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Written on: Wednesday November 7th, 2007

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

Oh most pernicious women, get thee to a nunnery! We should have known, we just should have known. Beijing was going so so peachy. Although a handful of dodgy taxi runners were trying to sting us with a massive fee to go a couple of kilometers down the road to our hostel as soon as we set foot off the train, Beijing had far surpassed our expectations. It began when I'd had about as much as I could take from this one particular taxi guy and pleasently told him to #*$# off, as Dave and I marched off opening up our map determined to make our own way to our digs by foot. After finding our bearings and circumnavigating the same building a few times we began to lap up the day. The sun was golden for the first time since we could remember, people were smiling as we walked by, obviously besotted with the strange foreigners and before we'd made it to the hostel a myriad of girls had stopped us to practice their English with us. We arrvied a couple of hours later, sweating from carrying our bags so far, but lumbered further from the swaths of girls phone numbers which had been given to us as we wandered, so that we might go out with them during our stay in Beijing to help them with their English.

Dave and I were quite enamoured with this and assumed this all to be a big push by the younger community of China to top up their English skills in time for the Olympics next year. That evening, not feeling the least bit tired after our stomp across Beijing, we hit a local restaurant where once more we were treated like some teenage Boyband heart-throbs. The whole family came out to deliver us our food and giggled embaressingly when we smiled back at them.

At about 10pm we strolled down past one of the night markets selling such delicasies as snake on a stick and scorpian, when low and behold another couple of girls confront us to find out why Dave has such girly hair! Dave was in want of a new simcard for his phone and so after the introductions he enquired of them where he might obtain one. They were eager to please and took us through a little alley to a backdtreet vendor who offered a cheaper price than the highstreet store we had visited. So we thought it only right to offer to buy these two sweet, young, innocent girls a drink. One in particular, a girl named Natalia, seemed to know the area and walked us 5 minutes down the road to a nearby bar. We were welcomed in and given pride of place in this secluded little area of the bar where the waitress was already awaiting our order (as they always seem to be in China).We asked the girls what they wanted to drink and were actually quite surprised to hear them say they wanted a cup of tea. Dave and I got a beer each, and they sipped their pot of tea while we chatted further about such refined subjects as politics and religion. By this stage though Natalia was getting in to her stride, and although not a drop of alcohol had touched her lips was becoming quite the life and soul of the party, telling jokes in perfect English and requesting from Dave and I if we minded getting them something to eat also as they hadn't eaten yet. We raised our eyebrows at each other, and shrugged our shoulders, awkwardly agreeing. She jabbered something at the waitress and a few minutes later a fruit platter was brought to our table. Again we were relieved that they hadn't this time ordered two lobster platters instead.

It was after this though I began to think something was awry. This feeling just seeped in to my soul as Natalia asked if her and her friend could have some wine. The waiter hurried in three bottles for us to sample and luckily enough Dave spoke up to enquire of the price of each of these bottles. '1000 yuan each' came the reply which is about 80 pounds! We very quickly sent this humble waiter packing and then embaressingly explained why we were not able to afford these particular bottles of wine. The girls, Natalia in particular, sulkingly put up with a cocktail each. But it didn't stop there, she then was determined to charm her way to this gold medal bottle of wine by dancing and overly flirting, whispering at me to please buy her the wine. She was starting to really piss me off and I was thinking of promting Dave that it was time to go when another round of beers and cocktails arrived. We agreed this would be our last as 'we were very tired', and while Dave was in the toliet I asked for the bill.

When presented with the cheque, the blood pressure rose to new peaks. My eyes circled the room for the so-called Natalia (what Chinese girl is called Natalia anyway??) and it all suddenly began to make sense. We had been played big time, swindled, cheated, deceived, hustled. I was an angry man. The bill was almost 100 pounds for a pot of tea, 11 beers, 4 cocktails and a *#$*&$$ fruit platter! In London, ok not so bad a price. In Beijing where you can buy 4 beers for a quid we had been mugged. The beers themselves weren't the problem, it was the pot of bloody tea and fruit platter which they had charged us 20 pounds and 10 pounds for disrespectfully.

Dave returned from the toilets to find exclamations from me telling the now quite scared waiter that I wanted the police called as this was some kind of joke. He quickly ran off as the manager was informed we were not amused. The light was now there to see, these girls who allegedly wanted a hand in topping up their English skills were probably on the game and had more than likely (in fact Natalia definately had) brought dozens of Westeners in to the same corrupt establishment and had proceeded to fleece them smiling gleefully as she sipped another pot of tea. Disease-ridden wench I tell yee!

The manager in his defence, although lookling a little worried, took it all pretty well, eventually agreed to knock the tea off the bill and presented us with 4 free bottles of beer and two tubs of popcorn. Needless to say this did not make me a whole lot happier, but I did begin to smile at our stupidity and naivity at falling in to the situation in the first place. It was not so much the issue of the money, but more the fact we had been swindled good and proper. If you're tempted in the future to use the well known proverb about not exchanging something 'for all the tea in China', just enquire first as to what type of tea that is, as you could be on to a winner there.

The score now stands at: The Rogues 2      Si and Dave 2 on account of us losing out to Natalia and the dodgy Russian bribe lady at Lenin's grave, but overcoming the odds to get Dave's coat back from the Russian mafia club people in Moscow and not giving in to the corrupt taxi gits.

Other than that little tale, and bar the smog, Beijing itself is a great city. We spent a day in the Forbidden City where all the Ming and Qing emperors and empresses, along with their concubines and eunuchs lived, wandered around Tianamen Square and hired bicycles to really fit in with the locals, swerving around buses and in and out of the swarming traffic as we cycled good on 40 miles sightseeing the city. And of course the highlight of the whole trip so far was the Great Wall of China, which we walked about 10km of between Jingshaling and Simutai, then took a zip-wire across a river to where a short boat journey took us to our mini-bus.

We were exceedingly lucky as on the drive there and even when we arrived, there was thick fog everywhere and I couldn't see Dave's wavy locks let alone the Great Wall. But within 20 minutes of ascending the wall the fog had cleared and except for the vendors constantly badgering us to buy postcards and guidebooks, we had the whole wall to ourselves for almost the whole day.

Next we head west to a town called Datong.