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Amy Kao - USA National Pavilion Student Ambassador

USA National Pavilion Student Ambassador from Concordia University and UCLA, now serving at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo
July 6, 2010

Stars at the Pavilion                                                    July 7, 2010

There had been a rumor floating around the USA Pavilion that one of our global sponsors, PepsiCo, would be holding a media event involving Taiwanese pop stars Wang Leehom 王力宏 and Angela Zhang 張韶涵;.  I am a fan of both of them and especially a fan of Leehom’s.  I was introduced to his song “花田錯 (Mistake in the Flower Field)” during one of those productive group study sessions we all had in college.  From that day on, I was hooked on Leehom’s music (and his dreamy smile) and hooked on Asian pop culture.  Friends started suggesting other artists and songs and Angela Zhang’s song “寓言 (Fable)” followed soon after.  So you can imagine my excitement when I received an email from Peter Winter, the USA Pavilion Student Ambassador Program Director, and Ming Lai Alterman, the USA Pavilion Digital Media Manager, asking whether I would be interested in taking on the role of Student Ambassador Journalist for a PepsiCo media event.

The same rumored PepsiCo event that we have been hearing about for the last few days.

The one with Leehom Wang and Angela Zhang.

Did I want to go?


July 5, 2010 was the big day. I made sure my camera was fully charged and made my way to the USA Pavilion.  USA Pavilion staff was running around making sure everything was running as smoothly as possible for PepsiCo.  I was quickly introduced to PepsiCo as the Student Ambassador Journalist and then told to wait until it begin.

The media event began with PepsiCo saying a few words about why they decided to partner with the USA Pavilion.  PepsiCo and the USA Pavilion share common values: optimism, innovation, and the desire to share. You need optimism to inspire hope in future improvements.  You need innovation to drive new advancements in methods, ideas or products.  And you need the desire to share in order to make positive contributions back to the community.  PepsiCo takes their social responsibility seriously. Rather than just selecting any random area to farm the potatoes used in their Lay’s potato chips, they made a conscious decision to farm potatoes in Inner Mongolia. PepsiCo had high hopes for the area.  PepsiCo was optimistic that their investments into the land would yield large crops of potatoes.  They were innovative in developing new technologies that could use water more effectively when watering the fields.  Finally, PepsiCo’s desire to share gave them the drive to build more public libraries and schools in Inner Mongolia in order to further develop the talent of both their workers and their workers’ families.  The result of all of this is a successful line of potato chips that is constantly introducing new flavors.  Today, Leehom and Angela were promoting the new flavors: mala tang (spicy hotpot soup), BBQ fish, lemon tea and cherry tomatoes.

Yeah ... China has some ... interesting ... potato chip flavors. What we call “normal” flavors back in the United States are not so normal here. I am pretty sure that Chinese people might find the American flavors “salt and vinegar” and “sour cream and onion” pretty ... interesting ... as well. Different culture, different taste buds. But back to the event ...

The doors opened and Leehom walked in. The thoughts in my head went something like this: Wow. That’s him. It’s really him. He looks different in person, yet exactly what I imagined he would look like in person. Amy, that doesn’t even make sense. Whatever. He’s standing just a few feet away from me now. I wish he would look over here. OH MY GOSH! He just looked at me! 

Cool.  ^_^

After doing some promotions for his new movie “Love in Disguise 戀愛通告” (which I am excited to see!), Angela Zhang walks in and together they start promoting the new Lay’s potato chip flavor: cherry tomato. They did a simple magic trick of putting some ice cubes and cherry tomatoes into an empty black box, locking it up, and then “magically” pulling out packages of Lay’s cherry tomato potato chips. Angela made the joke that they were now better than Jay Chou 周杰倫 at performing magic tricks.  They had also brought in some young children and gave them Haibao 海宝 dolls as gifts.  Two lucky fans were also brought up to present Leehom and Angela with flowers and a fully stamped Expo souvenir passport. Before I knew it, they finished promoting how delicious Lay’s cherry tomato potato chips tasted and I was suddenly standing in a group photo of Leehom and Angela with some USA Pavilion staff and Student Ambassadors.

Smile for the camera! *click* Excellent.

As everyone moves from their positions, I look over at Leehom and said quickly, “Thanks Leehom.”  And guess what?! HE SMILED AND NODDED BACK TO ME!  Again, cool.

Leehom and Angela went back in to answer more media questions. As the media session drew to a close, I knew that it was now or never. I had to “rise to the challenge” (the USA Pavilion’s theme) and say a few words to him.  Back in 2007, I had attended an autograph session for his “Change Me 改變自己” album in Taiwan and all I could do was wave “hi” to him as he signed my CD. This time would be different. Oh my gosh, he’s walking right towards me now!

(For some reason, I decided to use English instead of Mandarin Chinese to speak with him.)

“Hi Leehom, have you visited the USA Pavilion yet?”
“No, not yet.”
“I’m one of the Student Ambassadors here at the USA Pavilion. If you have time, you should take a look.”
“Take me ... take me ...”

Whoa. Was he being serious? Did he really want to go through the pavilion? Just in case he was being serious, I go stand next to other Student Ambassadors and we quickly summarize all that has gone on so far.  By now, Angela had moved downstairs and is getting ready to do a viewing of the USA Pavilion and I was wondering whether Leehom would do the same.

He walked back out and I admit I was a bit disappointed when he said to me, “Sorry, there’s no time today.” Too bad. Leehom, if you’re reading this, we would love to have you come back to view the USA Pavilion.

The event was great and I was so glad to have been given the opportunity to attend. Not only did I learn more about PepsiCo’s role in delivering a healthier future for people and the planet, I also had the chance to see and speak (though just a mini-conversation) to one of my favorite music pop stars.  Just another reason why this summer working at the USA Pavilion at Shanghai World Expo 2010 will be so memorable.

Little Chinese Friends                                                                 July 2, 2010

My job prior to being a USA Pavilion Student Ambassador was as an English teacher at a local kindergarten in Shanghai.  A bit of a random job for an International Studies/International Business graduate student in Shanghai, but you do what you have to do in order to pay for food and rent.  My time as an English teacher showed me that Chinese children are no different from American children; they are curious about the world around them and (most) love to talk.

One of the fun things that we Student Ambassadors get to do is to spend some time playing with Chinese children waiting in the queue line.  Children (no matter where they are in the world) get bored easily and this is especially true when they have to wait their turn for something.  Student Ambassadors will oftentimes spend a few minutes entertaining Chinese children in Mandarin Chinese.  I once had a group of 5 antsy Chinese children end up in the front of the queue line, right at the cut off for the next group to enter the USA Pavilion (10 minutes wait). How do you keep little kids from running around and driving both their tired parents and the busy Student Ambassadors crazy? You teach them something! Kids love to pretend they are back at school, right?  ... Right? Maybe?

Well, first you loosen them up and gain their trust by telling jokes.  Student Ambassadors have a handful of jokes handy for moments like this when the crowd is restless and there is time to kill.

Q: 哪一种茶是不能喝的? What type of tea (cha) can you not drink?
A: 警察! The police! (jing cha)

Corny, I know.  But our target audience loves it.  My audience of 5 that day got pretty competitive after I told them there was a prize to whoever got the answer first (they could be the first to enter the USA Pavilion).  One girl of about 4 years old gave me a serious look and said “You can’t drink poisonous tea.”  Sorry kid, wrong.  This answer was not incorrect but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.  They were never able to get the answer (I win!) so we moved onto the next thing I knew I could do that would make both parents and kids smile.  Quick (not to mention free!) English speaking practice. From a REAL American! At the USA Pavilion!  It doesn’t get better than this folks.

“How are you?”
“I’m fine, thank you. And you?” (By the way, this seems to be the official answer all Chinese students must learn ... just about everyone gives this answer).
“I’m fine, thank you.  What’s your name?”
“My name is William.”

I learned that William’s cousin was named Sweet (yes, Sweet. Not a typo).  The serious 4 year old girl who doesn’t drink poisonous tea was named Rose.  Another girl was named Angel ... because she was her parent’s little angel.  And then there was another boy - William’s other cousin - who remained quiet.

“Hi, what’s your name?”
“他没有英文名子, 他没学过英文” He doesn’t have an English name, he hasn’t learned English yet. 
“我给你一个英文名字好不好?”  How about if I give you an English name?
Parents and child nod enthusiastically.
“我的弟弟叫 Andrew ... 我叫你 Andy 好吗? 喜欢吗?” My younger brother’s name is Andrew ... how about Andy? Do you like it?
“Andy? ... 好听, 好拼. 说 “thank you””  Sounds nice and it’s easy to spell. Say “thank you.”
The boy smiles and says, “Thank you.”

So what’s the best souvenir you can get for your child from the Expo? It’s not a stuffed Haibao (海宝 the Expo’s mascot) doll or an Expo passport for the purposes of collecting country stamps.  It’s a real English name from a real American.

The USA's "National Treasures"                                              May 28, 2010

I was on my way to my lunch break when I had to make a detour back through to the USA Pavilion’s Act II and Act III.  I had forgotten my sunglasses and didn’t want them to go missing within the 45 minutes that I had for lunch.  However, it turned out to be one of the most memorable detours of my Expo experience so far.

As I make my way through the crowd of Chinese people walking around in the USA Pavilion’s Act III (an area for our Pavilion sponsors to showcase the innovative steps they are taking to creating a healthier future), a middle aged Chinese man waves for me to come over to him.  Thinking that he wanted to know where he could get a USA Pavilion souvenir stamp (guests can “collect” stamps from the pavilions they visit in a souvenir passport), I automatically ask him to please turn his Expo passport to page 44 and to line up near the stamping table.  Page 22 if he had the big brown book.  Instead, he surprises me by saying that he wanted to ask me more about our Pavilion and its contents.

I recite to him the answer I usually give to our Chinese guests: The USA Pavilion consists of four parts, the Overture, The Spirit of America, The Garden and the final section where our Pavilion sponsors share the steps they are taking to creating a healthier and better future.  He casually waves my answer away saying that he knows all that already. He adds that he thought Obama’s speech in The Spirit of America was respectful in recognizing the importance of China’s rise in the “community of nations” and the shared dreams between Americans and Chinese in a better future for our children.  He also thought the message in The Garden was nice; people working together towards the common goal of “better city, better life.”  But what he really wanted to know was, was there more the USA wanted to share with the Chinese and with the rest of the world? Past world expos had introduced the telephone and the elevator, this year Denmark brought their Little Mermaid statue to showcase in their own national pavilion.  Besides the American ideas that had been shared earlier, what else could the USA Pavilion offer?  Where was, he asked, the USA Pavilion’s “national treasure” 美国馆的国家宝?

“National treasure? Well ... we didn’t exactly bring any statues with us to China ...”
“Nothing the USA can show to the world and be able to say this is what represents the USA?”
“No ‘national treasure’ 没有吗?”
“Well, the Pavilion did bring over from the USA many representations of what makes the USA so unique.  If you look around and see all the USA Pavilion staff that wear either the blue or white shirts, well, we’re all American student ambassadors.”
“What does that mean 什么意思?”
“You can see that we’re a very diverse group.  Not only are we ethnically diverse, we all also come from different parts of the United States.  But even with our different heritages and backgrounds, as Americans, we all understand the importance of working together towards a common goal. Here, our common goal is to provide a positive experience at the USA Pavilion for our Chinese guests. And this idea, that a country built by people from all around the world can put aside differences and find similarities, is what makes the United States so special and unique.”

The Chinese man thinks about what I have just said.  Was this the answer he was expecting?

“Some countries may have hired local Chinese to represent their country, but we brought real Americans to represent our country.  Real Americans from various ethnicities and heritages that together give our country its identity. We student ambassadors may not be famous but we still represent the United States. Sir, I will say that the USA Pavilion’s “national treasure” is its American people.”

The Chinese man breaks into a smile and I knew that I had successfully passed his test.

“真好! Good!  That really is what makes the USA so unique. The people.”

He then went on to tell me how his experience at the USA Pavilion of going through the shows and exhibits and interacting with various Americans had opened his eyes to how wonderful and strong a country could be even if all its citizens originated from different parts of the world.  All we need is a common passion to join us together.  He said he could feel our passion for the United States just from the warm welcome he had experienced from student ambassadors, from when he first queued up and through all four parts of the Pavilion.

The conversation I had with the Chinese man lasted for about 15 minutes. What I thought would be just another question that could be answered with a prepared response turned out to be one that allowed me to really share with someone my perspective of what makes the United States a unique country.  I hope that the short time I had spent talking to him stays with him just as it will stay with me.

He asked me to write in his notebook and so I write a short message in English and Chinese, “Thank you for visiting the USA Pavilion, 谢谢你来美国馆. -Amy.”  Something so simple for me to do, but he smiled and said that he would keep it as a treasured message that came from the United States. His final parting words to me: The USA Pavilion’s student ambassadors are the Pavilion’s “national treasure” and by extension also the “national treasures” of the United States.