Changing China

Giant on the move

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A Tibetan slap on the bum


By Emma Graham-Harrison

I was trying to take photos of pilgrims near the Potala Palace in Lhasa, with my government minders telling me to hurry up (we had a neighbourhood committee to visit) and the pilgrims looking uncomfortable as I snapped away at their devotions.

Suddenly a smiling old woman, dressed like she had stepped out of an engraving of 19th century Tibet, hobbled up behind me and gave me a resounding smack on the bum.

I wondered if this was guerrilla revenge for taking people’s photos without asking – something I’ve always hated doing but felt obliged to attempt.

But when I turned around she was grinning like my little sister did when she pulled the same trick on me years ago. The woman’s face lit up, showing a few remaining teeth, as she roared at the joke.