Lesson 2: getting scammed

I did the placement test at BLCU this morning and had the whole afternoon free, so I played the tourist game by going to Tiananmen square fully equipped with backpack and camera. While trying to get a descent picture of Mao I was approached by what I thought was a middle aged couple. They said (in English) that I was tall. It’s not the first time (nor has it happened often) so I thought nothing of it and started speaking Mandarin with them, with varying degrees of success. I asked where I should go because I would get to see Tiananmen later anyway, and they suggested I go to the older parts of the city, south of Tiananmen square. I got the impression that they were tourists from Hubei (why would a Beijing resident subject him-/herself to the tourists willingly?) and they were also going to old Beijing. After some window shopping I was hungry and they suggested we drink some tea before we eat. What the heck. I had actually read all about the teahouse scam before coming here, but felt smart and unscammable, having deflected an attempt at the art exhibition scam only minutes before I met this couple.

Soon after we got to the teahouse warning bells were ringing. Tea was served without a menu being shown, so I asked to see the prices and then drank no more. No doubt a real teahouse with the ceremony and all can be expensive, but why would someone go to one of those with someone they just met? Trying to cut my losses without putting up a fight (I don’t know what would happen and didn’t want to try) I ended up paying a third of the bill, 145 yuan (after refusing to pay first the full 440 yuan and then half of the bill). A ridiculous price indeed, but still not worth a fight. When asked to sign some receipt (obviously so that the couple could come back later to collect their share) I signed “Musse Pigg” (Mickey Mouse in Swedish) in a desparate attempt to regain some honor. On the way out I noticed we had passed through a opticians shop to get to the “teahouse”. Obviously this makes no sense, but I hadn’t even noticed it when going in. Oddly enough they didn’t immediately disappear even though I gave them the oppurtunity to do so, so we actually parted in a friendly fashion. It makes me wonder if they didn’t understand that I understood I was being scammed and were looking to scam me some more…

For an hours work, I got humiliated a bit, got to practice my Mandarin a bit and they get to split 145 yuan between three people. They didn’t exactly fit the description of the typical scammer (young pretty girl), nor were they scared away by my talking Mandarin. So, to anyone else coming to China looking to not get scammed:

  1. You’re not smarter than everyone else (be humble).
  2. Don’t trust people, even if they’re friendly (be cynical).
  3. If you find yourself being scammed, stop.

I’ll make sure to go to an actual teahouse with actual friends when I have the opportunity, it does seem quite promising after all.

Update

Here’s a photo I appear to accidentally have taken of the scammers when they first approached me. It’s not great as portraits go, but still…