In an indoor riding ring built atop a defunct driving range, twelve children trot ponies in tight circles, responding to the terse commands of instructors. The ponies have all been flown in from France. So too have some of the instructors. The rest have been trained there.
Even at the price of nearly $100 for a 45-minute private lesson, iPony's indoor arena is solidly booked on a chilly December Saturday, as parents eager to initiate their children in the ways of a global aristocracy line up for lessons. Learning the ways of a cosmopolitan elite is seen as good not only for status but also for business or, as in the case of Daiyu's son, for admission to foreign schools.
For years now, China's wealthy have been exploring the subtler side of Western status, paying a premium to complement their taste for chauffeured Bentleys, Hermes handbags and world travel with the manners and the esoteric cultural knowledge to match. As China establishes itself as a financial superpower, it has increasingly exerted its own force on the definition of global etiquette, with elites picking and choosing from a grab bag of norms; some all but excavated from Europe's aristocratic past, some from the playbooks of modern-day Emily Posts and, increasingly, casting their eyes closer to home, plumbing classic Daoist, Confucian texts for clues.
"I have seen the Chinese elite learning so quickly," says Sara Jane Ho of the Institute Sarita. In the past, most of her clients had never heard of the New England boarding school that Ho attended. "They have become more exposed, so much more well traveled, so much better informed."
European aristocrats down on their luck have discovered that Chinese customers will pay handsomely for courses in old world etiquette and a taste of the aristocratic life. Belgium's Atlas International Culture offers Chinese travelers the chance to clink glasses with royalty in grand residences and castles.