The first thing they will ask you without a doubt is, “this is your first time to China?” The second is “have you visited: <insert local tourist trap>?” Frankly I’d never had much interest to go to the Forbidden City, but the invitation arose and I figured that I might as well tag along. Promptly off the subway we got turned around, stumbled into a fantastic book shop with some amazing graphic novels which eventually it was explained to us, are generally only sold in sets.
But we managed to find some loose volumes and having dropped the equivalent of a few dollars on some great books we reoriented ourself back toward the palace, by way of a bank receiving shipments from an armored truck attended by teenagers packing heavy intimidating fire-power, and thronged into the seemingly endlessly nested sets of gates and courtyards packed with swindlers hawking all manner of chintzy merchandise (tops, flags, books, postcards “free taxi rides to the great wall”) and well versed in the fine art of gouging tourists a gauntlet we (or at least I) managed to pass through relatively unscathed. L. shelled out for the pair of flags that were thrust into his hands, only to have one snatched back angrily when he paid what seemed to be the asking price (priced individually but marketed in bundles, again). When we finally arrived at THE gate–the one of everlasting harmony or whatever–we were let down to realize that the ticket agent had just closed up.
A helpful gentleman came striding up with a handful of tickets and offered to scalp us a set with the most modest of mark-ups. Reluctantly, exhaustedly and heat stroked we took him up on the offer. Perhaps a bit reassured by the police van next to us holding an officer that stared on at the whole affair blankly.
Of course. Walking up to the gates, just as the huge wooden doors were being swung shut, we dashed forward tickets in hand. They had expired yesterday.
On our way back out, still clutching our ticket and both amused and irritated at our own ridiculous foolishness, a woman came up waving postcards. “That ticket is no good tomorrow,” she asserted knowingly. We traded it for a stack of what have to be the most expensively purchased cheap-ass generic postcards now in existence. I believe they call that “paying it forward.” An amazing perpetual racket, who knows how many times that individual ticket has made its rounds around the rubes.
I almost feel sorry for him, said R., that’s a terrible job that he has.
I’m not so sure. 200 Yuan for a few minutes work, sounds pretty good to me.
The cicadas and the azure-winged magpies ever trilling and chuckling at our misfortune.