For residents, the thrill is long gone

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 August, 2010, 12:00am

The World Expo in Shanghai celebrated its 100th day of operations yesterday, coinciding with the second anniversary of the opening of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

But while the Olympics' jaw-dropping opening ceremony remains fresh in many people's minds, the expo - with 84 days to go - is rapidly fading from Shanghai's collective consciousness.

The entire city was scrubbed clean and residents were on their best behaviour for the expo's opening on May 1; now the grime and bad habits seem to be sneaking back.

Like the Olympics, the expo was billed as a game-changing international event, one that would elevate the city's status and living standards, and instil a heightened sense of civic pride.

When the city won the hosting rights way back in 2002, a massive propaganda campaign was launched intending to ensure locals would behave in a 'civilised' manner to match the massive investment in transport infrastructure and renovation of old buildings.

It was a relatively simple task for Beijing to keep the capital spick and span for the 17-day Olympics. Shanghai officials have realised that keeping nearly 20 million people enthused about a six-month-long expo is another matter entirely.

Privately, some of them admit that it is proving difficult to maintain public interest for an event over such a long period of time. The picturesque, tree-lined backstreets of the French Concession are awash with litter, particularly once the sun has gone down. An army of street-sweepers toils against the tide, seemingly round the clock, as food stalls and fruit vendors simply deposit their junk on the pavement outside. The expo site has become known for its massive queues, with visitors waiting patiently for hours on end to get into the various national pavilions.

Locals witnessing examples of undesirable behaviour invariably blame it on uneducated tourists from the countryside or recently arrived migrants - conveniently turning a deaf ear when the offender is speaking in Shanghainese.

The situation within the expo park is not a whole lot better, either.

Even official media outlets have started recounting tales of visitor misconduct - even tourists urinating inside national pavilions, despite the toilets dotted around the site.

Pavilion staff recount similar tales - and worse - with a strange mixture of glee and revulsion.

But expo misbehaviour isn't limited to domestic tourists. An Italian couple were apparently recently politely asked to leave after they were spotted copulating on the grounds of one European pavilion.

And what about Shanghai's trademark pyjamas? The municipal government spared no effort promoting the idea that residents wearing nightclothes on the street didn't conform to the image of a 'cultured city' that officials were keen to project.

In the months leading up to May 1, acres of newsprint were devoted to this subject alone, and a host of grass-roots initiatives were implemented to try to stamp out the supposedly backwards practice. Endearingly - and to the relief of those who celebrate diversity - nobody has taken a blind bit of notice.