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We started today very early, so that we could get to Expo in time to get a wheelchair for my mother. Wheelchairs are free for Expo visitors over 70 years old (increased to 75 on July 1st), but they often run out shortly after opening. My mother can't walk long distances, so getting a wheelchair was essential. We went to breakfast at Yue Garden at about 6:30, and left the hotel shortly after 7:00. We arrived at Gate 2 (South Xizang Road Entrance) at about 7:30, and thousands of people were already in line. The Expo doesn't open until 9:00, so we had a while to wait.

At 9:00 AM sharp they opened the gates and we immediately went to the information building where they rented wheelchairs. We had to wait in line about 10 minutes. They verified my mother's age with her passport, and we paid a 200 yuan ($30) deposit. As we were leaving the building, I noticed that they had already run out of wheelchairs. We barely got one, despite arriving an hour and a half early. Clearly we needed to arrive even earlier in the future.


Taking the advice of our local Shanghai guide, we proceeded to the Oil Pavilion in Zone D, built by China's petroleum industry. The line was very long, but since my mother was in a wheelchair, we were eligible for what they call green channel access. This allows the disabled, elderly, pregnant women, and sometimes children in strollers to enter through the VIP entrance without having to wait in line.*

Oil Pavilion - Shanghai World Expo

Even with green channel access, we had to wait for almost an hour in the rain before being allowed to enter. Once inside, we were immediately taken to the main theater that featured a 4D movie created by the same production team that did Avatar. The "4" in 4D is for extra effects, in addition to a standard 3D movie. In this case, the extra effects were motion chairs, water being sprayed on the audience, and the introduction of smells.

At one point in the movie, a snake slithers out into the audience and disappears. The seat then uses something similar to the mechanism in a massage chair to simulate the snake going under the audience's legs, which prompts plenty of screams. The movie also shows viewers a world without oil, with all kinds of important everyday items suddenly disappearing or breaking down. After the movie, visitors move into an area with various exhibits about...well, oil. The 4,000 square meter (43,000 square foot) exterior wall of this pavilion turns into an LED screen that changes its display based on the movement of a nearby fountain. It is especially impressive at night.

Oil Pavilion at night - Shanghai World Expo

UPDATE: Some of the movements and effects were a bit too intense for some visitors, and Shanghai Daily reported on July 23rd that some of the effects were curtailed. However, the pavilion operators insist very little was changed, and visitors report that it is still the Expo's best movie.  The Oil Pavilion was always one of the most popular, but as of mid July, it has replaced Saudi Arabia as the most popular in the entire Expo. Although the exhibits area has some interesting stuff, it is the movie everyone wants to see.


We didn't have time to visit this theme pavilion on the evening we visited Zone D. Since we had plenty of time until our 1:30 reservation for the GM-SAIC (General Motors - Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation) Pavilion, we decided to visit it now. While most of the pavilions at Expo look to the future, this pavilion looks back to see how cities developed throughout history.

I am very happy that our guide recommended returning to visit the Oil Pavilion, or we would have missed two outstanding pavilions. When we entered, we were greeted by an English-speaking Expo worker that offered to guide us through the pavilion. Although signage was in Chinese and English, it was very nice to have a guide to provide in depth explanations of the various exhibits. Despite the massive size of this pavilion, it was very crowded, and sometimes getting to the exhibit descriptions was very difficult. The guide also helped clear a path for my mother's wheelchair, which was a huge help.

Pavilion of Footprint - Shanghai World Expo

The pavilion is broken into three main areas. The first area, called the City's Origin Hall, shows what early cities looked like. The next area was the Growing City Hall, which featured full-blown cities from the middle ages. The final area, called the Urban Wisdom Hall, featured examples from the Industrial Age.

The exhibits here were very nice, and included priceless works of art from throughout mankind's history. There were some reproductions, like Michelangelo's Statue of David, but there were also many authentic pieces like Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Leicester, which is on loan from Bill Gates. This pavilion is a must for anyone interested in history.


We had spent all morning visiting just two pavilions, and we had just enough time to grab a quick bite before heading over to the GM-SAIC Pavilion. We chose a place called (Old) Uncle Fast Food. This place was completely packed, but I managed to find two empty seats. Since it was counter service, my mom held our seats while I went to get some food.

When I walked up to the counter, an English-speaking employee approached me and offered to help me order. Although I'm reasonably good at ordering by number from a set menu, it was nice to have a detailed explanation of the dishes. I chose the Curry Beef with Potatoes, which cost 24 yuan ($3.50), and Stewed Duck with Tea Tree Mushrooms, which cost 26 yuan ($3.80). Both of these dishes were excellent. I've eaten Curry Beef with Potatoes on several occasions, and this fast food version actually compared favorably with much more expensive restaurants. I think I like Old Uncle even better than Kung Fu Fast Food.

While I was eating, two girls about 6 years old came up and started talking to me in Mandarin. When I responded to them in Mandarin, they looked very happy and started babbling away. I couldn't understand what they were talking about, so I had to apologize and explain that I don't speak Chinese very well. Somewhat jokingly, I even told them "I am not able to speak Mandarin" in Mandarin. This seemed to puzzle them for a moment, but they quickly resumed this rather one-sided conversation. Eventually, I figured out that they were talking about Shaolin Gongfu (Kung Fu). I was wearing one of the Shaolin Temple t-shirts I bought a couple of days ago, and that's what prompted them to approach me.

Now that I had a vague idea what they were going on about, I was starting to understand a little bit of what they were saying. They studied martial arts. I verified this, and they seemed very happy that they were finally able to make me understand what they were saying. Then, one of the girls decided that she was going to demonstrate her martial arts skills. So she broke out into a sport wushu (martial art) routine, right in the middle of this crowded restaurant. It was really cute. She wasn't the best I've seen at her age, but she clearly practices regularly, and she was really into her routine. All the while, these girls' family, who were sitting at a nearby table, were getting a real kick out of it.


Although we had reservations for 1:30 pm at this pavilion, because the reservation entrance can't accommodate wheelchairs, we had to walk around to the green channel entrance on the opposite side of the building. We had to wait about 30 minutes in the rain, and since the pavilion was close to the river, there was a rather cool breeze. This was the only time on the entire trip that I felt even a little bit cold.

GM-SAIC Pavilion - Shanghai World Expo

The main attraction at this pavilion is a great 4D movie that shows GM-SAIC's vision of transportation in 2030. It features two of GM-SAIC's concept cars, the EN-V and the YeZ.

The EN-V (pronounced envy) is a complete reinvention of the automobile. The EN-V, which is short for Electric Networked Vehicle, is only 1.5 meters (4.5 feet) in length and weighs less than 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds). It has only two side-by-side wheels, and it uses technology developed in collaboration with Segway to maintain balance. It can be operated either autonomously or manually, and it communicates with and senses other vehicles to virtually eliminate accidents and reduce congestion. It can spin within its own footprint, and a parking lot could accommodate five times as many EN-Vs as a standard car.

EN-V concept car - Shanghai World Expo

The YeZ is an all electric car that uses natural resources to charge its batteries. It has solar cells on the roof, and wind turbines on its wheels, but the real magic is that it can generate electricity out of thin air. Using a microbial fuel cell, this car inhales CO2 and exhales pure oxygen, making electricity in the process. Chemically, this is very similar to photosynthesis, and in fact its name YeZ is derived from the Mandarin word Ye Zi, which means leaf. However, it can't be marketed as leaf in English because Nissan already has a car using that name. Since the YeZ absorbs CO2 and releases oxygen, that makes it the world's first negative-emissions vehicle.

YeZ concept car - Shanghai World Expo

Following the movie, the entire screen lifts up to reveal that there are in fact four theaters arranged in a circle around a circular stage. Some dancers come out followed by an EN-V and a YeZ, that drive around the stage. After exiting the theater, visitors walk through the exhibits area, where they can get an even closer look at these incredible cars.

This pavilion is a must see, and since it is possible to make a reservation online, it is really very easy.


* Rampant abuse of the green channel, including women putting pillows under their shirts, prompted a change of the rules. Strollers and pregnant women are no longer eligible for green channel access, the age requirement increased from 70 to 75, and disabled people (from China) must have a certificate of disability. Since people from outside China don't usually have a certificate of disability, this appears to be a judgement call for the volunteers at the various pavilions.


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