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Foreigners play role in community relations
2015-01-14
By Yang Jian

RICARDO Blazquez, chief trade representative in China for Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city, also has advocacy duties closer to home in Shanghai.

He now serves as one of the community representatives for the more than 31,000 residents from 50 nations living in the Ronghua neighborhood of the Gubei area of Changning District.

Blazquez, 61, has been living in Shanghai for 17 years. He resides in one of the city’s most international communities, along with his wife, daughter and 1-year-old granddaughter.

His job is to represent foreign views in an international residents’ chamber in the Gubei Civic Center. There, problems are discussed and solutions proposed.

“I regard myself as a bridge for residents from various nations living in the community,” said Blazquez, who speaks fluent Chinese and is well versed in Chinese culture.

He is a small part of the city government’s Top Agenda policy, aimed at giving local residents a greater voice in community affairs. The Ronghua neighborhood has established a residents’ chamber of 12 counselors, including six foreigners. In addition to Blazquez, the foreign representatives come from Japan, the Netherlands, the Philippines and Australia.

The chamber holds regular meetings once a month. The counselors bring to the body feedback from their communities: problems, suggestions for improvements, praise for systems that work well.

Sometimes, counselors even visit residents’ apartments to deal with specific grievances. For instance, a Japanese resident once complained that a Chinese neighbor upstairs made too much noise at night. A counselor from Japan talked to both neighbors to help resolve the problem.

“Most of our foreign counselors have been in Shanghai for decades, can speak fluent Chinese and understand and appreciate Chinese culture,” said Sheng Hong, Party chief of the neighborhood.

Most of them are also leaders among their compatriots in the area, so that makes it easier to communicate information to foreign residents and to get feedback from them, she said.

About half of the 12,000 households in the neighborhood are expats.

In the past, it was difficult for Sheng and her neighborhood team to manage the residential area to everyone’s satisfaction. Often their attempts to intercede to handle grievances only exacerbated situations because of misunderstandings arising from cultural differences.

“Expats have a greater concept of privacy, so it was difficult for us to knock their doors and talk with them when problems arose,” Sheng said.

Participation encouraged

The neighborhood committee began recruiting foreign residents for the residents’ chamber last year. Notices in multiple languages were posted around the neighborhood to encourage their participation.

One of the foreign counselors is Michelle Teope-Shen, president of the Filipino Community Association in Shanghai. An architect, she has lived in China for 27 years and was a project manager on the construction of the Grand Hotel Beijing in 1987.

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“My passion for bridging Eastern and Western cultures led me to become a counselor for the residents’ chamber,” she told Shanghai Daily.

Teope-Shen is also chairwoman of the Beacon of Love charity, which helps children with heart disease, and a member of the Hongqiao International Volunteers.

As a chamber counselor, Teope-Shen said she walks along Huangjincheng Street in the neighborhood every day to talk with residents and observe what goes on in the local environment.

“When I started my walks, I found they afforded me the opportunity to observe everything with a closer eye,” she said.

She was the one who proposed that notices posted by the neighborhood committee, which weren’t catching the attention of foreign residents, be recast as banners. Her idea was accepted by the chamber.

Blazquez recently proposed that a public meeting area be set up in the community hall so that football fans could gather to watch games together.

“I made the suggestion because we found that female residents were participating more in community activities than their male counterparts,” he said.

The proposal is under discussion.

Blazquez said he is lucky that his home, his office and the civic center are only 10 minutes apart.

“The chamber duties make me feel quite fulfilled. I’ve even made some good Chinese friends,” he said.

Pets loom large in the catalog of resident grievances. The chamber has drawn up a new Pet Charter setting forth etiquette for pet owners.

The counselors have also invited pet experts to the community to discuss issues such as dog behavior and training.

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