Un­der­whelm­ing rick­shaw tours

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - TWO CENTS - By David Lee

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.

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