Underwhelming rickshaw tours
Confident in your Chinese language skills? Eager to experience the ancient Chinese capital city, including the intriguing hutong alleys, on a traditional rickshaw? A bonus too, the puller actually offers a curated tour by explaining the local culture, folklores and history as the rickshaw navigates through the zigzagging ancient alleys!
However, if you go to the tourist areas famed for traditional hutong tours, chances are you, as a foreigner, will be eagerly greeted by rickshaw pullers. In a mature, regulated tourist market in Beijing, all rickshaw pullers wear uniforms, creating a very “professional” look.
The price can be negotiated, even though you as a foreigner are innately disadvantaged because pullers certainly expect foreigners to pay more. The flexibility of the price lies in whether you require faqiao (receipt), which, if relinquished by the “understanding” tourist, surely opens up the possibility for a lower price. How low? Well, that certainly depends on your negotiating skills. Even though you are foreigner, a good China hand speaking the language gives you an advantage in making a bargain.
Now the tour begins. Sitting comfortably in the rickshaw, your puller takes you on a tour that navigates the complex hutong system that is typical of the ancient Chinese capital. Now the triumphant China hand gets to appreciate the information shared by their “professional” rickshaw puller, who is also supposed to be a tour guide proficient in local history and culture.
Well, according to a recent report by the People’s Daily, and in line with numerous anecdotal experiences recounted by discerning and concerned hutong tourists, the supposedly rich cultural curation is compromised by misinformation, omission and even fabricated stories.
I’d have to say, the regulators have done a good job on the surface with hutong rickshaw tours, with uniforms and even name badges. However, the actual professionalism of the puller is oftentimes in question.
Pullers are physically able and strong because they need to pull the rickshaw. However, many of the pullers don’t seem to have adequate knowledge about the hutong area, which is a big pity. For many tourists, learning insightful, inspirational information about culture and history is a key part of the fun.
I’d suggest regulators and tourist operators enhance puller training, particularly on the front of culture and history. What’s better to impress and inspire a tourist than providing cultural and historical backgrounds as he or she is immersed in the unique physical hutong setting? Beijing has always been a proud city, so take the opportunity to let guests be proud of Beijing too. The city’s tourism industry is working well now, but I do think it could be more welcoming.
Of course, better discipline and stronger enforcement are also needed. Incidents have been reported that some foreign tourists have been charged absurdly high prices for hutong tours. The weather is getting warmer, and another big tourist season is beginning. Let’s prevent such thing from happening again, and let Beijing embrace all guests with its beauty, nature and ancient culture.