Trips and Tales: Part 124
I’m going to make this the last scare-article for Beijing, well for now at least. It’s worth reminding ourselves that Beijing is generally regarded as a relatively “safe” city. There, I said it again. I have been trawling through tourist experiences posted on various sites, looking for common threads.
A lot of these tales that end with a tourist and his money heading in separate directions, start with phrases along the lines of “I met some complete stranger and followed them to X location”, often somewhere off the beaten track, or in some dodgy part of town. Needless to say that said stranger is often overly friendly, helpful, beautiful, charismatic – you get the idea.
So the point is: yes, if you go looking for trouble, then as with anywhere else on the planet: the chances are that you will find it. Unfortunately, being an ‘obvious’ tourist, or just a foreigner does seem to be the equivalent of walking around with a target on your back.
As touched upon on our last post: variations of the scams appear to transcend international boundaries with ease: the expensive tea-ceremony (etc.) invitation being just one.
Another story that I’ve heard before is a controlled form of mobbing by pick pockets. A crucial factor seems to be a narrowing through-way, causing the victim’s progress to be halted in as natural a way as possible. I heard a version of this from a friend of mine who witnessed it on an Italian coach tour (even though he didn’t see the actual theft take place). In Beijing, the report was of an incident in a restaurant doorway, but the principle applies to both situations and no doubt many more.
Essentially, a small group of pick-pockets hidden in a crowd or queue conspire to sandwich the target from front to rear at a suitable pedestrian bottle-neck. When this optimum point is reached, the crook in front of the target stops temporarily on some pretence, forcing the rest of the human traffic to do likewise. This gives the rest of his gang the opportunity to crowd or even jostle the target on several sides without arousing suspicion, whereupon the actual pick-pocketing takes place.
Of course, in some instances the front-man isn’t even required; you may just be pushing for an exit, alighting or boarding a bus, at a pay phone, entering a store or just jammed in a crowd watching something – the variations are numerous.
Generally, when out and about I prefer a good stretch of Velcro as a fastener rather than zips that are designed to easily slide open. Apart from the ripping sound it makes when it is opened (okay, that could be hard to hear in a noisy crowd) I am more likely to feel the ‘pull’ of someone trying to get in.
However, some of the crooks that we are up against are pros, with sleight of hand and distraction skills equal to those of a stage magician. By comparison I, you and most of the folks we know are beginners or even non-starters by comparison.
Do we still need to be told to keep our belongings secure, our bags closed, our wallets hidden? Well, it seems that some of us do, though there is always a chance of being caught off guard. Seeing someone fall to the floor in front of you might cause you to drop your bag and help. By the time the ‘accident victim’ has merely brushed themselves down and walked away, you are frantically looking around for your bag -that has of course been spirited away by the ‘fall-victim’s’ mates. Speaking of bags: back-packs can be a liability, not only do they scream out “I am a tourist” but with your eyes to the front, anything could be happening back there. I saw footage of a tourist calmly walking his huge back-pack through a Russian city whist behind him (equally calmly) a street kid was busy undoing his pack’s zips and having a rummage inside.
These guys are ingenious; I’ve even heard anecdotally of Chinese budget scam-tours to see fake relics and sites, with plenty of opportunities to pay for over-priced crap thrown into the bargain.
Outside of overt criminality, another Beijing danger that crops up repeatedly is the road system – or lack of ‘system’ perhaps. I am referring particularly to the standard of driving of course, although there is an official Beijing Traffic Management Bureau handling comprehensive road traffic rules, vehicle licensing, congestion, etc.
By various accounts it’s essentially a free-for-all, with all manner of madness found. The fake taxi-rides to non-existent or dubious destinations are just the start of it. Imagine insane overloading, the routine cutting up of (and by) any form of transport. A lethal mix of cycles and engine-powered tonnage flouting the equivalent of the Chinese Highway Code at every turn. Complete disregard for crossings and traffic lights and spontaneous, bizarre middle-of-the-road maneuvers for starters. All of this mixed with seemingly suicidal, jay-walking pedestrians and a daily body count.
Pretty much anything that you can imagine then, and most likely a good deal that you can’t. Be careful out there.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 125) Arrival Beijing #14
[Photo by kconners]