Photos and text by: Sonny Yabao
Playing tourist in this modern city is no big deal. In an age when everybody takes pictures with a cellphone, you no longer stand out in a crowd even with a big SLR around your neck. Only a sleepy dog lazing in the sun on the pavement would dare look up at you for fear you might step on its tail. Even the women sitting on a row of chairs in front of the massage parlors won’t mind you even if you raise the camera to your eye. They’ve seen the likes of you every day of their lives or so it seems.
I was kneeling on the grass inside the Forbidden City in Beijing, a year before Chairman Mao died, to reload my Leica camera with a fresh roll of Kodak Tri-X film. And all of a sudden, I thought a heavy cloud hovered above me, and I looked up to see what was happening. I was surrounded by a horde of Chinese picnickers, wondering what I was doing. I rose up in panic, thinking they were about to trample me to the ground as in Genghis Khan’s solemn promise “No grass will grow where my horse trod.” With my broadest smile, I greeted them “Ni hao!” the only Chinese words I knew at the time. They all smiled back at me. I nodded and took a deep breath. God, what a relief! I took a few snaps as they were about to leave.