It started from the minute I walked out of the Beijing train station, as soon as my foreigner’s face was hit by the Beijing sunshine or lack of, there was someone hustling for access to my wallet. ‘Hellooo, taxi…taxi, sir’. where do you want to go?’ said the suspiciously casually dressed man hoping to snag an overpriced fare.
This guy is not a legit taxi, luckily I had been warned to avoid the touting taxi drivers that hover around the terminals. Their trick is to quote an upfront fee of 100 yuan, which in many cases can be five times what you would pay by the meter! I’d rather wait and find a real taxi.
That was my first introduction into how some people in the modern metropolis of Beijing are pretty keen to loosen the notes from your wallet, for not much in return. The next experience was walking around Tiananmen Square, one the most policed areas around, and while taking a photo of the portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong I hear a ‘helloooo’, oh no, here we go.
I turned around to see two very pretty young girls glaring at me with big smiles, really big smiles…’where are you from’, they asked. I thought, they are probably dodgy but, hey they speak English, why not play along for the rare chance to speak my native tongue, so, ‘Australia, I’m sure you know it, the big island with kangaroos and koalas’ I replied. ‘we know it, wow, really’ they retorted, quickly moving on to a spiel about how they were students and they were traveling too, and then how that one of them, comes from where Chinese beer is made, a statement sure to impress most guys.
I played along with the conversation for a while longer until one of them asks the question ‘we’d like to talk some more, somewhere more comfortable, would you like to sit down for some tea?’.
Fortunately, I was warned that western guys wandering around on their own are often targeted by pretty locals looking for some easy cash! So I was told they start with a friendly hello, and once the conversation is rolling you’ll soon find yourself at a tea shop, and when they’ve magically disappeared, you’ll be left with a bill for an exorbitantly priced cup of tea. It’s a bit of a sting between the tea shop owner and the street hustler!
So did I want some tea…? ‘No, I’m good’ I said smilingly, maybe it was their first time, because from the looks on their faces the rejection of their tea offer was quite crushing. ‘oh, um, oh, coffee?’ they offered. I said no thanks again, they pumped up the charm levels a notch and asked if I’d perhaps like to go for a walk. ‘No, I really want to stand here and admire the portrait of Chairman Mao’ I said, they were smart enough to realise what a ridiculous statement this was, coming from a westerner, and quickly started to walk off into the distance…
But then I wonder…did I just insult two really friendly people, or did I correctly spoil the game for a couple shady characters? I’ll never know…
I started walking away too after that, and in the next 500m I had two more offers for tea, several ‘hellooo, where are you from?’, followed by ‘I am a student, would you like to come to my art exhibition?’ and of course the several approaches from vulture like pedicab drivers who are hungry for a fare!
So, I’m really fortunate for some of the great advice that readied me for this barrage of assaults on my wallet. To some of the people in Beijing, a westerner basically looks just like an ATM machine.
It gets worse as you head into the nearby Wangfujing St., there you will get pretty girls approaching constantly inviting you to a tea house or art show. Then there are beggars, who are incredibly unrelenting on foreigners, and I’m told not to feel sorry, as apparently, they make more money doing this than people with proper jobs in Beijing do!
It didn’t stop for the entire time I was in Beijing…Beijing is no fun for a lone laowai traveler (laowai is Chinese for foreigner), But a handful of bad people in Beijing could never outweigh the much greater number of Chinese people that are kind, compassionate and incredibly helpful.
Beijing isn’t cheap either, food and accommodation are far more expensive than other areas of China, but many things are still cheaper than similar items in the west. This is the nation’s capital after all, so, it’s probably to be expected. Plus I’m new to this city, so, I’m sure with more local knowledge that prices would soon start tumbling.
Many people speak English, really good English, which I guess is a legacy of skills gained from holding the Olympic Games in 2008.
A local friend would have been cool to truly discover the heart of Beijing, and my time here would have been far more enjoyable if I wasn’t so run down and tired. But, Beijing is a must visit city on a China tour, even if only to see the vast number of amazing and wonderfully preserved historic sites.