A new and somewhat bizarre cultural difference has come to our attention this week, and I really want to talk about it tonight. This weekend the 3 of us were sitting outside Citygate at Tung Chung on Friday afternoon eating ice creams when a man came up beside our table, turned his back to us, made a peace sign with his fingers and smiled as his wife took a photo of him “with” D and J. D started waving them away but they just smiled and kept snapping. That’s when I snapped. I leapt up from the table, shouting “No! No! NO!” and shooed them away like a Mama bear protecting her cub. My husband laughed at me but I was furious! When I thought about it later I realised I may have overreacted slightly but it seemed so rude. It wasn’t so much that they wanted a photo of a western baby (he is very cute and I should take it as a compliment that others think that) it was the way in which we were treated like exhibits at the zoo, photographed without our permission.
We’ve travelled through South East Asia and have taken hundreds of photos of absolutely everyone and everything; I understand the obsession with documenting every aspect of a holiday. But if we ever took a photo of people, especially children, we asked first, and more often than not a little hand was held out afterwards expecting payment for posing so wonderfully. I’ve spoken about this with a few people this week and apparently it’s quite common here in Hong Kong. One friend is inundated when she takes her son to Disneyland and sets a limit on the number of photos taken. We were out yesterday when it happened to us again at another shopping centre, only this time there were 2 adorable blonde girls playing near us, and the photographers were snapping from a distance. Again they simply smiled and waved when there were objections to their attention.
Before J was born people used to take photos of our dog. Last year we took her to a festival and at one stage we had a crowd around us, as if she was a mini canine celebrity. It’s not so much the paparazzi that bothers me, it’s also the idea that we have no idea where these photos will end up. I once had visions of my dog ending up in a dog food commercial in China! Now I’m half expecting to see my beautiful son adorning a billboard advertising mobile phone plans. I know it’s more likely that they’ll end up in a random file on someone’s computer never to be seen again, but there’s a reason why photographing children in public places is illegal in some countries, and it makes me slightly uneasy. I’ve decided to start taking a camera with me everywhere and turn the tables on any would-be photographers, I’m looking forward to seeing the response I get. I’d love to hear from anyone else who’s had this experience and any suggestions for dealing with it (apart from grinning and bearing it, as that’s clearly not an option for someone with my temper!).