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Zone A pavilion staff look back fondly at the Expo

THE staff in Zone A pavilions made a lasting impression on many Expo visitors, not only because they represent the many beautiful faces of the East, but also because of their knowledge, hospitality and warmth.

Many demonstrated perseverance and optimism at times when their home countries suffered natural disaster or turmoil.

The beautiful young women and handsome young men working in the China Pavilion and provincial pavilions were always in the spotlight, in a magnetic gathering of beautiful people.

Wu Sha works in the pavilion for Chongqing Municipality, famous for its beautiful women. She found that her job was transformed from being a tour guide to a sought-after model to pose with visitors.

In front of the United Arab Emirates Pavilion, whenever tall, dark, handsome and smiling staff in white robes emerged, visitors - especially women - rushed to take pictures and pose with them.

Staff at other pavilions could take a bow because during the 184-day event, some Asian countries suffered natural disasters and unrest. But the staff from those countries remained at their posts with smiles and confidence, representing their countries' most beautiful aspects - their people.

A deadly flood overwhelmed Pakistan in August, killing around 2,000 people and leaving 2 million homeless. Their Expo staff remained.

Abdul Wahid, deputy commissioner-general of the pavilion, says that fortunately most of the staff had been recruited from southern Pakistan, which was not devastated by the monsoon floods. No one asked to leave, though some of their relatives in the north of Pakistan were affected, Wahid says.

All the staff expressed thanks to the Chinese government and people around the world for contributing to the rescue and rebuilding.

The Kyrgyzstan Pavilion put on a united and confident front to celebrate its national pavilion day in early August - two months after riots that left hundreds dead and toppled the government.

The pavilion had a new director, but its operation was not affected.

Asizovq Meerim, a guide since the Expo opened on May 1, says she would not focus on problems in her homeland, but would concentrate on her Expo job and try to serve visitors better.

"I am happy whenever I'm asked to pose with visitors from around the world and explain our ancient totems and the traditional yurt exhibit," she says. She speaks both Chinese and English.

Haji Omer Rahimy is director of the Afghanistan Pavilion, but he is also the sole exhibitor, accountant for the pavilion store and sometimes the chef for pavilion staff.

All the items on exhibit in the pavilion, more than 450, belong to Rahimy who says generations of his family have collected the artwork, including fine metal work, tapestries, carpets and items of daily use. They also include a 1,200-year-old medicine mortar and a 400-year-old silver basin.

As he spoke with Shanghai Daily, the pavilion's top official checked the accounts and cut fruit into pieces as a treat for pavilion officials and staff.

"I know people will think of terrorism and war when talking about Afghanistan, but our country also has a long history and profound culture. That's what we want to exhibit," says Rahimy.

Malik Fahmy Al Hinai

49, museum director in Muscat, Oman

One of the directors of Oman PavilionAs a museum director in Oman, Hinai has always been fascinated by China and its civilization, especially traditional Chinese medicine.

He read quite a few books depicting China and Shanghai in the last century and envisioned beautiful old buildings, rice paddies and the sounds of the guzheng (Chinese zither).

"But what I saw when I arrived just blew me away, it's nothing like the books," he says.

He has taken in all the sites in the city, including the Bund.

"Overlooking the Huangpu River, one finds the views breathtaking from the rooftop cafes.

Listening to the buzz below, I'm reminded that a major city is at work," he says.

Hinai is using the visit to read magazines and learn more about Shanghai.

He came across an interesting article about traditional Chinese medicine and ear massage, which explained benefits of acupressure for the kidneys.

"I thought it was what I needed since I had donated a kidney to my brother last year," he says.

But after learning that the treatment required him to wear a tiny silver in his ear lobe, he gave up because he thought it would look strange and affect his image in his Expo work.

A friend later reassured him that Chinese who noticed would be pleased at his appreciation of their culture and medical art, and would consider him a friend.

So he made an appointment to receive an ancient treatment.

The tiny ball presses on an acupuncture point in the ear that is linked through energy channels to the kidney.

"I will not only take back memories of Shanghai and its beauty," Hinai says, "but also go back home with a healthy kidney."

(Liang Yiwen)

Fan Yamin

21, Bai ethnic group, from Dali, Yunnan Province

Undergraduate, guide in Yunnan PavilionGuiding China's top legislator Wu Bangguo through the Yunnan Pavilion was the most memorable experience. Fan can recite every detail of what Wu did and what he said to her.

"Wu first said to us, 'You had a long day,' and then shook hands with us - and I was the first," she recalls, still excited by the experience.

She had her picture taken with Wu, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.

However, she had prepared and rehearsed for several days to receive the national leader.

She introduced the exhibits to her colleagues over and over, though everyone was familiar with them.

Fan started working at the Expo in September and is on her feet from 9am to 9:30pm during working days.

The biggest annoyance for the beautiful young woman was rude visitors who without warning took her picture with a flash, which caused her eye pain.

"If visitors first ask, we would be very pleased to take pictures with them," she says.

Wu says Shanghai is an amazing city because there are so many places to shop. Nanjing Road Pedestrian Mall is her favorite when she isn't working.

"The road retains many classic elements of old Shanghai such as old building," she says.

However, some Expo pavilions placed too much emphasis on the visual impact of the pavilions themselves, she says, adding that they still presented important information on their countries.

(Yang Jian)

Fatima Al Zaabi

26, administrative officer, from Fujairah, UAE

Volunteer in United Arab Emirates PavilionOne of the most useful sentences in Chinese spoken by Fatima Al Zaabi, a UAE Pavilion volunteer, is "Qing bie peng wo," which means "Please don't touch me."

Like many other female volunteers at the pavilion, Zaabi says a big problem during the Expo were the male visitors who always wanted to get up close to her when posing for a photo.

In Islam, men and women are supposed to keep their distance - no touching.

So Zaabi, who already speaks some Chinese, learned to tell the guys to keep their distance. "However, we don't take offense because they absolutely don't know," she says, adding that most men would apologize and stay at a distance.

She has been volunteering for two months and says she enjoyed her time at the Expo where she could make Chinese friends, go shopping and exchange pins with other pavilion staff.

She is an administrative staffer at a flight school in Fujairah and worked for the Expo voluntarily.

"This is a big chance for me to get to know other cultures," she says. Her pavilion work includes welcoming visitors and stamping Expo passports.

"I don't mind because I want to learn some Chinese and Shanghai dialect and, of course, go shopping," she says.

Qipu Road (better known among foreigners as Cheap Road), a popular local market selling inexpensive clothes and bags, is one of her favorite places to shop - and she enjoys bargaining.

"I would speak some Chinese and pretend to have lived in Shanghai for many years, so that they gave me a good discount," she smiles.

(Yang Jian)

Rajesh Kumar

35, director at an event company in India

Director of public relations at India Pavilion"The past six months has passed faster than I could image," Kumar says.

"It was a wonderful experience to work at Expo and it left deep impressions about Chinese people."

He says he's most impressed by Chinese people's curiosity and enormous patience.

"I couldn't imagine waiting at every pavilion for hours with so many people," he says.

He was very touched when he was invited to dinner at home by a local family - they wanted to express thanks to him for helping an elderly woman in the family.

"I was really treated like a prince," he recalls. "They spent several hours to prepare the variety of food."

Knowing that he likes spicy food, they prepared Sichuan food and garlic chicken. He also joined them in mahjong.

"The way Chinese people treat a guest and provide hospitalities is the same as we have in our traditions back in India," he says. "It was a great experience which made me feel at home."

Kumar adds that the friendly attitude, hospitality and respect to foreigners have persuaded him to stay on in China after the Expo for a while.

He plans to support a research into authentic Indian yoga and promote Bollywood dancing to Chinese people.

(Liang Yiwen)

Tomer Bar Meir

30, from Israel

Guide at Israel PavilionTomer Bar Meir has lived in China for four years, but in more laid-back Chengdu, Sichuan Province, so he finds the hectic pace and mushrooming skyscrapers in Shanghai not quite his cup of tea.

Every day for the past six months he has encountered thousands of people, some rude, in the Israel Pavilion.

"Shanghai has a lot of high, modern buildings and more expensive things," the 30-year-old says. "But I prefer a more laid-back lifestyle, as in Chengdu."

Four years ago, Meir arrived in China as a tourist and planned to stay for three months. But the longer he stayed and the more he saw, the more he wanted to stay. He settled in Chengdu and works as restaurant chef.

He was attracted to Chengdu's green hills, meandering streams, old teahouses with fragrant tea and tables of locals happily playing mahjong

"Shanghai is totally different, new buildings mushroom every day and people walk too fast," he says.

Meir is fluent in Chinese and reads and writes quite well. His main job is to talk with visitors, answer their questions and explain Israel's history, culture and modern accomplishments to Chinese.

"The Expo is a very good opportunity for China and other countries to promote their images to the world," he says. "And I'm happy to be part of it."

One thing Meir doesn't understand is the Chinese craze to get pavilion stamps on their Expo passports.

"Some visitors queue for more than two or three hours, only to get a small stamp; they don't care about the pavilion and some don't even know which pavilion they visited. That's really sad," he says.

As for the bad manners of some visitors, the Israeli is quite tolerant. "Each country is the same - the good side and the bad side. It's nothing to fuss about," he says. "I'm accustomed to China, I like the people and understand them pretty well."

At the Expo he has encountered old acquaintances, including a Chinese colleague who worked with him in Israel five years ago.

"It's so amazing," he says. "As we Israeli always say, 'A circle is completed'."

After the Expo Meir is heading back to Chengdu. "That's the place for me," he says.


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