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Walking down colorful memory lanes of Zone C

ZONE C is the most diverse sector in the Expo Park, with 58 pavilions exhibiting culture and technologies from more than 140 countries and organizations.

Most pavilion staff are natives of their countries, some have stayed in China for a while and are familiar with the culture, while others recruited from back home are seeing it all for the first time, with fresh eyes.

Over the past six months, they have thrown themselves into their work, many getting only one day off a week and some getting only single-digit resting days through the entire event.

Most of them can't help feeling relieved, some overjoyed, as the crowded fair, now having reached its estimated 70 million visitors, is drawing to the end.

However, they also tell Shanghai Daily they will miss the busy days, the curious Chinese visitors and fascinating culture in Shanghai. Some are staying on, some are returning home.

Each has seen a different Expo and a Shanghai, due to their distinct experiences with the event and the city.

Shanghai Daily interviews six people from five pavilions about their personal experiences at the event that has broken every record in World Expo history.

Spending half a year in the Expo site, as the Cameroon Pavilion director in the Africa Joint Pavilion, Chi Zephyrinus Fru has watched the Expo unfold and attract more than 70 million visitors.

"I will hold the precious memory deep inside my heart for a long time," he tells Shanghai Daily.

As for Motomby, the Commissioner General, although he didn't stay for as long as Chi, the "huge and impressive" Expo also had a great impact on him.

"The visitor volume in the single Africa Joint Pavilion, around 20 million, exceeded the entire number of visitors to the Aichi Expo five years ago," he says. "That's amazing."

The two encountered many different kinds of visitors and what shocked them was that many Chinese people knew nothing about Africa before they came to the pavilion.

"When they visited, they didn't know where they were," says Chi.

Fortunately, the Expo afforded people an opportunity at least to learn that Africa is a continent rather than a country. The Cameroon venue near the Joint Pavilion entrance received a huge number of guests.

"Many visitors only wanted a stamp, but some of them closely observed our exhibits and showed interest in the materials we gave them," says Chi.

"We're glad to see them and hope they can visit Cameroon one day."

Getting their exhibits to the Expo posed problems because of long procedures and complicated logistics. When it's time to leave they hope the difficulties are sorted out.

"I hope the logistics policies can be more flexible," says Chi.

Because of their heavy workload, both men stayed in Pudong for almost the entire Expo, though they did visit Suzhou and Zhoushan cities briefly for pavilion activities.

Now that the Expo is winding down, they hope to visit the other side of the Huangpu River and see the rest of the city. If the packing up goes well, they should have time for some sightseeing.

Like many other foreign pavilion staff who were recruited from China, Tamer Opcin speaks fluent Chinese.

More than four years ago, when he had just turned 18, he arrived to study language and culture at Shanghai's East China Normal University. After two years in Shanghai, he continued his studies in Nanjing, and graduated in June.

The World Expo brought him back to the city where he has always wanted to stay. He plans to continue to promote Turkish culture and arts in China, as he has been doing for the past six months.

Opcin and three other pavilion staff members plan to open a Turkish culture center in Shanghai, and some of the pavilion's exhibits will be displayed there.

"The past six months made me realize how much Chinese don't know about Turkey and relations between Turkey and China, although they are respectful and enthusiastic," says Opcin.

"The fair was a truly amazing one and it is quite a pity that it is ending soon."

He was delighted to find his enthusiasm shared by three colleagues and the four young men decided to carry on showcasing Turkish culture, in another form at a culture center.

It started as an imaginative idea, it became a serious proposal six weeks ago, and today it's a plan. They plan to open the center in January.

Jose Villarreal was involved in the USA Pavilion from the beginning, around the same time that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton made her first visit to China in early 2009.

He was on a business trip when his guide asked him why the United States was not participating in the World Expo in Shanghai.

"This touched a nerve," says the Commissioner General. "I thought to myself, 'How could the US not be involved in this epic and historic world event'?"

He returned home to Texas to inquire and was later appointed the Commissioner General. He also took the job because his daughter has been living in Shanghai for the past three years, since she graduated from high school.

"Over the last six months, I have seen more of her than in many years, and so that was a personal benefit," says Villarreal.

"The other thing is that now I know all the best restaurants in Shanghai and I love Chinese food."

This interest in the gastronomy has extended to the China Pavilion, which he has visited 12 times.

He has also taken advantage of the opportunity to travel around the country, visiting the Forbidden City in Beijing, the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an and the pandas in Chengdu.

"It has been impressive to visit other pavilions and see how every country represents their culture, history, and spirit differently. "I have also enjoyed the numerous cultural performances hosted by the USA Pavilion on our stage just outside the queue, Americas Square and in the city of Shanghai."

Indre Kumpikeviciute barely knew anything about Shanghai or even China before she arrived in March as director of the Lithuania Pavilion.

"I knew so little that I didn't even know what to expect," the journalist says.

She was completely taken aback by the masses of people and still remembers her first visit to People's Square.

"The crowds completely surprised me. I remember the back of my Commissioner General so well because that was the only thing I could see in the crowd," she recalls.

At that time, she would not have imagined that she might have difficulty readjusting to her familiar environment back in Lithuania. But she had the absurdly intriguing experience during a one-week break.

"It was a very weird but interesting feeling. I was so used to the lifestyle in Shanghai that I felt a bit dis-oriented when I suddenly got back home, " says Kumpikeviciute.

The young director was amazed by the genuine curiosity of Chinese visitors to her pavilion.

"Although most of them knew almost nothing about Lithuania, they never hesitated to ask and they seemed interested in everything," says the director.

"And that's exactly the great thing about having a large event - raising the interest of Chinese visitors in our pavilion and our country," she says.

Although she has visited Beijing before, Expo is Maria Tena's first contact with Shanghai, as Commissioner General of the Spain Pavilion. After her eight-month stay, the writer plans to write a novel set in Shanghai.

"It is a fascinating city with a vividness and energy far beyond my expectations and I fell in love with it almost immediately," Tena tells Shanghai Daily.

"I did my homework before coming here, but I realize it was far from enough. You just can't get the essence of the place and its residents without experiencing it."

A writer interested in human relations as well as international relations, Tena has found many elements in common between the two countries and their people.

"I love the fact that we both appreciate gastronomy, the fine food," she says.

"It is not only digesting the food, but also the tradition that when you eat with someone, your relations are upgraded."

Tena has kept a journal about the city. However busy she is, she always makes time, even to scribble just a few lines about the city and whom she met that day. It started as a writer's habit but now it's becoming her reference for the planned novel.

The decision to write a novel was made when she spent a week back in Spain.

"Before realizing it, I was writing about Shanghai every day when I was back home. The week away from the city offered me a fresh perspective as an outsider looking back to what I have experienced in the place," recalls Tena.

That was when Tena realized that what she had observed and experienced could well be developed into a novel.


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