Known as the jolliest and most generous character around, Santa Claus has decades of experience working in the Christmas industry. AsiaLIFE snags an interview with the elusive celebrity ahead of the busy festive season. Photography by Lucas Veuve.
How long have you been delivering to Cambodia?
I’ve been flying over Cambodia for as long as I can remember, but up until a few years ago nobody really knew who I was. These days, I’m getting busier and busier. Coming from cold realms, I’d always take a brief break here. It was great—I could get out of my suit and stroll the streets, or sunbath on the beach, all un-noticed. Nowadays, that’s impossible. My workload is growing as Christmas becomes more of a craze here. One of my elves told me Cambodia was already preparing for my arrival back in October!
What should we expect on the gift list this year?
I’ve noticed the gift requests are also growing in Cambodia, and the latest iPhone seems to be a popular addition to Christmas lists this year. My elves tell me nice new malls and shops selling international brands have raised expectations. Although, compared with the West where kids’ expectations are through the chimney, Cambodia is a breeze.
How do you get around the country?
My reindeers hate the heat, and we fear our sled is in danger of being shot down, ho ho ho. I heard the government got a bit tense earlier this year when a camera drone was hovering over Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house. Although I’ve noticed the roads are improving – an incident with a huge pothole on my way to Siem Reap three years ago caused a big delay in getting presents delivered to the rest of the world. The sled doesn’t work too well on them, so we strap the reindeers up to a tuk tuk and travel that way. Rudolph loves it.
Is it difficult to adjust to the weather here?
Even after all these years visiting tropical countries, I just cannot acclimatise to the heat, and my traditional outfit gets far too stuffy. I’ll let you into a little secret, as soon as I land, I strip off and do my rounds in a Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts. It’s my way of letting loose, and the only time in the year I get to wear them. My beard also proves difficult. These last few years, I’ve been longing for a new look and have been tempted to shave it off. However, I hear beards are hip right now and I’m never in fashion, so I think I’ll leave it for the moment.
What are some other challenges delivering here?
Getting into homes in Cambodia has always been a challenge. There are no chimneys for me to slip down, windows are barred, doors are padlocked, gates are topped with barbed wire, and there’s an increasing number of security guards – although I often quietly creep past the sleeping ones. Getting across the border is always fun. I often have visa issues, although I’m hoping AEC will make this easier, and always have to remember to bring a few extra presents to slip to customs to ease my entry into Cambodia, ho ho ho. The reindeers are always on their guard while we’re here too. We had a close call a few years ago when we got lost in Koh Kong and poachers started shooting at us. Dancer was traumatised for weeks.
What do people get here for being bad (if not a lump of coal)?
I don’t bother bringing my sack of coal to Cambodia. Instead, I stop off at the market when I arrive and pick up some prahok and durians; they seem to do the trick when it comes to children misbehaving. They smell so bad that we drop those off first to the naughty kids. When it comes to adults – oh my, there’s a lot of mischief that goes on here throughout the year. But they seem to punish themselves enough with their hedonistic lifestyles, so I leave them to get on with it.
What do they set out for you?
Christmas in Cambodia makes a refreshing change. I get bored with eating mince pies and drinking milk that’s left out for me. Here, I tend to pick up cans of Angkor, 100-riel notes and fruit, but I need to be careful the reindeers don’t mix them up with spirit house offerings. This has proved tricky in the past when I’m a few cans of Angkor along the way. We always have to keep a close eye on Blitzen, who is partial to the Hennessy, and with the traffic in Cambodia, we have to keep our wits about us.
What do you spend the rest of the year doing?
I let my reindeers roam free and spend some quality time in my snow hut with Mrs Claus. As a seasoned traveller, I like to go on holiday. In the summer, myself and Mrs Claus like to let loose and hit some of the clubs in Ibiza or travel the festival circuit in Europe. Yes, that was me you saw at this year’s Glastonbury.