Frustrations overflow at expo's No 1 site

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 May, 2010, 12:00am

The star attraction at the World Expo in Shanghai was the scene of heated exchanges yesterday, as frustrated domestic visitors attempted to force their way into the giant China pavilion.

The scarlet upturned pyramid is at the top of just about every domestic visitor's expo to-do list. However, only 30,000 turned up there yesterday, according to Hong Hao , expo bureau director.

Hong said the pavilion could hold up to 45,000 people, lower than 50,000 previously reported. But only 30,000 visitors were allowed in so as to facilitate 'VIP passage arrangements' and further tests relating to its maximum capacity.

Tickets for the pavilion - one of just two which must be pre-booked - were snapped up within minutes of the park opening at 9am.

But by mid-afternoon, when the line of pre-booked visitors going in had slowed to a gradual trickle, the feeling of injustice was too much for some to bear.

'Why can't you just let us in?' yelled one irate visitor after security guards prevented him and his wife from rushing the gates. 'We're ordinary Chinese people and we've bought tickets. There is hardly anybody going inside. Don't tell me it's full.'

Across the low fence at the foot of the pavilion's podium in the centre of the expo site, a maze of crowd-control cattle gates stood almost empty, while the lucky few with tickets strolled directly to the building's escalators.

This reporter witnessed several angry exchanges in less than an hour. Staff on the gates said they had repeatedly been on the receiving end of abuse due to the booking policy.

'People have been acting like that all day,' said one volunteer, who asked not to be named. They get so angry and shout at us in the most horrible way. I've had people's fingers pointed in my face all day. I know they are frustrated but it's not our fault. We have to follow the rules.'

The great red building towers over all other pavilions and easily dominates the Pudong half of the site.

Its image has featured prominently in promotional campaigns for the expo and related propaganda, making it the key attraction for mainlanders who make up the vast majority of expo visitors.

For those fortunate enough to get a ticket, the experience starts with a multimedia exhibition depicting the development of Chinese cities through history.

This includes an animated interpretation of the classic Song dynasty painting 'Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival', played out on an immense, undulating wall screen. They then take a 10-minute train ride through a series of rooms showing kitsch representations of traditional Chinese architecture and ultra-modern urban landscapes.

'It was magnificent inside,' said Liu Jianhua. 'I feel so proud to see so much Chinese culture on display.'

The wheelchair-bound retiree said he had most enjoyed the train ride. 'I spent all my working life driving trains,' he said. 'But that's the first time I've been on one inside a building.'

The bulk of visitors passing through the pavilion yesterday appeared to be travelling in tours and a high proportion were wearing expo passes around their necks.

That led a number of visitors to suspect that considerably more than the designated 10,000 VIP places had been slipped to people with inside connections.

'I was here well before the gates opened and was through security at 9.12am, but there were no tickets left even then,' said one visitor, who declined to give his name but said he lived near the expo site.

'There is no way they could have distributed tens of thousands of tickets in such a short time. People must have been passing them out through back channels; it's always the way in this country.'

He said his suspicions were heightened when he was able to beg a ticket from a tour group after waiting at the entrance for less than a quarter of an hour.

'People have spare tickets and some of them are willing to give them away,' he said. Wang Liujun, who had visited as part of a tour 'invited by the expo organisers', said he didn't feel he had benefited from favouritism. 'We did book a time slot,' he said. 'It's just that we booked ours in advance.'