Santa Claus is coming but watch that accentIt’s been almost a week since Kim Myeong-gyeong, 10, began waiting next to his computer. To pass the time he played the online Kart Rider racing game.
Occasionally he would press the “refresh” button to see if anyone had left a reply on the blog entry he had left on the Naver portal Q&A board.
Myeong-gyeong’s vigil began after he wrote a letter to Santa Claus. But he did not know where to send it, nor did he want to send the letter written in Korean.
“Anyone who will translate my letter and tell me where I can send it, I can give you all my Naver points,” he wrote in the blog entry. But for the first few days he mostly got replies that said it was perfectly okay for him to write in Korean because Santa can understand every language. There were also a few heartless entries such as the one he got from a boy who signed himself “fifth-grader” telling him that “there is no Santa, you idiot.”
Myeong-gyeong’s cry for help is one of around 100 new postings uploaded on the Naver board that ask for advice on sending letters to Santa. And they are not having much luck, according to the replies that have been received so far.
But one little boy’s problem is some adult’s chance to make money, especially when the adult knows that the Santa Claus Village in Finland is just too far away from Korea. So a series of Web sites have sprung up that say children can write to them instead if they want a reply from the jolly guy.
One example is Santa Letter, an agency that will dispatch letters to Finland for a child if he or she writes an e-mail and sends an international postage fee of 12,000 won ($13). Suk-suk dot-com, an online English education company, is currently inviting all kids who sign-in to their Web site to leave a message for Santa. The submission with the best English writing wins a prize ― an English workbook ― from the company. Lotte World is holding a similar event, advertising that the lucky winner will receive free admission to its amusement park.
“As far as we know there is no official Korean agency that delivers letters to Rovaniemi, which is Santa Claus’s village in the Finish province of Lapland,” said a public information official at the Embassy of Finland in Seoul. “But anyone can always send the mail directly to the village.”
Parents have also picked up on their children’s anxiety. Now, for those who are worried that they will not be able to persuade their children that Santa Claus comes while they are sleeping, another industry is booming ― one that dispatches Santa Clauses and Rudolphs right into people’s homes.
The Santa Academy, an institution for training Santa Clauses, say they have recruited 1,000 people so far who can work part-time as Santas.
“We educate them, we test them and we only dispatch the qualified ones,” said Park Kyung-duck, the head of the academy.
Toy News, a children’s online shopping mall, says that following a surge in business they are searching for more people who are willing to work as a Santa or a Rudolph during the holidays.
“Santa will get 120,000 won and Rudolph 250,000 won for working two days,” the mall staff said, explaining that the person playing Rudolph has to assist the Santa and drive him from home to home.
Park Kyung-soo (no relation to Mr. Park at the Santa Academy), the head of Santa Nara, says he is so busy these days he barely has time to go home. He spends most of his day in a basement studio in Seongbuk district auditioning dozens of Santa hopefuls and teaching them to act like a true Santa.
“There are so many things to prepare for if you don’t want to disappoint the kids who have been waiting an entire year to meet their favorite man,” said Mr. Park, a former theater actor dressed up in a scarlet Santa garment.
“What are you going to do if a child suddenly pulls on your white wig or beard? What are you going to say if a child points out you don’t sound like a Santa Claus? What are you going to do if a child bursts into tears because the gift is not what he wanted?”
Mr. Park’s prep sessions continued while some 10 Santa hopefuls who had passed the previous audition sat nervously waiting their turn to stand on stage and act like Santa. One day last week the audition was especially designed for young men in their 20s, most of whom wanted to make extra money during the expensive Christmas season while having fun with the kids.
“We don’t require that Santa be too old,” said Mr. Park. “What we care about is whether our Santa Clauses know how to communicate with the children and know what the children want fast.”
Kim Ju-yeong, 22, a theater major and Mrs. Claus hopeful shook out her hair from the Santa hat as she stepped down from the stage.
“I enjoy this acting stuff, but I think I need to practice talking in a more friendly way to children,” she said.
Kang Seong-jin, 20, said he was trying to overcome his heavy drawl, which he picked up while he was growing up in a town in North Gyeongsang province.
“I passed the initial Santa test because I can do some magic tricks and that was a plus,” he said smiling. “I hope that the kids don’t expect me to talk too much.”
Hearing this, Mr. Park scolded him that a Santa Claus should never be afraid of anything.
“Your homework for the next session is to work out what you should say in to a kid when he asks you why you sound like a person from Daegu,” he said.
Mr. Kang cringed.
But what can a Daegu person do? Pick up a perfect Seoul dialect in a few days?
“It’s not about accents, it’s all about being witty, actually,” Mr. Park whispered as he watched the young Santas go into practice again.
“I would say that I had broken down in Daegu on my way to Seoul and I picked up their dialect while fixing the sled,” Kim suggested.
by Lee Mina-a