The joys of Pleasant Goat's unpleasant side and Happy Valley's peak unhappiness

Updated: 2011-11-30 07:59

By Ellie Buchdahl (China Daily)

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The joys of Pleasant Goat's unpleasant side and Happy Valley's peak unhappiness

Pleasant Goat tells millions of pint-sized Chinese fans to, "Think calmly, and intelligence shines".

Pleasant Goat "is experienced at conquering evils" - or so his theme song proclaims. Like his counterparts across the world - Hello Kitty, Barney the Dinosaur, the "Without-you-everything-is-stupid" sheep that adorns every German girl's pencil case - Pleasant Goat leaves a trail of sugarcoated gimmickry wherever he goes.

I had the privilege of meeting Pleasant Goat (or Happy Lamb, as he is otherwise known) some weeks ago.

He was standing outside the Olympic Stadium with a couple of his Toytown chums - a bear of some description and a sinicized Minnie Mouse.

Pleasant Goat was clearly nearing the end of his shift.

Deliberately ignoring the gaggle of toddlers, he sloped over to a nearby fence and leaned on it with ennui. Then, lifting off his entire fluffy white head, Pleasant Goat gave an epiglottal snort that would have impressed a Beijing taxi driver, spat onto the pavement and wiped his mouth on his cotton-wool sleeve, before sighing and replacing his mask.

The level of happiness radiating from Happy Lamb was about on par of that of the staff at the equally aptly named Happy Valley near Beijing.

At the end of September when I visited, the weather was beautiful and National Day Holiday was on its way.

Yet from the sullen beat-boxer by the roller coaster to the miserable basketball players lurking by the Tower of Terror, there wasn't a happy face in the place.

It was a far cry from the US.

The joys of Pleasant Goat's unpleasant side and Happy Valley's peak unhappiness

Step through the gates of Disneyland, Florida, and you are blasted with unadulterated euphoria.

Fairground music pounds from loudspeakers. Bunnies and fairies grin inanely. Even the food and drink comes in colors that you would not otherwise see without taking a lot of illicit substances beforehand.

Once, I ordered a glass of tap water to be congratulated heartily by the beaming waitress: "Water? Good choice!"

I can't cope with optimism on this scale. I'm a cynical Brit, and theme parks and cutesy cartoon characters leave a bad taste in my mouth.

It's partly bad experience.

My parents, in their infinite wisdom, decided to celebrate my brother's 18th birthday with a trip to Universal Studios in the middle of a family holiday composed of mosquito-ridden campsites and motels with peculiarly stained ceilings.

However, the saccharine atmosphere couldn't sugar the pill that Sam was not spending his birthday listening to The Libertines with his equally eyeliner-adorned girlfriend in the UK.

More than this, however, it's the hypocrisy of combining consumerism with so much "feel good" nonsense that really gets my (not very pleasant) goat.

Once upon a time, a friend of mine also went to Happy Valley and met Pleasant Goat, who was posing for a photo.

Pleasant Goat asked for a tip, and the woman who had just taken the snap refused.

Things turned sour. Muffled expletives issued from beneath the mask.

Pleasant Goat grabbed the woman's camera and attempted to wrestle it from her grasp.

Call me grumpy old bag, but this makes me smile much more than any number of renditions of It's a Small World.

The Chinese cartoon/theme park world is tackier and more consumerist than anything in the US, yet at least it is transparently so. At Happy Valley, what you see is what you get.

As I was leaving the Bird's Nest Stadium, my first Pleasant Goat caught my eye.

Apparently hearing that he could clock off and return to the barn, he turned and gave his teddy friend a huge hug.

That warm glow that Sesame Street always promised filled my heart.

This lamb's life wasn't all silver lining - but it wasn't just one big cloud, either.

Along with friends like Ted, Pleasant Goat knew he could struggle through.

Chinese parents should feel proud that their children are getting genuine life lessons.

I would rather any child of mine learned from Pleasant Goat than from the Care Bears any day.