Thirteen Hours at the Expo

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

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Flag of Korea Rep.  , South Jeolla,
Saturday, July 28, 2012

This morning I arrived at the Expo a bit before 8:30am. I was amazed to see how long the lines to get into the Expo were. In early June, I was able to just walk right in. I suspected the difference was the fact I was entering at the front gate this time, and last time I arrived a little after the gates officially opened at 9am.

However, I would come to learn today that the difference was really the summer season. The Expo was packed. I thought it was bad the Saturday that BtoB & BEAST played in June, but I had no idea. Today was easily twice as crowded as the busiest day from my June trip. Fortunately, I'd seen most of the pavilions, so the crowds weren't as much of an inconvenience as they could have been. Hopefully they'll drop-off some tomorrow or Monday as they do make me unwilling to revisit any of the pavilions I've already seen, and there are a couple I wouldn't mind going back to.

Another difference compared to June was how incredibly hot it was. It wasn't too humid near the sea, but I was constantly buying beverages from the ubiquitous vending machines scattered throughout the Expo. I think I probably spent at least $15 on juice and water today, and that was with juice and water priced around 80 cents a can/bottle. But let's go back to the beginning of the day...

Once inside the Expo, after about a half-hour wait, today's first task was to visit the ferry terminal and buy a ticket to Jeju. Jeju was my next stop on the trip, and I wanted to make sure I had a ticket for when I planned to leave on Tuesday. Unfortunately, the Yeosu/Jeju ferry company didn't have an English line for phone tickets, so I decided to wait and buy one in person, rather than bug a Korean co-worker for help. I've never had a Korean give me a hard time about asking for Korean-speaking help, but I didn't want to take advantage.

Out of curiosity, I swung by the aquarium to check-out the lines before going to the ferry terminal. The aquarium was one of the few pavilions I didn't get to on my first trip. Initially, I wasn't interested in it, but given that it had a 3 hour wait each day in June, I thought maybe I should check-out what the fuss was all about (despite my experience with the over-hyped DSME Marine Robot Pavilion). Even just a bit after 9am, the aquarium line looked to be several hours long, so I decided to give it a pass today. Maybe I'll try a bit earlier tomorrow.

The Yeosu ferry terminal was behind the Expo gates, but I found out for later that you could take a shuttle bus to the terminal from the train station without a ticket for the Expo. At any rate, I had a ticket, so getting to the terminal was no problem. After a bit of pointing and waving to communicate with the ferry staff, I had a ticket to Jeju in my hand, and it was back into the Expo for the Kazakhstan National Day performance.

Because Kazakhstan was lobbying to hold Expo 2017, they had put a lot of money into their pavilion to try to impress people. I assumed that they would put a corresponding amount of effort into their National Day performance, and they did. It was an entertaining mix of traditional Kazakh performances and modern acts. You might call the latter K-pop. Ha, ha. My favorite was trio of women playing violins held upright against their knees. The sound was reminiscent of Irish folk music. I don't think I get a vote, but if I did I'd totally choose Kazakhstan for 2017.

After the show, with lines for all the pavilions running out the wazoo, I decided to check-out the much-neglected Energy Park and Fisheries Experience Zone. My first target, in the Fisheries Experience Zone was a sizable mock-up of a deep sea fishing boat. I read somewhere it was advertised as a "deep sea fishing simulator". I pictured myself taking part in something like an episode of Deadliest Catch. When I arrived, however, I found in reality the simulator was just a giant video screen and in order to "drive" the boat you had to be under the age of 12 and be able to answer trivia questions in Korean. Also, "driving" consisted of turning the boat's wheel randomly in an attempt to avoid other ships that suddenly popped into view in front of you. (Let's push back the clip plane, guys.) It was a bit disappointing, but I continued on to the Energy Park.

The Energy Park Energy Experience Zone was kind of cute with artistic installations and contraptions that were wind powered, solar powered, water powered, and kid powered. The most creative may have been the music box swings where your swings turned the crank on an over-sized music box cylinder, although it was not the most melodious of experiences depending on who was doing the swinging.

The Energy Park also offered visitors the chance to ride in a couple of "future powered" vehicles. The vehicles were more interesting from the standpoint of the technology they contained than they were to ride in. One of them was an electric motor bus where the battery was charged wirelessly from coils embedded in the pavement.

I did get invited to ride in the hydrogen-powered car with two Korean boys who looked to be around 10. They let me sit shotgun. They practiced their English by telling the driver to go "faster, faster". I don't think the driver spoke English, though. Either that or he decided he'd rather keep his job by sticking firmly to the course speed limit of, I'm estimating, 10mph.

When I'd finished playing with the Energy Park contraptions, I decided to head over to the Big O Stage to catch the Blooming Ocean show. Unfortunately, it was only a half hour before 2pm and the Big O Stage was way too crowded for me to get a seat for, or even a front side view of, the stage. I stuck around for a bit to watch the parade of performers entering the arena, then decided it was time to head to Sweden.

Well, not Sweden specifically, just a few of the remaining country pavilions I hadn't seen last trip. Sweden was one, also places like Norway and Tunisia. I really enjoyed Sweden because of the air conditioning. Also, there were many interesting facts about Sweden, like Swedes get 480 days of maternity/paternity leave. There wasn't anything fancy in the pavilion, just A/C and fun facts to read, but the two worked well together.

Across the way, Sweden's neighbor Norway had a "3D" submarine simulator. This actually turned out to be, shall we say, an exaggeration. It wasn't really a simulator, just a pre-programmed show about how much faster it will be to travel from Europe to Asia once the polar ice melts, and it wasn't really "3D". The only thing "3D" about it was the live actor pretending to pilot the ship. At least that's what I assume she was doing since the monologue was in Korean. If she wasn't driving by waving her arms around at the various screens, she was definitely having a seizure and someone should have called 119.

I also stopped by Angola. Like pretty much all of Africa, the country was never a place I had considered visiting before. However, the people at the Angola pavilion were so friendly and enthusiastic, I've decided to put the country at the top of my list of places to visit in Africa. I don't know if maybe they were just desperate for someone to talk to since the Expo visitors were mainly Koreans who didn't speak English, but the Angolans gave me plenty of attention, tourist info, and trinkets.

At this point, it was time to check-out another show. There was something called the "Street Performing Festival 'Nanjang (Gathering Performance)'" that I decided to go see. While I was waiting for the show to start, an old woman offered me her water. Earlier in the day, an old man had directed his fan at me for a while. I must have looked pretty bad in the heat. Or... maybe I smelled bad in the heat. Come to think of it, the man might have been attempting to fan my BO away from him. (Just kidding. I don't sweat, and if I did it would smell like the joyful tears of angels.)

The show turned out to be surprisingly close to what the name said: an assembly of most if not all of the street performers from around the Expo to parade and dance to traditional Korean festival music. Even the audience was invited to join the circle at the end.

However, that all was preceded by a Korean drumming performance. While I'd seen parading drummers (pungmul) several times before, these performers used large stationary drums similar to the taiko drums used in Japan. Their show was fantastic. It was incredibly energetic and filled with enthusiasm. My favorite part was when one of the drummers left her drum and moved to the front of the group to play a flute-type instrument. There was just something about the way she strutted out with confidence and pride, like "I'm gonna do this", that I found really captivating.

After the Korean performances, it was time for another dose of Angola. The Angolan Cultural Performance was beginning in the Ocean Plaza. The main act was a man with a guitar accompanied by two people in what I assume was traditional Angola dress playing drums. The lead sang mainly songs by US or British artists who had written them in an African style. At one point, he called a girl up on stage to help him sing Hakuna Matata. I "wooed" when she said she was from Pennsylvania, which startled the older Koreans sitting next to me.

The crowd was really into the performance, myself included. The lead had a great smile and looked like he was having a ton of fun. Someone was passing out Angolan flags and the crowd was waving them to the music. One of the Angolans even gave me t-shirt. It seemed a bit small for me, so I later gave it to a random Korean boy who seemed to be enjoying the show.

Even though I was enjoying myself, I left a bit before the show ended. One of the experiences I'd missed out on in June was seeing the Expo from atop the Sky Tower at night. I decided to time my trip up the renovated cement silos, now doubling as a pipe organ, for just after dusk. A poster at the front of the line said it was an hour and a half wait, so I took out a book to entertain myself and jumped into the line around 6:30. Unfortunately(?) it turned out to be only an hour wait, so I got up to the top of the tower before it was actually dark.

Luckily, once at the top, there was no one rushing you to get down. In fact, it was the opposite as there was another, albeit shorter, line to ride the down elevator. Since one of my hobbies is looking down from tall (solid) places on tiny things, it was no problem for me to spend the half hour or so until the sun was fully set just enjoying the view. I even sent myself some sort of pre-packaged e-mail from a computer at the top of the tower. I think it has a picture of a lantern and a greeting. I won't know for a few days until I get a chance to check my e-mail again. I sent one to my parents, too. I suspect they'll find it highly confusing since I won't be able to warn them about it before they see it. And it's probably mostly in Korean.

Anyway, the view really was phenomenal, but I had to get back down to see the Big O Show, although it might have been interesting to watch from the tower. I could see from my vantage point that the stage area was already packed, and there didn't seem to be a way to get close. Fortunately, they had added extra shows since the once a night schedule in June.

Because there was no chance of me reaching the first show, I took a detour over to check out the K-Pop Stage, another difference from my June visit. Apparently someone had, very wisely, decided that jamming the featured attraction of the Expo (the Big O Show) together with K-pop idols was a recipe for dangerously large crowds and disappointment. A new K-pop stage had been constructed at the end of the ferry terminal dock on the edges of the Expo. Tonight's big act was Rain, or at least I assume he was the big act as he was the only K-pop idol I'd ever heard of before I came to Korea.

Rain was singing his cover of "Let it Be". The original seems to be a fairly well-known song in Korea judging by how often I hear it in random places like after train announcements. I watched from on top of a hill way in the back, where even on the giant screens next to the stage Rain looked tiny. I didn't stay for too long, though, because I was much more interested in the Big O Show.

I made it back to the Big O just as the first show was ending. At that point, the crowd all rushed out, and I was able to rush in and grab a decent seat. Not bad with only a 20 minute wait until the next showing. I suspect many people at the first show had been waiting for hours, maybe some even since the afternoon Blooming Ocean Show I couldn't get near.

At the Big O Show, I finally saw something at the Expo that lived up to its super-hype. (I've seen several incredibly cool things, but they were not hyped.) It was the best laser/fountain/fire show I'd ever seen, and it was hard to imagine seeing anything like it again. Judging by the number of cameras I saw pointed at the stage, there must be plenty of YouTube videos of it. You can check them out if you're curious, but I'm sure the video won't do it justice.

A description won't do it justice either, but the focus of the show was a 120 meter diameter wall of water pouring down from the "O" that made a screen for lasers to project a movie on to. It was billed as "the world's largest water screen", but I'm pretty sure that's like saying "the world's cutest five-legged puppy". There can't be much competition. The idea was the same as in the US pavilion, only a billion times bigger (that's a scientific measurement), and the Big O Show used project more interesting images than those of US government officials.

In addition to the "O" itself, In the lagoon around the "O" powerful fountains were illuminated by lights and the mist from the fountains formed yet another "screen" for the lasers. There were jets of water shooting from the "O" itself as well as jets of flame. The jets of flames that shot out from around the "O" during the portion of the show where "everything went crazy" were so hot I could feel the heat in the stands. The only other time I've experienced heat at that distance was when I drove past a gas station on fire. I know the message of the Big O Show was something like "Save the Planet", but those jets had to be putting out some serious CO2. The show is now firmly at the top of my list of "three coolest things I've seen in Korea". It would definitely rank highly on my list of "coolest things I've seen ever".

So, good time had by all, and I'm totally ready for tomorrow. However, before I end my entry for today, I've got a few quick words of advice to the national governments of countries planning to attend an Expo. (Yes, I believe I am qualified to comment on such matters.) If you spend (presumably) millions of dollars on outfitting a pavilion with fancy projector technology, be sure to save room in the budget to have someone capable of focusing those projectors at the Expo. There were several pavilions, not just today but also back in June, that had what could have been impressive displays, if only they were in focus. Also, budget for air conditioning. Pavilions get hot and stuffy without A/C in the summer. The 1939 New York World's Fair featured an air conditioning demo, let's get with the times.

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