Just days before World Expo 2010 opens to the public, organisers in Shanghai are scrambling to complete preparations after last week's shambolic trial run. The chaotic situation is the subject of ridicule on the Web, where an anonymous email which criticises everything from the pricey food to the dirty water fountains is being passed around with delight.

After eight years of preparation and 4.2 billion dollars (3.8bn euros), the Shanghai city authorities will open the six-month fair to an expected 70 million visitors on May Day. The cost of the expo — the most expensive in history — is double that of the Beijing Olympics, although the local press believes that the total could be much higher, around 58 billion dollars (44bn euros).

Shanghai has been transformed over the past half decade, with the city centre itself undergoing rejuvenation with modern construction. Locals have even been asked to stop wearing pyjamas in public, an old custom in Shanghai due to the high temperatures.

The trial run that took place last Tuesday, however, revealed a number of unresolved problems when 200,000 people turned up to have a look at the long-awaited attraction. The ensuing chaos sparked one Web user to document the day's events in a critical and sarcastically worded email which very quickly became viral. Canadian blogger Ryan, who lives in Suzhou, just west of Shanghai, translated the email and posted the contents on the Lost Laowai blog. The email subject was "Sorry, we've lost face."

The expo trial according to the email

The following text and photos constitute the main part of the email received and translated by Ryan. The text has been edited. For the original including the Chinese, see Ryan's original post.


On the morning of April 20th, about 200,000 people arrived at the Expo grounds. The resulting crowds forced venues at the China pavilion to close. At that point it appeared that only the Australian pavilion was still open. With no other option, the visitors got in line at the pavilion, creating a 500-600 metre queue. Suddenly the crowd pushed forward, and because the pavilion could not accommodate the crowd, they also closed. The Australian pavilion representative had to continuously apologise to the waiting crowd.

(...) The German pavilion, unable to accommodate the masses, quickly put up 'Closed' signs too.

Shanghai Welcomes You

It's no big deal to wait in line.

[It's only] several months; close your eyes and it'll pass.

A little discomfort is nothing, Shanghai people are adaptable!

We are ready!

(...) I think these eyes express the current mood.

Food Services

Expo Meal Set - 48 RMB [€5.30] - it's a bit much.

60 RMB [€6.60] for a plate of curried chicken and an orange juice.

Don't rush. Everyone will have some. Don't squeeze. Ah!

Not expensive, only N-times more than Nan Xiang [a famous Shanghai xiaolongbao (luxury dumpling) restaurant]. Rich idiots: come quick!

Authentic 'Taiwan' sausage. 15 RMB per sausage [€1.65], 5 RMB [44 euro cents] per bottle of mineral water.

Green, pollution-free, natural, no hormones, no Sudan Red [food colouring], no Sanlu [melamine-contaminated milk], no birth control pills, no saccharin [artificial sweetener], non-genetically modified plastic bowl 'stone pot'.

38 RMB [€4.20] 'fried noodles'. Is this fried noodles or swill?

Water Fountains

This is for drinking water, it's not a trash can.

A 5,000 year old 'civilized' country! Under the Communist Party's 'teaching and care'. 2010, we're waiting for you.

This is not an Expo toilet, it's a disinfectant swimming pool.


Estimates put attendance at double that of the trial run.

“I think the Chinese prefer to find out about the world online rather than go to this ‘false world’ in Shanghai”

Jingying Yang is a 22-year-old student from Tianjin (north), currently based in Shanghai.

The atmosphere before the expo is not great. Many people think the expo is a waste of money and resources; the email is a pretty hilarious reflection of that!

I've been asking around about the trial, and I heard someone saying today that they waited four hours in line and that there was almost a stampede and children were injured. But of course the state media is saying that all is well and security is well managed and everyone's having a grand old time and it's not crowded at all (super false: even with 200,000 people it was a mess and they're expecting several times that when it actually opens). There's a fast-pass system (like at Disneyland) for the popular pavilions, and one guy told me it's possible the huang niu (scalpers) will take over that system.

On the other hand, people might not come and prices will drop sharply because of that.

I don't think the expo will attract foreigners as they already come from abroad so they don't need to go to a Chinese exposition to find out about other countries. As for the Chinese in general, they have the Internet now so they know more about the world than previous generations; I think they'd rather find out about it for themselves online than go to this 'false world' in Shanghai.

A lot of the locals aren't too keen either as they hate the expo for causing all the traffic problems. The authorities have tightened security on the metro too. You have to scan your bag every time you get on, which means dropping it on a conveyer belt and then lingering at the other end to check nobody runs off with it. They've also started inspecting every car that enters the city, which takes a hell of a long time."