Confessions of a Story Uncle

Occasionally I get to be the 'story uncle' at MissB's kindergarten, reading in English to the local children. As I walk along to the classroom, my mind runs ahead, painting a pretty picture of the scene that awaits - a crowd of young students, waiting eagerly to drink from the fountain of knowledge...

The teachers do their best to maintain the illusion but alas, when you're five, you tend to tell it how it is.

One of last year's K3 students leaps to mind. While I was reading, he was clearly far away in space, oblivious to the exciting plot of 'Mrs Begg's Beautiful Egg'. No problem for a professional - I gave him the blast of extra-steely eye contact that usually snaps them back to earth.

His eyes gradually came back into focus, he sat up, gave me his full attention .... only to quietly mouth out "Blah, blah, blah...".

Maybe he doesn't like eggs?

Several months later, and here we are at Christmas time. As the token paleface, I get promoted to 'story santa'. So, on with the Santa suit and back to K3, Santa's nemesis, we go. We start with a song. That goes well, so after a quick introduction to today's story about colours, I throw out an easy warm-up question: "What is santa's favourite colour?"

A forest of little hands shoot up. My heart gladdens. It's a new year, and a new K3 class. How hard can teaching English really be?

Santa: "Yes miss, you in the first row, what is santa's favourite colour?"

Miss replies: "Why are your trousers so short?"**

And she asked in Cantonese, not even in English. 


Apart from the distracting effect of my trousers,  the Santa suit brings several other challenges. First there's the bushy beard and hair which, as my pen-name suggests, are far from natural*. The challenge? Well once they're in place, you develop a bad case of tunnel-vision. It's rather like looking at the world through a fur-lined cardboard tube, which takes the edge off the laser-like eye contact mentioned earlier.

Next there's the padding, as I am rather more slender than tradition demands. I keep it simple, favouring the trusty 'cushion up the front' approach. The first year we went for cushion above the belt, as I was worried the cushion might fall out. Bad idea.

Walking out of the changing room and all was fine. Then I sat down, the cushion pushed up, and it being a pointy-cornered cushion I was transformed into a rather perky Mrs Santa. Someone could have had an eye out. Santas take note: belt across the cushion, no exceptions.

Once you're all dressed up, your next concern is the effect of the whole outfit on your customer base. Trouser length is obviously a key concern with this demographic, but you need to be prepared for other typical reactions, based on the age of the audience:

  • K1 - hysteria: There will always be at least one child who has been brought up to believe that Santa's sack is for carrying young children back to the North Pole, where he roasts them over a spit. As a parent, I can see the advantage of this story as a way to minimise expenses on presents at Christmas. But as a Santa it means you'll have to deliver your story across the hysterical sobbing of at least one child.
  • K2 - indecision: Ok, so we all know that there's not really a Santa Claus, and that's just MissB's father with a fake beard. But.... those clothes are soooo red.... you just can't be sure....

    MissB is a fine example. She knew I was going to be Santa, and happily introduced me to the class as her father. But when the teachers tried to bring her over for a photo with me, she was overcome with the father christmassyness of it all. The flowing beard, the majestic red coat with real nylon fur trimming, those shiny boots... It was all too much.

  • K3 - worldliness: "I know who you are", "That's not a real beard", etc, etc.

    Do they know how hurtful that is for Santa to hear?

And finally, there are the thermal results of all these preparations. Christmastime in Hong Kong can be as warm as an English summer's day. Add in woolly hat, facial fur, red coat, and several cushions up your front, and you're not going to be worrying about the cold.  So, accept all offers of air-conditioning and leave the beard & hat off until the last moment. And while dancing the "Hokey kokey" with K3 was a lot of fun, maybe go for some simple seated activity next year.

Tomorrow is the kindergarten's Christmas party, where Santa will be kept busy. The party is outside, the weather forecast is for 20C, clear skies, and 85% humidity.

Where's Frosty when you need him?

As I sit here in my flowing beard, red hat and shiny black boots, it's the perfect time to wish you a very Merry Christmas from Batgung. Thanks for reading, and special thanks to everyone that has contributed their thoughts and photos to share with us all.


* Advice to prospective Santas: bring your own beard. I only wised up to this after my first visit. Otherwise, as the beard and moustache creep into the corners of your mouth for the umpteenth time, your focus will drift from delivering hearty ho-ho-hos to wondering just how many other people have used the beard before you. As a now seasoned Santa impersonator, I never leave home without my own hat, beard, and shiny rain boots in my back pack. Think of me as the Clark Kent of the Santa world. (Though the prevalence of mobile phones has made finding a convenient phone box a real pain.)

** Santa's short trousers seemed to be the main take-away from the lesson. Through a neighbour whose daughter is in the same class, we heard her summary of the visit: "The story was ok, but Santa has grown a lot taller than last year - his trousers were really short!"


Festival Walk

It wasn't you being Santa at Festival Walk in Kowloon Tong yesterday was it?
Scared the life out of my son :-)

Did you check ...

.. how long his trousers were?!