Fu Xiangdong disseminates medical and health knowledge at Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. — (Ti Gong)
"A spring silkworm produces its silk until the end of life, while a candle keeps burning until it turns to ash."
The verse by Tang Dynasty (618-907) poet Li Shangyin might describe the spirit and personal sacrifices of people who do volunteer work in Shanghai with relentless commitment.
This year, the Shanghai Science Popularization Education Awards created a new section to honor volunteers. One of its first recipients is Fu Xiangdong, 63, a retired educator who has been doing volunteer work in local museums for 17 years.
Fu is one among the 500-plus registered volunteers working at the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum and its downtown branch, the Shanghai Natural History Museum -— two of the busiest museums in the city.
Sporting a green volunteer waistcoat, this former lecturer at the Shanghai University of Medicine and Health Sciences spends a day at each museum every week, explaining the structure of the human body and health-related issues to visitors in popular half-hour lectures.
His ties to the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum trace back to 2001, when the museum first opened to the public. At that point, the concept of museum volunteers was relatively new. Fu applied to become a volunteer, telling officials that he wanted to help popularize science. His application was approved.
At the beginning, Fu found it challenging to go from the front of a classroom of students with academic qualifications to speaking to a group of people of varied backgrounds and education.
"It was a larger stage," he explained.
Many of the museum visitors he addressed were children. He adapted his style to try to find everyday imagery to get across his message. For example, when referring to the human stomach, he didn't say it was part of the digestive tract but rather described it as a "washing machine."
"We never overload a washing machine or it may break down," he told them. "Likewise, if you eat too much, your stomach will also be overloaded and could go wrong."
Fu's method of connecting with ordinary people paid off.
"Once, after I told museum visitors about scientific research on transplanting a human ear on the back of a rat, a teenage boy came up and eagerly asked more questions about that," Fu said. "Years later, when I met him again, he was an undergraduate at Fudan University majoring in genetics."