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Mexican lass plays her China card/s

GETTING around in Chinese is a problem for most foreigners in Shanghai, at least when they first arrive.

Marusia Musacchio, who hails from Mexico, has tackled that problem and published a handy set of 99 calling-card size "Zhaocards" on a big metal ring. The bilingual (English-Chinese, Spanish-Chinese) cards are very portable and the ring, like a key ring, can be opened and closed, so cards can be added or removed.

Two years ago Musacchio started her publishing venture in Zhaocards with her business partner, Chinese-American Anny Cheng from the United States.

"Zhao means look for or find in Chinese," says Musacchio, 32.

Each set of 99 cards contains important and useful information, such as locations with addresses, as well as cuisine.

The sets are divided into sections and it's easy to show cards to taxi drivers. It lists hotels, restaurants, entertainment venue and tourist sights.

If someone doesn't know what to order in a restaurant, he or she can just pick a card and show the waiter. The set also includes a map of Shanghai.

Musacchio, who was born in Mexico, received a master's degree at Harvard University where she learned Chinese.

Then she came to China, first spending two years in Shanghai, then one in Beijing for the 2008 Olympic Games, and now another two years in Shanghai.

When she was a teenager, Musacchio spent two years in Hong Kong and became fascinated by Chinese culture.

When her friends visit, she's their language savior, taking their calls begging her to explain destinations to taxi drivers, or tell them how to order in a restaurant.

"They kept calling me and I got tired of it," she recalls.

So she created handmade cards in two languages to give basic and important information to foreigners who speak no Chinese.

"The cards were used again and again and I got an idea - why not develop this into a business?" she says.

Excitedly she called her friend Cheng in the middle of the night and told her about her Zhaocard brainstorm.

"When Marusia called me with her idea, I immediately decided to quit my job and work on this together," Cheng says.

At the time Cheng had been working in the sales department of a US technology company in Shanghai for more than two years.

"I was totally sick of the boring job and wanted to do something interesting," she says.

Cheng was born in Taiwan and moved to South America at the age of two with her family. She lived in Paraguay for nine years and studied in Brazil for four years. She speaks Spanish and Portuguese like a native and excellent Chinese and English.

She moved to Los Angeles and also spent a year in Japan for study before coming to Shanghai in 2005.

After Cheng quit her job the next day, the two got to work on their venture - content, design, marketing and distribution were all new to them.

"We are not professionals. We found it hard but full of fun," says Musacchio.

It took them almost one year to make Zhaocards a published reality. All the practical details were maddening, but enjoyable.

"We wanted our cards in a light green - that's the color of our company. It was more difficult and expensive than regular white, but we insisted," she says.

Printing itself took a month.

Now Zhaocards will soon be published in the third version.

Sold for 100 yuan (US$14.60) a set, Zhaocards is available around the world, including Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, the United States and Mexico. UK sales begin next month.

"Successful distribution means the travelers who plan to visit Shanghai can buy them before they arrive," says Cheng.

Zhaocard sets are available in major bookstores, supermarkets and airports.

"Shanghai has changed a lot since the first time we arrived - now it's totally metropolitan with a fast pace, even faster than New York," says Musacchio.

"Shanghai is a booming city that makes people feel it's alive with heartbeats," says Cheng. "Compared with New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong, Shanghai is more attractive. That's why we're still here."

Marusia Musacchio

Nationality: Mexico

Age: 32

Profession: Publisher


What's the best part of Expo:

The concerts and cultural activities, both in performance venues like Baosteel Stage, and inside the pavilions.

Favorite place:

Former French Concession, especially Xuhui District.

Strangest sight:

I am shocked to see Shanghainese in pajamas on the street. But I like this. I think it's very charming.

Motto for life:

Live more, think less.

Worst experience:


How to improve Shanghai:

To make it easier for foreigners; I also hope the city goes back to the days with more bicycles. I don't like the traffic jams.

Advice to newcomers:

Buy our Zhaocards.


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