Monday, September 8, 2014

Getting... Beijinged?

This is one of several posts about my trip to Beijing in July, up on Mondays.

In Beijing, like in any big city, there will always be a subsection of the population out to make a buck off the naïve and gullible. And like any naïve and gullible person, I didn’t google “Beijing scams” before I set off. The joke tells itself, but I’ll elaborate anyway.

During one of our quests to find a taxi, a woman in a rickshaw kept calling to us, asking where we were going. Frustrated by the lack of cabs and cowed by her insistence, we agreed to let her take us. Determined not to be complete idiots, we made sure to ask how much she was going to charge to our destination - thirty, was her reply. After an admittedly fun and breezy ride behind her moped, it was time to pay. And that was when she informed us that that “thirty” wasn’t in RMB at all, but US dollars. She produced a pricing chart, previously hidden inside her moped, which put us at the much uglier fare of 180 RMB. In retrospect, we should’ve just laughed in her face, given her thirty, and walked off, but neither of us had ever been so blatantly scammed before - small-scale Sweden being a relatively honest country - and we were too shocked to think of what else to do. 



from mykidcircus.com

When we got back to the hotel and its blessed Wi-Fi, I did that google search, and it turns out we were lucky. The internet as a whole advises never to trust the rickshaw drivers (unless you manage to book a rickshaw ride through a legitimate channel, such as a travel agency, in which case it really is fun). I read horror stories about people being separated from each other, driven into alleys, and receiving demands of up to a hundred times the original fare - sometimes even per person or minute. I cannot stress how fortunate it was that the woman who drove us actually took us where we needed to go. We learned a hard lesson the easy way. 

On the same note, it’s okay to stop and have a chat with someone who approaches you randomly on the street, but you should walk away as soon as they try to get you to go with them somewhere. This isn’t something Chinese people (or people in general) normally do, and if you look obviously foreign, ergo like someone who doesn’t know the rules of the street, you’re going to be a juicy target for the scammers.

There are plenty of articles and forums who talk about the most common hoaxes out there. One seems to be people claiming to want to practice their English with you at a particular teahouse - which will later charge you exorbitant rates. Others pose as struggling art students who want to show you an exhibition: cheap knockoffs at ridiculous prices. The major tourist attractions will feature fake ticket booths and sham tour companies who will drive you from overpriced store to overpriced store. Beware, take care - and do your research!

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