Book passages

A costly watch with Mao

One of the sights worth seeing in Beijing is the Summer Palace, the resting place of Qing dynasty emperors from around 1750. The very origins of the property date back to 1100. The residence owes its current shape to Empress Cixi, who ruled for a long time due to the fact that she successfully helped her opponents and family members depart this life. In 1885 she had the residence rebuilt from scratch. As there was no money for this noble cause, the ruler used the funds intended to support the army. The palace was erected at enormous cost ruining the already strained state budget. During the invasion of China, nobody was able to defend the country, since the reserve for the army had been spent. The complex was destroyed. Strategic expense planning did not turn out to be Cixi’s strength.

There is a beautiful view of the lake with hundreds of tiny boats from the temple on the hill. The reservoir is artificial, a whim of the ruler. Near the entrance there is Suzhou Street, a historic canal street that takes us to the exit after a day spent at the Summer Palace. We are stopped by a street vendor who offers watches (they are more original than the original itself). We dismiss him and we are just about to leave, but the merchant shows us an incredibly ugly watch with Mao, who is waving his hand every second to greet people. The watch is so cheesy that it’s almost beautiful. The starting price is 300 zlotys and we are not tempted. He follows us and goes down with the price. Finally, he offers the price of one hundred yuans, that is 45 zlotys. We are willing to pay a maximum of fifteen. The transaction is finalized. We hand him a hundred yuans, he gives us seventy-five back and we part ways. We count the bills and put them in our pockets. 

The same evening, we head to fancy shops in Tiananmen. The shop assistants are the same height, identically dressed and totally similar in appearance. They were selected to look like clones. The goods are placed neatly on the shelves, and colorful chocolates look tempting in huge baskets. You can find the best ones in glass cabinets, and it is clear that the best have to be related to Mao. The cult of the leader is in full bloom on medals and pens. The staff are quite hyped and keep on smiling thoughtlessly. We get some sweets and snacks. One of the employees is following us, fulfilling his civic duty to watch over strangers. We hand over the money at the cash register, and the shop assistants start to whisper in Chinese and poke us with horror in their eyes. What is going on? They gather together looking scared. One of them starts whispering: no dollar, no dollar, no dollar. What dollar? The women don’t want to touch the money. They think we gave them American dollars because it’s probably the only foreign currency they’ve ever heard of. A moment passes and we take a good look at the banknotes. The amount and the color match, except the currency is not entirely correct. What is this? Cyrillic script? Rubles? We pay in yuans and leave. We already know what’s going on. In the beginning, we paid with the money that the watch vendor had given us. At first glance, the banknotes are confusingly similar to yuans. However, we were given Belarusian rubles, which are worth less than the paper they were printed on. The watch, instead of the planned seventeen, cost us forty-five zlotys. The guy made a good deal. Apparently, this is a common scam and tourists often fall for it. Knowledge costs money and ignorance costs double. We don’t even get angry because it’s actually funny.