After my last post about how we were scammed in Xi’an, I received a lot of kind and sympathetic messages from friends, politely (but firmly) questioning my ability to wipe my backside without Jo’s help. So it is with just that little bit of gleeful (and slightly masochistic) pleasure that I am writing this post.
First off, I’d like to say that we really enjoyed Xiao Li’s company during our two days inside the SenLin Gongyuan. However… the series of events leading up to how we met her were not entirely very pleasant, and we probably paid a lot more than we had to for the pleasure of having her with us. (Yes, we have to PAY to get a guide to walk us through a formation of rocks. Yes, I know that sounds stupid. Yes, I know the previous statement sounded a bit like we hired a hooker. No, she is not a hooker).
To be fair, the times we DID NOT get scammed far outweighed the times that we did (We are in China. There is a chance to scammed around every corner) It’s just that the times when we do fail, we go down spectacularly… like a Singaporean MRT.
Take for example, our train ride to Zhangjiajie. We took an overnight train, and at 6 in the morning, I was approached by a man in a train conductor outfit, asking if I needed a guide at Zhangjiajie. I stood in awe at the brilliance of this grift. An authoritative figure (train conductor outfit) hits you at your most vulnerable (6am in the morning). These people have turned the scam act into an artform.
Knowing this, and yet unable to go against my programming of showing deference to authority, I actually went “oh, ok… that sounds… nice”.
I know… they probably have a poster of me in Scam Central with the tagline “DO NOT LET THIS MAN PASS! HE LISTENS TO ANYTHING IF IT IS SHOUTED TO HIM LOUDLY ENOUGH”
Anyway, the good news was that the travel agency (which the conductor was undoubtedly taking a huge commission from) was not open by the time we pulled into the station. We made the excuse that we really did not want to waste any more time waiting for the agency to open and we scurried off…
…into the open arms of a lady standing alongside a waiting minivan.She told us that she owned an inn just outside the SenLin GongYuan and had just dropped off some of her customers at the train station. They were hoping to recoup some of the fuel cost by picking up customers going back in that direction. All they asked for was a measly 7RMB – the same price we would have paid if we had taken a public bus.
(Before the snarky comments start, I would just like to say for the record that my involvement in the day’s shenanigans ended with the “train conductor”)
ONE of us decided that it was a good deal and we hopped onto the minivan. Fully alerted to the scammy index in the air, we keenly observed where the minivan was going, to make sure we really were headed to the SenLin Gongyuan. When we saw signs pointing us in the direction of SenLin Gongyuan, we relaxed… I think we even secretly congratulated ourselves for scoring a good deal.
And then the minivan dropped us in front of another travel agency.
We were promptly given an intense sales pitch on how it was ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY to hire a guide to go into the SenLin GongYuan because it was entirely possible to get lost and abducted by (I shit you not) Aboriginals living within the jungle who had never interacted with another other human in their lives.
Furthermore, the BOSS of the travel agency came out to personally serve us. He was willing to give us a very special price if we took on the tour with them. Even though the boss had known us at this point for less than three minutes, he had taken a powerful liking to us, so much so that he was willing to give us a price so crazily low that he would probably lose money on the deal and be forced to sell his company to become a homeless person who can only survive by selling his bodily organs. THAT is how much he liked us.
We were in the travel agency for more than half an hour, so I’m sure there was a lot more to the sales pitch, but I did not get to hear the rest of it… I had a nature emergency I needed to attend to.
What I know was that once I got out from the toilet, Jo was convinced that we NEEDED to go on the tour.
I suspect voodoo.
She was giving me one of those “I will gorge out your eyes if you do not listen to me” looks.
So was the tour worth it?
Well… for one thing, the SenLin GongYuan is a NATIONAL PARK, so the paths were pretty well marked out. And if you do wander down a stray trail, you can always get back onto a main road by using the ancient tracking method of following the sounds from the megaphones of the tour guides for the 10000001 tour groups that visit the park every day.
The price included all admission tickets and unlimited rides on the “environmentally friendly” buses, within the park, but none of the tickets for the cable cars or monorails.
Admission Tickets we needed: 1 (248 RMB)
Monorail/cable cars we needed: 6 (at 100RMB a pop)
Normal cost of a ride on an “environmentally friendly” buses within the park: 0 RMB
Accommodations was included in the fee, but not the food.
We did get a night’s accommodation with a farmer inside the SenLin Gongyuan. Before we checked in for the night, Xiao Li warned us that this particular farmer was known to chase out guests who didn’t eat dinner with him and his family. And yet we skipped dinner because
we were stingy little bastards the “farmer” wanted to drive home the point of how much we were scammed. (88RMB EACH for one meat, one vege and one soup) (if you need a point of reference, we could normally get a HUGE ASS bowl of noodles filled to the brim with meat and vege for 8RMB)
We spent the night living in fear of being thrown out to the wilds.
And the worst part?
We did not even get to see any Aboriginals…