Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tea House Scam: Ashton's Revenge - Part 1

Here I conquer the Great Wall of China, but I had some other exploits in Beijing!

Most know me as a smiling, happy-go-lucky kid who's rarely out for revenge.  Well, this might change that.  However, the way I was treated by only a few select Chinese will explain why.

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In my critical blog about China, I explained the tea house scam - charming girls or guys looking to "practice english" or "get to know foreigners" only to lure you to a pre-planned, illegal venue and overcharge or outright rob you. Perhaps these particular Chinese girls and guys see themselves as welcoming foreigners; that they provide a service, even if that price isn't advertised when they smile and ask where you're from. Maybe they guess (correctly) that most people can afford a $5 soda or $15 "traditional tea", but it's still unfair to do so in an underhanded way - plus they steal credit card information, force you to pay for others and charge ridiculous extra fees.
Who would suspect these cute girls, but why do they need
big sunglasses? The sun is barely visible through the smog!

Let's start from my first encounter in Shanghai where a group of 2 girls and a guy approached me; smiling and friendly, they wanted to take a picture with me. They guy was talking a mile-a-minute spinning stories about his hometown of Harbin and discussing why northern Chinese are taller (they are farther from the sun!). I actually was in the middle of trying to find a friend in the park - but this seemed like a neat opportunity to meet people so I chatted a bit - and then they asked, "have you tried China's traditional teas? We're going just around the corner to have some - come along!" I had to meet my friend, but they insisted it would just be a minute - so I obliged. The key to all of this was putting me in such a great mood and making it feel like a shared experience; these kids were pros!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tea House Scam: Ashton's Takes His Revenge - Part 2

You should know that it took a long process that brought me to my final solution - and decision to act out against the Chinese who robbed me, a process where I decided police and authorities would not help me; I had to set down a marker. I acted alone as a vigilante, but I did so to represent a group of vulnerable people without a voice:  tourists.

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The fake Dashanqing "Tea House" entrance
before I took action.

Cleverly, these Tea House scammers preyed on a group of people in Beijing least organized and most vulnerable, while at the same time the wealthiest. But after seeing what they had done myself and then witnessing others experience that same "gotcha" feeling, I decided I should act.

You see, these Chinese people not only robbed me physically, but they robbed me emotionally; they robbed me of my excited happy feeling in coming to a new country. On my first day in Beijing, I encountered not genuinely friendly people, but desperate, manipulative thugs in the guise of innocence -- and they were doing this to victims again and again.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tea-House Scam: An Avenge Attempt? - Part 3

Of course, after committing a crime like defacing a building you just have to return to the scene to see what's happened. Yet, who knew the tea-scammers would approach me again!

Much of the overcrowded Beijing
Subway is at least fresh & new!
Feeling a bit paranoid the next morning, I worried the police would find me and I knew I should avoid the crime scene. However, the previous night they would have lost any attempt to trail me, even if it was by accident! On my comedic return home, I got off the last train at the wrong stop - and then, unable to hail a real cab (as often happens; cabbies hate English speakers), an old man in a tok-tok-cart (like rectangular metal box on wheels) finally picked me up. Neither he nor I could figure out how to get me home (again remember, first day in Beijing!). We meandered a long time until finally finding familiar buildings - after midnight by now, my hosts (thankfully) were in bed.

My genuine Chinese friend who didn't rob me!
So in an attempt to avoid the temptation to go back, I just played tourist that day and headed to Beihai Park, north-west of the Forbidden City - but, I must admit, still close to Tiananmen Square. Unsure of the park entrance as I walked outside the Beihai Park North Subway Station, I asked (what seemed to be) a friendly Chinese guy for directions - he and I had coincidentally left the station and train together...

Telling me it was his day off and that he too planned an afternoon in Beihai, I immediately felt uneasy - but surely not everyone planned to scam tourists. Indeed, we had a lovely day at the park and no questions arose about taking me for a drink. Still - the dirty deed I had done constantly nagged at me - I must go see it.