Travelling in China exceeded all expectations, it is no doubt a fantastic destination to explore and we are now desperate to return. However travel doesn’t come without its niggles and of these it was the tourist scams in Beijing. Note these niggles do not reflect our overall experience of China, it was merely an unlucky spate of nuisances along the way. Having arrived from Xian, Shaanxi the contrast is immediate but to be fair we were smack in the tourist centre of Beijing which does make for easy pickings with cheats and tourist scams. In general we found the Forbidden City area very tourist and during our visit we even fail to make it past the front gates.
Our first stop on arriving was at a mum and pop type store with no prices on items and the till replaced with a calculator to round up the total. We pick up a bottle of water, a bottle of coke and a packet of cheesy poofs. I calculate the total in my head to be little more than a dollar then walk to the counter. The lady rounds it up to a total of…. $8. I stare blankly at the calculator, I look at Fanfan, I look at the woman, I look at the calculator again, we walk out the door. Didn’t say a word. Prices are higher in Beijing but not 8 times higher. Thankfully this was the worst of our absurd ‘tourist pricing’ experiences but it did appear to be similar with everything at street level in Beijing from the candied haw vendors to our morning sweet potatoes and Jianbing. While I am not wholly against dual pricing the tourist scams in Beijing were so bad we were glad to leave just to eat snacks and street food again.
The taxis in Xian were safe and simple all with meters and printed receipts. Of course this wasn’t replicated in Beijing where we completely give up on using taxis. The first time flagging one down was on the walk back from Jingshan Park where failing to find metered taxis we decide to go with the only non-metered taxi who offered a reasonable price. So we climb in and are travelling to the hotel when the driver asks if he can give us change and we pay in a larger note. He then puts the smaller notes in the head rest behind him. I didn’t actually twig here until Fanfan stops me. The notes are fake. I apologize to the driver and pretend to only have smaller notes. This is when the tone changes as well as the price “the taxi price is per person, two people, you pay twice…” So instead of paying double, we force him to pull over and we walk. Now stranded, clueless to our location and with zero trust in taxi drivers we take the only option left to us and walk through lanes and backstreets helped by more welcoming locals. A better experience in the end.
Tourist Art Scams
We were actually wise to this scam having followed something similar next to the Bell Tower in Xian. This scam generally takes place in built up areas with surrounding buildings and offices where scammers can watch for unsuspecting tourists. In Beijing it is the main Wangfujing shopping street where I am approached twice by locals trying to befriend me asking ‘where I am from, what I am doing in Beijing etc..’. Knowing it is a scam I act disinterested and they quickly push to the invite to their art studio. In short scammers befriend tourists, they wangle them back to the studio and then they pester them into buying overpriced calligraphy and art. It can be a long-winded scam if you fall for it and it can also be potential dangerous if you follow.
General Customer Service
Having arrived from Thailand we did expect a contrast in customer service but again compared to Xian we find Beijing to be a new low. There just seems to be a general disinterest at times. Of 4 days in Beijing we walk out of 3 restaurants for either not being given prices or just being ignored. An example was on New Year’s Eve where we call in at a quiet family run restaurant and are one of very few customers. We order a number of dishes from the menu but fail to find ‘plain rice’ to point at (we speak little / no Chinese). The waiter asks the owner to translate having already spoken with us in English. No luck. She shrugs and sits playing with her phone. The waiter and waitress stand awkwardly next to us for 2 or 3 minutes which feels like 10 minutes before we again walk. Completely bizarre. It maybe our own fault for failing to communicate in Chinese but irritating all the same.