Consummate dilettantism!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Beggars Of Beijing

The beggars of Beijing are so famous only because everyone who visits goes to the same places, all filled with beggars, of course, many of whom hawk the same (I mean identical) wares and tell the same stories. I saw one lady with a gruesomely disfigured child, evidently seeking monetary sympathy -- I was kind of surprised at first, but I've come to realize that this is a common tactic. In places like Tiananmen, which really isn’t so great, you can’t walk five paces without being accosted by vendors and “art students” and every variety of salesman. This is no Beijing to experience. My advice: if you plan to visit, don’t spend too much time at Tiananmen or Wudaokou or Sanlitun. (The Great Wall is, however, one site you must visit, regardless of, as they call themselves, the 這裏的農民 [local peasants], who sell overpriced drinks*. Walk around, try the street food, and buy stuff in the market – you'll have a blast, as the non-touristy areas are actually, at least in my opinion, more exciting than the touristy ones.

A note of caution: in these places, practically no one will speak English. You should learn at least the number terms and characters to get the most out of them.

*It is very fun to bargain with them. After I complained to one about the price, she noted, rather fairly in my estimation, that she had come this far down the wall to provide foreigners with water, and wasn’t going to sell for less than 十五塊 (15 yuan, a little over two U.S. dollars, a ridiculous price for a bottle of water in China). I eventually got something for 7 yuan from another vendor, still around four or five times the average cost of a small bottle of water.

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