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May 14, 2010

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Chopstick tinkerer gets a hand

FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD Chu Mingming finally found someone to take her ingenious chopstick aids after going around to hotels and restaurants in Shanghai for weeks and being unable to give the things away.

Shanghai Starway Hotel, a local hotel chain, took 7,500 of Chu's chopstick tools and agreed to offer them to foreign customers in its 19 branches in the city.

"We found the girl's gadget very useful and meaningful, so we'd like to give her a hand," said Fang Feihua, an official with the hotel chain.

The chopstick tools will be distributed to foreign customers beginning at the end of next week. The hotel is now producing explanatory booklets about Chu and her little invention that will be placed at reception desks.

"I believe all the 7,500 devices will be sent out before the Shanghai World Expo concludes," Fang said, "just as the girl wished."

To help beginners conquer the pair of chopsticks, Chu started to invent the tool six months ago. It's a small piece of plastic that joins the two chopsticks, allowing a user to handle the sticks with just two fingers instead of the usual four.

With her parents' backing, she had a factory make a batch of 10,000.

Starting April 24, Chu and her mother trekked to Shanghai hotels and Chinese restaurants, trying to persuade employees to take her tools as freebies for foreign guests and customers.

Hard as she tried, she was repeatedly turned down by hotel and restaurant staff, some of whom regarded her as an annoying saleswoman. She managed to give away only around 1,000 sets.

However, Chu's chopstick tools are warmly welcomed by expats. After Shanghai Daily wrote about her story last Friday, an American electric company wrote to ask for some of the devices.

Chu and her mother went back home in Liaoning Province of northeastern China earlier this week. She is planning to make a second batch of her chopstick aids for Parkinson patients and those who suffer serious hand traumas.

"She thought of the idea after some Parkinson patients called a Shanghai newspaper for her tools," said Liu Xiaoyan, Chu's mother.

Liu said the next batch of devices will be distributed free to charities, the Red Cross and hospitals treating bone traumas around the country.


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