Lines. Really long lines. Really really long Expo 2010 lines. Two case studies.

Today was the last of the six Expo 2010 soft opening days. I was at the second, and so I thought – what the heck – I’ll go to the last and see what’s changed. Now, it must be said that I attended on two of the lightest days for visitation: the second day had 50,000 visitors; today had 100,000 (over the weekend, in contrast, there were days with 500,000 visitors). What they both had in common? Rain. Lots and lots of rain.

So did I notice any operational differences? Not really. The price of some concessions had dropped slightly (especially water). But what I did notice is that 100,000 Expo visitors create much longer lines than 50,000 Expo visitors – even though there were four or five times more pavilions open to the public today, than last Wednesday. So let’s take a look at what that means. Below, two images, showing the line leading into the Thai pavilion. Note that the people holding umbrellas are compacted into five gates that run roughly a city block in length.

And then wrapping around the corner, down the block, and twice around itself under the bridge …

Oh, boy.

Now, I don’t mean this as a criticism. China has lots of people, and lots of them are going to want to come to Expo. That noted, I do wonder how on Earth the site – and this pavilion – will accommodate the 600,000 visitors predicted for peak days (hell, not predicted – the organizers have sold the tickets, already!). I think a couple of things are probably going to happen. First, foreigners aren’t going to put up with this; especially well-traveled foreigners. That is to say, if you’ve been to Thailand, or Australia (in the background in the second image), there’s simply no reason to wait hours in line to see the faux-Thailand or Australia. But Chinese who haven’t traveled abroad are a different story (especially if they grew up waiting in lines). My sense, strengthened recently, is that this Expo is for them, anyway – not the foreigners. In other words: the longer the lines, the fewer the foreigners.

After the jump, some additional line porn.

Two visits to the site and I’m certain of this: the European pavilions draw the most visitors, by far, followed by [UPDATED: Oceania, then] the Americas, then the area surrounding the China pavilion, and finally – dead last – Asia. This makes a certain amount of sense: most Expo visitors will never leave China, much less, Asia, so they’ll use Expo as an opportunity to explore what’s furthest and more foreign. In any case, the UK pavilion is the early leader for everybody’s favorite pavilion. And today, at least, it had the longest line. So, without further ado, a complete photographic documentation of the UK pavilion line. Brace yourselves. We’ll start at the front, with people being allowed into the site. Note the “Seed Cathedral” in the background. It’ll serve as a helpful means of judging the length of the line…

Next, the four lane ‘cattle chute’ that precedes entry:

And the first half of the line that leads into the cattle chute …

The second half of the line that leads into the cattle chute, and out to the street (note the French pavilion in the backround) …

And then we’re around the corner and out onto the street, stretching for a loooong block …

Then around the corner, down half a block, and into a small park …

Then into the park …

And around the park …

And along some utility buildings that line the park …

And finally, the end …

He’s last  …

Now imagine throwing in another 500,000 visitors. That is how it will be.

Worth noting: today, China Daily takes an optimistic look at the pavilion lines, and sees romance in your future:

Research has revealed that people decide whether they want to develop relations with each other in the first three seconds they meet. There’s probably time then to find romance while you’re waiting in line at the Shanghai World Expo. Will you hope to find that while you wait?


  1. So let me get this straight, people lined up to see the pavillions, you went to see the crowds. Haha. Good job, Adam. I’m put off as it is by the idea of joining the masses in line(s) but this is not encouraging at all. Guess I’m going to have to wait.

  2. LOL…. in your estimate, how long was the line in total?

    Also, if I understand it correctly, people have to chose which pavilions they will go to correct? Was that the case for the soft opening? or was this an exercise in how to manage the free for all?


  3. Incredible.

    This post reminds me of an argument I had at the US/Russia exhibition bastketball game in Shanghai, during the lead-up to the Olympics. I was in line for a coke, in a scrum of (mostly male) Chinese basketball fans who were pushing, shoving and elbowing their way to soda and hot dogs. It was madness. And I said something rude in Chinese along the lines of ‘please, we’re not animals, let’s act that way’ and the guy pushing me from behind said, angrily, in English: “How dare you say that! We will wait in line someday, for certain. China is developing fast! In only five years, we will learn how to wait in line!”

    Then we made nice and got our cokes. That guy might have been right.

  4. “Lines of Love: Romance in the Queues of Expo 2010.” A new direction to take your Expo coverage?

  5. Are you sure all these people aren’t part of the UK pavilion? Because from a British perspective 100,000 People Queue In The Rain sounds like a very appropriate piece of conceptual art.

    Have any Chinese visitors been inside the UK pavilion yet? Are they excited by the exhibition about, er, parks? Convinced that Britain is achingly hip and not full of bowler-hatted opium traders?

  6. Well, these photos have killed any chance that I’ll recommend the Expo to my friends, unless they’re hoping to find a spouse in a long queue.

  7. You have to know people organizing the pavillion to get a VIP tour…Even an American like me know that!

  8. At the Colombia Pavilion, we take in 180 people every five minutes and the line at its longest on Sunday was 40 minutes! Can’t wait for the days when 700,000 visitors enter the park. It’s fun though (at least at this stage of it), because people are REALLY EXCITED to be there. I wonder how they will feel about standing in the hot sun (and humidity) in August! Thanks for the post, Adam, at least I don’t feel we’re alone with the long lines anymore!!

  9. One other note: Noticeably absent the last three days of the Soft Opening was the USA Pavilion, which will likely sport the longest lines of all during the Expo run. In the first day, the lines to USA went well beyond the demarcated “overflow” area. Brace yourselves!

  10. Long lines are symptomatic of world expositions and visions of interminable waits for those pavilions that develop positive word of mouth early on usually test the patience of fair-goers by the second week after opening, but it was clear from the initial audience projections that this Expo would be unique in terms of crowd handling and circulation. It will be interesting to see which pavilion(s) recognized and designed for the flood of visitors that will doubtless remain consistent from opening to closing days.

    Barry Howard

  11. And if there’s one thing the locals know how to do its form an orderly line.


    I work in Shanghai, and I’m not even remotely interested in this tourist trap.

  12. Should I thank you to U that I found your web site. I drop my dream to the expo completely. Thank anyway.

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