Last Christmas, I gave my parents a trip to China (and back!) as a Christmas gift. We couldn’t afford going abroad when I was a child (except for that one time in 1991 when we had saved up enough to go to Spain for a week, by bus) so I wanted to take them now instead along with my lovely wife.
About a month ago it was time for the actual trip. We mostly stayed in Xi’an, the first capital of China, but took day trips to other places.
Here, it’s easier if I just show you…
All in all, it was a very interesting trip. There is a radical difference in cleanliness, culture and people’s behavior compared to e.g. Japan.
For one thing, we were constantly photographed by strangers. Some additional facts may have contributed to this though. This will take some explaining, so please bear with me;
We went to several places where we didn’t see any other westerners, or only very few – the ones we did see were pretty much all in their 20-30’s, carrying backpacks and cameras. We stood out from the crowd even in the cities for several reasons:
- We didn’t see any older westerners (40+).
- We hardly saw any people with white, or even gray hair.
- We hardly saw anybody with facial hair other than a thin mustache, and nobody with a full beard.
- We didn’t see anyone with visible tattoos – 75% of our group had very visible tattoos on our arms.
We also went to China during the Qingming Festival, a holiday for honoring the dead, but also a time where many are traveling. A lot of people from the countryside go to visit their friends and relatives in other cities, this can be the only time of year where they leave the immediate surroundings of their villages. It appeared as if many of them had never seen westerners before, at least not like us. Some days perhaps 20 people came up and wanted to take selfies with us, but mostly people just took pictures or started filming us without asking for permission. It even happened that while we were sitting on a bench, parents came up and put their children in our laps to take pictures of us together as if we were a tourist attraction. I don’t mind people taking the occasional picture of me, but that was a bit much. This behavior was much more visible when going outside the cities to more distant areas such as on Song Mountain, Shaolin and Lóngmén shíkū. Though it did become more amusing when I started playing a game – when I saw someone take a picture of me or anyone in my company, I pulled out my camera an took a picture of them as well. Often I only had a second or so to take the photo before the people started reacting and sometimes hiding their faces. People who wanted to take selfies with me using their phones & cameras seemed absolutely puzzled when I instead took a picture with mine (though I always did let them take one as well). But it gave us all a few laughs.