Puxi site of expo's core theme fails to draw crowds
Alice Yan and Will Clem in Shanghai
The abiding image of World Expo 2010's first three days in Shanghai has been of sizzling visitors queuing for hours on end to get into the most popular exhibits.
But the multibillion-yuan fair has also been a classic tale of two cities. Across the river from the mobbed national pavilions, the Puxi half of the site has been an oasis of relative calm.
Yesterday, crowds on the west bank were sparse and queuing times were short - despite an impassioned plea from expo director Hong Hao the previous day for more visitors to cross the river.
'Puxi has 18 commercial pavilions, it has the Urban Best Practices Area,' he said. 'I have already been over to that side for a look. Some of the pavilions on that side are really quite marvellous with very strong interactive elements ... I suggest that everyone should visit the Puxi pavilions first.'
The lack of interest is particularly vexing for organisers as the Urban Best Practices Area was intended to showcase the expo's core theme, 'Better City, Better Life'.
The zone, located in the northeast corner of the Puxi site, contains pavilions from 60 cities depicting urban development and presenting solutions for transport, environmental protection and promoting a better quality of life.
But pavilion volunteers in the zone yesterday admitted their visitors were few and far between, with little need to queue. Some pavilions are seeing just 200 visitors a day - a sharp contrast to some country pavilions, which can receive up to 100,000.
The exceptions are the pavilions highlighting urban practices in Taipei and Hong Kong, which are both receiving about 3,000 visitors a day.
Rudy Chau, a Hong Kong visitor, said he had seen two foreign cities' urban practices pavilions after Hong's comments persuaded him to visit Puxi. 'The Urban Best Practices Area's location is so remote,' he said. 'I think it was marginalised and labelled unimportant at the beginning of the design stage.'
Chau said a lack of clear directions on maps and at the site made it difficult to find the pavilions he was interested in.
Wang Yi, an office worker from Shanghai, said she was impressed by the 'advanced' interactive elements in Hong Kong's exhibit. 'I watched a short video telling a story about a Hong Kong citizen getting medical help with ... a smart card,' she said. 'The card saved her a lot of time and was very convenient.'
She said she planned to visit more city pavilions. However, her interest in urban issues was not shared by many visitors. Some rushed through the pavilions in just a few minutes and could not recall any highlights.
Nadia Dong, a worker at the Alexandria urban practices pavilion, said it had seen 200 visitors a day and they seemed more interested in taking photos with staff in white turbans.
The lack of interest in the Puxi section is just a small part of expo organisers' woes.
Visitor numbers for the whole park yesterday were down on the previous two days. Just 131,700 people passed through the gates, almost 100,000 fewer than on Sunday
The figure only just limped past a third of the 380,000 daily average the fair needs to reach its goal of 70 million visitors over its 184-day run.
Last night, Hong declined to speculate on the reasons for the lower-than-expected attendance. 'We are still investigating the situation,' he said.