Like Thomas Anderson (Neo) in the movie The Matrix, a visit to the 2010 Expo will not only expose you to a brave new world of technology, it may change your life forever.
As well as supporting innovative ways of saving the environment, you can show your support for disaster-struck Haiti, feast your senses on a bewildering array of architecture, catch previews of the latest gizmos in the world of R&D and meet the wacky mascot family.
The expo is also the biggest thing to pop up on China's radar since the Beijing Olympics, and who doesn't want to be a part of history in the making? With Mother Nature fast running out of patience, it could not have come a day too soon.
Here are 10 reasons why you cannot afford to skip Shanghai's $4.2-billion cultural ball.
1. Save the planet
The world as we know is falling to pieces. People are streaming into towns and cities and mankind is stomping Yeti-sized carbon footprints all over the environment like there's no tomorrow - which there may not be. The global rate of urbanization has already tilted past 50 percent, and China will catch up with this level by the end of the year. Visiting the expo allows you to register your support for green technologies, from the rainwater-harvesting equipment at the Australian pavilion to the artificial cloud at the Rotterdam pavilion, as well as join forums and summits on ways to undo the damage. "If we can say that the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen (in December) was not very successful, the expo will hopefully help fill in the blanks," said Zhou Hanmin, deputy director of the expo's executive committee.
On Oct 31, organizers will publish the results of six-months of discussion and debate in a manifesto called the Shanghai Declaration. You can be a part of this potentially revolutionary document.
2. New gadgets
The Eiffel Tower was supposed to be torn down after the Universal Expo of 1889, but today it ranks as one of the biggest tourist draws in Europe. London's Crystal Palace and the gramophone also number among the expo debutants.
"The Eiffel Tower was presented during the Industrial Revolution, a time when the world saw two major inventions: electricity and radio-wave communication," said Franck Serrano, director of the French pavilion.
"Today we are facing another revolution of an ecological kind, as well as the advent of the Internet and virtual reality."
One such breakthrough, Expo Online, was launched late last year.
By now you've seen snapshots of the 42 self-built, 42 rented and 11 joint pavilions, but what lies inside? From the UK Pavilion, which has been described as a "hairy marshmallow," and which will be coated in 60,000 acrylic seed-bearing spikes, to the ice-hockey pucks covering the Czech Republic's building, the expo is shaping up as a playground for the world's top designers and technologists, including Thomas Heatherwick (UK) and Jacques Ferrier (France).
Jackie Chan, Yao Ming and Placido Domingo are just some of the stars who will show up, as the expo will feature over 10,000 cultural performances - making this a perfect chance to go autograph hunting.
China amazed the world two years ago by staging a phenomenal Olympic Games with two mega-structures, the "Bird's Nest" and the "Water Cube". While Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps may not make it to the expo, the 184-day event still ranks as a major milestone in China's modern history. If the Olympics was China's coming-out party, this is a mark of its intent to go steady with the rest of the world.
6. Australia's secret machine
One of the most closely-guarded secrets of the expo is the cinematic machine now being built inside the $77-million Australian pavilion. Will it be better than watching Avatar at the IMAX? According to publicist Yolanda Lu, it will be a "spectacular audio-visual experience featuring stunning images of Australia, all filmed in a format never before seen."
7. Hot Shanghai
With its former French Concession, high English literacy rate, Bund skyline and unique clubs like Yongfoo Elite and M1NT, Shanghai rocks. "The city has the potential to spread its cultural model all over the world," said Serrano. According to Zhou Hanmin, what sets Shanghai apart is the determination of its people. "We're always trying to do tasks that others would consider too big for us," he said.
8. Smart cities
The Urban Best Practices Area is the latest addition to the World Expo, giving over 55 cities - twice the originally planned number - a chance to show their solutions for the 2010 Expo theme of Better City, Better Life. "From now until 2030, the world will need to build the equivalent of a city of 1 million people in developing countries every five days," said Spanish architect Ion Cuervas-Mons.
9. Fight recession
The US was one of the last countries to sign up for this year's expo due to funding shortages, as its economy and automobile sector has taken a battering. Hillary Clinton rallied the private sector to cough up to help beat the recession, and you can show your support by also pitching up.
10. Globe trot
With 192 countries being represented in one time zone inside a 5.28-sq-km plot of land, you can choose where to study, travel or invest for the price of a 160-yuan daily pass.
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