Traveling in China with five children


Well, for the first time, its the five children, not the wheelchair that is putting us in the spotlight

In China, a ‘family room’ has a double and a single bed.

In China, a ‘family meal’ at McDonalds has three burgers and three chips.

In China, I’ve lost count of the time we’ve seen a baby out and about with both Grandmas, each doting on their one mutual grandchild.  So I fully understand that we are an anomaly.   A big loud blonde-haired fair-skinned English speaking anomoly.  That MUST be photographed.

Initially, we didn’t mind the attention

Very occasionally someone who spoke a little English would ask to take our photo, but the vast majority just went ahead. It’s been really intense.  People just stare at us all the time. They see no problem with gathering around Sparky in her wheelchair, clearly discussing her.  They photograph me breast feeding!!  When we turn the other way, or say no, they take our picture anyway.

The paparazzi eventually got to us.  The other day day I became really cross. It spoiled things, and made me want to go back to our room and hide. The children too were sick of it, ‘ I’m sick of Asians taking my photo’  one of them journaled.

Hmmm, that sounds bad doesn’t it?

Climbing the beautiful yellow mountain in Huangshan was so tiring, partly because the steps were so steps, but partly because we just couldn’t stop and rest.  Even pausing for a minute would generate a crowd of over fifty people, all with cameras.  They would sidle in and sit next to the children, they would even pick up the baby!

Three of my children, shock horror, dared to climb a tree in a park;  to them its the most natrual thing in the world.  The crowd probably hit 100.

Then a policeman blew his whistle and told them to get down. Meena took fright and jumped, landing on Snowy.

When your big tough tree climbing five year old melts into tears and needs his mummy, the last thing you want is 100 onlookers.  But what to do?

But today we cracked. I felt it was all getting way too negative, and casting a shadow over our last week in China.  I decided instead of getting mad, we would make a massive joke out of it. As in , ‘we can’t change the world but we can change our response to it’  or ‘mummy is all out of ideas, here’

I told the children to have their camera on hand, and I nicked Chris’ big camera. Anyone who takes our picture gets their’s taken back!!!  Game on!!!  Us versus China!!

It was so funny. Look at these surprised people.


I had a real face-off with this guy.  He had his bl**dy great lens in Snowy’s face. So I stuck mine in his face. We clicked off at each other a few times. The whole crowd laughed. Eventually he cracked and laughed too.

I won though, because he walked off without a photo of my boy!!

I got an insight into the Chinese way of thinking and responding.  As I walked around the lake, I saw this lady with what might have been  her triplet daughters. ( I say presume, because people assume we have triplets, and we don’t, no one knows anyone else’s full story)

Anyway, there were three girls the same size dressed identically.  They were trying to cross a road, and in the five minutes it took them, I stood and watched as stranger after stranger approached the children, interrogated the mother, patted them on the head, asked questions, took photos and gave them lots of thumbs up and big smiles.  All the stuff that has been happening to us!!

How did the mother respond?  She totally ignored them all!  She looked though people as if they were glass.  That’s her on the right, staring off into space. Wow.  So that’s how it’s done.

To me that is just so so rude.

But to me they are so so rude.

But to them, we are so so different.

What’s normal? What’s ok?  In a place where spitting is totally ok, ( and I got spat on yesterday…yuck) but blowing your nose into a tissue is really rude, I can safely dismiss what ‘ feels right’ or any notion of ‘common sense’.  Any kind of intuitive response is meaningless. I mean, if people stare at me at home, I assume my pants are undone, or my skirt is up my knickers, or I’m talking too loud or I’ve done something else wrong.

So in China, we are either all doing everything wrong all the time, or we can safely assume the staring means something else. (As there’s no such thing as taking too loud in China!!)

I dunno, maybe there are just so many people in China you can be rude and not worry, you’re never going to see them again, or end up on a committee together or something awkward like that.

I think I’m just going to stick with taking photos of who ever takes our photo…. Because it makes everyone laugh, and laughter is a great leveler and connector. Perhaps we can transend the chasm between notions of rudeness, with laughter.


Although somewhere on the internet there are several thousand pics of us, and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it.

Is it rude of us to manage the situation like this?  I have no idea whats rude; thats the whole point.

And if anyone needs pictures of Chinese people behind their camera, I have hundreds.

What would you do?

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47 Responses to Traveling in China with five children

  1. Trinity October 27, 2012 at 8:43 pm #

    I met this family in Gana guesthouse in Mongolia. This lovely family earned our respects and I enjoyed to see the children gathering and chit chating in front of computer. Even though I never talked to them, they impressed and inspired me. I wonder if I have children, I will bring them traveling around the world. I am glad that I got the website address from Chris’s blog and have an opportunity to read their amazing stories.
    Trinity recently posted..5 children, 1 wheel chair.A lovely family travel around the worldMy Profile

  2. Whitney October 29, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    I’ve enjoyed reading your posts on China. We’re currently in the middle of spending a year in Guangzhou with our two year old. We have trouble with people constantly trying to pose with our son for photos too. We go back and forth on our response. It depends on the degree of rudeness I think (like whether they’re merely curious or if they’re treating him like a trained animal instead of a person). We try to remember they don’t know that they’re being rude, but it’s hard. Like you, sometimes we take pictures back. Sometimes we just say no and block the camera. We’ve considered asking for money like one of the other commenters but haven’t been brave enough yet. :)
    Whitney recently posted..I Don’t Know How to Respond to Poverty Right in Front of MeMy Profile

    • Jill November 1, 2012 at 6:05 pm #

      Hi Whitney, yep its hard. I wish I had one solution and didn’t have to keep working out how to respond each time.

  3. Allison November 10, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    Very creative solution. Love it.

    How about a water gun? Arm yourselves and then smile and squirt them when they stare too long or try to take photos…
    Allison recently posted..Crunchy Romaine SaladMy Profile

  4. Katrin November 23, 2012 at 10:23 pm #


    when we were travelling in Thailand and Cambodia with our two year old daughter we had similar “problems”.
    Strangers taking photos of her without even asking (i think even without speaking the other ones language you can always manage to “ask” if you really want!), touching her all the time, picking her up and walking away to show her to someone working in the kitchen (for example).

    In the beginning she was so perplex, she let it happen. After a while she already started screaming when a stranger approached her (only asians though, she was fine with europeans), So we told people not to touch her or pick her up. Some understood, some not.

    And about the photos: we taught her to say “10 baht” if anyone wants a photo 😉

    Happy travels,

  5. Claudia January 18, 2013 at 5:23 pm #

    TOTALLY! We started to do the same thing. Just take pictures of them. :) I am blonde and have a hard time visiting any tourist attraction in SE Asia without getting followed, grabbed, pointed at, and photographed. It really made me bitter about these countries, especially Indonesia where the attention was absurd. I can’t imagine what it must be like with a whole blonde family!
    Claudia recently posted..“It’s More Fun in the Philippines!”My Profile

  6. tam April 8, 2013 at 9:21 pm #

    My goodness, i can see how with 5 kids you would be getting very annoyed by all the photography. We came across a heap of chinese who went mad on my blonde kids, some were picking her up off the beach and cuddling her but luckily at 12 months she screamed big time. We then were all eating rice at a beachside restaraunt and there was a good 20 chinese people taking photos – i imagine next time i go to china there will be a picture of my daughter eating rice in an advert :)
    Glad you survived and India sounds excellent

  7. Latoya August 11, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    Thanks for sharing. We are a dark brown skinned American family currently in Thailand. Some days we’re ok and others we’re not. That’s how it goes. There are tons of photos of us online…somewhere as we walk down the street, eat, wait on the train, sit on the train, read a book, blink, and smile. lol
    Latoya recently posted..How Shooting Can Help You Go ViralMy Profile

  8. Jane September 15, 2016 at 8:36 am #

    I think you did really well. Making people laugh in return definitely was a great way to disperse the negative side of what was happening. A really good post, thanks for that!


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