SHANGHAI, China Workers throughout the largest city in the People's Republic of China are on the clock, making massive preparations in advance of hosting an event of global proportions.
But it's not where you think or for what you think.
Rather than Beijing and the 2008 Olympics, Shanghai is scrambling to prepare itself as host city of the Expo 2010, the world expo in which an estimated 70 million visitors are expected to attend from May through October of 2010.
Shanghai is playing a role in the 2008 Summer Games, hosting a handful of men's and women's soccer games nine dates in all, including preliminary pool play, one match each of men's and women's quarterfinals, one each of the men's and women's semifinals and the men's bronze-medal game.
But Shanghai is sharing the sport. Several other cities Tianjin, Shenyan and Qinhuangdao are hosting soccer matches, with Beijing drawing a good share of the key medal-round matches, including the women's bronze-medal and both gold-medal contests.
Beijing is hosting all other Olympic events besides equestrian (in Hong Kong) and sailing (in Qingdao).
In Shanghai, there is ample Olympic signage promoting the "One World, One Dream" theme as well as an abundance of official Beijing Olympic stores, where plenty of memorabilia features the logo or five mascots of the Beijing Games.
But it is secondary, in this city of more than 18 million people, to the prominence given to Expo 2010 and its own theme of "Better City, Better Life" and its own mascot, Haibao.
Created from the Chinese character meaning "people," Haibao looks a bit like Gumby, the stop-action clay-animation figures of television fame. But Haibao is shorter, stockier and bluer.
And he's seemingly everywhere in Shanghai on billboards and streetlamp flags, in shop windows, at the entrance of the tourist tunnel beneath the Huangpu River linking the Bund Promenade and the Pudong side's Riverside Promenade. Haibao is even the featured animated star of the JumboTron-sized electronic video board atop a flat barge traversing back and forth along the promenades.
It's the latest of a back-and-forth battle between Shanghai and Beijing, rivals for attention and appreciation. Shanghai envies the political power of Beijing, China's capital city, as well as the global spotlight coming with the 2008 Games. Beijing eyes Shanghai's place as a worldwide financial power with possible future jealousies coming when the Expo 2010 rolls around.
Still, the two cities can't fully exist without the benefits of the other. And even this week, Shanghai has seen a noticeable influx in international visitors arriving in China for the Summer Olympics they're on the streets, at the usual sites, in the shops and restaurants, spending money.
So while the Games play on this month, Shanghai will continue with its ramp-up of construction and renovations leading up to Expo 2010, with much of the city's central district torn up while workers rush to complete major mass-transit projects like subway lines and elevated trains.
One needs to look no future than The Bund, Shanghai's signature waterfront, where historic financial buildings are dwarfed by towering building cranes and the adjacent Zhongshan Road is dissected by massive construction work.
E-mail: [email protected]