SHANGHAI, Oct. 22 (Xinhua) -- The 143,200 foreigners living in Shanghai can be a firm evidence of the city's opening up and its mingling with the world. But for day-to-day society, foreigners remain far from being flawlessly assimilated with their native neighbors.
The toughness of the task is being put to the test in one multinational housing compound, where a particularly community-minded foreigner, or "laowai," has been welcomed onto a management committee to help unite residents of different nationalities and bridge some social gaps.
Brazilian-American Rosangela Christine Muller began volunteering last month as a "promoter of cultural progress" in Yanlord Gardens, an upscale neighborhood in Shanghai's financial heartland of Lujiazui. Sixty percent of Yanlord's 1,200 home-owners or tenants are not Chinese.
The role involves helping organize culture-based recreations for residents, both Chinese and foreigners, and Tuesday will be a big test of how much progress needs to be made in this regard.
Muller's first assignment was to mobilize residents to participate in Yanlord's activities for the Double-Ninth Festival(the 9th day of the 9th lunar month), an important occasion to show respect to seniors. The festival falls on Oct. 23 this year.
But she is not optimistic about her chances of success.
The 41-year-old says the calligraphy-writing on offer for the occasion has little chance of drawing non-Chinese, particularly young ones. "The committee tried to attract foreigners to this old people's festival, but they are not going to come," she warns. "They are younger. I told them to make something for kids because families will bring their little ones.
"I have found the job rather tricky so far. Foreigners think in one way and Chinese think in another."
But Muller seems like a good candidate to strengthen Chinese-foreigner relations in her community in the longer term.
After moving to Shanghai last year with her husband, the housewife gained acclaim for helping stop a conflict involving a resident's pet. A foreigner's dog barked at a Chinese resident, with the incident eventually escalating into a brawl due to the language barrier.
"Rosangela, who can speak a little Chinese, managed to calm it down," remembers Zhang Wenxia, Yanlord's committee head. "That's how we saw we had to get her involved in some way.
"I realized we cannot follow the beaten path to apply old management methods. We have many foreign neighbors, so we should change our service mentality."
Muller needed little persuading. Since arriving, she had been struck by how unassimilated Chinese and non-Chinese were. Although global business rules have formalized strong international relationships in Shanghai, the same can not be said for day-to-day society. Most foreigners in the city live in their own closed worlds, much like the inhabitants of China towns in America. They seldom mix with Chinese. When they do, value clashes are frequent -- whether over entertainment, space use, or how to discipline one's child.
So amateur diplomat Muller replied to Zhang, "I understand now that you need someone from the outside, so, hey, I can try but I don't really know how."
Since taking the role on the management committee, she says her biggest gain has been promoting language classes. Under her encouragement, many foreign residents have registered for committee-sponsored Mandarin tuition and are able to better communicate with their neighbors.
"If you cannot explain what you want, what happens to foreigners is they give up," she explains of a pre-class status quo under which the majority of laowai tended to communicate only with other laowai.
Also, there appears to be a two-way improvement. Muller has been tasked with polishing written community bulletins to make them easier to understand. She will remove much of the "Chinglish," the nonsensical cross between Chinese and English that often bedevils such notices.
While her calls for more parent-child campaigns have, it would seem, not been heeded in time for the Double-Ninth Festival, Muller has been designated chief designer for parent-child activities and she is endeavoring to see improvement by the end of the year.
Her main goal is to negotiate more open space for kids within the compound. "They need somewhere to play after school, a field space where they can run and not be hurt if they fall," she believes.
In the tree-blanketed, Chinese-styled Yanlord, kids have access to facilities like swings and slides, but yellow ribboning cordons off lawns to keep the grass from being trampled.
"Chinese think too much about school, school, school, and forget that children should learn to play, being active in open places and communicating," according to Muller.
The committee has reported her open space suggestion to the real estate management company, but Muller knows it will take time to see any change. After all, putting her recommendation into practice will cost money.
In residents' eyes, Muller has achieved a lot, but she has still found herself irritated at having to confront so many daily trivial troubles and seeing her attempts so regularly blocked by a "wall of culture," in her own words.
But she has decided to persist. "Bridging cultural gaps is going to take a long time, but it is going to happen," Muller says.