Shanghai's 16 million people are being asked to make a huge sacrifice for the public good. Just as the season begins for steamed hairy crabs - a local delicacy - the city is calling on diners to go easy. Eat in moderation, they are told, so there will be less rubbish dumped on the city's streets to greet delegates for this week's Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit meeting. Residents are also being asked to lend a hand in other demanding ways. 'Girlie' karaoke bars have been told to close their doors discreetly for the next few weeks, unsightly public toilets have been replaced with new and improved versions and about 10,000 volunteers have been enlisted to give the city a good scrub. Taxi drivers have been asked to learn basic English phrases, and just in case United States President George W. Bush - or any other distinguished guest from the 21 member economies represented - has mastered the Chinese written language, schoolchildren are hunting down signs with incorrect characters. For Shanghai, this is a big moment and it is taking no chances. Although US air strikes against terrorists in Afghanistan could distract some attention from the big event, Shanghai will be thrust to the centre of the global stage as world leaders gather there. 'This is the big shop window for them,' said a foreign diplomat in Shanghai. The meeting of the Apec forum is an opportunity for Shanghai to show off its impressive achievements and hopefully convince captains of industry that this is the place to be. Indeed, Mayor Xu Kuangdi has already predicted the meeting will bring huge benefits to the city. He said last Sunday that the municipal government spent 300 million yuan (about HK$281 million) preparing for it. 'We have never been so eager to open up. The meeting is a good chance.' Although the heads of state will have only two days of meetings at the gathering - on Saturday and Sunday - armies of lesser officials and businessmen will be on hand throughout this week. If Shanghai can make its case, the payoff could come in the form of more foreign investment as well as tourism, trade and conferences, analysts say. At the very least, Shanghai will be able to raise its international profile a notch or two. China has already grabbed the attention of business leaders as the mainland's economy chugs along at a seven to eight per cent growth rate this year while the world economy struggles. And Shanghai is one of the engines pulling China's economy along. 'Shanghai is the dragon's head of the nation's economy,' says Wang Lingyi, an economist at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. 'Holding the Apec meeting here will have a positive effect on the city over the longer term.' That view is shared by others. 'We may not see that much of an impact now, but there could be more conferences and investment here over the longer term,' says Chen Yuxian of the Shanghai Commercial Commission. Even in the short term, the money spent on sprucing up the city will contribute to economic growth, analysts say. And as Shanghai is in the public eye, what will be seen is a city transformed. Less than a decade ago, Shanghai was known as a city that didn't work. Its telephone lines were hopelessly jammed, housing was in short supply and streets were clogged with traffic. From taxis to shops and even hospitals, service was indifferent at best. The once-grand buildings of the 1920s and 1930s had fallen into disrepair and the city that had been known as the Paris of the Orient had only fond memories of its pre-communist grandeur. But through a combination of tax and other policy incentives as well as the resourcefulness of local officials, the city is laying claim to some of its former glories. Ask Shanghai residents these days about the future of their city and they might confidently say it will become Asia's New York. Shanghai is already a magnet for foreign investment. Most of the top multi-nationals are there - drawn to the Pudong New Area, a development zone carved out of farmland. The Government spent heavily on bridges and tunnels spanning the Huangpu River, which cuts through the city, ending a reliance on slow and rickety ferries. Many of those attending the Apec forum have already begun flying into Shanghai through the sleek Pudong airport, built at a cost of more than $12 billion to help ease the strain on the older Hongqiao facility. Shanghai is also eager to show it can take risks. It is gambling on magnetic levitation - a commercially untested technology - for the high-speed train that will link the airport to the city centre. Shanghai and its German partners in the project believe they have the formula for high-speed transport for the rest of the country. In the next two decades, Shanghai will also spend more than $90 billion on a massive construction programme to give the city its long-sought deepwater port and a brand new container-handling facility that could turn Shanghai into a world superport. And the city will want to show off its new stock exchange, built at a cost of $1.1 billion and now the symbol of Shanghai's financial clout. Round that out with a world-class museum, a stunning Grand Theatre and a string of environmental projects, and the city has much to brag about. To ensure that traffic flows smoothly and visitors take home an image of Shanghai efficiency, starting from tomorrow offices will be closed for the rest of the week. Only official cars will be allowed to move unrestricted. Others will have to wait. Asked whether all the fuss would put a bit more money in his pocket, one taxi driver uses his newly acquired English. 'No,' he says, adding that those traffic restrictions would eat into his take-home pay. So what benefits does he see from the week's activity? 'At least people will have a long holiday,' he says. William Kazer ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) is a member of the Post's Shanghai bureau.