So we decided to dedicate a whole day to the brilliantly beautiful Great Wall of China, a massive structure spanning miles. We booked a tour from a hotel right down the street from our hostel, it included transport (about 2 hours each way), lunch and a tea ceremony all for about $23 USD. We thought this was a great deal and they gave us a group deal so we showed up at 7am the morning after we put down our deposit and boarded a small bus shared with about 8 other people. Our driver told us we would be driving to first see one of the Ming tombs, then we would see the great wall and spend a few hours up there exploring before our traditional Chinese lunch, after which we would be going to a tea ceremony and returning home to our hostel. All in all we should be home around 5 pm which seemed good to us.
The bus ride was long but interesting, we wove through the crowded city streets of Beijing and then through the dirt paths of rural china. About an hour in our guide, Allan, told us we would be arriving at the Ming
tombs shortly (the burial place of China's ancient emperor's). Once we departed the bus we entered the firs tomb (only 3 are open to the public). It was immaculately restored and our guide gave us a brief into to the history of the tombs but we were whisked off pretty shortly after the tour of the first tomb. He claimed the other 2 were exactly the same as the first and weren't worth seeing.
Once we got back on the bus our guide, Allan, informed us, before heading to the Great Wall, we would be taking one more stop at a Jade Museum. This was news to us but when in China... go to the jade museum? About a half hour later we were being shuffled into the Jade museum, where we were taught how to identify real jade from fake jade. This was all very interesting at first but all the sudden we were ushered into a giant room full of jade for sale and each had our own personal sales associate follow us around as we looked at all of their overpriced jade pieces. Since we were all students on a tight budget, I don't think we
were their ideal crowd. After an awkward interaction of refusals and skirting around the constant sales pitches, we eventually made it outside and back onto the bus.
Finally, we were actually going to see the great wall! After another half hour car ride we were groggy but excited to finally be at the base of the great wall Our guide gave us each a ticket and informed us that we had an all of two hours to explore the wall. Soon after he watched us trickle through the gates. We were pretty confused as to why he wasn't joining us since we thought we were getting an informational tour of the great wall, but once again, we were wrong.
We decided to take the ski lift up to allow us more time to explore the wall. Once we got up there its sheer size was astounding. We were literally standing on a piece of history. So many people died to create such a massive spectacle and here we were just walking along, feeling the stones underneath our feet. We walked and walked and walked; it seemed to span forever. Everywhere we looked the wall seemed to snake away from us, through mountains and over hills; I could not believe how large it was.
After our good two hours of the wall we headed back down. We chose to take the toboggan down (its more like a go kart on a large slide in which you can control the speed and fly down the large hill that the great wall sits on).
By the time we got back down we had to rush over to the restaurant for our traditional Chinese lunch. The steep climbs and hot weather on the wall had exhausted us and we were ready to eat and get a ride home. However, after we ate and climbed back into the van we were reminded of the tea ceremony we were going to attend.
It was nice to attend a traditional tea ceremony however, things began to get weird. First of all our “tour guide” from the Jade museum was named Star and here, at the tea ceremony, our “guide” was also named star. She taught us about different types of tea and how to drink them (whether to ‘slurp’ or to ‘eat’ the tea depending on the type). As interesting as it was, when we tried the last tea she tried to sell us all giant bundles of their tea for a steep price. Once again we were students and there was also no way I was lugging a giant pack of tea through Southeast Asia so there were a lot of awkward, blank, uncomfortable stares.
By this time we were all really tired and getting sort of annoying; all we could think about was getting back to our hostel and resting our feet. We got back into the van and our guide Allan now informed us we would be going to a silk factory. Wait… what?!
We were confused but too tired to put up a fight so we went along with it and toured the silk factory as fast as humanly possible. When it came to the point in which they were trying to sell things to us we just breezed passed them and waited outside for our guide.
He finally joined us and after all got into the van he informed us we would be going to yet ANOTHER silk factory. Well we had hit our boiling point and were definitely NOT going to another silk factory. So that’s when things got really weird. Allan told us we HAD to go to this other factory since we hadn’t spent enough time in the factory we were just at and it is in his contract that we must spend a certain amount of time at each place. Since we were obviously not going to another factory he tried to scam us through a different avenue. He said we could either go to the factory for 40 minutes or we could pay him 200 yuan (keep in mind we already paid 140 yuan each – some of the other people on the tour not in our group had paid 200 each). We were definitely not going to give him more money and we were not going to go to another factory so things go pretty tense.
We insisted that they drive us back to our hostel since we didn’t know where we were in the city and we had already paid for the tours! He just kept insisting we were screwing him over and he would loose a lot of money since he would not earn his commission unless we went to another factory. Our friend Connor (who is 6’4” and an ex-marine) started to talk firmly with Allan, saying how unhappy we were and that he understood what a ‘scam’ was and that he should take us home immediately. Allan just kept refusing and telling us how badly we were going to hurt him since he paid for our lunches and blah blah blah. It became blatantly clear that we were not going to be taken back to our hostel and that we were not allowed to get out of the van.
Eventually a woman in the back of the van from South America began to yell at Allen in Spanish and was insisting that we all be taken home immediately. He eventually realized he wouldn’t be getting any more money from us and that we were not going to be going to another factory. They began to drive but we had no idea where we were going or how far we were from home.
The van pulled over on the side of the road and shut off the engine. We didn’t know what was happening or what Allan’s plan was. He refused to take us home and told us we could come to the next factory or get out here.
Thankfully, we saw the Olympic park (home to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing) which we had visited the day before (where we went to Asia’s biggest water park), so getting out wasn’t a problem but we still felt as if we at least deserved a ride back to our hostel since we had paid in full for the tour. After about ten more minutes of arguing we finally decided to get out and take the metro back home since Allan was obviously not going to take us home.
And that’s the time we got take ‘hostage’ in China…The whole saga was tiring and annoying but at least we got a good story out of it, no?
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