Saturday, August 24, 2013

Travel touts in Beijing City

I stayed at the Novotel Beijing Hotel, which is supposedly a stone’s throw from TianAnMen Square and the Forbidden City (both are side by side) so I thought I would brave the busy streets to get there on foot. But after walking for more than half an hour, my destination seemed to be still out of sight. A man on a scooter pulling a tiny one-seat wagon (resembling a tut tut in Bangkok) beckoned to me to ask me where I was

going. As soon as I told him, he offered me 30 Yuan to take me there. It seemed like a reasonable price so I agreed and hopped onto the vehicle although not without some apprehension as I wondered how this flimsy contraption would manoevre itself through the heavy traffic of cars, trucks and other vehicles which crowded the streets. Then I realized he was taking us through a bunch of back alleys and smaller streets and I heaved a sigh of (unsuspecting) relief. All roads lead to Rome and as long as he gets me there in one piece ……..

Finally he stopped in the middle of a back street and indicated to me I was to get out here while he waved with his hand in the not too far distance as to how I would arrive at the Square the rest of the way. I got off and proceeded to pay him the 30 Yuan. With a look of utter disbelief, he gave me to understand that the fare was 300 Yuan. I was aghast and started to argue in Mandarin, hoping to impress upon him that I was part local. Unperturbed he held out a card on which was printed prices for various destinations and he pointed to the fare of 300 Yuan listed for the Forbidden City. Now I started getting angry and insisted that he had offered me 30 Yuan earlier. He remained adamant and I could see that he was getting angry with me too and he threw out some broken English expressions to indicate that I had misheard him. Not to be outdone, I reminded him that perhaps he should have shown me the fare card earlier to avoid any serious misunderstanding.

I considered paying him the 30 Yuan and walking away but worried that he might chase after me and that he might get violent. Then I looked down the backstreet and noticed a couple walking towards us. I ran up to them to beg them for help after explaining what had happened. By now, the driver had miraculously dropped his price to 100 Yuan and insisted that was what he was wanting me to pay. The man and woman who were trying to intercede on my behalf, suggested to me that it was not an unreasonable price to pay after all. Tired of all the squabbling, I finally gave in and paid the driver 100 Yuan. A lesson learnt indeed, next time, I would best take a cab (20-30 Yuan) or jump on a bus (1 Yuan) instead. Through the internet, I understood later that an American male tourist had suffered the same fate and gotten roughed up a bit by the driver before he finally parted with 300 Y.

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