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Benjamin Hayford - USA Pavilion Student Ambassador

USA Pavilion Student Ambassador from Brigham Young University, now serving at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.
August 6, 2010

Where Has the Time Gone?                                               August 6, 2010

A note of caution: Portions of this post may not make sense to some readers. If this applies to you, that's okay. You probably had to be there. Be advised and read on.

Do you ever just look back on life and wonder, “Where has the time gone?” Back in April I began the physical journey that brought me to China and the USA Pavilion. Abandoning Provo in the midst of reading days, while all my peers were cramming for finals, was strange enough. Driving the fourteen hours home to my parents in Vancouver may have been lonely to some. Luckily for me, the painful solitude was interrupted by a lovely officer of the Idaho State Police. Thank you, Officer. I recite my words from that sunny afternoon, “I just want to go home, ma'am, and my home is NOT in Idaho.”

That day seems so long ago, after the flights from Portland to Dallas, Dallas to Chicago, Chicago to Shanghai. Then came the three and a half months of the most amazing internship I could have ever hoped to have in the summer of 2010.

Now all of my fellow first session Student Ambassadors are making the reverse trip back to wherever they came from in the States. Destinations differ, yet shared experiences linger in my mind.

Soft opening with non-permanent stanchions. Mass chaos, in essence. If only we had a video of Ed, our security director, running to the scene to restore order in the line and then at the doors. The crowds became quite attentive immediately. Still angry, but attentive nonetheless. In retrospect, that single experience prepared us for the rest of the summer as perhaps nothing else could. Guests afterward always seemed to me to have their expectations met more adequately. I've also been totally at ease anytime I've seen a Chinese police officer or soldier since then.

Meeting Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, who was Governor of Washington for eight years of my youth. My childhood dream of meeting him came true this summer. Then there was meeting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who called us “public diplomats.” Her genuine friendliness and interest in us was particularly memorable.

Ops dinners. Not sure who thought that one up, but what a brilliant idea. What better way to improve morale and team efficiency then getting together and having a good time out at dinner together? Sofie Mix runs. I believe Pam and I singlehandedly kept them afloat these past few months. Meals at the neighborhood lanzhou lamian Muslim-owned restaurant. Somebody should write a review for that place that simply states: “Affordably delicious.”

National Day with Harry Connick, Jr., Angela Brown, and Miss USA Rima Fakih. Two days later, the best Fourth of July bash I've attended in years in the 1776 Suite. My date was stunning. And Meredith and I both wearing seersucker suits was epic.

Touring other country Pavilions with Commissioner-General José Villarreal. VIP treatment never hurts. Yucca, can we please turn the flash off? I think I may be going blind. The host family program, sponsored by the American Women's Club in Shanghai, has been one of the highlights of the summer. Please note this fact: pairing University students with friendly expats who know the area equals instant success. Ann and Mike Lynch have gone above and beyond as host parents to Katie and me. We could not have asked for a better host mom and dad.

Meeting and befriending amazing people from around the world. Who would have thought it possible to become friends with Saudi Arabian musicians and an Iranian translator, as well as local store-owners and performing arts University students from Shanxi? I certainly wouldn't have believed it before coming to the Expo.

Perhaps this is merely my first truly “international” experience living abroad. In Taiwan I only really met Chinese people for the most part. Or maybe that's what it means for people to come together and find meaning in better cities, better lives. A city with friends and family seems the best place to me one could possibly live.

It has been said that home is where the heart is. But my heart is with many people around the world, from the United States to China. Is it possible to have many homes? For a few more days, Shanghai is where I hang my hat. From California to Mississippi, Pasco to Provo, Idaho to Iran, and Shanghai to Vancouver, my friends and family make the whole world my home.

To Let In or Not to Let In                                                          June 18, 2010

Senior Citizens

The first few weeks of the USA Pavilion, in accordance with Chinese custom, our fast access (or “green lane”) allowed entrance to senior citizens age seventy and older. Ah, those were the days. Hectic days, really, before we had military assistance regulating the line. I've come to love those officers in green, with their blue-suited police counterparts that assist in the permanent-stanchioned outer queue. Because we allowed seniors into the green lane, we had to check ID. Yes, I felt a bit like a bouncer. I still do sometimes – especially when people duck under stanchions in futile attempts to cut the line. Ever been carded at a bar? It went something like that. Then there's always the awkward exchange between the person checking ID and the seventy-year-old who isn't quite seventy yet. Please indulge me in a brief, yet telling, illustration from May 17th:

Me: Our green lane is for seniors born on or before May 17, 1940.
Guest: But I'm seventy!
Me: (Looking at the ID) Sir, you were born in 1943.
Guest: Chabuduo! Chabuduo! (meaning: that's not a big difference!)

The conversation never ended there, but I won't bore you with the next two minutes of dialogue. Simply stated, the seventy-year-old that wasn't left feeling cheated as the next person in line moved forward to have their ID checked. Did he go to wait in the main line that never takes more than an hour and is typically closer to a half hour or less wait? I don't know.

As with any start-up organization, things changed rapidly in those first few weeks. Now that we've been operating for over a month, things have begun to settle and become more routine on the whole. Policies have evolved, communication among the operations team has improved, and the show goes on. The policy today: no senior citizens not in a wheelchair, or with a medical handicap, or accompanying either of the above or a stroller are allowed into the green lane. We ask them to join the rest of Expo-goers in the main line.

American citizens

The most recent of internal philosophical discussions regarding the fast access lane revolves around citizenship: to let in or not let in.

Equality is a fundamental American value. A favorite question of mine to ask visitors seeking speedy entrance, “What makes you any different than any of these Chinese nationals standing in the normal queue line?” Other times I suggest, “Look at it this way: we're providing you the opportunity to experience the Pavilion like a Chinese citizen by waiting with them in line.” Each guest has their own response to discovering they cannot get fast access simply by virtue of holding an American passport.

Every situation is unique, but a continual sense of entitlement pervades. Someone somewhere thought up that an American passport equates to a fast pass into the USA Pavilion. Then the word got out to the tour guides. Snowball effect? Quite. One mother trying to get her family in more quickly exclaimed, “But it's our privilege as Americans to go through the fast lane!” With a smile I responded, “You're entirely right, it is a privilege: a privilege the USA Pavilion is not offering.” It seems that all too many today confuse privileges as rights.

The policy today: there is no fast access for American citizens at the USA Pavilion. So please tell your tour guides, your friends living in Shanghai, and those who may plan to visit the Expo.


A supervisor at the Pavilion once asked if I enjoy rejecting people. Some fellow student ambassadors have observed tongue-in-cheek that I'm on a power trip. One even asked me if I even have a heart. We won't talk about what senior or American citizens say to me in response to my unreservedly violating their high expectations. It's as if all their dreams and hopes are crushed by that terrible, heartless student ambassador.

For the record: I do have a heart. I love America. And I love old people. But when fast access takes longer than the main line, there's something wrong with the picture.

In the words of our Fearless Leader Jake: “Two or three days at fast access will teach a person much about humanity.”

Meeting Sec. Locke                                                                    May 18, 2010

Every kid dreams of meeting somebody famous in person, shaking hands with them and maybe – if they're really lucky – even getting a picture with them.

How often in life do you get a chance to meet one of those really famous persons you always hear about? You know, the ones everybody can name upon seeing their photo. Picture yourself meeting them. Imagine what that would feel like, with years of built-up anticipation. Think of the smile that would cover your face, the happiness that would fill your heart. For me, that image in your head became reality tonight. Oh, and that was after escorting an entourage of business executives through security into the Expo and safely home to the USA Pavilion. Fun? I think so.

From elementary through high school, I pictured myself meeting the Governor of Washington State. Tonight, when I met Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, I finally met the man. Maybe some kids don't dream about things like that, but, then, some of us do.

Dreams do come true sometimes. And let's face it: a life where dreams come true is a better life indeed.