Hello my fellow travelers. If only for a brief moment, I will interrupt my travel adventures to return to the United States to participate in the Periscope Community Summit in San Francisco. I will be among dozens of speakers and 1,000 attendees who use the live-streaming app – chosen by Apple as the Best App of 2015 – to share their lives with the world or just watch what others are doing. The live-streaming app has taken the world by storm.
I use Periscope to share my travels, travel tips and hopefully teach viewers a thing or two each day about other cultures. I use other social media platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and several others, but lately I have been spending loads of time broadcasting live on Periscope, because the app is amazing, being able to show people, places and things live with little effort. Since Periscope launched in March 2015 – I began using the app in April – more than 10 million users have embraced Periscope – and counting. If you are not using Periscope, you should check it out.
Just a few months after the app was created, so was the Periscope Community Summit. To learn more about the summit, click the above link. In my speech at the summit, I will share travel tales, tips and discuss how social networks and apps such as Periscope play an important role in extended travel.
If you would like to attend the Periscope Community Summit, please register using this link:
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 threescams 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.
My Tea Lady: Tea is not only good in China. It’s everywhere and so it’s cheap. Buy and make it yourself.
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.
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
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.
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 frontdesk 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 veryprofessional. You give them your credit
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.
The counterfeit currency scam: For this one, best to show you a live broadcast I did on Periscope and saved to Katch.me.
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. Systematically 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.
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.