Have You Ever Been a Travel Spectacle?

She sashayed down the corridor at the Taipei Airport. Past the Coach store and the lady offering samples of rice wine.  She was a life sized kinked up baby doll, all bubblegum pink and lace garters.

From behind, I noticed her raven hair tucked into a miniature Victorian riding hat with a mesh veil. I watched her ankles wobble in the black shoes, matronly if not for the 4- inch stiletto heels.

She was a Cosplay girl. Occasionally, I see others like her in Japan. Sometimes they’re preening in front of tourists. Other times, they’re doing errands around town.

She continued to walk under gate signs past electronic displays and perfume counters.

A businessman coming from the other direction nearly collided with the person in front of him. A trio of older ladies nudged each other and shook their heads. A table of Taiwanese monks hunched over bowls of noodles stopped mid-slurp and turned their heads 180 degrees.

Even I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

We ended up at the same gate.

“Excuse me, may I take your picture?” I asked spontaneously.

“Yes.” She cocked her head to the side, placed her hands in a V framing her face, and curtsied.

“I’m Miss Thailand,” she announced.

“You’re Miss Thailand?”

“No, I’m from Thailand.” She corrected herself.

I desperately wanted to understand the persona.

“Do you wear this everyday?” I asked hoping for insight.

“No, not everyday. Sometimes.”

“Do you always wear pink?” I struggled.

“Yes, always pink.”

I was only getting started when suddenly, her nondescript companion, another woman in ordinary clothes, whom I’d not noticed at all firmly broke in, “Thank you!”

Reddening, I walked away.

I made my way to a seat on the other side of the gate. I searched for a pen in my bag, opened my journal, and started writing.

After a few minutes, I felt a strange sensation and looked up. Standing above was a man, staring down over my shoulder. He was reading what I had just written.

I made eye contact and smiled. I clutched the journal closer to my body and repositioned so that my shoulder blocked his view. From peripheral vision, I saw him adjust, but he remained there, bearing down. I tried to ignore him.

Uncomfortably, I scanned the area around me. Three men were looking in my direction and smirking. I saw a woman elbow her male companion and nod towards me.  A group of high school girls nearby giggled, covered their mouths, and looked away.

I was a spectacle by association.

Have you ever unknowingly drawn attention to yourself while traveling or living abroad? What did you do? Tell me about it!


24 thoughts on “Have You Ever Been a Travel Spectacle?

  1. Yes, I got stuck in same situation when I was traveling Nepal for a short vacation.It was embarrassing situation and I made promise to myself not to talk minors when I am abroad specially Asian countries.

  2. How fascinating, I’d never even heard the term Cosplay though I guess the concept is familiar. Must’ve been quite a moment, you became a part of the production too 🙂

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Jude,
      I didn’t know much about Cosplay before I moved here, but it’s an interesting concept to me. I wish I could have learned more, but I guess it wasn’t the right time or place!

  3. I’ve never heard of Cosplay, either, so thank you for introducing me to this strange new idea. Sometimes I feel as if I make a spectacle of myself in every country I visit, just because I’m such a stereotypically loud, talkative American who uses large Western gestures. When I visit rural China, I become a sideshow simply by being there, because so few non-Asians visit remote areas. I get plenty of open stares. Usually I ignore the staring, if it goes on a long time sometimes I give a small polite smile. If they don’t smile back, yet continue staring, I just stare back until they look away. That’s a little too confronting for my tastes, though, and I’ve only done it a very few times.

    I’m glad you took the photo. It’s cute and introduced me to a new subject.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Cara,
      Thanks so much for stopping by and your funny insight about yourself. So, you have felt the same thing! I tried the whole staring back thing too, but I didn’t have it in me for long.

      Unlike you, in a strange way I sometimes I forget I’m foreign in places, and then I’m surprised when I pass a mirror or find myself culturally lost.

    • maryrichardson


      She was the spectacle until I went over and talked to her. After that, I became an object of interest… believe me I didn’t think I did anything at all, until I noticed the man reading over my shoulder and then noticed other people watching too…

  4. I first discovered cosplay live in Harajuku when I visited Tokyo for the first time years ago and was super amused to no end. It’s part of my itinerary every time I visit. It’s a photo-fest for me. 🙂 As for being a spectacle, fortunately none that i can remember. At least not any more than for example dropping something that caused a loud noise in an otherwise quiet place, like a library. I’m not really a shy person but I dislike drawing attention to myself.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Lilliane,
      Oh, there are so many cosplay people in Harajuku! I bet you have some fantastic pictures. Did you ever try to talk to them? I really want to know what their motivation is… I’m sure some just love the attention, but for others, I suspect they take it very seriously.

      • i’ve never talked to them mainly because i don’t speak japanese, but of course i could try english but i’m not sure if they’re friendly bunch or bunch of angry teenagers. lol. the social gathering in harajuku is on sundays (mostly), so perhaps it’s their one day of escaping reality? being someone other than themselves? like a holiday of sort. or maybe just a fashion statement. it’s fascinating how weird they can be or sometimes really pretty like a life size malibu barbie. tanning salons seem pretty in fashion. =)

      • maryrichardson

        Dear Liliane,
        I always feel hesistant to talk to them most of the time too… though they certainly seem to want to be an object of interest. Yes, some of them are wacky, and others are just beautiful!

        In high school, I went through a phase of wanting to look different than other people, and I wore my jean jacket with hundreds of pins and torn up jeans. I wonder if it’s something like that for them?

  5. Sana

    While in Spanish school in Guatemala I told my Spanish teacher that I was half Pakistani and half British during a conversation. The next day I walked into school everyone was looking at me and smiling, one actually said that mixed people are beautiful/exotic. In my head I was thinking, great now I’m no longer going to be considered Guatemalan when I walk around the neighbourhood.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Sana,
      This is a great example… no one would have known the wiser, but one little piece of information about you and then you were different and exotic! It’s funny that it was news that spread like wildfire too!

  6. I’ve heard a lot about cosplay, especially about the creepy men that liket to prey on the girls. If you like to dress up for Halloween like I do, you’ll find hundreds of Cosplay costumes although they are always too over the top for even Halloween, to me. They may have thought you were a journalist or writer, which is why the man was trying to see what you were writing. I’ve never consciously called attention to myself on my travels but because I’m a tall black women with long dredlocks, I typically get looks anyway. I don’t even notice half the time.

    • maryrichardson

      Fly Girl,
      If you do a search for cosplay on line, it does pull up sites with hundreds of costumes! Lots of them are so over the top!

      I’m sure the dreadlocks do command attention in some places!

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Corinne,
      I feel like I could spend a whole day there too… Maybe I’ll try it one of these days when my Japanese is a little better, and “interview” a few people. I think I’d most like to know for whom this is an actual lifestyle and not just a fun thing they do on weekends.

  7. As far as being a “spectacle”, I get stared down, turn heads and asked questions during my travels all the time. First I was baffled, then I was upset and now I am quite amused by it all and none of it bothers me. I especially get strange looks when I take photos all around the world but ask me if I care anymore. All I care about is taking great photos so long as I am not disrespecting any event and of course respecting all local rules and guidelines….And the girls in this photo, a dime a dozen in Tokyo, no? No other city like it! 🙂 Great post, Mary, and continue being yourself!

    • maryrichardson

      You have an excellent attitude about it… and most of the time the curiosity from others is positive I imagine. Some cultures also don’t view staring or approaching someone as rude at all. I guess I don’t really either, as I gawked and then even talked to the girl myself. Looking forward to seeing the photos from your latest trip!

  8. When I was in South America I looked very different from the locals. I was often stared at and become some kind of exotic attraction for them to observe. They watched my every move and at times it was very uncomfortable. It made me learn how people must feel in America that are different and gave me a taste of what it’s like to stand out. I didn’t really like how it made me feel, but was something I had to learn to deal with on the road.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Jenny,
      You make a good point that it’s probably how people in the States have felt when being scrutinized or maybe even discriminated against because of how they look! It’s not a nice experience!

  9. I saw many of them in Harajuku, but I don’t know Thai girls do it, in Taipei airport as well. So, why were the people looking at you? For talking to the girl?

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