An Open Letter To The Guy Who Was Taking Pictures of Me At the Park

June 20, 2012

Hey, there.

Remember me?

We met in the park this morning. I was the big white girl in spandex running pants. You were the middle-aged Chinese dude with the camera.

I was stretching.

You were taking photos of the water lilies.

And then at some point you stopped taking pictures of the water lilies and just started taking pictures of me.

That was… umm… what’s-the-word… awkward.

But I figured you would stop soon. You’d just go back to taking photos of the water lilies. And I could go back to pretending that didn’t just happen.

But you didn’t stop, did you?

Even when I looked up at you and scowled. And even when I hid behind that big pillar. I know because I peeked out at one point from behind the pillar, and you were still taking pictures of me.

Maybe a photo would help jog your memory.

Ha, ha. Jog! Get it?

Remember me, now?

First of all, let me say that I understand.

I mean, I get it.

I get you.

I take photos of complete strangers doing crazy stuff all the time.

Like last week when I went to the Oriental Pearl Tower and saw people doing stuff like this:

This can’t be sanitary.

And then there was that time I ran into a Power Ranger at the beach. I mean, how could I not take a picture of that?

And, every time I see a couple wearing matching outfits, I’m just going to have to take a photo. Especially if that couple is wearing totally classy, hand-painted t-shirts like these:

Hmm… so are you two together?

And, well, I have to admit that as far as crazy people doing crazy stuff goes, I’m probably pretty up there.

After all, there aren’t a whole heck of a lot of white girls in this town. Let alone big white girls in spandex running pants.

And not only was I wearing spandex running pants, I was also wearing my bionic knee brace and the little pink hip pack thing that I wear when I go running. And, yes, I realize I look dorky and like I’m taking this running thing a bit too seriously. Especially for someone who runs as slowly as I do. But I’d really rather my knee not explode, and I kind of need some place to put my keys, okay?

Hip packs. Not just for your mom.

And I’ll admit that I really don’t know what I’m doing when I’m stretching, so that probably made me look even a few more noodles short of lo mein, if you know what I mean. I’m always like, “Okay, let’s warm up the hamstrings. Wait. Where are the hamstrings again?” And then I give up and just start flailing around for five minutes.

So, yeah, I get it.

I was a total Kodak moment.

But, seriously, dude, you were not cool.

Not cool at all.

Couldn’t you at least do that thing where you act like you’re messing with the dials on your camera? Or that thing where you act like you’re checking the photos you just took? But you’re actually, you know, taking photos of me?

I’d be cool with that.

Or you could have pretended you were taking pictures of something behind me or next to me or whatever. You could have been like, “Ooo, look at that tree. That’s an awesome tree. I’m just going to take lots of pictures of that tree. Don’t mind me, White Girl.”

Just taking a photo of the tree… and not the girl with the leaf on top of her head.

I do these sneaky photo-taking moves all the time.

And, take it from me, they totally work!

I mean, I live in China where I’m faced with photo-worthy opportunities all the live-long day. But my cell phone is this super cheap, Stone Age number that I picked up in Malaysia over two years ago.

This is my cell phone. I’m pretty sure it’s powered by hamsters.

It doesn’t have anything fancy like a camera, so anytime I run into a Power Ranger and I really need to take a picture, I can’t just do the super stealthy move where I pretend I’m texting while I’m actually taking a picture. This is what I used to do all the time in Japan when I had a cell phone that was actually made in this century.

Ah, the good old days in Japan when I was a total camera phone ninja. Literally.

Instead, these days, I have to kick it old school and use my actual camera. But I still try to, you know, be cool about it and pretend I’m not totally taking photos of strangers to put on my blog. Because that would just be creepy, you know?

I don’t know why you annoyed me as much as you did, dude. It’s not as if I’m not used to having people take my photo.

In fact, I kind of welcome people taking my photo. Because usually I’m the type of person who would feel really bad about taking photos of complete strangers and posting them on the Internets.

But after a year and a half of living in China and having countless strangers take my picture, I don’t feel so bad anymore. I figure it all evens out. Heck, for all I know, my photo has been plastered all over a thousand Chinese people’s blogs.

Who? Me? I may just be a big deal on the Chinese Internet.

And, hey, it’s not as if I don’t like a little attention.

I mean, I write a blog that is almost entirely about myself.

I love attention!

I live for attention!

That is when I even notice the attention I get. I usually don’t even see the people staring at me or taking my photographs. This is just one of the perks of being totally self-involved. That and never having to buy anyone a birthday present because you can never remember when anyone’s birthday is.

Plus, I’m pretty used to the attention by now. I’ve lived in Asia for over six years. Staring at the freaky white girl can be a pretty popular pastime in this part of the world.

Hello there, boys. I’ll be by to sign autographs later.

So, yeah, usually it doesn’t bother me.

But today was different.

Today I wanted to go for a morning run in my neighborhood park – the same park that I’ve run in for the past year and a half.

I wanted to do the route that I know by heart – the one where I know exactly which planks on the wooden walkways are spongey and should be avoided.

Watch out for the third plank from the bottom.

I wanted to wave at the groundskeeper who always waves at me.

I wanted my routine.

Because in less than a week, I will no longer have a routine. Or a home. Or a neighborhood park. I won’t know which wooden planks are spongey or which  groundskeeper will cheer for me when he sees me pass by.

Today, I wanted to feel like I belonged here.

Because, the funny thing is I do feel like I belong here. Even though I don’t look like I belong. Or sound like I belong. Or act like I belong.

This place I’ve called home for the past year and a half has been my home. And I’m sad as hell to leave. Even though I’m super excited to be moving on.

But it’s hard to feel like you belong when you have someone pointing his camera all up in your face, you know?

Instead, I felt like I’d been tele-ported in from some other planet. Where all the big ladies like to rock out spandex pants and bionic knees. (Which, mind you, sounds like a super awesome planet that I’m sure everyone would totally want to visit, am I right or am I right?)

So, dude, if you happen to see me in the park again over the next couple of days before I leave, all I ask is that you pretend to take pictures of the trees. Even if you’re totally taking pictures of me.

And I’ll pretend I actually know where my hamstrings are.


Do you ever take photos of strangers without their permission? When is it cool? When is it not cool?

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On June 20, 2012 at 8:25 am Selly said:

    I should probably at this stage confess that I totally tried to take loads of sneaky photos of you last week but you kind of always snuck off while we were on the tower so whenever I wanted to take photos of you I could not. Eventually I opted for the second best and just asked my fish to take loads of photos of the two of us. Please don’t hate me.
    Selly recently posted..The Twitter Deal Breaker

    • On June 20, 2012 at 3:00 pm Sally said:

      I’ve been honing my stealthy photo-escaping moves for years. You were obviously no match for me.

      • On June 20, 2012 at 3:46 pm James @ Fly, Icarus, Fly said:

        How could Selly be the loveliest reader when she tried to take SNEAKY pictures of you! Stalk much? I would NEVER do that to you. Because I’m a lovely reader.

        Besides, I’m sure that Chinese guy has his own pithy blog where he talks about how exciting his life in Wuxi is (or maybe just his couch) and where he finds a way (ANY way) to insert a photo of him in his pink pleather cop uniform into his posts. I mean, you couldn’t blame a gal, I mean, a guy, for adding pictures of weird people to his blog, could you?
        James @ Fly, Icarus, Fly recently posted..Photo of the Week — Good Things Come in Small (Banana Leaf) Packages

        • On June 21, 2012 at 1:38 am Sally said:

          I don’t mind sneaky photos of me. It’s the non-sneaky photos which creep me out.
          And that pink pleather cop uniform photo was totally justified… this time. 🙂

  2. On June 20, 2012 at 8:26 am Sarah said:

    Oh, I hate that moment when you are made to feel like your neighbourhood isn’t your own. I had a few times like that in Singapore, where I felt the otherness creeping in.

    Too bad you didn’t have a camera with you. You could have awkwardly taken pictures of him taking pictures of you and tried to make him really uncomfortable.
    Sarah recently posted..A Pair Of Shoes

  3. On June 20, 2012 at 9:03 am Steve said:

    I tried taking photos back recently in Pingyao – the man got extremely angry and started shouting, then his friend(wife?) aggressively emptied the contents of her plastic bag on the ground, which was confusing.
    Steve recently posted..Qiao’s Family-Unfriendly Courtyard – Pingyao, Shanxi Province

  4. On June 20, 2012 at 9:19 am Wendy Hollands said:

    I try to take photos of weird stuff without looking obvious, but rarely snap more than one photo and a back-up if the first was blurry, just in case the subject spots me. Men around the world are the same though, aren’t they? Here, they don’t have cameras. They just stare at boobs even when the boob owner blatantly places her hands over them. But I live in a dairy farming area, so maybe they’re wondering just how many litres they could get out…
    Wendy Hollands recently posted..SPRUNG! Knowing when to keep quiet

  5. On June 20, 2012 at 9:46 am DebbZ said:

    Well I admit that I also love taking sneaky pictures. Especially taking pictures of a big white girl in spandex running pants, Lol :p
    DebbZ recently posted..Vatican City in My Point of View

  6. On June 20, 2012 at 10:33 am fotoeins | Henry said:

    Maybe the dude was working for Secret Service, and wanted an example of “white girl in spandex with bionic knees” for the files … cue “da-da-da-da-da” sounds from the `70s shows.

    Naaaaaaaah …
    fotoeins | Henry recently posted..The colours of Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town

    • On June 20, 2012 at 2:56 pm Sally said:

      I think he needs a new job. He made a crappy spy as he was very obvious…. especially if I noticed him and I’m not usually very quick on these kind of things. Either that or he needs a much smaller camera.

  7. On June 20, 2012 at 10:55 am Keith said:

    Damn it if you were not just so beautiful I could return to taking pictures of the water lilies.

    Enjoyed the post and I will attempt to not be so obvious in the future.

  8. On June 20, 2012 at 1:27 pm Greg said:

    Our 10 year old blond son hated exactly the attention you’re describing, that sense of always being “the other.” People would literally pull him into photos as he was walking down the street. He would have the same experience, just wanting to be a part of the community where we were living. We certainly get your reaction.

    • On June 20, 2012 at 2:54 pm Sally said:

      I think kids get it the worst! I have friends with two fair-haired children and they’re always being mobbed for photos. My question is what does everybody do with these photos of foreigners?

  9. On June 20, 2012 at 1:33 pm Adrienne said:

    I have been in several countries where children ask to have their picture taken and then ask for a tip. You should gone up to him and made some cash money. Who knows maybe you could have a whole new career in China?
    Adrienne recently posted..Spanish Bullfighting Killed My Hopes of Being as Cultured as Hemingway

  10. On June 20, 2012 at 6:09 pm Priya said:

    Well, How else are you going get on ANTM (America’s Next Top Model) if you don’t practice! You should’ve busted out the inner glass-floor-model in you and posed! Duh.

    This it totally creepy! I’m just imagining this guy blowing up these pictures and placing them on this bedroom wall.
    This reminds me of Mariah’s music video ” Obsessed” .. and I was like, “Why you so obsessed with me?”
    Priya recently posted..Networking When You Don’t Know What You’re Doing With Your Life

  11. On June 20, 2012 at 6:22 pm Anne McKinnell said:

    Your posts are always so entertaining and I just know my photography friends are going to love this one. It’s a great topic and photographers always like to hear people’s take on the issue. I think I would like that plant too, with the spandex and bionic knees 🙂
    Anne McKinnell recently posted..Sunset at Arches National Park, Utah

    • On June 21, 2012 at 1:36 am Sally said:

      I’d be curious to hear what the photographers say. Is there some kind of universal photographer code of conduct or something about taking photos of strangers? Or does everybody just do their own thing?

      • On June 21, 2012 at 4:24 am Anne McKinnell said:

        I guess everyone has their own policy. Some people just go ahead and take the photos if you are in a public place, some people hide across the street and use a telephoto lens, and other always ask permission. But whatever the policy, I think it is pretty much universal that if the person gives you the scowl you move on. Personally I pretty much stick to landscapes 🙂
        Anne McKinnell recently posted..Sunset at Arches National Park, Utah

  12. On June 20, 2012 at 6:34 pm Ava Apollo said:

    He must have known you were leaving and wanted to make sure he got some pictures to remember you by. Wait, that’s not less creepy. I’ll stop trying to be helpful now.

  13. On June 20, 2012 at 6:38 pm Andi of My Beautiful Adventures said:

    I would totally take a picture of you too! 😉 I rarely take pics of strangers, because I always feel like karma will bite me in the ass…
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Macau: Day 4 (Part 2)

    • On June 21, 2012 at 1:32 am Sally said:

      See the whole karma thing is the reason why I don’t feel so bad about taking photos of strangers on the sly. I used to never take photos of strangers. But since moving to China & seeing so many people take my photo, I figure the universe owes me a few photos of strangers. Plus there are so many wacky strangers here, I couldn’t NOT take photos of them (discretely, of course)>

  14. On June 21, 2012 at 1:07 am Unisse said:

    Oh, I’m so guilty of taking photos of random people but as much as possible I do it discreetly because I’m so afraid of having someone give me a cold stare and I’d end up feeling ashamed because it is awkward!

    I used to take pictures of little kids at theme parks because I find them cute and adorable! (I am not a pedophile. I’m only 21!) but I did get kind of looked at real mean by a mom so I stopped. 🙁

    • On June 21, 2012 at 1:49 am Sally said:

      Oh, I love taking pictures of kids here because they’re so freaking adorable. But, yeah, I do feel a bit weird about it. Although, here, it seems like most of the parents are flattered if you want to take pictures of their kids. Like, “Yes, it’s true, my child is so adorable that random foreign strangers want to take pictures of her.” Or, at least, that’s what I tell myself so I don’t feel like such a creeper.

  15. On June 21, 2012 at 1:39 am Ross said:

    I take photos of strangers all the time when I’m in other countries. Only a shot or two of the same person though. I use all the sneaky moves and try not to be seen but if I get a scowl from someone I stop immediately.
    Ross recently posted..Transit of Venus

  16. On June 21, 2012 at 5:55 am Jen Ryder said:

    I totally do the sneaky picture taking thing too, which I’m sure actually comes across as completely obvious and more often than not results in a crappy shot. But people here in China definitely take pictures of me too, so like you I don’t feel so bad. I have, however, started asking people if it’s ok if I take their picture, which makes me feel better, and I think makes them feel less awkward. Maybe?

    • On June 21, 2012 at 2:09 pm Sally said:

      Hmmm… yes, this is probably one more reason why I should learn Chinese. Actually be able to ask people’s permission. Instead of just pretending to be stealthy…

      • On June 21, 2012 at 11:02 pm Jen Ryder said:

        Oh, I really should clarify, my Chinese is terrible. By ask permission I really mean I walk up to said subject and point to my camera, grunt like a cavewoman, make picture taking motions, say eh? eh?, smile real big and wait for their response.

  17. On June 21, 2012 at 6:09 am Furio said:

    haha I was supposed to be working but after I read the title I couldn’t resist and I read it.

    When I feel uncomfortable because Chinese make too many pics of me I start to talk with them. There are three possibilities:

    1. They run away.

    2. They ask to take a pic with me.

    3. I get a date.

    And BTW I had the same phone till I lost it last month. I paid it 200 kuai in Beijing in 2010


    • On June 21, 2012 at 2:08 pm Sally said:

      What? So you’re saying all this time when people were taking my picture they really just wanted to ask me out on a date? (That IS what you’re saying, right? RIGHT?) I’ll keep that in mind next time some creeper starts snapping photos of me. And he better be hot!

  18. On June 21, 2012 at 3:20 pm Waegook Tom said:

    He could at least TRY to be sneaky. I was sneakily snapping photos of adorable couples in Busan a couple of weekends ago, but pretending to take photos of the “scenery” (thanks cliffs in the background for providing a decoy).

    I’ve never (knowingly) had anyone take photos of me – people here have had the courtesy to be sly about it. Instead, my younger students just stroke their faces against my arm hair as if its one of their pets.

    p.s. once again, that Power Ranger will haunt my dreams.
    Waegook Tom recently posted..The Shocking Truth About Dating Korean Men

  19. On June 22, 2012 at 2:35 am Laura said:

    He couldn’t resist the spandex 😉 I also love when people do get permission to take a photo, except that you’re not quite sure what’s so special. When I was at Arches National Park, an older Chinese couple asked if I would stand from a lookout spot I had climbed to for a photo. I obliged, then he kept taking another. And another. And then I just felt famous 🙂
    Laura recently posted..Visiting Golden, Colorado & the Coors Brewery

  20. On June 22, 2012 at 7:17 am Susan said:

    I never take pictures of people, even when I really, really want to take pictures of people doing things both picturesque and weird. And then I get sad because I’ll never have a photo of roti man or the sleeping monk at the temple. And I’ll never be unshy enough to ASK to take a picture. And so all I have is photos of dogs and cups of coffee.
    Susan recently posted..A List of Things Tangentially Related to Myanmar (Burma)

  21. On June 22, 2012 at 3:41 pm Ayngelina said:

    I have had a couple people sneak photos of me and I realized that I was upset but I sneak photos of people too!

    Maybe it was just extra creepy because he was an old guy? Who knows what he’s doing with the photos now…

    Eww I know that was too far.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Food Friday: Maui Onion Festival

  22. On June 22, 2012 at 5:03 pm Ceri said:

    I love taking pictures of strangers but only when they don’t realise it. Okay, that sounds odd. I just love unposed pictures – The moment they see you, it’s over. Can’t do it anymore.

    That’s really weird though that he kept taking pictures of you like that. I’d probably get annoyed too. Wonder what he’s going to do with those pictures of you …
    Ceri recently posted..Letter to My Father

  23. On June 23, 2012 at 2:47 am choi kum fook said:

    Most of the people like to take sneaky photos, mostly because they look literally natural! If you have that skill or tactic(avoiding of stranger knows camera focusing to him),you can go ahead.Miss Sally, You have ability to do that because you are an old hand photographer! Any how, I think, it is better to ask a permission when taking photos from a stranger. I love to photo but very lousy handle it! So, n ow-a-days, I seldom bring camera alone when going out, usually take advantage of friend camera. Ha.Ha!

  24. On June 25, 2012 at 6:55 am ayan said:

    that “leaving” part sucks, well, almost all the time
    ayan recently posted..on sedated dreams…

  25. On June 25, 2012 at 10:15 pm Charlie said:

    I’m always so self conscious doing it. I did get one the other day, not as good as I wanted it to be because I was trying to pretend I was taking a picture out of the train window- at the other end of the carriage. It was this guy and his Alsatian dog that were both sitting on the train seats and looking out the window at the same thing. It was so funny. Both their heads popping up and staring out at the scenery. More countries should allow full access passes for dogs-it makes them so human.
    Charlie recently posted..Until next time…

    • On June 26, 2012 at 3:11 am Sally said:

      Aww, that sounds like a great shot! Yesterday, I saw a woman walking a dog with little shoes on and I really wanted to take their picture but my camera was acting up. It’s really hard to act discrete when you’re screaming at your camera.

  26. On July 6, 2012 at 6:24 am Samuel @ Backpacking Travel Blog said:

    This was a funny read. When I was in China taking a train from Guilin to Yunnan, I had a guy tap me on the shoulder (while I was sleeping) and just as I opened my eyes he blinded me with the flash. I do take ‘creeper’ shots from time to time but I try to be discreet about it. You can definitely take it too far 😛
    Samuel @ Backpacking Travel Blog recently posted..Kek Lok Si Temple | Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

    • On July 6, 2012 at 12:55 pm Sally said:

      Ha ha! I guess at least he made sure you were awake before he took your picture. It would have been a bit creepier if he just took lots of pictures of you sleeping, right?

  27. On July 12, 2014 at 7:34 pm Kevin Shelley said:


    When I saw the title of your post on Google, I thought it was going to be another one of those “this guy took a picture, my life’s ruined” sort of things.

    As a keen Street Photographer, I agree with how you felt about this guy. My style and most of us who are really into the art, process and massive history of it, usually take one shot and look for the next.

    But to persue and take many photos of the same subject can legally be classed as harrasment, especially if the subject has made it clear to stop.

    I can only assume he either thought you were ‘playing’ with him and making interesting compositions and poses by popping out from behind things, or wasn’t a real street photographer, or was just a pervert.

    It’s good that you understand what he possibly was and didn’t just think he was a pervert/paedo/terrorist as many people nowadays do, though this guy would have made me think twice.

    All the best,

    Kevin Shelley recently posted..Chester – Street Photography Escape From the City . . .

    • On July 13, 2014 at 10:44 am Sally said:

      Oh, I totally think he was a pervert, and was completely and totally crossing the line. But seeing as I didn’t speak any Chinese, there wasn’t much I could do.


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