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May 23, 2011

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Temple chaos beggars belief

THE tranquility of Shanghai's historic Jade Buddha Temple is being disturbed by aggressive beggars and fortune tellers at its gates, says the abbot.

The temple in Jing'an District is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city among foreigners, including visiting heads of state.

But many visitors have filed complaints after negotiating an obstacle course of beggars and fortune tellers to reach the temple on Anyuan Road, Juexing, the temple abbot, told Shanghai Daily.

Juexing is now calling on the city government to improve the environment around the 120-year-old temple.

Street beggars and fortune tellers are a serious disturbance, the abbot said.

He also urged authorities to widen the narrow street in front of the temple entrance to ease traffic congestion.

Arriving at Anyuan Road, which is less than 7 meters wide, visitors are often confronted by beggars and street fortune tellers.

They line both sides of the street. Fortune tellers are particularly persistent, following passersby for long distances, grabbing their arm or touching their body as they try to persuade them to have their fortunes told.

"It has become a mission impossible for visitors and passersby to walk along this street without being disturbed or followed by beggars and fortune tellers," said a community volunteer worker, a middle-aged man surnamed Li. "Whenever police arrive, they vanish in seconds."

"We try to persuade them to leave, but as volunteers we have no legal authorization to punish anyone," Li said.

The abbot said foreign tourists have even had their cash snatched at the front gate.

"A bus stopped and the hawkers quickly gathered along. Some tourists handed out a banknote to buy some souvenirs, but the hawkers just grab the money and ran off," he said.

Juexing has suggested the government authorities widen the street and relocate the array of old and shabby houses opposite the temple on Anyuan Road, many of which serve as grocery stores and small eateries.

He also called on government authorities to take effective measures to stop street begging and hawking outside the temple.

"The temple is a historic tourist attraction and a place supposed to be peaceful and pleasant. It deserves a better environment," the abbot said.

Jing'an District government said it would consider the proposal but that road widening is not feasible at present.

The temple was founded in 1882 with two jade Buddha statues brought to Shanghai from Myanmar.


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