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Expo Passports:
A 43-Year-Old Tradition that Lives on in Shanghai

by Urso Chappell


Expo '67 Poster

An Expo ‘67 promotional poster shows its passport. Montreal’s expo introduced the phenomenon..

In Montreal, Canada, Expo ‘67 launched an expo souvenir phenomenon that continues to this day. No doubt, 43 years later, there are millions of them scattered around the world, in closets, in attics and in basements – the treasured expo passport. The passport became so identified with the expo that it even appeared in promotional materials from the era.

The souvenir has changed little in that time. Originally tied to a 1-day, 3-day, 7-day, or season pass ticket, the passports are now sold independent of your entry ticket. That’s probably a good thing since some recent world expos have had so many countries participate, you might need two or three of the tiny little books to fit all of the rubber stamp images.

Sometimes the rubber stamps are at the entrance and sometimes at the end. At some expos, mostly children collect the images; at others, everyone joins in. At Zaragoza, Spain’s Expo 2008, Croatia’s stamp even went missing, necessitating that hosts hand draw the design – definitely a unique souvenir of your visit.

Initially, individual pavilions’ stamp designs were very basic, similar to the one’s you’d see in a real passport: the name of the pavilion in a circle or rectangle. Over the years, though, the designs have become more complex, sometimes larger, and some pavilions even have multicolored rubber stamp designs. Many stamps now include the nation’s “brand” and sometimes pavilion hosts will personalize them with the passport holder’s name in their language’s script.

At Vancouver’s Expo ’86 and Brisbane’s Expo ‘88, Japan featured a passport-stamping robot. Just watch your fingers.

National pavilions aren’t the only ones to issue stamps. Corporate and theme pavilions often do, as well. There are also stamps for special days, such as national days and opening and closing days. When members of the British royal family visited Expo ’67, they even offered a special stamp using ink with gold in it – only one per passport, please!

Expo 2010 continues the passport tradition and it is sure to become Shanghai’s newest sport – becoming the first person to have their passport stamped at every pavilion. At Expo 2010, the passports will feature pictures of various pavilions along with plenty of space for stamps. You’ll have your choice of different passport designs: a standard design (in different colors) that’s much like a real passport, a version with Haibao, and a “classical” design. With nearly 200 countries participating, you might just need one of each in order to get every pavilion’s stamp.

No doubt, thousands and thousands of Expo 2010 passports will be kept for decades to come, chronicling the pavilion visits of their original owners – each one telling the story of that person’s exploration. They truly become unique, one-of-a-kind souvenirs.

Pavilion hosts should brace themselves. Passport stamp collecting can become somewhat frenzied. The local phrase for “Where’s your stamp?” can even become the first phrase foreigners learn.

For many visitors, it can be serious business. First-time visitors to an expo should take note to buy a passport before visiting their first pavilion. Otherwise, you’ll have to go retrace your steps in order to complete your set.

This article was originally published in China Daily as part of a 6-part series.
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