1 Zola and Retail Marketing
2 Playing the Waiting Game
3 Beware the Ides of March
4 The county not on a map
5 Chinese Chess in Beijing
6 Build it and They'll Come
7 Riding the Water Dragon
8 The Best of Both Worlds
9 Storming the Great Wall
10 Welcome to the Wangba
11 The Catcher in the Rice
12 The Marriage Business
13 The Crouching Dragon
14 Counting the Numbers
15 A Century of Migration
16 Shooting for the Stars
17 Rise of Yorkshire Puds
18 Harry Potter in Beijing
19 Standing Out in China
20 Self-pandactualisation
21 Strolling on the Moon
22 Tea with the Brothers
23 Animated Guangzhou
24 Trouble on the Farms
25 Christmas in Haerbin
26 Dave pops into Tesco
27 A Breath of Fresh Air
28 The Boys from Brazil
29 Rolls-Royce on a roll
30 The Great Exhibition
31 Spreading the Word
32 On Top of the World
33 Moonlight Madness
34 Beijing's Wild West
35 Avatar vs Confucius
36 Brand Ambassadors
37 Inspiring Adventure
38 China's Sweet Spot
39 Spinning the Wheel
40 Winter Wonderland
41 The End of the Sky
42 Ticket to Ride High
43 Turning the Corner
44 Trouble in Toytown
45 Watch with Mother
46 Red-crowned Alert
47 In a Barbie World
48 Domestic Arrivals
49 Tale of Two Taxis
50 Land of Extremes
51 Of 'Mice' and Men
52 Tour of the South
53 Brooding Clouds?
54 The Nabang Test
55 Guanxi Building
56 Apple Blossoms
57 New Romantics
58 The Rose Seller
59 Rural Shanghai
60 Forbidden Fruit
61 Exotic Flavours
62 Picking up Pace
63 New Year, 2008
64 Shedding Tiers
65 Olympic Prince
66 London Calling
67 A Soulful Song
68 Paradise Lost?
69 Brandopolises
70 Red, red wine
71 Finding Nemo
72 Rogue Dealer
73 Juicy Carrots
74 Bad Air Days
75 Golden Week
76 Master Class
77 Noodle Wars
78 Yes We Can!
79 Mr Blue Sky
80 Keep Riding
81 Wise Words
82 Hair Today
83 Easy Rider
84 Aftershock
85 Bread vans
86 Pick a card
87 The 60th
88 Ox Tales
2001 to 2007

The Great Exhibition

On certain days, not even Minis can zip around

A few days ago I arrived in Shanghai and took a taxi from Hongqiao airport to Fuxing Park in the centre of the city. It was a horrible journey of more than an hour that cost a hefty 110 yuan.  Previously, the most I’d paid for the same trip was about 80 yuan.  “Sorry,” said the driver, “It’s the Expo”.

  This is the first time that the Expo has bee granted to China.  Since its inception in 1851 – when the inaugural event, “The Great Exhibition (of the Works of Industry of All Nations)”, was held in London – the Expo has been to Asia only on four occasions (Japan, three times; and once in South Korea).  So, there is a palpable sense here in China that this is a hugely important event that further signifies (less than two years after the Beijing Olympics) that China has taken its rightful place not only on the world stage, but at the very centre of it.

  Expo 2010 has been the ongoing “big story” here since, funnily enough, the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.  The millions of local column inches devoted to the Expo have prompted tens of millions of Chinese to set their sights on coming to Shanghai to see it for themselves.  Add to those tens of millions a significant number of foreign visitors and you arrive at the official visitor projection for the six-month extravaganza: a cool 70 million people (an average of about 380 thousand each day).

  While it would be tempting for people struggling to get around Shanghai this summer to blame their travel difficulties on the Expo, the truth of the matter is that – other than the area adjacent to the venue – Expo visitors (the majority of whom will be taking public transport) are not likely to add much more misery to the “normally” (ie Expo-less) woeful traffic situation in Shanghai. 


  Traffic congestion because of “sheer weight of traffic” is, increasingly, a fact of life in Shanghai, as it is in every Chinese city.  It’s simply part of the price to pay for the staggering economic development that has made car ownership an attainable aspiration for more than 100 million people (China overtook the US last year to become the world’s biggest auto market, with 10.3 million passenger cars sold – 53 per cent more than the previous year.)

  So, if it’s not the Expo-visitors’ fault, then just who is to blame for the horrendous traffic around Shanghai during the past few days? On my (tortuous) way back to the airport I stopped off at the gates of the Xijiao guesthouse to find out.

  I’ve been a regular visitor to Xijiao – which has the best woodland and lake in Shanghai – for more than a dozen years.  It really is a pleasure to walk around the miles of little paths and to quietly sit in one of the small pavilions – only a mile or so from the hustle and bustle of Hongxu Lu, but a million miles away from the sometimes quite-maddening crowd (the grounds are private and the high walls and tight security ensure that the only people I usually see there are gardeners).

  On a visit to Shanghai two weeks ago, though, I discovered that the gardeners were not the only people in uniforms. Armed guards from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) were positioned on strategic bridges and pathways.  They prevented me from getting to the western half of the oasis, but I was still able to enjoy a pleasant stroll around the eastern side following a very nice pizza at the Guesthouse’s coffee-shop (you can’t buy tickets to get into Xijiao, but a visit to the restaurant provides de facto access to the gardens and lake – a one day “pizza pass” as it were).

  But, earlier today, I realised that security was on a completely different level. No amount of pleading was going to get me past the PLA captain on the front gate and his “No entry, refurbishment in progress” sign.  This was not a surprise, of course, because today is the official opening ceremony of the Expo and the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, and dozens of other heads of state and dignitaries are in town for the event. 


  From the Chinese government’s perspective, if you’re important, then you just simply have to be on the Xijiao guest list.  Mao Zedong started the fashion by staying there 49 years ago (in 1961).  Since then more than a 100 heads of states have been guests there – including Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in October 1986; President George “W” Bush, in October 2001; and President Obama in November last year.

 These days, though, even the most prestigious of establishments have to have an eye for commercial opportunities that can offset maintenance costs (which, in the case of Xijiao include the staffing costs of an army of gardeners).  As well as offering one of the best pizzas in Shanghai to anyone who wanders in off the street, the venue has also hosted “branded events” since at least as far back as 2004, when Shanghai Tang hired the south lawn for a Champagne reception, followed by the “runway” launch of its autumn “nomad” fashion collection.  Liu Xiang, who had just returned triumphantly to China following his 100 metres hurdles’ gold medal success at the Athens’ Olympics was one of the well-heeled guests that night.


  Talking of hurdles, with so many state leaders here for the Expo launch, and therefore so many cavalcades whizzing around town on cleared roads (which are closed for several minutes before the arrival of the motorcade), it’s not surprising that getting around town has been painfully slow.  I don’t want to rain on tonight’s parade, but I think it’s only fair to say that “Better City, Better Life”, the Shanghai Expo’s official theme, should have come with an “Except when you can’t get a pizza at Xijiao” caveat.

Far from the maddening crowd: The grounds of the Xijiao guesthouse