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China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

an a news­pa­per re­ally be ironed, and what for?” asked Pei Yuchen, an of­fice clerk at a State-owned en­ter­prise, af­ter read­ing about a school for but­lers in Chengdu in the south­west­ern prov­ince of Sichuan. The 30-some­thing’s se­cond ques­tion was: “Can a but­ler re­ally make 1 mil­lion yuan ($152,000) a year?”

Pei, who grew up in a ru­ral fam­ily in East China’s Shan­dong­province, is­now­con­sid­er­ing quit­ting her job, which she de­scribes as “bor­ing and pre­dictable”, be­cause she be­lieves work­ing as a but­ler for a wealthy fam­ily will not only fat­ten her purse, but also pro­vide an eye-open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Tang Yang, pub­lic re­la­tions man­ager for the In­ter­na­tional But­ler Academy in Chengdu, said she of­ten re­ceived phone calls from peo­ple such as Pei, af­ter the me­dia re­ported the open­ing of the school, the first of its kind on the Chi­nese main­land, in July 2014.

The academy is af­fil­i­ated with the orig­i­nal academy, head­quar­tered in the Nether­lands and run by vet­eran but­ler RobertWen­nekes, whowas born into a but­ler­ing fam­ily. Wen­nekes es­tab­lished the academy in 1999 in a 14th-cen­tury cas­tle, af­ter rec­og­niz­ing the great dif­fi­culty of find­ing high-qual­ity, pro­fes­sional but­lers for his clients.

As more bil­lion­aires ap­peared in China, Wen­nekes opened the Chengdu school in 2014, in co­op­er­a­tion with a lo­cal busi­ness­woman in the real es­tate in­dus­try.

Forbes mag­a­zine’s 2015 edi­tion of the China Rich List, pub­lished on Oct 28, iden­ti­fied a record 335 bil­lion­aires from the Chi­nese main­land, se­cond only to the United States, a rise of 93, or 38 per­cent year-on-year. In the past two years, China has added about three to four new bil­lion­aires ev­ery week.

“Af­ter man­sions, cars, yachts, jets and body­guards, wealthy Chi­nese fam­i­lies need but­lers. Higher-end prop­erty projects are also in dire need of se­nior but­lers to im­prove the qual­ity of their ser­vices,” said Pu Yan, the school’s mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor.

“The level of but­ler ser­vice di­rectly in­di­cates the taste of the masters. And China’s new rich will pur­sue higher tastes of eti­quette and higher-qual­ity fam­ily lives, which en­tails qual­ity but­ler ser­vices,” she added.

The Chengdu school has two teach­ing sites — one in a lux­ury villa in the city’s sub­urbs, the other in a pri­vate club in a high-rise in an up-mar­ket res­i­den­tial com­mu­nity inthe city, with a grand viewof the Jin­jiang River.

Owned by Wen­nekes’ Chi­nese busi­ness part­ner, the two sites pro­vide real-life house­hold en­vi­ron­ments in which to in­struct stu­dents.

Af­ter pay­ing 40,000 yuan ($6,000) in tu­ition fees — enough to pay for eight years of col­lege tu­ition in Sichuan— the trainee but­lers re­ceive six weeks’ “in­ten­sive and pro­fes­sional” train­ing from in­struc­tors from the US, Italy, Switzer­land, Canada, Ger­many and the Nether­lands, in ad­di­tion to three meals a day and a but­ler’s suit.

The first few days of train­ing are the most in­ter­est­ing, ac­cord­ing to Vin­cenzo Matar­rese, an Ital­ian in­struc­tor and for­mer bar­tender at a five-star ho­tel in Europe.

He said that in the first few days, the Chi­nese stu­dents be­come fa­mil­iar with a whole range of Western eti­quette and pro­to­cols, from per­sonal groom­ing to lay­ing ta­bles and pour­ing wine. He dis­plays dif­fer­ent kinds of grapes on the ta­ble and ex­plains the dif­fer­ences be­tween var­i­ous types of wines.

“In Europe, peo­ple have an un­der­stand­ing of wine. But in China, that knowl­edge is new,” he said.

Liu Kecheng, for­mer man­ager of a five-star ho­tel and now a travel con­sul­tant for wealthy Chengdu res­i­dents, at­tended the train­ing ses­sions through his com­pany’s co­op­er­a­tion with the school.

“I learned that it takes about two hours to clean a pair of shoes through 12 pro­ce­dures. I re­al­ized how con­sid­er­ate, metic­u­lous and good at han­dling mul­ti­ple tasks a suc­cess­ful but­ler should be,” Liu said. “It’s a life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, be­cause the train­ing not only gives me new sta­tus, but also a new an­gle to see hos­pi­tal­ity work.”

Christo­pher Noble, di­rec­tor of train­ing at the Chengdu school, grad­u­ated from the academy intheNether­lands in 2012. He said China was one of the first civ­i­liza­tions in his­tory to have but­lers, called guan­jia, or “house­keeper”.

“What we are rein­tro­duc­ing here al­ready ex­isted for hun­dreds of years,” said the Ohio na­tive.

But the cul­tural dif­fer­ences be­tween the West and China con­sti­tute a ma­jor ob­sta­cle for the in­struc­tors.

Be­fore join­ing the academy, Noble worked as a con­sul­tant and a trainer for sales­peo­ple in the ex­pen­sive res­i­den­tial com­mu­nity where the club is lo­cated. He noted many dif­fer­ences be­tween serv­ing a Western em­ployer and a Chi­nese one.

“Chi­nese busi­ness­men and busi­ness­women tend to hold their house­hold staff at arm’s length. In the West, they give the but­lers tru­standthe but­lers are in the in­ner cir­cle. But­lers some­times even know more about their masters than the other fam­ily mem­bers do,” he said. “I should­know­ev­ery­thing about you, and your per­sonal life, not be­cause I am nosy, but be­cause the knowl­edge can help­me­bet­ter serve you.”

Al­though the Chengdu academy in­structs trainees in Western stan­dards, most of the stu­dents have to adapt to the prac­ti­cal cir­cum­stances in their fu­ture Chi­nese em­ploy­ers’ homes.

Noble said it is un­for­tu­nate that serv­ing staff are looked down upon in tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture: “It’s a ca­reer, and there should be mu­tual re­spect be­tween the but­ler and the em­ployer.”

Tang, the pub­lic re­la­tions man­ager, is op­ti­mistic that the re­la­tion­ship be­tween but­lers and em­ploy­ers will likely im­prove grad­u­ally, as China be­comes more open to other cul­tures.

“That the TV se­ries Down­ton Abbey is pop­u­lar on the In­ter­net with Chi­nese au­di­ences, es­pe­cially the young who are flu­ent in English, proves that there is a lot of space for Bri­tish­style but­ler ser­vice­sa­mongChi­nese em­ploy­ers, and their at­ti­tudes to ser­vants will change grad­u­ally,” Tang said.

Al­though the tu­ition fees are ex­pen­sive, the school at­tracts many Chi­nese stu­dents, who are lured by the po­ten­tial of a high salary.

He Lian­ping, a 51-year-old babysit­ter from He­nan prov­ince in Cen­tral China, paid the fees for the ex­pen­sive train­ing ses­sions her­self. “I felt I would have been left be­hind by the times if I con­tin­ued towork as a babysit­ter like be­fore,” she said, to ex­plain why she trav­eled fromHe­nan to Chengdu.

So far, about 40 four-term Chi­nese stu­dents have grad­u­ated from the academy. A new term for 10 stu­dents will start in early March, and places have been booked through early win­ter, ac­cord­ing to the school’s web­site.

Tang hopes the school will be able to open more branches in the next five years, in Bei­jing, Shang­hai or Guangzhou in

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