As strangers in a foreign land, safety is always a top priority. Fortunately, by international standards Beijing is a very safe city with low rates of violent crime. Most incidents are limited to petty crimes like scams and pickpocketing. Like any other major city, however, more serious incidents such as traffic accidents, health emergencies, and serious crimes do occur; when they do, knowledge and preparation are key. We outline some common scams and offer basic safety tips for Beijing newbies.
Tricks of the Trade: 3 Common Scams to Watch Out For
The Tea Scam
When visiting tourist attractions like Tian’anmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Wangfujing Night Market, be aware that scammers in these areas prey specifically on tourists and foreigners, especially those who are friendly and eager to learn more about local Chinese culture. According to www.tour-beijing.com, a Beijing-based travel agency and website, scammers employ a number of methods to con tourists out of money. One of their better-known tricks is known as the tea scam.
The tea scam generally goes like this: A young and attractive woman – sometimes a man – approaches the intended victim. They chat with them about interesting sites in Beijing and ask questions about their home country. If all goes well, they invite the victim to a traditional Chinese teashop to chat some more. When the bill arrives, it’s often in the hundreds and sometimes thousands of yuan. To make the scam seem less suspicious, the new “friend” may even offer to pay half the bill. If the tourist tries to leave without paying, they might suddenly find the entrance blocked by a couple of unfriendly-looking men.
The Art Student Scam
Operating on a similar premise as the tea scam, young people posing as art students approach the victim and offer to take them to a “local art show.” The scammer takes the tourist to an “art supply market” – only this market will have significantly higher prices than any other place in town.
Be wary of “black cabs” (hei che) or unregistered taxis. These guys are everywhere from the airport to just outside your compound. Some drivers have been known to ask their passengers to get out of the car and help them push it or shut the trunk. When the passenger is outside, they drive away with their belongings.
Every year, the US-based Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) releases crime and safety reports for Beijing on its website. According to the China 2015 Crime and Safety Report, there’s even more cause for concern where black cabs are concerned. In a limited number of cases, the report states, foreigners have reported being sexually assaulted, gotten their luggage stolen, or charged exorbitant fares for rides. With that in mind, take regular taxis whenever possible and use apps like Dididache and Uber (see p64 of the HRG for more on these).
Tips for Staying Safe in Beijing
Mind Your Manners
Be mindful of large crowds in places like the subway, where packed conditions can cause tensions to run high. If you’re unused to living in an overpopulated country, you may at first find Beijingers an aggressive bunch: cutting queues, using elbows or purses to shove through crowds, and engaging in the occasional yelling match.
While these situations rarely escalate, diffusion is the best course of action if they do. If you happen to encounter a particularly angry commuter who feels you have wronged them in some way, it’s best to stand down and offer a simple apology. Conversely, it’s not advisable to point out someone else’s bad etiquette, no matter how frustrating the situation. Doing so will be perceived as “losing face” by the other party – the ultimate insult by Chinese standards.
Cars, motorbikes, e-bikes, rickshaws, and bicycles are just some of the modes of transportation you’ll encounter on Beijing’s roads. Regardless of how you get around, rush hour is an especially intense time. You’ll need to share the road with pedestrians, many of whom are guilty of ignoring basic rules about crossing the street.
But don’t take our word for it; according to OSAC’s 2015 report on transportation safety, “yielding to oncoming traffic or pedestrians is virtually unheard of, as is using turn signals. Traffic signals are absent at key locations, and road closures are either poorly marked or not at all. DWIs [driving while intoxicated]are also common.”
The report goes on to cite inexperienced Chinese drivers as the greatest road hazard, a fact made yet more grim by China Daily’s report that nearly half of accidents in Beijing are caused by drivers with less than three years’ driving experience. The same report says that traffic-related deaths are the leading cause of death for those under 45.
With this in mind, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings by minimizing distractions. Don’t text, answer calls, or use headphones while driving or cycling. In the event of a serious accident, call 999 for English-speaking ambulance service. You’ll need to pay in cash for the ambulance upfront., so carry at least RMB 500 on you at all times.
Keep a Chinese Friend on Speed Dial
Many foreigners in Beijing are guilty of living in the “expat bubble,” with only family and other expats to count on as their support network. Though some may feel it’s easier to make friends with other expats initially, having Chinese friends is beneficial in more ways than one. Not only do you have someone who can share aspects of living in Beijing you may not otherwise be exposed to, you’ll also have someone you can rely on in the event of an emergency.
Expect the Best, Prepare for the Worst
Whether you’re moving to Beijing alone or with family, it’s essential to have medical insurance. If you’re not covered by your employer, brokers like Abacare Group and Pacific Prime can help expats find health plans that suit their needs.
Organize documents related to life insurance, bank accounts, stocks, and billing information. Share them with a family member back home in the unlikely event of death.We know it’s not a pleasant subject, but it’s always better to be prepared.
That being said, this article isn’t intended to scare. Keep in mind that, even with a population of almost 20 million, Beijing is generally very safe. Don’t be afraid to get out there and enjoy everything the city has to offer.
- Beijing Municipal Public Security: Visit www.bjgaj.gov.cn to read about public security in Beijing, including police news and articles.
- Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC): Visit www.osac.gov, click on “reports” or “crime and safety reports,” then select “Beijing” to see the full 2015 crime and safety report, which also contains advice about situational awareness.
In Case of Emergency
In addition to your embassy’s contact information, have these numbers on speed dial:
- Police: 110
- Fire: 119
- Traffic accidents: 122
- Ambulance (English hotline): 999
- Ambulance (Chinese hotline): 120
- Beijing Chaoyang District Center for Disease Control and Prevention: 6777 3512
- Foreign Emergency Services: 6525 5486
- United Family Hospital Emergency Services: 5927 7120
- International SOS Clinic and Emergency Services: 6462 9112
This article originally appeared in the 2015 beijingkids Home and Relocation Guide. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Bernhard Wintersperger (Flickr)