Tuesday, May 28, 2013

China - Not Boo-yah, bu-yao!

Admittedly, haters have some to hate about this challenging country - and its true there often are just too many people - often who've they've just moved in from the villages; it's too much "new money." Furthermore, often the new generation grew up each as an only child. Still, there are tens of thousands of Americans along with hundreds of thousands of other foreigners: It's clear to me, I'm missing something as a tourist.
Apparently "Pedestrians can safely cross"
(in Chinese, this must mean dodge cars)
That's the problem, the tourist sites here are awash with a plethora of pedantic picture-taking populations from the world over. And, as with many tourist destinations, a huge group of Chinese people take advantage of those masses. Just one of the many scams is the traditional "Tea House." Here's how it goes...

You arrive at one of the main tourist attractions - say at the Tiananmen Square East Subway station, like I did.  You're walking along, and then there is an attractive female on your side. But, don't be fooled - it also might be a group of Chinese "from outside the city" or a group of guys that are friendly and want to be in a picture with you. While people here are - can be - mostly friendly, its unlikely that they would randomly approach you (especially at a tourist site).

She says in accurate, though broken Engrish, "I just finish school and I want to practice my english, perhaps we can walk and talk and I can show you some of my city." Well, that's not a big deal - why not, right? And I agree, if this simply is the proposition, go with it! However, here's when things might get interesting:  First, she tells you that her brother/uncle/dad/someone she's living with is a policeman -- this is a key thing they use to (theoretically) threaten you with later. Second tip-off, "Oh, are you thirsty? Do you want to have a drink/try some of China's traditional teas?  I know a place nearby." Then you know you're on your way to being taken for all you've got.

Fake "Tea House" on South Chizi Street,
North of Tiananmen Square East Subway Stop
They will walk you to a nearby, nondescript building - usually it says "Tea House" and "Tea, Coffee, Beer" on the outside. Then charge exorbitant rates for drinks, sometimes including a 100 yuan "room-fee." And be sure not to give up your credit card to pay! Anyway, just don't go as far as I did - (read my three part adventure with terrible Chinese thieves).

Whether it's these tourist scams, bargaining for fake goods, general harassment by hawkers, or the insane "I own the road" attitude - it's work to be a tourist in the big cities of China. It's hard enough crossing the street, let alone navigating the huge transportation networks that make up the mega-metropolises of Shanghai, Beijing, or Guangzhou. "Small" towns in China are the size of New York or LA! The subway systems can have the best, most accurate signage, but - you still have to walk kilometers (ok, maybe not miles) through transfer stations and figure out that tickets purchased at one station won't work at another... Taxi's might be cheap - but driver's can't even say "hello" in english (thus you must DiDi). And don't get me stared on the pollution - it was only my 14th day in China when I could see deep blue sky, and make out the sun!

Yet, its clear that many people enjoy it here and I can see its exciting to live in an up-and-coming country (seriously, look-out world!). They've told me it sucked for the first part of their time, but they got used to the annoying parts - made friends fast, made a home in their neighborhood, and often stayed for years. Whether they are learning Chinese, teaching English, doing business here -- there is a diverse ex-pat community, including a sizable gay community (though don't organize or the government may step in).

Ashy at the Great Wall - Mutianyu Section
My advice - don't go to China as a tourist. Go to China to live here - even if its for a short while (unless you have lung issues, are a child, or elderly). Avoid the tourist areas as much as possible - who needs to see another temple anyway - and you can find a Great Wall tour or hike that is off the beaten track. Make sure you know enough Chinese to talk to a taxi driver (or go out with friends who speak Chinese) and try not to leave your iPhone in a cab (like I did).

And if this turns you off - just go to Taiwan, the Beautiful Island, where getting around is easy, English is well-known, and there are still plenty of the same foods, shops and sights.

Check out my new video & post about on my favorite Asian destination, Taiwan!

1 comment:

  1. Also to note here - this post is not available in China on the open Internet; they block blogspot for some reason (among many other thousands of websites). You would need to have a VPN to access it - many people here do, but also - you also have to wait... the Internet is just SLOW here in general.