This post is the first of a series about my visit to the Shanghai World Expo 2010. I will start with a description of the crowd present at the Expo, more than 300 000 people per day! The pavilions and their exhibitions were only one aspect of the Expo; it was also a meeting place, not only for businesses, but for people from all over China. No need to travel to the many villages and cities of China to discover its people, they were all right here. It was a rather eclectic and disorganised crowd, but that’s what made it so interesting for a foreigner. Families from far away came with their meals, Shanghai students visited in groups, and even some westerners joined the crowd.
Volunteers and employees from the Expo received some training and could say a few sentences in English. English was manifestly new for them and the very young employees at the entrance of the Expo were quite shy when speaking it, but they were happy to welcome westerners. They did much more than simply follow the instructions of their trainings, it was true hospitality.
The queues were the most playful and instructive part. At first, they looked like a nightmare – some were as long as four hours, with a temperature above 30 degrees! Chinese people did not respect queues, they constantly pushed each other around and tried to butt in line. But as unbelievable as it seems, the system worked. You had to fight for your position every minute, every turn in the line was a battlefield, and you could not even show any pity for old women who were by the way the worst pushers. If you followed these instructions, you could stay in a fair position in the queue. Everyone else did the same. What I realised though is that the mood was playful; people were excited until the end of the queue, which would not be the case in a disciplined queue of westerners. Fighting for your position helps you to avoid being bored in the very long queues. There were some fights between women once in a while, but the crowd was very quick to separate them and laugh at them. The line between playfulness and anger was very subtle, but strongly reinforced by the crowd. Not that I would like to be in such a queue if there was a fire or an accident, but in normal conditions, it worked pretty well and was the occasion to interact with Chinese people verbally, or at least physically.
People were also very well-informed on the most interesting pavilions. There was no improvisation there and everyone knew exactly where they wanted to go. The weapon of mass destruction, however, was the fake passport that people could buy on the site. For most visitors, collecting the stamps of each pavilion to complete their passports became the main objective of the Expo. Thankfully, the evenings were quieter…
Overall, I had a good time and still managed to see around 30 pavilions in two days.