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Thailand pavilion entertains potential Chinese tourists

Shanghai is now the hottest city in Asia. -The Nation/ANN

Fri, May 28, 2010
The Nation/Asia News Network

THE WORLD EXPO 2010 in Shanghai is not over until the end of October, and yet it's already become a big tourist hit. My personal experience confirms one Japanese friend's comment that Shanghai is now the hottest city in Asia.

It was reported in the Shanghai Daily that last Saturday's attendance was a new record high, with more than 300,000 visitors, despite the light rain that was pouring almost all day. This number will be surpassed come the summer holidays, given the fact that most visitors are from China, and some love cutting through queues.

It was sunny all day when I had my first World Expo experience. After walking past the largest parking lot with the most number of tour buses I've ever seen, I came to the longest row of security checkpoints. There's enough English signage, and the English map is very clear. Although not all volunteers throughout this massive site can speak English, those at information booths - and there are plenty - can communicate efficiently. Food is more expensive than outside, but drinks at vending machines are at regular prices. Predictably, queues range from long to impossibly long at well-known national pavilions - Thailand included - and those whose exteriors look stunning. Waiting time can be more than three hours for the UK and Saudi Arabian pavilions, for both reasons. Thus, don't think that you'll be able to see more than ten pavilions even if you stay from opening to closing.

After four and a half hours and three pavilions, I suggested to my Chinese friend that we visit the Thailand pavilion. A TNN reporter I'd met a day earlier informed me that Thai citizens are allowed in without having to queue, so I told my Chinese friend to keep quiet before we got in - through the handicapped line. A public announcement was made about this special privilege - subtly and in Thai of course, not Chinese, which would anger the hundreds of people waiting in line.

Compared to other pavilions, the Thai exterior may not look stunning, but with the Thai temple look - despite the lack of appropriate height - it's prominent enough. Inside, visitors can see three multimedia presentations in three rooms - in Chinese with English subtitles.

In the first room, visitors stand around a pond under four screens where images of Thailand and her people - very different from what many saw on news channels a few days ago - are shown before and after rain pours down. The creators would have already known that visitors had been standing outside in the summer heat for more than an hour. A fun gimmick at the end is when one can see oneself on screen with a Thai headdress. In the second room, the Thai cartoon mascot interacts with a Chinese character and a movable standing statue of a demon, while a brief history of Thailand is narrated. In the last room, each visitor is given special glasses to watch a 4D movie, with pop-out images plus water splashes and the smell of Thai flowers drawing applause and wows.

The whole experience lasts about 25 minutes, and then visitors are out and gone, and the last thing they hear is "Khop khun khrap/kha". Although it's thoroughly pleasant and entertaining, and reconfirms that Thailand is one of the world's major tourist destinations, the impression and memory may not last long. Every visitor has exactly the same experience of watching three films and hearing the same dialogues. And unfortunately, there's no chance to take good photos inside the three dark rooms, and exterior photos would be spoiled by the long queues as the pavilion is not tall enough.

Of course, it's a good idea not to ask visitors to read exhibition boards, which they'd walk past to rush to the next pavilion, or give out brochures, which they'd throw away. But the creators should have offered some choices for visitors to look at or listen to, and perhaps ended with a strong and long-lasting image. On that note, the Spanish pavilion is a winner. The second room has collages of cities and people - and some images are not totally positive either - and the last room is dominated by a realistic, giant moving baby, whose photo might be seen in visitors' albums or Facebook pages.

The Thai pavilion also lacks space for visitors to linger and experience other aspects of Thailand, if they want to. Outside the pavilion, Thai food and beverage stalls would have been a big hit, given our world famous gastronomy. And after the long wait, how about a 30-minute Thai traditional massage? Such activities would bring in cash to partly compensate for what we've spent on the pavilion, and also leave fond memories for potential visitors to the country.

After experiencing all this tourism promotion, the next morning at Pudong Airport I found that the Thai Airways morning flight to Bangkok was cancelled - I think we all know why. Arriving in Singapore five hours later, I found that hotels were fully booked, and a receptionist told me it was because of diverted tour groups - again we can all can guess where many of them were diverted from.

And so at this time of regrouping, let's all join hands and hearts, despite our conflicting political views, and bring back the smiles to our faces, as we've shown at the Thailand pavilion. Tourism has been our main income earner for many years, as our country has been a dream destination for many people around the world. Let's try to keep it that way.

-The Nation/Asia News Network

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