And Finally

The waiting’s over

The Expo starts – but so do the queues

The waiting’s over

Launched with a bang

There aren’t many occasions where you’d see Italian tenor Andrea Boccelli sharing the musical bill with Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan. But the Shanghai Expo is nothing if not a unique event.

A grand firework display and concert marked the event’s long-awaited opening last Saturday. Appropriately enough Boccelli sang Nessun Dorma – an aria about a Chinese princess. Then a brief word from the country’s leader, Hu Jintao, who declared “I am confident that, with concerted efforts, people around the world will witness a successful, splendid and unforgettable World Expo.”

Shanghai has been fixated on the Expo for much of the last decade. Dubbed by the South China Morning Post as “the world’s most expensive mega-fair”, it covers 5.28 square kilometres, spanning both banks of the Huangpu River. As described in WiC’s second Focus issue, it has cost the city around $45 billion and expects to attract 70 million visitors during its six month run.

In spite of the years of preparation, there was still a last minute rush to ensure everything was ready for the opening day on May 1. At the ‘soft opening’ – held the previous Tuesday – an estimated 30% of the pavilions were still being finished and remained closed to visitors. Crowd control seemed a serious problem, and the China Daily admits that security checks had to be cancelled in the face of the 200,000 attendees.

That’s bad news. To realise its target of 70 million, the Expo will need to attract an average of 380,000 per day – and be able to cope with such volumes. Crowd management had somewhat improved by the opening weekend – which drew 433,000. But there were still complaints about excessive waiting times to get into the more popular national pavilions – for example, Britain’s porcupine-shaped offering required a three hour wait.

By Monday the attendance had dropped to 130,000. That may be a more realistic target if visitors are expected to have a pleasurable experience. The Shanghai Daily reported that a 45 year-old from Zhejiang province had visited five pavilions (including those of France and Germany) by 3pm – a feat it described as “unthinkable on the first two days”.

But what’s the event for, you ask? Canada’s Expo commissioner general, Mark Rowswell (see WiC6) has a good explanation. He says that while the Beijing Olympics brought the world to China, the Expo shows the world to Chinese. It’s likely that 99% of the attendees will be locals. And the closest most will get to visiting the 192 far flung countries on show is a walk around their pavilions. The hope is the Expo will help many Chinese understand more about the rest of the world.

Failing that, there’s always the 10 minute cable car ride in the Swiss pavilion, or the free German beer…

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