Mutiny on the Way to The Great Wall of China

By: leelefever on September 7, 2006 - 6:26pm

We went into deciding that we would laugh and find humor in the situation - no matter what.  Being in Beijing, we needed to see the Great Wall and really didn't feel like working out the details for an independent trip to Simitai - a part of the wall 150km from Beijing.  So, we just booked a tour from our hotel and hoped for the best.

It started with a nice surprise - a minibus with 8 well-travelled and youngish Italians and some a few rows of spare seats.  Italians are so fun and full of life.

Anyway, after sitting in ridiculous Beijing traffic for about 2 hours (where we witnessed car-to-car turtle selling), our Tour Guide "Prudence" announces a stop for 40 minutes at pottery factory - a famous "Factory Tour", the often loathed-but-required element of group travel.  Usually a busload of tourists are led through a “factory” where crafts are made by hand – pottery, woodcarvings, rugs, etc. and then presented with a giant gift shop. The tour operator likely gets a kick-back for every person who visits, so the traveler is a pawn in the competition for the tourist dollar.  It's basically a stop at a gift shop with a bathroom that wastes time for the disinterested.  Our group was clearly disinterested and the seeds of mutiny were sown.

Prudence is a very nice and gentle tour guide and it was hard to conspire against her.  We huddled together to plot our resistance - we would not be taking the tour and we would demand to get back on the bus and proceed to the Great Wall.  Stephania was our leader and the negotiations began while each of us used the bathroom and returned to the sidewalk by the bus, sure not to be lured into the fold.

Somewhere along the way, it was discovered that an espresso machine was present and the discussions were moved to ensure that Italians could get an espresso fix in the midst of the overthrow.  A lesson in espresso-making ensued.

Prudence put up a valiant fight for our time spent in the factory, insisting on 40 minutes, then 30, 20 and finally 10 before capitulating completely and allowing us to board the bus to the Wall.  Stephania was our rock and the insurrection was complete before too much time was wasted...and there was much rejoicing.

I encourage all travelers to call bullshit on the factory tour scheme when they travel - you will rarely find it on the itinerary before you buy the ticket, yet it will waste time that could be spent at the actual destination.  If the group is small, ask about interest and organize your mutiny - remember that you are paying for the experience.  Viva la Résistance!

Oh, and we saw the Wall too... 




By: CR (not verified) on September 7, 2006 - 8:31pm
...way back in the Gulin comment box. I was waiting to see if you'd mention this. When we were on our packaged (and, thus, cheap!) China trip, we grew steadily more annoyed as the trip progressed. In Guilin, we asked to leave the factory store - the guide simply said "No," pulled out her newspaper (swiped from our hotel), sat down, and ignored us for 20 minutes. In Guangzhou, we had a cooler guide, who negotiated a short stop at a store in exchange for not going to the Chou En Lai memorial temple or whatever (There are some crap sites in China...) plus non-guided time in a nice area. Finally, the poo hit the fan in Hong Kong (where I was surprised they were doing the factory store thing...) This was the only time we were on a group tour - got stuck with about 10 NZers in a jewelry store. They were bizarrely interested in the wares - must have been noobies. Think they actually bought a ton of jewelry. Since we only had a day in HK, we were all over the guide to get us out of there. He finally stuck us back on the mini-bus for "five minutes." When twenty went by, we just ditched the bus and hailed a cab back to the hotel. That night he actually stopped by our hotel, and later called our room, freaking out that he had "lost" us, that we had been kidnapped (in HK??? seems unlikely...) Felt a bit bad about this - he seemed legitimately freaked by our defection. But enough was enough. Seriously - China's got to do something about the way they run their tour outfits. From what I can tell, the factory store system is some sort of leftover side-effect of the Friendship Store system, where foreigners could only shop in certain locations that took hard currency. But it's extremely frustrating. I'd definitely go back to China, but I'd never accept a guided tour there again.
By: leelefever on September 8, 2006 - 7:28am
We thought about your comment CR - I'm glad we got to put your test into action. :)