The “One yuan, please” strategy started when Sprite was about eight years old. We visited a gorgeous waterfall in China. It’s a major tourist area for the province, and there were many people visiting on the day we toured. In that kind of environment, everyone has a camera, and most everyone wanted a photo with the “foreign doll” Sprite.
It’s not uncommon as a foreigner to be asked by strangers to join them in a photo. It is flattering the first few times people do it. And then it becomes distracting and annoying. (Actually, at many tourist spots, there are directions to “not ask foreigners for photos.” Look at #6 on this photo.)
At the waterfall, we were visiting to enjoy nature. We didn’t want to pose for photo shoots. Sprite especially didn’t want to stop and smile for the constant onlookers. I felt sorry for her.
On the one hand, I didn’t want her to refuse the people who were obviously smitten with her. But it also wasn’t fair to turn her into a park attraction and force her to pose against her will.
Suddenly I had an idea that put her in control of the situation! I suggested that the next time she was approached for a photo, to politely request 1 yuan (Chinese currency — about 15 cents) per shot. In that way, she wasn’t refusing, but she was also gaining something from the situation, something that made her sincerely willing to stand and pose for a photo.
The tourists laughed and most all were willing to give Sprite her small fee. Some even rounded up, not wanting change back for 5 or 10 yuan bills. Others, not willing to pay, simply forgot their request and walked away. Sprite enjoyed the chance to make some pocket money, and the other tourists admired her enterprising creativity while they got the cherished image of the “foreign doll.” When we left the park, Sprite spent her money on a bow and arrows at a small tourist stall.
Since then, the “One yuan, please” has been a strategy for dealing with the constant requests to take photographs in tourist spots. We used the method in Beijing this fall. In fact, at one particular spot, after people started lining up for a chance to take photos, we had to refuse them and walk away. I was afraid that authorities might be upset that we were causing a scene! Plus we could have stood there all day long and never seen any sights.
My solution to the problem may seem a bit mercenary, but it seems to work for us. The tourists are happy, and Sprite is happy. That combination makes me happy!