I had arrived in Beijing, met my ride, a woman Grace and a fellow teacher Mark, and moved into my small apartment in the village where we were to teach. On my third day I was to visit Tiananmen Square with Grace. While I was still tired from jet lag I did not want to miss this opportunity to visit the famous square and possibly enter the Forbidden City.
The day dawned sunny and fairly warm. Grace and I left the apartments around 10 am and traveled via subway to the famous palace area. The subways were so different from those in Wuhan, there was English translation on the loudspeakers and I was only a visual spectacle to half the passengers instead of all of them. This was new as my previous trips to China I felt like an ape let out of his cage and allowed to roam the streets. I digress, the trip to Tiananmen took around 45 minutes from our stop and we walked out into the sunshine.
I had not known what to expect, but there were throngs of people, all Chinese, pushing to get onto the square. While this was not unexpected, the lack of foreign tourist presence was immediately apparent as I became somewhat of a phenomenon at the site as we worked our way onto the square. Once on the square I was looking at the various government buildings surrounding us and taking in the imposing presence of the Forbidden City’s gates before us when I felt a tap on my arm. I turned around and saw a young boy, perhaps 8 or 9 years old looking at me.
“Hallo” he greeted me, timidly but seemingly spurned on by his parents about 10 feet away. I greeted him and he began to ask me questions in halting English about where I was from and why I was in China, as he went along his tone became more confident and he seemed to blossom upward. As I answered his questions and conversed with him I noticed that many Chinese people were whispering around us and snapping pictures of the interaction. His mother eventually approached and said something to her son, he looked at me and asked if they could take a picture with me. I said yes and his father posed us in the acceptable way and began to snap photos. As he was doing this I noticed other people inching closer, cameras at the ready.
As the boys family began to hustle other family members over to get their pictures other people began to approach me and ask in broken English and through gestures if they too could get their photographs taken. For approximately 20 minutes I assented and allowed all of the people to turn me into a minor celebrity there in Tiananmen Square. Grace looked on with a bemused look on her face. Once the pictures were taken and thanks were said we continued on toward the Forbidden City.
Once in the walls we approached and attempted to purchase a entrance ticket…the admissions office had closed and were no longer selling tickets. I will never know if my 20 minutes cost us a visit to a wonderful site that day, instead I look back with bemusement as I had been a carnival attraction for a short while to a teaming throng of Chinese looking to get proof that the elusive foreigner had been seen in the wild. My photo was to be the trophy held up to friends and family on various social media sites and possibly even in photo albums…I am the Great White Buffalo.