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Postcards from the Puxi side

STAFF working in the Urban Best Practices Area - the showcase for solving urban problems - shoulder the additional responsibility of explaining advanced technologies and concepts to laymen.

These technologies represent the urban future and the staff first must understand them.

The job challenges staff from around the world, with different educational backgrounds, different working experience and different languages.

Despite the demanding work, and sometimes being on their feet for eight consecutive hours, the UBPA personnel interviewed by Shanghai Daily all said their experience was enjoyable and rewarding.

After seeing exhibits of urban problems and innovative solutions, Chinese staff said they were inspired to think about Shanghai's own urban issues and propose their own ideas for making the city better.

Wang Rui

33, from Qinghai Province, China

Attendant at the Taipei Case Pavilion

Before arriving for Expo work in April, Qinghai native Wang Rui had never spent more than a couple of days in Shanghai. Now she's already missing the city as she will leave in a couple of weeks and wants to postpone her return.

"I'm happy to have the chance to work at the Expo site; I'm happy to work with our whole team; I'm happy to meet new friends; I'm happy to live in the city," she said.

She has enjoyed getting to know Shanghai people and found them different from her expectations - much more hospitable, caring and honest than she had imagined.

"I was touched by visitors - they care about our hard working and understand we are trying our best to serve them," said Wang.

During the past six months, Wang saw the change of visitors. "They behave themselves better."

Public manners at the Expo have improved, she noted. People voluntarily stand in lines, there's less littering and fewer loud arguments over trivial matters.

Wang, who has visited Hong Kong, says Shanghai can learn from that city about managing big crowds on the Bund and create a better environment for visitors to enjoy the sights along the Huangpu river, especially at night.

For fireworks displays over Victoria Harbor, the Hong Kong government would divide the area into sections and limit the number of visitors in each section, she said. When a section filled, no one was allowed to enter.

"Shanghai can do the same thing for big celebrations and grand activities," she said.

Mikkel Stroerup

26, from Denmark

Staff member at the Odense Case Pavilion

On a cold afternoon, Mikkel Stroerup argues - in fluent but rather blunt Chinese - about the merits of Chinese versus foreign bicycles, with a Chinese visitor.

"He tried to convince me that the bikes made in China are as good as or better than those made in Denmark," said Stroerup, who certainly does not agree.

Stroerup who learned Chinese as his major in university went to Peking University as an exchange student and in 2005 arrived in Shanghai for further studies.

When the Expo ends, he plans to continue.

"Chinese is one of the most difficult languages to learn," he said.

At the Odense city pavilion, Stroerup takes care of dozens of bicycles that are both displayed and ridden by visitors on a 200-meter-long track. It's the only place in the Expo where one can ride a bike and he helps children to ride.

Outside the Expo, he cleans and maintains local bikes for free on the city streets.

He said that Odense, the birthplace of fairy tale writer Hans Christian Anderson, is a "modern fairy tale itself" and most residents prefer bicycles to cars.

When big cities, like Shanghai, have so many cars, drivers have little respect for cyclists, Stroerup said.

In his spare time he likes to visit Yuyuan Garden and eat with the locals along Sipailou Road, a famous old street in Shanghai which is soon to be demolished.

"I like the shuijiao there," he said, referring to the dumplings served at tables along the street outside eateries.

"That's the Shanghai I like," he said.

He usually stays out late if he doesn't have to work the next day.

"Please tell them not to tear down Sipailou," he said.

Jana Kruger

24, from Germany

Deputy director of the Hamburg Case Pavilion

Jana Kruger, 24 years old, might be the youngest manager of a pavilion but she is an experienced exhibition organizer.

In 2008 she worked for the water-themed Expo in Zaragoza, Spain, so she already had Expo experience.

Her six-month Shanghai visit is her longest stay in Asia.

"It's amazing to see that so many visitors can be organized so well," Kruger said of guests at the Hamburg "passive energy house."

The house, one of the most costly in UBPA, is energy neutral and will remain as a reference for future projects.

It is solid, compact, air-tight, well-insulated and uses solar power.

It reduces energy consumption for heating in winter and cooling in summer.

Thanks to the design of the Hamburg House, Kruger said she doesn't need to bring a lot of clothes for changes in the weather. The temperature in the house remains at around 25 degrees Celsius around the year.

"We encourage Chinese visitors to ask questions about how it all works and why, for example, there are no air-conditioners here."

Kruger lives outside the Expo site in Puxi and has a view overlooking the entire Expo Park.

"I can see the China Pavilion and others each time I step on the balcony," she said.

After work, Kruger likes to visit Tianzifang, an art zone combining cafes, bars, craft shops, studios and galleries in a converted factory and a residential block in Luwan District. She finds it "a quiet place to rest" after work.

Kruger is hooked on Expos and she plans to join the special Expo in 2012 in Yeosu, South Korea.

The theme of the South Korean Expo is preservation and sustainable development of oceans and coastlines.

Ignacio Nino

41, from Spain

Director of the Madrid Case Pavilion

Ignacio Nino says that over six months Shanghai has become like a home to him and the Expo has been a great and enriching experience.

In the Urban Best Practices Area, Madrid's Bamboo House and Air Tree have been a big success, receiving more than 4 million visitors, far more than the 2 million expected.

"We came to show and explain Madrid's success in urban management, especially public housing and environmental protection," Nino said. "But I have also learned a lot about Shanghai, China and Chinese culture."

Shanghai people are very kind to foreigners, which impressed him most. "You can always find people willing to help you and you will never feel insecure in the city," the director said.

He has enjoyed making friends with locals and admires the way Chinese people respect their parents. He especially enjoyed festivities for the Mid-autumn Festival.

Nino's birthday is October 1, coinciding with China's National Day. On that day at the Expo, after passing through security, he was welcomed by a policewoman with a special pin from the China Pavilion - only available that day. He thought she had somehow known his birthday.

He is positive about Shanghai's future, saying, "Everything is going in the correct way."

But he also said the city should pay more attention to environmental protection, especially waste management.


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