MELISSA BLOCK, host:
There is just a week to go until Shanghai's World Expo opens. Think of it as a modern day world fair. This $45 billion, half-year-long extravaganza had its soft opening this week, but it's been bedeviled by complaints from visitors and an embarrassing copyright scandal.
Today, NPR's Louisa Lim got a sneak preview.
(Soundbite of a song)
LOUISA LIM: After an eight-year build-up to its World Expo, Shanghai is suffering from the tyranny of high expectations. In the expo grounds, where upbeat music is piped all day long, not everything has gone as planned. Crowds and endless queues have plagued the soft opening. Even the normally docile state-run China Daily described the scene as disorder. Some visitors like Yu Zhen were unhappy.
Ms. YU ZHEN: (Through translator) Some of the pavilions aren't open yet, so it's not as good as I'd imagined. And some of those that are open don't really have much content.
LIM: But others were bowled over. China's pavilion - designed like an imposing red pillar - is the most popular among local visitors. They oohed and ahhed at a short film celebrating the country's modernization. Inspecting one display, Wu Yufa was all smiles.
Mr. WU YUFA: (Through translator) China's pavilion is magnificent. It's really good. I'm proud that the Chinese people can build this.
LIM: But others worry about the sheer numbers of Chinese people, like Gao Yiming who was resting after a day of tramping around the enormous site. Today, there 100,000 visitors, but she points out that organizers are expecting half a million visitors on peak days.
Ms. GAO YIMING: (Through translator) Do we really have the ability to host half a million people? I'm still a bit worried. I'm scared of stampedes, of people pushing. I've seen people not keeping order and not being civilized.
(Soundbite of a song, "Right Here Waiting for You 2010")
LIM: To add to their problems, organizers are struggling to explain an embarrassing scandal. This tune, called "Right Here Waiting for You 2010," was recently released as the expo's official 30-day countdown song.
(Soundbite of a song, "Stay the Way You Are")
LIM: Soon afterwards, this 14-year-old Japanese song resurfaced. Amid claims of plagiarism, the expo countdown song has been pulled from the air.
But netizens then turned on the expo mascot, a bouncy aqua blue cartoon character with big eyes called Haibao. In a certain light, Haibao bears a suspiciously close resemblance to Gumby. But expo spokesman Xu Wei says this isn't an issue.
Mr. XU WEI (Spokesman, Shanghai Expo): (Through translator) Haibao was unveiled a long time ago. If anyone thinks that their copyright has been violated, that person would already have used legal means to address this by now.
LIM: Scandals aside, it's clear which pavilions are popular. The French one, boasting artworks by Van Gogh and Gauguin, has huge queues. Spain, featuring flamenco dancers and a flamboyant wickerwork design, is also a hot favorite.
Yue Guoliang is in the line.
Mr. YUE GUOLIANG: (Through translator) I've waited 35 minutes here and think there's at least another 80 minutes to go. It's too tiring waiting, but it's worth it. Like Chairman Mao said, the Chinese people have stood up. And if I had to, I'd wait in line eight days to be here.
LIM: But with a week to go, several pavilions are still under construction. And today, the U.S. pavilion closed early, visitors were told, due to equipment problems. For pavilions and organizers alike, the pressure is on to iron out the glitches, and national pride is at stake.
Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.
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