Thursday, June 28, 2007

Square Peg in a Round Hole

(Or is it round peg in a square hole?)

I notice huge line ups at the southern end of Tienanmen Square. They are waiting to get a glimpse of Mao in his crystal casket to pay their respects. I hear it’s a big attraction, but soon, very soon, I learned that there is an even bigger attraction. Me.

It starts out innocently enough. One person asks me if she can have her picture taken with me. Why not, it takes but an instant. Two steps later, I am approached by another group. Then within seconds, like one who has taken one too many steps towards a hornet’s nest, I am swarmed by a scores of school children. They all seem to have cameras. Cameras are going off left right and centre as the children take turns standing beside me and smiling broadly. They surround me and there really is no way out. I smile and pose, but the reality is that I’m anxious to lose this instant celebrity status.

The noon day sun is blazing upon me and I drank my last drops of water ages ago. I can feel my skin slowly starting to burn as I survey this massive concrete complex for some shade. But there are no trees in the vicinity. Out of the corner of my eye I see the teachers in charge trying to quarantine their children getting more and more frustrated at the futility of their task. A moment later these very same teachers are standing beside me with their cameras also eager to have their picture taken before moving on.

I prepare for my break, but the crowds follow me. Now no longer just school tours but anyone who happens to be in the square. It seems that I can get no more than two steps in at a time before being stopped again.

It dawns on me that I should be charging. I have been standing under the intense sun for well over an hour and I’m sure that half of Beijing now has my picture. I wonder where these pictures will end up. Will I end up in some tourist brochure or as advertising for an English school? Or will I be displayed on someone’s mantle? Or perhaps shown to company and introduced as, “my Canadian friend.” Perhaps I will end up forgotten at the back of someone’s photo album. But for today, I am an attraction. The crowds watch me intently and follow my every move as I slowly make my way ever closer to the Forbidden City hoping to escape beyond its doors away from the masses.

33 comments:

jillie said...

I've heard that they LOVE the fair skin, eyes and hair. I had a friend that went there a few years ago and they kept wanting to touch her hair. Very interesting....

Looks and sounds as if you are having a spectacular trip...

;o)

The Fool said...

Hi Nomad. I ran into a somewhat similar experience in Japan, especially among the children. In Japan, the term is "gaijin" - which translates as "foreigner" or "foreign barbarian." Although the literal translation can be considered somewhat of an insult, it rarely seems to be used as such. People just point, smile, and say, "Gaijin!" I was constantly asked to be in a photo, or to sign some scrap memento in cursive english script. It was always friendly...but schools literally came to a stop at times...after the initial brave soul dared an approach. The smiles and laughter were so infectious though. Children have such a charm. Another interesting chapter in the travelogues, Nomad. This one connected with some memories and experiences of my own. Thanks! And have a great Thursday.

:)

Carla said...

Jillie, I did get rubber necked a number of times and it is not at all impolite to stare. They are most lovely people though, and really it's nothing more than curiosity. Those who can speak English definitely will approach and strike up a conversation. I met some very interesting people.

Fool, I can't remember what the Chinese term is for us...but it translates into "white devil." For the most part I didn't mind stopping for pictures and yes, and children were especially fun. That particular day, however, it was extremely hot and the frenzy seemed quite surreal. I wouldn't wish fame on anyone. Are they as big on the "peace" or "victory" sign in Japan as they are in China? You could hardly take a picture of a child without them making that sign. A lovely Thursday to you as well.

Sirdar said...

So now you know what it is like to be a celebrity. Must have been pretty unnerving. Not sure I would want to be one. I'll take the rich part of the rich and famous.

Carla said...

Sirdar, Indeed, I like my privacy and a certain amount of quiet in my life. I don't think I would really want to be a celebrity.

The Fool said...

Yes, Nomad. The peace sign is flashed in almost every pic I have of the kids. Another common aspect, was the immediate settling of any trivial disagreements through "rock-paper-scissors." I walked to school with a group of elementary school kids, and it was a natural piece of the repertoire of their social interactions.

JBelle said...

oh, I would love to have been there!

Carla said...

Fool, Oh yes! They all know "rock, paper, scissors." It was an instant connection with those who didn't know any English.

JBelle, It was an experience and a half. I would have actually loved to have been standing on the outside watching the whole spectacle.

Steffi said...

I can say the same: It´s really interesting to read again and I like the picture with the little girl and her umbrella.

poetry4you said...

I regret to say that I have never had that problem (am I sooo jealous)..

Although I think I would understand your eagerness to escape and where better than the - Forbidden City!!

A journey of discovery for all - you entertain here.

rowena said...

Now don't you just wish that you had a "red carpet" to walk on? What adoration! Loved the post!!

Ok, if I ever find myself heading to China, I'm packing a blond wig. heh heh...

dawn said...

Those questions you asked about where the photos end up, and the stories that will be told, are interesting. We often take for granted that people are the same everywhere, and in some ways they are, but when you have that kind of experience, it accentuates the differences. Thank you for the things to ponder.

Cheryl said...

That's too funny, Carla! Maybe we should start calling you "Paris"! :P
I used to get that here occasionally with asian tourists (especially women) when Brenna was little and her hair was blonder. It was a bit disconcerting, but sweet.

Carla said...

Steffi, Thanks. I too really liked that little girl. I just had to take a picture when I saw here with her yellow umbrella and little yellow matching sandals.

Poetry4you, I'm not sure I would be jealous over that particular experience. It was interesting to live, 'tis true, but quite surreal. I ended up with a bit of a sun burn and was glad to move on. More interesting were the conversations I actually had with people.

Carla said...

Rowena, Apparently they are just as taken by men with beards or grey hair. I did run into one American fellow who was quite hefty (he had quite a belly on him), and the Chinese would come up and rub his belly for luck. That was quite amusing as well.

Dawn, When so many pictures are taken of you at once by so many different people, it's hard not to wonder where they all end up. But I guess that many people in China will never have the chance to travel outside their country, so to see a westerner is somewhat of a novelty for them.

Carla said...

Cheryl, Oh, please don't!!! I never ever got that kind of thing in Vancouver(thank goodness or I probably would have never gone out). I could see them being very taken with Brenna. She was such a cute child...and I'm sure she's still a looker.

Debbie said...

That's sounds so...scary! I can't imagine being surrounded like that. Good for you for keeping your calm and even smiling for the pictures.

I love your musings on where the photos will end up. I can see why it'd be against some cultures to take photos of a person. It really is like they're taking a piece of you away with them.

Carla said...

Debbie, It really wasn't scary at all...a little unnerving to have so much attention, but that's about it. Everyone was extremely friendly. And if they knew any English at all, they would try out their few words. I do wonder where all the pictures ended up though. It was an interesting experience.

Mark said...

You now have an interesting perspective on fame.

Carla said...

Mark, Have never desired fame, never. I cherish my privacy too much. I feel for those who open their front door and are greeted by a mass of reporters.

Annie Wicking and Loman Austen said...

How wonderful and how very interesting. It certainly give you a new outlook on life.

I too enjoyed reading your thoughts on what will happen with the photographs.

best wishes and keep safe.

Annie

thailandchani said...

I experienced that in Thailand a lot, too.. especially among children. They wanted to rub my skin. You know, I was the strange farang. After a week or so, I became another piece of furniture. LOL


Peace,


~Chani

Carla said...

Annie, It certainly was an interesting experience. Somewhat amusing, but I wouldn't want it to be an every day occurrence. Thanks for your wishes.

Carla said...

Chani, You make a good point. It's just a matter of them getting used to something new. After awhile I'm sure they would've gotten used to me as well.

Mimi Lenox said...

Makes one wonder. What will happen with the photographs? I think I would have stopped after a couple!

Carla said...

Mimi, Unfortunately it's not as easy as "just stopping." The cameras would have continued to go no matter what I said. Even when I started walking off, they followed and pictures continued. It was an experience and a half.

Poetry From Scotland said...

You do capture the atmosphere so beautifully both in words and in your excellent photos.

Your wonderful posts are becoming a 'journey of discovery' for all of us too.

Carla said...

Peter, Thank you so much. I hope you will continue on this road of discovery with me.

paris parfait said...

Wonderful photos. I've found that Chinese people visiting Paris will often ask to take photos. Must be a Western-look thing.

Carla said...

Paris Parfait, I think you must be right. It's the same thing here. Glad you like the photos.

poeticscot said...

Just to let you know that I've moved back to the 'dark side'.

'Wordpress' - such is it's appeal.

Anonymous said...

The Chinese slang term for Caucasians translates more accurately as "pale ghost" than "white devil." Though not quite as negative a connotation, it is still not exactly a compliment, but innocent enough that it can be used jokingly with no intent to cause offense.

Carla said...

Anonymous, That's interesting. The original translation I had heard from people who were working over there. I never really took offense at the term. I find various cultural terms quite interesting. I've always liked linguistics.