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November 1, 2010

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Whew! It's over -- Reporters cheer

INTREPID Shanghai Daily reporters Yang Jian and Yao Minji have slogged through World Expo 2010 Shanghai for six months (and Yang covered a year of preparations). Now they can relax, sit back and tell us their stories.

It was 3am when I finished the spread-page feature story on the reflections of Zone C pavilion staff at the World Expo, which I have covered for the past six months.

I started writing early in the day at Room 107 in the Expo Media Center, hoping to complete it by early afternoon, but interviews, calls and press conferences kept coming.

That day, I got 43 phone calls, 27 text messages and 59 e-mails; I went to three press conferences and two interviews. At 5pm, I was also told to write a news story.

That was a typical day for me over the past six months. The Expo was so dynamic and full of surprises that I found it impossible to ever make a daily plan. Things kept changing.

I'm a features writer and had never covered a big, long-term big event like this. So when I first entered the Expo site during the soft opening in April, I was completely lost, not only about the roads in the huge park but also about how I would be able to handle it.

I'm a Taurus who loves plans and schedules and hates surprises, I found myself in near-panic when the fair first started. I kept asking my colleague Bob (Yang Jian), who had already covered preparations for a year, "How could this happen so suddenly? ... How come the contact people on the list can never be contacted ... How come they don't follow the schedule?"

Bob would shrug, give a smile and say simply, "I'm used to it."

The waiting and frustration taught me to be more patient and tolerant. At first, I would get upset easily, always thinking to myself, "Why are they so slow? Why are they so rude? Why are they so ineffective?"

But interviewing various parties - organizers, participants and visitors - let me see things from different perspectives.

I started telling myself and others, "Hey, those visitors from faraway villages, they probably took a train to Shanghai at 4am, then took a long ride to the park, waited for at least an hour to get in and then had to stand for hours in queues. They've had a long and exhausting day."

And the pavilion staff, many of them only get one day off a week and they work in a loud and crowded environment every day - they deal with frustrations and surprises all the time, just like me.

Now after more than 170 days of such surprises, I can also smile and say, like Bob, "Hey, I'm used to it." And I've learned to adapt to ever-changing conditions.

It was a great experience, yet, also too exhausting and too long. So I was extremely relieved as I pushed the "send" button to e-mail the Zone C review story, since I knew it would be my last long feature piece.

I love planning, interviewing and writing feature stories, but in the hectic Expo, shorter news stories that needed less running around and fewer interviews definitely became more attractive.

But again, I was wrong. Changes were already on the way.

The next day, I got a call from my editor, "Minji, we decided that you and Bob should do something like an Expo journalist's notebook, to give your own reflections on the past six months."

I froze right in front of the UK Pavilion, looking at the "dandelion," the nickname Chinese visitors gave to the "seed-cathedral" pavilion. I felt my heart sinking and my thoughts scattered to the winds like dandelion seeds.

Then I heard myself answering, "Yes, boss." And I took out my cell phone to look for the questions I had asked the staff for that reflection feature.

"What was the most impressive moment in the past six months?"

"How has Expo influenced you personally?"

And it was only then that I realized what difficult questions I had posed, because I can't think of a single most impressive moment, simply because there have been so many.

But I did remember the most pleasant moments - those were times when I heard positive feedback on my articles from visitors or pavilion staff. Before the Expo, I've heard reviews from colleagues and friends, and I often doubted their objectivity.

In the past six months, I often got calls and e-mails from foreign readers. There was mostly praise, I'm glad to say, but also some complaints, such as why I said their pavilion was a bit dark, or why I didn't include a picture of a boss.

I was glad to get both, because they showed how carefully people read the paper and my stories.


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