Scammed in Beijing
This weekend my friends and I decided to take the 5-hour fast train from Shanghai to Beijing. We knew Beijing was a must-see city on this trip, so we decided to do it earlier rather than later in the semester. And it just worked out that it was my birthday weekend so we excitedly boarded the train northward.
Unfortunately, there were two very different sides to our trip. On the one hand, we enjoyed visiting The Forbidden City, the wonderful Great Wall of China, the Summer Palace, and other beautiful landmarks of China’s history. But unfortunately, this weekend left us eager to leave and longing to go back to Shanghai. In this post, I will cover the “negative” side of our trip, because I need to process and reflect on my experiences. However, I will later post a blog with all the things I did enjoy in the capital city.
I will be completely honest and say me and my two girl-friends feel traumatized by this trip. On our first night there, after a delicious dinner (Pecking duck is not overrated!), we were struggling to find a taxi. We finally ran up to an official-looking taxi that agreed to take us to our hotel. He immediately asked us, in Chinese, how many years we had been in Beijing. We casually answered that it was our first day. Then he made the assumption that we were from Shanghai and asked us, and again we claimed that we were studying there. When we arrived at the hotel, instead of pulling up to the doors, he drove past and stopped at a corner just past the hotel. That should have been our first red flag… He immediately turned around and gave me 50 RMB, before I even took any money out. The ride was 52 RMB so I was confused as to why he handed me money. I, mistakenly, took my wallet out and he saw my cash. I gave him one of my ¥ 100 bills and he immediately took it up to the light and said, “This bill is ok in Shanghai, but not in Beijing” and he handed it back. We were so confused by that but mostly flustered at the situation. I (stupidly) continued to give him different bills, and again he handed them back. Then my friend also took out her wallet, the driver kept reaching back and basically putting his hand in her wallet. At that moment we really felt threatened, and I opened the door and we even yelled help and no one responded. She gave him a bill and again he handed it back. In the end, she gave him a ¥50 and we left.
We immediately felt traumatized and confused. I looked down at the ¥100 bills I was holding and they suddenly felt fake, very paper-like. I was still confused though, did the ATM give me fake money and the driver could tell, or what just happened. We quickly walked to the hotel and asked the concierge to check the bills. He put them through the Counterfeit detector machine, and sure enough it beeped. We explained what happened to the concierge and he told us that the driver had just scammed us, that he took our money and gave us counterfeit bills.
This was hard to process and it left us completely distressed. We went up to our room to try to process this and I just suddenly broke down crying. I felt cheated, I felt stupid, I felt defenseless. We tried to calm ourselves down and think through the situation. We realized that there were certain red flags along the way. The fact that he asked how long we had been in Beijing, and if we were from Shanghai. The fact that he did not pull up to the hotel door. And the fact that he handed me change before I even took out my wallet. We looked online and found out that this is a known taxi scam in Beijing. And that he handed us the ¥50 to force us to give him big bills, and then from there, he would craftily switch one of our bills for a fake one. We were so flustered that we did not pay attention to that at the moment. Thinking back, we realized how he did it, and how we could have responded differently.
We felt so cheated and upset, we decided to go back down to the lobby to discuss it with the hotel and ask for help. We explained the situation to a very friendly concierge and went through it step by step. He walked us to a nearby police station, but the police station said that they only take care of crime that happens on the sidewalks, not on the street…?! Ok China… This night just kept getting better. We walked back to the hotel and called the real police and they came to the hotel 15 minutes later. Not surprisingly, the Beijing police does not speak any English…great! So we went on to explain the situation with our broken Chinese, hand gestures, and the help from the hotel concierge. To say the least, they were not eager to help. They attempted to understand us, claimed that they watched the video footage of the street outside but that it was too dark to recognize the driver. Furthermore, since we had no recollection of the license plate and in our disconcerted state we forgot to ask for a 发票（receipt), which the driver probably would not have given to us, there was no way to track down the 骗子 (thief). Long story short, there was nothing we could do. We ended that night feeling cheated and frustrated.
To say the least, it was not a good start to our weekend. However, being the resilient young women that we are, we bounced back the next day and enjoyed the day in Beijing, visiting the landmarks. However, our trip seemed to be tainted and we felt skeptical and paranoid the rest of the weekend. There were no more major events throughout the weekend, but even minor occurrences felt frustrating, and we just did not feel welcomed by Beijing. By the end, we were eager to return to our beloved Shanghai, and return to our comforting and familiar dorms.
I share this experience not to scare anyone or worry you about our safety here, but more as a warning for any other travelers. The biggest thing I learned is to be more aware and skeptical. I am a very trusting person and this did not serve me well this weekend. I need to learn to listen to my own judgment and have a slight sense of distrust for strangers. I hate saying that, but in this country, I need it.
I am now safely back in my dorm room, feeling grateful I chose to study in Shanghai, rather than Beijing. And to look on the bright side, not only did I return from Beijing a year older, but also a wiser traveler.
P.S. Stay tuned for the good part of my trip! It was thankfully not all bad.