TAIZHOU, China- It would be a vast understatement to say that my two and a half year old, light haired, Caucasian daughter attracts a lot of attention in China. To be honest, she attracts mobs. Wherever she goes people stop and try to talk with her, they take her photo, shoot videos, pinch her cheeks, try to pick her up, and, if one is available, they find a Chinese child to stick in front of her to see what happens. Sometimes my daughter says “Ni hao,” smiles, and is friendly; sometimes she yells and screams and punches out and the attention givers.
“I don’t want them touching me! They are all trying to touch me!”
Generally, if they don’t approach her too quickly or aggressively, grab her, or try to pick her up Petra is cool — she either enjoys the attention or reacts with ambivalence. But if someone tries to snatch her up she goes on the offensive.
And good for her.
All travelers need to know where to draw the line between making local friends and being an object for their amusement. The attention that a traveler attracts in many parts of the world is part of the joys of traveling off the tourist trail, but it can also be one of the biggest annoyances. All travelers need to come up with their own parameters of what to allow people to do to them and what to prohibit. The people in China who give Petra a lot of attention are just being nice and friendly — most of them have probably never seen a little white child before — but Petra has her limits:
You can look at me and talk to me but don’t grab me and try to pick me up, and definitely don’t expect me to stand here all day posing for photos.
These are her parameters, and as a traveler of the world she is entitled to draw lines in this regard exactly as she pleases. My wife and myself are prepared to jump to her aid if local affection comes off as mild aggression. Sometimes the people here really don’t understand when they are bothering or scaring her, or they seem to think that the wails of white children just makes them even more adorable. Sometimes the Chinese are so full of ooohhhhs and ahhhhhssss and baby talk and smiles that they seemingly fail to recognize that the object of their affection is screaming at them and trying hard to land a right hook. But most often Petra takes the attention well and enjoys it — becoming proud of herself when she speaks some words in the local language to the cheers of the crowd. She is pretty use to this game by now, as she has been showered with this type of attention and affection by locals throughout her travels, but I have to admit that attention she receives in China is truly to the tenth degree.