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May 1, 2010

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City tells world, 'Welcome!'

This is the time to celebrate.

With the theme song echoing and fireworks bursting over the Huangpu River, Shanghai welcomed visitors from all over the world in a dazzlingly orchestrated display of the city's warmth, sincerity and openness of mind.

Back in December 2002, also surrounded by colorful fireworks, the city was in great joy of winning the bid to host the World Expo 2010. Yesterday, the same sort of fireworks lit up the oriental metropolis and turned the country of promise into a gathering center for the globe.

The already excited crowds, waiting in darkness, erupted in applause when "Welcome to Shanghai, China" in red and gold jumped out from the largest LED screen in the world-- 25 meters tall and 280 meters long -- at the Puxi section of the Expo site.

President Hu Jintao declared the Expo formally open at precisely 8:10pm in front of about 8,000 people and an oversize stage full of dancers and singers in the Expo Culture Center. The soprano Song Zuying, actor Jackie Chan and pianist Lang Lang were among the performers who helped inaugurate the largest World Expo in history.

President Hu Jintao voiced confidence in Shanghai's hosting an "unforgettable" World Expo, which he said would bridge China and the world.

He addressed a welcoming dinner for foreign dignitaries prior to the opening ceremony. He and his wife Liu Yongqing shook hands with visiting foreign guests.

"I am confident that, with concerted efforts, people around the world will witness a successful, splendid and unforgettable World Expo," said the President, giving a toast at the dinner.

In the past eight years, China has mobilized resources throughout the country and pooled the wisdom of the world, he said.

As the first registered World Expo hosted by a developing country, the Shanghai Expo will be "an opportunity for China and also for the world," Hu said.

At this Expo, China will present to the world a country with a 5,000-year history that is enjoying fast development and changes through reform and opening-up, he said.

The Expo will serve as a bridge for China to learn the good experiences of other countries and engage in exchanges and cooperation with the rest of the world, he said.

Later, when the ceremonies moved outdoors, rows of red fireworks burst overhead between the Nanpu Bridge and the Lupu Bridge. The waters of the Huangpu River also glittered red as they wound through the 5.28-square-kilometer Expo area.

Smiling faces from children across the world were displayed on the screen to the music of the Chinese folk standard, "Butterfly Lover," as fountains danced and laser beams flashed in accord with fireworks.

Barrages from about 20,000 fireworks rumbled the night. Inside each firework was a chip to control the time of explosion as well as to shape them into smiling faces, the mascot Haibao and the Expo logo.

The crowd roared as more than 6,000 lit balls turning red, yellow and orange floated downstream, turning the river into part of the display.

More than 200 small boats, each with a flag of participant countries and organizations, went upstream on the river, crossing the colorful balls in front of VIPs.

American music conductor Quincy Jones and Chinese classical composer Tan Dun surprisingly used words in Shanghai dialect, "A La" and "Nong," meaning "we" and "you," into a song dedicated to the Expo that premiered at the ceremony.

Ecologically friendly

The ceremony reached a climax when Andrea Bocelli, the Italian pop tenor, sang the "Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's Turandot.

The crowds erupted again when a gigantic sphere representing the Earth rose from the floor -- and 75 young performers seemed to float in the air, joining hands in a display of world harmony.

Expo organizers have been working hard during the past few months to make the ceremony economical and environmental friendly.

More than 2,000 chairs for the audience to watch the fireworks were made from recycled milk cartons that were collected by thousands of Shanghai residents. The milk cartons were also used for menus and other stage properties of the ceremony.

And the flag ships will be recycled. They will be used by crews for the sport of rowing in the Guangzhou Asian Para Games in December.

The music fountain will become a new landscape along the Huangpu River to attract tourists. Four sessions of music fountain shows will be presented every day during the 184-day Expo.

The fireworks involved cutting-edge technologies that cut down on smoke.

'Full confidence'

The final climax of last night came as lines of gold fireworks on both sides of the river leaped to the other side. They met over the river, symbolizing two hands holding with each other. Crowds cheered under Beethoven's "Ode To Joy."

"Shanghai has full confidence that the 184-day Expo will run smoothly," Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng said earlier this week, after the six test runs of the Expo that gave nearly a million visitors from the city and neighboring provinces previews of the world fair.

"Each test operation ran smoother than the previous one and that gives us more confidence," Han said.

Looking forward to the curtain being lifted for the Expo, Jie, 62, a local retiree, said she was impressed by the Expo site and surprised by the city's creation after touring the place during the trial operation.

"Shanghai is great! I've already prepared my family Expo tickets, and we are sure to visit the site several times more," she said.

Today, nearly 150 pavilions from 189 countries and 57 international organizations open their doors to world visitors. A dozen pavilions will have opening ceremonies, attended by several heads of state.


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