As part of most North Korea tours, unless you’re paying more for an Air Koryo flight, then in order to enter the country you must first transit via China. This usually involves travelling to Beijing and then onwards by train to Dandong. Despite the stereotypes, China is a fascinating place with plenty to discover. Every day can be an adventure. However, like everywhere in the world and especially that of developing countries, that does not mean there are not some things to be careful of. A small minority of people may seek to take advantage of unsuspecting foreigners who do not know the country very well. Although violent and petty crime is in fact rare, attempts to scam and cheat people out of their money is more common. If you want to be able to make the most of your China experience, then you need to be aware of what these scams are and the common pitfalls people fall into. Below, we list and set them out:
1. The Tea ceremony Scam
Imagine you’re walking through a busy area very popular with tourists, such as Wangfujing or around Tiananmen Square. Suddenly, you are stopped by what is often an attractive young lady whom speaks surprisingly good English. Despite the fact you are a total stranger, the lady is quite open to you and wants to hang out with you. In a variety of ways, she may invite you to try out a local tea ceremony at a place she knows. You go with her and you end up in an obscure place, where a few poor quality teas are handed out and then suddenly, you are presented with a massive bill what may constitute around 7000 Rmb. Then, two big tough men will appear and force you to pay it whether you like it or not. Yes, this the tea ceremony scam and it ropes in unsuspecting visitors all the time. Thus, every time someone approaches you in the street in a random and unusually friendly way, you should be thinking about their real agenda.
2. Black/illegal cabs
You’ve just arrived in China, your flight has been a long haul journey and you’re exhausted. You go through immigration, customs, baggage collection and enter the arrivals hall. Behind the railings, a man will quickly identify you as a foreigner and say “taxi!” offering you his services. Seems convenient right? Don’t accept it. These individuals are not ordinary, licensed cab drivers, they’re illegal black taxi drivers, out to charge unsuspecting foreigners a ludicrous amount of money far beyond the going rate. To go with them is not only a rip off, but a huge risk to your personal safety too. If you take a taxi in China, only ever choose licensed cabs with the clear approved designs and license plate. When leaving major transportation hubs such as the airport and railway station, you can find them in designated, organised taxi lines. Anyone else who attempts to offer you their services in the run up to these ques should be dismissed.
3. Art scams
Like the previous ones, this one also starts with an apparently well meaning person with a good ability to speak English. Suppose you’re in a famous area, looking lost, helpless or confused, then suddenly you are approached by a local who seems to want to help you. Again, remember in these situations there is almost always an agenda. They get talking to you and happen to mention they are an artist. They will then invite you to tour their studio which just happens to be nearby. Once in the studio, you will find there are of course works of art, but then unsurprisingly the individual will try and pressure you to buy some. Unlike the others, this scam is not coercive or threatening, it is just an annoyance and they may try and make you feel guilty into making a purchase. In these situations, do not feel afraid to simply say no and stand your ground. It will end without trouble.
4. Organised Begging
In some of the key areas of China’s biggest cities, usually hubs of transportation such as railway stations, you may encounter a large number of beggars, who seeing you as a foreigner are likely to come and target you. Sometimes these beggars may do remarkably strange things, such as banging their heads off the ground, or may have notable disabilities such as a missing limb. Although as a foreigner it may seem harsh, it is important not to give into these people. A lot of these beggars are not genuine, but in fact employed by organised crime syndicates to make money. The begging is in fact an organised business. Sometimes this may involve more heart moving scams, such as pushing a disabled child around a subway whilst playing music. By doing this, these people actually make more money than an average daily salary. It isn’t worth donating to.
5. Conclusion: Be streetwise!
If you want to cope in China’s unique environment, then above all you need to be cautious. You need to know what the dangers are and how you can avoid them, this list of common scams makes a good overview. It is important to be cynical and to carefully assess the motivations of people who approach you at random without any kind of social que. All of the above people can be dismissed readily with the useful Chinese phrase 我不要 (wo bu yao!) learn it and use it. Once you know what to avoid, travel here becomes so much better!