The iPhone is also perfect for unobtrusive shooting. I can look like I'm texting someone or playing some game. But meanwhile I'm setting up for the shot.
Yesterday we went shopping in a high-class area. The seven story mall is right next to a new Starbucks. Very ritzy. The floors are polished marble, walls are mirrors, glass and brass. Only the Chinese with new money come here. They speak some English and most are well educated.
We took the escalator to the top floor and worked our way down. We were the only ones on the floor. We chatted with some here and there, checked the outrageous prices (four times what I would pay elsewhere), and sauntered to the next place.
I'm always on the lookout for good photo opts even when I'm shopping. I especially like to collect signage. So in several spots I took some pictures as reference for later sketches.
But at one place, hanging outside in the main walking area, I found an especially interesting sign. I held the iPhone up to it to snap a pic when some self-important guy came over and told me I can't take pictures. "Why?" I asked. He didn't give an answer but stood his ground. He rudely stepped in front of my iPhone.
I put the camera down and thought: "Will these people ever get the 'customer-first' concept? If he had engaged me by asking friendly questions like, where we were from, why we are studying Chinese, why I liked the sign, etc. I would have gone into his store, might have even bought some outrageously expensive thing. Next time I would have brought my friends. Instead I'm repulsed. I'll be sure to tell all my foreign friends how rude this store owner is. He doesn't realize the repercussions of a sillly rule about taking a photo. He needs foreigners to come and buy this stuff. They (and a few wealthy Chinese) are the only ones that can afford it. Doesn't he get this?
But I had already taken the picture. Yet I complied and turned away to leave. I said to myself: "Hey buddy, it's a free country. I can take any public picture I want." But then I caught myself. Wait a minute. This is NOT a free country. What am I thinking? He could have had me arrested. I need to be more careful. The Chinese don't mess around when you blatantly step over the line. They'll take you out.
The other day a friend of mine went through a traffic light on his moped with his wife on the back. There is a rule here that you can't go through certain intersections with two people on a moped. It's sort of ridiculous. You can ride anywhere you want (even against traffic) but when you get to some intersections, your partner has to get off, walk across the road and rejoin you on the other side. Many ignore this crazy rule. My friend tried to. But this time the traffic cop called ahead to the next light. When he got there an officer stepped out, clapped a huge chain around his tire and forced them off the bike. They impounded it. It took him days to get his bike back and then only after paying a fine about half the cost of the bike.
I began thinking about this as I walked away from the nasty store owner. Yeah, caution is in order here. It could have gone badly for me. I could have been shot for taking an unauthorized photo of a sign.
I never imagined I could be so close to death at a shopping mall.
I am always doing things I can’t do. That is how I get to do them. -Pablo Picasso