Meet Sara Jane Ho, the woman teaching manners and etiquette to China’s elite

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Next Shark: 

Last month, we highlighted a short series by GQ titled The Bling Dynasty that covered China’s blossoming culture of the newly rich and the hurdles their society faces with so many instant millionaires and billionaires popping up everywhere.

One of those challenges has to do with knowing how to act rich. They are called tuhao, which roughly translates to “the rich but uncultured of China.”

Tuhao can buy luxury supercars, yachts, private jets and designer clothes like candy, but they struggle to pronounce anything in French, they don’t know how to use a fork and knife properly, how to dress fashionably or how to really spend their money, so they look to guidance from the continental culture that invented the highest form of class known — the West.

From the perspective of most Westerners (and GQ journalists), it’s almost too easy to poke fun at China’s newly rich and their peculiar idiosyncrasies, but there is a much larger context that most are either historically unaware of or unable to directly mention due to current politics.

China is one of the oldest civilizations this planet has ever seen, withstanding the test of time virtually unchanged for thousands of years. However, nearly a century ago, their imperial system had rotted from the inside out and was overthrown by a new regime. In 1949, the People’s Republic of China was established by an anti-imperialist named Mao Zedong. In 1966, he launched the Cultural Revolution, a 10-year counter-revolutionary movement that was marked by violent class struggle, street executions, labor camps, book burnings and the destruction of thousands of years’ worth of cultural treasures and knowledge. China’s old-world culture had essentially been erased, and the cult of Mao Zedong became the new school. This new culture started from nothing but proletarian struggle, and not until China’s open door policy and economic boom of the 1980s did their lack of old-world values become most apparent.

That’s where Sara Jane Ho comes in, but for business and marketing purposes, she’s simply known as Sara Jane. Educated on the American East Coast and polished at a Swiss finishing school, Ho founded the Institute Sarita, an etiquette school based in Beijing where she holds courses for China’s wealthy on how to fill the shell of elite status their newly found money has created for them.

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For about $15,000, wealthy Chinese, mostly women, take part in a 12-day course that consists of lessons like “Introduction to the Noble Sports,” “Pronunciation of Luxury Brands,” “British Afternoon Tea,” “Lingerie Lesson” and “Introduction to French Cuisine.”

We had the pleasure of interviewing Sara Jane over email, where she answered some questions about her clientele and how she is bringing old-world European class to modern China’s newly rich.

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Tell us about your background and how you ended up going to school in the U.S. and later to finishing school in Switzerland.

“I grew up in Hong Kong but felt constrained by the environment and schooling there, so as a teenager I left to attend boarding school at Phillips Exeter Academy. I felt that the States better suited my personality. I went on to Georgetown and after a stint of banking to HBS.

Some girl friends of mine had attended Swiss finishing school and I myself have always had a passion for hosting; I enjoy bringing people together and making new friends. The course at finishing school is on how to be a hostess: how to greet and take care of others, including table conversation, table seating, flower arrangement, deportment, gifting, afternoon tea, planning a menu, etc.”

What was the greatest challenge for you in growing Institute Sarita? What’s the most valuable lesson for business or dealing with people that you’ve learned since launching?

“A school is an old-fashioned business. I’m not a tech company that’s going to IPO in three years! I’m a brick and mortar kind of girl; I like laying the foundation and growing slowly but steadily. We currently have one school, in Beijing, and 80% of our clients fly from all over China just to take the course. We are very high end and a boutique, so scaling will be the greatest challenge in growing the business.

A mentor taught me that ‘in China, slow is fast.’ I decide and execute quickly – sometimes too quickly – but the highest realms of business are like taichi. Slow and deliberate. The Chinese way to deal with problems are to postpone them for as long as possible!”

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Do you feel there are facets of Chinese culture or history that may be responsible for China’s “lack” of modern etiquette?

“It’s important to remember that Chinese etiquette is thousands of years old. Confucius first taught us his values 2,600 years ago.

Recent history in China has led to some lost culture and values which we hope to bring back. Now that China is becoming an economic and political power on the global stage, Chinese need to better understand the rest of the world and let the world better understand China.

It’s also important to remember that no other country has gone through so much change in so short a time. We need to be patient.”

Do you think your courses allow your clients to “buy” class? What kind of mindset do you want your students to take away from your classes?

“Chinese are adopting a higher measure of quality of life. They have deeper desires, hold themselves to higher standards, and want to earn the respect of others – these are all indicators of social progress. My course is not for people to ‘buy’ class; etiquette is about how to put people around you at ease.”

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Do you believe successful people today exercise the amount of propriety you teach your students?

“Not necessarily! Career success does not necessarily mean one has good manners! Although manners and high EQ do help one’s career.”

Is there a single most “bad habit” you find yourself having to correct with your clients? What other behaviors perturb you the most?

“My students are actually very sophisticated and considerate individuals. I believe this is the biggest misconception of them. We are not a basic etiquette school, but rather an elegant finishing school. Princess Diana went to Swiss finishing school not to learn not to spit, but how to be a hostess and take care of others. There is no ‘bad habit’ or behavior that ‘perturbs’ me.”

It seems you teach etiquette to only female clients. What about men? Can you list off some things you think men in Chinese culture should change to follow proper etiquette?

“We have a men’s course but our specialty courses are for ladies: debutante for unmarried women and hostess for married women. If you look at finishing schools and charm schools in Switzerland or the USA, it is traditionally for women. I think all men all over the world could benefit from attending etiquette school!”

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Can you tell us about your passions outside of the world of business and etiquette?

“I have begun collecting contemporary Chinese art and am a young patron of the Ullens Centre of Contemporary Arts in Beijing.

I am also a competitive horse rider in Beijing’s show jumping circuit and competed in the Longines Masters in the National Olympic Stadium (Bird’s Nest) last year.

I find that spending time up close and personal with my horse renews my sense of wonder. When work gets busy with my school or social events, I simplify my life by spending time in nature with my horse. Riding is so old fashioned and there is a charm about it. I love the smell of the stables – it calms me and I am reminded of my childhood.”

Do you have plans to develop Institute Sarita further and expand?

“In May 2015, we will launch our second school, which will be in Shanghai. It is in a beautiful old villa in the French Concession and I am going through the plans with my designer right now. It will be a similar set-up to Beijing, with a concept store attached to the institute. So I am looking for cool products overseas to bring to the Chinese market!”

Top 20 Asian superheroines of DC Comics

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Amped Asia: 

Now you know we could not write an article about the Magnificent Asian Superheroines of Marvel without doing one about the Dynamic Asian Female Superheroes of DC. That’s not only bad form but poor nerd etiquette, and our tiger moms raised us way better than that. The Asian women of Detective Comics is a proud bunch and by no means play second fiddle to anyone, so without further adieu, here is our companion piece to help bring nerd order balance to the galaxy.

20) Traci 13 (Asian)

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Now we are not entirely sure if Traci 13 is Asian but her mother was named Meihu Lan, so just go with us here. What you need to know is that Traci 13 is of the homo magi line, or humans born with the power of sorcery, has a pet iguana named Leeroy, and the ability to cast “urban magic.” And no we don’t mean the David Blaine kind. Instead of failing at living in a water cube for a week, she can cast spells to teleport, create fire blasts, and even turn her pet iguana into a dragon. Hell if she can do that, maybe she should name the thing BRUCE Leeroy! HAHAH.. we will show ourselves out..

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19) Lady Shiva (Ambiguously Asian)

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Born in an unknown country, Lady Shiva for all intents and purposes is most likely Japanese, Manchurian, maybe Chinese, but some sort of Asian at the very least. She is the goddaughter of the martial arts expert O-Sensei, and not only became a master of the martial arts, but quite possibly the world’s deadliest assassin. As a fearsome mercenary for hire she has been equal parts enemy as well as ally to the one and only Batman.  As a member of the League of Shadows she has battled Batman to near defeat as well as trained Batman and Tim Drake in the arts of stealth. She even mothered Cassandra Cain, a former Batgirl, and even battled her own daughter to the death on more than one occasion. With a mother daughter relationship like that, it makes Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest look like Carol Fucking Brady.

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18) Judomaster (Japanese)

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Many of the entries on our DC list are not only members of such illustrious groups as the Justice League, Doom Patrol, but also DC’s elite group of super heroes that are Japanese Characters Not So Subtly Named After Japanese Things, or JCNSSNAJT for short.

Take for instance Judomaster, what possibly could the metahuman Sonia Sato’s powers be? Well like the two other Judomasters before her she has a mastery level use of the Japanese grappling art of Judo, plus the ability to create an “aversion field.” This power prevents her from any attacks directly aimed at her.  However it is not effective against random attacks, explosions, and thinly veiled stereotypes it seems.

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17) Katana (Japanese)

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Another proud member of the JCNSSNAJT, Tatsu Yamashiro became the super heroine Katana through a love triangle between herself, her husband, and her husband’s jealous Yakuza brother. Like most matters of the heart, this family quarrel ended with Tatsu’s husband being slain by her brother with a mystical katana known as the “Soultaker”, having his soul trapped in said sword, and Tatsu disarming and defeating her brother-in-law, thus obtaining the mystical sword.

After fleeing from the battle, a heartbroken Tatsu would train to be an elite samurai warrior and took on the code name Katana after the sword she wielded with her dead husbands soul.  Glad to hear these crazy kids worked it all out.

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When Chandi Gupta’s parents discovered that their daughter, later known as Maya, had elemental super powers, they did what any good parents would do: they left their daughter in the hands of a  strange and evil cult that believed she was the reincarnation of the Hindu god Shiva, and planned to sacrifice her. And you thought your parents leaving you at math camp was bad! After realizing what her parents didn’t, that the cult was bat shit crazy, Maya escaped to London. Eventually she would become a member of the Justice League Europe and used her ability to manifest a mystical bow and control water and fire to aid in the team’s many battles. One of which I am sure was convincing readers that the Justice League Europe was not as depressing as say other European incarnations of popular franchise leagues. NFL Europe anyone?

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15) Linda Park West (Korean)

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The wife of the Wally West version of the Flash, Linda Park West helps balance out the Flash. Essentially she is the Flash version of Superman and Lois Lane. Not a super hero per se, Linda Park is a plucky journalist with the smarts of a doctor. In fact she has even learned the medical knowledge of an advanced alien race when she went into exile with her husband the Flash. She once even rode a lightning bolt to return to her home world. Not to mention that as the mother of Flash’s twin babies, her most incredible super powers must be the ability to handle the sonic boom level thrusts of her husband.

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14) Naiad (Japanese)

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Mai Mizyazaki was your run of the mill environmentalist who was murdered by the Shogun Oil Company while protesting their drilling rig off the coast of Alaska. After her murder she would be reborn as Naiad the Water Elemental of Earth, a being with the ability to control the elements of water. She along with Firestorm, Swamp Thing, and Red Tornado, is one of the Four Elementals created by Maya the Earth Mother to protect the planet and help mankind evolve. So basically she is like Gi from Captain Planet, only much darker.

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13) Grace Choi (Korea)

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Grace Choi never quite fit in. She grew up tragically as a survivor of a child prostitution ring and lived as a transient on the streets with her metahuman powers remaining dormant until puberty.  When her powers started manifesting themselves she became recruited by Batman to join the Outsiders, a group of metahumans that did not conform to the mainstream image of the super hero community. Her powers of super human strength, heightened endurance, and regenerative healing would later be further explained due to her Bana Amazonian heritage. To recap, former child prostitute with Amazonian metapowers that blossomed during puberty. And you thought your awkward teenage adolescence with terrible haircuts and stretch marks was bad.

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Of the many dark and brooding characters on our lineup, Solstice is a nice bright ray of sunshine. Her upbeat demeanor is fitting since it matches her glowing gold costume and ability to emit golden blasts of concussive light energy. With all the tales of revenge, heroes born from tragedy, etc. it’s nice to see a change from all the negativity to a hero that is not such a Debbie Downer.

Oh wait, we forgot since the New 52, Solstice has been retconned to have been abused and altered by N.O.W.H.E.R.E  and even had her body changed to resemble black smoke that emits blue light through her eyes, mouth, and skin. I guess it’s back to reading Archie Comics for us again.

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11) Tsunami (Japanese)

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Miya Shimada started her career as an enemy against the United States during World War 2 after the prejudice she felt as a Japanese American by her fellow citizens. Soon she began using her superhuman strength, ability to swim at incredibly speeds, and ability to form and control tidal waves against the United States of America and heroes such as those in the All-Star Squadron. Fortunately for us, after being disillusioned by the brutality of the Axis of Amerika and characters like Sea Wolf, a Nazi wolfman that could breath under water, she eventually joined the fight for truth, justice, and the American way. She even sold war bonds at one point at the behest of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Confused? Don’t be, it was just a different time. A simple time when Americans could leave their doors unlocked, eat some apple pie, and enjoy a comic about a Japanese super heroine who used her water powers to fight Nazi wolfmen underwater.

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10) Ghost Fox Killer (Chinese)

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A member of the Great Ten, DC’s super hero team from the People’s Republic of China, Ghost Fox Killer is in charge of killing evil men and has the power to control the ghosts of these dead men. She even has the power to cause instant death simply through her touch, a convenient power considering that the city she calls home is powered by the souls of dead men. And what with global warming and all these days, it’s good to see a super heroine on our list go green. Plus if she ever decides to give up the super hero gig, with a name like Ghost Fox Killer, I am sure the Wu Tang Clan would welcome her with open arms.

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9) Mother of Champions (Chinese)

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Another member of the Great Ten, the Mother of Champions probably has the weirdest if not grossest of super powers on this list. The heroine known as the Mother of Champions is quite literally that. You see, Wu Mei Xing was a theoretical physicist who was exposed to the “god particle” by accident while working on a particle accelerator. This exposure triggered her metagene and granted her the power of well, super fertility and fecundity. You see, although she was at first unable to bear children after being exposed to the “god particle,” later she would discover her new found ability to birth twenty five identical super soldiers every three days! These soldiers only live for about a week aging 10 years every twenty four hours. A pretty unique super power to say the least, we can’t help but feel a bit grossed out by it. The clean up alone after one of her Terracotta litters is shudder worthy. Nothing is wrong with the miracle of life, but the Mother of Champions sounds more like a cross between a pregnant hamster and a respawn unit from Starcraft. Maybe instead of Mother of Champions she should consider renaming herself to “Super Milf.”

 

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Before there was the Super Young Team, more on them later, there was Japan’s original super hero team, Big Action Science. Basically Big Science Action was Japan’s version of the Justice League except with more haikus and super kawaii heroes. Case in point Goraiko, a psionic construct projected from the mind of a young unnamed Japanese girl in a high tech sensory deprivation tank.  This construct is apparently inspired by a Totoro like doll that the girl has in her tank, and can only speak in haikus and mathematical equations. Just add in a Keroppi Mecha and she completes a Japanese hat trick.

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7) Nazo Baluda (Japanese)

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Rounding out Big Science Action is their resident dark star stealth warrior. Little is known about her, except that roughly translated her name Nazo Baluda is combination of the Japanese word enigma and reference to Dominatrix Baluda, a leather clad character from a Japanese manga. And really that is good enough for us at Amped Asia, in fact that is what we look for on our interns’ resumes. *Hint hint class of 2015*

6) Shy Crazy Lolita Canary (Japanese)

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The next two entries on our list both happen to be members of Super Young Team, a Japanese group of super heroes who are influenced by American super heroes and Japanese pop culture. If that wasn’t already apparent with member names like Sunny Sumo, Most Excellent Superbat, and Shy Crazy Lolita Canary. The latter of which sounds like some sort of screen name used by Chris Henson on an episode of To Catch A Predator. With a name like that you would expect her super power to be luring some creepy dude into her house with a couple of Subway sandwiches and horrible intentions. In actuality, she is a winged super heroine in a school girl costume who is small enough to fit in someone’s hand and possesses a sonic scream similar to Black Canary.  So a little from column A and a little from column B.

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5) Shiny Happy Aquazon (Japanese)

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If you hadn’t already figured out by her name, Shiny Happy Aquazon is also a member of the aforementioned Super Young Team. Although she sounds like the designated child swim area at your local Japanese YMCA, she in fact has the ability to create hardwater constructs, making her invaluable during the Justice League’s annual Spring Break Wet T-Shirt contests in Ft. Lauderdale.

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4) Jenny Quantum (Singaporean)

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Apparently.. she’s playing with glitter art?

Born on January 1st 2000, Jenny Quantum became the Spirit of the 21st century and has the ability to manipulate reality on a quantum level. She can do anything her imagination can come up with. Apparently her sense of fashion is extraordinarily immune to near limitless powers. Seriously all you could come up with is a Singaporean flag t-shirt, jean jacket, and slacks combo? I mean we get the flag is a nod to your hot British predecessor Jenny Sparks but come on. Anyway she can be seen currently as the leader of The Authority, a group of super heroes dedicated to getting the job done by any means necessary, except if it means in anything other than casual wear.

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3) Dr. Light (Japanese)

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The Japanese born Kimiyo Tazu Hoshi took the mantle of Dr. Light when the Monitor, the embodiment of all positive matter in the universe, chose her to defend the Earth against his nemesis Anti-Monitor, granting her the power of photonics. Now known as Dr. Light, Kimiyo Tazu Hoshi became a prominent character in the DC Universe and even member of the Justice League. But for the record, Kimiyo didn’t need some quasi god like being to grant her the title of doctor. She already was a medical doctor and scientist before her encounter with the Monitor, showing that all you need is hard work, dedication, and probably an overbearing Asian mother.

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2) Cassandra Cain/Batgirl/Black Bat (Ambiguously Asian)

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A former Batgirl now Black Bat, Cassandra Cain is the daughter of Lady Shiva and the world class assassin David Cain. Raised by her father to be the world’s greatest assassin and future bodyguard for Ra’s al Ghul, Cassandra was not taught to read or write, but only read the body language of an opponent. Although this would hinder her ability to communicate through conventional means, her intense training gave her high level cognitive abilities that let her perform extraordinary feats of physical and mental coordination.  It would seem she gets these killer moves from her mama, but more likely from her psychotic assassin father. But does it really matter? She has a literal and figurative killer body that expresses itself through extraordinary feats of multitasking; we don’t care where she gets it from as long as she gets it to us.

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This is a tricky one honestly since the daughter of Ra’s Ah Ghul has just as cryptic background as her father. We know that Ra’s Ah Ghul was born around 600 years ago somewhere in what was once considered “Arabia” near a city whose inhabitants migrated from China. Some have said he is of Arabic and Persian descent making him Asian. Also Taila Al Ghul’s mother came from Chinese and Arabic ancestry. Either way the sometimes love interest sometimes enemy of Batman still makes it on our list. She is an Olympic level athlete, holds advanced degrees in biology, engineering, and a business MBA, oh and incredibly deadly to boot. With a resume like that we she would make any Asian parent proud. But you know, they would still compare her to their friend’s kid who just got into John’s Hopkins, ON SCHOLARSHIP no doubt. NOTHING IS EVER GOOD ENOUGH IS IT MOM?!

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