We all know that China – particularly Beijing – is famous for its preserved history of dynasties spanning two thousand years, but what you may not be aware of is that there is a new dynasty. The dynasty of the Group Guided Tour.
These tours, like some warped cross between herding and military drill, parade victims… ahem… tourists through various silk or Jade “factories” to the megaphoned propaganda of the Chinglish speaking guides demanding you to “go pee” before getting on the bus, or “take a nap” when they are not speaking.
At the rear of each tiny show-room…sorry… factory a pack of proverbial wolves – yes they have these in China – awaits, salivating, ready to ambush the bewildered middle-aged-cap-wearing Americans, enthusiastic Europeans and rural Chinese, who whimper helplessly like doe-eyed deer as they are stripped of their cash for a “hand-made” piece of green glass that they are assured is of the highest quality and offered to them at a “very good price, my friend”.
I am indulging myself a bit, and we only went on one of these unofficial shopping tours, which was hilarious. But this is a thriving industry in Beijing as fresh meat is delivered daily by the truckload.
After visiting the Jade factory – we all know full well what it was but we’ll call it that for now – we have a dash to one of the quieter Ming Tombs before a very good lunch at a nearby eatery where the local alcoholic takes a liking to our new Dutch victim friend (a member of our small tour group). After we are ordered to go pee we are driven to the Bedaling Great Wall and given half an hour to walk around.
Mira and I return to the cattle wagon after two and a half hours and are reprimanded by our guide – at least we aren’t ordered to do push-ups.
We head to a Chinese healing centre where we are given a foot massage by “highly trained professionals” as professor Wang and his assistant gives us a palm reading of our health whilst attempting to sell us special healing tea straight from the Himalayas to cure our fabricated ailments (apparently I need to exercise more and Mira is in danger of becoming infertile) for hundreds of pounds a box. Honestly. I’m not making this up.
As each attempt to sell fails, the massage on my foot becomes firmer and firmer, to the point that after a few minutes agonising pain is rendering the “professor’s” words inaudible as I writhe in the chair biting my fist and praying that I’ll be able to walk again.
Limping on we finally arrive at a Tea Etiquette house which looks suspiciously like an expensive shop. We’re taken into an etiquette room by a wonderfully soft-spoken tea mistress, in traditional dress, and introduced to a selection of special teas, each with different… yes you’ve guessed it.. healing properties. We sample a few and are introduced to the “Pee Boy” – look it up CAREFULLY – and then after a 10 minute pitch comes the “how many boxes?”
Unsurprisingly no one buys any but our tea mistress pursues a couple into the expensive shop trying to sell them a tea cup with a decoration of symbols that changes to an image of the Great Wall when hot tea is introduced. I believe we have something similar in the UK involving a hot woman and a bikini.
The funniest moment of the day, and probably my year, comes as her pitch fails, the tea mistress makes a final desperate attempt with “but this is a magic cup!”
In dishonourable failure she grabs a leather jacket, cigarette, and storms out.
Don’t bother with a group tour when visiting the wonderful sights of Beijing, public transportation there is excellent. But, if you do find yourself with a day spare, take a big pinch of salt and indulge in a tour. Have some fun with it and it just might turn out to be one of the most memorable days of your vacation.