We have been taking time to fix up some of our older blog posts. It seems that our ‘blogging skills’ have drastically increased over the last two years. We are in no way pros now, but still it is remarkable how much less we put into posts back then – especially since we were traveling to all kinds of wonderful places and there was so much to document! The memories are still there, so we have been using our free time to go back and fill in more detail where possible.
Last night I came across a post from Shanghai and I noticed that I had left a rather funny story out of the post. All I wrote was “Lesson learnt here: Don’t take incense from strangers” The pictures that accompanied that phrase really didn’t explain much.
Ancient Town: Zhujiajiao
Let me take you back to our explorations of Shanghai in October of 2011. We flew there and then did a day trip to Zhujiajiao (an Ancient Chinese Town) about an hour by bus from the city. The old town is connected by 36 bridges in different shapes and styles, varying from wood and stone to marble. We took a gondola through the canals and under the beautiful bridges. It was an exciting day for us, in this city known as ‘The Venice of Shanghai’.
‘The City of God Temple’
When we arrived at Zhujiajiao, we made our way to the tourist centre and paid about 100 yuan for a map and a page of coupons. This included entrance to temples, gardens, and a canal tour. The map was very useful for navigating our way around the ancient city.
One of the stops was the City of God Taoist Temple. No disrespect intended, but we have absolutely no desire to light incense or bow down to a statue. We are simply there to look around, take in the beautiful ancient architecture, and take a few pictures. For these reasons, we were apprehensive when we were eagerly greeted by one of the temple attendants. He was very enthusiastic about showing us around, and invited us to take the handful of long incense sticks that he had in his hand.
I tried to step away, but Justin is evidently waaaay better than me at this. He doesn’t feel bad to turn around and walk away, but me, no I get sucked in to listening to what the person has to stay. I do it mostly out of curtesy, and so as not offend them.
I imagined that if I took the incense I would have to pay for it, but that wasn’t really what I was worried about. As I looked around, I noticed that everyone that was holding incense was kneeling onto a pillow or bowing down to the temple shrine ahead of us. I didn’t want insult this man by taking the incense and then just keeping it, and I was definitely not going to bow down to anything. He kept motioning for me to take the incense and bow down.
The man continued to follow us around. He was very sweet and seemed genuinely kind. He kept nudging me with his hand, offering the incense and then starting saying that it was free. In a moment of feeling bad for him, I took it thinking that I would give it to someone else (or put it somewhere when he disappeared). Immediately, Justin looked at me as if to say, “Oh babe, Now you have done us in!”
The man asked us to take a seat so that he could show us something. We didn’t want to but he kept insisting. He was really making our visit unpleasant, and I kept thinking that we should just leave despite having to pay to get into the temple. It was then that he lifted my hand in his and looked at it. In complete confusion, it took a moment for me pulled it away, but he smiled smugly – as if to say, “I already saw what I needed to see”, and he began to ask me questions and tell me “about things to come”. I never answered anything he asked, however he just kept talking. We felt so awkward and out of place. Would it be rude to get up and run out of here now? Justin and I kept making faces at each other. We quickly decided that we were not going to sit there any longer so we stood up simultaneously. It was then that he handed us a clipboard and told us to make a “donation” for this service. What service we wondered?
Not wanting to cause a commotion we looked at the clipboard, trying to gauge how much of a “donation” he was after. Some of the names were obviously Chinese and others belonged to foreigners. The remarkable part was next to each name was the amount of money that they had donated. No one donated less than about 200 yuan, and some even ran up to 500. That’s a ridiculous $80 for nothing… Surely the list was fake!
Both knowing that there was no way that we were going to pay that much money, our only concern was getting out of there without causing any trouble. We tried to slowly walk away but the man started to raise his voice and people all around us started to stare. My heart began to pound – Oh wow, we were about to be scammed into paying this money out of fear of causing an uproar. Justin pulled out his wallet, handed the guy 20 yuan, grabbed my arm and we quickly ran towards the temple gates.
We felt like we couldn’t get away fast enough – Both of us were worried that someone would come chasing after us for the rest of the “donation”. We didn’t look back but just kept on walking until we had crossed a few bridges, and gone into a busy alleyway.
Looking back, I know that I shouldn’t have caved and taken the incense from him, but the truth is that he looked so sweet and loving. In fact, I felt like Snow White in that moment. I took the free apple, not knowing that I was falling into a “tourist trap”. Sadly while traveling, especially in touristy areas, we have learnt that ignoring people is more often than not the best option!
Lesson learnt: Don’t take incense from strangers!
Want to read more about our time in this ancient city.
Link to those here: