Hey China, take pik-cha?

2012-10-29 09:24

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News24 Travel Reader Hitekani Mbatsana recently visited China and was baffled to locals turning their cameras on her as the tourist.

Our list of things to do in China was filled with all the great attractions we hoped to see, including the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City. What we didn’t anticipate was becoming the attraction...

While standing at the ticket kiosk, a cloud of humidity hovered around us, we noticed a dark haired man staring intently at us; a man who we instantly recognised from earlier in the day. Could he have been following us? We entered the park and each time we glanced behind us, there he was; instantly confirming our suspicions. In a state of rising panic, we tried to lose him.

Curious onlookers gawked at us as we ran through the park, turning down alleyways and moving briskly around temple stairs. We finally stopped to catch our breath and relief flooded over us as we appeared to have eluded him. Our victory, however,  was short lived. As we stepped around the corner, those stony brown eyes were there, burning into us. We frantically looked around in an attempt to call for help, no one was around. We shivered as he reached into the inner pocket of his jacket. Clutching each another, we watched in horror as he slowly drew out...a camera.

“Take pik-cha?” he asked. Before we could respond, yay or nay, he snapped a picture of us and disappeared...

Photo sent in by Hitekani Mbatsana

Our pre-trip research alluded to the fact that many foreigners were stared at, particularly in the more rural areas. This is understandable; China is a homogenous society after all. However, one would think (as we did) that large cities, such as the capital, would be frequented by tourists and this would lessen the fascination. We were wrong about that.

We first noticed it at the Forbidden City where, while looking around, a lady approached us and in lightly accented English asked: “Excuse me, can you take a picture?”

Ever the friendly tourists we happily agreed, as one of us reached for her camera, she quickly said “No, no” and pointed to her friend who, with a big smile, nodded and gestured that we move closer together. After a moment of confusion, it dawned on us that she didn’t want us to take a picture of her; she wanted to take a picture with US.

It seemed a little weird but we obliged, moved closer and smiled for the camera. She thanked us and went on her way.

We looked at each other for a moment, shrugged our shoulders at this bizarre situation and turned around to continue our tour. We had hardly taken a single step before another woman, camera in hand asked for a picture. She was travelling with her kids.

“Um...okay” we said.

At which point, more and more people stopped and an impromptu queue was formed as the locals waited to have their picture taken. The group grew larger and larger. Soon our smiles faded away and we politely declined to take more photos as we wanted to see the palace.

Photo sent in by Hitekani Mbatsana

It was then that we noticed that while some people had politely asked for pictures others were merely taking pictures of us as we walked though the palace, when we stopped to pose for a picture others stopped too, when we stopped for a break or lunch people pointed and took more pictures of us. One man went as far as following us around looking for that perfect shot.

After a couple of days, the novelty of the situation wore off. We went from “excited tourist” to hounded “celebrity”, large shades and all, in a matter of hours. Tyra and Naomi touring the streets of Beijing- although, I’d imagine that they would travel in far different circles. We were able to use our new found fame to bargain lower prices and to find a person to take a picture of us together, in exchange for a picture with us of course.

However, what it didn’t do was to make ordering food easier. In fact, it made it harder. Waitrons scrambled around looking busy so they wouldn’t be assigned to our table. Once they came to the table they were tasked with explaining the menu. This is where the game of charades with sound effects came in handy. Thankfully, the outcome was good (well, in one case anyway).

One of the reasons we didn’t book a tour guide was because we looked forward to the adventure. Well, they say “be careful what you wish for!”

Read more on:    travel international

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