SHANGHAI, May 1 (Xinhua) -- Huge crowds of early birds flooded to the Shanghai World Expo Park Saturday, hoping to catch a glimpse of what was for many people an occasion closest to a tour around the globe.
Avid visitors began lining up for safety checks at the entrances even before the 5.28-square-km park was formally open early in the morning.
Many took campstools and simple meals and were prepared for a long and stressful day.
Officials say an estimated 350,000 tickets have been sold or handed out for the opening day.
Throughout the day, long queues edged along outside popular national pavilions.
While many Chinese chose the crimson-colored China Pavilion, one of the few permanent structures in the area, as their first destination, few would miss the opportunity to see the Little Mermaid, the Golden Lady and other treasures that had landed in China for the first time.
"The sunshine feels good," said Canadian visitor Linda Keuhl jokingly as she waited to visit the French Pavilion.
By 10:30 a.m., the blistering sun had forced many people to put up parasols or retreat to cooler places.
The average waiting time to enter the French Pavilion was two hours in the morning, which seemed quite bearable for latecomers who had to wait four hours or were even told to come back some other day amid overcrowding.
"It's worth waiting," said a Shanghai college student surnamed Liu, who enjoyed the Impressionist paintings. "I want to see as many venues as possible today."
Saturday is the Labor Day, a public holiday for the Chinese, and visitors flooded in from every corner of the city as well as the neighboring Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. Some also flew in from the northern cities of Beijing and Tianjin.
The hustle and bustle is nothing surprising for many Chinese, who, growing up in a country with 1.3 billion, are used to long queues and jostles for anything that is nice and scarce -- such as a train ticket during the holiday travel rush.
It's hard for foreigners to take the overcrowding easy though.
There's no major problem with our pavilion yet, but I'm suspicious some of the exhibits might be endangered by excessive touching of the crowd," said Victor Khristenko, Industry and Trade Minister of Russian Federation.
Khristenko said he also worried about the visitors. "What would happen to them when they wait for hours in the summer heat?"
A British father, who refused to be named, waited for some 15 minutes outside his country's pavilion and decided to give up. "My son is only about one year old. It'd be too much for him."
The Shanghai Expo opening day is the Labor Day in the real sense for thousands of cleaners, bus drivers, volunteers and salespeople who keep the Expo park running.
"We need to clean the bathroom once every 20 minutes," said Chen Huamei, who works in the media center. "It was really tough to start with."
Chen, a migrant worker from Anhui Province who eked out a living by offering domestic help to Shanghai families, actually takes pride in the new job. "My son says the Expo has been going on for more than 150 years but it's the first time for China to play host."
To work in a 5.28-sq-km area is by no means easy.
Xu Jie, a 20-something migrant from the northern Hebei Province, works to entertain visitors in a fluffy blue outfit to play Haibao, the Shanghai Expo mascot.
Xu and his colleagues stand at franchise stores to greet customers and pose for photos with them upon their request.
At 50, Aunt Xu, a native Shanghainese, took the toughest job in her life: cleaning streets and outdoor seats in the park. "I start working at 2:30 a.m. and clean up everything before the park opens."
Xu walks at least 5 km a day in an area near the UFO-shaped Cultural Center, where the dazzling Expo opening ceremony was held Friday. "When the Expo ends in six months, I'd qualify for a Marathon race."
Despite the tiring job, Xu said she enjoys telling her family about what happens at the Expo at the end of the day.