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January 25, 2010

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Forget the dumplings, I want to take your call ...

LI Huilin hung up the phone, wolfed down the rest of the cold dumplings in his bowl and checked the time - one hour and 30 minutes since he'd started eating.

"I usually finish my lunch in 20 minutes but this time three calls came in quick succession with various opinions, suggestions and comments," said Li.

Li, a shop assistant at the Shanghai No. 1 Department Store, is one of the 34 resident representatives attending the upcoming annual session of the Shanghai People's Congress.

For the first time, the city legislative body has invited the public to make their views known to the representatives by phone. Each of the representatives, from all walks of life, has been given a cellphone SIM card paid for by the congress to collect public opinions round the clock and bring them to the meeting, which starts tomorrow.

Like Li, the other representatives find they have their hands full answering calls after their names and numbers were released to the public on Friday morning.

Of the three calls that interrupted Li's lunch yesterday, the one that impressed him most was from a Sichuan Province woman complaining about the city's residency system.

The migrant woman, married to a Shanghai native, said policy restrictions had proved an obstacle to her son's household registration.

"Her story is a typical illustration of our unsound residency policy, and the problems raised by the residents are all closely connected to our daily life," said Li.

Many residents' calls were to suggest new policies that would lower the present high price of apartments, and others put forward ideas about changes to the education and medical systems, he said.

Li's fellow representatives have also been busy answering calls.

"I have received more than 30 calls since Friday morning," said Shen Cuiying, a 64-year-old retired teacher. "Many callers were retired teachers as well. Some of the teachers, who are living a rather poor life, showed their concern about health insurance, retirement allowances and other matters."

Shen is the "generous grandma" who auctioned her 4.5 million yuan (US$657,000) apartment in Xujiahui to build a school in Dujiangyan, Sichuan Province, after the May 2008 earthquake.

Despite the fact that the phone calls may disrupt their daily lives, all the representatives are enthusiastic about the new way of gathering public opinions.

"A phone call woke me up at midnight yesterday and a man apologized to me that he only wanted to verify if my cell phone was turned on 24 hours," said Chen Hao, chairman of a local cultural media company.

"It's good to see a new system under tight public scrutiny," he said.


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