Thursday afternoon I was on the phone with one of my colleagues and joking around about how it was funny that IBM was allowing me to go to China (my first time) because I'd end up arrested or something of the sort. Little did I know less than 48 hours later, that I would actually be at the Chinese Police station in Beijing...
After a LONG 13 hour flight from San Francisco, I arrived in Beijing. After going through customs and hitting the baggage claim, I had my bags nicely stacked on a cart and I was off to find someone to write down, in Chinese, the name of my hotel (so I could give it to the cab driver to get me there). At the Beijing airport, there are a variety of different counters you can go to if you want to request a car to your hotel. I was investigating prices at a few different counters (I was having difficulty finding the cab stand and wasn't having very much luck finding anyone who spoke English - much less understood mine), when a man approached me and said that he could give me a car for 300CNY, which was about 200CNY less than what I had been offered at the other counters. He also spoke English, which was a definite plus, and was dressed in a suit and tie (which was more formal than the other folks). So, I agreed and followed him up to the second floor of the airport. There, he handed me off to a second man who took my luggage and led me to a car.
Now, at this point, I have to admit I got a bit suspicious... I mean, why was I going to another floor of the airport when the car services were all located on the first floor? And, the car that we were about to load my luggage into was unmarked... but I figured, "Hey, it's China. They've got major repercussions here for illegal activities. Nothing is going to happen... "
As my luggage starts to get put into the trunk of this VW Jetta, 3 men run over to us, grabbing my luggage out of the trunk, grabbing me by my arm, and yelling at the man by the car in Chinese. At this point, I got worried. They put my bags back on my cart, and started leading us by the arm back into the airport and back to the elevator to the first floor. They're all wearing blue coats, but they're windbreakers, and they have no noticeable logos or anything on them. So here I am, in Beijing, with some man grabbing MY luggage from me, and telling me to follow him (someone I don't even know) through the airport, all while he's yelling at ME. And the "cab driver" was trying to pull on my arm too. Now, I don't play that way. And if there's one thing I don't like it's someone who I don't know pulling me in some direction and telling me what to do when I don't even know who the hell they are.
So I stop in my tracks, and shout, "Hey, you listen here. Stop. I want my luggage back, and I want to know who the hell you are and where you're trying to take me. And I want to know NOW!"
All 4 men (including the driver, who was still with us), stopped dead in their tracks. I mean, let me tell you, I was PISSED. And I don't get that way that often. I just wanted to get to my hotel, get some food, and figure out what time zone I was in. Now, I doubt that anyone understood me, but they did get that I was pretty damn mad. So one of the men comes up to me, shows me this fake looking laminated badge that says, "Police," and says, "We go police station."
At this point, I realize that they probably are the police, and this driver guy was trying to rip me off by getting me to pay 300CNY for a ride that by cab was much cheaper. And to be honest, I was fine being ripped off. I thought that *was* probably the case when this guy approached me, but I just wanted to get to my hotel so I really didn't care. I couldn't find the cab station, and I didn't want to pay 500CNY for a hotel car, and this stuff happens at all airports. But that said, it is China. So, it's probably more illegal than it is in other countries.
So, we hit the police station right outside the Beijing airport, where they sit me down, get my passport, and then I write down in English what happened (And yes, at some point there, the man who was my "driver" disappeared behind two very secure looking doors)... Then they thank me, show me to a cab, and and the one policeman who speaks some English says, "You a nice American. You funny too." Great. No comment there.
Lesson learned? Yep. Don't screw around with the black market when in China and near major public places such as the airport. Unless that is, you want to see what a real Chinese police station looks like. Oh, and no - they wouldn't let me take any pictures. Yes, I did try. :) /LC