Scale of Expo is a Shanghai surprise for the President
Shanghai is a dizzying, jaw-dropping sight, particularly after dark when the futuristic Manhattan-style skyscrapers arrayed along the Bund waterfront transform into a riot of geometrical neon shapes and the darkened Huangpu river comes alive with rainbow-lit tourist boats chugging to and fro.
No one is quite sure of the exact population of this vibrant, exuberant metropolis. The consensus guesstimate is around 17 million registered residents and another four million migrants who are continually pouring into Shanghai from the poverty-racked rural parts of China.
It's a city incapable of doing anything on a small, unimaginative scale, and so it was inevitable that when it threw open the doors of the Shanghai Expo 2010 in May, it would break all sorts of records for international fairs.
And so it did -- the Expo is the biggest ever, with pavilions from 190 different countries and the construction and running of the six-month fair is expected to run up a staggering bill of €110m.
On the plus side, only six weeks into the Expo, over 15 million people have poured through its gates.
China has also become a mandatory place of pilgrimage for the wagonloads of world leaders, all eager to establish a potentially profitable relationship with this rising economic powerhouse.
And Ireland has become particularly assiduous in its attentions of late. Last month, Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin did a whistle-stop tour, and in the autumn the Taoiseach is expected to lead a trade mission to the country and will almost certainly check out Expo too; and President McAleese spent the penultimate day of her state visit on a tour of the sprawling exhibition in the heart of Shanghai.
And there was even a government minister to keep her company; Communications and Energy Minister Eamon Ryan flew in from Tokyo where he had been conducting green-related business with several Japanese companies.
Yesterday had been designated National Irish Day at Expo, and so the President was greeted with full pomp and circumstance.
The Irish flag was hoisted outside the main Expo building while a Chinese army band made a fair fist of 'Amhran na bhFiann'.
"Here in Shanghai at Expo, the world feels exactly as it should be, as it could be, a very widespread, scattered clan; a family now gathered in this place to share its wisdom and importantly to share its friendship," said the President.
The Irish Pavilion has been doing very well amid fierce competition, and is clocking up about 16,000 visitors a day, and hopes to hit the three million mark by the end of the festival on October 31.
It was touch-and-go if it would get built at all, as a budget for the €8m pavilion was green-lighted at the end of 2008 -- at precisely the same time as the Irish economy fell off the cliff.
But it went ahead eventually, and its green-tinted theme of urban living, 'Better City, Better Life' has proved a bit of a hit with the Chinese.
Afterwards, Mrs McAleese declared herself impressed with the Expo. "It's massive, probably exactly as I thought Shanghai would do it, on an absolutely spectacular scale," she said.
"It's all-singing, all-dancing, it's marvellous".