Trips and Tales: Part 123
Last week I presented some information gleaned from sampling various reports and recommendations on safety in and around Beijing. There’s good mileage in such a topic and, in a perverse way, rummaging through a particular culture’s scams is strangely fascinating. It is as if both the good and the bad can tell us something about a particular mindset. Nice theory.
I can’t really see this one happening in the UK for instance: “Art students” (not really) approach tourists and somehow convince them to visit a nearby art gallery full of over-priced second-rate crud, whereupon they are then pressurised to buy said “art”.
Similarly, the “tea-house” scam involves an attractive/appealing woman inviting the intended victim to an establishment where a Chinese tea-ceremony may be performed, snacks consumed and pleasantries exchanged -all apparently for free. Needless to say once the session is over, and it’s time to leave; the chosen audience is issued a brutal bill and -again- pressurised to pay up. Guess what? It wasn’t for free after all! Who’d have thought it?
This particular flavour of scam was touched upon last week – with the over-priced massage incident, and it seems reasonable to assume further variations on the theme. What is presented as cheap, interesting and inviting suddenly switches over into expensive and intimidating. I’ve seen footage of similar shenanigans in – if I remember correctly – Turkey; this time based around a restaurant.
The tourist/victim would be befriended by a local at a bar and invited for a free meal just around the corner. Yes, and it turns out of course that neither was the meal free, nor was the supposed host paying. Cue angry confrontational scenes between management and the victim whilst the scammer gazes into the middle distance or denies all blame. Or worse.
The point is that there is a thread of similarity: some hook that is (frankly) too good to be true with a cost waiting at the end. Of course, the stranger in a strange land is at a disadvantage. Chances are he or she will have problems with the language or with cultural norms -and certainly doesn’t want to get involved with the local police, especially after partaking of a service on offer. They are on the back-foot, so to speak.
So naturally, the decision is very often to pay-up just to get out of the situation. Of course the scammers are counting on this.
Back in Beijing (and no doubt elsewhere too), another variation still is the taxi/tuk-tuk/rickshaw fare that mysteriously increases by some multiple of the agreed price between the start and end points of the journey. “I didn’t say 50, I said 150” – that kind of nonsense. And of course; you’ve had the ride – so now you are obliged to pay up. You may not even know what a realistic fare is in the first place of course, so theoretically an unscrupulous driver could charge you whatever they liked and you’d be none the wiser. Tuk-tuks, in case you are unaware, are motorised, narrow sided, three-wheeled tin cans frequently used throughout Asia as legitimate or illegitimate mini-taxis.
A particularly deplorable tactic is to play on a persons good-will to rip them off. Children have been deliberately deformed to elicit sympathy (and by extension: money) from tourists. Underground operators present a network of beggars to callously milk this source of revenue. It’s hard to know what is actually legit. Cries for help can be little more than scams in disguise. So we learn not to help the outwardly needy for fear of being duped, and as a result; the world slowly but surely goes to hell.
More on this next time.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 124) Arrival Beijing #13
[Photo by Jirka Matousek]