The great queues of China

'Good afternoon visitors and welcome to Shanghai World Expo 2010. The following pavilions have awaiting time of more than five hours: China, Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Korea.

"The following pavilions have a waiting time of more than four hours: Germany, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates..."

And so the list goes on, announced at regular intervals over a public address system. Modern China likes to dream big and at the World Expo, nothing is bigger than the queues.

With daily attendance averaging more the 400,000, it's not surprising that some of the more impressive pavilions have long waiting times. More than 40 million have visited since the expo opened on May 1 and organisers are aiming for more than 70 million by the time the event ends on October 31.

The expo site spans 5.28 square kilometres on both sides of Shanghai's Huangpu River and features more than 200 pavilions.

Australia's pavilion, a contoured rusty-brown building of hues that evoke outback ochre, may not be experiencing five-hour queues but it has been popular, with almost 5 million visitors so far. On my visit, despite a long queue, the waiting time is 20 minutes.

Inside, visitors get a taste of Aboriginal culture and Australia's history through dioramas, before being ushered into a 360-degree theatre where a short film about Australia is screened. It is greeted with cheers and applause from the Chinese – a good sign for organisers in an environment where each nation is out to impress.

The Australian Commissioner-General in China, Lyndall Sachs, says the pavilion is aiming to show China's vast population what Australia is all about. "China is our biggest trading partner and we want to make sure we keep that position," she says.

"We have to make sure that people remember Australia amongst the cacophony of other voices trying to get a piece of that dumpling. We're trying to show that we're not just a farm or a mine or a beach, that Australia is much more than that ... so part of the process is strengthening trade and investment. We also want people to understand that Australia is a good place to get a further education or come for tourism."


Sachs says about 94 per cent of visitors to the pavilion are Chinese. She says attendance has exceeded expectations, with 12 per cent of the daily visitors stopping by the Australian pavilion. Among the exhibiting countries, Saudi Arabia has gone all out, spending a reported $178 million (the most of any international pavilion) on its giant "moon boat" building. It is impressive but why are the Chinese queuing for five hours? One theory is that because so few have passports or will travel, this is an opportunity to get a taste of the rest of the world.

Five hours in a queue is a small price for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Craig Platt travelled courtesy of The Langham Yangtze Boutique Hotel.

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