Held on both banks of the Huangpu River that flows through the city of Shanghai, the 2010 World Expo is deemed to be the largest ever at 5.28 square kilometres (the size of 1000 football pitches). The budget allocated by China was just under $40 billion – more than the cost of staging the 2008 Olympics. As with the Olympics, the renovations and new infrastructure are breathtaking – every major street has been repaved, buildings have had a new lick of paint and six new subway lines have been built. While many of Shanghai’s colonial-era architectural treasures have been restored, bulldozers have also razed whole neighbourhoods so that the city can look as modern and shiny as possible.
More than 240 nations and international organisations have spent millions of dollars in building their pavilions. Between 70 million visitors are expected, which would make it the most visited in history. The total visitors to date are 26,623,500 with the average currently running at nearly 500,000 a day.
Open from May 1st to October 31st, the theme is ‘Better City – Better Life’ and you can’t fail to know it with posters and billboards plastered around the city and surrounding towns, and mascots on sale on every street.
Newspapers say that the shops have run out of tickets but to avoid the queues at the ticket booths you can purchase them from the Bank of Communication in Nanjing Road East, about 50 metres from the Bund.
Evening tickets are on sale until 8.50pm and the Expo is open to midnight but I couldn’t see the point of that. Some exhibits in the joint halls closed at 5pm with most major pavilions allowing last visitors in at 9pm to close at 10 or 10.30pm. Despite the site having more than 200 restaurants, (150 in public areas and 70 run by the Expo pavilions) they frequently could not supply a meal past 9.30pm. One KFC could only muster up some cold fries and another only chicken burgers. (Infact, one day at 3pm the Bricco restaurant could only serve a limited range of pizzas or spaghetti Bolognese as they had run out of all salads and vegetables). The metro stops at 11pm so there is a mad rush to get the last one, but for such a major event, why weren’t the metro hours extended?
Transport within the Expo is excellent with all electric free buses and trolley cars. No liquids are allowed in but water stations are plentiful for topping up your empty bottles. Guards, in abundance, are stood to attention around the expo site to control security and civic behaviour.
The disappointment of the Expo was the queues. Having travelled over 9000 kilometres to get there, we were very sad not to see most of the major pavilions. (perhaps there should have been a special queue for foreigners, especially to be admitted into their own country’s pavilion) The Chinese don’t seem to mind standing in a queue for hours; many take their own mini, foldup stool to sit on – 5 hours for Saudi Arabia and Japan, 4 hours for S. Korea and reserved tickets only for the China and Taiwan pavilions. (Taiwan gives out 3000 tickets at 9am and 1000 at 6pm but people queue from noon for the 6pm allocation!). Most of the queues decrease in the evening but you can still forget getting into the UK, USA, Poland, Russia, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Canada unless you want to stand in a queue for hours! During the peak season the attendance is averaging over 450,000 visitors a day, but is that too many to admit or should the exhibitors cater better for faster throughput?
People shuffle miles up and down the fenced tracks to get into the pavilions in between the long periods of just standing on one spot. If they’re lucky and the queue is nearly empty they still walk the same miles but at a greater pace, as the barriers are not opened to shorten the track!. Where there are exceptionally long queues, such as Saudi Arabia, there is an interesting military method for queue control using ‘people enclosures’. The army march to the beginning of the enclosure, remove the barrier and march the people into the next enclosure all with exact precision. Then the barrier is closed and the next crowd is marched into the empty enclosure. Pushing and shoving is not allowed! To keep the people cool there is a spray of water mist that falls from the ceiling. It was very amusing to watch but it’s seemed crazy for anyone to queue for 5 hours in 34 degrees of heat and humidity for 15 minutes of pleasure!
More to follow about the Pavilions