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July 7, 2009
If you decide to swing by Shanghai, you’ll quickly notice something. From the moment you leave your gate at the airport you’ll be flooded with images, ads and propaganda of the 2010 World Expo here in Shanghai, set to begin in May. The blue Gumbi like mascot with his big bubbly eyes will follow you through the city, creeping you out and calling you in.
The mascot is actually the Chinese character for people or “ren” and he magically comes to life as a cartoon icon for kids and grown ups to swoon over. He’s the Mickey Mouse of the World Expo.
The World Expo, I guess, is supposed to be like a world’s fair. Containing stations from every country in the world. It was the World’s Fair that brought Paris the Eiffel Tower, San Francisco the Palace of Fine Arts and now, China a big metal look thing.
China is making a huge deal about the event. Shanghai is under construction everywhere. Billboards are plastered every couple feet. And, just recently Shanghai has started running ads encouraging Chinese people to be polite: stop shoving, stop spitting and stop being disgusting slobs like they sometimes are now; all in anticipation for the swarms of foreigners and media outlets which will flood the city during the World Expo. (Apparently they also did this in Beijing for the Olympics.) They also put up a countdown clock in People’s Square (the busiest subway station) so that no one forgets when to have manners or when the event starts.
I hadn’t thought much of the World Expo. In fact, I am still not sure what the point is entirely. China, like I said, is making a huge deal about this. But based on conversations I’ve had with people outside of China… no one seems to know much about it! I don’t even know anyone who has heard about it out side of Shanghai, and yet, China is treating the World Expo like the Olympics.
They sell stuffed animals, t-shirts, posters, and throw parties in honor of an event that is nearly a year away! Recently, they had a huge lighting ceremony for the China exhibition (which is a monstrosity, a huge metal temple style building with red panels and a million steps).
And the most exciting part? Drama! Controversy of the US’s absence from the World Expo fills Expat conversations. (The US has yet to confirm or decide really, if we will attend with rumors that Dell and Pepsi would sponsor the booth if we chose to do it!) I’ve even heard one lady mention, “It would be the biggest mistake we ever made.” As if electing George W. twice didn’t already win that prize!
With all the debates and hooplah over an event that no one really knows about, I wonder, is it going to be a huge deal? Am I just in the dark?
Recently, after a weekend trip, I returned to something so shocking that it nearly blew my mind. The taxis, because of the World Expo, were changing. No, the drivers didn’t learn to drive or obey traffic laws. Instead they have started offering a free translation service to passengers.
In Shanghai, taxi drivers don’t speak English. Not one of them. From the HUNDREDS of taxis I’ve taken since living here I have yet to encounter one who could utter more than the normal “Hello,” “Thank You,” and “Good Bye.” To be perfectly honest, their lack of English skills has been a big motivation to learn Chinese. Somebody has to be able to know where I am going, and it isn’t going to be my taxi driver.
So after my short trip away, while going on a shopping escapade I noticed a freshly pasted sticker on the scratched up plastic partition of my taxi. My little blue World Expo friend was waving to me in excitement, attempting to gain my attention and let me know that if I needed translation services because I didn’t know where I was going, I just had to call the number listed and an operator could help! I was shocked. In the few days it had been since I last took a cab everything had changed.
No more frantic phone calls to my Chinese friends when cab drivers couldn’t understand me.
No more written down addresses on crumpled up pieces of paper to pass into the grimy hands of my hostile taxi driver.
No more pronunciation practice before even hailing a cab and subsequently, getting hissed at by my taxi driver for not saying it perfectly!
This changed every thing. This sticker rocked my world. And all because of the World Expo! I may not know what it is, or why, or the drama behind it but I do know that the sticker… is the best thing to happen to Shanghai since I arrived!
Learn more about the World Expo here!