Monday, July 11, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Couple Superstars

'Who are these superstars?' You are maybe asking. Well myself and Jonathan, of course. Surprised? Yeah, so were we. We didn't even know that we were famous either, until we got to China. Turns out we're big here. Jonathan even has a fan club-widespread, although not that well organized. They just seem to pop out of every where.

Its hard to tell whether we are a traveling freak show or superstars- but we choose to go with the latter, because it makes us feel better. If we started charging for photos, like they did to take a picture of nature in Tiger Leaping Gorge (still a little annoyed about it, yes) we would be able to finance our entire China trip. No exaggeration. And that would just be from the profit of people who actually have the gull to ask us if they can take our photo as opposed to all the other people who think that they are being super sneaky about it. They're not. We see them. Subtley is not a widespread talent here.

When my friend Laura came back from Africa she talked about people staring all the time. Now, I totally understand. Its not easy to understand what its like unless you've experienced it. You probably think, yeah, whatever. People look at you and take your photo a lot. But its weird and it can get really frustrating. People are ALWAYS staring at us, and that is not even the tiniest exaggeration. If I happen to glance at any random person in our vicinity, about 99% of the time I find them looking back at us. We can't even sit on a bench and people watch. Because they are all watching us. Gramma wouldn't know what to do! We draw a crowd. All the time. Like people will be walking along, laa tee daa, and we walk past and they actually STOP walking, and stand there, staring. It doesn't stop there. They have to swing their head around so their stare can follow us the entire time until we are out of view. This ordeal isn't all the time, of course, mostly with older people and kids, who get to do whatever they want in any culture. One time a kid fell down a flight of stairs because he was so busy staring at Jonathan. People walk into each other. We wonder if we've caused a car accident or two. Or maybe its just the horrific driving...

Sometimes we feel like we are like a one legged guy in a wheelchair with a mohawk or something. Small kids stop what they are doing and stare, wide eyed, sometimes pointing at us. They make some comment in Chinese that results in a smack across their head from their blushing mother as they are dragged away while being lectured. Obviously they had just said something offensive. Not that we have the slightest idea what it was. We like to adlib though. 'Mommy, have you ever tried those weird looking animals barbequed and on a skewer before?'

My reaction to the staring goes in cycles and is largely affected by my mood of the moment. Jonathan, the ever calm one, always just smiles affably, unfazed. I know that people aren't trying to be offensive when they stick their camera right in our faces or stare openly. I guess we are just like a car crash and people just can't look away! ha Sometimes I want to stick my tongue out, or scream 'BOO' and jump in the air, just to see what would happen. When we first got to China this whole staring phenomenon was interesting. Then it got annoying, then we thought it was funny and we started posing randomly, smiling and waving, then it was annoying again. Sometimes I just want to scream, 'STOP LOOKING AT ME!' Jeez. It makes you quite self conscious. Is my skirt tucked into my underware? Is there a poisonous spider on my face? Something in my teeth? Do l look fat in this? Am I really that bad with chopsticks? But no, I'm just me. Well, Jonathan does have a pretty enormous beard- even for lumberjack standards.

Then there's the pictures. Like at home, pretty much everyone in China has a camera, and I think pretty much every camera must have a picture of us, by now. Sometimes teens run up to us, all excited and enthusiastic and ask if they can have their photo taken with us. Of course, we say yes, and pose for umpteen different cameras and groups, all while sporting the essential peace sign look. Why the peace sign? I still don't understand. (J: We have discovered that this "peace sign" is actually a sign for "Victory." Still, that doesn't make any more sense then if it were the peace sign. Like many things in China, no one can explain why they do it, but it is still important to do it anyway.) We do think that these little photoshoots are fun though. And it all seems to make the teens irrationally, Hanson teeny-bopper happy extreme. Fifteen minutes later, with our photoshoot complete, I begin to wonder how I actually look in these photos that these Teens'R'Us are giggling at. I'm usually about twice the size of any given Chinese girl. Jonathan towers over everyone. Am I wearing makeup? Did I brush my hair? Did I even shower today? (J: no, no and maybe) Man, its tough being a superstar.

Although, admittedly, Jonathan is slightly more popular in the photo polls than I am. Not that I'm complaining. Monks even chased us down the street one day to have their photo taken with him. It was pretty funny. Even for the shop keepers where we were at the time of the 'attack' innocently trying to blend in and purchase some noodles. Sometimes, no, always, I wonder what people are going to do with these photos.

One night in Lijiang when we were walking home from dinner with Joel and Sonia we somehow got pulled into a foursome photoshoot. Sonia and I are both blonde, and with savvy looking Joel and werewolf Jonathan, we quickly drew a sizable crowd of photographers. What a jackpot. Now thats a photo to hang on your wall. Four people I don't know, in a dark square somewhere in China. In Chongqing Jonathan and I got separated in a crazy crowd in their 'ancient town.' As he was standing on a cobblestone curb waiting for me to complete my search and rescue mission he started his own photo shoot and counted no less than 29 people taking his photo! Crazy, right? The other day in Zhanjiajie National Forest Park I was standing there, minding my own business, trying to take a photo of the spectacular scenery when I sensed someone very close to me- this is not unusual, given that the concept of personal space is completely foreign here, in a country with 1.3 billion people. But, no, this lady just wanted her photo taken with us. When I didn't immediately drop my camera and smile happily at her friend, aiming the camera at us- she smacked me! Not hard or anything, more like a mother to her child misbehaving in public. I was a little shocked, but I let the camera fall around my neck and smiled obligingly for the photo. One photo became two, and the there was a line up- like we were signing autographs or something. Then people who didn't know us (obviously) nor the person who was posing with us started taking photos! No, really WHAT are you going to do with that photo? Oh, I know. Give it to your kids for show-and-tell. haha

Then there's the super sneakers who prefer the drive-by shooting method. They are too whimpy to just acknowledge that they want to take our photo, so they have to go into stealth mode to achieve their goal. The funny thing is that this photo-mobbing is actually a recognized issue. On one of the signs posted in Zhanjiajie National Forest Park (and translated into English for our entertainment) it reads #7. Do not take pictures of our foreign friends without their permission! It's an actual rule- written on a sign- that apparently no one reads.

Sometimes this super-sneaky method of photography means nonchalently holding their camera at their waist, pointed up at us, finger poised and ready on the shutter, so when we walk past they can get their oh-so-important shot. Good one. Then there is quick phone shot, while pretending to talk on the phone. Another super stealth move. Once a lady videotaped us eating icecream on a bench for, no joke, ten minutes. We just sat there- and ate ice cream. The other day I noticed a lady with her phone pointed at me. I wasn't sure if she was trying to videotape me being all entertaining and standing there, or if she was trying to take a photo of something behind me, so I tried to move out of the way. Her phone followed. So I started zig zagging back and forth, for fun. 'Take a step to the left, one to the riiiight, out your hands on your hips, pull your knees in tiiight...' haha It took her a good couple minutes to realize that I had actually (gasp) noticed her videotaping me. (How stupid do some people think we are? Don't answer that.) She quickly put her phone down and, get this, glared at me!!!! Like I said, being a superstar is hard.

I write this knowing that I as well, take photos of people. We have, after all, come half way across the world specifically to see foreign people and their culture. I do, however, refrain from shoving in camera in someone's face without permission. Its a novel idea. I just find it funny that we come to China to see it and the Chinese and then, more often then not, we are the ones on the other side of the lens. Don't we just look like normal tourists bumbling about? Would I chase tourists to take their photos in front of Niagara? Obviously not- I would avoid them at all costs. Its a different world over here, let me tell you.

fyi: Another helpful tidbit: When a Chinese ATM asks you if you want 'advice,' much to my dismay, it does not mean that a fortune cookie stuffed with words of wisdom is going to come popping out of the slot. Believe me, I've now been waiting over two months and still- no fortune cookie. Apparently they just want to know if you want an ATM reciept. How boring.


Gina said...

Ok, I admit, I take pictures of funny-looking people whenever I can too.

Er--not that I'm saying you're funny looking... no, that's not what I meant at all... Never mind :)

Parentals said...

well now you know how the animals in the zoo feel.... again.... no comparison here. haha!

Emily said...

what good sports you are! I can totally relate to your evolving way of interpreting their interest in you: curious, self-doubt, laughable, playful, okay enough already, annoyance, repeat. I remember feeling ashamed of myself reflecting on how many dirty looks I'd given out on a given day. It's tiresome - made me want to hibernate, and then you get over it and brace yourself for round 2, 3.... maybe now's the time to ware your flashy outfits, pick up som pink sailor moon wigs etc and dark sunglasses; you're famous afteral, live it up!
miss you guys!!