Training is Draining

I don’t even know where to begin. My internet connection is pretty unstable which has caused me to write minimally about my intense experience thus far at the World Expo.  Training has been draining, but I have managed to find time to go out every single night.  Today is my first night staying in this week – due to the thunderbolts and lightning (very, very frightening to me!) even though the Philippines and Angola are holding parties in their pavilions.  Today marks the HALFWAY point of the expo.

July 22 - On the first day, I was so happy to be reunited with Charlotte – my friend from Fudan study abroad. I had dinner at a Xin Jiang restaurant with a few people I had just met, including one of my suitemates. I was eager to go out, but many people were jetlagged, understandably.

July 23 - The next morning, I grabbed some breakfast with a new friend before we met up with others to visit the Expo grounds. At the expo, we visited Kazakhstan – which included a really cool 4D movie with moving chairs like at theme parks, an ice room – to imitate winters in their country, and some random games… it was all pretty entertaining in my opinion.  We then visited the USA Pavilion to check out the offices, nothing as in depth as the training I will describe later. We then visited Egypt, which was a bit underwhelming… other than a few Egyptian statues and art, there wasn’t much to see or interact with.


Inside Egypt.

Thereafter, Charlotte and I rushed to People’s Square to have my reunion with AMBER and LUCY, after ONE YEAR!  We met at Raffles City for a sad one-hour before we had to head back for the Student Ambassador Pizza Party! It was funny to see how many people recognized me from Facebook. “Hey CASSIE CHAOS!” Oh Facebook.  A few guys at my table were really eager to go out and explore Shanghai, so this we did! M2 first, followed by GPlus, 2 clubs where I got my dance on! I enjoy Shanghai nightlife, as it consists more of dancing around opposed to New York’s lounging and drinking.


Night out!

July 24 – The USA Pavilion had shorts, skirts, and pants tailored for us at the Fabric Market. Sadly, I have never gotten anything made in Shanghai’s fabric market, and the only thing I would probably get made is suits, like I did in Beijing. Anyway, it was all free of charge and I have to go pick them up this Sunday.  Char and I walked around People’s Park in awe of how Shanghai has evolved over this past year, especially the number of blue sky days! For those in Shanghai, find the time to visit People’s Park. It’s absolutely gorgeous!

People's Park

We met up with Amber for our last night together and had some yummy Pho – as you know it’s my favorite. We walked past what was remaining of “小吃街”or “little food street” but all of it was boarded up or demolished, sigh- thanks a lot expo. After dinner, we went to Zapatas (one of many times to come) to hang out with some ambassadors. Overall, it was a very fun night before the draining of training.

Zapatas night 1.

July 25- Wake up at 6:30 AM to head to the USA Pavilion at 7AM…2 hours before the pavilion even opens! We took a tour for 3 hours…before we finally walked back to Expo Village, where many of us had some cheap family-style lunch. After lunch, we sat in a classroom for 5 hours for an orientation lecture. Draining much? I can’t even remember what I did this night.

July 26 – 8AM to 8PM: lecture training… important and EXTREMEMLY tiring, but still managed to go out to Zapatas for Alice’s 22nd birthday. Had an AMAZING night and really got to loosen people’s stiff sides. As I said, Zapatas – always fun. Met some USA Pavilion dancers who rocked the bar dancing!

July 27 – DAY OFF! Woke up at 1PM and introduced Alice to 麻辣汤 and she loved it! Can’t remember what else we did, but at night we visited Malta pavilion, but it wasn’t anything special – just a bar with outdoor seating. Nice for a “chill” night.

July 28 – My first day of on-site training! I was partnered with Josiah and a session 1 ambassador, both really outgoing individuals and I had an awesome time in operations. I even said a brief about myself in front of the Act I crowd in Chinese! However, my first on-site training day was pretty intense, as I had to send two people to First Aid, and help one woman find her child. Lost children seem to be a reoccurring theme at the pavilion and the expo grounds…which is kind of funny considering each family usually only has ONE child. In the afternoon, we had a very short training about VIP – nothing we hadn’t heard before.

Afterward we all boarded a bus to the US Consulate (which by the way is directly across from Bulldog…where I celebrated St. Patrick’s day and Cinco de Mayo last year…ruh roh!).  After a discussion panel and an oath, the SAs made an a-line to the grill and quickly devoured the spread like locusts. I was estatic that dessert included green tea ice cream

At night, we went to our first pavilion PARTY at the Austrian pavilion. It was a first night out for many of the ambassadors, but I was entertained with the euro music playing in the background. Apparently I danced so crazily I made it onto the front page of the Expo Nights website – woohoo! One of the session 1 ambassadors took us out to a club called Number 88, which is reputed as a “Chinese” club, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself! They played the best music I have heard in Shanghai thus far.   

July 29 – DAY OFF! I woke up around noon and met up with some friends for 麻辣汤 again. We then proceeded to the fake market where I bought two MORE Longchamp bags and a couple DVDs. It began to rain while we traveled back to the village, keeping me indoors for the night.  I think I’m going to put “Kick- Ass” on until I fall asleep.

Til next time! Love from Shanghai.
PS. Forgive me for my poor grammar structure and horrible's been a long week and Chinese is taking over my brain.

This is not Disney World and I am not Obama.

For the past few days I have been chillin in Shanghai with some Aussies and it's been wonderful! I went out to play rugby with one of them for the first time and I feel like I've had my ass kicked, because literally, I did.  The weather is so hot here that I have only left their apartment three times in the past three days, once for rugby, once for shopping, and once for bubble tea! Apparently, it will only get hotter as July and August are the hottest months of the year... I don't think Taiwan prepared me for anything.

View from Aussie's apt. Jealous the Expo view is not like this.

As for the title of my's the clear expression of my experience at the World Expo. It is NOT Disney World and I am clearly not high roller like Obama. Once I stepped foot into the Expo, the massive pavilions just awestruck me. Of course waiting in line is nobody's favorite thing to do (if it is, you're interesting), so I flashed around my staff pass in the VIP line.  Too bad for my parents, we found out that at most pavilions, only I can get in.  If only I were Obama, I would get in with as many people I wanted...but I'm not.

VIP [staff] pass

At night, however, the lines go pretty fast - there are still hundreds of thousands of people though.  We went to Nepal, Taiwan, France, and a few others that had moving lines.  Taiwan had an amazing pavilion.  While it didn't really cover the topic of urban sustainability, it had some pretty neat effects - a 720 degree movie (it surrounds you), a HUGE LED screen in the shape of a balloon - to submit digital paper lanterns, and a tea ceremony with harp playing.  Because of these intricate stages of the pavilion, you must have a reservation ticket (or pass in my case), and only 4,000 tickets are given out a day.  I don't even know when they give them out! 

720 degree movie.

Largest LED sphere.

While the expo does not strike me as a theme park, it is an opportunity for the native Chinese to explore other cultures and lifestyles.  In the French pavilion, many were taking pictures with an Eiffel Tower image, pretending they were there. In the Taiwan pavilion it was fun for me to watch the guys take pictures with the pretty female Taiwanese staff. All in all, most pavilions do not fit the "Better City, Better Life" theme, but they showcase a day in the life of a [country] person. 

Outside of the Expo, my parents and I visited my old stomping grounds - Fudan, Wu Jiao Chang, Wu Dong Lu... as well as the Bund, Xin Tian Di, French Concession, and Tian Zi Fang.  All of these places have changed so much over the past year, especially the Bund.  But, the magnificent view of the Financial District has not been altered.  Always beautiful and always enchanting!

I love my new camera!

The new student ambassadors arrive in 4 hours! I'm so excited to finally be united with the rest of the crew.  I will be sure to update in a few days once I get settled in my new apartment!

Shanghai, 381 days later.

July 16, 2010
I have arrived at my final destination, Shanghai. I had been anxiously awaiting this moment for 380 days (since the day I left - June 1st, 2009) and I am finally here. Today, I was greeted with rolling thunderstorms and flooded sidewalks, but still made the trek to the world expo. I should've waited until tomorrow when the weather is technically "clearer", but whatever - hindsight 20/20. I walked around the expo site with my shoes completely soaked, not from the direct rain, but from the puddles - more like ponds - forming on the uneven pavement. Aside from the misery in my shoes, I was pretty content with the expo.

Before departing for China, I had heard several "complaints" or discontent remarks about the expo, especially about the USA Pavilion. I have heard that it is a "disappointment" and that the government should revoke their law preventing government funding for the pavilion. Here's my two cents... I'm happy with what the USAP has produced. In my honest opinion, the USAP has done well for themselves considering their was no government financial assistance. They also followed the theme of "Better City, Better Life" targeting urban sustainability. Sure many people could consider the short films somewhat corny, in a way I understand, but the underlying message that was broadcasted to the visitors is that with a little compassion for the environment, we can really make a difference. Tis is true.

Also, the concept of breaking the USAP into different "acts" assists with the flow of visitors. They move hundreds of people from one room to another, allowing a new group of visitors into the pavilion every 10 minutes or so. I have a feeling that the only reason why Saudi Arabia's line is on average a 5 hour wait is because one of the rooms plays a 30 minute film, which automatically deters the the flow of traffic. I will post some photos and a video soon about the Saudi Arabia's hilarious- Chinese military is involved in the procession of the visitors.

Perhaps I would not wait 2 hours in line for the USA Pavilion, but fortunately I did not have to. This is what you get when you're VIP, just kidding - well not really. As an SA -student ambassador- we receive fast lane access to all the pavilions (or most) and do not have to wait in line unless the VIP line is long. Today, I called up to USAP office and spoke with the coordinator, who helped get my family into the pavilion without having to wait.

Inside the pavilion I met two ambassadors who really enjoyed their experience thus far, another contradiction to the general assumption. I really do believe this experience is what you make of it. If you go into the ambassadorship banking on someone else's negative opinion, you definitely won't enjoy yourself. Each person can create his/her own adventure, it is your own choice if you want to be miserable or not.

I had also read about foreigners disgruntled with the Chinese people. All i can say to them is to be more patient in trying to understand why people are the way they are. There is nothing you can do to stop them from shoving each other around and making decisions to put their family members at the front of the line. It's a cultural difference that we can only acknowledge and accept. I find Shanghai very similar to New York City. After living in each city for half a year, I have come to realize that the sheer mass of people in a small space (aka heavy density) create a brashness and abrasive behavior in many individuals, including myself. When I lived in Shanghai, I expected the pushing and shoving, but when I moved to NYC I expected more people to be "civilized", oh how I was wrong! So, pre-judgments about types of people and cultures only shows inexperience and naivety - as it did in my case. Patience is truly a virtue. You never know... once you accept the way people are and see past what you consider 'flaws', they will often surprise and fascinate you. Give people a chance!

After the USAP, we visited Luxembourg, Lithuania, and the Pacific Oceanic pavilion - ones with moving lines. The weather was too unfavorable to have to wait in line for 2+ hours so we just wandered around. Before we knew it, we spent 5 hours just walking around in the rain! I will have to update you readers about each pavilion later- once I am able to get in!

Something that brightened my day:

Summary of today in a picture: Windy, rainy, wet shoes (not pictured). Yes, my face looked like this all day.

July 12-15
My remaining days in Yunnan were filled with more great food, including 过桥米线 (guo qiao mi xian) or "Over the bridge noodles", a Kunming speciality.

In Lijiang, we visited Snow Mountain (elevation 18,000 ft), Yak fields, a Naxi village, a Zhang Yi Mou production right in front of Snow Mountain.

In Kunming we re-visited the Stone Forest, a huge gorge with deep caves filled with stalagmites and stalactites, Dragon's gate, and "Dynamic Yunnan"- an amazing play depicting the history of Yunnan through certain tribes..

China never fails to impress me. Each time I visit, a city has transformed or evolved - whether for the better, I don't know, but I am still fascinated by this wondrous country full of history and mystery.

Dining under Heaven.

July 9, 2010 - KUNMING
I have made it to 昆明 Kunming, Yunnan...and I am able to access Facebook AND Blogger :) However, I am running several applications and websites just to get these two pages up. If anyone has any suggestions on how to simplify web browsing, please message me! I would prefer something that does not want my credit card number!

My last couple of days in Hong Kong were filled with sweat and more sweat. With a heat wave over China, Hong Kong received most of the brute. As one of the closest urban areas of China to the equator, I could tell you it was NOT pleasant. Although, I did walk 4 miles in the heat yesterday, and it was filled with bubble tea. A lot of it. I experienced a little more of the Hong Kong night market life but was really drained from the humidity.

Kunming is just as I remembered it. Little city life in a big town. Since my parents enjoy taking tours that stay at 5 star hotels, we have always been far from the city life, which deeply saddens me. However, traveling with my parents means that I have no need to pay for the cab fare into the city :) We hung around the night market for about an hour before we went back to our hotel.

Before our adventure into the city, I must describe the dinner buffet we had. With over 50 different dishes, the buffet included gelato, fruit, and alcohol! I wonder how they cap off the amount people drink! I felt I was greeted well in Yunnan, which translates to "South of the Heavens".

July 10, 2010 - DA LI
Early in the morning we flew to 大理 Da Li, a city I only spent a few hours in last year. This time we stayed overnight. That afternoon, we visited the "Three Pagodas" and "Foreigners Street". We had VIP treatment headed toward the pagodas, riding in these little green buggies...they didn't think we could walk up ourselves... On Foreigners street, I stumbled upon the pizza shop a few of us ate at last year! Good memories revived!

That night, our tour included a full spa experience with a floral bath and full body massage. It was soothing, but at the high altitude the bath was truncated by my heaving and dizziness. The massage was just what I needed after the week of traveling from city to city. My right trap kept acting up so I finally had someone crunch the knots out!

July 11, 2010 - LI JIANG
丽江 Li Jiang was one of my most memorable cities from last year's trip, for many personal reasons, but mainly because the city is beautiful. While it may be a tourist trap, the 古城 or "ancient city" is anything but ancient. With a vast number of stores selling cultural goods to modern clothing, plus "bar row" blasting pop/dance music proves that Li Jiang has much more to offer than "old" buildings.

We drove from Da Li to Li Jiang stopping at a bus stop (same as last year) that had a warehouse full of jade bracelets, some costing up to $1,000,000USD...Um. No comment. Two hours later we arrived in Li Jiang and had lunch at a glorified hotel. We finally made it to our hotel by 2 pm, of course, the Crowne Plaza- which imitates the "Ancient city" structure, which is also located right behind the ancient town. Pictures below.

This afternoon, we went to 古镇 the "real" ancient town - separate from the ancient city and took a horse buggy through the streets to a coffee shop where we had some real Yunnan coffee. As a non-coffee drinker, I have to say it was pretty good. To pass time, I played some chinese checkers with the family, and of course I won, by 13 steps! Booyah. Then came dinner, hot pot full of mushrooms! Apparently, it is a speciality of Yunnan and I couldn't agree more!

The last stop was the Ancient City. We only were able to visit part of it, where the bars and and the main water wheels are located- the northern part of the city. However, tomorrow morning we will visit starting from the Southern Door - where our guesthouse was last year! I will try and snap pics if we pass it!

Sun Chaser

July 4th & 5th

It took 30 hours of traveling from the front door of my Park Ave apartment to the front steps of Intercontinental Hotel on Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong.  What would have been a 12 hour flight from SF to Hong Kong, took 30, beginning in New York - 2 hour flight to Chicago - 2 hour layover - 13 hour flight to Shanghai - 1 hour layover - 2 hour flight to Hong Kong, with a 1 hour delay.

Sunrise at LaGuardia airport.

Aerial view of Manhattan. Looks so small from above!

Sunset in Hong Kong.

However, I have to say I am extremely pleased with this recent travel experience to Asia, despite the number of stops I had to undertake.  I had 2 seats on my flight to Chicago and THREE empty seats on my way to Shanghai (per my request).  Ergo, I was able to sleep on both flights for extended periods of time helping me to completely combat jet lag on the flight! The flight into Shanghai arrived early as well so I caught an earlier flight to Hong Kong! If I wasn't so lucky, it would have taken me over 30 hours to chase the sun halfway around the world!

What's funny too was that I ran into another student ambassador on my flight to Shanghai! As a non-Asian guy speaking pretty solid Chinese on the phone, I was really impressed and approached him commending his Chinese pronunciation.  I asked what he was doing in Shanghai and he explained he was working for the USA pavilion.  Err...that's where I'm working! Then he asked..."Are you Cassie"? Whoa! We finally established that we already knew each other on Facebook.  What a small world. Seriously.

Can I also express my amazement with the service of Dragonair/Cathay Pacific from Shanghai to Hong Kong? On a 2 hour flight, I was served Linguine & fish for dinner, with Haagen-Dazs for dessert...What's wrong with America?? Why is it that I have to pay for chips on a 5 hour flight in the States, but am served pasta on a 2 hour flight in China? Also they passed out pillows and blankets, something I only expected on long international flights. How will I ever be able to enjoy a domestic flight in the US again? I can't. Even business class is not up to par.

July 6
After losing 2 days of my life due to travel and time zones, I started my day bright and early at 8 am. Most of the morning was spent trying to find breakfast. Apparently where I'm staying - in Tsim Sha Tsui, a very popular shopping area, has limited breakfast selections.  Starbucks opens at noon... interesting, and most other restaurants opened at 10 or 11. We finally found a dim sum place and spent a good hour and a half relaxing in the AC and chowing down.

Hello Kitty flower shop inside the subway station.

We crossed the harbor to Central [area] on Hong Kong island. I had plans at noon to visit a friend of a friend, who is a foreign service officer at the US consulate. However with time to kill and a heat wave in China, with highs of 105 degrees, we had to hop in and out of coffee shops to survive the temperature. We first visited the Bank of China tower and went up to the 43rd floor observatory, for free! (Thanks Alison for the tip.) Got some great views of Kowloon. We hung around different coffee shops for a couple hours before stopping off at the US consulate.

Only 2 buttons in the Bank of China elevator. 1 and 43!

I had lunch with a few Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) and they discussed their jobs, the FSO test, the language tests, and the Peace Corps! The returned Peace Corps volunteers encouraged me to volunteer in Africa, given the my previous French language study - and broadened my perspective of volunteering in Cameroon, Morocco, etc.  I was supposed to meet the Consular Chief as he was interested in meeting me to talk about the Peace Corps Master's International, a program that he had completed years ago. Unfortunately, he was out of the office, but my friend messaged me that he wants me to call him and gave me his number! Nice. :)

After a tour of the consulate and a debrief of her duties, my friend needed to rush back to her FSO duties! I met up with my family and we headed up Victoria Peak on the Peak Tram. The incline of the tram is unbelievable! We were slowly inching up the mountain at a 45 degree incline! I was terrified of the cable snapping, considering the tram is over 100 years old! After reaching the top of the peak, I was disappointed with the commercial aspect of the "Sky Terrace" building.  Rather than allowing people to photograph the views of harbor, the building was filled with souvenir stalls and random electronic goods, blocking off the views of below. I was able to snap some photos while on the escalators though! Hah!

View of Kowloon from an escalator on Victoria Peak.

With the heat and humidity weighing us down, my family decided to rest all afternoon and save our energy for the night market. My review of the night market (Temple street) - I was expecting something similar to that of Taiwan's night markets... It is true, nothing can compare to Taiwan's night markets.  Period.

So far, no plans for tomorrow. It's too hot outside! 2 more days in Hong Kong then off to Yunnan!

View from my room. Hi mini kitty!

Mom's photo from our room.

Guess it IS a worldwide phenomenon, but please do not watch this movie. It will make you want to poke your eyes least that's how I felt. Read the books, they're much better...for what it is.