“Where you lads headed? JinShanLing?” shouted a middle age women in heavily accented Beijing Chinese as we got down from the 2.5 hours public bus restlessly from downtown Beijing. I didn’t reply and just pretended to not understand whatever she just said. And so Z and I walked around the bus station to check things out. She followed us closely and muttered more things which I did not get it because of the strong accent and how fast she spoke. “This is good, she’s certainly desperate to take our business” I thought to myself slyly. Checked. One Chinese lady versus two young lads who knew the market, we were going to be the winners in that. She was clearly frustrated with our attempts to seemly look for any form of transportation except for hers, but even more with me because of my Asian looks ( why does this Asian not understand a single word she said! ). Yes, Welcome to China. Every Asian is supposed to speak Chinese.
So, here’s the part we are supposed to get a mini-van to drive us to the part of the Great Wall of China called JinShanLing. We knew that unsuspecting tourists are gonna to pay Yuan 200 to Yuan 300 for the 80 kilometers one way ride to the wall according to some online bloggers, and yet there were people who got it for Yuan 50 each. Imagine the kind of profit these Chinese make from people who don’t know the stuff. Z and I were sure that we were not going to pay anywhere near that, locals are paying Yuan 15 to Yuan 20 for it! China is really bad when it comes to two tier pricing for locals and foreigners. The price difference is huge and can be many times more than what a local is paying. I have not come across anywhere in Asia where two tier pricing is more pronounced than in China. A couple of South-East Asian countries like Cambodia and Vietnam do that but not to such an extend.
Z and I agreed beforehand that we were going to pay somewhere near the local price and this was going to be our social experiment. We started telling her that we were going to JinShanLing and a group of Chinese guys came over to listen to our conversations. Even though we were like cat purring and they were like dogs barking, nothing was supposed to get across. I realized that they were actually the drivers that were taking people to JinShanLing. The lady was the tout. The rest of the conversations went through a mixture of gestures and drawings because I was supposed to not speak Chinese. The gist of it is that people were going to know that we don’t speak Chinese and would be engaging in their ‘business’ talk, that’s my form of spying.
Lady – ‘JinShanLing Yuan 250, cheap cheap’
I – ‘Nah, too expensive!’ (I think she don’t understand what I said but she got it)
Lady – ‘Here. JinShanLing. Gas big money!’ (She’s trying to tell us that the 80 kilometers journey uses a lot of gasoline for the vehicle)
Z and I – Pretended to be not interested and engage in our fake talks.
Lady – ‘How much? How much? You say.’
Z – ‘Yuan 20!’
I – Gestured to her that we were going to pay Yuan 20 each, a total of 40.
Lady – ‘Yuan 200’ as she pointed to the mini van behind her.
Z and I – We laughed. Trying to convey to her that we were definitely not going to pay that kind of money.
She walked away. And we discussed on how were we going to take it from there. I saw that the situation was pretty advantageous to us because if they were charging locals Yuan 20 for it, we could definitely get it near to that price. The mini van system works in a way that they will take off when there are enough passengers (8-10).
She came over in a last-ditch attempt. I knew it.
I – ‘ Yuan 25 each’
Lady – ‘Yuan 50 each, gas big money’ this time round with a serious gesture that gas is really expensive.
She was getting impatient. One of the drivers came over and told her that he was going to take us for Yuan 40 each. That’s the lowest he would go. His van was filling up. I told Z about it. The driver and the lady went like how difficult it was to earn our money without knowing that I knew what exactly they were talking about. See the part of not speaking Chinese and understanding it? Wink.
Lady – ‘Yuan 40, lowest, very cheap’
Z – ‘No, Yuan 25.’ sticking to our previous offer.
After 5 seconds of silent, probably thinking how much money was she going to get from this.
Lady – ‘Ok! two, Yuan 70’ pointing to both of us.
We looked at one another for 5 seconds and we took the offer. Bingo. Our efforts were not too bad, paying Yuan 15 more than a local.