I’ve mostly been writing about the amazing bits of travelling long term. Truth be told, there are some nuisances that will constantly bug you once you make travelling your lifestyle for a period of time.
One of these nuisances are Touts, or as I like to call them, no offence to anyone, lying scums.
Touts are parasitic creatures that breed in parts of cities that contain a high concentration of the tout’s natural prey – the Tourist. Most of the time, the Tourists do not stand a chance. Most Touts have honed their predatory skills over centuries of skulking in the same area, observing the behavioural patterns of the Tourists.
After long periods of observation and intense field testing, the Touts have somehow come to the conclusion that the best way to make the Tourists like them enough to buy something from them is to subtly grab them by their arms (or any outlying baggage/body parts) and gently screaming (for example) “DO YOU WANT TO SEE THE TERRACOTTA WARRIORS???”
This is usually Step One of what I call the Tout’s Masterplan. This main purpose of this step is to get your attention. The killer move is actually Step Two where they’ll wait for you to show the slightest bit of interest in what they are hawking (by “slightest bit of interest”, I mean glancing in their general direction and/or not briskly walking away whilst violently shaking your head and frantically waving your arms), afterwhich they will hang onto you like (again, no offence to anyone in particular) the blood sucking leeches that they are.
Every traveller has a different way to deal with Touts.
Take me for example. When faced with a Tout who is screaming loudly into my ear, and raining spittle on my face, my impulse is “Wow, he sounds authoritative, let’s hear what he has to say.”
I blame my military training.
On the other hand, given the same situation, Jo (who is normally the sweetest person in the world) turns into Michael Corleone.
“I’M gonna make HIM an offer he can’t refuse”.
I’m not saying all touts are bad. I honestly believe that some of them are really out to make a decent living, and that there is a possibility we might all come to mutually beneficial agreements. I have a very good reason for this faith. My brains are made of boogers. So, that is how, after one and a half month of giving our best impressions of the “Squinting Bobble-Heads with frantically waving arms”, we got conned for the first time (we think) in China.
The Terracotta Warriors are the highlight of most travellers’ visit to Xi’an and we were trying to make our way to see them as well. According to Lonely Planet, we were supposed to make our way to the central train station to look for “Bus 306” that would take us straight to the Terracotta Warriors.
Good news, visitors to Xi’an! All the entrepreneurial (and weasel-ly) Touts near the train station must’ve read Lonely Planet too. Almost all the buses at the train station were labelled “Bus 306” (I couldn’t make this shit up), and their attached tout would promise to bring you to five attractions, inclusive of the Terracotta Warriors for the princely sum of 7RMB. Most of the Touts also like to emphasise that unlike their weasel-ly competitors, they state upfront that the ticket prices to all the attractions would not be included.
It sounded fair and I was even tempted to ask “Are you sure you guys are making money from this?”.
Jo, on the other hand went Tony Soprano on all the touts’ ass. “We don’t want to see any of the other shit, just bring us straight to the Terracotta Warriors!” For some odd reason, this was not possible with all the touts that approached us.
Eventually, Jo was (semi) persuaded by my argument that “We will let the other suckers on the bus go to the paid attractions. We’re badass enough to just squat in the bus until they bring us to the Terracotta Warriors”.
We were herded to a mini bus parked at the side of the road. After a 15 minute wait in the empty bus, we were told that there don’t seem to be any other travellers going on the tour today, so they’ll move us to a smaller car to save fuel.
Jo was suspicous and suggested we give up the 14RMB we’ve already paid and bolt. I am not proud to admit this, but my thought at that point in time was “Groovy, now we don’t even have to wait for the other lame ass tourists! It’s like paying a bus ticket price for our own private car!”
(I know, many of you are already thinking “What an idiot!”, and to that I have to say… ermm.. I’ll get back to you once I can think of a witty retort.)
So, the two of us got into a car and we were first driven to a Jade Emporium where we were told we would be able to buy jade at a “special price”.
(Even I could sense something was not right at this point. My exact thoughts, and I am totally not making this up, was “If we don’t buy any of the jade, we’ll be getting a free introduction to the unique local jade of Shaanxi… COOL!”) (Again, I am not proud).
After our 30 minute tour of the Jade Emporium, the driver started to drive us towards the Terracotta Warriors. Along the way, he told us how awesome the other four attractions were and strongly recommended we go to take a look at them since they were all on the way ANYWAY. Seeing that we (when I said “we”, I meant “Jo”) were firm in ONLY wanting to see the Terracotta Warriors, and “we” were slowly losing our patience, he stopped the car at the side of the expressway.
He told us (in not so many words) that he NEEDS us to go to the other attractions for him to cover his fuel fee. Apparently, he “knows” people at the ticketing offices of the attractions who will let him and his “guests” into the attractions for free. He would then take the entrance fee we were supposed to pay the attractions.as his “fuel cost”. Much as it would pain him, if we didn’t go to the attractions, he would HAVE TO let us go… at the side of the expressway.
We were being blackmailed!!
So, this is the story of how we went to Li Shan (骊山) to see… ermm…
The temple with the BEST fengshui in China, where for the small sum of 100RMB you can rub off some of this Fengshui by praying with “1800-DIRECT-LINE-TO-GOD” joss sticks (if you can’t trust your tout, who can you trust?)
Remonstrance Pavilion (兵谏亭) where Chiang Kai-shek was caught by Zhang Xueliang and Yang Hucheng (both generals of the Republic of China) and forced to fight against the Japanese invaders during the Anti-Japanese War. Interesting factoid from our tout, the pavilion was previously called “Catching Chiang Pavilion” (捉蒋亭), but the name was changed when the Premier of Taiwan visited Xi’an a few years ago. Don’t you just love to see political hypocrisy in action? I mean between us and our tout…
We also ALMOST saw Hua Qing pool (华清池) where Emperor Xuan Zong used to spend his leisure hours with Lady Yang Gui Fei. Yang Gui Fei’s bathing pool was supposed to be made entirely of lantian jade. I wish I could upload some pictures of this amazing pool, but quote from our tout (again, I cannot make this shit up): “There’s no point going in and squeezing with the crowd, you can peer over the wall and see the pool from the top of this hill too!”
Oh yeah… the Terracotta Warriors were kind of great too… I think…
By the time we reached the pits, we only had two and a half hours left to browse the exhibits before closing time.
We saw the most impressive pit in almost total darkness.