Jacqueline Smith: A mug's life in the public eye


Poor wee Selena Gomez fielding death threats after her public displays of affection for her MTV award-winning boyfriend Justin Bieber last week.

It's a tough life dodging crazy fans and paparazzi whenever you go on holiday.

I sympathise.

Last week, while on holiday in China, on possibly the same day as Gomez frolicked in Hawaii, I too was accosted by fans - strangers - who took my picture. Multiple times. Many from poorly-concealed vantage points.

One fan even had my mug printed on a mug. At a little Photoshop pop-up shop in the middle of a theme park, people could have photographs of themselves slapped on a piece of crockery of their choice. Out of narcissism, I bought one of myself. Then an older Chinese couple also bought one. They also chose a photograph of me, posing with a fellow traveller.

I hate the idea of leaving material footprints around the world, but there's something a little bit exciting about the thought of a family drinking tea out of a mug with my face on it in a little-known place north of Beijing. I feel a bit like Justin Bieber, who, as regular readers may know, has graced my desk in the form of a doll for the past six months.

(And, as a digression, whose grating song I heard pounding from a stereo in a Unesco World Heritage site the day after this mug-shot experience). The real Bieber has never met me. He has probably never met the girl I sat near on the plane on Friday, who carries him around in her back-pack. Yet, via photographs and mass-production, Bieber and other such MTV award-winning stars become an important part of the everyday lives of small, little-known souls like myself.

Anyway, back to north China, and this little place called Taiyuan, population a mere four million, famous for coal and tofu. The city's small theme park will be forever etched in my memory, because there, for one afternoon, I was a little bit famous. We all were, us six New Zealanders, or donkeys (I learned that in Mandarin, the word that sounds a lot like "nu zeelan" is the noun used to label the animal we call "donkey". Bit of trivia).

Before walking into the theme park I was introduced to someone who seemed highly appreciative of my presence.

Appearing out of nowhere, she flung herself at me, pressed her forehead to mine, gripped me around my middle and squealed a string of "thank yous".

It wasn't horrible, but it was as unexpected, and quite possibly as passionate as Robert Pattinson's public display of affection for his Twilight co-star Taylor Lautner at the MTV Awards on Monday night. I certainly felt very special. Admittedly, as I didn't see a copy of The New Zealand Herald, or TimeOut, in China, I expect she thought I was someone I wasn't. Perhaps someone with a blockbuster movie, or radio hit. Or someone as celebrated in China as the singer Sa Ding Ding or as worthy of a headline as the Kung-Fu Panda sequel.

Nevertheless, I took my ill-attributed fame as a gift, and used it to gain some insight to the lives of the celebrities I often write about.

I saw how challenging it must be for celebrated people to accept responsibility for their actions all the time. As a mistaken celebrity identity in Taiyuan that day, I unwittingly endorsed a rickety thrill-seekers' merry-go-round that flings its riders through the air suspended by rusty spokes.

When I, and my fellow famous donkeys decided to try the seemingly unpopular theme park attraction, a pack of camera-wielding members of the public followed suit. The ride was suddenly at capacity, and that was much more frightening. Ditto demand for the ferris wheel and log flume. And the Photoshopped mugs.

Over the past five days I have not been photographed, or followed, or had my head thrust against a stranger's on the street. But I write this sipping from my theme park mug, which today found its new home, on my desk. It shall take precedence over Bieber, whose life I am now confident I do not want. Nope, I prefer my fame in the form of collectibles. Like figurines and mugs.

- NZ Herald

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