The Day I Became a Minor Celebrity

When traveling, this word can quickly become a sound you dread.

Having spent the last two years living in Hong Kong, we have travelled around South East Asia quite a bit. In countries with a developed tourist industry “Hello” can often turn from a greeting into the bane of every traveller. Usually it goes like this:

“Hello, where you from?”
“Hello, I’m from England”
“Ah, London.. Football.. David Beckham!”
<Sigh> “Yes.”

Next comes the inevitable:
“you come into my shop”… “you want to buy [insert touristy crap item here]”… “You want guide? I English speak, good guide”
Then you get followed by the guy for the next 100 yards trying to part you from your money.

But here in Tibet, everyone seems so friendly. While walking around people of all ages say “Hello” as we pass, we give a “Hello” back, and are rewarded by huge smiles and genuine feelings of friendliness. Nobody tries to drag us into their shop, sell us something or scam us.

We get a lot of inquisitive stares, westerners are a novelty here, especially in the winter. Our guide explained that during the winter months a lot of the nomadic Tibetans and cattle herders, who spend the summers out in the mountains working, don’t have so much to do, so they come to Lhasa to visit the temples and walk Kora (clockwise walk around temples or shrines while praying or reciting mantras). As most tourists come in the summer, the nomadic people rarely see westerners. We have become celebrities.

It started in the grounds of Norbulingka Palace, outside the former Summer Residence of the Dalai Lama. Amanda and I stopped to get a picture of ourselves in front the palace. A small Tibetan man in a red jacket, (eating an ice-cream in sub zero weather!), was hanging around looking at us with interest. He then came up to me and pointed at his friend who was holding up a smartphone camera.

I’ve experienced this before, in Hong Kong (usually Chinese tourists), a few times in Vietnam (locals). I’m fairly tall, western, with a beard. In places like this, I stand out and would, I guess, be considered quite unusual.

The second time we were waiting outside the Sera Monastery for our guide to collect entry tickets. Pilgrims, nomads and locals were everywhere. A huge queue snaked off up the hill towards the temples, Tibetans taking their children to be blessed. Those who had already received their blessing were marked with a black smudge down their noses.

People were staring, soon one gained enough courage to walk over with his children and make eye contact with me. He motioned to his wife who was holding her phone camera. I smiled and gestured to him that I was happy to take a picture. He stood his kids with me and stepped out of the way, picture taken, it was his turn, he wanted to show his friends back in the mountains the huge white man he met.

I was happy to take a picture with him, but as soon as you agree to one, a mob quickly forms. People plop their children beside me, families crowd in, smartphones click. Lots of smiles, nods and handshakes follow. Everyone moves on to explore the Temples a little happier that they have met a huge westerner and I continue on, enjoying having had a friendly encounter with the locals.

Now I know how Brad Pitt or George Clooney must feel, so maybe Brad, George, we could hang out…. as long as I can get a selfie with you first.

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4 Replies to “The Day I Became a Minor Celebrity”

  1. We had a similar experience in China about 11 years ago. Being a very tall woman was a rarity, but being with someone who had a blonde haired baby boy.. well that almost tipped the locals over the edge.

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