Day 2: The Beauty of Perspective

July 6, 2010

Ahhhh, Day 2 in Shanghai.  Despite the challenges of Day 1, Nick and I were determined to start this day with a positive attitude.  To get things kicked off on the right foot, we decided to indulge in a delicious breakfast at the Sofitel.  :)

I particularly enjoyed the dessert buffet, which made up 1/2 of my meal selections.  Sometimes I just LOVE being an adult!  :)  Doesn’t it look scrumptious??

The coolest part of the buffet was that it took place on the 47th floor of the hotel, which happened to be a rotating restaurant.  I was way stoked about this concept and couldn’t wait to enjoy the varying views of the city from our ringside seat – alas, I forgot to consider that the smog would make the views negligible (note the picture above – you can vaguely make out the shape of buildings).  Oh well, great views are over-rated anyways!  On to the Expo…

Now, before we get on to the Expo, I should set the scene a bit.  I failed to mention yesterday that both Nick and I had mysterious ‘pains’ that started plaguing us.  I had this perpetual foot cramp that ached with each step and Nick had a knee pain that was bothering him.  We are quite the pair, aren’t we?  We were also “homeless” for the remainder of the day, having had to check out of the hotel after brunch…

We arrived at the Expo around 1 PM.  We were told to expect horrendous crowding, but were pleased to find otherwise.  Little did we know that we had started on the unpopular side of the Expo and the crowds were waiting for us across the river….

For those of you not familiar with the Expo, it’s essentially a collection of 200 Country Pavilions where individual countries show off the best of what their nation has to offer.  They may show a movie, display artifacts and traditional costume or have a performance.

There is also a “Passport Booklet” in which you can collect stamps from each country.  Somehow, that got turned into an unspoken contest to collect every stamp, because we saw numerous examples of people coming into the pavilion, collecting their stamp and running out the exit.  Kind of defeats the purpose of the Expo, doesn’t it???

The thing that surprised us most was the lack of foreigners that we saw at the Expo.  It was about 98% Chinese attendees.  As you might imagine based on yesterday’s post, we ran into much of the same bad behavior that we’d experienced the day before, only on an amplified scale due to the massive crowds.  The umbrellas were back in full force, as was the pushing, line cutting and spitting.  Nick’s patience expired in about 30 minutes and I spent the afternoon reminding him that it was a waste of energy to yell at our impolite friends as they a.) didn’t care and b.) couldn’t understand him.

The lines for many of the pavilions were nightmarish.  Some, like the Chinese Pavilion pictured above, gave out ticketed slots at the start of the day, so that wasn’t even an option for us.  The Saudi Pavilion was the most popular, with wait time ranging from 2-6 hours.  Many people had collapsible stools that they’d pull out when stopped.  There was also a lot of card-playing going on.  Nick and I decided that there wasn’t anything inside those pavilions that we wanted to see bad enough to wait in line for 2 hours.  By hour 3 we were both starting to reach our max (pathetic, I know).  It was the combination of the heat, crowds, and lack of manners that really got to us.

Then, in the distance, we saw it – the Philippines Pavilion!  We ran towards, needing something, anything really, to lift our spirits.  And just as expected, it came through for us!  It was by far our favorite pavilion, really capturing the essence of what the Philippines was all about – Food, Shopping, Massage and Performing.  The had a cute cafe offering all the Filipino favorites, a Hilot Massage room where you could try a sampling of this indigenous massage style, and an entire market area of fun Filipino wares for purchase.

The highlight of the Expo for me was going up to get my picture taken with a group of Filipino Performers.  When it was my turn I walked up to them and said Good Afternoon in Tagalog and they immediately replied, “You speak Tagalog!” and started hugging me and shouting in typical Filipino fashion.  When they found out we lived in Manila it became a major love-fest.

After days of being pushed and stepped on, I can’t tell you how good it felt to be embraced in the arms of a Filipino.  It didn’t matter that I only knew 20 Tagalog words or had white skin; all that mattered was that we shared a love for the amazing country that is the Philippines!

It was on that high note that we decided to leave the Expo.  We were both feeling nostalgic for Manila and ready to get on the airplane.  Too bad we still had 7 hours to kill before our flight took off….

We decided to kill a couple of hours with dinner.  We found a curry restaurant near People’s Square that appeared to have recognizable food.  No luck on communicating though, so we resorted to the old “Point and Pantomine” method.  Everything was going fine until I created an international incident, as my husband loving put it, by asking for a fork.  Granted, I know this isn’t the culturally savvy thing to do, but I’d had a long day and damn it I wanted to enjoy my food with a fork, not chop sticks!

This request was not understood by my server, but the guy at the table next to us (who was apparently eavesdropping on our conversation) started laughing out loud.  Oh sure, I thought, we finally get someone who understands English and all they choose to do is laugh at me, not assist.  Being the nice midwestern gal that I am, I flashed him my brightest smile and EUREKA – he translated for the waitress!  YAY – SARAH GETS HER FORK!  The night was looking up.

All of a sudden a 3 piece band starts playing (singer, bongo drum, guitar).  It was very haphazard and they were basically standing in the entryway of the restaurant, so they had to move frequently for people to enter and waiters to go by.  That said, they were absolutely entrancing despite looking so out of place.  Not a Chinese person in that restaurant was looking at them but boy were they rocking out.  I felt so bad for them that I started bopping my head and smiling at them, letting them know that someone appreciated their efforts.

It was somewhere in the middle of Alicia Keyes’ “No One” song that it dawned on me – this band had to be Filipino!  They were radiating too much JOY not to be.  :)  I ran up there and over-enthusiastically asked them where they were from.  My hunch was right: Filipinos!  Nick and I were beaming as we left the restaurant.  It was the second time that day that joyful Filipinos had pulled us out of our slump.  You would have laughed to see us – we kept hugging each other and whistling Alicia Keyes.  We even started talking about a timeline for adopting a Filipino child of our own!  :)

And that, my friends, is why travel (even when painful) can be a very good thing – because it reminds you of exactly what resonates with you and helps you fall in love with it even more.  In our case, that just happens to be what we already have, our beloved Philippines!

And just in case that wasn’t enough gushing, you will be pleased to know that our Filipino stewardess on Cebu Pacific had handed in Nick’s Kindle to the lost and found and it was waiting for us when we returned to the airport!  :)  A sweet ending to a bitter-sweet trip…

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  1. Alison says:

    I love your honesty in these two posts! I think it’s good to remember that travel can be a challenge and not always in a good way. It’s ok to not fall in love with every place you visit. I think I would have had the same reaction. I can’t stand line jumpers and rudeness and crowds make me crazy. The smog… yikes! I guess it’s for the best that I didn’t go to the expo :) That said, good on you for your perspective after the fact.

  2. miguel says:

    as a filipino living away from my homeland, i am beaming with pride from your comments. i ‘appreciate’ your appreciation.

  3. minnesotagal says:

    Thanks Alison- My husband always jokes that I am the eternal optimist, so I’m working to portray my experiences in life as truthfully as possible. It’s perfectly normal to expect that not everything is going to click with me…

  4. Naomi says:

    What a delightful post! We felt the SAME way when we were leaving Hong Kong … except that we didn’t feel the love from fellow residents of India while we were there …

    We went from one experience of umbrellas, pushing/shoving and line-cutting to another …

    oh well … we were all glad to be home … and SO glad that the Kindle was turned in!

    We’ll get to Manila one of these days … in fact, we took over the staff from a gal here in Delhi who then moved to Manila last year. It’s in our cards, for sure!

  5. minnesotagal says:

    Glad to know I wasn’t alone in my experience of China … it makes me feel better somehow. I definitely hope that you get to experience Manila first-hand. It is a wonderful experience! :) The people are what make it so unique…

  6. John says:

    The horror stories coming from the Shanghai expo keeps on mounting, my friends and I are planning to visit this September but after reading your post, I’m shelving it for good! I’d rather just take a side trip to Singapore than that haha

  7. minnesotagal says:

    Oh no! I feel awful…. this should in no way influence your decision to go! It just wasn’t a good fit for us…. :)

  8. John says:

    No no, some friends were already sharing their stories about it so your story just seAled it for me ;)

  9. Bfiles says:

    what interesting and balanced posts! I love how hard you tried to like Shanghai, and even though you didn’t, your posts still come across as positive and upbeat. You are such an inspiration! I just love hearing how much the Philippines has stolen your heart. You have made me fall in love with it too, and I only hope to get posted there some day.

  10. minnesotagal says:

    I wish a Philippines tour on every Diplomat before their career is done … :) I am going to cry like a baby when we leave this place. We are already talking about a second tour here! My in-laws were shocked by what they called my first “negative review” of something. Glad to see that you still saw something positive in it… I truly did want to like it!

  11. Katrina Buetow says:

    I am so happy to hear that Nick got his Kindle back. What a MAJOR blessing. Also, excited to see the note about a timeline to adopt a baby…looking forward to LOTS to come on that subject in the future I am sure =;)

  12. kero says:

    Hi! Reading your blog just makes me miss my country all the more (though I go home twice a year – I’m an OFW, btw)…You’ve hit the point when you said it’s the people who make the country unique…the Philippines does not have the advertising budget of its neighbors, but if your tribe increases, the word of mouth promotion will definitely help our economy…the country does need to attract more ‘quality’ tourists that will appreciate a place (the good, the bad, even the ugly) in a more sensible manner

  13. minnesotagal says:

    Hi Kero- Thanks for reading! Where are you an OFW? I can’t say enough good things about Filipinos. It must be hard to be away (although what am I saying, I’m doing the exact same thing!) My husband and I both consider this country a hidden gem and hope it stays that way for at least a few more years…

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