Having Fun With the Happy Beijingers

Trip Start Apr 17, 2001
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69
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of China  ,
Thursday, October 12, 2006

"Ni Hao" or it's English equivalent "hello" comes at us from all sides and the words are always accompanied by smiles.
Beijingers are by far the friendliest folks we've met on this journey - that being said, on the way to Tianamen Square, Ellen and I were stopped by a rickshaw tout. He offered to have us dropped off in front of the Forbidden City for three Yuan.
"Three Yuan?" I said, holding up three fingers.
"Yes, three" he replied in perfectly understandable English. "You like ride very, very much."
The tout led us over and helped us into our seats. The driver took off, speeding down the street like the devil. He took us past Mao's mausoleum, around Tianamen Square and through a McDonald's drive-thru before dropping us off on a side street adjacent to the Forbidden City. I presented him with three one-Yuan notes. He looked at me as though I'd pooped in his rice and then began to wail. He pulled out an official looking wallet with a card in it that said 'Tianamen Square - 300 Yuan'.
I looked at him and said "You've mistaken me for an American. Look at my shirt sir - it says Canada. I'm from one of the new American colonies. Imperial riches have not yet been bestowed upon the Canadians."
The driver looked at me strangely, as though I was making sense and then put his thumb over the second zero on the 300 Yuan card. To put this into perspective, three Yuan is worth 40 cents, 30 Yuan is worth $4.00 and 300 Yuan is worth $40.00. The driver had just dropped his demanded fee of $40 down to $4 for a 15 minute ride.
"I'll not pay one Yuan more than the original set price." I said.
Again the driver began to wail, this time with real tears in his eyes. The street was beginning to fill with onlookers. Ellen who is usually more of a stickler than I am in situations such as this, got fed up and pulled out a ten Yuan note. We gave him the 13 Yuan (about $1.80). The tears dried and everyone parted happily.

Last night we decided to go up the street and around the corner to a little shrimp and broccoli place we'd found.
"Let's take a short cut through the hutong." I said.
Beijing hutongs, home to thousands of Beijingers, are a series of maze-like alleyways, an urban human warren. I estimated that for every dead end, a right turn followed by a left, would keep us on course. The restaurant was a five minute walk from our hotel, the long way around the hutong. This short cut would shave a minute, maybe two - we were hungry.
Thirty-five minutes later, Ellen tired of calling me an a-hole and began to worry. I remembered the time crazy Jack Nicholson froze to death in the hedge-maze in the movie The Shining. I started to worry too.

Suddenly a rickshaw man appeared.
"Take us to the shrimp and broccoli place." I demanded. "We'll pay you 20 Yuan". I showed him ten fingers twice. He smiled knowingly and off we went. Five minutes later we arrived at a different shrimp and broccoli place. And we were still in the fricking hutong. An English-speaking kid appeared from the shadows. Ellen showed the boy the address of where we needed to go. Five minutes later we were out of the hutong. A brisk 20 minute walk took us to our shrimp and broccoli place. All the way back I didn't count the number of times the phrases "short cut" and "arse-hole" were used. I was silent the entire way.
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