At the age of 16, a friend introduced me to the Backstreet Boys, who he confidently told me were "big in Europe" (before they became "big in the U.S." - we were naturally in the avante garde compared to our American peers). I would often laughingly think of this during our trip in China: we might not be a big deal back home, but we are totally big in China. At least, judging by the number of people who wanted to get their picture taken with us.
Here's the thing. To the residents of Shanghai or Beijing, seeing a group of white people is nothing new. But as soon as we went to any tourist destination (which is what we spent most of the time doing), the other visitors were primarily tourists from all over China, and to them, we were exotic. Or at least that's what we assumed based on all of the posing for pictures. I can understand why people would find this annoying -- we overheard one tour guide suggesting to his group that if they didn't like it, the proper response was to say "wu kaui" -- basically, "5 bucks please." I thought this was funny, and also extremely Chinese. But personally I wasn't annoyed by all the requests for photos. I found it kind of endearing because it was one of the few ways we were able to interact with people, given our dearth of Chinese skills. People would come up to us and gesture that they wanted to pose for a picture, we would oblige, there would be some giggling, and then we would go on our way. Occasionally people would try out a little bit of English with us. Only once did some ladies get a bit aggressive, grabbing my arm when I went to leave after having tired of the photo shoot. One time a woman simply placed her baby in Rita's arms.