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January 24, 2020

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Shanghai’s shining knights work nights

When others return home after work, one group of people in Huangpu District starts their day. When residents and tourists enjoy Shanghai’s brilliant night views, they are the ones behind the scene.

The work of 37-year-old Shanghai resident Li Wei is all about lights. He, along with his colleagues, ensures that more than 12,000 landscape lights along the Huangpu River are operating normally. A total of 3,808 buildings and riverside areas are involved.

All landscape lights will be turned on during the Spring Festival holiday, adding a splash of color to the city’s night scenery.

Li works at the Shanghai Landscape Light Monitoring Center in Huangpu. The team comprises management staff, technicians, and maintenance and repair workers.

The city’s landscape lights extended 8.2 kilometers in the past, and another 4.5 kilometers from the Nanpu Bridge to Rihui Road E. were added last year.

At the center, six screens enable Li to monitor information such as the real-time operation of the lights, their voltage and current value, and conduct remote control. His eyes are glued to the screens and he needs to monitor all six simultaneously.

“Light is a window of Shanghai, and no incompleteness is allowed,” said Li. “Some problems can be judged based on voltage and current value, and color temperature problems can be detected with the naked eye based on my experience.”

When he arrives at office at 5pm, he turns on the radio to report light status to the Shanghai Greenery and Public Sanitation Bureau. Then he checks whether equipment such as surveillance cameras are operating normally as they are used to detect problems.

After the lights are turned on, he checks their operating situation, patrols key roads to make sure the lights are OK, and makes a record until the lights are turned off at 10pm, or midnight during major festivals.

But Li’s work extends beyond that.

“The job is 24 hours,” he said.

In the daytime, he also checks lighting problems and guides repair work which cannot be done when the lights are on. Sometimes, an overnight shift is necessary to prevent emergency breakdowns and eliminate safety hazards.

“There are some emergency cases due to tripped circuits from overloading or broken fiber-optics,” he said.

Li has been doing his job since 2011. This year, he needs to remain at his post during the Spring Festival holiday.

In fact, he’s been in “no-holiday” mode for five years.

He could not watch the China Central Television’s Spring Festival Gala with his family, a tradition among Chinese people on Lunar New Year’s Eve. When others have nianyefan, or Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner, he eats instant noodles at the center with colleagues.

Graceful with innovation

He needs to arrive at his post by 5pm.

Last year on the Chinese New Year’s Eve, all landscape lights were switched on in Shanghai between 6pm and 12:30am based on the Chinese tradition of shousui (staying up late). This year’s schedule has not been announced.

Talking about Shanghai’s nightscape, Li is proud.

“Shanghai’s light landscape is graceful with innovation and its own characteristics; it doesn’t pursue shining effects,” he said. “It features new technology applications and haipai (East-meets-West) culture.”

In 2018, landscape lights along the Bund underwent an upgrade and renovation, and Li and his colleagues worked overtime for half a year.

Chen Bao, 22, works on light maintenance and repairs on the team.

After the lights are turned on, he patrols to check whether they are broken. He also looks for safety hazards in rain and snow, sizzling temperatures and typhoons.

“If the problem cannot be fixed on the scene, we need to fix it the next day during daytime when the lights are off,” he said.

A Sichuan Province native, he, too, will work through this year’s festival holiday.

“Only after I ensure that every light is OK, will I eat nianyefan, although it is midnight,” said Chen.

Chen’s colleague, Sun Yongbo, in his 50s, has been living in Shanghai for 20 years. His hometown is in neighboring Anhui Province.

“It is our duty to ensure that every light is on to illuminate the city’s night,” he said. “It’s a great pleasure when I hear tourists praise the city’s night view.”

The team has prepared safety devices and replacement lights in preparation for the festival holiday.


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