Posts tagged “rip off”

In control, out of control

Another dispatch from a public Internet terminal. In this case, the Samsung e-lounge at the Hong Kong airport. We’re headed to Bangkok in an hour or so. Nice free service, but their custom browser blocks pop-ups, so I can’t check my email as I normally do via I can see the messages, I just can’t open ’em.
Anyway, we had one of those experiences that is so typical of what you hear when people travel overseas – a miscommunication, a rip-off, etc. We checked out early this AM, and planned to head to the train station (the Kowloon station) and take the Airport Express train back to the airport. We had prepaid (with an Octopus card) for return trainfare. It’s quite handy; you can actually check in for your flight at the train station in town and drop your bags and all that. The train is fast and comfortable.
We told the hotel dude that we were going to the train station for the Airport Express, he came out with us. The taxi driver asks us something, I say “Kowloon Station, Airport Express.” He says “airport?” I say, no, Kowloon station. The hotel dude has caught up at this point and says something in Chinese. We figured he clarified it and we were off. The driver is talking in Chinese to his mounted cell phone (set on speaker phone) and then he apparently is speaking to us. He waves some money around, says a phrase twice, and then shows me a number on a piece of paper. How much to get to the station? We can’t really tell what he’s written, and not sure why this is happening (I know we sound like total suckers here, but hey, it’s what happened. Does it help that it was 6:15 am?). I guess taxi drivers are the only segment of the service business in Hong Kong with no English.
Anyway, we pass the train station. He is taking us all the way to the airport. Instead of $35 or so (HK), it’s now going to be $XX00? We have no idea. What do we do? How do we clarify, or confront, as moments pass and the situation veers from what we had anticipated? How do we deal with our own social norms? Are we being ripped-off, or just a bad communication?
Other types of people would no doubt have pursued some sort of resolution. We didn’t. We felt helpless and frustrated and did nothing. It was vaguely expensive and we were lucky to have cash on hand to pay for the final fare. But really, we got to the airport, we lost a little money, we lost a little control. I kept thinking that as our trip proceeds through Thailand and then India this sort of willful? miscommunication and loss of control due to language and white skin and general foreigness will continue. This was trivial, but it felt traumatic. Perhaps a good lesson about dealing with the mishaps, or simply the haps, of the rest of our trip.


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