Articles - China Daily

 

Getting back at the Rip-off merchants

The news this week that visitors to the tropical resort island of Hainan, during the week-long Spring Festival holiday, complained of being overcharged and swindled made attention grabbing headlines, but I wonder if many people who read the story were surprised by what they heard.

It was reported that a family of three had a meal at a street restaurant in Sanya, where three ordinary dishes cost them RMB4,000. A man at the next table was forced to pay more than RMB 6,000 for a fish, weighing about 5.5 kilograms, because the owner killed it to serve him even though he hadn't ordered it. And thousands of netizens claimed that they, too, had had similar experiences in Hainan.

I guess the practice of “fleecing” customers is widespread the world over, though this doesn’t make it any more palatable for those involved. In this particular instance, some have tried to justify what went on by pointing out that rents in the area have risen sharply and that businessmen have been “forced” to resort to such tactics to make ends meet; to which I can only say “what rubbish!”.

In England we have an expression which refers to “voting with your feet” – in other words making a point of never going back to such an establishment (and hoping that the loss of future business hurts the establishment concerned).

The problem is that on a holiday island, there are always others ready to take your place – unless, that is, the resort’s reputation gets so bad that others decide not to go there either.

I encountered a classic example of this when visiting New Delhi a couple of years back. There it is the norm for visitors to be ripped off – not just by shop keepers and restaurateurs, but also by the municipality itself. Go to the Qutub Minar, for instance, (a popular must-see attraction) and whereas Indians will be charged 10/- to enter, foreigners are charged a whopping 250/- entrance. Take a cab ride that normally costs an Indian friend of mine 150/- and I am charged 800/-. And so it goes on.

The result? I tell EVERYONE I meet, who is even just thinking of visiting India, about this blatant rip off, so they can make up their own mind if they want to go somewhere which makes its guests feel so unwelcome.

There’s a local market I go to regularly in Beijing which sells excellent fruit and vegetables. Last week I went with a friend to a different stall from the one I normally go to. They had some nice looking pomelos for sale and my friend asked the price per kilo before deciding on the one she wanted; she also wanted to buy a kilo of oranges. But when she had been given the fruit she was told a price that seemed far higher than she was expecting.

How much was the pomelo, she enquired. 32 quai, was the answer. “Impossible. Surely it can’t be that heavy. I was expecting to pay around 26. Please can I see how heavy it is.” The shopkeeper was very reluctant to let her put the fruit on his scales – which was not surprising as it weighed far less than it would have been to cost 32 quai. She asked to put the oranges on the scales too. Again a strong reluctance before she insisted – and found that she had been given only 800 grams. Eventually she walked away from the stall paying 9 quai less than she had originally been asked.

The result? Whenever either of us sees any foreigners even approaching this stall, we will say in our loudest voices that they will be cheated if they go there, and point them in the direction of a stall where we always get good service. We have also looked up what the Chinese is for “I won’t shop here as you cheat your customers”, so we can answer in a loud voice when next they try to sell us something.

If everyone were to make a point of telling everyone else about bad, inefficient or dishonest service, rather than keeping quiet about it, perhaps in some small way we could do our bit to reduce this blight in society.