Shanghai Expo

India Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo

Vikas Swarup, author of Slumdog Millionaiore, was quoted in the Shanghai Daily, that the Indian pavilion at the Expo is "stunning," so I went there first. That author is a career diplomat now located in Japan, and he writes (he says) to fulfill an urge to use his talent. At the Indian pavilion the line was several coils round and I was terribly impressed and I went up to the elevated walkway for a better view. But the crowds next door, round Nepal, weren't one bit thinner, and about the same number of people stood below umbrellas and waited to be let into Pakistan. Only Sri Lanka was open for immediate entry, into a red structure with a shrine for the Buddha in the middle where people kicked off their shoes and worshiped gaily. The people (mainly of their own republic) let Sri Lanka's restaurant in relative peace, while Nepal's restaurant did good business. The Buddhist thread was tangible.


Pakistan's pavilion at the Shanghai Expo

Saudi Arabia loomed behind India and sang incessantly.

I left the Expo for an hour to quickly buy a little second-hand tripod for my Leica M9 from a genial old man who laughed easily and was patient through all my imploring to reduce the price just a bit, only so much much as the space I showed him between my thumb and index finger. He refused without a word and without losing composure, again and again, so I took the thing but gave him RMB 50 less and he made a sound neither Chinese nor English but of happy acceptance. He gave me a crumpled flimsy bag to carry my purchase, the bag that had probably brought him his lunch.

Sujaya sent messages asking me to hurry back—Indonesia had performed a dance and she was greatly excited by it. When I went back Indonesia was done, but New Zealand was doing its native song and dance: deep cries accompanied by thigh slapping with much gusto: it seemed like a war dance with potential to scare off any adversary, howsoever armed. Some Chinese (men) took off their tops and rushed onstage to imitate the dance—the Kiwis accommodated them very graciously indeed.

Africa's pavilions at the Shanghai Expo

Africa had unified the presentation of its nations in a theme that was pleasant to the eye, even if simple. South Africa had Mandela's nice face upon its outside, and Egypt wasn't a pyramid but a structure created with every form of line while playing down the straight line of the ancients, and gray and black and white like a giant boutique. It reached closing time while we were in Africa, and a short line of floats were being readied on the street for a show like Rio's, manned by boys and girls who had perhaps been drawn from high schools.

Student volunteers were the human face of the Expo. They were dressed in green upon white, and stood at every bust stop, at all the gates, before every pavilion, at information counters, and, in short, wherever we cast our eyes. They struggled exquisitely, sometimes in anguish, sometimes smiling and helpless, being at a loss for words in English, but they always succeeded in providing assistance.

Dusk in Shanghai on the Pudong side

We had entered the Expo easily in the morning, and the exit was as painless, which is perhaps the world's demand on China, the globe's genius in high-volume management. When we reached the Shanghai Science & Technology Museum, near our hotel, groups of Westerners were heading toward the Oriental Art Center, venue for a performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra—which was denied us by our early morning flight.