Expats who need basic information about Shanghai can now turn to a free hotline offered by the municipal government.
The Shanghai Call Centre, which was officially launched on Friday, provides both English and Chinese information about tourist destinations, culture, sports, trade, medical care and other issues of daily life in Shanghai.
The metropolis leads other big cities in China and sets a good example, organizers said.
It will also make it easier for expatriates, and Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan citizens, to live in Shanghai.
"I used to have to dial 114," a directory service provided by a Chinese company, said Patrick Campbell-Dunn, who is in Shanghai on a short-term study programme.
He said: "It sometimes takes 5 minutes to get the right information."
He said he once tried to get information about a school, but the "114" operator could not understand him. In the end, he had to turn to a convenience store for assistance.
Mercedes Gonzalez, director of a Mexican university's Shanghai office, said such services were convenient and necessary.
"The biggest obstacle in my life in Shanghai is communication. I can't read anything," she said.
"I can speak a little Chinese, but people here are very shy when answering my questions," she said.
But the centre local foreigners can get through by dialling 962288, people outside Shanghai must dial 021962288 and overseas callers need to dial 8621962288 should be able to provide the right information, she said.
She was concerned about whether telephone operators would really be able to understand what she says because many foreigners, like her, speak English with an accent.
Nnongha Alban, a Nigerian postgraduate at Fudan University, who was sent to try the number at the launch ceremony on Friday, relieved her of that worry.
"The service is great and I like it," said the young Nigerian, who asked about a sports club and was recommended one in the downtown area.
The hotline will run 24 hours a day and seven days a week and is backed by a group of 12 operators, all graduates with bachelor degrees.
Gu Qi, a graduate of Shanghai International Studies University, now works at the centre after two weeks' training.
"The information I provide is from a database that is regularly updated," she said.
She said that during the trial period she answered five calls from Britons inquiring about residence certificates.
She anticipates that many questions will be related to visas.
With roughly 100,000 permanent foreign residents in the city, Shanghai is taking steps to present a better international image.
Sponsored by the information office of Shanghai municipality and the foreign affairs office of Shanghai municipal government, the call centre was set up by the Wenhui-Xinmin United Press Group.
(China Daily May 29, 2006)