Kozo Nagakami, a Japanese student who recently arrived in Kunming to learn Putonghua, was amazed by the dramatic improvement to the city. 'Kunming looks so different from six months ago. There are many new roads and new buildings. It is so much cleaner as well.' The provincial Government has spared no effort in giving the capital city of southeastern province Yunnan a major face-lift for the Horticultural Exposition 1999, which opened in May. Twenty billion yuan (HK$18.6 billion) has been spent on improving the city, by upgrading main roads, building a new airport passenger terminal, buying dozens of street-washing vehicles to clean the roads and putting banners and plants along the main routes. The streets are lined with numerous brand new, glass-walled buildings. 'Within just two years, the city government has basically completed all the main roads essential for the next decade's town planning,' a provincial government spokesman said. Most of the new buildings, including 58 new hotels, were finished just before the opening ceremony in May. 'There were still construction sites everywhere in April,' a taxi driver said. The city's eagerness to present a dazzling image during the Expo is understandable. State leaders, including President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji, followed by provincial leaders from all over the mainland, have come to Kunming to lend their support. It is believed the closing ceremony on October 31 will be attended by National People's Congress Standing Committee Chairman Li Peng. 'If it were not for the Expo, it is hard to believe that any of the state leaders would bother to come to Kunming,' a municipal government official said. With a bill of 1.6 billion yuan, the Expo is a gamble for the province, which has been hard hit by new quotas imposed on its tobacco production. It is desperately trying to boost tourism. Mainland media has been trumpeting new records of the number of Expo visitors. Last week, the figure reached five million, according to local newspapers. Despite reports that 'overseas' tourists, including those from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau, amounted to 142,000 from May to July, the Expo remains a domestic event. Residents said foreign tourists were rarely seen. Instead, thousands of local tourists from different counties in Yunnan have been sent to the park on arranged tours, usually subsidised by work units. The construction spree in Kunming is reminiscent of the property frenzy in coastal areas, such as Hainan and Guangdong, a few years ago. Buildings were left unfinished or idle when the economic bubble burst under austerity measures. In Kunming, it is estimated the hotel occupancy rate before the Expo was a meagre 19 per cent, according to a local source, compared to 79 per cent during the Expo. The survival of the 58 new hotels after the Expo rests on a dramatic leap of tourism. The provincial Government has introduced tough measures to keep the large floating population from rural areas, some from neighbouring poverty-stricken provinces like Sichuan, out of Kunming. Many of them were attracted to Kunming by a spur in labour demand. Trucks are also banned from entering Kunming during the Expo. Without these temporary measures, it is questionable if Kunming would be able to maintain its sheen of modernity after the Expo. Even if the city managed to do so, it is doubtful if a gleaming Kunming would lead to a boom in tourism and hence benefit the province. Some aid workers in the region have cautioned that the new-look city will only serve to widen the disparities between Kunming and the rural areas.