Monthly Archives: October 2010

Breaking records

A typical day sees 300,000-400,000 visitors to the Expo site, and an attendance of over 500,000 is considered a really busy day. Yesterday, a Saturday (always the busiest day of the week), over one million people visited the Expo.

That’s about the population of San Jose. Only ten cities in the US have a population of over one million.

And these people were contained in a space of a mere 5.28 km2 (though granted not all of them were inside the site at any given time).

Yesterday broke not only the single-day AND total attendance record in all of Expo/World’s Fair history but also, surely, a slew of safety regulations. The government doesn’t give a damn about the latter, of course, because it’s got a magic number to make—70 million—by the end of the month. We had 774,900 today, and as of tonight, we have only 4.6 million more to go.

I worked the PM shift yesterday, a long shift by the end of which I had the groggy, delirious morning-after-an-all-nighter feeling, even though we closed just 45 minutes later than usual. The lines were noticeably longer than usual. Working the outdoor positions, where we do crowd control, was physically and psychologically draining. I spent over two hours not just controlling the flow of people into the pavilion, but also watching for the abundance of line jumpers, which ranged from little children egged on by amoral parents to young guys vaulting over our row of garbage bins to the less nimble elderly claiming they just wanted to look for “their family” inside.

From my perch at the top of the zigzagging line, I had a good view (while it was still light out) of our queuing area. We had security patrolling like a watchdog. When one person tried to sneak into the line, I would walkie-talkie the guard (or run down to catch them myself), but then a couple other people would climb in through another unmanned spot. It was intense. I was on my toes; my heart was racing the whole time. Caught offenders would either grin sheepishly while letting themselves be escorted out, or obnoxiously put up a fight, yelling “Do you have proof that I jumped the line? Show me some proof!!” only to be thrown out minutes later, at my insistence, by a nearby guard.

I felt like I was defending a castle or the citadel in Lord of the Rings, or, as one of my coworkers put it, the Great Wall against the Huns. The awesome thing was that we had Chinese Communist soldiers decked in green military garb helping us guard our Canadian fortress against… their fellow Chinese comrades. Heh heh.

Some photos from the last two days (click on image to scroll through):

[showtime]

Although things might slow down during the work week, we are predicting next weekend’s numbers to be just as—maybe even more—mind-blowing. All the procrastinators have begun to acknowledge the fact that there are only two weeks left of Expo, and that this is really their last chance to be a part of history.

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Ben Franklin said, "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest."

Good ol’ Penn never misses a chance to remind me how un-philanthropic I’ve been:

(The 5 bucks in 2008 got each “donor” a senior year t-shirt.)

Since I moved to China a year ago, my alma mater has been my most ardent pennpal, even if the correspondence has been strictly one-sided. I appreciate the alumni magazines, whose stories occasionally make me swell with pride and nostalgia, but it irks me to receive “Have YOU made a gift to Penn this year?” mail every two months. This recent letter in particular, by insinuating my utter stinginess and lack of school spirit, and pointing out my failure to donate during FY07 (while I was still in school, hello), left quite a bitter aftertaste.

I realize that universities rely, in varying degrees, on gifts to survive and to support incoming classes. And generally, the larger its endowment, the more a school will be recognized for producing successful (read: high-earning) graduates. So our “gift” matters. I get that. That’s why The Penn Fund is encouraging us to “Stay engaged with Penn by realizing the impact that Young Penn Alumni have through the tradition of annual giving to The Penn Fund.”

However, this advice is not only equivocal (“realize” as in acknowledge or make real?) but also likely to backfire: hounding recent graduates for our hard-earned money, especially in the current economic environment, risks making us want to disengage instead. Especially when we are then attacked, in bold, with the fact that Penn alumni who graduated less than five years ago typically raise over $160,000 per year ($160 per person, on average).

Is everyone else in my class “giving”? I doubt it. Yeah, my class had a boatload going on to $60,000+ jobs the summer after graduation, but the majority, I (would like to) believe, are still floundering in a world of entry-level salaries and graduate school, not to mention undergrad debt. I was very fortunate not to have had to take out loans, but I can only imagine that if I still had years to pay back for my own undergraduate education (because my school asked so much and gave so little financially), it would make me feel truly wronged to be demanded money to pay for someone else’s.

Don’t take it the wrong way. I love Penn. It was the best four years of my life so far, and I am sincerely grateful to have been allowed the experience.

But I don’t see my school pride in connection with financial gifts, just as I don’t view my having gone to Penn in connection with my current financial situation. And maybe this is a bad attitude to have, but I feel I will be ready to give only when the impact—more specifically, the monetary returns—of a Penn education is personally made clear to me (or, in their words, when I “realize” that impact). For now, I will concentrate on giving back to my parents, who believed enough in me to cough up all that dough in the first place.

Do you give to your school? Why or why not? Am I selfish and hypocritical for not doing it? Also, any thoughts on the quote (which was found at the top of the letter)? Seems like these days, investments in skill offer better returns, no?

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Day 154 of 184: Beginning of the End

Wow, it’s been quite a while, eh. I’d attempted to start writing a post twice in the past few months, but never got around to finishing either. Here I am again now, figuring better late than never to show those who haven’t gotten to visit me—and are curious—what I’ve been up to this past half year. Also, I’ve been prompted to post after seeing the revolting number of spam comments I’ve received during my downtime from the likes of “Portable Gas Grill” and “Chauncey Roscoe”.

Today is China’s National Day. These next three days are official holidays, and happen to be exactly when my three-day weekend falls (we are on a work 6, rest 3 schedule). This is unfortunate because working on a holiday in this country entitles you to triple pay. Even though my team gets to avoid dealing with the indubitably massive crowds over the holiday, we are pretty bitter about that.

Anyway. I’ve been avoiding the blog because by the time I had time to start a post, it was already quite late in the game and I didn’t know where to start. The last five months have flown by and soon, when it’s over and everyone has gone home and the pavilion is dismantled, it will feel like a strange and intricate dream. For now, because words are not coming easily to me, I will tell the story in pictures.

To start, here’s the Canada Pavilion. This is where I’ve been working the last five months:

Massive, isn’t it. It is lovingly covered all over with 4000m2 of Canadian red cedar boards, which gives off the most delightful scent in the rain.

As a “host”, I rotate on any given day through 6 areas inside and outside the pavilion. Here’s a breakdown, moving along the route a typical visitor would take through our pavilion.

This is where the people line up outside:

P10 and P4 greet these people and manage the “green access” line, which offers Canadians, other pavilion staff, extremely pregnant women, and people aged 75+, in wheelchairs, or with valid disability cards fast access (i.e. skip most of the line). We are also required to let in “friends” of the policemen who patrol in our vicinity, even though much of that involves money exchanging hands (their hands, not ours).

The green access is where we get either the most trouble or amusement. This is where those not quite 75 demonstrate their physical strength and relentlessness by pushing and yelling. Where plump 40-somethings claim they are pregnant by thrusting their gut in our faces. Where fights break out and our Chinese security guards are called traitors by fellow countrymen. This is where a lot of Americans and French people come up and claim they are Canadian who had “left their passports at the hotel”, only to be exposed via test questions such as “what is the capital of Nunavut?”. (The worst are the French: “mais je parle francais!” So?) On a good day, this is the most interesting place to be.

More to come soon! Off to get a much needed massage.

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