I am the Mall Santa of China

Before coming to China I was told that as a Westerner, I would likely be a curious site in some places. I was even warned that people would take photos of me. This has proved to be more true than I had even imagined.

One of the many photos I posed for at a Tibetan restaurant in Kangding

What caught me off guard was not only that I caught people taking photos of me, but that many people asked to take photos with me. (Occasionally they don't even ask, which can be slightly awkward when they walk up to me and put their arm around my shoulder.) Like a Santa Clause in an American mall, I constantly find people, especially young men, clamoring to have their photos taken with me. The photos you see here are a tiny fraction of the photos I've taken with strangers who have approached me and asked to take a photo with me, not to mention the dozens that I have caught sneaking a photo of me in passing.

These teenaged wood nymphs that we ran into at a dance festival in Chongqing came to me three separate times to pose for photographs

I understand that other Western tourists may experience this phenomenon. What is curious to note, however, is that when Chinese people approach us for a photo, it is 95% of the time for a photo with me, not with Kelsi. We have speculated that it may have something to do with my facial hair. Or maybe my height. 

One of several group photos I took at a monastary in Kangding

Santa Claus is not only known for being photogenic, but also for the amazement and delight he can inspire in children. Chinese children and I get along very well. On an almost daily basis, I will have an interaction where I will catch a kid on the street staring at me. I will wave back at the kid and say "ni hao" and usually the kid will smile and wave back. Occasionally a game of peak-a-boo will follow. Usually the parent will notice the game, smile, and encourage the kid to wave back and play along.

Playing in Xi'an

Of course, not every interaction goes well for Mall Santa and I am no different. Although rare, I have scared young children by being friendly. A very small percentage, I assure you. To my knowledge I have only brought one to tears.

Xi'an was also home to my only known unsuccessful interaction with a Chinese child

Though occasionally irksome, my seeming celebrity here in China is a pretty frequent source of entertainment for all parties.