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November 2, 2010

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Tracking down residents is no easy number

TWO out of 10 ain't bad, at least according to Chen Yi, a census-taker in a Shanghai international community.

China's sixth population census started yesterday, and for the first time foreigners and people from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan living on the Chinese mainland are included in the 10-day register.

Yesterday evening, Shanghai Daily reporter went door-to-door with Chen and Swiss volunteer Milena Muntwyler in Pudong's Yanlord Garden, an international community where 65 percent of residents are expats from almost 60 countries.

"With a bit of luck, we should get good results as most people are home from work now," said Chen.

At about 5:30pm Chen set off to knock doors, armed with an official badge, a heavy bag of census forms and introduction letters, and accompanied by Muntwyler.

Time is of the essence, Chen explained. "We have to finish by 9pm, so as not to interrupt residents' rest."

The first 10 visits didn't yield much. No-one answered the door at seven homes, one refused to open the door, and, in the end, only two residents completed the form.

However, this is not particularly bad, said Chen, who has become accustomed to similar results since she began visiting households during preparatory work in September.

When Chen and her fellow census workers are not pounding the sidewalks visiting neighborhoods in the evening and early morning, they are kept busy with administration. They've also worked weekends for the past month, surviving on take-out food most of the time.

Often Chen encounters suspicion. "Many people look at me through the peephole on their front door or turn off the light, pretending nobody's at home," she said.

Chen will not harangue. Instead, she leaves an introductory letter explaining that it's the national census conducted every 10 years.

"Perhaps they are children or seniors who don't want to open the door to strangers. I will come again when someone else is home," she said.

Even though she has been a community worker for several years, Chen does not know every resident, as the international community has a transient population.

Chen's task is made more difficult by some expats' insistence on privacy - she has visited some households more than 10 times.

"After calling several times they are willing to talk to me, asking, 'who are you?' If I go again, they may be willing to chat more, saying, 'what are you doing? Why are you doing this?' In the end, they finally open the door," she said.

Though she speaks good English, Chen invited community resident Muntwyler to help convince reluctant residents.

"I'm very glad to be part of the census," said Muntwyler, 58, a housewife who is interested in community work. "It's very interesting to meet so many people."

Muntwyler said she has become "famous" since helping the census workers, as many residents now say hello.


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