The Tea Ceremony Scam
Trip Start Nov 29, 2008
16Trip End Jan 03, 2009
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Renmin Square, known as "People's Square," is one of Shanghai's biggest tourist areas. The panhandling can be aggressive, and even more difficult to deal with because it's often done by children who tag close on your heels, adults egging them on. Old men grasp at your coat sleeves and shake their cups in your face, refusing to take no for an answer. There's a difference between sitting calmly on the street or playing music with a coffee can out and goading people into giving.
There's something else to watch out for, too-the groups of clean cut kids who look like college students.
"Hello! Hi! Do you speak English?"
Three Chinese, about 20, two girls and a guy, approached. They must have spotted the opportunity when they saw me pause to take a photo of the Radisson, a space-age building that looks like the landing pad for a UFO.
They asked the usual questions, with pat answers from me. I'm from Canada. Yes, it's very far. Yes, it's very cold. Yes, I do like it here. I kept my hands on my camera and angled for a way out
They complimented me on the blueness of my eyes, and invited me to a tea "festival" behind Capital Land, the shopping complex across the street. Another blue-eyed woman, blonde hair tucked under a black knitted cap, walked brusquely up to me.
"I would be careful if I were you," she said in my ear. "Don't go anywhere with them." Then she delved back into the crowds with the purpose of a woman who lives and does business here.
"What did she say?" the so-called students from Beijing wanted to know.
"Enjoy your tea party, kids," I said, and made my getaway.
No less than three times in one hour I was approached in a similar manner by three groups of young Chinese. My guess is that the tourists are brought to an expensive teahouse to watch the tea ceremony, then charged outrageous prices while the kids who brought them get a commission. (Comments on this blog from others who have experienced the same situation or have more information are welcome.)
Yesterday I returned to People's Square with Jay to go to the Shanghai Museum. The sun was warm and the old folks were out gambling in the park or walking with their grandchildren.
On the path to the museum, we passed a western couple chatting with another group of three young Chinese, enthusiastically telling them where they were from, etcetera. In hindsight I wish I had warned them, but I didn't, thinking that maybe what happened to me was a one-off.
Jay and I stopped to take photos of each other in front of the museum, a signal to the tourist-hunters that we, too, were prime for the picking. Sure enough, a different group of three came up and asked us to take their photo. They had been in town only two days, they said, and did we know any good places to go? Incidentally, they had heard of a tea festival happening right now behind Capital Land.
"Wow!" I said. "I've heard about that. It sounds like a really great event! But we're going to the museum today. Have fun!"
"Thanks, we will!" said one of the guys. "Oh, the entrance to the museum is on the other side!"
Helpful scammers, anyway.
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