I feel sick to my stomach, I just got scammed.
I was walking around one of the public parks when a smiling, chubby girl asked if I could take a picture of her and her two male cousins. Sure. I then asked if she would take a picture of me. She happily obliged and was surprised that I wasn’t Chinese. Then we got to talking about where I was from, why I didn’t look American, blah and blah. She said she was a student in Beijing and that she and her cousin were visiting their other cousin who was studying in Shanghai. Her two male cousins both spoke English, but she did a lot of translating between what I was saying and her two cousins. Her English was superb.
They gave me tips on where to go, including the Shanghai Museum, and dissuaded me from going to the Museum of Contemporary Art which was where I was headed. They were so friendly and totally genuine. Very smooth. They said they were on their way to a traditional tea ceremony and if I wanted to join. Sure, why not. Hanging out with the locals is always great, right.
We went to the second floor of a mall where we entered a small tea room. The tea person explained the process, passed around the price list, and the girl told me that the total for the tasting would be 30 yuan per person. After a lovely tasting, we each picked out a canister of tea to purchase in addition to the tasting fee.
When the tea person came back, the bill totaled over 1,200 yuan which is more than $300. I started freaking out. Then one of the male cousins said, you and I will split the bill since these other two are just students. Red flag on several fronts. First, they had told me they were all students. Second, I only agreed to 30 yuan. Third, I wasn’t going to fucking foot the bill for these fuckers.
I asked if they took credit card which they did not. I managed a squeamish smile and told them I did not have enough cash and that I needed to go to an ATM. No problem. I grabbed all my belongings sorta nonchalantly even though my heart was p-o-u-n-d-i-n-g. I knew I’d just been taken for a ride and I had to get out of there. The tea person and the girl escorted me to an ATM where I retrieved 1,000 yuan to cover this terrible mistake.
As we made our way up the escalator and walked toward the tea room, I held back. This is not right. They were both in front of me at this point. I said to the girl, “You lied to me. I’m not going back in there.”
Then I turned around and ran as she screamed, “What about your tea? Fuck you! Fuck you!” Damn good English for a Beijing girl.
I ran so fast that I actually slipped (as in the whole side of my body was down on the floor) when I descended the escalator. I got up quickly and sprinted two blocks toward a line of waiting cabs. I handed the hotel card to the cabbie as I shrunk down in my seat. “Please, hurry, please.” I am still shaken from the incident and had the hotel book me a spa treatment.
I’ve always felt it’s important to hang out with locals when traveling to really understand the people and culture. China, tea ceremony, how dangerous can that be? Very! Need more time to digest what happened and shake the jitters off.
What’s most important is that I’m safe. The other silver lining? I got a free canister of premium tea. I didn’t realize I’d put it in my purse until after I was home safe.