Prob­lem-solv­ing brigade one big, happy fam­ily

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By YU RAN


If there’s some­thing strange in your neigh­bor­hood, who you gonna call?

For ex­pats living in Shang­hai, the Shang­hai Call Cen­ter hot­line (962288) would be a good start.

The city’s first and only 24-hour mul­ti­lin­gual in­ter­na­tional hot­line ser­vice was launched in May 2006 in the build-up to the Shang­hai 2010 World Expo.

It now ranks as the quick­est way for new­com­ers and vet­eran ex­pats alike to get their queries solved on what­ever sub­ject they can think up — visas, ac­com­mo­da­tion, pets, traf­fic, se­cu­rity, dining and so on.

The cen­ter is manned by a team of 60 well-ed­u­cated ladies from six coun­tries who pa­tiently an­swer ques­tions and give ad­vice in a to­tal of 13 lan­guages.

“Our team is young, en­thu­si­as­tic and pro­fes­sional. We help ex­pats with their daily prob­lems any­time, any­place,” said Yue Di, the cen­ter’s direc­tor.

The women, who are in their 20s, field 350 calls a day on av­er­age, said Yue. Most are con­ducted in English, but French, Korean and Ja­panese calls are also com­mon. They give in­for­ma­tion on such ar­eas as travel, trans­port, ed­u­ca­tion, health­care and en­ter­tain­ment.

“We’re kind of like for­eign­lan­guage am­bas­sadors for the city,” said Yue. “Our job is to ease peo­ple’s nerves.”

Many of the op­er­a­tors the job chal­leng­ing.

“I found that many of the things I’d learnt to say for years were way too aca­demic,” said Lily You, deputy su­per­vi­sor of op­er­a­tions. She is in charge of an­swer­ing calls from English speak­ers. “I had to learn how to speak with peo­ple nor­mally in English.”

Apart from gen­eral in­quiries about ad­dresses and di­rec­tions, the team also find them­selves in the mid­dle of dis­putes be­tween, for ex­am­ple, a for­eigner and their maid, or Their role of­ten keeps switch­ing. In one af­ter­noon they may have to play doc­tor, coun­selor and per­sonal as­sis­tant.

“I never know who is go­ing to be on the end of the phone or what their prob­lem will be,” said You. “It’s im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict what the day will throw at you. But that’s also what makes the job ex­cit­ing. It keeps you on your toes the whole time.”

Fig­ures from the city au­thor­i­ties showed that the num­ber of ex­pats living in Shang­hai has been ris­ing in re­cent years. The fig­ure ex­ceeded 173,000 by

find the end of 2012, a 6.7 per­cent in­crease from the pre­vi­ous year, mak­ing up a quar­ter of the to­tal on the Chi­nese main­land.

The Chi­nese mem­bers of the team have lan­guage-train­ing cour­ses twice a week to keep abreast of the lat­est lingo.

“I can guar­an­tee that ev­ery­one is mak­ing progress ev­ery day,” Yue said.

To keep its staff happy, the cen­ter strives to cre­ate a homely work­ing at­mos­phere. To this end, it re­lo­cated from an of­fice build­ing to a cozy loft with two floors last July.

It has a living room equipped with a cof­fee ma­chine, mi­crowave, oven and TV. There is even a small gym so they can work out be­tween long stints field­ing calls.

“I love work­ing here. I feel free. I get to hang out with such friendly col­leagues, and it’s ex­cit­ing never know­ing what the next per­son is go­ing to ask of you,” said Malaysia’s Cyn­thia Chou, chief of the cen­ter’s West­ern lan­guage ser­vice depart­ment.

Chou came to Shang­hai a year ago to study Man­darin from scratch. She is now flu­ent.

“We’re work­ing more like a fam­ily with com­mon thoughts and hob­bies. We share in­ter­ests, learn lan­guages from each other and get to grow up to­gether,” she said.

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