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September 7, 2010

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Lost visitors face shopkeepers' fury

"NO time to answer your inquiry about roads." Some small shop owners at the tourist-packed People's Square have put up such posters to fend off an increasing number of visitors seeking information about local roads and how to get there.

The owners say they are afraid their business would be affected or disturbed if they keep entertaining such requests.

Zhen Qiang, a visitor from southern China's Fujian Province, was not impressed. "It means I am not welcome in the city," Zhen said. "I would feel very lonely here."

The fact that more and more tourists, unfamiliar with city roads and streets, are coming to Shanghai on account of the World Expo, makes it an urgent problem. However, the shopkeepers' refusal to help is also an embarrassment for a city that has called upon its residents to behave in a more "civilized" manner.

The store owners, however, insist the frequent inquiries often divert their attention from their business.

"I am still willing to help them with the roads when I am free," conceded a shop assistant who declined to be named.

A Shanghai Daily reporter yesterday saw that the number of stores actually turning down visitors' requests was few, with most willing to help. But the reporter found that there were not enough service kiosks, which can provide inquiry service or maps, around the area.

The city has put up more than 200 service booths in downtown near transport hubs and business complexes during the Expo to help visitors. The services are offered in many languages. In fact before the Expo, Shanghai also added new road signs or improved confusing signage.

"Ideally things are better when both sides act with due consideration," said Gu Xiaoming, a professor of sociology at Fudan University.

Take volunteers at busy tourism or business hubs for example. They would become tired after listening to the same requests many times a day, Gu said. "It also depends on the visitor's attitude when asking the way."

Gu urged travelers to look at the road signs or roadside map boards.

Some foreign tourists told Shanghai Daily that locals are friendly even though sometimes communicating was a problem due to the language barrier.

"Usually I carry a map or search for information about routes before visiting a new place," said Michael Bohl from the United States.

"If I get lost, I ask a policeman or volunteers for help."


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