Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Week 6

Graham, Craig, and I traveled south for the weekend to hang out with three Clinton School classmates spending the summer in Shanghai—Becca, Trenia, and Mircha. Not only did Becca and Trenia house and feed us—in only three days, they gave us enough good stories and serious laughs to fill an entire summer.

In the early 20th century, Shanghai was known as the “Paris of the Orient” and with the emergence of capitalism on steroids since the end of the Cultural Revolution, it has become the preeminent symbol of wealth and consumerism in China. Mammoth Louis Vuitton and Armani shops line Nanjing Street, and luxury cars of every shape and style cruise down the congested streets, barely avoiding the throngs of scooters, bicycles, and taxis.

To showcase its economic status and solidify its standing on the international stage, the city is hosting the largest and most expensive World Expo ever until the end of October—with over 192 countries represented. Each country has constructed a pavilion to represent their culture and style. In the interest of not waiting in line all day, Becca, Graham, Craig, and I made it our mission to walk past all of the pavilions—and only journey inside if the line was either nonexistent or continuously moving.

With only a few short breaks to eat ice cream cones, curried ostrich, mutton wraps, fried squid, and mango iced tea, we spent six hours wandering through the site, which covers 5.28 square kilometers. The architecture was fascinating—from Japan’s purple mounds topped by a pair of gigantic antennas to Mexico’s field of thirty-foot rainbow colored mushrooms to Germany’s geometric industrial complex to Spain’s two-story lumps covered by Pringle-shaped woven baskets to India’s golden mound of grass surrounded by red brick waterfalls.

From my travels, I’ve found that sometimes the most memorable cross cultural experiences are what I would call the “Three Worlds Colliding” phenomenon. These are the moments where it’s not just me, the American, interacting with you, a Chinese person. It’s the moments when another foreigner or unexpected influence jumps in the picture. When I came to China, I was ready to experience American meeting China. But when you throw another language and culture into the mix—that’s when you feel globalization first hand. Those are the moments when the world feels so much smaller, yet so much more interesting, than you ever imagined.

The entire expo was one of those “Three Worlds Colliding” experiences—more like the entire world colliding along the Huangpu River. We watched a Burundian drum performance and a Vietnamese percussion ensemble, Becca practiced her Spanish with a Chilean guard, and we oohed and awed at a water and lights show set to classical European orchestral music.

Another classic “The World IS Flat” traveling experience occurred at 3:00am on Monday, July 12. Although I must confess utter failure as 2010 World Cup fan (I just haven’t been able to make it through the 10:00pm games, much less stay up until 5:00am), we showed some serious commitment to the final match. After spending a rainy morning at the Shanghai aquarium with the masses and rocking our bodies through a traditional Chinese cup massage, we took a quick late night nap before walking from Becca and Trenia’s apartment to the Dutch Cultural Center. Arriving 25 minutes after kick off and without a piece of orange clothing among us, we were serious Dutch posers, to say the least. Nevertheless, the endless cries, gasps, and screams from the crowd kept me up through the night.