I’m on a sleeper train ride from Chengdu to Kunming with three other backpackers for over eighteen hours. We’re casually playing card games near our beds when a group of five Chinese men approach us. Clueless as to what they want, they nervously take a camera out and in hand gestures politely ask for pictures with us. I couldn’t understand as to why they would want pictures with complete strangers. Each picture taken is followed with laughter and peace signs. Have they mistaken us for a celebrity? This is hilarious. My friend takes out a bag of potato chips and one of the Chinese men points to it. The Chinese man gestures his hand toward his face rubbing his eyes like a crying baby and then lowers his hand for something short. Since the package is in all Chinese, my friend had no idea what he was eating were for kids. It made for a burst of laughter heard throughout the entire train cart.
The Chinese group pulls out a bag of various fruits and vegetables and insists we eat with them. Their kindness is overwhelming. An opened water bottle is pulled out and poured into a small cup. How strange to pour water into a small cup I thought. I’m handed the cup and I take a quick hard sniff of what it is. At first I had thought they were trying to kill me with paint thinner or rubbing alcohol but a cup is handed to the entire group including themselves so if I’m going down, they are coming with me. I’m trying to avoid sniffing the gagging smell as I take the shot. Not a pleasant tasting experience but it’d be rude to say no when were handed even more. I later learned what we had was called Baijiu and may have been homegrown alcohol.
This wasn’t the first time this has happened to me throughout China. I’ve been approached several times for a picture with complete strangers that lead to more conversations, many that had never met a foreigner before. In the United States, I’m a regular guy but in China – I’m a celebrity. Don’t think I’ll be approached by anyone wanting to touch my hair or take a picture of me walking down the streets in the United States. I can’t help but imagine myself picture framed in a Chinese home.
Have you ever been approached for a picture in a foreign country? How did they ask you?