08 June 2010

Should I stay or should I go?

Dear TCG,

I have been given what seems like a once in a lifetime opportunity. The town I live in is offering a tourist group trip to Beijing. One week, all expenses paid, including airfare, hotel, food, and ground transit a sum of money. My mother said she would send me (Im 17) even though I would go alone. I just have a few concerns. When I pictured visiting China for the first time, I imagined it would be Hong Kong, not the belly of the beast that is Beijing. I feel a bit insecure about visiting mainland China. I feel like Id be entering a hostile environment (with all the tension in Sino-American relations lately). Im worried I might accidentally get into trouble from not being familiar with local laws. China also has all these visa restrictions for entering and leaving the country. I want to be sure I'll be able to return home safely and when I need to.

So should I go for it? (the deadline's not until August)

And if I do, do you have any tips on how to stay safe and out of trouble?

I just want some reassurance.

Kevin B

Dear Kevin.

I'll split this up a bit as I felt I'm not very lucid on this.


Justify FullI believe you are getting the wrong end of the stick here, as China/US relations is just the governments who are rattling sabres at each other (I think you are American anyway). This just means they increase the cost of Visas for Americans to $150 a pop.

Visa restrictions are nothing more than a scam, they make shed loads of money out of it and put up hurdles you can jump over easily. Take note TCG actually requires a visa to visit China, as I missed the deadline of a home return permit and overseas born folks like me have certain restrictions in getting home return permits. Funny eh? From what I recall getting a Chinese visa says you have to have a flight in and a flight out and a hotel booked. At first glance people think whoa! In reality this is a piece of piss, flight in and a flight out? A hotel?

Flights are simple, though if you are North American flying is really the only option, but you can fake this too! China has no ability to check passenger manifests YET and probably can't be bothered to check yet either. The embassy staff are overworked so all everybody did was fake the flight itinerary (like I did) and go in via any means they wanted.

Doug for example mentioned in my book and faked up a flight ticket in Mongolia and a hotel booking and travelled in via bus.

Christian did the same thing but via train.

I did the same thing too I said I would fly in via the Mongolian / Beij airport. I actually ended up entering via boat into China via Incheon and Tianjin.

The visas only state a period of entry i.e. it is valid for 3 months from the date issued and runs for the length of the visa when you enter. Be careful! faking up flights stick 30 days or something between the entry and exit flights! Christian managed to get a 5 day visa for some reason.

Visas also do not state port of entry or exit as said my 2009 trek, I was supposed to enter via the Mongolia border but entered via Tianjin, I was also supposed to exit via Korea too flying out, but I left by train and went to cities not even listed on my itinerary (I put down Beijing/Shanghai and Hangzhao).

The hotel room is simple just find a hostel and pay $1 to book it print it out and there you go you've beaten the 'tough' visa scam money making machine of the PRC. TBH Russian visas are harder to get.

The border guards didn't even look at it for more than a second the hostel people did though not that they cared they just wanted to make chat. You can leave anytime you want, via any means you want I had a shiny 60 day visa and only used it for 34 days, the guard didn't care.


The anti American protests like when NATO bombed the Chinese embassy,

Or the Hainan Island incident

Are old history these days, and the blokes throwing stuff at the embassy were PAID actors, so says one of my ex-gfs who was living nearby when they happened. Also since Obama came into presidency there has been a marked warming of relations, as said it is just a government vs government thing. The Beijingers are like most people they worry about stuff their own daily lives. TCG for example does not particularly like the UK government but thinks meh, and is more worried about maintaining my motorbikes and I dedicate more to my own careers biking and writing than anything else.

You might recall an earlier post do Russians/Chinese hate each other? I travelled via the Amur region and there was no hate (ok so I got shot at, but I get shot at in the UK). On the face of it, it has been an area of tension for decades, the governments were hard line about each other for years. But when I travelled through the region on my motorbike there were no problems at all 'the incident of 4 KGB/FSB officers in my hotel room was quite funny actually'.

Chinese even in Mainland China are more savvy than the government gives them credit for they will differentiate between the people and the government 我没有投票 (Wǒ méiyǒu tóupiào) I didn't vote for him is a disarming phrase I heard many people use when Bush was still in power.


Read some of the China scam things (I have to edit them to include counter measures).

Make no bones about it, I do not know your ethnicity your skin colour or what, but if you are how shall I say it non Chinese looking you will be subjected to the attempted scams as mentioned in my earlier posts. All these scams are easy to dodge and to differentiate.

When you visit Wangfujin for example (this does not happen to me the fact I dress like a bum and I also blend in perfectly means it doesn't happen) usually 2 fantastically sexy girls in uber short skirts (can a skirt be too short? British bikers often die as a result of short skirts as people rubber neck and hit bikers we judged collectively it was worth it though) Will ask you they would like to practice English?

Meeting people is what makes your trip* you can instantly ascertain if this is a scam or not when they mention tea house say Starbucks? If they really want to meet you and practice they'll say Hao Hao, or yes or whatever. If they walk away it was a scam.

So are the Wangfujin I need 30RMB to get a train ticket home. Did I mention Wangfujin is a bad place to be? Tourist tat they see you and they'll mention special price and you can ignore it, or sometimes aggressively they will grab your wrists. Just walk away or learn a French or German phrase it confuses the hell out of them and they.

Carry a money belt seriously , and a dummy wallet usual tourist precautions.

Things to look out for

Tours, I think this is why I like the 365Inn Qinmen district as they are forthright about it, they have tours listed one with shopping one without. The shopping time included trips are much cheaper but you'll spend 2-3 hours hustled around specifically designed tourist tat shops and they really hate it when you don't buy anything.

Local and tourist menus, again why I like the 365Inn it shows prices outside to everybody.

People who flag you down to buy things, USB sticks are common which are smaller capacity than advertised.


The police generally mind their own business and never stop western tourists they stop me because I look like a bum (what do you expect I'd been wearing the same tshirt and jeans for 99 days!). Watch this video

You can't actually do this in Taipei a supposed democracy, nor London either as laws prevent taking photos and pictures (should they be used for terrorism that old excuse).

Usual laws apply as to other places, don't get too drunk, or EVER feel the need to have your hair cut, Beijing barbershops are not what they seem. Getting drunk is hard as the beers all contain this chemical preserver crap in it, due to the way Chinese people tend not to drink huge quantities of beer. This beer gives you a horrible headache a hard thumping one which is like literally being pounded over the head with a hammer constantly.

You are even allowed to bring in banned movies and books into the country, the restrictions are they just aren't allowed to sell them. The Abonination which is the lonely planet is thankfully not allowed in China, well they aren't allowed to sell it anyway. Though probably not a good idea to bring porn into the country!


Some thoughts, TCG hates package tours even though the price here is not too much more than a flight out there add in the visa and the hotel and food are virtually free.

I can't conform this however but I think what will happen on these all inclusive tours is that simply you'll be taken back and forth from the hotel, to restaurants which serve identical meals, and then shuttled towards tourist attractions and be taken to shopping trips between shuttle runs. Which is a sort of travel I don't like as you never really meet real people which I feel is the point of travel in the first place. If I were you (like I was in 1998) I'd go out and do it alone! But really do take sometime out rent a bicycle and get to the 4th ring or farther from the centre as the centre is all comercialised and touristy. You can get a feel for this around the Qianmen hutongs though.

Some random stuff which goes nowhere else:

  • Bring tissues or bog roll around with you public toilets 99% of the time don't have them or have a rip off vending machine. You may need tissues due to the uber pollution spitting happens because of this.
  • Don't rent bicycles from cheap places they are cheap as they are rotten or scammers.
  • Don't be insulted when people are frank about things. As in my prior post.
  • Don't even think of drinking the tap water.
  • Unless you want to be mentally scarred don't use hutong toilets seriously so they were not as bad as ex USSR Azerbaijani toilets but real bad.
  • Watch out for fake notes 20s and 50s are increasingly common
  • 100RMB is HUGE in some areas though only erm $13 US or £9 UK£ you should carry some smaller money everywhere. 1RMB coins are useful for the metro
  • Dark alleyways at night (the kind I walk down) should really be avoided

Should you go for it?

Your choice, as above I personally hate hand hand holding tours and prefer to go out there myself and meet people myself, it depends on your personality tbh whereby if you are outgoing and will approach people then no problem. If you are more reserved then it is more problematic.

Sorry to sound like a broken record but you can go to most hostels pay $5-7US a night for a bed in a dorm (the girlie who stayed in my dorm kept a knife under her pillow) meet people there who will independently arrange their own sightseeing trips. Though this of course is hit and miss as you may meet touristy tourists or you may meet sensible people or crazy people. Like the Israelis , the Japanese bloke and the Korean guy pretending to be Japanese and the Russian and dutch guy.


Ollie, The Dutch guy and myself got on because Beijing was virtually the end of our respective trips and we generally were not so much into looking at things more having some fun unwinding after crossing Russia which was rough.

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