Sunday, July 6, 2014

Do You Want to Come to a Tea Ceremony?

The tea ceremony scam seems to be alive and well in Shanghai.
As I came out of the metro stop with the intention of strolling through People's Square and then visiting the Shanghai Museum, a very well dressed young woman approached me and asked if I needed help. Now, I usually like to think the best of people but experience has taught me that when I am travelling in a foriegn country and someone offers to "help me" then it usually means there is something in it for them - my money is the likely target. I told her I was fine and she asked me where I was from. I replied, "Canada," and she made some vague observation about my country of origin. She then asked where I was headed and I said that I planned to walk through the park to the museum. Really, I'm not sure why I continued to chat but at this point she really wasn't being annoying or pushy and I did need to know which direction to walk in to get to the museum.
Next came the pounce..."There is a very important tea festival today that maybe you should visit."
My scam radar went off and I extracted myself by walking away and saying, 'No thanks, I'm just going to the museum. Now, I'm not really sure what the Tea Ceremony Scam involves exactly, but I had some vague recollection of reading about this at one time or another and so I thought it best to keep moving.
I made it about thirty feet to the entrance of the park when a very clean cut looking and well dressed young man, perhaps nineteen or twenty, approached me. He had been taking a picture of a girl who was similarly dressed and then held out his iPhone to me and asked if I would take a picture of he and his friends.
"Sure," I replied and preceded to snap three or four shots. Being a solo traveller quite often, I know what it is like to need someone to take a picture of me at scenic spots so I was happy to oblige. As I handed back the phone the young man asked where I was from and then began to tell me about relatives he had in various parts of Canada. I asked where he and his friends were from and he asked where else I was going to visit. I was not in a hurry so I didn't really mind the chance to chat but my scam radar was alerted again when I told them I was going to the museum.
"Oh the qeue for the museum is very long this morning because of the holiday," (don't know what holiday he was talking about).
"Better you go in the afternoon. We are on our way to a famous tea ceremony," (RRRAAAH, RRRAAAH, RRRAAAH....alarms going off in my head).
"We would be honoured if you would join us." Now, as I said, I am not sure what a tea ceremony scam actually consists of so I was almost tempted...I didn't think they looked like the murdering type and it was the middle of the day...but my less impulsive and saner self prevailed and I made another hasty retreat.
This time I made it to the corner between People's Park and People's Square, where the museum was situated, when I was once again asked if I would take a picture of a couple who once again were very clean cut and well spoken. "Sure, I'll take your picture," I said, "but I don't want to go to a Tea Ceremony." They didn't even try to change my mind and as I walked away I saw them approach the next foreignor. I made it through the morning being approached about five or six more times. By the fourth time my politeness had worn off, I'd stopped taking pictures, and was answering with a very terse, "No!"
Two of the many young people that tried to have
me take their picture and then take me to a tea ceremony.
These groups were really quite talented and the less suspicious minded would probably take them as fellow tourists but I really wondered, as I left the area, if they actually managed to scam people and what the whole process actually was.
The next day when I joined the large group of teachers in Nanjing and was sharing stories of some of our experiences so far, I asked two women who had also been to Shanghai if they had come across the picture taking scammers and how I couldn't believe people actually went with them to a tea ceremony. Both women looked rather uncomfortable and then admitted that they had indeed been 'taken' by this group. I asked them what happened and they said they were taken to a place where various teas were poured out and then they were told that they owed 200 Yuan. This is about $65 which may not seem like a great deal of money but considering a six pack of beer costs about one Canadian dollar, the relative amount is quite high.
Apparently, when the 'ceremony' started they were told it was something like 40 Yuan, which they thought was reasonble, and being polite foriegners they didn't want to offend, so they remained, as various teas were poured and they sampled them. Now, when the pouring finished they were told it was 40 Yuan for each tea sampled. When they objected, the proprietor became increasingly louder and began yelling at them. I suppose this is the intimidation tactic to convince the foriegnor to pay up....I can attest to the fact that a large Chinese man yelling at you can indeed be quite nerve wracking. To their credit, the women didn't succumb completely to the intimidation but put a 100 Yuan note on the counter and quickly left the building.
Apparently, this tea scam continues to thrive, so just watch out for tourists asking you to take their photo in Shanghai.
I did manage to have a great day in Shanghai though and took the Maglev train, a superfast magnetic levitation train (we were going 430 km/hr), back to the airport in the afternoon to meet up with the rest of my teaching group.
Maglev (Magnetic Levitation Train), Shanghai
Butchering meat on Guandong Road.
The underground Pedestrian Tunnel linking the East and West banks of the Huangpu River.
Up close view of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower

Circular Pedestrian Bridge, Shanghai


  1. It was a pretty tense moment when I discovered it missing! Luck was definitely on my side.


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