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Every step he takes

Retired worker maps bustling Pudong New Area stride by stride

SHANGHAI -- Most of us would recognize Shanghai's Pudong New Area by eye - with its distinctive buildings like the Oriental Pearl.

Shen Ruqun, however, knows the area by foot.

For nearly 20 years, the 80-year-old man has largely relied on walking barefoot to record the changing landscape of China's financial and commercial hub - the iconic epitome of China's modernization.

Shen Ruqun, 80, has co-drafted 15 editions of the map of Shanghai's Pudong New Area based on his research using his own footsteps as measurements.

He co-drafted 15 editions of the map of Pudong based on his own research and observation - using his footsteps as measurements.

"One footstep is about 75 centimeters in length, and I used it as a reference for calculating the distance between different buildings," said the cherubic bus company retiree, who is so familiar with the urban layout of the region that he is now considered a "living map" of Pudong.

However, Shen said he might still lose his way on the streets today if he stayed at home for several months, as the "pace of change in Pudong is much faster than my footsteps and the updates on the maps".

"Every time I finished drawing a map, I thought that was the end of my job. But before I knew it, rapid changes in the area would make everything different and then I have to include them into a new map," he said.

The crisscrossed streets and mushrooming high-rises labeled on the maps are the crystallization of almost two decades' of field study by Shen and three of his co-workers, who are all retirees from the Shanghai Pudong Bus Company.

Their maps not only record the physical geography of the area, but also highlight major high-rises, companies and urban amenities, in a bid to showcase the business environment of Pudong together with its urban attractions.

The idea of drafting such a map of Pudong, on the eastern bank of the Huangpu River, first struck Shen in 1990 when the district began to witness large-scale development following the central government's plan to develop the area as a further promotion of the reform and opening up policy.

As a worker at the bus company, Shen had the privilege of traversing the area on a daily basis and he was simply "taken aback" by the rapid changes. Everything looked so new and prosperous, and making a map, he thought, would make travel to the area more convenient and may even promote business development.


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