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February 27, 2010

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Laowai lend helping hands

EXPATS in Changning District are volunteering to "give back" to their community and to help Changning put its best foot forward for World Expo 2010 visitors.

More than 4,500 volunteers are made up of Changning's Foreign Volunteer Team for the World Expo and have worked in eight communities.

Sports fan Alan Tong, 43, from Berlin, Germany, is teaching locals "APG," a game he invented in the 1990s, combining kung fu and dance to the beat of pop music. His arena is Zhongshan Park.

"Sport is a great way to communicate with other people," says Tong. "It makes cross-cultural communication very easy for me. Volunteering is a lot of fun."

Tong has been teaching APG three times a week for free since September 2008.

He says it was "fate" that brought him to Shanghai from Berlin in the spring of 2008.

Since he was 12 years old, Tong has told everyone he wanted to establish a new kung fu style. Although he had some martial arts training, his dream sounded fantastic, especially since he was so far from the cradle of kung fu.

Hard work paid off and in 1985, when he was 19, he opened a martial arts school in Berlin. Later he studied psychology and teaching, sport, dance and drama, as well as information technology and business administration -- all of which contributed to the creating of APG.

"I chose Shanghai, because the city is the most modern and Western city in China and its citizens like sport," Tong says.

Berlin is more settled and "not that exciting," he says. "So I feel comfortable and enjoy my new life here in my new home very much."

Tong describes his volunteering visit to the German Language Salon of Changning Workers' Culture Palace as "a kind of coincidence." He went with a Chinese friend and then volunteered as a teacher.

"Volunteering shows me different aspects of life, which leads me to new ideas," he says.

Another adventurer is Keson Bernard Tinker, 25, a first-year graduate student in Donghua University's Glorious Sun School of Business and Management.

In the autumn of 2005 he left the beautiful and easy-going Caribbean nation of the Bahama and came to Shanghai, which he calls perhaps one of the most challenging cultural environments to adapt to in the world.

"It is extremely crowded in Shanghai, but I've acclimatized quite naturally. Waking up in the morning and watching traffic crawl along Yan'an Road W. is still an attraction for me. I think more cars and people pass my window every hour than the entire population of The Bahamas (around 300,000)."

Tinker acquired the nickname "people's son" by working at the Volunteer Outreach Program at the university since 2005. He has volunteered in orphanages, retirement homes, schools for visually and hearing disabled children and worked as a traffic attendant during rush hour at busy intersections.

He's an official Changning District volunteer for the Expo and he appears on the official music video for Expo volunteers.

"Maybe you've seen me already," he says.

Working with children always changes him a little, he says.

Tinker likes children, especially when they get acclimatized to him.

"Working with children changes me a little," Tinker says. "I feel like I've become a more involved, informed member of the community by immersing myself in it through volunteering."

Tinker hopes the Expo will give Chinese people an opportunity to experience different cultures and widen their horizons through meeting new people and seeing new sights.

Another adventurous volunteer is American Michael Barnhard, a manager of global accounts for Staples. Although business brought him to Shanghai in 2007, he seeks opportunities to volunteer.

"The energy of the volunteers makes all the difference," he says. "In Shanghai it is common to walk outside and see people in parks dancing or practicing kung fu.

"This creates a friendly and outgoing environment, which is reinforced by all of the volunteers."

He first volunteered teaching English to people in the Shanghai Hongqiao Linkong Economic Zone. Then he volunteered at a children's hospital and home for the elderly.

At the hospital, he helped a child do her English-language homework.

"It was fun introducing some new words to her and I also gave her an English name," Barnhard says. He also worked in a school for autistic children and helped make educational toys for the kids.

He sees volunteering as a form of leisure.

"Society is like a big family," he says. "As a volunteer, I want to see Shanghai continue to be better and better, and I want to wish Shanghai a successful World Expo 2010."


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