The (in)famous Shanghai scam

(Last Updated On: 14/03/2017)
Before I left to China I was fortunate enough to stumble upon some informations about the (in)famous tea ceremony scam in Shanghai. The scenario was more or less the same: non-Chinese tourists were approached by young Chinese students who asked them to take a picture, then wanted to practcice some English (but almost always they spoke it perfectly anyway) and after few minutes of conversation students came up with the offer of going together to the traditional Chinese tea ceremony that they were about to attend anyway. Most of the people went for it as it seemed like a perfect opportunity to sample the Chinese culture with some local new met friends. Everything seemed innocent enough up to that point. The bill that came after the ceremony usually was horrendous, hundreds if not thousands of yuan for just few sips of teas. And there was almost no way to get out of that without paying.


Well aware of that I set off to explore Shanghai. I must say I was kind of hoping I will be aimed for the scam. I was excited like before opening the presents on Christmas, I so wanted to see how this procedure goes! And so when I was walking down the Bund, taking way too many pictures of the famous skyline when I was approached by the Chinese couple who asked me to take a picture of them. Sure, why not to help them, after all the scenery was perfect for picture. They were in the late 20s/early 30s I guess and they looked pretty poorely, also their English wasn’t so perfect. What just didn’t really click in that image was that they had a brand new iphone… But at this point I haven’t really notticed the show had already started! After I took the said picture and wanted to go away they asked me where I’m from, the innocent question I’ve heard so many times before in China. After the typical conversation: “I’m from Poland” – “Oh yes, Amsterdam is a very beautiful city” – “Well, it is but last time I checked Warsaw was the capital city of my country” they told me a bit about themselves, how they came to visit Shanghai from the north of China as they wanted to escape the cold weather. I was walking slowly when they tried to keep the conversation going and they had a pretty hard time trying to stop me and make me interested in what they have to say. The “let’s be friends” part was super quick in comparison to what I’ve read online and after around 5 minutes I’ve heard the magic sentence “We’re heading to the traditional tea ceremony, maybe you’d like to join us?”. I almost squeak with joy! Surely I didn’t want to go to any ceremony but I when the magic words came from them I wanted to check how long they would deal with me and how convincing they would get. I asked all the details about the ceremony, what it’s about, what kind of tea is there to try, where exactly it takes place – they didn’t want to give me specific directions but just pointed “over there”. I think that was the moment when they’ve realized I’m making fun of them as they said they are in hurry as the ceremony is about to start soon so if I’m not really interested they’d better go. We said good byes wishing each other a nice stay in Shanghai but, surprise surprise, they’ve headed to a completely opposite direction to the one they showed me before! This very encounter made my day and I was really happy I could realize so quickly what this all is about, especially that it wasn’t the typical scenario I’ve known about.


Here are my new “friends”, wandering around Bund and looking for new victim that would go with them for the tea ceremony, I took this picture just a moment before they chose me to be the lucky one!

On the next day I was asked again to take the picture. This time there were two young students who were “catching” people just outside the exit of Yunan Gardens metro stations – one of the busies tourists areas in Shanghai. The area wasn’t very special so the request sounded pretty odd but of course I took the picture. I don’t know if they have to say exactly the same beginning to everyone of what but even if I had my camera in my backpack they still asked me if I want to have picture taken too (the couple on the previous day asked me for that as well). Surely they asked me where I’m from and said something about Amsterdam. I guess there must have been something in my eyes that showed that I know what’s going on as they didn’t bother with continuing the conversation and said good byes. But I said on the nearby bench, read a little bit about the gardens in the guidebook and sure enough few minutes later these girls asked another tourist to take the picture of them… the end is pretty obvious here, isn’t it?


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It’s sad that these days it’s impossible to trust local people when travelling, that in poorer countries any Western person is seen through the money. I’m sure such tea ceremonies or any other possible scam attractions all over the world are worth a visit but only when we’re treated fair. But still, as I was well aware of the Shanghai scam these two situations gave me so much fun, without them I guess my stay there wouldn’t be complete. So everyone who goes to visit Shanghai – be aware of the invitation to traditional tea ceremonies!

Were you ever a victim of any scam when travelling? 

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