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'Expo Granny' really rocks

EXPOHOLIC granny Tomiyo Yamada is a celebrity. She has visited the World Expo every single day in search of knowledge and plans to keep it up. Yang Jian catches up with her.

A 61-year-old Japanese grandmother has become one of the most talked-about World Expo visitors by undertaking an ambitious and grueling plan - to visit the 184-day Expo every day to understand exhibitions at each and every pavilion.

She's known as "Expo Granny," a real Expoholic whose daunting, some would say crazy, feat would make strong men shudder.

Come rain or shine, high humidity or broiling sun, Expo pilgrim and super fan Tomiyo Yamada can be seen walking around, studying exhibits and taking copious notes. She stands patiently in line, sweltering like everyone else.

The slight woman with a youthful look and ready smile said she's in search of knowledge.

When many visitors were still debating which pavilions were worth visiting, Yamada had completed her first round, taking in 373 pavilions on 38 consecutive days. She's into a second lap and plans a third to see all the pavilions in the six-month event.

"This is just my beginning at the Expo," she told Shanghai Daily through a translator. "I was like a 38-day-old baby after my first trip around. I need to learn more in a second tour."

The former civil servant from Aichi, Japan, attended the World Expo in Osaka in 1970, when she was in her 30s. But she really got hooked on Expos at the Aichi Expo in 2005 - she went every single day - and pledged to do the same in Shanghai.

Digging into her savings, Yamada spent 700,000 yuan (US$103,304) to buy tickets for 160 yuan each and rent an apartment 2 kilometers from the Expo site. She can see it all the time, sparkling at night, through her window.

Her government worker husband, and one of her sons, a school teacher, quit their jobs in Japan and moved to Shanghai to accompany her.

Each day she gets up at 5:30am, takes the bus to the Expo, and completes her visit at around 10pm.

The energetic granny said she considers visiting the Expo her daily job and a mission.

The main purpose is to watch and learn, she said, adding that formal and serious teaching was boring and visiting the Expo made information come alive.

"People can gain more knowledge at the Expo than at any other place," she said.

Every day she writes in her Expo diary, chronicling her day and reporting her understanding of every exhibition.

After visiting the exhibition of the island nation of Tuvalu in the Pacific Pavilion, Yamada wrote, "Shall we take some responsibility for Tuvalu, an island country that would be submerged because of the global warming?"

Her passion for the World Expo was ignited at the 2005 Expo Aichi where she set an attendance record by visiting 243 times, a number she plans to surpass at the Shanghai show.

Before that Expo, the mother of two sons had undergone back and abdominal surgery. Her husband suggested walking around the Expo to hasten her recovery and relieve the boredom. But she soon became obsessed with the exhibitions exploring "Nature's Wisdom." She was fascinated by the science.

Every day at 5am she crossed a hill to the Expo site, walked home at noon and returned in the afternoon.

At the end of that Expo a journalist mistook her for an ordinary visitor and interviewed her - he was astonished to find consecutive dates on more than 1,000 photos she had snapped at the event.

Everyone was awed that one woman in her 50s would tramp around pavilions in the hot sun every day. The Expo organizer awarded her a "Full Attendance Prize."

Yamada said she was grateful because the Expo had not only taught her a lot but also helped her recover from illness.

Immediately after the Aichi event, she decided to make the pilgrimage to the Expo Shanghai. She visited the site a dozen times and took more than 10,000 pictures to record the construction.

Shanghai Vice Mayor Yang Xiong presented her the first advance Expo entrance ticket in Japan in April 2009 to welcome her.

Before the Expo opened, she studied the layout and exhibition plans for each pavilion and mapped her route. A calendar at home is filled with her daily pavilion schedule.

Long queues at the Expo Shanghai have frustrated and turned off many visitors, but Yamada takes it in strike.

"Every Expo has long queues," she said.

Her favorites are the China Pavilion, followed by the pavilions of Japan, Saudi Arabia and Italy.

She said she was awed by the 126-meter-long animation of the famous painting "Along the Riverside on the Qingming Festival" from the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1270) and said it conveyed the modesty of the Chinese people.

There are more than 700 figures in the crowded scene but each person seemed polite to the others, she wrote in her diary.

Her plan is to visit each pavilion at least three times, the first mainly to take in the architecture and get the feel of the venue, the second time to study the exhibitions and the third time to have meals at some pavilions.

After the six-month Expo ends on October 31, she will begin writing a book about her understanding of the "Better City, Better Life" Expo for her grandson.

The total budget for the Expo Shanghai is 28.6 billion yuan, including 18 billion yuan for construction of site, 10.6 billion yuan for operations over six months and the balance for city infrastructure.

"Some people questioned whether it was worthwhile to stage such a costly Expo, but I think they will understand the meaning of the Expo after the event and feel proud of the accomplishment," she said.

Yamada offered visitors some suggestions:

Necessities include a hat or umbrella, sun screen, lip gloss and a towel. She especially recommended taking a notebook and pen to write down impressions and questions raised by the exhibitions.

She suggested finding a guide and following that guide throughout the pavilion. Don't pay too much attention to the 3-D and 4-D movies - they're overrated, she said.

On rainy and scorching days, visitors can first try the joint pavilions and the theme pavilions where the lines are shorter.

Resting at noon is important so visitors have energy for the afternoon.

Yamada plans to continue her Expo pilgrimages.

"I want to continue my visit at the next registered Expo in 2015 in Milan, Italy, because I want to see the legacy of Expo Shanghai," said the "Expo Granny."


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