If Chinese people are not known for being innovative, they are surely known to be very resourceful. It’s nothing strange to encounter people that are busily working away in their illegal businesses: like the illegal taxis 黑车 (HēiChē), selling counterfeit (or stolen) goods, or trying to get some extra money from scams. In the country where the art of 忽悠 (HūYou) “to swindle” is almost celebrated, unfortunately, there are times when you might find yourself at the other end of the stick.
Newcomers are an especially easy target, with foreign tourists instantly recognized by their fancy digital cameras, constant map consultation, or just by being surrounded by the general aura of wonder and innocence. No mater whether it’s walking around Beijing’s 天安门 (Tiān’ĀnMén) Tiananmen or Shanghai’s 人民广场 (RénMín GuǎngCháng) People’s Square, you will quickly become a target of street hustlers looking to get some easy money from you. Be aware of the teahouse scams.
Yes, Chinese people are generally friendly, but they are equally shy, so when a (possibly cute and harmless looking) student actively approaches you, it’s time to put your guard up. The conversation might possibly revolve about her innocent sounding desire to practice English and maybe an offer to show you around the city. Of course, the said student (indeed, usually a female), will be extra polite and super smily, trying to build the necessary trust for the next step.
The next step being something in the lines of:
S: scammer, T: tourist
S: Have you ever seen a tea ceremony?
T: No, I haven’t. What’s that?
S: You haven’t?! You must see it. Tea is very important in China and tea ceremony is like a show where they show you different kinds of tea.
T: It sounds interesting.
S: Actually, I know a very good teahouse near here. We can go there right now.
T: (thinking, yes, she’s harmless, what’s to lose) Sure. I would like to see that.
Once you are at the teahouse, indeed you will be presented with some teas and after a couple of minutes with a whopping bill that will range from a couple of hundreds to a couple of thousand RMB. Ouch. Nothing else to do but to pay up – variations exists here, but if you don’t cooperate, your ‘harmless’ companion might seek consultation with a couple of her bulky friends.
So there you are; feeling miserable, embarrassed and cheated, having drunk the most expensive cup of tea you’ll probably ever have, a lesson learned: Tea can be overrated.