By BRANDON TAYLOR
Special to the Times News
I started the day in China, then moved on to Germany before making a quick stop in America. By mid-afternoon, I'd seen Turkey and parts of Africa. I ended the day with a night tour of Spain.
This Phileas Fogg-inspired journey, while possible only in great works of fiction, can be achieved if you happen to be in Shanghai, China, for the 2010 World Expo.
The Expo is a world celebration; an event where nations from around the globe gather to present their culture and innovations. Think Disney's Epcot, without the rides and screaming kids but minus the general fun factor of being in an amusement park.
This year, China plays host to the global gala, and much like the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing the nation spared no expense in creating a truly awe-inspiring experience.
The first World Expo, also called the World's Fair, was held in London in 1851 and offered nations the world over the chance to show off their advanced manufactured goods. Inventions like the telephone, steam engine, ice cream cone, zipper, and television made their debuts, or at least received wider recognition, over the course of the last 150 years at different World Expos.
Architectural marvels like the Eiffel Tower (built in 1876) in Paris, France, and the Space Needle (1962) in Seattle, Wash., were also made specifically for their respective expositions.
Expos have shifted from mere invention showcases to events meant to address current issues such as global warming, globalization, and, in Shanghai's case, urbanization. This expo's theme of Better City, Better Life was meant to introduce people to new technologies and ideas for living in an increasingly green and environmentally friendly global community.
Where amusement parks have rides, expos have pavilions built and operated by individual countries. In Shanghai, some 190 nations were represented. Visiting them all would have been great, but my three-day visit limited the time available to see the world.
The German Pavilion is impressive in content and design. The outside is metallic-looking and futuristic, and resembles a 3-D puzzle about to be put together. The inside features numerous displays on how to create a city in balance between people, environment and all aspects of urban living. German innovations and methods of living a green lifestyle make it seem foolish to not live a more environmentally friendly life.
The USA Pavilion and not to sound unpatriotic fails to impress. Where Germany has physical objects to interact with, America "wows" pavilion goers with three short video presentations featuring citizens, celebrities and politicians, including President Obama, who encourages people to embrace and live greener, low-carbon lifestyles.
As the euphoria of being surrounded by 100 percent Americanism wore off, I felt gypped. I expected cool new green inventions, gizmos with lots of gadgets, anything that shouted: "Look what amazing things America has!" But unfortunately that would be reserved for the Japan Pavilion and its amazing, violin-playing robot, floorboards that generate electricity when walked on, and world's largest interactive personal organizer called the Life Wall.
Spain's pavilion, while somewhat straying from the Expo's theme, provides a taste of Spanish culture. Cameras project lively scenes of the running of the bulls onto the pavilion's grand chamber walls as a woman performs a seductive Spanish flamenco dance on a raised platform. But a giant robot baby near the pavilion's exit is something of a curve ball. How are 21-foot tall, animatronic infants pertinent to Spanish culture or the Expo's green theme? Even so, it made for a fun picture.
The Shanghai Expo, while technically a theme park, by no means is a place to take a relaxing vacation. From waiting in long lines some with queue times of more than 4 hours to the mass influx of people almost 250,000 people daily a day at the Expo was more exhausting than a full week of work. But the chance to walk from nation to nation, checking out advances in modern green technology and seeing masterfully designed pavilions is worth the minor inconveniences.
Brandon Taylor is a language consultant/foreign expert for the Beijing Review, an English language weekly newsmagazine in Beijing, China. He is a former correspondent for the TIMES NEWS. Read Brandon's blog at http://www.btay200.blogspot.com/. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.