Day 19

China craziness ensues.

So in my last post I mentioned how Chinese tour guides tend to make shopping part of their secret agenda along with sightseeing.

This is all true. I don’t want to discredit any of the tour guides, who’ve all been wonderful and funny, nor scare anyone who wants to go on these tours, but I want to share my experience and make it clear what you are getting into.

First, these tours are dirt CHEAP. For one person, 10 nights, all meals, ALL transportation and activities are included, and it was only about $380usd. That’s right. And I’m talking about 4-5 star hotels not sketchy motels or hostels. So how the heck are these tour guides making any money off of us? Simple. They rely on the commission they make from us buying overpriced souvenirs and goods.

What kind of goods?

$200usd tea packages, pearls, jade, ruby (mostly fake), pottery, silk and medicine. Over the last 5 days we’ve been brought to a different place known for each of these products. These settings have varied from museums, to herbal shops, to jewelry showrooms.

Now I don’t have a problem with learning, and I did really learn some interesting suff through some of these places, but there was one place that I must mention so anyone who goes does not get tricked. All the places we went to before this one were pretty plain about selling us things, and if you didn’t want to, they can’t make you. They won’t look happy but they can’t force you. However this last place was the WORST.

This place was called Tian Mai Jewelry. It’s located in Shanghai and set up as an antique/jewelry collection store. When you enter, one of the “students” of this place comes out to greet you and begins to give you an introduction to jade. Then out of nowhere a gentlemen named Allen posing as the “owner” of this shop comes and apologizes for not knowing we were there, and coming to give us an introduction himself. He then stays for an hour (even though he said he’s very busy) telling us how he just happens to be at the shop today and how happy he is for this “coincidence.” He then proceeds to give each of us a piece of jade as a small gift, and tells us it’s not much to him since he has so many. Then he told us how he was born in Hong Kong and took over this business for his father and never thought this business was so lucrative and how blessed he feels to have been so fortunate to find so many precious antique pieces. He even brags that he is only 42 and about to retire. At the end of all this he shows us some of his most prized pieces including a lot of ruby rings and necklaces, and then he says since he feels so fortunate and happy, he will sell each of these peices, normally a few hundred dollars, to us for $50usd. At this point, if you didn’t know any better you would feel like you won the lotttery and you would be more than happy to buy a piece or two.

But let me tell you, all of these pieces are fake. They’re actually made of quartz stones. And if you don’t believe me, simply type TianMai jewelry in Google or Baidu and you’ll see that this place has swindled people’s money over and over again. The story that the “owner” told us has been retold over and over again, word for word, except he is sometimes from Thailand, sometimes from Taiwan. I cannot laugh any harder. Read: the moment you step into this place, everything is part of an act. An act written to trick gullible housewives and retirees, or just people who feel bad that they have to go to this length to earn our money.

So that’s my story and experience of this tour so far. It’s not all shopping, I don’t want to give you the wrong impression, I’ve seen lots of wonderful things and met some wonderful people. But if you do go on these tours, please EDUCATE yourself and do some research. Decide for yourself what you are willing to spend and buy, because it’s not all fake, there are some things worthy of buying, but you have to be smart about it.

Other than this, the tour guides have been incredibly informative and helpful. However just know that it is also part of their job to persuade us to buy stuff, and take it with a grain of salt. If you don’t want to buy anything, just make sure you give your tour guide a generous tip at the end. This should turn their frown upside down.

Onto Beijing!

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