Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My Santa Experience in South China

I lived five years in mainland China, from 2001 to 2006. I arrived in October in the sub tropical area of Guangzhou, better known as Canton to most people in the west. I worked at a private school, Yinghao College--the very first private boarding school in China, in the lovely green and mountainous countryside of Conghua, 35 miles North East of Guangzhou.
Yinghao College, Conghua, Guangdong PRC

 It was a great introduction to my first time in China, as it isolated me somewhat from the full brunt of China itself. It was ideal. The food at the school was horrid, not what one would expect from China, but again, I was at a school, not a three or four star hotel or restaurant. Next door was a resort hotel however, as Conghua is famous for its hot springs, which the school was tapped into literally; my shower was supplied with real hot spring water, and I could turn on the tap, set a plastic stool in the bath and enjoy a steam! When I wanted better food, I went to the hotel or other small restaurants that had sprung up specifically because the school was there and the hot springs.

By the end of December however, I soon left this lovely environment for the lure of the big city of Canton. It was a money issue--I would triple my salary by doing so--a no brainer.

I can't recall much of anything about my first Christmas in China as it just isn't observed there. That seems kind of odd because I found out much later that nearly all the world's Christmas decorations are made in that area, as well as most of the worlds sexual aid devices, and on and on. The Pearl River Delta--or the PRD as it's called among the expatriate crowd--is also known as "The World's Factory Floor". More than *half of all goods made in China come from that area. It has become an actual "Megacity" environment.

*in 2003 40% of all manufactured goods in China came out of the PRD.

Once rooted in Guangzhou, I shortly found a few free lancing jobs and quickly got to know the place. I as making really good money and one job I had during the day was working for an English language immersion school, where I again lived on the city-mountain of Bai Yun Shan (White Cloud Mountain) in the heart of the city.
Baiyun Shan, Guangzhou PRC

 My second Christmas in China, I had a much better and memorable experience. By this time I had found a nice little family run restaurant that catered to the embassies and consulates and also set out a great buffet for every western holiday of importance. At the school that year I bought a small one meter Christmas tree that were now being sold at a local department store, along with assorted ornaments and garland. I let my students do all the decorating and it was such a joy to watch them hang little ornaments and string garland around the room. It was brand new to the all and they were enthralled.

The third year in Guangzhou I was approached by a friend who said she had a contact who wanted a "store Santa" for the very first time at a fairly new shopping mall. I thought about it, and then thought "why not?" and so agreed. I met with the contact, another Chinese woman, rather young, who was in charge of public relations at the shopping center. This mall was on par with any large city mall in the USA. It was four stories and had hundreds of shops. 
Tee Mall, Guangzhou PRC

My "Santa's Workshop" would be on the last floor. I showed up about an hour before the event. A makeup artist was there, with the suit. I brought shorts and a T-shirt, as I figured it might be hot in the suit. It was quality stuff, probably a $200 outfit, no joke! The beard was incredible--something out of a Hollywood makeup department. I found out later that the suit and the make up artist were on loan from the local movie studio (I lived in Guangzhou--otherwise known as Canton--a city of 10 million people, and yes, a burgeoning movie business). When it came time, I was walked out a side door about 50 meters from the throne. The PR lady and her assistant accompanied me, and everyone we walked by were awe struck. At the thrown area, there were two young Chinese girls in wonderful green elf outfits. There was already a line of about 50 people, half of them children. I took my seat, and waited for the first child. The little Chinese girl was about four I think, and she was all eyes and open mouth. They sat her on my lap, and I said stuff to her in Chinese (I was relatively fluent in Mandarin after two years--another reason I was chosen), while her happy mother took photos. Within 20 minutes the line had grown double in size, as they were announcing that "Shen Dan Lao Ren" was on the fourth floor (literally "Christmas old man") through the audio system.
A few kids began screaming in sheer terror the moment the elves got them up to me--understandable--I have seen that in America, so nothing new. What I found so enjoyable were the bright eyes, the sheer wonder of my grand beard, and on occasion, a kiss on the cheek, encouraged by the mother or father.
There were some young school girls as well, and they had a blast. I did this for three days, and made about as much money doing it if I had worked three weeks at my regular job, which was editing for an Chinese educational book publisher. The next year a good friend of mine took over the reins and he also enjoyed it. 

No comments:

Post a Comment