Posts Tagged With: Beijing

Don’t Fall For These Scams While In China (Or Anywhere Else)

teatimeTea time

China is a relatively safe country for tourists, especially compared to other countries. People are hugely friendly even if you don’t speak Chinese. A simple “nihao” with a smile is all it takes to get most Chinese to smile and respond in kind. Foreigners are treated like celebrities in China, with Chinese people wanting to take their picture or pose for a photo with them. There is still a huge curiosity about foreigners in China, especially if the Chinese person happens to come from the interior and hasn’t had much exposure to “laowai” – the Chinese word for foreigner.

However, there is a certain petty criminal element in China – particularly in big cities and areas that draw lots of tourists – that spends their entire existence scamming tourists out of money. I will share with you three scams that have become very common across China since it opened its doors to the rest of the world. Sadly, many locals know about these scams – the police included – but thousands of tourists still get taken each year. China has a thing about casting itself in a bad light to the rest of the world, and that would explain why the people with the power to do something about it, do nothing. It struck me as odd when a policeman saw two of these scammers talking to me and he intervened  in fairly good English to tell me to stay away from the two who were trying to con me out of cash. I was already on to them, but my question was why were these two not sitting in jail. The cop certainly knew they were a pair of crooks. And yet, they were allowed to continue to scam unsuspecting tourists. I feel compelled to make a sidebar statement here: Dear China and Chinese friends – My aim is not to embarrass you or cast a critical eye, but rather to keep visitors from having a negative experience and hopefully leave with nothing but fond memories of China, which is an amazing country with centuries of history and full of wonder. There are already too many who have come and left with that bad experience of having been ripped off. Not a good feeling.

Tea is not only good in China. It's everywhere and it's cheap. Buy and make it yourself.

                                                 My Tea Lady: Tea is not only good in China. It’s everywhere and so it’s cheap. Buy and make it yourself.  

  1. The Tea Scam: The most common of scams in China. A man, a woman, a couple or two women approach you on the street. They say “hello” in English, ask “how are you?”, then quickly follow-up with “where you from?” The idea is to quickly engage you in friendly conversation. Then within seconds or minutes they invite you to a tea (or coffee if you don’t drink tea) and say it’s a traditional Chinese tea house. The scammers will try to get a quick read on you and instead of inviting you to tea, they may invite you to an art gallery. If anybody invites you to go have tea within less than a minute or two of meeting you on the street, flat-out refuse.

    Makes the best, purest, worthy Jasmine tea.

    Makes the best, purest, worthy Jasmine tea.

    They will insist and be super friendly and you will likely not wish to seem unfriendly or rude, but please, if you say no and they continue to follow you and insist, be rude and firmly say no. Or better yet, do what Chinese people do when they just don’t feel like being bothered by street vendors: they don’t say a word and keep walking. So how does this scam work? You get to the establishment with the scammers and they order tea or whatever. The tea is crap. The place is likely a hole in the wall. The bill comes and it’s a whopper. The scammers pay or not. It all depends on whether you are a guy and the scammers are fairly attractive Chinese women.

    Just add piping hot water and watch it bloom

    Just add piping hot water and watch it bloom

    And the amount of the scam is determined by how gullible you seem to be and how much money you seem to have. I’ve met tourists who have been scammed for anywhere between $20 and $800. The scammers are of course working with the establishment, so whatever they pay, they’re not really paying. Tea is cheap in China. I can find a good cup of tea in Beijing for less than $2. Of course you can pay more at fancy hotels, but no way should a pot of tea ever cost more than $8. Bottom line, do not go anywhere with these people who’ve approached you. Remember, they largely operate in areas frequented by tourists.

  2. The hotel and credit card scam: Many hotels ask you for a credit card upon arrival, “for incidentals” such as use of the minibar, even if your bill has been prepaid. I heard of this scam in other parts of the world, but I think it’s finally made it to China. How does the scam work? You give the front desk your credit card as requested, and the front desk keeps the information. You go to your room. In your room you get a phone call. The person claims to be calling from the front desk and says there’s a problem with your credit card and they need you to give them the credit card information again. The person sounds very professional. You give them your credit

    Fancy place, fancy price

    Fancy place, fancy price

    card information, including those three important numbers on the back of the card. The problem is the person on the phone is not hotel staff, but a person calling from outside of the hotel. What they’ve done is call the hotel and requested to be connected to your room number. They keep trying rooms until someone answers. You’ve just given your credit card number to a person outside the hotel who then goes on an online shopping spree. If you get a call to your room asking for a credit card information, tell the person you will be right down. Do not give the information over the phone! Once you get to the front desk, if you are told everything is fine with your credit card and nobody called you from the front desk, then tell the hotel manager what happened. They need to know their hotel is being targeted.

  3. The counterfeit currency scam:  For this one, best to show you a live broadcast I did on Periscope and saved to Katch.me.

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The Great Wall Of China: The Best And The Cheapest Way

The Great Wall of China at Jinshanling in Heibei Province

The Great Wall of China at Jinshanling in Heibei Province

I met a 35-year-old man from Beijing, China, who has never been to the Great Wall of China. He said just like him there are millions of other people in China who have never seen the Great Wall. What’s more, they have no interest. I, an American, have made three trips to the Great Wall, two in the last few months, with more planned.

The bottom line is many Chinese have no interest in their centuries-old structures and antiquities. Those may be lingering feelings from the days when Chairman Mao Zedong in 1949 declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China and in subsequent years the communists declared many of those ancient structures unwelcome in the new society. GWMikeSystematically they began to destroy ancient temples and structures under the guise of a “cultural revolution”. In the name of modernity and progress, China also destroyed and removed structures and other relics thousands of years old.

Many Chinese people I meet simply don’t value what foreigners hold historically important. One of my Chinese friends, for instance, managed to go his entire life without visiting the Forbidden City, even though he lived within minutes of it. It was only a few days ago that he was dragged pretty much kicking and screaming by a group of his foreign friends to the expansive Forbidden City, the place from which emperors ruled China. He held little passion for the place, explaining there were better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon. Similarly, on a recent trip to the Museum of the War of Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, located on the outskirts of Beijing, it was a bunch of insistent foreigners who finally convinced their Chinese handlers to add a few minutes to the itinerary to visit the Marco Polo Bridge steps from the museum.

“It’s just a bridge” one Chinese handler said, dismissing the historic significance of the bridge known to the Chinese for centuries as the Lugou Bridge – the stone bridge Marco Polo detailed  in his travelogue – the bridge where World War II began in the Pacific theater.

I suppose it’s the same in other countries. People take things for granted. There was a time when modern-day Italians allowed the Roman ruins to be picked apart and vandalized. And there are people in New York City who have never been to the Statue of Liberty, even though it’s a short ferry ride. So it goes. You’re not going to convince people why some things are worth seeing, even preserving.

Watchtower ruins

Watchtower ruins

For those with genuine interest in visiting the Great Wall of China, it’s also not as difficult as some – tour operators – would have you believe. Save your money. No need for tours or tour guides if you plan to come to Beijing and want to see the Great Wall of China. For a roundtrip grand total of less than $12, you can be on the Great Wall within 2 hours. And this stretch of the Great Wall, known as Jinshanling in Heibei Province, is largely unrestored – what the Chinese would refer to as “wild wall” – unlike Badaling or even Mutianyu sections.

Here’s what you need to do to get to the Great Wall of China without a pricey tour, meaning on your own: There is a direct bus to Jinshanling Great Wall that leaves every morning at 8 a.m. There are several other buses that leave daily but you do not want to be on any of those, as they make stops along the way that can add up to two hours to the trip. Aim for the 8 a.m. direct bus and no other, please. To get to the bus, you will need to take the subway (you can also take a taxi there, but that is of course adds to your transportation costs. You want to take subway lines 13 or 15 to Wangjing West station. Once there, use Exit C. It’s a nice lengthy walk underground to the point you emerge on the street. Once you are outside, turn right and go across the street where you will see a large red sign that says Tickets to Jinshanling Great Wall. Your bus is there, clearly marked 8 a.m. You will likely see some other foreigners waiting in that line. That’s it.

The bus will drop you off at the visitor center where you can purchase tickets to enter the Great Wall area. You will have approximately five hours to explore the wall before the bus departs to return to Beijing. Do not miss your bus! The driver will tell you – in Chinese, sorry, you will have to ask someone on the bus what the driver is saying – when to meet and where for the return bus. Enjoy. I’m off to convince a couple of Chinese friends a visit to the Great Wall is not only easy, it’s totally worth it.

GW3

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First Impressions Of China

Park in the Chaoyang District of Beijing, China. (I took the photo with my iPod Touch, no filters)

Park in the Chaoyang District of Beijing, China. (I took the photo with my iPod Touch, no filters)

It’s been more than six whole months since I’ve been in China, and as long since I’ve said anything here about all that has happened – all that is happening – in my new life in this ancient land of so many wonders.

Confession: I haven’t exactly completely been absent. I have been posting about my time in China on other social media platforms where I maintain a strong loyal following, such as Facebook, Twitter, and the latest hottest app around, Periscope, where I live stream. You can see my live broadcasts from China and the rest of Asia if you follow me on Periscope @mtendstotravel (same user name as on Twitter).

Neglecting this blog, and neglecting you all, here, not cool. I know. But here I am with tons more insight about China, a very complex, very contradictory, at once peaceful and chaotic, amazing and vexing, puzzling and endearing, open and closed.

Night falls on Hong Kong Harbor

Night falls on Hong Kong Harbor

To be sure, the Middle Kingdom is centuries of history and culture now undergoing another revolution – an economic revolution that once it fully awakes will turn the world upside down. China, the world’s most populous nation with more than 1.5 billion people, breaks records on an almost weekly basis for its sheer size. In Beijing alone, the capital, there are 21 million people, with a massive newly emerged middle class with a spending power unheard of anywhere else in the world. Where as recently as the 1990s millions of bicycles dominated the streets, now luxury cars rule, to the detriment of the air we breathe. Factories operating pretty much around the clock belch thick smoke. People in Beijing and other cities in China are forced to wear masks to protect their lungs and keep from getting cancer.

Chinese food at its very best

Chinese food at its very best

But already the negative effects have hit China, in the air pollution and growing number of people stricken with pulmonary ailments. Yet, thanks to the proximity of the Gobi Desert which kicks up strong winds, and government intervention, there are days when the sky is blue and the air is clean and China is pure beauty.

I came to China to work as a “foreign expert” at an English-language newspaper. I edit stories largely written by a Chinese staff. English is of course not their first language and it is my job to “polish” those stories and make them sound like they were written by a native speaker. I enjoy the work. And in the course of doing it, I enjoy learning about China and Chinese culture. I don’t get mixed up in Chinese politics, though I observe and learn and marvel at it all. This, after all, is still a country hanging on to its communist roots but make no mistake capitalism is present in all its forms. The Chinese live to buy and sell.

There is much to love about China. I’ve stood on remote stretches of the Great Wall, with no tourists, just locals around, looking at the undulating structure wend across mountains, looking like a giant brown serpent. What an amazing fete. I’ve walked – twice – from one end of the Forbidden City to the next, through gardens and palaces from which emperors ruled this land for centuries. I’ve stood in Tiananmen Square, which gained worldwide notoriety for the democracy protests and violent crackdown. And I live day in and day out what the Chinese experience day in and day out: crowded subways with thousands of humans pressed against each other like sardines; the constant spitting;

Reunion with friends in Hong Kong

Reunion with friends in Hong Kong

the rudeness and generally uncivil behavior and the “me first” selfishness that happens wherever there’s a crowd. But I’ve also experienced friendly faces and wide smiles and people so welcoming and helpful beyond anything. I’m often asked if the people are friendly in China and to that I say yes, but of course there are bad apples all over the world. More often than not, I enjoy China. There are days I just wish I would have stayed in bed. And there are days when I’m grinning from ear to ear because I am so happy to be living in China, experiencing what relatively few in the world will ever experience, such as my recent trip from Beijing to Hong Kong by high-speed train. China has built itself an amazing network of high-speed rails, which has cut travel from one city to the next. A trip that may have taken several days now takes relatively few hours. And the scenery, wow, the scenery.

I will be in China at least until October. I will bring you here more about my experiences and more often. For now, I say, if you can swing it and travel to China, do it. Your biggest expense will likely be the flight. You can score reasonably priced hotels and food is cheap if you know where to look. China is open to the world as it hasn’t been before. Now is the time to see it, live it, be a part of it.

 

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