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January 27, 2011

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Web star cobbler to stay in city for holiday

AN 80-year-old cobbler who became an overnight Internet sensation after his photograph was posted online has opted to spend Chinese New Year in Shanghai, despite an offer from his hometown.

Since the picture of Zhang Tianyuan at work appeared on a microblog earlier this month, he has been inundated by visits from well-wishers and offers of help from social workers and officials.

Their kindness has touched Zhang, who lives alone, and added to his sense of belonging in Shanghai, he said.

Zhang declined an invitation from officials from his hometown of Gaoyou City, Jiangsu Province, who came to Shanghai yesterday to ask him to return with them for the Chinese New Year, which is a week away.

"I would rather stay in Shanghai where I feel like every day is a festival," Zhang said.

More than 20 people now come to visit Zhang every day, said Wu Guoyu, a social worker at Huajing Town in Xuhui District where Zhang rents a small room.

Chat with him

Wu has been visiting Zhang daily to clean his room and chat with him. The old man is taking a break from repairing shoes on Guangyuan Road W., where he has worked for more than 30 years, Wu said.

Social workers will have dinner with Zhang on Chinese New Year's Eve, said Ji Fengfei, director of the Elderly Care Center in the community.

The center will also buy new clothes for Zhang to celebrate the festival, he added.

Zhang is one of thousands of senior citizens who don't have a Shanghai hukou - an official household registration record identifying them as a citizen. Consequently, they are left out in the city's elderly care plan, Ji said.

"Seniors like Zhang are just too numerous for the city's elderly care centers to take care of," he said.

On the microblog where Zhang found fame, netizens have since posted pictures of other elderly working people and encouraged people to visit them.

Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau said it will include elderly people without local residency in their work agenda this year.

The authority is considering establishing a caring system for non-local seniors living alone in Shanghai.

At present, only local seniors without family are covered by the system.


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