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September 10, 2012

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Chinese, expat neighbors clash more often

WHEN Wang Aijuan, 70, moved into her new apartment on Hongmei Road in the Minhang District three years ago, what she thought would be a joyous chapter in her life quickly turned sour.

The Hongchun residential complex she now calls home sits astride a street of restaurants and bars popularly known as Foreigners Street 101. The acoustics and revelries fill the evening and wee morning hours with endless cacophony.

"Incessant singing, dancing, clapping, trumpets and acoustic drums," Wang said, looking very stressed out. "They are so loud that I can't hear the sound of my television programs. Chinese people like a quiet environment, but they (expats) like to party into the night."

In hot weather, when the partying moves outside, Wang said she has to keep her windows closed, to get any peace of mind. Unlike most of her Chinese neighbors who are too reticent to complain, Wang voiced her grievances to her local neighborhood committee.

"The majority of residents living in buildings most affected by the noise have chosen to tolerate it in silence," said Gao Xueqin, secretary of the Hongchun neighborhood committee.

The noise pollution ratcheted up more than five years ago when Hongmei Street became one of Shanghai's most popular hangouts for foreigners, she added.

Many people living in Wang's community are farmers displaced by urban development. They are pretty good-natured and a bit shy about confronting foreigners, Gao said.

A resident surnamed Lu, who wouldn't give her full name, said, "I don't know how to talk to expats, and I am hesitant about speaking out because I know these restaurants have to make money."

Smoothing the troubled waters isn't easy. Gao has organized three meetings, bringing together representatives of the street's management company, restaurant and bar owners, and residents. As a result, the situation has improved slightly, with some party noise quelled before midnight, Gao said.

Number of foreigners increases

One chain bar, the Big Bamboo, has planted trees around the residential complex, hoping to dull noise. The outer wall's height has also been raised.

"We want to keep a nice and healthy relationship with area residents," said Claus Borregaard, the bar's Danish deputy general manager. "We take their concerns seriously." But, he added, some noise is inevitable if people live near bars and restaurants, whether in outlying areas or downtown.

Potential conflicts increase as the number of expats in Shanghai increases and as the former policy of segregated housing for foreigners and Chinese has been done away with. There were more than 210,000 foreigners living and working at the end of 2010, accounting for nearly 1 percent of the city's total residents, according to the latest census. Overseas residents were only about 0.56 percent of the population 10 years ago.

Jiang Jie, who lives at the "Top of City," a popular rental spot for expats in downtown's Jing'an District, gets annoyed by his overseas neighbors. His upstairs neighbors, from Japan, wear traditional geta footwear, making clomping noises. His former neighbors from the United States often hosted big nighttime parties that kept him awake. Finally, one night he knocked on their door and asked them to lower the noise. His request was ignored. "I don't know whether they didn't understand what I was saying or just pretended not to understand," Jiang said, conceding his English is poor.

Chen Peiyin, a community mediator in her 50s, has worked at the Jinxiu Jiangnan residences in the Hongqiao area for seven years. Over 40 percent of residents in the complex are South Korean.

"Disputes between neighbors are common and unavoidable, particularly when it comes to people from different countries because their living habits and cultural backgrounds vary," said Chen.

Every year, she mediates at least 20 disputes between Chinese and expats. Some result from the South Koreans' habit of cleaning floors by pouring water over them, which can seep down through the ceilings of Chinese families below because the buildings are old. Other disagreements arise from South Korean kids using skateboards at night. "Many expatriates aren't familiar with the concept of a residential committee and mediators, and they don't trust us at first," Chen said.

American William Coon has visited over 100 countries and lived in Shanghai for over five years. He said it's unfortunate more expats don't study Chinese culture, history and behavior. "If expats do not change their habits to conform to local culture, then they are simply bad guests and they will not enjoy their time in a wonderful country," he said. "This is a common problem all over the world."


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