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Adventures with Alisha

Beijing: Historical Fantasy Land or Danger Zone?

CHINA | Tuesday, 2 August 2011 | Views [884]

Last week, I decided to take some time off and go to Beijing to visit the wondrous China that we all seem to have some fantasy image of in our minds...the Great Wall, food markets, many people, soldiers marching in Tiananmen, etc.  Was I expecting to eat scorpions on a road block like the contestants in Amazing Race?  No.  But I was expecting a somewhat hassle free and tourist-friendly city, just because it's Beijing.  It's China's capital!  And the Great Wall is only an hour away.  Common sense and experience tells me that people come from all over the world to visit Beijing.

So what was the first thing I noticed when I got off the plane?  That there was no sun.  Literally, there was a gray-white fog lining the sky for my whole stay in Beijing.  Well, at first I thought it was fog.  And then I realized that it was actually smog, or the infamous pollution that has become the norm in Beijing.  It was quite sad for me to see that China's capital, one of its most visited cities, wasn't beautiful because there is just so much pollution.  I fully realized how much there was when I went to blow my nose and my snot was covered in black specs. 

That said, my travelling experience in Beijing was filled with horrors.  I know some Chinese.  I had another friend who knew some Chinese.  Between the two of us, we could compensate for our whole group.  You would think that us being able to speak Chinese would deter people from trying to rip us off.  Not so.  Maybe it was the fact that we all looked like foreign college students that could easily get ripped off, but there were a few incidents that really shocked me and I had never encountered before.  Anywhere.

First of all, our tour guide spoke no English.  I think it's a reasonable requirement to speak English if you want to be a tour guide, especially in a city like Beijing.  It's a necessary must.  All she could say was "please" and "thank you."  If that wasn't enough, my friend accidentally forgot her Australian iPhone in our tour van after we returned from the Wall.  She realized as soon as we got off, and we quickly called the driver, and asked if he would come back.  He said that he couldn't unless we gave him 100 RMB.  We agreed, but then he called a half-hour later and said he would come the next morning at 8 AM.  Because he didn't come right away, we told him we weren't going to pay the money and expected to meet him the next morning.  What happens?  I get a call at 2:30 at night, with some random Chinese guy yelling at me to come downstairs and get the shouji (cell phone).  I run downstairs and nobody is there.  I sit with the security guard and talk to him about the recent train accident.  He offers me a cigarette and I decline.

One hour later, in my pajamas, in a half-sleep state, and bitten by numerous mosquitoes, the tour driver shows up with the iPhone.  He demands the money from me, which I don't have, and I am forced to call another one of my friends to scram downstairs as quickly as he can with 100 RMB.  At the end of the day, we got the phone back, but would that have happened to us if we weren't foreigners?  Probably not.

The next day, we went to the Forbidden Palace.  Our group got split into two and my friend and I finished first.  After that, we were waiting for our other friends, but they were nowhere to be seen and not answering their phones.  About 45 minutes later, I heard the Chinese girl singing voice that is my ringtone on my Chinese phone.  I answer it to a panicked friend blathering on and on about being mugged in an alley by a Chinese rickshaw driver and how Jim was still back there.  My heart literally dropped to my stomach.

I call my friend Jim and he doesn't pick up.  And then I realized his phone was out of money, so he wouldn't get the call anyways.  What happened in the alley?  Well, as my friends exited the Forbidden Palace, they hailed a Chinese rickshaw driver to take them to Tiananmen for 3 RMB.  Instead of taking them to Tiananmen, the driver took them to an alley, and asked them for 300 Euros.  Jim, so smart, responds, "I'm not European" and pays him 100 RMB.  At that point, my other friend with him, Kelsey, scrams for his life and runs away leaving Jim all alone with the rickshaw drivers.   Jim said he had no idea what to do, so he started walking and after a while, he hit the main road and the rickshaw drivers stopped following him.  While those drivers may have not been the meanest people around, and begged for money because they were old and Beijing is really hot, that is still some really shady stuff.

Finally, to wrap up the adventure, the night our plane was to leave for Xi'an, there was a thunderstorm in Beijing.  Our flight was cancelled and I was in the midst of 500+ screaming, angry, and desperate Chinese people fighting to get the first free tickets available on the next flight out.  The guy behind me, who had spent the whole time breathing down my neck so that it was wet, tried to shove me out of the way at the last second because he probably thought he could, since I was a foreign girl.  I never have been more thankful to know some Chinese, because I yelled at the guy to wait his turn and ran for the counter and quickly told the employee to change two tickets for Xi'an.  All in Chinese.  It was singlehandedly one of the most terrifying experiences of my life - being stranded in a foreign airport with many people trying to get the same ticket as you.  Somehow we made it through and flew out the next morning.

All in all, was Beijing worth it?  Absolutely.  I think about these experiences and realize that everyone must go through some trouble abroad.  That's the whole point of being abroad.  Problem solving and flexibility.  Would we have gotten so much trouble if we weren't foreigners?  Probably not.  But in the end, I am still so glad we went, if anything at all, I got to climb the Great Wall!

Tags: beijing, china, dangerous traveling, foreigners, great wall, money

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