Shanghai Despo(t) 2010- The Axis of Awesome Pavilions

Also in this series: Death By Exposure and Stan!


Ain’t nobody here but us chickens


We went back to Expo on Saturday for a stubborn second round of heat stroke and agoraphobia. The first time we went, which was just last Tuesday on the second day of the Dragon Boat Festival holiday, we waited two hours in an increasingly agitated and overheated crowd just to reach the gates. The attendance reports broadcast in the Expo Metro noted that 500,000 people had had the same idea as we had.

This time, although we arrived slightly later after the opening time than last time, we were through the gates and in the site within five minutes. No fights broke out; no soldiers were called in for crowd control, no fans mounted on pillars sprayed misty cool air to prevent the hordes from dropping dead from heat stroke.

Apparently Saturdays and Gate 2 make for a better start to the day than Dragon Boat Festivals and Gate 7.  Gate 2, unlike Gate 7, is on the Puxi side of the site (which is good if you have a hankerin’ for the Corporate, Coca Cola,  or Oil Pavilions) so we had a long riverside walk ahead of us and a ferry-boat river crossing before we could reach the main Pudong site.  The Puxi side was nearly deserted.

The ferry we boarded had been boarded thoughtlessly.  It occurred to us after it left the docks that we had no idea where it was heading. We had just rocked up to the nearest waterfront throng and shuffled in alongside them.  Between the crowds and my illiteracy, I do an awful lot of thoughtless shuffling in China.

At first, it veered toward the European pavilions in Zone C, then, as it dodged freighters who were also using the river, it veered abruptly in the other direction and deposited us at the opposite end of the site, in Zone A, right next to the pink, noduled, blister-like Japanese Pavilion. Apparently, the Japanese Pavilion has robots playing violins.  So far, Expo had been calm and quiet and pretty empty so we contemplated queuing for the Japanese Pavilion- it was notorious for 5 hour queues on busier days.  Maybe it would be a mere 2 hours for us.

Japan’s famed queues did not disappoint. It had a queue. A marvellous, mind-bending queue. The first part of the queue looked manageable, but then it was joined by another queue around a bend, and then another, and another.  Most of Zone A was the queue for the Japanese pavilion. Between the Japanese Pavilion and the equally popular Korean Pavilion, you couldn’t actually walk to anywhere further away from the riverside without doing a massive detour around their queues. We decided that popular pavilions were not in our stars. Destiny, as it were, was leading us in other directions.

We would tour the worst countries.

Indeed, the best despotic (or formerly despotic but now recovering) countries.

On our impromptu list were the Axis of Evil, the Central Asian ‘Stans, and various genocidal/self-destructive nations from all over.  It was a very satisfying plan.


Underwhelmed by Iraq


We started out, by accident, with the Axis of Evil, by queuing for Iraq when we thought we were in fact queuing for Myanmar.  The Iraqi Pavilion actually shared a building with Laos and Myanmar, a grouping I had never previously envisioned.  The cheesy murals of Arabian Nights and the hopeful city diorama featuring tidy deserts and sand-coloured mosques clued us in to the fact that we might not be in Myanmar.

It had a few wall-sized signs in Arabic, English and Chinese explaining in greeting card sentiments their hope for the future and the optimism for building new cities, new lives. I appreciated the sentiments, though I would have happily offered my editing services to cut the schmaltz.

There was a display wishing everyone a happy International Children’s Day (which was about a month ago), and an unstaffed ice cream and smoothie counter that took up a third of the room. Two women sold garish gold bracelets at an adjacent counter.  Most of the crowd thronged there, haggling. If Doug hadn’t paused at the abandoned ice cream counter, hopeful for a mid-morning cone, we would have been out in minutes.

After Iraq, we made a rapid tour of its South East Asian pavilion neighbours (more about them in another post) before moving on to Uzbekistan, Kyrgizstan, Tajikistan, Mongolia and the Maldives, then returning for the other two members of the Axis of Evil. North Korea and Iran were hidden away at the back of the Expo site, about as far away from Europe and the Americas as possible (and it was a 45 minute walk for us afterward to walk to Europe for lunch) and far enough away from South Korea to be awkwardly obvious.

North Korea actually had a queue.


Me and Pyongyang, together at last


We queued for North Korea, shuffling slowly along in the fierce midday heat. When we were queuing for Tajikistan earlier, an announcement came over the loud speakers declaring that it was a Shanghai Meteorological Yellow Alert day, with average temperatures of 35 degrees and a bazillion percent humidity.

We were warned to avoid heat stroke and to make ourselves to feel good. Everyone was sweating and every second person in the queues had a sun parasol with spokes poking us in the eye.

North Korea consisted of a photo mural of Pyongyang, with a scaled down phallic monument in front of it, begging to be posed with, and a marvellously garish fountain full of cherubs and coloured lights.

On the far wall, in large letters reflected again in a mirror above, a sign declared Paradise For People.  Against the back right wall was a fake-rock cave that I couldn’t be bothered to look at.

Next to the fake rock cave was a minimalist gift shop that occupied the whole back of the pavilion, with  stark glass counters filled with books by/for Kim Jong Il/Kim Il Sung, little metal jacket pins celebrating the military of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and traditional women’s dresses overseen by two costumed saleswomen with blank facial expressions.


People’s Paradise indeed!


The wide variety of gift shop wares in the North Korea Pavilion


Immediately next door to North Korea is Iran, which was even more popular. It is housed in a lovely building, looking like something between a sandy desert mosque and a castle.

We queued along a wall that had a relief map of the region, indicating that at some point in the past (I forgot to note when) Iran controlled everything from Turkey to China.


Here Be Dragons


Inside, it was cool, dark and packed. Upstairs was a carpet shop and snack bar, with gaudy paintings lining the walls, for sale. Downstairs was a pastiche of enormous photos of mullahs, mosques, historic sights and Ahmedinejad’s smiling visage.


At rest in Persia, part 1


At rest in Persia, part 2

Posing with the Mullahs

Children played on artefacts labelled Do Not Touch.

At play on the Please Do Not Touch display


Chinese women in Iranian shiny faux-hijab stood guard at various displays, posing for photos, looking bored. I didn’t bother to take photos.

In the crowded main domed inner hall, there were factual displays about efficient energy use and urban planning and a few interactive flashy displays with lights, bells and whistles.  We paused briefly to look at a few photos before exiting.  There are only so many eco-friendly urban plans one can gaze at with interest over the course of a scorching hot Saturday morning.

We left the Axis of Evil and started our long march over to Europe for pints of Red Ale at the Irish bar.  It was so hot that the overhead walkway had nozzles spraying a constant stream of mist onto the pedestrians from the upper frames of the giant umbrellas that lined it, tucked up amongst the loudspeakers and spy cameras.

After a morning spent touring the Axis of Evil and the Central Asian Stans, that pint of red ale and plate of bangers and mash in an air conditioned fake Irish pub was marvellous.


Pints of Red Ale Afterwards


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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog’s title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.