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Why airport photo of Ambassador Gary Locke went viral in China

August 19, 2011|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger
  • This photo of Gary Locke, U.S. ambassador to China and former governor of Washington, has gone viral in China.
This photo of Gary Locke, U.S. ambassador to China and former governor of… (ZhaoHui Tang / Associated…)

The photo looks innocent enough: Newly named U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke buys a coffee at a Starbucks in Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The former governor of Washington and first Chinese American to serve in the post has a backpack on and his daughter at his side while he makes the transaction. So why oh why has this photo gone viral in China?

Businessman ZhaoHui Tang, who snapped the photo and posted it to a Chinese social media network, explains in this Associated Press story:

"This is something unbelievable in China," said Tang, a Chinese American citizen. "Even for low-ranking officials, we don't do things for ourselves. Someone goes to buy the coffee for them. Someone carries their bags for them."

OK, so it's a cultural thing. I guess I get it. But the whole incident got me wondering about how I would look if someone snapped my photo in an airport. Chances are I'm in "comfortable attire" (read jeans or, dare I admit it, frumpy sweats) for a flight.

George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog.com recounts how wearing a suit likely got him a sweet upgrade on a flight.

"Not wanting to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth, I didn't ask the gate agent why I was upgraded from a frequent flyer economy class seat all the way through business class and up to first class ... But I'm going to guess it was because I was the only person in the waiting area who wasn't dressed like I was about to head off to the gym."

Ouch ... and touche.

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