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The Beijing "Tea" party
We met a very polite young woman who said that she was studying English at college and could she speak to us to see if we understood her so that she could find out how good her English was on the street. We found this innocent enough and said yes. Anyway she was a really pleasant woman and her uncle (who didn't speak English) offered through her because of our kindness towards them, to guide us through the old city (where we were heading next anyway) and we agreed.
It was really interesting and he, through his niece, explained all the different remedies they used in everyday life and we spent a good hour talking with them and generally having a good time. After this experience, they had obviously got our confidence and when we were asked if we would like to see a traditional “Tea Ceremony” we jumped at the chance and were taken to a ceremonial tea house.
We entered the building, and we were shown upstairs into a private room with all the ceremonial tea equipment already laid out. We were then introduced to a young girl (who spoke no English) who once again through our young Chinese interpreter, went through the ritual of the tea ceremony.
To cut a long story short we had the tea ceremony and our young translator friend said that she would like to purchase some of the tea for her mother from Shanghai. So she ordered some tea and we asked for the bill through our interpreter. The young girl came back with a bill for 4,860YNB, with the exchange rate at 13.50RNB to the £1 the total cost for our simple tea ceremony was £360.00. We thought they had made a mistake and asked them to check, they replied that we were in an official government tea ceremony building with officials participating and that it was only open on special days of the week for the special ceremonies.
We told them quite plainly that we didn’t have that kind of money and couldn’t pay it, we made the best out of a terrible situation gave then 1,000RNB (£74.00) and left immediately.
Unique Suggestions: ADVICE TO TRAVELLER’S
Before entering into any ceremony please ask the cost 1st, this is the basic mistake we made, and we have heard of others falling for this as well. Once you have a price stick to it unless you feel that an extra gratuity should be paid because of the standard or time and effort put in etc. China is a fantastic place to visit, and this was the only stumbling block we came across, so don’t be put off, just be careful.
- Arts and Culture
- Family Travel
China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The tour I took made a quick and unscheduled stop on the way back from the Ming tombs. Every tour takes you someplace as part of a paid advertising thing. Most of the time it is "the Marco Polo store" where you have lunch and do a little shopping. That I am ok with.
this trip was different. We stopped by the China Academy of Traditional Cinese Medicine, Imperial Family Expert Clinic and Tong Ren Tang Pharmacy. We were taken down a long hall and shown into a little room where we were given an explanation of traditional chinese medicine. Then we were taken to another room where a guy tapped on our wrists and looked deep into my eyes and told me that I drank too much and had a bad liver.
Soon, I was prescribed two bottles of little pills that looked like peppercorns or rabit raisins, and bearing the taste of an equivalent of the later. Not being a big drinker, an occasional beer when I eat Korean food, I was a bit skeptical.
I was soon given 2 bottles and told that this clinic had been the one to serve all the leaders of China, including Mao, and that it would be an insult not to buy them. I was soon out 20 bucks. My friend came out and amazingly enough had the exact same liver problems. Funny, he never drinks.
Unique Suggestions: If you get stuck going there, just try to hide out in the hall, or politely decline the examination when offered. That will save you a world of trouble later on.
Fun Alternatives: Most of the time, the driver for the tours hangs out in the bus. Tell the tour guide that your legs are hurting and you would like to just sit in the bus and rest. Or if possible, politely tell them you are not interested and move on.
Part of just about every tour in Beijing
This isn't so much a report of a particular tourist trap, as it is a report of what to expect as part of most of the tours available in Beijing.
Unique Suggestions: When you book a tour in Beijing, you pay a one time price for the package tour. What you are not told, is the full agenda of the tour.
On every tour I booked, we were taken to some tourist trap spot that pressured us to spend money.
On the Great Wall tour of Badaling, we all expected the commercialism of the Wall, but we didn't expect the stopover at the Chinese School of Traditional Medicine. At first this seemed as though it would be an interesting little venue, but it quickly materialized into an obvious scam to squeeze money out of our pockets.
We were all attended to by a white jacketed Traditional Medicine doctor and quite literally everyone was diagnosed with some illness.
Fun Alternatives: Naturally, the Chinese School of Traditional Medicine just "happened" to have a pill for out ills! We were all offered special discount prices for the pills (seeings how we were members of this special tour) and for the most part, most of us just shrugged it off and laughed.
Some people on the tour were a bit more gullible and got soaked for several thousand Yuan!
Another tour I went on, detoured to some Chinese pearl shop where they really put on the pressure for you to purchase natural pearls (again at a "special" price for tour members only)....
and again, on yet another tour, we were detoured to a huge Friendship Store where we ended up staying for a boring three hours and subjected to again....more high pressure sales....at special bargain prices....
- Family Travel
'Special' stops on your tour
We booked onto two separate day tours and both trips made stops at ‘special places’ for us; a pearl factory, jade factory, Chinese medicine academy, friendship store and a tea house ceremony. In the Chinese medicine academy, one tourist was diagnosed with an overheating liver and the ‘doctor’ prescribed some herbal tablets. The tourist said he had a doctor friend who was interested in Chinese medicine back home and could they write the details down so he could take advice but the academy ‘doctor’ was having none if it - the medicine was so special it was only available that day and from their clinic!! Strangely enough, no one examined (and it was optional) was given a clean bill of health that day. These stops do get a bit tiresome, especially when you are keen to get to your destination but just politely make it clear you are not interested and the staff will leave you alone - just don’t show interest out of politeness or before you know it you will be purchasing something unwanted and overpriced.
Unique Suggestions: Organised tours are a good introduction to the sights, especially to non-Chinese speakers so dont be put off by these stops. Keep a sense of humour and just remember although they want to sell you something you dont have to buy.
- Family Travel
- Castles and Palaces
Beijing Tea House Scam
My husband and I were leaving the Forbidden City at closing time. We were walking along when this girl started walking beside us. She started talking to us in English. She said she was visiting from another part of China. This was her first trip to Beijing. She said she worked for a German Car Company in her home town. She asked us where we were going and we said Tianianmen Square, she said so was she. As we walked along she taught us to speak some chinese, she complimented us on our pronounciation. She then asked if we wanted to go to Walking Street,(good shopping) She said it was 10 minutes walk. My Husband agreed. It is called Qianmen Street. I think, buy looking at the map. As we approached the street , I said to my Husband," Do you feel safe?" He said "Yes". Soon as we got into the street, she raced into this tea house and straight up the stairs, saying she wanted to see a tea ceremony, so we followed. My Husband stayed down stairs and then came up after a few minutes, then joined in the tea ceremony. We didn't think to ask the price as it was only a cup of tea. Eventually the bill came. What a shock! I showed it to my husband. He nearly had a fit. He stood up, he said to the girl "Do you work here?" she acted all innocent. We returned the tea we were going to buy. My Husband being the nice guy he is, paid the complete bill including the girl's bill. We were going out that night and were pushed for time so we made a quick retreat to a taxi. The con girl helped us get a taxi . My husband wasn't convinced that the girl had been in on the scam until I searched the web.***** Photo included of the two girls.
Unique Suggestions: Make sure you ask the price of everything........Don't believe anything. When we questioned the price, the girl doing the ceremony bought out a price list that said the goverment made them charge this amount.
Fun Alternatives: Just do your own thing, don't talk to strangers. They only want something.
The No. 2 Travelling Bus - Great Wall / Ming Tombs
I had some friends coming to visit me so I thought I'd take them to the Great Wall. The No. 2 Travelling Bus also included the Ming Tombs, which my friend wanted to visit, so that was ok. So we arrived at the bus stop (near the main Beijing Railway Station) and chose the 'luxurious' bus to travel on for 50yuan round trip. At 9.30am we all chugged away on our sixteen seater minibus! All of a sudden, the tour guide switched on his microphone and shouted all of Beijing's history down it! This carried on for an hour!
We arrived at our first destination...a desolate area of land with no-one in sight. He may as well have shouted down the microphone 'WELCOME TO THE FIRST SCAM OF THIS TOUR'! Everyone paid their 45yuan entrance fee and marched in. We refused to pay as we had no idea what it was as it was behind tall locked gates! After 10mins and out of pure insanity (or because the guide told us we could not wait in the bus if we didnt enter!), we paid the 'shark' and went in. We were presented with an english speaking guide, who deserted us after a couple of mins because she didnt, as it turns out, speak ANY English at all! We were told to peer into shop fronts which werent in fact real shops anyway, just models and then hurried along to the main event!
We did eventually make it to the Wall, but only after stopping at a dried fruit wholesale store, an uninteresting part of the Ming Tombs, a highly overpriced canteen, and a jade factory four hours later!
Unique Suggestions: At the first stop we went to, I really think you should stick to your guns. There is NOTHING of any value behind those tall gates, it is a complete rip-off and 'the show' was the only interesting part out of it all! Well not interesting, but different...
A show, put on by the local bandits, outcasts, and just plain weirdos from that area consisted of knife swallowing, cigarette burning on the tongue, lifting bricks up just using his ear, and producing a mini silver ball once swallowed, from any hole of the man's body..lucky for us, he chose his eyeball!REALLY disgusting! And on top of that, we were made as foreigners(not the Chinese)to make a contribution afterwards!
Take your own snack food! The canteen food looked awful and really was just leftovers from every restaurant in that neighbourhood I think! We refused to pay 20yuan to eat there, thinking we would wait for the Great Wall and buy a snack there. Remember...they want commission, so dont let them push you into anything you dont want to do. Of course, they took us to a part of the Wall that very few tourists visit, so there was only one shop selling crisps, so that was our lunch!
Fun Alternatives: Well, like my friends and I, we just had to laugh about it. Not necessarily at the time, because it was one of Beijing's coldest days, and we were in pain, but afterwards over a nice hot meal, yes!
You'll have fun when you get to the Wall, and it really will make the rest of the day fade into insignificance. There are plenty of lovely photos to take at the Wall and you'll have fun running or walking around this great area of land steeped in history!
Afterall as quoted by Mao Zedong.."you are not a man unless youve climbed The Great Wall"!
Beijing Tea Ceremony Scam
As my girlfriend and I were leaving our hotel, two middle aged men approached us and asked us where we were from etc... Turns out one of the men was from Beijing and the other visiting from Shanghai. The Beijinger was giving a tour to his visiting friend. They asked if we would like to join in on their tour of the hutong, and we were delighted to get a "free" tour of the hutong. They took us along and walked us into various antique stores and schmoozed us the whole time with interesting history and asking a lot about our US culture. They had very convincing back stories (the stories were so convincing i'm not even sure if they were entirely fake). The whole time they walked us they split us up, one walked with me and the other walked with my girlfriend. Eventually one of them suggested we get some tea and we enterred a small govt. tea shop with an elaborate bar carved outof wood. The whole ceremony proceeded as others have described and then at the end of the ceremony our "friends" asked us to pick out our two favorite teas. The lady then proceeded to start packaging out teas. At this point an alarm went off in my head and I got out of my chair to ask our Beijing friend how much this was all going to run. The tea lady showed me the bill and it turned out for the ceremony for my girlfriend and I plus the two teas was about $450 US. I got instantly nervous and told them that this was more than the cost of our hotel and we could not afford it. They politely asked me to sit down and said that the tea was already packaged and could not be returned to the shelf. I said that we would only take one box of tea then and that they could buy the other. To calm me, the Shanghainese man said he would buy me the other box. So my girlfriend and I ended up shelling out 300 for the ceremony and one box of tea. They then said that they had an important business meeting to get to and quickly hurried us to a cab that then took us to the Forbidden City.
Unique Suggestions: We thought the tea ceremony was very cool but at the same time we felt cheated and stupid about the whole thing. We knew "face" was very important to the Chinese so neither of us wanted to make a scene, although looking back on it I wish I had.
Look out for Jack who has a big mole to the left of his nose and "Tom".
Underground Palace - Avoid at All Costs!
We took a tour bus to Badaling Great Wall and Ming Tombs; on its way back it stopped near the underground "palace" park. For some 60 yuan you get to for a couple of miles, then you are searched with metal detectors like in an airport, then you go down about 6 or 7 storey to see... nothing really! There are two or three halls with one or two (not so interesting) exhibits each. Then you go up.
People who organized it - great sense of humor :-( .
Unique Suggestions: Pack some drinking water. But better don't go there.
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
Who needs tours?
When I go to Beijing I never join any tours.
It might get quite a bit more expensive, it is true, however, I have much more fun and enjoyment going by myself or with my family.
Tour guides will take you to see the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, etc., let you see some hutongs and take you to some stores where they probably might have a commission depending on how much everyone buys. And you will finish your tour by eating the Quanjude duck. Everyone is happy and returns home.
Beijing is much more than that. There are wonderful places where you can enjoy the typical food of Beijing, shows, shopping centers, etc. that unless you go by yourself you will never taste or see because the tour guides will never take you there.
Before joining a tour think twice.
- Budget Travel
- Food and Dining
- Family Travel
Surprise! We're stopping at the cloisonne factory
"Don't worry! There will be sufficient time for you to shop for merchandise at the conclusion of our brief stop here at the factory..."
Sound familiar? If you thought you were going straight to the Badaling Great Wall on an organized tour then you probably lost an hour of hiking when the bus suddenly stops at a cloisonne factory and holds you and your group hostage inside for much longer than the half hour your Chinese tour guide announced.
Unique Suggestions: At least appreciate the work that goes into the details of that cheap pen set that you feel pressured to purchase.
Fun Alternatives: Instead of going on a group tour of Beijing why not see the sights on your own? If you are still interested in cloisonne factories and have extra time then they'll always welcome you even if you're not in one of the tour groups. Most organized tours of Badaling include stops at handicraft shops, so it's better to see the Great Wall elsewhere by yourself or arrange your own private transportation.
- Arts and Culture
- Budget Travel
There was this tour near the Ming Tombs, where the tour leader will bring us to a so called 'Chinese Medicine Research Centre' and when u step in there will be pictures of famous Chinese Scientists/Physicians and 2 very old Physician will check your pulse and recommend you some traditional cures. These are fakes and they are expensive so DO NOT get cheated. If you want to get good real traditional Chinese Medicine it is best to get it in Chinese Medicine Hall in Hongkong or Taiwan
Unique Suggestions: Just listen to the introduction of Chinese medicine and the names of the herbs to cure these ailments and allow them to check your pulse and diagnose any ailments for free. After all Chinese herbs are really effective if they are original.
- Arts and Culture
Pedi Cab Taxi's
The pedi cab drivers can try and rip you off.
I got one the first day I was there, quoted 30rmb and at my destination he tried to get 300rmb. I (politely] of course) told him to go take a purge and walked leaving him with 30rmb. He started to get very ugly and intimidating and luckily I was at my destination.
Fun Alternatives: Taxi's are metered and very cheap - the same journey by taxi would have cost me like 15rmb (dependent of traffic of course.) Its easy to be wise after the event.
Eight hour trip maybe one at the attraction
You need to be aware of the format of all the tours that I went on throughout china. I took a trip to the Ming tombs and great wall as an independent traveller it was an excellent opportunity to mix with other travellers. I was shocked by the side excursion planned and the length of time allocated to these. We took a trip to a jade factory with a whistlestop tour of the processes and suprisingly we ended up in the shop for 45 minutes. This was replicated in chines pharmacy, with compulsory health check, and then a local art centre. The visits to both the tombs and the wall were excellent but be aware that you will spend half the trip with people trying to get money out of your wallet. We did stop for lunch which was an excellent opportunity to enjoy chinese food as it should be eaten, that is, communally.
Unique Suggestions: Be prepared. You are only going to get an hour or so at the wall and maybe a little more at the tombs. Consider negotiating a price with a local driver. You should be able to do this through your hotel. At least you are in charge of where you go and when. If this is impossible just remember to be clear about what you want to do. I found a firm no with a large smile was sufficient to give most sales people the message. Anything less definite and they will pester you for a sale and they are persistent. Remember they think that all tourists are millionaires willing to pay very large proces for things like jade and lithographs. I enjoyed my trips but was very definite in what I was willing to buy, infact, I spent a lot of time hanging about outside shops waiting for the bus driver.
Fun Alternatives: As above, if you have a small party consider hiring your own cab. Remember to negotiate the price and maybe get your hotel involved in making the arrangements. Don't get into the cab unless the price is fixed.
- Budget Travel
Beware JJF gemstone scam
This store is located near the 2008 Olympic Bird Nest Stadium, a new subway station in the front (under construction) with tall thick bushes with strands and strands of red yarns tied onto them. There are 2 western lion statues at the entrance with gold eyes. You need to pass through the doorway and descend down to the 'complex'. There is a Dr. Tea shop, a restaurant and a Jiu Jiu Fu (JJF) gemstone shop below as well as a stairway leading upstairs.
Upon entering the JJF store, you will need to cross a small bridge to face a huge dark green marble ship replica and you will be ushered into a briefing room where they are supposed to teach you how to examine gemstones. This will not happen as the 'owner's son' Mr Lin, will drop in and offer to take you around himself. He will then give obscene markdowns of the goods (80-90% less) and will shake hands with you and make you promise him not to sell the items.
All the jewelry are fakes. Normal metal (not platinum) and probably plastic/ glass/ cubic zirconia for the 'gemstones' (not ruby, sapphire, etc..) as confirmed by a local jeweler. Apparently, there is a syndicate operated by the shop together with the tour agency. Our local jeweler told us that this has happened many times and people have tried to take legal action against the tour agency/ shop but its all useless as the purchases are done willingly.
Unique Suggestions: Try to avoid all tour agency arranged shopping (tea, jade, silk, jewelry, feng shui items, medicine and pearl goods, etc...). The agency will get a cut from the profits. Goods are mostly sub-standard (if you're lucky) and/or fake and harmful. If you must participate, avoid purchases or at the very least, limit your purchases. Less lost the better. the tour leaders might show their displeasure ('cos they won't get commission if you don't buy anything)
Fun Alternatives: Some friends recommend going to jewelry shops in major shopping malls. They are less likely to con because licenses are needed to set up shop, however, pricing might be higher.
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
beware of JJF gemstone store in Beijing China
On our last day of our tour , late in the afternoon our tourist guide brought us to JJF (Jiu Jiu Fu) gemstones store. . A polite lady greeted us. She was amazed to find out that we are from Manila. She told us that her superior or boss is also from the Philippines. .He introduced himself, He told us that his mother is still staying in the Philippines somewhere in Binondo. That they have also a jewelry store in Ongpin, Manila and it carries the name of JJF . At the back of my mind I was thinking that I have seen him in a photo at the airport beside the photo of Jackie Chan holding a mastercard adverstising the Beijing Olympics of 2008.
JJF gemstone store is near the place where the olympics will be held that looks like a birds nest. There is an entry where in there are red yarns tied on the leaves and branches. If you are not familiar with the place you cannot find the entry because of the big bushes of plants. Going to that place the store is at the right side and the olympics site is at the left side.He explained to us that the gemstore store gets the items by the bulk and he can give us a big discount So my companions bought without any hesitation.
He introduced me to a set of black sapphire which include a pair of earrings, necklace, bracelet and ring. I bought the set for US$1,000. When I returned home to Manila, I went to my friend who is also a jeweler and I showed her the items that I bought because they look different with what was shown to me and to my disappointment when she appraised the items, they are fake. My friend told me that the items given to me were not of the same items showed to me.
In my mind I could still hear his voice when he advised me not to sell this set when I returned home because it can be an heirloom to my daughters. Maybe that advised is to prevent me from discovering that I was deceived.
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