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!

At the tea-house, a kind of a shady, while "traditional-looking" place (it had some dragons on the window), we sat down in a small, decorated room and a guy dressed in even more traditional-looking Chinese robes gave us a menu. I saw, but dismissed, the weird, expensive the price of 88 yuan (~$15) for a full sampling of teas - but I was distracted trying to contact the friend that I was already late in meeting. Wanting to charge me the full amount, they went ahead with the complete option, but I had to meet my friend, so I apologized and made moves to leave. Then they said, "In China, you cannot leave the table alone - all must go or all must stay." So then I was even more apologetic - I also assumed we couldn't be charged for just one sample! But of course, we were still all charged what amounted to $15 a person, and the guy (how charming) asked if we would split it since the 2 girls "were young". Of course I was going accept the offer.

In just a few minutes, I spent more than my daily budget (in China, mind you) $30! - just to have this brief (maybe 15 minute) experience - immediately afterwards, I just shrugged it off as cultural exposure - they too had claimed to be from out of town...

At least this scam artist took a good picture for me!
That's until I did some simple research online - and it happened again in Beijing. I explained before that friendly smiling student-like girl came right up to me at the Tian'anmen East subway stop (and it was my first day here, so I was feeling open and excited to meet people). I was skeptical of her, but I was ready to be curious, enjoy and see what happened. First she took my picture in the square; I wanted to take one with her, but she insisted that she didn't have her make-up on (the first sign of trouble), then she discussed how her brother was a policeman - and good at shooting. "What is the english word?" she asked, "Sniper?" I said. Yes, she claimed her brother was a sniper (second sign of trouble!). Then she invited me to have a drink!

Does this really look like a bar or restaurant?!
You're on camera!
This time I knew we walked into somewhere very shady - it was hardly labeled but she quickly said "this is it" and didn't wait for me to question the location. Then we went on into an enclosed room for the drink. Why on earth would you go have a drink in an enclosed room with a stranger?! It was like a business meeting and the "waitress" was this young homely girl who failed to pretend she didn't know her patron; it was clear they were in cahoots. Rapidly it became obvious something was wrong. The menu had drinks - the cheapest being $5, a price acceptable only in the nicest bars and clubs! But as a tourist - how would you know? I said I didn't want anything there - I wanted juice I said, but I asked that we go elsewhere for some food. My lovely guide insisted on being thirsty and having some juice - that they would bring chips too so I could eat. After this, I was visibly not comfortable - but we pretended nothing was wrong and stiffly chatted some more while drinking and eating some nasty snacks. Then the bill came:  $20 room fee, $7 for my "juice" - time to break character!

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She's coming out swinging - Watch out!
I insisted these were ridiculous prices and that I wouldn't pay.  She said she would pay for the room, but I must pay for my drinks. I said I didn't have any money - she said, credit card would work, still I insisted I would not pay.  Then the fireworks began - I moved to leave and she blocked my way.

"You must pay for what you had here!" she said angrily

And finally, "I am calling my brother" the sniper!

Avoiding a picture!
Meanwhile this chubby, homely girl kept coming in and out. I handed over 20 yuan - nearly $3 and said that would cover my costs.  Then I had to extricate myself from the room, which meant physically pulling her away when the girl came back into the room (presumably with her credit card). I ran out - and she came running after me.

Not knowing how other people would react to this and fearing the situation could escalate - I ran for a while. But then I composed myself and regained some confidence. I had to go back and take some pictures - document this scam - at least and see what would happen.

But there she was again - running after me, swinging her umbrella to hit me! Then she talked to a local Chinese guy passing by (who knows what she said) and the guy turned to me "hey! come here." So I ran again - back to the Tian'anmen East station. Where, guess who I ran into: another Chinese girl who asked me how much they had taken from me. She had paid over 150 yuan - over $25 for very little - and she was just visiting from the provinces! She told me to go to the police - but was afraid to go herself - fearing repercussions. I thought about going myself - but there were only transit police around...

This friendly Chinese girl quickly turned into crazed bitch
and chased me when I refused to fall for her scam!
Read on in Part 2 about how I took my revenge - I appreciate if you can help spread the word and Share on Facebook!

1 comment:

  1. Hi,I member u bb?I gave u my email in the line I subway do u still remeber me ?I,U said that girl use umbrella hit u.