Shanghai World Expo 2010

Now is the time to visit China and the biggest world’s fair in history

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The “Oriental Crown,” a bright red, five-tier giant inverted pyramid, is about to take its place with Seattle’s trademark 1962 Space Needle and the EXPO ‘67 Habitat as the enduring symbol of an international extravaganza. Shanghai World EXPO 2010, the largest world’s fair in history, opens Saturday, May 1, in China. People who missed past world’s fairs and Olympics now have a timely opportunity to be part of a world class event.

Twelve hundred former industrial acres were leveled, providing three-and one-half square miles on two sides of the Shanghai’s Huangpu River for the fair site, which is divided into five “zoned” housing pavilions representing 192 countries. Vying for originality are Luxembourg’s medieval fortress, Russia’s twelve tower ‘”floating-in-air” cubes, Spain’s revival “wicker basket,” Australia’s dusty ocher carving rock façade, Belgium’s “brain cell” building, and  Germany’s “Balancity.” The Swiss pavilion takes visitors on a cable car tour through sets showing its natural beauty and the Danish double spiral “Welfairytales” houses the Little Mermaid statue flown in from Copenhagen harbor.

Ten giant panda “ambassadors” are in residence, and China has introduced the blue cartoon mascot, Haibao. Following the overall theme “Better City, Better Life,” pavilion exhibits focus on the harmonious aspects of raising families, doing business and enjoying life with state-of-the-art technology from around the world. Daily cultural programs feature ethnic dancing and music from every continent.

Herbie Hancock, the Waterford Chamber Orchestra and New York Rhythm City Hip Hop are on the docket for the U.S. pavilion. A structure with extended wings evoking the shape of an American eagle, it houses exhibits meant to convey the nation’s “personal” side. Walking in, visitors see Kobe Bryant and other celebrities on film greeting them in fractured attempts to pronounce “Welcome to the USA pavilion” in the Mandarin language. An urban fairy tale, the story of a young girl who inspires her community to reinvent itself, is projected on five screens in a “4-D” process with moving seats that lets the audience “feel” the effects of wind and rain. Sponsor exhibits with a mall selling KFC, Mister Donuts and other typical foods round out the presentation.

In addition to the fair, EXPO visitors have a chance to tour one of the most dynamic cities in Asia. Reputed for its notorious past, Shanghai has revitalized itself.  In less than a decade, the city’s main street has evolved from a dusty street crowded with bicycles and ox carts to a sophisticated pedestrian mall lined with fancy shops and cafes.  

The historic mid-20th century landmark buildings of the Bund area have been renovated and now face onto a new riverfront promenade. Across the water rise the skewered bulb Pearl Tower and dozens of new skyscrapers in the Pudong financial district. In the Old City area, diners sample quail eggs and tea in the bright orange Huxinting Teahouse across a zig-zag bridge. Other restaurants throughout town serve every kind of international cuisine.

Nine new subway lines transverse the city and a tunnel tramway carries passengers through animated exhibits back and forth under the river. A 250 mph train whisks travelers 18 miles into town from the airport in barely seven minutes.

Several tour companies are organizing trips to the EXPO, which runs through October 31. Continental and China Eastern airlines fly direct to Shanghai from the New York area, while American and United airlines depart from Chicago, and Delta departs from Atlanta. China Air, EVA and other carriers fly from the west coast, sometimes connecting through Beijing or Taipei. Although the yuan is under discussion, the currency exchange rate is favorable to dollars. Visas can be obtained online in a matter of days and tickets to the EXPO can be purchased online at peregrinetravelgroup.com.

The EXPO’s mid-April trial run was mobbed, and opening day has already sold out, so the fair promises to attract the 70 million people expected to make it the largest gathering in world history. With China emerging so rapidly on the world stage, visiting the EXPO provides not just a once-in-a-lifetime event, but the chance to become better informed about one of America’s most strategic future partners.

Editor’s Note: Sharon King Hoge specializes in consumer and travel journalism both in print and on radio and television. The former Consumer Reporter at WBZ-TV and producer/host of “The Sharon King Show” in Boston, she reported on ABC network news, hosted “The Cookbook Kitchen” on the Food Channel and participated in the launch of CNBC.  A Contributing Editor at Condé Nast Traveler and Global Traveler magazines, her writing has appeared in Forbes FYI and Forbes Executive Woman, SELF, Ladies Home Journal,  National Review.  A former columnist for both AOL and the New York Daily News, she was Calendar Editor for the Martha Stewart Living website and is Editor at Large of the three regional Cottages and Gardens shelter magazines.

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