Of Guards and Greeters Every

Of Guards and Greeters

Every afternoon I look down from my office high up in the huge SOHO complex to witness another of those phenomena so unique to China. This one is the Changing of the Guard. Just about every building and every business has its own guard, if not an entire fleet. They invariably wear military-like uniforms and at first I thought they were actually soldiers of the People’s Army. Currently they all wear long coats and big fur hats, but I presume that will end once the weather improves.

Having security guards is nothing strange. What’s strange is the ritual they go through each and every day. Across from my office is a huge complex of high-rise apartment houses, and each tower has its own set of guards. Before going to work at their afternoon shift, the guards all congregate and stand in rows, in full uniform and at full attention, as the King of the Guards gives them what appears to be a pep talk. After a few minutes, they all march off in neat columns, goose-stepping to their respective stations. I have since found out that this goes on just about everywhere in Beijing (if not all of China).

Taking one’s job seriously and inspiring your team — these are obviously noble endeavors. Still, I can’t help but wonder what the King of the Guards says to his minions each day; is it always the same? Do they enjoy it? Do they receive some benefit, spiritual or otherwise, from it? After all, once they march off they essentially sit around all day and do nothing (which is not to say they are not important; but ideally a security guard will never have to do anything, except deter trouble simply by being there).

The guards are everywhere. Outside of every restaurant there are the guards. On the street outside of every business and every building, and in the lobbies as well. As to the ones who stand outside, I have virtually no idea what they do, yet there they are, permanent fixtures in uniforms that are often dazzling, if not a little scary, to behold.

A little higher up in rank than the guards, yet equally inexplicable (to me, anyway) are The Greeters. This is something that originally startled me, and now I just take it for granted. It is very nice to be greeted warmly when you enter a restaurant, but why, I wondered, do they need four women in bright red uniforms to stand by the door to say hello and goodbye to every customer? Wouldn’t one be sufficient?

There is a famous Peking Duck restaurant here (no relation to this site) whose name escapes me at the moment — Quanjude something — that has no fewer than eight (you heard me, eight) greeters standing around the front door. The first (and only) time I ate there, I was overwhelmed as the brilliantly clad greeters shouted “Huanying guangling!” (“Welcome inside,” I think) and grinned at me as though they had just seen god. And that’s what they do, all day, all night, day after day and year after year.

I frequent a Cantonese restaurant near my office, and I enjoy it even though they only have four greeters (which is four less than Quanjude). I would probably love it if they had only one or (I’d better not say this to loud) no greeters at all. Still, it’s obviously part of the culture and it’s certainly intriguing to experience. I only wonder, when I get back to the States and walk into a restaurant to find no greeters at all, will I feel dejected, despised and ignored? It’s funny, how these things grow on you and you come to expect them, to take them for granted. There are a lot things that absolutely shocked me when I first arrived, and now I don’t even flinch. (Is that a good sign or a bad one?)

The Discussion: One Comment

Very nice site!

September 16, 2005 @ 2:04 pm | Comment

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