The (Second, Slightly Smaller) Big Day

Trip Start Dec 02, 2011
Trip End Dec 02, 2012

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What I did
Yeosu EXPO

Flag of Korea Rep.  , Jeollanam-do,
Sunday, June 10, 2012

Day 2, back on the 7:20am train to arrive at the park around 9am. This time I didn't loiter by the lagoon, but instead headed straight for the robot pavilion. Well, I lost a lot of time getting off the train because the people in my car (the last on the train) couldn't figure out that the closest exit to the rear seats was actually behind them, and insisted on blocking the aisle waiting for the 25 rows in front of them to clear out. This was even after one of the train cleaning crew was like, "Uh, hey guys, come out the back. There's no line." Or I assume that's what she said based on her beckoning hand motions.

I also lost time because I needed to stash my luggage in a locker, and the only lockers in the park I knew of were in the opposite direction from the robot pavilion. Also, there were relatively few lockers available so they filled up almost as quickly as the line to the aquarium. On top of that, they were all sized to hold a medium backpack. I'm not sure what people with real luggage do. Anyway, throw in a bathroom stop and I still ended-up having to wait in line for an hour to get in to see the robots. Better than the usual three hours, though, and today I came to the park mentally prepared to wait in long lines to see the things I had avoided yesterday. I even brought a book to entertain myself while I waited.

Okay. So the robots... The pavilion was very disappointing. The first robot to greet us was a cheesy animatronic thing that I think I saw at Chuck E. Cheese in the 1980s. The second display was a group of fairly pointless singing robot heads. They didn't have real mouths or anything, so still not impressive. Third, more animatronics. This time the robot was a cheerleader sent to get us psyched for robot soccer!

Robot soccer was in fact the highlight of the pavilion, although not particularly amazing. It was mostly very cute and unintentionally amusing. The robots closely resembled a group of five year olds playing soccer. They'd stare down at the ball, run over to it, bump into each other and fall over, take giant swings at the ball -- and whiff, and occasionally even send the ball slowly rolling in the direction of the goal. Given that the robots were operating autonomously, and balancing on one foot much less while swinging the second leg, there was some fairly impressive technology going on. Unfortunately the result--a Three Stooges soccer game--was probably not what the designers were going for.

The rest of the "robots" were mainly simple animatronic mock-ups of what real robots might be able to do some day, and a cheesy anime of the same thing. There were one or two interesting looking actual robots, but none of those were operating. There was also very little in the way of technical information. Of course, I couldn't understand what the Korean guide was saying, but I got the distinct impression it was very fluffy, surface-level stuff.

I guess there were two more relatively cool robot exhibits. They had the K-pop dancing robots I had missed at the Yi Sun Shin Festival. They also had a tank with robot fish. They fish swam around by wagging their fins like real fish. And the fish had freekin laser beams, presumably for navigation, but possibly for world domination. So in all, I didn't feel like I'd wasted my hour in line, but I'm very glad I didn't spend all morning waiting to get in.

Inoculated against the effects of waiting in line, I set off for the Samsung pavilion. Unfortunately, that pavilion had specific show times, and I just missed one, so I went over to the line-less Hyundai pavilion instead. They had a novel moving wall display with small blocks that could move in and out to form patterns. That was neat, but major negative points to Hyundai for locking onto visitors with automated spotlights and tracking them around the room. I'm not a fan of attention from strangers in the best times, but I really don't need a spotlight making me stand out further when I'm one of only three non-Koreans in the whole room. I managed to basically trick it to shine on my backpack instead, but enough of it still got me to be aggravating.

After the spotlight trauma, it was back to Samsung for more waiting. I didn't mind waiting in the Samsung line too much because they had flat screens to entertain waiting visitor with the background for the "story" of the Samsung show. The screens also showed cute animations of various creatures that depended on the ocean, why the individual species were endangered, and how you could help. I wasn't sure I wanted to help the giant petrel, though, when the display revealed their food was... baby penguins!

When the Samsung mothership was finally ready to take off, we were herded inside and treated to a display of digital projection combined with live performers. It was sort of like a (extremely) mini version of Cirque du Soleil. The images were projected onto the floor of the stage, and it was neat to see the performers interacting with them or at least responding to them.

My final stop in the Corporate Plaza was the Lotte Pavilion. I'd seen a constant line at that pavilion from the moment I'd arrived at the Expo yesterday, so I figured they had something cool. (That logic served me well for the robots, right?) It actually was kind of fun. After a short clown show I was unable to see from the back of the pack, we were escorted onto a "balloon simulator". A surround screen and a moving platform made for quite the ride. With the display spinning and the platform tilting, the sense of movement was heightened beyond the actual movement of the platform.

There was one corporate pavilion left, but I decided to get started on finishing my International Pavilion visits. But first, I got side tracked when I noticed basically no line at the Marine City & Civilization pavilion. The Expo brochure said a visit to that pavilion took 26min, and they were serious about their timetable. There seemed to be some interesting exhibits and graphics about the history of ocean exploration and possible future ocean travels, but we were hurried from one room to the next without a chance to really absorb anything. Although I did take away that in the future billionaires, cults, evil geniuses, and other paranoid extremists will probably create their own floating cities to live in international waters, outside of the reach of sovereign governments.

I tried taking my time to finish one room, but then I missed the video in the next room and they wouldn't replay it. I had to stay with my group. I suppose I could have played the "you don't speak English and I'll pretend not to understand simple concepts conveyed via near-universal social norms and pantomime" card and sat stubbornly in that room until the next group came through, but I wasn't in the mood to be a jerk, so I moved along.

So now, back to the International Pavilion for real. I wanted to hit a few of the pavilions I'd skipped yesterday because of the lines, primarily China, Japan, and Thailand. China's show was an animated cartoon of some fishing village girl from several centuries ago being rescued by dolphins when she falls into the ocean and then ending up flying a spaceship to rescue the dolphins caught in the nets of a modern fishing trawler. At least that's what I think happened. I'll give them credit for making a presentation without words so it could be understood no matter what language you spoke. Although, come to think of it, I totally didn't understand it... They did have a short, enjoyable dance performance after the movie ended.

Japan won the award for biggest downer of the Expo for it's portrayal of the story of a boy orphaned by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Oh, but it's happy because he finds his dog at the end. Never mind his family is still dead. Second place went to the Guatemalans, who reminded visitors that Mayans predicted the world will end this year. Guatemala would have won first if I believed it. I need to go visit that Russian pavilion for some cheering up...

Thailand came in a close second for today's Really? award. The Thai guides were very friendly, and I spent quite a bit of time chatting with one while I was in line, so I had fun outside of the pavilion. Inside the pavilion, was a series of rooms where you progressed through a show about some Thai mythological being traveling the ocean. In the final room, I ominously noticed water on the floor... So yes, the Thai pavilion sprayed their visitors with water at the end. It wasn't too much, but it was more than I wanted, especially with my camera out. So I had to say Really, Thailand? In fairness to Thailand, maybe they warned people in Korean. I noticed none of the Koreans had their cameras hanging around their necks as they left.

And the winner of the Really? prize was Peru. They had a two story pavilion where the first floor was basically empty except for a restaurant, and the second floor was labeled "Climb to Machu Pichu". When I arrived at "Machu Pichu", it was just a relatively small 2D backdrop of Machu Pichu you could take a picture in front of. Really, Peru? You had me climb stairs for that? Hopefully the climb to the real Machu Pichu is not as disappointing.

In addition to Peru, there were several other no-wait booths I'd missed yesterday. Cities in Kazakhstan and Belgium were competing to host the 2017 Expo. Kazakhstan got my vote with a slick promotional video and live traditional dancers matched up against Belgium's baffling carrousel of what I'm led to believe were the country's icons. The Swiss pavilion was an enjoyable stop with a cool hall-of-mirrors surrounding a pool of water with colorful shapes projected onto its surface. A couple of Korean gentlemen who, based on their excited exclamations of the word "Jungfrau!", had clearly been to the Jungfrau grabbed me along with a Swiss guide to be in a picture with them in the "View from Jungfrau" room. I don't know if they were aware I wasn't Swiss or that I myself had skipped the actual Jungfrau due to inclement weather, so I probably wasn't cool enough for their club.

While at this point I still hadn't even been to all of the International Pavilions, my time at the Expo was rapidly coming to a close as my scheduled train departure approached. With about half an hour left, I decided to call it a day and just chill on a bench for a bit along the main Expo drag. I found myself inevitably contemplating the video screen ceiling of the International Pavilion.

The giant video screen ceiling was somehow less impressive than I had expected. It was really impressive technically, and I don't understand why having a giant virtual changing sky wasn't cooler than it was... I noticed at least one balloon had floated up to the ceiling and gotten stuck on the display. I wondered how they got balloons down or replaced bulbs. Maybe there were bigger gaps in the display than it seemed from so far below. I suppose they could have just let the balloons run out of helium, but I thought it would be fun to have the job of shooting them down, although I guess that's impractical.

So, my review of the Expo from yesterday still holds. It's a lot of fun for some people and probably a giant waste of time to others. I'm planning on going back if I can, preferably in the middle of the week and before the kids are out of school. OCD that I am, I'd like to visit every pavilion. Also, I want to see the aquarium. Originally, it held no interest for me since I've seen most of the best US aquariums, but I'm still a sucker for a long line and it had by far the longest line of the Expo. I'd also like to have the chance to just stroll around and check out some of the cultural performances and other street performers. Plus, I need to see the nightly "Big O" show. You can never go wrong with water, lasers, and pyrotechnics.
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