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Art Director at Disneyland, Ramón Vila

My name is Ramón but my closest friends call me Rei. I’m the happy Art Director of “the happiest place on earth”: Shanghai Disneyland. I was born in Mexico City but all my life I’ve been moving from place to place chasing that dream job or dream life.
I studied Architecture in Canada, Mexico and the USA then moved to Madrid, Spain to study theater, performing arts, and art direction. I learned to sing, act, design and got to perform in musicals in Spain and Mexico. After some years of living la vie boheme (the theater life, working for TV companies, soap operas, cruise lines, acting, directing), I was tired and broken. I left everything and went to India to find myself and breathe.


I spent a few months in an ashram (like that Julia Roberts movie!!). I learned yoga, meditation, and found some inner peace…or at least for some time! After a while, I came back to the real world, got married and decided to move again. We sold everything and decided to start a new adventure in China with nothing.

Working for Disney was always a big dream of mine and I knew Disneyland was about to open, so I went directly to them to get a job, trying to be at the right place at the right time. I spent a year in interviews, with back and forth emails and finally got the job! Now, I design the decoration for all seasonal events like Halloween, Chinese New Year, Christmas, Summer, opening events, red carpets, and parade floats, etc. I love to make people happy with my designs, to see people taking selfies with the décor, or raising their kids up to give them a better view of the parade. The best part is sharing it with my family and friends and to see my own son smiling, laughing and having fun.


My favorite ride is still Pirates of the Caribbean, it has the thrills and the technology is very advanced. I also really like the Tron roller coaster, the design is unique and the experience amazing. My favorite characters are Woody and Donald; I identify with Donald because he's a bit cranky sometimes but has good intentions.
I found not only a job I love, but also a country and a city that has been good to me and my family so far. And Shanghai is also a magical place. As a theater and art lover, I love that I can find a lot of art exhibitions and theater performances from around the world. Shanghai’s got dozens of museums (my favorite one is the Shanghai Natural History Museum which is a magnificent piece of architecture), festivals, expos, and is always changing and renewing itself.


I also love riding the public transportation and observe people, I’m always trying to learn more and more of the language and even learn songs in Mandarin. One of my favorite places to visit in any city of China are the parks. We usually go to Zhongshan Park because it’s close to our place. I love spending afternoons there with my son and wife to escape the noise and busy pace of the city.
As a Mexican I have to say I frequent Pistolera on Hengshan Lu, where I can find authentic Mexican food like Enchiladas de Mole. We always have fun there with live music and my Chinese friends love going there. Other kind of food we love in China is Xinjiang food, especially at a restaurant called Yershari, where we eat lamb skewers, or lamb chops with spicy cold noodles, and other delicious food. I also go to Taikang Dumplings, a local place where I go to eat the best Xiaolongbao.


We try to live as locals and do what locals do. In the end, we are the ones embracing this wonderful culture. It’s a way of being grateful for being accepted here. Being an expat in a totally different country, raising a child by ourselves with our families so far away, is not easy, so we try to keep it simple, adapt and blend.
For now I don’t have plans to leave Shanghai, I would love my son to grow here for a while and pick up the language in local schools, my job seems to be stable and I still have a lot to explore in this endless and surprising city.


[Shanghai Famous]:

Shanghai Famous is a SmartShanghai column focusing on people out there in the city makin' the scene. They're out there around town, shaping Shanghai into what it is, creating the art, culture, and life around us. We asked them what's good in Shanghai. We asked them what's bad in Shanghai. We asked them to tell us more, more, more about their wonderful selves.

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