Slogans can be deceiving

Liang Hongfu

2008-01-02 00:18:32  China Daily      

Before the demolition of a row of old tenement buildings in my neighborhood began, the construction company put up a big banner in bright red with the characters wen ming shi gong, or work in a civilized way, in glaring white. It was a most reassuring sign because I had to walk past the site twice everyday to and from work. But I was quick to learn that slogans can be most deceiving. In the following months, the contractor had commandeered a long stretch of the pavement along the busy junction of Huaihai Donglu and Renmin Lu, forcing pedestrians out on to the road teaming with buses, heavy trucks and speeding cars. Those people who happened to pass by the site had to put up with not only the noise and dust, but also the occasional flying debris that slipped through the cracks in the protective screens on the scaffolding. There were no lights or warning signs at the entrance to alert on-coming cars and pedestrians of fully loaded dump trucks backing out into the busy traffic. And when it rained, which happens quite often in Shanghai winter, the dirt spilling out from the site turned the entire neighborhood into a muddy mess. All told, the work carried out on that site was anything but civilized. In Hong Kong, where I come from, such irresponsibility by a building contractor would never be tolerated. It does not necessarily mean that the building contractors in Hong Kong are more civic minded than those in Shanghai. But in Hong Kong the rules are enforced with much more vigor than they are here. Diligent enforcement has the effect of raising people's expectations, encouraging them to come forward to report cases of gross negligence that pose danger to life and property. This would, in turn, serve to remind potential offenders that they cannot hope to get away with actions deemed to be a public nuisance. Reporting an offence in Shanghai is not always a simple matter. My personal encounter with the bureaucratic cold shoulder involved a call to the police to alert them to a particularly aggressive street lady prying on a stretch of the road between my office and home. The person at the other end of the line, who did not bother to identify herself, kept asking why I was calling the police if I had not suffered any loss or injury. As she became more and more irritated on the phone, I gave up. Since I made the call, I have not seen that woman on the street again. I would never know if it was because of the police. But I would think twice next time I want to file a complaint because of the hassle. I guess we have been spoilt by the Hong Kong government bureaucracy which seems most responsive to our gripes, no matter how trivial. That impression is reinforced over and over again when we watch on television firemen answering calls to rescue stray cats trapped in trees, or building inspectors leading teams of workers to clear debris left on the streets by careless contractors. When we lose our way in Hong Kong, the first person we turn to for directions is usually the beat policemen. I once asked a police officer for directions to a restaurant in the neighborhood. He not only showed me how to get there but also told me that the restaurant's name had been changed after it was taken over by the new owner. To be sure, the Shanghai municipal government has made significant progress in improving the quality of life in the city. It is all the more regrettable that such genuine efforts should be marred by occasional oversights that cause public inconvenience. It does not cost a lot of money to be responsive to citizens' complaints. It just takes a lot of tact.