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Watch out for the Shanghai Tea scammers!

I don’t know why but I’ve always thought that I wouldn’t be caught out by scammers. Maybe I thought I was too smart or maybe because I’m normally pretty on to it if something doesn’t feel right and I play my get out of jail card early. Either or I was about to learn a lesson in Shanghai!

Shanghai was my last stop on my trip around China. I had booked to stay with the Shanghai Blue Mountain Bund Youth Hostel after I made my booking I received a welcome email and within that welcome email was this very sentence ‘If you are “lucky” enough to be approached by people "very friendly and speaking good English", who invite you to TAKE A PICTURE THEN GO TO SOME TEA HOUSE, please DON’T GO. –It is simply a TEA TRAP. Those teas will cost you 200-2000 Yuan.” 2000 Yuan (255 euro) is a lot of money, an awful lot of money for a cup of tea. I read about it, thought to myself that would never happen to me and forget about it pretty quickly afterwards.

Flash forward to me in Shanghai, I’ve just had an amazing few weeks in China, the hospitality and generosity of the local people had really blown me away so much that I had put my guard down. Throughout my trip in China, the local people were genuinely interested and kind to me, I had had some locals show me around their hometowns, other locals take me out for food and most locals I met were pretty helpful with directions or anything else I needed even if they couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak Mandarin they made an effort to help. I reckon all of that kindness led to me being tricked by some scammers who fortunately haven’t tainted my views of the Chinese people.

It was my first day in Shanghai, I left the hostel in search of food and planning on visiting the bund. I wandered the streets looking for a bite to eat while heading in the direction of the Bund. I didn’t have much of a plan for the day, I wanted to pick up some food on the go, head down to the bund, take a few pictures, listen to some music and would make a plan for the rest of the day down on the waterfront. I had been so busy prior to arriving in Shanghai that I was happy to have a pretty chilled day.

I arrived on the bund, the views were pretty epic, it was sunny and hot, there were lots of people around. I stopped to take a couple of pictures when I was approached by a Chinese girl who asked me if I would take a picture of her and her cousin. More than happy to help out I took a couple of snaps of them and they returned the favour.

She was extremely chatty, she told me that her cousin, who didn’t seem to speak much English, had just been offered a job in Shanghai and that the two of them had travelled down from Beijing to check out the city before he decided on his new career opportunity. She had a tourist map and was showing me some of the stuff that they had already seen and was telling me about their plan for the rest of the day.

After chatting for a little while she asked me if I would like to join them sightseeing. I thought why not, my experience thus far with the Chinese people had been so good and I hadn’t a plan made for my own day. I figured it’d be a good way to explore Shanghai, plus you get to try the best food when you’re with the locals!

Off we went to the next destination on their list. As we wandered along the streets she was super chatty and her cousin joined in a little bit every now and again. We strolled away from the bund and out of the city, we left the main centre and I did wonder where are we going but I had put all my trust in them. As we were walking and talking she suggested we stop for tea. I didn’t think, I just agreed and surprise surprise there was a tea shop about 30 meters ahead.

We entered the tea shop and were greeted by the owner. It was pretty small, there was a low table in the corner. The owner invited us to sit and my two new friends insisted that I sat in the middle of them as it was Chinese tradition for the guest to do so. I sat down with a scammer to the left of me, a scammer to the right and a scammer sitting straight ahead of me.

While the host was getting his stuff together the girl was explaining the ins and outs about each tea we were going to try. It was right about then that my gut started sending signals to my brain saying ‘something ain’t right here’. Why does she know so much about this guy's job!

I sat there, thinking, shit, what have I gotten myself into here. Then I remembered the email. Then I had the repeated thought of shit, what have I gotten myself into!

The host started by pouring some water over a frog. There was a list or a menu so to speak of teas we were going to try sitting in front of me. There were no prices beside each tea, just a list of names. I decided to intervene, ‘I’m sorry’ I said. ‘I just want to let you know that I am flying to Japan this evening and that I have no cash left and can’t pay for any teas if they’re a gift that’s cool but if I have to pay for them I can’t buy any.

My new friends took it surprisingly well, not. Her cousin who couldn’t really speak English quickly remembered the language as he turned the menu over to point at some tea which we hadn’t even drunk saying I have to pay for. Unsurprisingly the menu on the other side of the page had ridiculous prices beside each tea. Things got heated pretty quickly. All three of them started shouting at me saying you pay now you pay now!

There wasn’t any point in talking or arguing with these people, they were too busy shouting to listen so I jumped up and pushed my way past my short-lived friend and made my way towards the door. I wanted to get out of there before they got violent. They followed me out of the shop, continuing to shout at me which I was more than happy to ignore. I’m stubborn to my core, which isn’t always a good thing but in this case, it would prove to pay off. There wasn’t a chance I was going to pay for something that I hadn’t even had.

I strolled off, without giving them a dime happy that I had copped on in the nick of time. Things may have been different had I actually received and drank a tea from them. Somewhat amused by what had happened I went on with my day and returned to the hostel that evening.

After a shower, I went to the common area to grab a beer and got chatting with a couple of guys over a game of pool. A Swedish guy told me a similar story to mine but unfortunately, he ended up with him paying a couple of hundred Euro for the tea he had.

Long story short, watch out for tea scammers while you are visiting Shanghai but don’t let them spoil the generosity of the local people of China who really made my time there special.

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