How is Expo 2010 changing Shanghai? One blogger’s perspective.

Just got off the phone with a reporter interested to know how the Expo (ie, World’s Fair) is changing Shanghai. No offense to this particular hack, but I’ve been having that conversation a whole lot recently, and it usually goes something like this: “Lots of new infrastructure, great new subways, but please stop demolishing all of the old neighborhoods that were among the best reasons to visit Shanghai in the first place.” In other words, so far at least (and despite the keening and hollering from long-term expats across Shanghai) it hasn’t really had much of an impact on (my) day-to-day life (my professional life, that’s another matter).

[UPDATE: A reader emails to remind me of last year’s posts about the Expo-related face-lift that my apartment building received.  How quickly I forget!]

My friends in Shanghai’s visual arts community have a distinctly different perspective (more on that soon), and those in the city’s burgeoning indie rock scene, well, they have some legitimate complaints. But I’ll leave those to them, and make this about me. So, from the perspective of someone who spends most of his time indoors, hunched over a keyboard, and overlooking (for now) the demolitions, here – typed over breakfast – are the most noticeable changes that Expo has brought to my Shanghai:

  1. My favorite pirate DVD store is now a sporting goods retailer. To access the DVDs, I’m required to slip between a rack of warm-up jackets and then through a hidden door. The hidden door is opened only when a look-out nods – presumably to assure all involved that the coast is clear.
  2. Related: not seeing many new DVD releases in town. Last batch came in just before Oscar time. Tired of watching A Serious Man.
  3. A small uptick in the number of Caucasian foreigners in Shanghai. However, they all appear to be employed by Expo pavilions. Otherwise, no more foreigners than usual in these parts.
  4. Suddenly, the Shanghainese are waiting for the walk signal at crosswalks. This is incredible.
  5. Related: they are giving dirty looks – and berating – foreigners who don’t do the same [this, after years of training me in the fine art of zen jaywalking, ie, “just go, they’ll stop.”]
  6. Noticeably fewer scrap peddlers on the streets, presumably chased off by Shanghai officials concerned that small-scale recyclers will hurt the city’s image with foreigners. You know what else hurts Shanghai’s image? Trash on the streets. [Shanghai authorities, mark my words: this decision will haunt you].
  7. Related: noticeably more consumer-generated recyclables on the streets [Shanghai authorities: just you wait]
  8. Yesterday I was asked to show my passport before I could enter the subway [given, this could’ve been related to the Moscow subway bombing – but still]. Upon further reflection, I’m okay with this so long as the various stations start stamping exit-entry info into said passports [but please, no visas].
  9. Related: the 14-year-olds the city hired to staff the baggage x-ray machines installed at the city’s subway stations are now awake for their shifts, and supervised by 18-year-olds. Previously, they’d spent most of their time asleep or – if they were ambitious – texting their friends.
  10. Due to restrictions on blade sales during the Expo, I have been forced to put off adding to my fencing rapier and fruit knife collections until November.
  11. My landlord, when negotiating my new lease, used the Expo as an argument for raising my rent. In response, I told her that if she ever decides to rent in Minneapolis during the annual month-long Holidazzle, the price is double.

And I’ll leave it at that. Comment thread open.

[UPDATED: Based upon a couple of emails, let me be clear: the new subway lines are terrific. Thank you, Shanghai. More, please.]


  1. This is like a meme! My perspectives:

    1) My neighborhood DVD store is sporting a clothing store facade, with a rack that hangs the saddest 5 pieces of clothing you’ve ever seen.
    2) Unrelated to Expo, but more foreigners (Caucasian, Indians, Middle Eastern, Latin American) in financial district. That is a momentum all on its own.
    3) YES! More pedestrians follows traffic lights, not the drivers. I’m all for that but driver education needs to improve dramatically.
    4) Hotel rates in Pudong area (as I’m sure anywhere) are sky-rocketing. If we’re not at Tokyo prices, we will soon be in a month or so.
    5) They’ve introduced new fleets of Expo-taxis and I hear, BMWs for police cars, all the better for high-speed chases on the Yan-an Expressway, I’m sure. I’d like to see more new fleets and eradicate those miserable red-cabs.
    6) Everyone is visiting, all in the same month, all in the same week. Work? Pfffft…

    At the end of the day, I’d say, rock on. I’m intrigued. We’ll see if the Expo will be enjoyable for the masses i.e. those not flown in by executives/companies ala Opening Day of the Beijing Olympics.

  2. Great idea for a post. I agree with the rent thing. Mine in Jinqiao went up 30% and the excuse was Expo even though Jinqiao is filled with empty apartments and nobody is going to stay in Jinqiao.

  3. If the rent situation follows the Beijing 2008 example, then the Shanghai landlords are in for a rude awakening. A lot of similarly avaricious attempts to push people out of apartments in expectation for a nice pay day when the big event came around evaporated completely when it turned out visiting VIPs and guests, those that came that is, preferred staying in things like “hotels” rather than enjoy the thrill of being gouged by a money-grubbing local for the privilege of sleeping in a Chinese apartment complex.

    Unless they were right next door to the venue, most people who kicked out paying tenants for a chimerical shot at the prize ended up with bupkus.

  4. > Suddenly, the Shanghainese are waiting for the walk signal at crosswalks. This is incredible.

    Unless you live in Pudong. Wide streets and new urban ideas means this started a long time ago over here in Pujersey.

    Also, I have to believe that the Expo was at least part of the rationale for pumping up the subway system’s capacity these years. The CCTV Evening News is counting down the days too, so I assume the authorities in Beijing are showing support and would have considered the event when approving SH’s development plans.

  5. Micah – Excellent rejoinder to this blog’s Puxi pedestrian bias. Agreement, too, on the subway capacity … there are two stations (line 7 and 9) at opposite ends of the site, plus the “special” line that connects the Puxi and Pudong sites.

  6. I agree with you about the DVD shops. Thankfully I stocked up for like the next year.

    I’ll also miss the live concerts, which if they don’t die out completely will probably change to more jazz acts from the current underground rock acts that dominate now.


  7. ding on the taxis. Been seeing new VW Touran mini-van style now. Compliment your taxi driver if you get in one, they are super proud over them.

  8. Yesterday in a van with two Italian colleagues in town for a trade show and neither knew of the Shanghai Expo, but curious; in a taxi with two Indonesian colleagues leaving the trade show and neither knew of the Shanghai Expo, but curious – for about 30 seconds.

  9. 1) My DVD store is still open, and has not installed the trademark KAde club frontage.. yet. DVDs are up to date!

    2) MEtro escalator traffic now stands to the right, allowing passing on the left

    3) airline tickets to/from city will not be discounted thanks to the throngs of people coming in/ out of city

    4) The 14 year old, being supervised by 18 year olds, have brought their mothers to work and put them in yellow vests. Charged with bolstering secutiry, that usually means looking over the should of the 14year old at the screen and playing “guess what is in this bag”…

    5) More Journos are coming.. meaning more calls (I have been interviewed twice on EXPO sustainability in last week – Is it really green? Inquiring minds wanna know…).


  10. We live in the same neighbourhood Adam (not a stalker — just through references to your building and the DVD shop). The fruit stall run by really nice people on Jianguo right on the corner of Gao’an has just been shut down for Expo prettification reasons. I feel bad for them. So I am more down on the Expo today.

  11. Fun post but totally gratuitous link to the bit about Gerwyn getting drunk on margaritas. What I want to know is how in the hell you ended up in the same Mexican restaurant with the guy. I swear to god you and the usa pavilion are destined to fight this think out in a cage match.

  12. Rode by another neighborhood (on Shimen No. 1 Road) that has been torn down since Wednesday. It wasn’t the most pristine example of shikumen but it was a fine neighborhood with a lot of popular shops on the street and it’s like: Is it really necessary to frantically tear this neighborhood down weeks before the Expo? Is an “Expo Scenery Wall” in front of a pile of rubble better than this neighborhood? It seemed to me until a few months ago that Shanghai’s approach to city management during the Expo was going to be more sophisticated than Beijing’s during the Olympics. Nah.

  13. I will note that bringing my overseas visitor friends to the secret DVD store (located in the midst of all the Humphrey Bogart and Gene Kelly authentic DVDs) was something they thought was cool. Spy stuff.

    I am waiting for Hot Tub Time Machine though!

  14. The city has a hidden secret in Hongkou – I just rented a place there for a very good price (waiting for the other shoe to drop, of course…), no mention of Expo in the rent discussion!

    I also notice that Maoming Lu between Weihai Lu and Nanjing Xi Lu is gone – I’m with Jimmy McW on the Expo scenery walls.

    Another Expo plus: After years of construction, you can now ride a bike all the way along the north side of Suzhou creek from the Huangpu to near Shanghai Railway Station. A very pleasant ride.

  15. Hmmm…I don’t quite agree with the locals waiting for the walk signal at the crosswalks. They wait because there’s a police officer. When there’s none, continue crossing as long as there are no cars.

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