We’ve just finished our breakfast.
We’re sitting greasy fingered and sated, on low red plastic stools crammed into the corner of a tiny back alley shop. Dim light shrinks the room further, not reaching the edges, and the walls are busy with Chinese characters. Layered thick with decades of posters and signs. Everybody else in the room is Chinese, and they’re all looking at us expectantly, faces alight with bemused mirth.
As is common for us in China, we have no idea what we’ve just eaten. There were pancakes involved, and vegetables of some sort. Possibly other things. But it was delicious, and we smile at the room. Everybody beams back, and they all have a good old laugh. I’m sure they’re laughing with us, not at us. Possibly.
This is backstreet Beijing, and two foreigners eating pancakes are the funniest thing that’s happened all week. The camera phones come out. Everybody has to see this.
China is not for the camera shy
Five minutes later we’re leaving, with a bag of mystery pancakes to go, and contracted pupils from the repeated camera flashes. And we’re still grinning — all this mirth is infectious.
Being constantly photographed in China is something that I was at first bewildered by, quickly found endearing, and then slowly but insistently began to find irritating.
Really it’s all of those things: odd, charming, annoying.
That breakfast time I was firmly charmed by it, but by the afternoon cracks had appeared. Literally and metaphorically. But it would be hours until that happened. In the meantime, bellies full, we were off to delve deeper into Beijing’s hutongs.