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New Shanghainese club for young and young at heart

THE New Shanghainese club caters to young out-of-town Chinese who are trying to get adjusted and make new friends - and it's open to foreigners trying to break out of the "expat bubble." Nancy Zhang reports. Expats in this cosmopolitan city often find themselves living in an "expat bubble," meeting mostly other foreigners and circulating in the same set of foreign restaurants and bars.

But if you're looking to make more Chinese friends, not just Shanghainese but from all over China, then the New Shanghainese club may help. It already has 300 registered members.

The club is based in Zhangyuan Garden Community Center (featured in "Garden of Delight," Shanghai Daily, June 22) on Taixing Road. Meetings are not fixed, a Website is under development and those who are interested should call for information (see below).

"New Shanghainese" refers to everyone from outside of Shanghai who has come to the city to seek a new life and a new home.

In contrast to migrant workers who come to labor in construction and other minimum-wage jobs, out-of-town white-collar workers receive little public attention. But they are also an increasing presence.

Starting out as an informal online QQ group three years ago, the New Shanghainese club was originally meant to cater to this out-of-town, white-collar demographic.

Living in the Jing'an Temple area, founder Zhang Yunheng realized there were many foreigners in the area, and members would also sometimes bring their foreign friends to group events.

The concept of new Shanghainese was expanded to include "foreign friends," who are also an increasing presence. Members are from both nearby Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces and the distant Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

"The most common problems for out-of-town workers here is making friends, which is essential to settling in and putting down roots," says Zhang, a teacher for disadvantaged children with the Shanghai Charity Foundation. "This is especially the case with the economic pressure of living in Shanghai, coupled with family expectations from back home."

Social activities include sports, such as badminton and ping-pong, dinners and hiking trips. This summer the group hiked from Jiangsu to Anhui Province. There are professionally geared activities, such as job training, MBA student associations and language exchanges.

The club is very flexible and members are encouraged to suggest activities. Earlier this month there was a concert in French starring a member who studied for many years in France. The audience included guests from the French and Luxembourg consulates.

"If people want to do something, we provide the platform and give them the chance they don't usually have," says Zhang.

Last December the group was officially recognized by the Jing'an District government as Louyou Youth Group. The name New Shanghainese is now an informal name, and the club is cautious about a label that emphasizes a distinction between locals and non-locals. The distinction is increasingly blurry for the younger generation anyway, says Zhang.

Zhang started the group because he saw a need that wasn't being adequately filled. He wanted to start a group for young people and those who are new to Shanghai, although older members and those "young at heart" are also welcomed.

The group was started with Zhang's private funds and some stipends from the government for individual events. So far there is no membership fee.

"There are lots of Websites for making friends, but these are chaotic and unregulated. We step into areas the government might not be able to get to, and channel government funds to the grassroots where it's most needed," says Zhang.

For information, please contact Zhang Yunheng at 5228-6389.


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