing; in addition a small temple had been built inside it to offer a quiet space for prayers.
Turkmenistan was also present. Pictures of the current president were hanging on some walls. The pavilion offered a glimpse of life in this country, with handicrafts and pictures of landmarks. The joint Asia Pavilion II sheltered a few countries with a smaller representation. Palestine was highlighting Jerusalem as a city of peace and selling large Christian crosses as souvenirs. Yemen displayed traditional Yemeni housing. Afghanistan portrayed itself as a land of opportunity. Jordan revived its Roman heritage and tourist attractions on the coast. The Republic of Korea and Japan pavilions were amongst the most popular and the queue was too long, I even had to forget about the Kazakhstan pavilion as the time to the next event was going shorter. Mongolia was showing a big yurt and the history of the country with portraits of Genghis Khan and even showing a map of the largest extend of the Mongolian empire, including China and many countries as far as Europe. Bangladesh was welcoming visitors with some traditional costumes. Timor-Leste highlights the importance of nature for human life. The Maldives look like a great tourist destination, and reminded us that that may not live for very long unless humankind really steps up its effort to fight global warming and other environmental damages. Whereby the Republic of Korea pavilion was crowded, the Democratic People’s Republic was less visited and therefore a rare chance of learning more about this country from the country itself. Some replicas of sights of the capital were displayed, especially a beautiful fountain. On a wall was written “Paradise for People”. The souvenir shop sold books about Juche philosophy, Karaoke music and some documentaries about various highlights of the country like cities or the Arirang games. The Kyrgyzstan Pavilion displayed a yurt and some information about life in the mountains. The Tajikistan pavilion was decorated with giant grapes, a large portrait of the president could be seen as well as documents about its religious history with both Islamic mosques and Buddhist statues.
It was then time to meet again with the NTNU delegation and we went to a reception at the Intercontinental Hotel which had been built especially for the Expo. The Chef is Norwegian and the food was mostly Norwegian with some Chinese influence. After dinner, the rector of the university gave a speech and there was a short presentation of the university for our Chinese guests. Afterwards we went back to the Expo site and went to the Red Hall for a concert by famous Norwegian artists. The hosts were Kaare Magnus Berg from NRK and You Jia from Dragon TV. Before the music began, His Royal Highness Prince Haakon of Norway gave a short speech about environment and sustainability. The Trondheimsoloists orchestra was conducted by Tan Dun, they performed pieces by Grieg. The violinist Eldbjörg Hemsing played the first violin in a special symphony called “The Love”, composed especially for the event, combining elements of Chinese Opera, classical Chinese and Western tunes and some hip hop. After the break, former Eurovision Grand Prix winners Secret Garden performed the theme song of the Norwegian pavilion “powered by nature” and Sissel Kyrkebö sang tunes by Stefan Nilsson, Jon Lord and Edvard Grieg. The next highlight of the show was a combination of Kung Fu and traditional Norwegian dances with Frikar and Qingpu Wushu, while the Trondheimsoloists were adding music to their performance.
After the show, there was still some time before the closing of the Expo site. Trying to by a ticket for a second day, I was told that there tickets were already sold out, but that I could try another sponsor at the Expo site. Walking there at night is a delightful experience as most pavilion display splendid lights. Queues were getting small at even the most popular pavilions although some had already closed. As I reached the Macau Pavilion, the last people admitted were queuing but no more people could join. Luckily Hong Kong was still open, even if maybe no more than 50 people would be behind me in the queue before closing. At least I will have been able to visit one Chinese pavilion, even if it is a small one knowing that there is no guarantee that I will be able to enter tomorrow. The most interesting element is a three-dimensional movie showing highlights of life in Hong Kong, like architecture, landscapes, nature and food.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Yinchuan Nights

For the May holiday, I continued my exploration of the Chinese Wild West with a trip to Yinchuan in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. The night train arrived in the early morning hours in this city with about one million inhabitants. The spring was beginning to feel warmer and it was already possible to be outside with a short leeved shirt all during daylight hours. The first day was dedicated to exploring the city, enjoying local cuisine like in the evening at the Xianhelou, where the dumplings were prepared near the entrance of the restaurants by the staff. On Sunday, I went accross the border into Inner Mongolia to visit the town of Bayanhot where the buddhist temple of Yanfu Si combined elements of Tibetan and Mogolian architecture. There were very few tourists there and I may have been the only foreigner in town at the time of the visit. Bayanhot lays at the edge of the Tenger Desert and on the way from Yinchuan it is possible to visit the Great Wall at Sanguankou on the border between the two provinces. On Monday I went with HaoFengGuang Ningxia Yinchuan Travel Co. to visit the tombs of the Western Xia, the Western Film Studio, a farm specialising in wolfberries and the Sand Lake, to see the best Ningxia has to offer. I arrived just in time to have dinner in town before leaving by night train back home.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Trip to Yongling

The last days of April the Foreign Expert Bureau organised a trip to Yongling county for us. We left home early on Thursday morning and went first to the Liujiaxia Reservoir, one of the largest in North-West China. After a great lunch with plenty of fish by the Lianhua Tai Ferry Terminal, we took a boat to the monastery of Bingling Si. This old monastery is being restored. Old buddha statues could be seen. The boatride was also one of the highlights, as the landscape was awsome. In the evening there was a concert with traditional Tibetan and Hui music and dances. On the second day, we went to a museum dedicated to dinausor footprints fossils reached after another one-hour boat journey. The museum was high up in the mountains and the trek was more interesting to me than the museum itself, maybe because it is only starting to become a tourist attraction. The afternoon we went fishing by a pond and enjoyed local sanpaotai tea, a kind of tea perfumed with longan and dates. In the evening we had a great dinner in the city, with plenty of lamb in all its variations. The participants came from the USA, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, France, Mexico, The Philippines, Russia and Kyrgyzstan.

Welcome to the month of May

Komm lieber Mai und mache, die Bäume wieder grün...Spring is coming and nature is coming back to life, how great it is to see trees becoming green again,