And the tallest Buddha in China. Quite the weekend, no?
First thing's first: the World Expo (a.k.a. World's Fair) is spectacular. If you ever get the chance, GO! I'm already trying to figure out how to get a job working at the next one. How cool would that be? Anyways, I'll just give a quick run-down of my experience. I spend the morning with a large group, but after lunch Mikaela and I got ahead of everyone else and ended up spending the rest of the day alone. It was great. We visited mostly smaller countries, which was a great strategy. For one thing, it meant fewer lines so we got to see a ton of countries (we figure we hit up over 40), and for another thing, it meant we got to chat with people. I won't go through the list of all of the countries that we visited right now, since that would get really long really fast and I don't remember all of them (we bought passports to get stamped, and while most did, some didn't have stamps). I'm just going to run through some of my favorites.
We went to Nepal in the morning (I insisted). Nepal had a really need pavilion. Theirs was a brick building and behind it was a huge glass sphere that had stairs winding their way to the top. It was draped with prayer flags and at the top, not only did you get a spectacular view, but there was a Buddha in a small room. Well, Mikaela was really upset that she wasn't going to get to see the Shanghai skyline while we were there and so she didn't feel like she was actually in Shanghai. Remember that awesome view I mentioned? Guess what you could see. She was thrilled. It was actually pretty funny. Inside the sphere was a kind of marketplace selling Nepali goods. It was a really cool thing. I think I saw a picture of the Child Goddess on one of the walls as we were leaving, but it was lunchtime and no one would let me go back and check.
My other favorite pavilions were the ones that were for general areas rather than specific countries. There were pavillions for Africa, South America, and the Pacific and the small countries in that area had mini pavilions set up inside. They were so cool. Those were the ones where we got a chance to chat with people. When we were in the Pacific, we met a woman from Tonga. She stamped our passports. She was so nice that I have no idea where Tonga is, but I really want to go there now. She asked where we were from, and we told her, and then she asked if we were in China for the Expo, so we explained that we were exchange students. She was really impressed. That happened all day. People were really nice and assumed that we were tourists, but when they realized that we were actually exchange students they were surprised, impressed, and much more interested. Anyways, we chatted with her for a while before moving on. We met another nice guy outside of Fiji, if I remember correctly, and the guy who stamped our passports for Jamaica was really friendly. He flirted with us, especially with Mikaela when she mentioned that she had been to Jamaica once. It was all I could do to not laugh. I think she had the same problem.
In South America we got to practice our Spanish. Mikaela had also been to Ecuador, and so while we were there she chatted with a woman and told her about her trip. It was fun. We also went to Bolivia and I struck up a conversation with the guy who was working at the gift counter. I asked him how much something was in Spanish and even though I decided that it was more than I wanted to pay, I got a good chat in. It was so much fun to have a chance to talk to someone in a foreign language that I actually speak. The guy was really nice. One thing I learned was that people from Ecuador and Bolivia, at least the ones I met, is that they speak really clearly. It was great.
In Africa we talked to a guy from Ghana. He had an incredible voice. I know I'm a sucker for accents, but I seriously could have listened to him talk all day. (Although I'm sure Mikaela got tired of me saying that about almost everyone we talked to that day.) When we left, he shook our hands and said that we had a friend if we ever came to Ghana. We also found a picture of President Obama in Kenya (they had a poster about his heritage) and took a picture with it. How many chances do you get to take a picture with Obama in Kenya in China? Not many.
For dinner, we went to the Mexican pavilion and I got tacos. I was in heaven. I still am, actually, and this was on Thursday. They were delicious. I mean, there's a Mexican restaurant in D.C. called Maria's and they were up to that scale. Needless to say, I was not expecting to find that in China. That managed to take care of my taco craving. I can wait another week. Man, those were delicious. It's not that I mind Chinese food, I've gotten delicious food here, my family feeds me so well, but I can't eat Chinese food for every meal for five weeks straight. Mmmm. Tacos. The pavilion was cool, too.
At the New Zealand pavilion, I got to touch a huge piece of Jade that connects you to the Mauri (life force). That was really neat. Now I have to find out more behind that, since I'm connected.
So that's my run-down of my World Expo experience.
Friday we went up to Wuxi, which is home to the tallest Buddha in China. We went into the park and stopped by a tall statue that had a huge flower on top and were told to meet back there at 2:30 for a ceremony. Then we went off. I started out with Chloe, Rachael, Mikaela, Julie Ann, and three Chinese kids, Joseph's host brother, Mike, Rachael's host cousin whose name I don't know, and another kid who I didn't know at all, but Julie Ann and Mikaela got ahead of us. Our first stop on the trail was at a temple that I can only compare to a European church. It was pretty spectacular. We had to wear slippers over our shoes while we were inside. It was pretty neat. I have pictures.
Then we headed off to see the Buddha up close. We had to go up a long path and through a doorway, where we found ourselves facing a small Buddha and a bunch of cushions. So I did what I assumed I was supposed to do and knelt down on the cushions. Then a guy off to the side shouted something and I jumped up because I thought that I was in trouble. He waved us over and gave us prayer bead bracelts. That was pretty cool. Then we went through the building, which was reallyl narrow, and found ourselves in another courtyard-type place. There were candles and prayer things tied to trees. It was really cool. After that was another building, this one housing a really big Buddha and some more cushions. Again, I knelt down. A monk who I hadn't seen came over to me and showed me how to worship the Buddha. It was really a neat experience. I felt like I had learned a lot of cultural stuff- in two days I had connected with the Mauri and the Buddha.
After that, we got to climb 294 stairs, or some painful number like that, and get to a landing just below the Buddha's feet. That thing is enormous. But we wanted to go up to touch the feet, since that's supposed to be good luck. We found out that in order to do that, we had to go down a landing and take an elevator up. Annoyed is one good word for my emotions then. We figured that out at about 2:20 and decided to try and make it, since we really wanted to touch the feet. So we went. I'm about as tall as that Buddha's toe, in case you want some perspective on the height of the statue. We all got to touch the feet. Then we heard music starting. It was chanting with some Chinese instruments and we looked out and saw the flower and a huge crowd gathered around it. We were officially late. Rachael's host cousin had explained to me that the flower would open to reveal the Buddha's baby, but the flower wasn't moving yet, so we decided to try to make it. We ran down and when we were about halfay down the 294 steps, the flower started to open. We could still see it, so we snapped some pictures and kept running. When we got through the buildings, we could see it again and the baby was turning so that it was facing us, since we were behind it. Again, we got some pictures. We ran around a big wall and into the courtyard where the statue was at exactly the same moment as the music hit a climax and the fountains went up. I will never doubt Buddhist luck. I have a really cool sequence of photos where the statue gets closer and closer.
Later on, my luck kept up. On the bus home from the school, where we got dropped off, I pass the Monkey King Italian Restaurant, which I have wanted a picture of for weeks but have always failed at taking. This time I snapped the perfect picture and a second after I saw that it had taken, my camara died. How's that for luck? It doesn't get any better.
This weekend, I had free time with my family. Saturday morning, since my sister had lessons, I spent my time updating my journal, studying characters, and organizing my suitcase. That afternoon, we went out to lunch and went shopping, which is what we did today (Sunday) as well. I can't believe that in a week's time, I'll be home. Part of me is excited, but part of me never wants to leave. We'll see which part wins out.