Beijing tea scam (welcome to China)

15 04 2010

Yesterday we unfortunately got duped into the Beijing tea scam (you can check a search engine for more info, or simply read on).

We had spent the afternoon walking around the forbidden city and Jingshan park on the hill behind. Upon our return to Tiananmen square, we were greeted in English by a young Chinese couple. In China, when people greet you in English, it’s usually followed by a flurry of Chinese, or an invitation to buy or look at something – we ignore all such people. These guys seemed like they just wanted to chat, and we talked about the culture and language of Australia, Japan, Korea and China. Soon enough they suggested we go and get some tea. Since it was only about 5pm, and the restaurant we had decided to go to for dinner was only a few minutes walk away, we thought, “why not?”

First we had to go to the bank to get some cash, so they waited patiently and then off we headed to an area we had already seen a day or two ago. There the man pointed out a tea shop, which of course Benno could read the character for tea, and up we went to a quaint little tea house. In the centre of the room was a large carved wooden table reminiscent of the one downstairs at Thea, with an image of Buddha carved into it. We chose two types of tea, and then were offered to try a smattering, which we did. The tea was offered in a quasi-ceremonial style, with the benefits of each type of tea explained. Also provided were some cherry tomatoes and crackers. At the end of the process, the bill came out, which included a per-person charge (not what we’d assumed was a per-pot charge) for each of the 8 types of tea we’d tried. It was slightly painful to fork up our share, but didn’t seem completely out of the question.
The couple then followed us most of the way to our dinner destination, before bidding us farewell and good luck. When we were alone again, we couldn’t help but wonder if the couple had been in cahoots with the tea house. We discussed the likelihood of being scammed, and when we got back to our hostel, our fears were confirmed by a quick internet search.

Things that should have set off alarm bells (perhaps if we weren’t both so tired at the time):
1. Being approached in English – we should have known that everyone is trying to sell something
2. Being guided to a tea shop by a couple who said that they themselves were tourists in Beijing
3. Walking through the shop beneath the tea house and not being harrassed by anyone trying to sell to us
4. Being somehow convinced to try 8 teas instead of only two
5. Seeing a fat wad of yuan in the hands of the con artists

Still, the cost of the tea, if it was per pot and not per person, was not implausible. We’d seen more expensive teas in legitimate restaurants earlier, and know that some Taiwanese tea can fetch something like $1,000/kg.

At the end of the day, we didn’t really lose that much money – especially compared to some others we read about online who were duped $300 up to $1000. Given that the scam took about 2 hours to pull off and involved at least 3 people, they would be able to make more money doing legitimate jobs in a western country. So we’re not really that concerned about the money, moreso just the fact that we were duped.

If you’re reading this and headed to China soon, Caveat emptor!
If you fell victim to a similar scam, our commiserations are with you.

PS we had to post this via a text-only browser on a remote server, since our blog (along with other blogs, facebook, youtube, some parts of wikipedia and other things) is blocked by the great firewall of China.

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One response

17 04 2010
Megs

Wow! Fascinating stuff… might set up something similar in Adelaide ( ha ha ha… evil laugh). Hope the few hours of chit chat was entertaining non-the-less and an interesting learning experience. Stay safe and happy xxx

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