Friday, August 6, 2010

Day 11. The World Expo 2010

We are all excited about going to the Expo this afternoon, but we had to find something to do with ourselves during the morning, so we headed to the Shanghai Museum, which according to the Lonely Planet guide could take the whole day to visit. On the way I had a noodles burrito (yes, folks here seem to have an interminable variety of ways in which to eat noodles!) and Luke had a Gatorade. He is still not quite up to normal as far as going to the bathroom is concerned, so he is taking it easy.

I thought the museum was about the history of Shanghai, but alas that was not it. It is a fabulous collection of art, from 5000 BC to the Ching Dinasty (which ended in the early 1900’s). It includes stone artifacts and carvings, terracotta statues of Buddha and his buddies, lots of terracotta pottery, bronze castings, the most impressive collection of Chinese ceramic through the ages, jade carvings, coins, seals, rolls of Chinese calligraphy, and beautiful prints. I think both Luke and I enjoyed the prints the most. For one thing, we had just been in the karstic landscape that seems to have inspired many Chinese painters. For other, many of the artists use the single stroke black line as their basic technique, which is what Luke uses when he draws, so he could really identify with the overall effect.

I was a bit baffled by this extensive collection, since a lot of the artistic patrimony of China was destroyed during the dark years of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. By looking carefully at the descriptions of the pieces, however, I was able to solve the mystery: Either they were the results of extensive archaeologic work done in the last 10 years, or they were gifts of private collections that were kept in Hong Kong and other expatriate Chinese communities.

Lunch followed: A spicy seafood soup (with big hunks of tofu, yuck!), a chicken in lemon sauce, fried noodles Hong Kong style, and some pastry filled with sweet beans for dessert. Our waitress was a hoot, and totally got into the charades game, so we laughed a lot during the meal.

To kill a couple of extra hours we went for a walk through old town Shanghai, which is a warren of narrow alleys in which houses alternate with tiny store fronts. Our ultimate goal was one of the few surviving Confucius temples. This turned out to be a spacious temple complex, well maintained and with pretty pagodas and gardens. Very few people in it, however, since the communist regime frowns on religious practices. Luke wondered why would a temple be erected to Confucius. He was admittedly a great philosopher (way back in the 6th century BC), and his ideas have pervaded the way of life of the Chinese for 2,500 years, but he is no god. A very cool room in the temple complex is the library, where some very old editions of books that convey Confucius ideas are housed (Confucius, like Socrates, did not seem to have written anything himself, so all we now about his thinking is through the works of his disciples, and the disciples of his disciples). It is a serene building, and the collection is well displayed. It has the distinction of being Shanghai’s first public library!

The time came at last to head to the Expo, but we were misinformed about the right metro station to disembark, so we ended having to walk an extra half a mile to get there. Not good, because my foot was hurting a bit and we were going to have to do a lot of walking within the Expo itself. And so we did!

The Expo grounds are absolutely immense, so to get from one pavilion to the next you have to hoof it. By past experience in the Zaragoza expo I new that you cannot possibly see it all, so I suggested to Luke that we skip the China pavilion (after all, we are here seeing the real thing), and that we concentrate in the pavilions of other Asian nations, and maybe Africa. Well, even with this reduced goal there was no way we could see it all. I have already mentioned the distances involved, but one also has to take into account the lines to get into the pavilions, and the time you want to spend gawking at the displays. It is easy to get into a feverish frenzy and rush through the pavilions, but that is really not what it is all about. The Expo is like the opportunity of taking a condensed trip through the world, so the way to do it is take your time and get into the marvels that each country has on display.

We very much enjoyed going through the pavilions of Malaysia and Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand, and the smaller nations of Africa. It gave Luke and I a chance to talk about other countries I have visited, and those we would like to visit next (except that we ran out of time and energy to visit the Egypt pavilion, which is what I have my sights on for the next trip).

Exhausted we finally decided to quit sometime around 9 pm (after only 5 hours of walking, what a pair of whimps), but it took us nearly an hour to get to the gate, and another half hour to reach the metro and get home. My feet hurt, and I am a bit concerned because the next three days are supposed to be spent hiking around Huang Shan, one of the five must-see peaks of China.

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