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Scammers use wheelchairs to skirt lines

2010. 16 June

Expo 2010 Up to 4,000 a day fake disability to access pavilions Lines at World Expo 2010 have prompted as many as 4,000 people a day to act disabled to gain access to special entrances. Photograph by: PHILIPPE LOPEZ AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES, Canwest News Service

by Aileen Mccabe

( It's often said the Chinese don't know how to wait in a line, but nobody anticipated the lengths they will take to jump a queue at Expo 2010.

Forget simple ploys like butting in front of people who have been waiting fairly patiently for three or four hours to visit a pavilion -or nine hours for the wildly popular Saudi Pavilion -the latest ploy is to fake a disability and gain access to the special priority entrances.

The scam is so prevalent that most of the pavilions have been forced to either shut their handicapped lines or issue new regulations to deal with legitimate cases, including limiting how many they will accept a day, designating how many healthy people can accompany one wheelchair and asking for proof of a handicap.

"The lineup at the passage designed for people with a disability, the elderly and young kids has been getting longer and longer, increasingly being used by people who do not qualify for this queue," Beniamino Quintieri, commissioner-general of the Italy Pavilion, told the Global Times. "They are selfishly just trying to cut down their waiting time by disadvantaging the very people who need this line."

The Shanghai Daily said the Saudi and Swedish pavilions each reported about 4,000 fakers a day.

The scammers brought the crackdown on themselves. You don't have to sit very long outside the exit doors of some of the most popular pavilions before you see one of Expo's small miracles: people get up from wheelchairs and walk.

Expo organizers took a bit of time to catch onto the problem. In the first few weeks after the fair opened on May 1, they doubled the number of wheelchairs for rent at the gate because of the unexpected demand. Now that they know what they are up against, organizers are demanding to see a government issued "disabled person's certificate" before they hand over wheelchairs.

It's a partial solution, but still does not deal with the problem of people coming with their own borrowed or rented wheelchairs.

Since well over 90 per cent of the 60 million to 70 million visitors now expected at Expo will be Chinese, this was always going to be a world's fair with "Chinese characteristics," and so it is, in spades.

For instance, fires have become a worrisome hazard on the fair grounds.

Although all save a few designated areas are supposed to be smoke-free, in this country of 350 million smokers it is anything but, and people use garbage bins as ashtrays.

A Shanghai Daily reporter who spotted a smouldering trash can on the weekend said she immediately asked an Expo volunteer to use her walkie-talkie to call the fire department. Instead, the volunteer grabbed a bottle of water and doused it herself.

"This is normal," she said. "This is the third time today."

Also "normal" now, are "Expo Siestas." Chinese have an amazing capability to sleep in public and large numbers of them are demonstrating it at the fair. Starting soon after noon, the shaded benches under the Expo Axis, the overhead walkway that criss-crosses the grounds, are peppered with people having a snooze. After hours of walking and standing in line, they simply take off their shoes and stretch out.

It's usually after enjoying a picnic lunch they've brought from home. A large proportion of Chinese visitors give a pass to the hundreds of food stalls and restaurants at Expo that offer exotic fare from around the world as well as China, and bring their own food. It's cheaper and there are no lines.

The Dutch anticipated the self-catering trend and one of the big draws at their "Happy Street" pavilion are about 100 plastic sheep scattered in a green pasture. The designers envisaged people coming to sit on the animals and picnic in pastoral splendour.

Their rose-coloured glasses are now off.

After just over one month, about half of the sheep are so badly damaged by rough handling they have to be replaced. And organizers are even complaining that people are sleeping on the docile animals. They stretch out along the body of a sheep, let their feet dangle over its head, and take an Expo Siesta.