Bad Day in China

This is from John Robbins’ blog at Wintellect, about one day in China when he just wanted to get to his hotel. Make sure you read the middle part where he gets into the taxi with the passenger…

I’ve been to China and traveled enough that I’ve had bad days as well but I agree with what one of the posters put, just pay the 80 bucks and count it as a lesson in avoiding strange cabs. Arrange drivers before your trip for future travel.

He was mad at the first guy for what amounted to a $2.50 tip, $5 if he would have given him the whole 40 RMB. Give me a break dude, it’s all expensed to someone besides you anyway.

He’s lucky for a lot of things in that trip, but saving himself $80 isn’t one of them. The fact he made it to his hotel alive, that he should be thankful for.

I had a fun travel day when I was waiting for my flight to leave Kathmandu back to the US. We were sitting in the plane on the tarmac and a little Nepalese man in a suit flanked by two guys in military uniforms with FN-FAL assault rifles (I know the make because I looked them up later) boarded the plane. The little guy starts walking down the row looking at people and checking a piece of paper he was holding. The two guards are obviously there to escort someone out by force if necessary. So the guy in the suit comes down the rows and stops at ours. As all six of us in the row start sweating. Then turns toward our side. He looks at me and says “Mr. (mylastname)? Please come with us.”

Yeah, imagine that feeling and hold it for a moment. OH. SHIT. What the fuck is this?

The guy starts walking with me as the guards are in back of us and asks me for my passport. Then he asks me how I got through customs without getting my passport stamped. I told him I didn’t, it was stamped by the gate agent. He and the guards lead me back to a series of counters I haven’t seen yet (different than th gate agent) and stamp my passport. Turns out that when I got to the airport I went into a cafe and then exited through a door leading to the terminal. If you do that you bypass customs. Nice security there Nepal. I just assumed the gate agent was acting as a customs agent because she asked me for my passport, asked some questions, and applied a sticker to my passport.

I was escorted back to the plane and everything was fine but my palms were a little sweaty there for a while.

You were THIS close from a “Life imitating art” article where YOU would be the protagonist of your own little Midnight Express re-enactment.

That sounds similar to some of my experiences with cabs in LA.

When I went to China, there was a big kerfuffle over my passport. I’d gone with my aunt, uncle and cousin as part of a tour package. Switching planes at Tokyo, we met a couple who were also on the same tour.

At customs and immigration at Beijing airport, everybody else from our little group sails through without a problem. However, I get stopped and the agent indicates something is wrong with my passport. He speaks no English, and I speak no Mandarin (but I am Chinese). A lot pointing and waving on his part doesn’t get the message across and another guy is called in. “Where is stamp?” he tells me repeatedly. It took me a bit to realize that he is looking for an exit stamp from Canada. I try to explain that Canadian citizens are allowed to leave country without being tracked by our government. But it doesn’t seem to do any good. Finally, the couple we met is allowed to come over, and the husband is fluent in Mandarin. He explains to the satisfaction of the two agents that no exit stamps are needed and as proof shows that all of our Canadian passports lack them.

As for Chinese cabs, we never got ripped off or felt in danger (aside from the insane driving which didn’t really feel all that different from some of the cab rides I’ve had in Toronto). In fact, in Nanjing, one ride we took worked out to some odd amount and my cousin and I didn’t really need to carry coins in our pocket so we refused the change. It actually took a bit of convincing on our part to get the guy to accept the extra money.

If this story was even true, John Robbins should be stood up against a wall and executed by the state for this stunt. Then his family billed for the bullet, Mao style (plus tip, of course). The entire event should be recorded in 1080P and 7.1 sound and shown at the start of the Beijing Olympics, hopefully to the tune of “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

I think the guy’s a bit foolish, in truth, and maybe even overreacted.

He says he’s an experienced traveller, but he got into a taxi which already had a passenger. This is absolutely number one rule not to break: You don’t get in a taxi which already has a passenger, and if the driver tries to pick one up you get out straight away.

I’ve taken taxis in dodgier places than Beijing, which has a relatively low crime rate compered to even Europe, and taxi drivers always take weird short cuts. Unless he was a native, I don’t believe he could be confident it was really a set-up.

It’s very easy to get in a panic when you’ve had a long stressful day of travelling, even when you know somewhere really well. I had a taxi driver one night take me into the countryside on the outskirts of Ljubljana, an incredible safe city that I’ve visited many times, and I panicked for several minutes before he returned to an area I recognised.

(This is coming from someone who’s taken a taxi in the West Bank, and up the side of an Javan volcano at midnight in the middle of fucking nowhere by a grinning psychopath who’s only English seemed to be “do you like men?”)

Still, if your blood is up, and you start to panic, I can understand him wanting to get his green beret pen out and start screaming.