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February 13, 2010

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Mr Manners and Mr Fixits patrol parks and neighborhoods

CHEN Jiayi, a 72-year-old retired worker, is Mr Fixit and Mr Manners for one Yangpu District community.

He keeps the environment clean, fixes broken street lamps, replaces manhole covers, helps direct traffic and reminds residents not to toss their garbage just anywhere.

He is also on the lookout for bad public behavior and bad manners, such as spitting and littering.

This volunteer gent seems to be on the move all the time, rushing between the Yanji Community, management companies and residential committees.

For the past eight years, Chen has led two volunteer teams, one for environmental supervision and the other for serving local parks in the district.

Most volunteers are retired workers who care about the environment. They show up in parks, open areas and lanes, checking infrastructure and reporting sewer system problems to city work crews. They even repair street lights, or report light problems.

Sometimes they just patrol to make sure all's well.

The district government has honored Chen and his volunteers several times for their volunteering work. Chen reckons he has volunteered more than 17,000 hours since 2002.

"I'm a small screw that never rusts," he says. "I'm always used where I'm needed most."

Chen is a detail-man. He never stops looking for problems as he walks along roads. He is alert to anything that threatens sanitation and the environment.

One hot summer, he found that a manhole cover was missing on Yingkou Road, creating a threat for cars and pedestrians. He immediately reported the problem to the nearest management company, but staff ignored him.

"They were unwilling to take responsibility," Chen says. "I had to pester relevant departments several times before the problem was finally solved. Perseverance helps in my work."

It is through many such small deeds that Chen earns the respect of people in the community.


Their lack of law-enforcement status has been the biggest impediment to their work protecting the community environment and appearance. When they encounter people with bad manners, such as spitting and littering, they have to work skillfully.

"We will try to solve the problem while 'saving face' for them," says Chen. "But we're bound to encounter misunderstanding, sarcasm or even insults.

"Some say it's unnecessary for us to have a finger in every pie, but embarrassment never stops us from patiently trying to persuade them to change their behavior."

Over time, public support has become massive, he says.

Once in Huangpu Park, Chen spotted two visitors walking alone, cracking melon seeds and spitting the husks everywhere. Quietly Chen and volunteers followed, cleaning up the husks. Finally the visitors realized their mistake and apologized to Chen. In fact, Chen and around 50 volunteers are often mistaken for grounds workers at Yangpu Park because they clean up every day. They consider the park a second home and know each tree and what it needs.

When they noticed that a pair of rock lions at the park gate were grimy after many years of exposure, they decided to give the statues a shower to clean them up.

"The rock lions are like members of family now," says Chen. "We cherish them and take care of them every day."

A typical good deed was done by volunteer Li Rongliang, a 78-year-old retired worker, who noticed people had pounded nails into trees to hang up their clothes while they exercised. He thought it was an eyesore and feared people could hurt themselves, so he removed the nails.

Small deeds add up.

For the past eight years, teams led by Chen and Li have undertaken 2,000 patrols, handled more than 1,700 environmental problems and resolved more than 1,300 of them.

These days they are cooperating with the district government to promote etiquette among the pubic for World Expo 2010 opening in Shanghai on May 1.

"I'm old, but I'm not fully retired," says Chen. "As Spring Festival comes, I have extra work to do."

Holidays are the busiest time for the volunteers because there are a lot of crowds. So Chen plans to personally patrol the area for the first two days of the Spring Festival holiday.


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