You know the story, a man in Shanghai meets a red silk clad beauty and follows her to a smoky bar near the docks. A few hours later the sailor wakes up with a headache in a sleazy hotel room. His money and watch are gone. Men bang on the door show him the conscription papers he signed and take him to a ship. The man has been “shanghaied”
We were not conscripted but we did fall prey to the charms of the modern version of the silken Chinese beauty though, ours wore fuzzy jackets and had iPhones. This was followed by a woman who showed kindness to a fish in Hong Kong.
Here are the stories. March 31, 2016, night out in Beijing and we are on the Wangfushing pedestrian street looking for the Peking Duck restaurant recommended by our guide. We had just seen the Acrobatic show and were feeling confident after navigating the Beijing metro and finding good street food. Eliot was wearing a face mask for the pollution. We were approached by two women in their 20’s saying they wanted to practice English. They were charming in a shy but engaging way were not too flashy dressed (by chinese standards) and were not aggressive. They told us “That restaurant very expensive we can show you a better place where Chinese people eat.
They took us to a restaurant for a mediocre duck. The bill was 600 Yuan (about $100). Being drunk and unfamiliar with the currency I paid it, We then sauntered around the outdoor market and walked around and said we were going home, they insisted we go for tea, we gave in. They took us to a small karaoke bar teahouse on a side street. We had tea, they had two glasses of wine in the background two big guys were playing pool and spitting. The conversation seemed to go so well there was lots of laughter, they sang for us and even flirted. Eliot told them he was married to a Jewish lawyer and that she was home with the kids. One of the girl’s said, “Jewish people very clever” and we cracked up. The bill was 900 Yuan (about $180 can). It dawned on me that we had been Shanghaied. The elation from the beer and the conversation left me like air from a de-pressurized airplane. I did not want to start-up with the pool players so we paid and left. I told the girls we were on to them, Eliot called them thieves and we left. They seemed genuinely surprised and upset, they followed and pleaded, telling us drinks were expensive in Beijing. We went back to our hotel and had an argument over who is to blame in our claustrophobic room in the traditional Hutong courtyard (alley way) hotel I had chosen.
Wangfushing Street pre-con
In my quest to “see, eat and be local” I had fallen for the oldest con in the books. You would have think that we would have been immune to the charms of 2 women with bad outfits- but we were not. Our guide had told us the restaurant he recommended was expensive (but good) and in Japan there are lots of women who pay for English conversation. However, the warning signs were there; the compliments, the time spent with us, the refusal to be in photos, the out-of-the-way tea house empty except for the pool players.
When we told our guide what happened the next day, he said “but you are experienced travellers” I guess not experience enough. He also said that if we spent 2 hours with young women we should have expected that it would cost us something. Again something that we are not experienced in. We only lost $300 and some of our pride.
The second experience was in Hong Kong on April 6, 2016. It was 9.30 and we were still tramping around looking for a restaurant. Eliot is getting annoyed at my indecisiveness but I cannot find a place that is busy, well priced and appetizing.
We cross the street to a restaurant with ducks hanging in the window. A man with a net is trying to catch a foot long silver fish in a tank out front. The fish jumps out of the net and starts flopping on the wet ground. The man kicks it, takes another fish and leaves it flopping on the dirty Hong Kong pavement. We know the kicked fish is going to end up on a plate and decided we cannot eat in that restaurant. A short salt and pepper haired woman in her 50’s with a bindi (red dot between her eye brows) comments on the cruelty of it all. Eliot agrees and they strike up a conversation. She is Sri Lankan and a follower of Sai Baba. Eliot tells her about his late Aunt Esperanza who was also a Sai Baba follower. Turned off meat by the flopping fish and a flashback vision of a live chickens in a Shanghai market, I ask her is she knows a good vegetarian restaurant. The woman says she will take us to one (I think tea house for a millisecond but drop the thought). The woman tells us that her husband is a lecturer in Hong Kong. Eliot says Hong Kong is beautiful and the woman says you will not find much kindness here it is all about money. She indicates that we need to be kind to each other and Karma is always in the works. We are taken to a small Indian restaurant in a mall. She goes back to her bus stop and greats us goodbye. The woman leaves and we have an excellent vegetarian dinner that leaves us feeling that there is hope for humanity tempered by the knowledge that the food will burn as much on the way out as it did on the way in. This is the ying and yang of travel spontaneity and the possibility of good and bad experiences.
More photos and stories on Japan and China to follow.