I'm not sure that I should be writing a blog in my present state of mind. Things are not going well. It's a case of 'abandon hope all ye who enter Beijing'. I dispair of ever escaping. The Russians are refusing to give me a visa without a train ticket and I can't get a train ticket until it has been paid for and that will take a day or two and so the time rolls on, with nothing good coming out of it at the moment.
In fact I had a pretty unpleasant experience on Sunday evening. I had been to watch the flag-lowering ceremony in Tiannamen Square when I was approached by a friendly woman, who then introduced her 2 friends, both teachers, who were equally friendly and charming. They said that they were going to a tea-tasting ceremony and would I like to join them. Well, it seemed a good idea, so I went. All the time I was with them they kept up a constant chatter, asking me endless questions, keeping me constantly distracted, but done so well that I was not aware that this was a deliberate technique. We went to a little tea-house and tasted lots of different teas in quick succession then the bill was presented to me and I realised that I was paying for all of us. I was told that I could pay with Visa and alarm bells should have rung, but they didn't. Still the chat went on and I was obviously a perfect victim - quite lonely, I suppose and flattered by their attention - and so I signed my life away without any more than a cursory glance at the bill! I wasn't happy about having been conned into paying for everyone and began to realise that they were actually not as nice as they seemed,so decided to go back to my hotel. We said goodbye and I was just about to buy the train ticket when I thought that perhaps I ought to check on the actual size of the bill. It was 3330 yuan (351 pounds)!!!! I said that this was too much (the understatement of the year - it makes tea at the Ritz positively bargain basement!). We agreed that I would give them 500 yuan in cash (50 pounds, still far too much but better) and they would void the amount I had just paid - another con, they just printed another slip and voided that one. It wasn't until I had got back to my hotel that I realised that they still had the original slip that I had signed and that, to add insult to injury, I had now parted with 400 pounds altogether! I was so angry that I decided that, come what may, I had to get the signed slip back. So I set off again for the tea-house. I got there at about 11.30, it was pouring with rain and I had no coat or umbrella, the shops were all shut and the streets deserted. As I reached the tea-house I heard the shutters being closed so I barged in quickly and demanded the signed slip. I think that I had the benefit of surprise. I was obviously the last person that they were expecting at that time of night. The 'boss' wasn't there and the young girl went through the various bits of paper and when she got to my signed slip I snatched it out of her hand and walked out, feeling triumphant!
I made my way back to my hotel and then had a sleepless night worrying about why they allowed me to leave so easily, with the 3330 yuan. There were 3 or 4 young girls locking up and they made no effort to detain me. I decided that my best course of action was simply to cancel the card, which I did first thing the next morning (and which I could have done the night before and saved myself a lot of bother!).
So, an unpleasant and quite costly experience but, probably a very valuable one. I had allowed myself to become far too vunerable and trusting. Going off with 3 total strangers was crazy and I probably got off very lightly, when one thinks of what could have happened, but it hasn't made me feel any better about being stuck here. Apathy is beginning to set in and it's impossible to make plans with so much hanging in the balance.
So, sorry about this rather miserable epistle, perhaps I'll have reasons to be more cheerful next time.
I have no real reason to feel down. I have just spent a lovely afternoon at the Summer Palace, walking under the willow trees, around the lotus flower-filled lake. It was beautifully peaceful and tranquile. It has to be said tha the rest of the Summer Pa;ace was one big bun fight! Tour groups everywhere, together with tourist tat shops and food outlets. Suzhou Street is an attractive, albeit touristy, recreation of an old Ming (?) dynasty street. They charge quite a lot to go in, so it was also quite quiet. Quietness is a rare commodity in China!!