My Final Final Day at the Expo

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

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Flag of Korea Rep.  , South Jeolla,
Monday, July 30, 2012

This morning I knew that aquarium entry with less than a six hour wait was a lost cause, so I took some time to scout out a way to the ferry terminal that didn't involve going through the Expo. It turned out there was a shuttle bus stopping just outside of the train station that would drive visitors through the Expo to the ferry terminal gate.

Once inside the Expo, I thought I would get some waffles for breakfast from the Belgian pavilion, but there was no staff to be found in their cafe. I considered getting breakfast at one of the other pavilions, but I was put off by the prices, so instead I grabbed something from the convenience store.

Because it was still relatively early, and the people who had made it into the Expo were mostly standing in pavilion lines, the hallway under the Expo Digital Gallery (that big screen covering the ceiling of the International Pavilion) was fairly clear. I hadn't appreciated it on my previous Expo visit, but this morning I happened to stroll right down the center, and I realized from that angle the giant screen was pretty amazing.

I ate my breakfast near the Romanian pavilion, which was the only national pavilion I had left to visit, excluding the Indian Ocean Joint Pavilion. I hadn't seen Romania yesterday because it was closed all day for the Romanian National Day events. So I waited for it to open this morning but by 9:15am it still hadn't opened, apparently they were still trying to recover from their National Day partying and pan-flute extravaganza, so I left to join the line for the Climate and Environment Pavilion.

It was the last big pavilion I had on my list to visit. I hadn't been to the POSCO Pavilion either, but for some reason I can't put into words, I felt like I should leave one pavilion unvisited, and POSCO just happened to end-up in that slot. Anyway, back at the Climate and Environment Pavilion, I had no reservation this time so I settled in for the wait.

The line wasn't too bad. Much of it was in the shade, and there were often places to lean. The one negative was that the area directly in front of me in the line seemed to be an implicitly designated "old-lady cutting zone". Koreans don't really respect lines, and the bigger the age difference between the cutter and the cuttee the worse it gets. The whole time I was waiting, a seemingly endless stream of tiny, stooped grandmothers ducked under barriers to join the line just ahead of me. At one point, I'd had enough and decided to give one a disapproving look, but my parents raised me too well and as soon as I made eye contact I realized the error of my ways. I smiled instead, giving her an "Oh, of course. You're totally right, Go ahead." gesture and slinking away.

None of the old ladies seemed the least bit concerned about, or possibly even aware of, the yellow and red warning signs stating that the pavilion was not recommended for children or the elderly. Why the warning? The sign helpfully noted that the inside of the pavilion was -10C. Sure that's Celsius, but the outside temperature had to be in the 90F range when the sun really got going. What on earth did the pavilion need to be so cold for? Didn't they know no one would have jackets?

It turned out the pavilion was so cold because one of the halls and one of the theaters were coated with actual ice. It looked like being in a freezer that had iced up. While I normally don't go out in -10C weather in just a t-shirt, there were enough people in the room and the presentation was entertaining enough (and short enough) that it didn't bother me. It was actually kind of cool (ugh) in the ice theater. Digital polar bears were projected onto a screen behind ice coated hills. It was cute.

Back out in the warm summer day, I decided that since I couldn't visit the actual aquarium, I should check-out the Expo's 3D Aquarium. Without knowing what it actually involved, I came up with some really cool ideas using some of the digital video tricks I've seen to imagine something like a giant aquarium simulator. However, in reality it just turned out to be a standard 3D-movie, mini-documentary about the actual aquarium. I didn't have to stand in line very long, at least, and it did make me feel better about not seeing the actual aquarium as it looked decent, but not worth a wait in line.

When that was over, I swung back by Romania and was finally able to go inside. While it wasn't as lame as their pan-flute slideshow, it wasn't anything special. They did have some nice info about the Danube and a few Romanian folk traditions, and it didn't look amateurish like the pavilions of some other countries I don't want to name, but it was not worth the two days of anticipation.

For lunch I just grabbed some quick things at one of the Expo convenience stores. Their supplies have been holding up fairly well despite the crowds. The clerk tried to give me a plastic bag for my drink and rice triangles. I said, no thank you, you're not tricking me into killing sea turtles. I've been to the UAE pavilion.

At this point, I had seen all of the pavilions I intended to see, so it was either a hour+ wait standing in line to see something I'd already seen, or an hour+ wait sitting in the shade waiting for the Blooming Ocean Show at the Big O Arena. I chose the latter.

Arriving an hour and a half before the show started, I thought I'd definitely get a seat, but even that far in advance there only seats left were on the bottom row, which was still in the sun. I didn't mind too much since I had on plenty of sun screen and the sun would shift so I'd be in the shade shortly. After staring at the upper levels for a while, looking for an empty seat (or rather, an unsaved seat since there were plenty of empty seats, but they all had bags or other items marking them as taken), I took out my book and plopped down in the sun.

An old Korean woman must have seen me looking for a seat because she climbed down from a few rows up to ask if I was alone. I said yes and she offered me one of the seats she was saving. My seat wasn't too bad, but I didn't feel the need to test the limits of my sun screen, so I accepted her offer. It was a better view, and I would be a bit less sweaty. While we were waiting, she also offered me a couple of plums. An old woman in a different group offered me some fruit as well. Score. I kind of wished I had something to offer them. I'm going to need to start carrying extra snacks in my bag when I travel if Koreans are going to keep giving me food and drinks.

Time passed fairly quickly while I was reading, they even ran the fountains a bit before the show started to entertain those of us waiting, and before long it was time for the show to start. I noticed no one ever arrived to take the other seat the old woman had been saving, and that wasn't the only unoccupied seat in the area. I appreciate her giving me a seat, but what's up with Koreans saving spots they aren't going to use?

Anyway, the show was something of a visual overload. While the Big O Show action was confined entirely to the "O" and the area directly in front of it, the Blooming Ocean show spread-out around the entire lagoon. There were clowns and acrobats in the arena, more acrobats/dancers out on a stage in the middle of the lagoon that just barely broke the surface of the water, the giant marionette made its way along the path behind the "O" accompanied by a parade of sliver, fish puppets, and throughout the lagoon stunt riders on jet skis performed a barrage of tricks while a speedboat wove between them. There was even man flying through the air via a water-jet pack. It was really too much to watch in one viewing, or from one location, but it was kind of cool in the craziness of it's excess.

Having seen everything I intended to see at the Expo, I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering, checking out a few of the street shows and stopping by the Expo Plaza for another viewing of the drummers I'd seen Saturday. They were just as entertaining the second time around.

In the evening, there was a "Girl of the Sea" musical show, but seeing that would have required spending the entire afternoon in the Big O stadium. The musical was also in Korean, so I skipped it and went instead to another traditional Korean music performance. This one had performers doing several different styles of traditional music, but I still liked those involving percussion the best.

I didn't expect the show to be as awesome as it was. The theater was open air, but covered with a tent roof and tiny. Because of this setting, in addition to the enthusiasm and skill of the performers, the atmosphere and energy were fantastic. It was possibly my favorite thing I've seen in Korea or even beyond it's borders. After the show, I found myself wandering with a big smile on my face thinking things like "I didn't think they were going to do 'Ariang', but then, BAM second encore". (BAM, gratuitous Simpsons quote.) I'd say that maybe I should find the name of the group and go to a future performance, but I don't think the experience could be recreated in another setting. I certainly hope to remember it for a long time, though.

Having connected with traditional Korean culture, I felt it was time to connect with modern Korean culture by heading over to the Kpop stage to catch BEAST. First, though, I swung by the Expo Digital Gallery. Someone had figured out how to connect a live video feed to the ceiling display to show the Kpop concerts. This morning was the first time I really appreciated the Digital Gallery, but tonight I gained a new appreciation for it. It was pretty cool watching a concert on a 218m by 30m screen, even if you had to look up to see it. From now on, I'm not watching anything on a screen less than two soccer fields long.

G. NA was playing during my Digital Gallery detour (here's a little blog detour, although I didn't hear the songs tonight, G. NA was born in Canada and has some excellent English-language Kpop songs). She was one of the first two acts, so I arrived at the Kpop stage in time to see most of BEAST's show. I felt they made better use of the stage's displays and special effects capabilities than Rain had and overall the show was enjoyable even though I'm not a Kpop super-fan. I know a few teenage Korean girls who will be sooo jealous...

This time I stayed until the end of the show and caught the DJ Dance Show. It was... interesting... The DJ was joined on the stage with Expo mascots Yeony and Suny. There wasn't a lot of dancing, either, mostly just Korean teenagers trying to catch some of whatever swag the mascots were throwing. I wondered how the DJ felt to be deejaying somewhere so tragically un-cool. I did catch a few people busting out some serious dance moves around the edges of the crowd, but I didn't see a reason to stick around until the end of the "party".

I passed under the Expo Digital Gallery one more time on my way out of the Expo, making sure to walk directly down the center. It was really a great night, with good weather and enjoyable entertainment.

So I'm really glad I came back to Yeosu Expo for a second visit. Having the freedom to just wander and soak-up the ambiance, especially at night, without any time pressure to see things was great. The cultural performances were fun (except for the pointless Romanian Korean pipe show), the "Big O" Show was amazing, and the traditional Korea music performance was exceptional. I now have given myself a quest to learn to play Korean drums.

That being said, if this weekend were my only trip to the Expo, I would have hated it. The pavilion lines were crazy. Visitors were waiting an hour or more in line to see things I'd walked straight into in June, many of which were fine but not worth the wait time, some of which weren't worth seeing even without any wait. I'd seen at least 40 pavilions in the two, shorter days of my first trip. This time I saw only around half that, and that was with three, thirteen hour days and reservations for two of the most popular pavilions. Sure I probably could have gotten in a few more pavilions on Saturday and Monday, but I'd have been able to do nothing else but stand in line.

Still, the summer crowds were a good learning experience for future Expos. It appears you absolutely have to go before the kiddies are out of school or be prepared to stand in line for 8 hours a day. The ad for the Milan 2015 Expo was the first thing I saw on the Digital Gallery that made me say, "Hey, that giant screen on the ceiling really is amazing!" and the last thing I saw as I left. While Milan was never on my list of places I'd really like to visit, I could definitely see myself at the 2015 Expo. Of course, that's assuming I remember to go in three years. If I don't make Milan, I hope that Astana gets the 2017 Expo. They seemed to have a lot of enthusiasm and some really cool architecture. It would make a nice excuse to visit Kazakstan, and really, doesn't everyone need one of those?
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