For the past three weeks, I have been standing outside in 100 degree-plus (about 38 degrees Celsius) weather welcoming the thousands of Chinese visitors who flock daily to the United States Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo.
At my job I am usually standing, and almost always sweating profusely, wondering how Shanghai could be any more humid than my hometown in Bloomington, Indiana.
I am a "Student Ambassador" at the US Pavilion, and my work at the World Expo so far has been rewarding. My job is to guide the over-35,000 visitors we receive daily through the Pavilion's four-part show, while using my Chinese language skills to interact with guests, joking around and making them feel comfortable after having waited outside for an hour in the Shanghai summer heat.
Every day I get to meet people from all over China and from around the world, and they get to meet someone from the US -- really, what could be a better trade?
The Shanghai Expo, for all its heat, crowds, and waiting in line, is an incredible event. The Expo speaks to China's development as a great power among the community of nations, and it cements Shanghai's position as an economic and business capital of East Asia.
As one of the Expo themes states so succinctly, the importance of this event is twofold: for China to see the rest of the world, and also for the rest of the world to see China.
What is the meaning of this theme, and why it is important at this point in China's development?
First, it is important because the Expo provides an opportunity for tens of millions of Chinese citizens to catch a glimpse of the rest of the world right in China's own backyard. Chinese have the opportunity to see the products, people and ideas not only of their neighbors in East Asia, but also of countries as far away as North and South America, Africa and Europe. Visitors are able to see every country of the world on their own, and as each country chooses to present itself.
Second, the Expo affords an opportunity for non-Chinese to comprehend a multifaceted picture of China, all in one place. Foreign visitors see the many "xiao baicai" volunteers (in English, "little Chinese cabbages," because of their green uniforms) guiding visitors through the Expo grounds, as well as Chinese from literally every corner of the country visiting pavilions alongside them.
The grand scale of the Expo and the incredible efficiency of its planning demonstrate the Chinese government's coordination of effort and ability to do great things when it decides to do so.
Next month, my family will be coming from the US to visit China for the first time. I feel that there would be no better place to take them to see all of China than the Chinese Provinces Pavilion, where visitors can see a wide array of inviting exhibits from each province and autonomous zone in the country. Where else could one see, all under one roof, the enormous diversity of people and place that makes up modern-day China?
The Shanghai Expo is about diplomacy and deepening the mutual understanding between countries from every corner of the globe.
My job as a Student Ambassador is to present a welcoming and friendly face to visitors to the US Pavilion, and to hopefully leave them with a good impression of myself and of my country. That is what my fellow Student Ambassadors and I at the US Pavilion, as well as all the hard working "xiao baicai," standing outside in the 100-degree heat, hope to accomplish.
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