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Originally published Friday, May 14, 2010 at 6:30 PM

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Cultural surprises pop up at Shanghai's World Expo

It's a small but odd world at Shanghai's World Expo, where national and corporate pavilions are drawing crowds, and nuclear problem states North Korea and Iran are next-door neighbors.

The Associated Press

If You Go

Shanghai Expo

Expo basics

Tickets to the Expo are widely available around Shanghai. U.S. residents can buy them before leaving home for $26 from Peregrine Travel Group at www.worldexpochina.net/Several subway lines deliver you close to the Expo gates, including Metro line No. 8 (Yaohua Road stop). You'll be searched airport-style as you enter; no liquids allowed.

Pavilions

Many presentations inside the national pavilions are ho-hum promotional videos or displays of cultural artifacts, but it's also fun to just stroll around enjoying the Expo architecture. There are a few stunners inside the pavilions — "The Little Mermaid" statue is here from Denmark, and some high-tech displays in the corporate pavilions are a generation beyond the iPhone. But most of what's cool about Expo can be found in the building designs. Stay until after dark when everything lights up in color.

Tips for travelers

Cut in line at a U.S. theme park and you could be kicked out. But at the Shanghai Expo you will find other guests cutting in line. Get used to it.

Sorry, no Facebook or Twitter updates from the Expo. The Chinese government blocks access. You can access Google with limited results.

More information

Shanghai Expo: http://en.expo2010.cn/

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It's a small but odd world at Shanghai's 2010 World Expo, where nuclear-problem states North Korea and Iran are next-door neighbors, and visitors can check out such novelties as translucent cement and a curtain made of solar-cell soybean fiber.

The Expo has been drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors since its May 1 opening, and hours-long lines jam around the most popular pavilions, especially the Japanese, Italian, French and Australian exhibits. More than 70 million visitors (mostly Chinese) are expected at the world's fair, which runs through Oct. 31.

While the majestic red China pavilion can been seen only with a "fast pass" reservation system that sells out after just minutes each day, visitors can waltz right into the nearly deserted North Korean pavilion, which is tucked behind Iran's in the northeast corner of the 2-square-mile Expo grounds in this sprawling Chinese city.

The Expo's theme of "Better City, Better Life" allows for a vast range of interpretations by the 189 countries and dozens of international organizations and corporations participating.

With so many cultures gathered in one area, surprises are inevitable.

One recent day, the music blaring from the Qatar pavilion — which is clustered with other Muslim countries Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Oman around the Israeli exhibit — was an instrumental version of "Sunrise, Sunset," a song sung at a Jewish wedding in the film "Fiddler on the Roof."

The locations of the largest national pavilions seem strategically thought out in some cases. . The eagle-shaped USA Pavilion and Russia's gilded sun-shaped structure anchor one end of the sprawling Expo grounds, Japan's domed pavilion the other. Of course, China stands at the center.

Given the Expo's theme of sustainability, many pavilions use recyclable and ultrahigh tech materials, like the solar cell soybean-fiber netting around the Swiss pavilion, which is said to be biodegradable.

Italy's pavilion uses a type of translucent cement that by allowing light to shine through walls can help save on energy, while Britain's has a six-story "Seed Cathedral" formed by 60,000 see-through fiber optic rods.

Across the river are corporate pavilions sponsored by big companies like Coca Cola, Cisco Systems Inc. and General Motors Co.

There are a number of exhibits, some by corporations, on new technology, products and designs.

Among the new technology showcased is a fridge of the future that reads expiration dates and orders new food for you. A toilet with a digital screen analyzes urine for medical information. A store doesn't require you to carry your purchases around; instead, you note the item with a handheld device and pick it up as you leave.

One pavilion shows an experimental car called the Leaf, developed by SAIC, the Chinese partner of GM and Volkswagen AG. It looks a lot like a Smart car, but it produces its own energy, powered by sun and wind.

In keeping with the Japanese philosophy that "customer is king," the joint Japan Industry pavilion is drawing attention with its "throne room," said to be the best toilet at the Expo.

But only a few lucky visitors will win the lottery that gives them a chance to experience that deluxe "comfort zone."

Material from Beth Harpaz

of The Associated Press

is included in this report.

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