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Shan Jiang

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Imagine a man setting out from distant China, all on his own, and arriving in Madrid, without a word of English or Spanish. That’s exactly what happened in 1990 to Shan Jiang’s father. Shan Jiang, who you probably know as “Santi”, is the familiar front-of-house face at the Slow Boat Restaurant on Avenida de España, at the bottom of the Strip. Back then she and her brother Tao Jiang, who were only 4 and 1 respectively, stayed behind with their mother. It was not until several years later that they all set off from their native Fujian in southeast China.

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This was a time of economic hardship, when the country was only just opening up for business, so Santi’s Dad followed in the footsteps of thousands of intrepid adventurers down the centuries, setting out to create better lives for themselves and their families, and often ending up in far-flung places, where they worked hard to establish new concerns, from restaurants to laundries. It was always the plan that the family would follow on, and sure enough they arrived in Tenerife in 1998, by which time Santi was 15 and Tao 12. They too could barely speak two words of English or Spanish, but being young enough to absorb rapidly, they soon reached the point where they were pretty fluent in both.

Santi did well at school, but there was only one prospect ahead: the family business. And this really is a family concern: both the front-of-house staff and the kitchens are made up of parents, cousins, uncles and aunts. Her parents opened the Slow Boat on their  arrival in Calahonda in 2001, and then expanded to open the Overseas Restaurant further up the Strip ten years later. But these days, one thriving restaurant is quite enough, and the family is looking to rent out the latter, and devote their time to the Slow Boat – as well as looking forward to retirement.

There’s no prospect of retirement any time soon for Santi, however. Quite the contrary: she has a work ethic that would put most people to shame. The restaurant is open from 12 till 5 and from 6 till just about midnight, seven days a week. And that doesn’t include the hours to get the place shipshape every day before the first guests arrive. Luckily, they live just up the road, so at least there’s not a long journey home every night.

So it’s a good thing that she loves her work: she’s a natural people person, and never suffers from boredom at the prospect of another day welcoming diners, waiting tables, smiling and joking (not to mention dealing with the varied accents of her international clientele), And she’s happiest of all on the weekends, when the place is bustling and reservations are de rigueur.

When she occasionally gets to travel, she’s often dipping into other Chinese restaurants across the region, constantly on the look-out for ideas and fresh recipes.  

So how does she relax? Well, when the last diners have left and the shutters have come down, she and her brother sometimes head over to Torremolinos or Fuengirola, where they have Chinese friends, and carouse away until the small hours. And then the next day it’s the same all over again, but just as cheerfully, and always with a smile.   

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