SHANGHAI, May 1 – Tens of thousands of people flooded through the gates of the World Expo in Shanghai on Saturday, the first day of a six-month event seen as a showcase of China\’s growing economic might.
Organisers have said all 500,000 tickets are sold out for opening day at the massive Expo park along the Huangpu river, where visitors will wander through the exhibits of 189 nations — a mass display of ideas, culture and technology.
"There are too many people and this is just the beginning of it, trust me," Yang Yaochang, an Expo worker at the Iceland pavilion, told AFP as visitors poured into the massive park.
A sea of humanity waited to visit China\’s red inverted pyramid — the centrepiece of Expo park — but queues were long at all pavilions. A sign outside the giant US building said visitors faced a wait of at least two hours.
Shanghai kicked off the Expo on Friday night with a star-studded music and fireworks extravaganza, signalling this Expo would be bigger and brighter than the more low-key events in recent years.
Italian tenor superstar Andrea Bocelli, Hong Kong action film star Jackie Chan and Chinese pianist Lang Lang performed for thousands of guests including Chinese President Hu Jintao and about 20 other world leaders.
A record number of countries are participating in the event, which is expected to attract at least 70 million visitors — the vast majority of them Chinese, many of whom have never travelled outside the country.
Li Huahe, a 47-year-old telecoms company employee from Urumqi in far-western Xinjiang — on the opposite end of the country from Shanghai — said he bought his ticket months ago but could only stay a few hours before heading home.
"I woke up at 5:00 am and I have a 2:00 pm flight. I\’m worried about the crowds. I want to see at least one pavilion today," Li said outside the Swiss pavilion, which boasts a chairlift that soars over a three-storey-high meadow.
World powers such as the United States and Britain and states seen as pariahs in the West such as Iran and North Korea will vie for attention — all of them with an eye on China\’s consumer market of 1.3 billion people.
Denmark has made a splash by bringing its "Little Mermaid" statue out of Copenhagen for the first time, France has impressionist paintings and India is bringing in a cast of Bollywood stars.
Past Expos are remembered for leaving architectural landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Space Needle in Seattle.
In Shanghai, the spotlight will be on the cutting-edge design of the national pavilions, all embracing the theme of "Better City, Better Life".
Highlights include Britain\’s stunning dandelion-like "Seed Cathedral", Spain\’s "Big Basket" made of 8,500 wicker panels, and Switzerland\’s pastoral pavilion.
Du Yuping, a 52-year-old steel company employee from Shanghai came prepared — with a blue folding stool.
He said he came to Expo park last week on a trial opening day and ended up waiting up to three hours to see one pavilion, but was pleased to see that operations were running more smoothly on Saturday.
"I want to visit Expo at least six times," Du said, sitting on his chair in the queue outside the Norwegian pavilion.
"I\’m focusing on European pavilions today," he said.