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Home » Opinion » Chinese Views

You gotta love our teeming city

WHEN I took Metro Line 12 on my way to work on Monday, I was surprised to find myself in a carriage carrying neatly posted messages from netizens about why they love Shanghai. It was a pleasant surprise, though, as most of these messages were thought-provoking, and thus a better sight than most commercial ads.

Just take a few examples:

1. Road signs in Shanghai are so clear that you never get lost even without a road map at hand;

2. Shanghai is a city where you can either run at full speed or rest at ease;

3. Here you have a sensible combination of sense and sensibility;

4. A city friendly to foreigners; and,

5. Nice bookstores here and there, which make reading easier.

The next day I checked news online and found that there were more than 300 such messages on Metro Line 12, selected out of 3,000 contributions from netizens by a leading local media outlet in cooperation with the Shanghai Metro.

These messages broadened my view about what it means to live in Shanghai, and prompted me to ponder why, born and bred in Yangzhou, an ancient city in Jiangsu Province, I love Shanghai.

Which led me to think of a call I made a couple of weeks ago to complain about water pollution near my home in suburban Shanghai.

I dialed the citizen’s hotline 12345 to alert relevant authorities that some construction workers had been shoveling plastic waste into the river circling our neighborhood in Zhaoxiang Town, Qingpu District. I told the receptionist that I had taken pictures.

The hotline was set up over four years ago as a response to non-urgent issues pertaining to people’s daily life. I was not sure if my call would be listened to and heeded, but one day later I got a call from the local water resources bureau.

It was from a young woman with an amicable voice. She told me that my complaint would be taken seriously and that her supervisor would conduct an on-site check the next morning, as it was already late in day at the time of her response.

The next morning she called me again, saying: “My supervisor has been to the construction site you mentioned and has told workers there that they must clean all the waste. Please see for yourself if there’s still any problem.”

Due to busy work, I went there two days later, and found our river basically as clean as before — only a little plastic foam sill floated behind distant reeds, probably due to a sweep of wind, thus escaping workers’ attention.

To make sure that I will get more help from the government in case of a future pollution accident, another staff member of the local water resources bureau called me a few days later to brief me about the contact information of the office of the “river chief” in Qingpu District.

Shanghai formally launched the “river chief” system earlier this year to ensure a quick response to river pollution. Top leaders of an administrative district are held personally responsible for the rivers within their district, and every river has its own chief manager.

Heeding the slightest voice

In essence, both the “river chief” system and the 12345 hotline are initiated in a top-down manner, that is, by the government.

My experience, and for that matter those of my colleagues and acquaintances, show that they do respond effectively to complaints or reports from ordinary people. To borrow a saying from late US judge Learned Hand in the 1940s, they heed even the slightest voice of a sparrow falling to the ground.

According to a report by Oriental Outlook Weekly, an influential magazine in Beijing, Shanghai’s 12345 hotline was the best among the country’s 300-plus similar hotlines in terms of service standard last year. The rate of satisfaction by complainants was as high as 93 percent, says the report.

No city is perfect, but it is great if it hears and heeds a call from the public. I used to call 12345 in certain other cities near Shanghai to complain about someone smoking in contravention of public bans, but was only told that it was not a big deal.

That Shanghai responds is not just about 12345. One sees a responsive attitude in many other occasions as well.

A few months ago I stopped by the Jing’an Temple station of Metro Line 2 to recharge my Metro card. At the service window, I noticed a typo in a signposting, and advised the clerk behind the window to have it corrected. Half a month later, when I passed by the window again, I found the error had indeed been erased, much to my pleasant surprise.

The error was: the Chinese character of mai for “buy” (买) had been misspelled as mai for “sell.” (卖) The notice on the signpost should have read: “Please go to the automatic sellers if you want to buy a ticket.” Now with the spelling mistake, it read: “Please go to the automatic sellers if you want to sell a ticket.”

How did the error occur in the first place? In my conversation with the empathetic clerk, we burst into laughter after we agreed it was probably because that in Shanghai dialect, “buy” (买)and “sell” (卖)have the same pronunciation.

Isn’t it lovely to live in Shanghai?


(For more lovable details of Shanghai, visit the Shanghai Exhibition Center for a multi-media show of the city’s achievements in the past five years, which ends on May 20.)


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