18 July 2010

Expo and Maglev

Shanghai has a huge expo on at the moment.  I’m not really sure why cities feel the need, or want, to put these on.  Especially somewhere as well developed as Shanghai, which hardly needs the extra investment.  Regardless, we went (courtesy of free tickets from friends, thanks), and it was somewhat interesting.

The expo was reasonably close to the centre of the city, on the former docks site.  Most countries in the world were represented, either having their own Pavilion, or else in a shared one (like the Africa Pavilion or Pacific Islands Pavilion).  We’d heard some harrowing tales of huge queues for the most popular pavilions; Spain and Germany (3 hours each), China (4 hours, plus a reserved ticket) and Saudi Arbia (5 hours).  We even met one fella who claimed to have stood for 8 hours in queue just to see the Saudi one.  Not sure how that is possible without a seat or toilet break.

Needless to say, Audrey and I decided to ignore the Saudi one completely (supposedly they all have an online presence which shows a virtual view of the pavilion, so I might get around to checking that out someday), and any of the popular ones until late in the evening.  We decided to try and get to as many of the rouge or belligerent states as we could.  It proved to be quite easy, as most of Africa was in one pavilion, and they put Iran and North Korea beside each other, within a stone’s throw of Iraq, Myanmar and Afganistan.

When we got in, we headed straight to the Irish Pavilion, as my mate James’s art gallery had a temporary exhibition there.  The pavilion was quite nice (lots pictures of landscapes, animals, redheads and, typically, Bono), the only one with grass around it.  We met James’s wife, Jai la, as she is working there currently.  Unfortunately their exhibition was closed (there was probably a big-wig visitor), so we headed on to Romania.  Not sure why we decided to stop there, but the queue seemed fast moving, so we thought even if it was rubbish, we wouldn’t lose much time.

Rather predictably, as we got close to the front, the queue stopped moving for ages, until another huge whack of people got in.  It was pointless, lifeless music from a group on the stage who looked like they’d rather be anywhere else (it had been running for two months already), plus a few uninspiring pictures of the country.  Ireland beats Romania again.

Then it was onto Libya, where a big portrait of the one and only Colonel stared down at us as we entered.  Next was the African Pavilion, where Zimbabwe (again with portrait), Sudan, Somalia and Congo awaited us.  To be honest, not much interesting, only building up their economic ties with China (China loves those resource rich, badly governed countries).

While there we wandered into many other ones, the most interesting being Namibia.  The queue was quite large by African Pavilion standards (maybe 15 minutes long), but we happened to wander in the back entrance.  Pointing to a map of the place, I reeled off the few facts that I knew about Namibia to Audrey.  One of the Namibian lads manning the exhibition was standing nearby, and was very interested that someone knew stuff about his country.

His name was Nessy, and he spent the next 30 minutes showing us around their exposition, and well as talking about his frustration with the locals.  In the two months he’d been there, barely anyone had asked any questions about, or shown interest in, Nambia, despite the fact the place was always full.  There were more interested in filling their silly Expo passports, which you could buy, and then get a stamp as each pavilion that you visited (and some are flogging full ones).  Some pavilions, including Ireland, have stopped stamping them, as they felt people only came to the place for the stamp (which, as we saw, was very true)

Namibia did look awesome, and is now firmly on the list of places we’ll visit sometime in the near future.  They were bringing in some of their local brew, Windhoek (named after the capital), in the next week on draught, pity I missed that (although I have had bottles before).  As we were leaving Nessy gave us a few little souvenirs of Nambia.

Next we made our way towards North Korea, stopping at some random SE Asia countries and Iran.  Iran did a decent job (with a good explanation of what they were showing, no nuclear bomb plans though), and they had phenomenally expensive carpets for sale.  North Korea was amusing, with a mock classic fountain with cherubs and angels in the middle of it.  I could also buy books by Kim Jong Il on the structure of theatre.  Nothing on how to starve millions though.

This was followed by the Stans, where we have been planning to get to (which is looking increasingly unlikely though, due to problems getting visas in any places we plan to go to) and more SE Asia.

We left any popular ones until later; the queues would be less, the Chinese need to get to bed early, how else are they going to mastermind the takeover of the world.  Early bird and all that shit.

Spain was interesting, quite arty, but done in an impressive manner (see the enormous baby photo above, which was a bit weird).  The German Pavilion closed quite early (maybe, like the Chinese, they plan on making another attempt at the world), so we didn’t get in.  Russia was weird, like Munchkins on acid, and all inspired by kids (see below).

That was the Expo.

A couple of days later, I went on the Maglev which connects Pudong district in Shanghai with the new airport.  I had wanted to take it on my trip in 2004, but it closed early on Fridays, and I arrived just as the last one was departing.  This time, I’d checked the timetable.

It would get up to 430 km/h for a couple of minutes, which is pretty fucking fast.  As the train set off, there seemed to be little urgency to it, but pretty soon we were up to 300km/h.  The camber on the corners was huge, but it wasn’t as smooth as I expected for something that is meant to float along its guideway.

Eventually (well, three minutes later) we got to the magic top speed.  It didn’t feel that fast.  Part of it may be that there was no comparison nearby.  Times when I’ve been on the ICE trains in Germany, they’re sailing along at just over 300 km/h, but quite often it is alongside the Autobahn.  You’re fleecing past cars at a phenomenal rate, knowing quite a few of them are at 200 km/h or so.

As we were slowing down (well, at 340km/h) on the approach to the airport, there was a huge WHOOMP! noise as we encountered another train going the other direction.  It was probably doing around 340 as well.  On the way back, I sat on the side on the inside of the tracks.  I held my head against the window to see if i could ‘feel’ the impact of them passing.  I could, quite hard, twice, once as they first met, then once as they left each other (a split second apart).

That was my pointless experiment over, just like this entry.


King prawn said...

An intresting saying about Windhoek is that you only cry twice there - once when you arrive and once when you leave. You'll have to let me know if it's true.