Lily Wong (second left), the founder of the organization, recently serves as a guide for a Portuguesecouple (two in the middle) during a walking tour in May. photo provided to Shanghai Star
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They are greeters, a community of volunteers who delight in showing visitors around their hometown. Yu Ran and Yang Yuqing find out the attractions of the job.
As a resident, Zhou Zhehao used to think he knew everything about Shanghai, but each time he guides visitors around the city, he says he learns something new.
“The world never lacks beauty, just the eyes to discover it,” Zhou says.
The college student is a volunteer with the informal non-profit organization Shanghai Greeters.
As a “greeter” he shows visitors around the city for three to four hours each time, introducing them to local life and letting them taste local cuisine.
He became a greeter last year and has conducted more than 10 introductory tours and welcomed more than 400 visitors from about 20 countries.
“Students like me don’t have the chance to go abroad frequently and see other places. However, by talking with visitors, I develop sketches of other countries in my mind. It is a good way to broaden my horizons and make friends,” Zhou says.
Zhou studies information management at college, but he has been learning Spanish in his spare time and says being a greeter has helped him practice his language skills.
Shanghai Greeters is the 47th member of the Global Greeter Network, originally established in New York in 1992. Now it is a worldwide organization with volunteers in cities all over the world.
Lily Wong, the founder of Shanghai Greeters, grew up in Taiwan and now works in Shanghai. When she was a college student in 2005, she visited New York and was shown around the city by a greeter.
Working as a corporate English trainer, she wanted to provide a suitable platform for students to make foreign friends and practice the language, and she remembered the warmth and friendliness of her New York greeter and decided to establish the first greeters group in China.
Now, Shanghai Greeters has 90 members mostly in their 20s or 30s, including students and office workers.
Lu Zhihui has just become a greeter. She says she was too excited to sleep the night before her first assignment, which was guiding an American family around Qibao Old Street and the Bund.
She says she is honored to show foreigners around her city, but says her ability sometimes falls short of expectations.
“Visitors usually want to know the stories behind a place and what the name means. I would be dumbstruck if I didn’t do my research properly,” she says.
She also gets upset with her language shortcomings,
“I feel awkward when I don’t know certain English words or how to explain something.”
Wen Xiaolin recently guided a couple from the Philippines around the city.
“Introducing a city to strangers needs enthusiasm and understanding,” she says, adding that she now realizes she needed to pay more attention to the history and culture of the city.
Wong admits that students and those who have just entered the workforce may not make the best “greeters” since they lack experience. However, she believes it helps their personal development as well as their language skills.
Lily Wong says the organization helps overcome prejudices and improve interpersonal relations.
“It helps us realize both our limits and possibilities. It encourages us to overcome difficulties and change possibilities into reality.”
Naturally, the greeters eagerly look forward to positive feedback from their visitors.
A Russian visitor, Taranushin, left this message on the Shanghai Greeters website: “I managed to see one of the most beautiful and biggest cities in the world. In just one day, I managed to see all of Shanghai’s different sides.”
Another visitor, Hammad from Australian, said he “made friends for life”.
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By YU Ran & YANG Yuqing
Published on China Daily Website
August 15, 2014