Cuppa Tea, Guvnor?

– “Hi”.
“Can you take photo of us?”
– “OK”

And so starts the classic Shanghai adventure: The Shanghai Tea Ceremony Scam.

The Scam, in short, involves finding a lone traveller, taking him to see a tea ceremony, and then presenting him with a huge bill at the end. Scammers will pay up as though the price is completely normal. The police, so I’ve heard, are entirely uninterested (which makes sense given the 4 or 5 couples I see regularly on one street).

Unlucky tall Spanish dude gets tea scammed. And no, I wasn't going up against four people to stop him. Apparently, victims end up paying anywhere between €10 and €250 for a cup of tea.

Having an office at People’s Square (or “peep hole square” as the disembodied voice of the Shanghai Metro charmingly pronounces it) certainly has its advantages: a beautiful park, close to entertainment, lots of expensive eateries (including an excellent teppanyaki place in my building). But its dark side is all too near the surface.

As a tourist (particularly as a lone foreign male), I’m approached twice daily either with offers of, “You want sexy lady massage very nice look very young”, or the far less direct, “You take photo of us?”.

Thankfully, I’d been warned about this by my colleagues B and U beforehand. I decided to see, for science’s sake you understand, exactly how it goes. Something like this:

Charming young couple at Peep Hole People’s Square ask a lone foreigner (in this case, the eponymous hero of today’s tale) to take their photo.

It’s at this juncture that I should point out the following: if *you* wanted someone to take your photo, wouldn’t you perhaps ask a local person, who are (a) abundant –particularly so in the world’s most populous nation–, and (b) more likely to speak your native tongue?

Foreigner takes photo.

What I should have done, at this point, was have a look at the previous photos on the camera. It would have been quite interesting to see them.

“I’m showing my cousin here around Shanghai. It’s his first time.”

The cousin, it turns out, is from a nearby city and in his twenties. If he can afford a nice digital camera, he can afford the €12 Nanjing-Shanghai train journey more frequently than once every twenty-three years.

“Where are you going?”
– “I’m walking to meet my friends”, I lie.
“Ah, we were about to go to a traditional tea ceremony. It starts soon, so we should hurry”, as they expertly direct me towards the tea house (I barely noticed that we’d started walking: kudos to them).
– “Well, as I said, I’m going to meet my friends”.
“Call your friends, maybe they want to come too”.
– “They’re Chinese. They’ve seen plenty of tea”.

… and on and on it went until I started walking off and just ignored them. I did stop long enough to see them approach their next unsuspecting victim, but had to make off pretty quickly when the ‘cousin’ noticed me trying to get a picture.

Next time, ‘cousin’, next time.


And finally, as a footnote, an interesting post and subsequent discussion about the Chinese education system and the tea ceremony scam.