The Wanfujing Night Market

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Normally if a fellow foreigner living in Beijing were to ask me “should I go to Wanfujing?” I would tell them that whatever they needed could probably be found somewhere else in Beijing with less hassle. I don’t really care for Wanfujing, and have left the area thoroughly annoyed about two thirds of the times I’ve went. Pickpockets, prostitutes and tea house scammers are notoriously common in this area, and for the most part Wanfujing is a taxi sinkhole; a place where the drivers will attempt to charge you astronomical prices in the ballpark of 200-300RMB for a 40RMB trip because they don’t think you know any better. That being said, I’m an expat familiar with China and therefore have different expectations than a normal tourist, which leads to my personal disdain. Wanfujing is home to some of the most famous hotels in Beijing, and because of this it has become the number one tourist area in Beijing. There’s English everywhere, dining is tourist-friendly and simple, most business owners are better able to help foreigners, and there are a lot of great cultural seminars nearby for an interested traveler to attend. The area is incredibly convenient for somebody staying in Beijing short term, and so long as they’re wary of scams and don’t mind paying a tad bit extra for things, it’s a good place for them to enjoy themselves during their travels. If you’re planning to visit Beijing and want an easy, enjoyable area to stay at, then Wanfujing would be my recommendation. And even for the experienced expat and the biased, sometimes arrogant blogger, Wanfujing has some cool stuff to offer; its giant foreign book stores, a large, ornate Eastern-orthodox church, and the Wanfujing Night Markets.

Wanfujing’s night markets are a must do for anybody in Beijing, and by far one of the most culture shocking and fascinating experiences you can have in Beijing. The night markets, which are open from 4pm to around 9pm, consist of two different locations; The first is an alley way bazaar called Snack Street, full of popular Chinese snacks, tourist souvenirs and strange goods that you can’t find anywhere in the city. The other location, which I plan to focus on in this blog article, is two blocks North on Donghuamen street and sells any exotic food you can imagine.

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The exotic food market on Donghuamen

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The alley bazaar Snack Street’s entrance

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Besides the usual street foods of wraps, noodles, and chuar meats that you can get all over Beijing and other Chinese cities, the Wanfujing Night Market is where you can eat cat, dog, snake, horse and just about any insect you could imagine. Some of the food here is stomach turning, while other snacks are surprisingly delicious… Fried scorpions turned out to be amazing! It’s a very fun experience to go and look, and if you’re brave enough try something exotic. You might not walk away satisfied, but you will forever retain bragging rites during stories to come. As a zoology major, I felt it was my academic duty to try every animal possible, and I hope my reviews make you hungry!

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Uncooked snake amongst squid tentacles and silk worm pupae

On the left is snake chuar, which was chewy, salty and a little stringy, but had a very good, almost jerkyish, flavor. The right chuar stick is dog meat, which was fatty and had a dull flavor. I wasn’t very impressed with dog, but it could’ve been a bad cut of meat. Not shown was the cat and horse chuars. The horse was tender but had a grainy texture, and tasted a lot like really tender beef with a little bit of gaminess. Horse is definitely worth eating again. Cat was incredibly tender, on par with fish, and almost tasted like lamb or goat. The cat was hands down some of the best meat I’ve ever had in my life, comparable to sashimi.

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After deep frying the stick of live Scorpions, they added some spices and handed it over. I was a little hesitant but I gotta say, they were pretty good! Crunchy and tough but full of protein, and fried Chitin tastes a lot like KFC crispy chicken skin. I went and got seconds. The larger scorpions had a lot more juice inside, and it tasted way too stale and scuzzy for my comfort. The smaller ones were a lot more enjoyable, and never made my stomach turn upside down.

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I only ate the fried crabs, I had no clue how to deal with the shells of the cray fish and tiger prawn. Plus, I wasn’t confidant that deep frying them would adequately cook their meat through those thick shells. The fried crab was good but a hassle. They’d never deshelled it, so you were expected to chew it and spit out the shell bits, and I honestly think it would’ve been easier to tie a cherry stem in my mouth than navigate that mess. The final result was a lot of lost meat and some cuts in my mouth, not to mention several fragments of shell going down the hatch by accident. I suggest getting the fried shrimps instead, they’re just as tasty but much more manageable.

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I also left these guys alone because of their shells
I wasn’t in the mood to bust them open on the sidewalk

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The silk worm pupae were like little grenades of ipecac, and the second I’d managed to break through the first one’s leathery casing and actually bite into it, a briny, uncomfortably warm, foul tasting liquid spurted into my mouth… as well as onto a guy passing by. The tan liquid was a milky consistency and just hot enough to skeeve somebody out, tasting like stale water and the worst cunnilingus ever. Being a good sport and wanting to have an informed opinion for all of you, I decided that I needed to try a second one before I could call it. The next one tasted just as bad, was never swallowed and quickly gagged back out of my mouth. The Chinese nearby were thoroughly amused by the sight of a foreigner spitting up onto the sidewalk, and I did it shamelessly… Silk worm pupae are foul.

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You can buy your own lamb leg for 40RMB. Obviously this was a must, though they’re deceivingly thin and have a lot more bone and tendon than it appears. The meat was great though and it still ended up being a large meal, as well as a greasy, messy one. I felt like Haggar the Horrible walking around that day.

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The squid tentacles were only okay, the spicy soy sauce they were drenched in helped a lot with their rubbery, briny tastelessness. They were quite the jaw work out though, and really weren’t appetizing at all. Maybe if they had been deep fried they would’ve tasted better, but that option wasn’t available here. So many Chinese people fiend for squid too, but they just weren’t for me.

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The shark fillets were totally worth it, well spiced and deep fried, they tasted a lot like codfish with an after taste of chicken. I didn’t expect them to be so tender either. I could’ve filled up on them, they reminded me of an American fish fry mixed with KFC.

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If eating strange animals isn’t up your alley, the night market had a large vegetarian section for the Buddhists. Every and any type of tofu could be found here; some were candied, some were boiled, some were braised, and the majority of them were eventually fried. I was too busy moving through the animal kingdom though to spend anytime here; too many potential pets to eat and creepy crawlies to fry.

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Overall, no exotic food was over 40RMB, with the lamb leg being the most expensive. Most were about 20RMB a stick, and all of it was very affordable. I’d filled up on animals that people keep for pets, and had eaten creatures that make women and girly men scream… It was an interesting and fulfilling day. And for anybody reading this who’s annoyed that I’d eaten fido or whisker’s distant Asian cousin, take solace in the karmic diarrhea I’d had the next day. I’m not sure if it’d been from the snakes or the silk worm pupae, but there were definitely some consequences for my gluttony.

These were some of the foods that I never got a chance to try, so look forward to part two one day:

Qianmen Dajie

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This is the Church Street from Burlington, VT of Beijing, Boston’s Quincy Market in the East. Just south of Tiananmen Square, this wide street has been sectioned off to prevent vehicle-through traffic and create a venue for nearby tourists to shop and eat. Each side of Qianmen dajie is lined with western businesses set into ancient style architecture to create a unique market street for the pedestrian tourists. In between the street’s authentic walls are crowds of shoppers walking through another type of commerce, street hockers positioned up and down the large road with all kinds of knickknacks to sell. The street is incredibly active as people come in and out of stores, while salespeople demonstrate their toys, kites, and airplanes throughout the foot traffic. I’ve never been one to shop unless it’s at the Silk Market, but if you want the finer goods like Rolex, Nike, Calvin Klein, Nikon, Zara, H&M or… KFC?

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Only in China would a KFC be next door to a Rolex store…

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I’m a Mixed Blood Half-Breed

Yesterday I saw yet another strange side of Chinese culture while smoking hookah at a Turkish restaurant. I’d been chatting with one of the Chinese servers, telling him how much I enjoy Arabic food. I told him about the time I’d brought my parents to this restaurant when they were visiting Beijing, and how I thought it was one of the best places in the city to get authentic Turkish food (I’ll tell all of you as well, if you’re in Beijing, A Thousand and One Nights is a must for anybody who enjoys belly dancers, hookah and Turkish food). He asked me why I liked Arabic food so much if I’m an American, and when I’d told him some of my friends from home were Arabic, he seemed puzzled, asking me, “But I thought you were American?” Slightly confused now as well, I confirmed this again, and added that they’re also American. This didn’t really help to clear things up like I’d hoped; it only confused him even more. When I informed him that a lot of my family is French but that we’re all American, his face scrunched up in bafflement. He asked me, “So you’re French then?” and again, I had to repeat myself, “No, I am American.” He asked me if I could speak French, and seemed even more disturbed when I’d responded, “No, I can only speak some German.” He repeated himself, “But you’re French?” He seemed like he was starting to get frustrated, probably convinced that I was fucking with him, and I realized that he probably didn’t understand that most Americans are the descendants of immigrants. He looked like he finally got it after hearing this, though it was clear that even though he understood my meaning, this was still a strange concept for him to grasp. I told him that some Americans are 4th generation immigrants, while others are only 1st generation immigrants, but that every family in America was originally from somewhere else (Native Americans, please don’t hate me as you read this… he was confused enough at this point and I didn’t want to throw him anymore curve balls. By the way, sorry for our genocidal scumbag ancestors and Columbus Day). This was when I’d thought it clicked for him, as he began nodding and pointing, “Oh, oh, I know, I know.” Then he asked me if I was a Chinese phrase that I didn’t recognize. Expecting to see a word like multicultural or biracial, I was stunned into silence once I’d found its meaning on my phone’s dictionary; the phrase directly translated to ‘mixed blood’ and ‘half breed.’ I sat there in a stupor, contemplating whether or not I should be offended, as he continued on to tell me how all Chinese people are ‘pure bloods,’ and how proud he was to have such a strong culture. He smiled and thanked me before returning to his duties, telling me he’d never known that ‘all Americans mixed their bloods like that.’ And with those parting words he left me to sit there, wondering if I’d just been insulted or if the meaning of the phrase had been lost in translation or a cultural gap.
I thought about that phrase for the rest of my hookah session, and managed to came to three conclusions. First off, puggles are legit. They make awesome pets and are practically the half breed kings of the dog world. Second, Tiger Woods wrecks people in golf and he’s a Blazian in one of the whitest sports there is. Lastly, when it comes to the history of the world and China as a nation, their doors have been open to foreigners for barely a respective minute. The Chinese had only been having children with other Chinese people before this, and for the last several centuries up until the early 90’s, when Western people really began to start lives in China and mix into their communities, biracial dating was probably unheard of. Many Chinese families have incredibly strict values as well, and even though foreigners have been living in China for over 20 years, cross cultural relationships are still generally frowned upon. The majority of Chinese people, at the very least, dislike foreigner-Chinese relationships, and this probably isn’t going to stop for another 20 years. This xenophobia is especially strong within the older generations, though I’m not really sure if I could blame them for this; many had never seen a white man in real life until after the age of 50! They say ideas die with generations, but if the gender gap continues to widen and the shortage of women and wives in China keeps increasing, then angry young men will probably be more than happy to carry on the torch even after all of the elderly have passed. When you analyze China’s recent history and factor in the multiple social issues concerning ‘the mixing of blood,’ I guess it really isn’t all that weird when a twenty year old waiter who’s lived in Beijing his whole life has trouble understanding multiculturalism. I just hope I didn’t contribute to the next racial slur.

"All those American Mud-Bloods are mixing again!"

“God damn it! Those American Mud-Bloods are mixing again!”

The Beijing Acrobats at Chaoyang Theater

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After seeing this show, I fully understand how Chinese Acrobatic shows have become world famous. Lasting about an hour and a half, each of the 7 acts had my full attention, as these incredibly skilled acrobats preformed dangerous feats of finesse and astounding physical prowess. As a fitness enthusiast, watching the things these people could do with their bodies had my jaw in my lap, and my eyes glued. These amazing tricks ranged from hopping down stairs on one hand with their body in the air, to spinning multiple towels and balanced umbrellas on their toes. Near super human balance was shown as a girl created a tower of stacked chairs from beneath herself, often balancing on her hands or toes atop an unstable chair as she situated the next one under her body. After balancing 10 girls on one bike, they managed to fit 8 motorcyclists into one steel cage ball, who dangerously whizzed around each other in multiple neon illuminated circles. Throughout the whole show, beautiful oriental flags were waved as powerful orchestral scores filled the room, with Chinese idols and symbolism incorporated into each act. All in all it was an amazing performance, on par with other world class acts like Circus du Soleil, for an affordable price of 380RMB a seat (though cheaper seats in the front were available, as well as more expensive balcony seats). These acrobats perform every night of the week, often mixing in different acts, and it is a must see for anybody in Beijing! Check out http://www.chaoyangtheatre.com for more information. Be way of other websites that offer discounted tickets, I suggest going to the venue and buying them in person to avoid any scams. These pictures cannot do it justice, but they should give you an idea just how spectacular this show is… Enjoy!

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The Infamous Tea House Scam

You’re new to Beijing, and have decided you’re gonna go out and see the sights. Here are some totally possible, potentially normal situations that you could find yourself in:

As you’re walking around tourist areas, a polite young guy approaches you and tells you that he’s a college student and would love you to take you out to lunch in order to practice his English. He’s really polite, looks well dressed, and even offers to show you around Beijing afterwards. How awesome would it be if a friendly, English-speaking local were to show you the hidden gems of the city and all of the best spots that you’d have never known about?! Definitely not an offer to turn down, you think to yourself.

A cute young girl, or even a group of them, comes up to you, shyly asking if you’d like to grab some coffee or food. Maybe she thinks you’re handsome, wants to learn more about your culture, or is looking to improve her English; whatever, it doesn’t really matter because she seems nice, comes off interested in you and is very attractive, plus you’ve read before that many of these girls want foreign boyfriends. You smile to yourself while thinking how lucky you are to have this opportunity, and would be more than happy to buy her lunch and see where it goes.

When you smile and say yes, accepting their kind offers, they tell you about a nearby restaurant or cafe with great food that they could take you too. The place isn’t down some dark alley or underneath a stairwell either, instead it’s out in the open and facing the street like a normal, reputable business; not at all sketchy and a place you yourself might’ve walked into if you’d still been on your own. When you get there, you’re even lucky enough to be able to get a private room to eat in. The menu has good prices, and this is shaping up to be a really cool time!

Honestly ask yourself; if the title of this article hadn’t had scam in it, could you see yourself ending up in that private room without having had any inklings of danger? The answer I’m going to guess you’ve come to isĀ exactly why the Teahouse scam has been so effective on tourists and travelers, as well as why I feel the need to inform you.

Hopefully you’re reading this before you’ve accepted one of these tempting offers; the people who’ve approached you are scumbag scam artists and only want to lead you into a trap. Even people who’ve been living in Beijing for years have been duped by this scam; letting their guards down because it’s actually really common to meet somebody on the street who legitimately wants to be your friend and doesn’t have any plans to shake you down. And let’s face it… most Chinese just aren’t very intimidating to a westerner, making it a lot easier to never get any instinctual warnings before it’s too late.

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Recently I was approached while doing the Night Market article.
See the guy who’s circled? He’s an asshole.

Once the bill comes, you will find that the 100RMB meal you’ve just eaten is actually 2000USD, and the waiter who has come to collect the payment has two large men next to him. That private room you’d thought you were so lucky to get has suddenly turned into a prison, and you’re not leaving until you’ve paid up; the threat of getting the shit beaten out of you or worse has been made frighteningly clear to you as those two large thugs block the doorway. What happens from here depends on the place you’re being scammed at, I’ve heard and read many different stories. Your pockets will almost always be emptied, and any expensive phones or cameras that you have with you will get taken away, forcibly if need be. Knives could be pulled and bats could be brandished, and it’s fully possibly that they might even start the shakedown with several punches to your face, skipping those annoying stages of the robbery where you attempt to reason or plead your way out of it. If you don’t have the money, it’s not going to be a simple “let ’em go and find a richer mark” situation either; worst case scenario, you’ll get severally beaten to make a point, and overall it’s standard practice for you to be escorted to an ATM or your hotel room in order to make good on your debt. Even worse, if you’re in a group, not only will all of you be shaken down, but only one of you is going to be allowed to leave. The rest of you will be kept in that room under the threat of violence, ensuring that the person who’d been sent out will return quickly and alone, with whatever cash and valuables they could gather in order to trade for your safety. Even after everything is done and you’ve been allowed to leave, it’s very possible that one of the thugs will follow you back to where you’re staying, making it very clear that they know where you’re at if you were to ever contact the authorities.

These scams are not new, and while originally worked out of tea houses, hence their name, they’ve taken place at all manner of venues; including apartment showings, the “special inventory” rooms of some small shops, various bars, and even some private “art galleries.” The fact that they’ve been being conducted out of brick and mortar establishments that are easily returned to and probably incredibly hard for a victim to forget… one must wonder how they’ve been allowed to continue. In far too many retellings of this scam, the police had refused to help victims based on very conspicuous reasons, or they just never bothered to look into the crime or give any updates once it’d been reported. This has led to the common belief that many of the cops in those areas have been paid to look the other way, and frighteningly enough, it’s only been further proven by the vicious beatings that multiple scam victims have received shortly after filing police reports… And even having moved to a new hotel that they’d just so happened to notify those cops about.

It’s practically impossible to give any advice on how to handle this scam because, for the most part, by the time you’re reading anything on it, it has already happened to you. I only hope that from the information in this article, you will be able to recognize and avoid the scam before you’re ever forced to learn about it the hard way. One consistent tip that I can give you though is that credit card companies are all too familiar with this scam, and most victims have had great success in getting the charges reversed. For the day that I hope never comes, and you slip up and find yourself in this kind of situation; don’t risk your wellbeing with these animals and just pay everything you can with your credit card, and afterwards call to work out reversing everything as soon as you’re safe.

A final word on keeping yourself safe in the future, be incredibly wary of being lead anywhere, not just in China but all of Asia. This scam is the oldest one in the book as far as tourists go, and there are hundreds of variations off the same idea, in practically any city or country you could travel to. This goes for lady bars which are incredibly popular in China and the most of Asia, as well as spots with cheap counterfeit goods, and overall just about anything that involves somebody approaching you and trying to reel you in so to speak. The more they want you to go there, the less you probably should. And if you feel that you absolutely must meet with somebody, then do it on your terms, and choose the venue yourself instead of being lead to one.

A Foreigner’s Guide to Haggling

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The Silk Market at Yongan’li

Whether you’re a tourist, a student, or somebody working in Beijing; the giant markets here are renowned for their large quantities of both customers and counterfeit goods. Expensive watches, designer-brand clothing, cultural souvenirs, electronics, purses, jewelry, or fresh kicks; places like the Silk Market, Tianyi, Yashow or Zhongguancun’s electronics plaza will have a knock off of what you’re looking for. Or an authentic item that has a hot discount, having gone missing from a factory that just so happens to be near the shop owner’s family’s home town. Though I’m not completely sure where all of these goods come from, I do know that you can find literally almost anything at these 10+ floor indoor bazaars. Each floor is overflowing with crowds of shoppers and stores squished back to back, and the sales people at each one will yell to you, grab you, and harass you as you walk by them. It is quite the experience and a must-do for anyone in Beijing, though if you are claustrophobic or dislike crowds then these places are probably going to send you into a full-on panic attack. Then again, I can’t really imagine anybody who’s claustrophobic or afraid of crowds being able to spend more than a day in Beijing anyways. It’s easy to lose time as well as money in these markets; besides the amazing bargains you can negotiate, which are cable of silencing inhibitions quicker than beer goggles, these buildings are windowless and incredibly easy for several hours to slip by… These markets probably copied this trick straight of the casino play book.

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Your Battleground

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Thus with the creation of these great colosseums, the expat sport of market haggling was born. Every store will attempt to sell their wares at the western authentic price, often six to ten times the lowest price they’ll go. How low they go though is up to you. These businesses depend on cash flow, which is why you’re able to get such low prices. Depending on how sales have been that day, week, or month, they might be more worried about making rent than they are a profit, and the store owners know they need to pay to play. They’d rather lose money on those Nike’s you bought than be forced to liquidate their shop’s inventory after having been evicted, which is a good dynamic to understand once you get in there. This essentially means that minimum prices don’t exist, and if you hit the right stores and haggle hard enough you can get some very great deals. Since anybody reading this has or will be going to these markets to test their skills against battle hardened sales people, let me offer some haggling tips that have come from mine and the people I’ve met here’s experiences, as well as some words of caution we learned the hard way.

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Battle hardened biddies

Never settle for their price: As I mentioned before they set prices incredibly high, both to dupe naive shoppers, as well as create a buffer against us hagglers. A general rule of thumb is that you can almost always cut their price by 80%.

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High Score: Knick’s Jersey for 80RMB

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High Score: Armani Sunglasses for 30RMB

Always be ready to walk away: It may take a little while, but it is worth it. To get a GShock watch for 7USD, I had to leave 4 times, each time being chased with lower offers or grabbed before I could leave again. The whole process took about 25 minutes.

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High Score: GShock watch for 40RMB

Start lower than you’d be okay with: There’s nothing worse than when you say what you think is a good price and they say OK. If they break too easily you know you haven’t gotten the best price. Remember it’s a cash flow business as well, and money coming in matters more than profit sometimes. And if you try to lower it after the fact it will be much harder, but quite possible and a great way to piss them off if you’ve been having a frustrating week. Or you can go to the shop next door, you never have to pay more than you want to here.

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I don’t shop for purses, but under 200RMB is very possible

If they start to get mean, you know you’re getting a bargain: They don’t like being bested, though they will allow it since so many chumps have overpaid. Or to stay in business. If they start to insult you, you’re close to their minimum. They’ve called me ugly, a mean man, and even told me they want to kill me. One notable time they told my girlfriend she should dump me because I’m a bad person and cheap. I’ve even been slapped by a woman. Stay strong and pay less.

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Custom tailored suits. High Score: 3 piece Italian wool (possibly bullshit but still very nice) for 1100RMB. Dress shirts for 150RMB

Switch between English and Chinese: Most of the sales people are quite proficient in English, some even in Russian. They will be able to understand most of what you say. One tactic I’ve found that can get a lower price is switching between Chinese and really high level English. It confuses the shit out of them, and wears them down much quicker.

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Go near closing time: I’ve found I get the best prices late at night before they close. I’m guessing it’s because they are probably exhausted from combat, as well as trying to make last minute sales before closing. You also might get lucky and find a shop that didn’t do well that day or week, and out of desperation may give you a much better deal.

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High Score: Rossignol Parka for 230RMB

Shops that are closest to the entrances are toughest to haggle with: Most floors have a distinct theme to them such as designer clothing, or shoes and jewelry, and often each floor has multiple shops that are back to back, selling pretty much the same goods. Because of this, you can find the item you want at almost any store within 5 shops. Here’s where strategy comes in. If all the shops sell the same items, why go further than the first one from where you entered? Most people will follow this line of thinking, creating cocky and unbudging merchants by giving those closest ones the most business. Therefore, the reason you should instead press forward is because the merchants further away will get less business, and in turn be more desperate and cut more deals.

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Nothing is refundable: They will say it is, and have signs assuring it, but it won’t happen most of the time. It’s incredibly safe on your part to assume you can’t.

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Bullshit

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Check the quality before you buy it: Besides the fact that most of these goods could be of shoddy quality to begin with, if you haggle hard they’re likely to try to pass off a defective one on you. My girlfriend got a really good price on shoes once, and as they boxed them for her, they swapped them with the dirty scuffed up display pair. A pair of headphones I’d bought didn’t work on one side. A watch I’d picked broke within a day because the band wasn’t attached correctly. With the inability to return, and also the likelihood you will be blamed for the damage solely because the Chinese need to save face, you should be sure of an items quality before you hand them any money. Also, a tip on buying DVDs: If you find a place where they consistently work, stick with it. It sucks when the movie shits the bed half way through because the shop didn’t burn it properly.

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High Score: A pair of Nike Airmax’s for 140RMB

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High Score: DVDs for 8RMB, Rosetta Stone for 40RMB

Don’t buy electronics in China: If they are counterfeit, then they will not work as well as their authentic versions, and could even have different hardware or be missing features. You cannot trust what is inside the machine, or what it can do. For the price they’ll ask of you for that “iPhone,” which could burn out in a week or be a shitty droid model they’d managed to fit in the iPhone body, you’d be better off just going on Craigslist when you get home. And if the electronics are authentic, they’re going to be taxed to high heaven. Even then price isn’t a determining factor, they’ll just sell the really good counterfeits for an authentic price and lie. It would be best to wait until you get home, or make a trip to Singapore.

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It’s cute when they yell “No photos allowed!!”

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High Score: Great quality Beats for 200RMB

Try to pay with exact change if possible: I’m not even suggesting this for counterfeit change reasons, which by the way you should always be alert for. You’re a foreigner and therefore automatically naive, so fake bills could be passed off anywhere. I’m suggesting this to you not for counterfeit bill reasons, but because now that you’ve be trained in the art of haggling, you are going to encounter a lot more butthurt than the average shopper. I’m going to tell you a tale of battle that has happened to me, and similarly many people I know. I haggled two pairs of nice Levi’s down to 150RMB, and the jean monger were not pleased. When I paid with 200RMB, they evened the odds by only giving me one pair of the jeans, and saying if I wanted the other I’d have to pay an extra 50RMB. I argued for over ten minutes with them, even offering to just take my money, give them back the one pair and leave. They said no, and even refused to give me back the 50RMB change for just one pair of jeans. It got so heated that the person I was with eventually succumbed to their hostage tactics and paid the wenches off. Another time, a different pair of mongers just refused to give me my change, saying that I received a fair price. To protect yourself from these scoundrels and cry baby sore losers, I suggest paying with as close to exact change as possible.

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High Score: A pair of Levi’s for 125RMB. Villainous Harlots work here

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High Score: 30RMB a T-shirt

An Unexpected House Call

This morning as I got out of the shower and began to towel myself off, banging on my apartment door and voices directly outside of it startled me. I yelled for them to hold on for a second, and when they heard my voice they opened my unlocked door. Having had no clue who they were or why they were entering my house at 8 in the morning, I grabbed a nearby shirt and modestly covered my junk, as I began to yell at the group of four men and a woman who had nonchalantly walked into my apartment. In a flurried, angry mix of Mandarin and English, the phrases “get the fuck out!,” “this is my house, not yours!,” “close my fucking door!,” and “do you live here?!” flew out of my mouth at them. Taken completely aback by my hostility, or maybe just that a naked tattooed man was rushing towards them pointing and shouting at them, they stumbled and backed out of my apartment. I grabbed the door handle, and tersely said “please wait” as I slammed it shut in their faces.
After dressing myself I reopened the door, but before letting them in I gave them a lecture on how I pay for this house, and they can only enter if I tell them they can. I even included some stern finger wagging to show them how serious I was, and only allowed them in after they’d said they understood. Once inside, the main guy with an official lanyard hanging from his neck gave me a lecture of his own, saying it was my responsibility to keep my door locked, and because it wasn’t then it was my fault they came inside. I decided it was too early for logic and let it go. I asked what they wanted, and he asked for me and my girlfriend who I live with to show him our passports. He wrote down all of our information, including our VISAs. The single woman stared at me the whole time, a look of neutral disapproval on her face. The men besides the main guy with the lanyard were all older, and were dressed the same as the elderly maintenance men who gambled and drank in my apartment complex during the day. None of them seemed too put off by my ability to be polite host, or an angry nudist, and the oldest of them even appeared to be amused the whole time.
I’ve consistently missed or forgotten all the appointments for getting my gas and water meters checked during the whole 7 months I’ve lived in this place, and throughout the whole fiasco assumed they were from Beijing’s gas and water company, having finally decided to drop in unexpectedly to collect from these irresponsible foreigners. I had also assumed they needed my passport information for registration and billing reasons. None of them looked official or professional in anyway, and except for their lanyard leader, they looked like the dudes who had unclogged my toilet a couple months ago. I’m sure you can imagine my surprise once they were finished writing down our passport details, when I offered to show them into my kitchen to check the meter, they said no and informed me they were with the Chinese government’s department of immigration. You know, the people that could boot my ass out of the country for any reason whatsoever. Good thing I only ran at them naked screaming get the fuck out.
I’m pretty sure they found it funny that I was surprised, and waved it off when I apologized multiple times for the incident earlier. They informed us again that we need to lock our doors, and left without saying anything else. Needless to say I was sketched out, not even because I’d insulted people who could very easily decide to give me a headache of migrational proportions, but because where I come from, authority figures dropping by your house is not a good sign.
After contacting three different friends who’ve had places in China for the past 3-5 years, asking them whether or not this is abnormal and if I should be worried or not, they each responded with about the same thing; “nah, that’s pretty normal, it’s China.” One even responded that it could have been because I live in an area with incredibly few foreigners, and somebody had dropped a dime on us because we seemed out of place or didn’t think we belonged there. I bet it was those damn Vibrams, always stirring shit up. But moral of the story, when the day comes and government officials barge into your home, remember that’s just China. Just try to be dressed when they do.

The Great Wall at Badaling

The Great Wall stretches 5,500 miles (8,850km) across China and even into parts of Mongolia, great enough to be seen from even the moon. Naturally, there are many possible spots for exploring different portions of the Great Wall. One popular area is outside of Beijing at Badaling, in the Yanqing province. While some portions of the Great Wall have a reputation for being in ill-repair, often very dangerous to walk on because it could crumble out from under your feet, most of the Great Wall here in Badaling has been either preserved or restored. Being both incredibly safe and very scenic, Badaling has become a favorite for tourists, both foreign and Chinese alike. Many western style accommodations can be found in the nearby Yanqing area, and the train from Beijing to Badaling is about 6RMB and only 2 hours. Tickets can be purchased at the Xizhimen North Station.

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The base of Badaling

Badaling’s section of the Great Wall is located in a mountainous area, but fear not, no extreme hiking or rock climbing is needed to make it to the top and see the views. With gondolas running up and down the slope, and multiple slow moving slides going down it, Badaling is quite friendly to tourists. There are some long stairways and some sloped portions of it, but all of the have rails on each side and aren’t difficult to get up. You should be more worried about a Chinese tourist elbowing you out of the way than you should be about the terrain.

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Slopes and stairs

DSC_0084If you are familiar with Beijing’s subway system, because of Badaling’s popularity crowds here can be just as bad as at the metro, and only slightly more considerate. An older woman practically jabbed my kidney into full on failure to get past me on a slope, and if it weren’t for the railing I’d have gone tumbling. This leads me into the next part of my discussion, when should you come to Badaling?

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Summer is tourist season:
Being a northern portion, and also the most popular area conveniently outside of the 12th largest city in the world, it stands to reason that in the warmer hospitable months, this place can get CROWDED. Weekends especially are going to draw in the most people, since even with travel time you could do everything on a day off and never spend a night away. I can guarantee the crowds this place can draw in will definitely affect your trip, and suggest going on a week day when most people are working or in the off season.

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This isn’t even close to crowded by China standards

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Weather matters more than you think:
Obviously hiking in the rain or below freezing temperatures will suck, but I’m including this to consider some other factors. Iciness and slickness on the wall could make those slopes and rolls deadly, without the diminutive geriatrics that are gonna shove past you because to their generation being a foreigner makes you a second class everything. Even at tourist friendly Badaling, portions of its Great Wall can be precarious on a good day, and it’s better to schedule any activities away from any recent rainy days.

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But the level of danger isn’t the only reason to coordinate with weather, the area is a rocky, earthy, mountain side, and pretty lacking when it comes to vegetation. The summer is when there’s gonna be the most green, and if you can catch the narrow window where the fall leaves will be on the trees then you’ll really be in for a treat. That said, any time other than full bloom, unfortunately also the height of tourist season, is gonna make for dirt brown background, and while the Great Wall itself is awe inspiring, the landscape surrounding it will be barren and ugly. Right about now you’re probably moody, the thought of having to compete with China’s elbowy elders to see a flourishing green Great Wall taking the fun out of planning; but let me reinvigorate your plans by informing you there still is a way to get a beautiful AND crowd free (mostly) experience. Snow. Let me say from experience that snow makes the Great Wall area at Badaling an epic sight. Because of the high-elevation, dry mountain climate, it’s easy to have snow here without ice, and even into late March the ground will be covered in it. It’s beautiful, and everything you need for amazing pictures. I’d honestly say hitting the Great Wall after a snowfall is a must-do for anybody who can; that ultra-scenic hike in the crisp air is incredible.

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The Surrounding Area:
I’ve mentioned a little bit about the dangers of the great wall, let me now also take a moment to mention a possible inconvenience. Badaling is essentially centered around one big mountain cluster, and the side you come in on isn’t Badaling’s only side. It’s very easy to end up on the other side of the mountain, a 5km walk to where you started or a hike back up and over. The taxis know it, and the vendors know it. Prices are jacked up high at shops, and the cab drivers are ruthless and patient. I do think the other side is worth seeing, there’s The Sun Bear Park and a marketplace built into the side of the mountain slope that make for a pretty cool experience, I’m just giving you a heads up so you know how to plan and pack. The Sun Bear Park, while kind of depressing because of the quality of life, or lack there of, for these animals is painfully evident, is quite amusing and really cool to see the animals that roamed this exact area up close. If you pay you can also throw them carrot chunks, which they’ll do tricks for. The market place is a mixture of street foods, tourist souvenirs and tacky photo-ops you can pay to be in, and overall nothing unique but still amusing to roam around.

The Great Wall Museum:
The Great Wall museum is also nearby, which I wholeheartedly suggest checking out. It’s maybe 25RMB, and you can easily walk the whole thing in an hour. Inside is a huge amount of history and relics, and after hiking the Great Wall they add a lot to your experience. Learning how it was built, the weapons and social structures on it, and about it’s elaborate defensive methods is pretty interesting having just stood on the actual thing, and definitely worth a quick look at the least.

Tiananmen Square

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While famous for its history, or maybe infamous is a better word, Tiananmen square, translated to the Gate of Heavenly Peace, doesn’t have much else going for it as a tourist attraction. It’s an incredibly large, parade ground style area located directly between the Forbidden City, the PRC Military Headquarters, a refurbished arrow tower from the Great Wall, and the National Museum of Chinese History; all of which are worth visiting.

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In case of fire

Oh you know, in case of fire..

For somebody who had just barely been born when the events that made Tiananmen square famous transpired, it didn’t hold much meaning for me other than being on the way to these other tourist attractions. And though I usually include some history in my blog posts, just like the real Tiananmen square, I will be disappointing my audience this time. With the goal of keeping my website off the Great Firewall’s censorship list, I’m going to ask you all to do your own research on Tiananmen’s history.
While Tiananmen square wasn’t a big deal for me, my parents who’d joined me on this trip were speechless. Having been about 30 when things went down here, they had followed the events plastered all over the US’s national news closely, and being able to stand where everything happened was a much more powerful experience for them. For the generation before me, Tiananmen may not just be an item to check off of your tourist list, but instead quite a humbling experience.

Even if you are my age, I still suggest walking through it on your way to other things. There are many great views, and some awesome statues sculpted to represent the need for both soldiers and workers in China. The arrow tower is also located within the square, and it’s recently been converted to a museum to educate people about Beijing’s medieval city defenses. The arrow tower was once a guard outpost and also half of an ancient entrance to Beijing. Anybody who wanted to enter Beijing had to walk between the two towers through a passway where they’d be incredibly vulnerable, archers positioned in both towers ready to defend the city.

Welcome to Ancient Beijing

Welcome to Ancient Beijing

Though photography wasn’t allowed inside the arrow tower, it had some really interesting paintings and engineer-style drawings of strategies and defensive layouts. You can also pay to pick a tablet that’ll be hung within the museum, and depending on your choice the tablet can bring you or loved ones increased health, luck or prosperity. And if that 30 year old daughter of yours still hasn’t married and won’t stop shaming your family, then you can even pay to hang a tablet to help with that as well. From the ramparts of the arrow tower there were some amazing views of the nearby buildings, and for just 20RMB it’s definitely worth it to stop by. Or rest and place games like a medieval soldier.

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Ye Olde Break Room

China can’t handle the creep feet

Being a fitness enthusiast, it’s only natural that I own a pair of Vibrams. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Vibrams, they are not a sex toy, they are shoes.

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And they aren’t just super cool shoes, they’re also an item that strikes fear into the hearts of Chinese people everywhere. I’ve actually had to limit how much I wear them because of the reactions I’ve gotten. Every third person on the street will let out an unintelligible cry of distress when they see my footwear. Most will point as they do it too, alerting all others in the area to the possible danger of a man with separated digits being nearby. Wearing Vibrams is how I learned the Mandarin words for ‘insane’ and ‘madman/crazy person,’ when a man so perturbed by my footwear grabbed me in the street and informed me that I was, in fact, an insane crazy person. Ever since then I have heard these words at least once every time I’ve walked to my gym rocking the skeletoes. Some people passing by will avoid me on the street, giving my possibly dangerous ten visible toes a wide birth. Most people who notice will also stop and turn with me to stare as I walk past. Cars have slammed on their horns as they pass by me, and the best yet was the guy who had to swerve to keep from hitting the curb because he couldn’t take his eyes off my scandalously exposed toe curves. Joking aside, I have gotten some weird looks in America for wearing Vibrams, but nothing compared to here. I guess China just isn’t ready for the creep feet