Rare Chinese export: Santa Claus learns to eat with chopsticks
Janne Laine gets Father Christmas gig in Chinese theme park
By Jorma Erkkilä
A man wearing a red Santa Claus suit eats with chopsticks in a conference room on Aleksanterinkatu in Helsinki.
This is a somewhat unusual sight to see at the World Trade Center in the core of Helsinki’s business centre, where men usually wear business suits.
But the task for which 43-year-old Turku resident Janne Laine is preparing himself is also somewhat unusual. In a week he travels to China as Santa Claus. The gig, which extends through May, will take him to Mohe, in the far north of China, where Christmas World, a theme park dedicated to Christmas, was completed last year.
Laine is spending the days before the trip studying the language and culture of the country. Learning to eat with chopsticks is part of his training.
According to Erlin Yang, CEO of the China Tekway company, the Chinese see Santa Claus as the bringer of friendship, happiness and hope. That is why many adults and children want to meet Santa and to be photographed with him. Tens of thousands of people have already visited the theme park, and Yang expects the number to grow.
“Since Santa Claus is of such great importance, there is great responsibility in the work. That is why it is important to have something to say”, Laine says, pondering his upcoming job.
“One’s behaviour needs to be calm – certainly no more exuberant than in Finland.”
Laine has performed as Santa Claus in different parts of Finland for nearly 20 years. In addition, he is a break-dancer, and has performed in Hungary and once in the Soviet Union.
“Laine was chosen from among about 50 applicants based on his experience as a performer and his language skills”, Yang says.
In addition to relaxed conversation, Santa’s job description includes teaching Chinese Nordic walking [a type of outdoor exercise involving two poles in a manner similar to cross-country skiing]. He will also promote Finnish products and Finland as a travel destination.
The Christmas World was set up in Mohe in the northernmost corner of China. There is a ski resort nearby, and the area is expanding constantly. The park is near the Russian border, on the banks of the Amur River. In Chinese the name of the river is Heilong Jiang.
“The place is very similar to Lapland. In the winter the temperature can drop below -50 degrees. There is snow there already, which will melt in May”, Yang says.
Laine is not afraid of the prospect of cold weather.
“Cold weather suits me better than last summer’s hot weather in Finland”, Laine says diplomatically.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 5.11.2011
China International Travel Service: China’s Coldest Town Mohe Has Built a Home for Santa to Attract Tourists during Winter
JORMA ERKKILÄ / Helsingin Sanomat