December 14, 2010
After Shanghai I flew to Beijing for a week of sightseeing and exploring. I liked my time in Beijing, but continued to feel, as I had in Shanghai, constantly scammed for my tourist dollars. Every place I went there were people trying to hock their souvenirs and I fell for two of Beijing’s famous scams- the pedicab scam and the teahouse scam.
The pedicab scam went like this: I spent the day walking around Beijing on my own and ended up about a 30 minute walk from my hotel. I was very tired from walking all day and decided I was too tired to walk back and would hop in a taxi. It was rush hour and I could not find a taxi who would take me using the meter. When taxis in China see a white tourist they instantly equate him or her with money. I felt like a walking dollar sign and when the cabbies saw me I could see the dollar signs reflecting in their eyes. I walked from cab to cab showing my hotel card to get back and saying “meter” and no one would take me. The best offer I got was around 30 USD for a fare that I knew should cost no more than 6 bucks. I was beginning to become very frustrated when a pedicab came up to me and offered to take me. I asked how much and he said 3. To clarify I said 3-0 right? (RMB, which would be about 5 dollars). He nodded yes and I thought well this could be fun and got in. It was freezing out and not very comfortable in the back of the pedicab. I knew we were only about 15 minutes from the hotel by bike, but he went a different route and after about 30 minutes he stopped in a dark alley and demanded his money. I said no way and asked where I was. He pulled me out of the back by my jacket and demanded 300RMB, about 50 dollars. I laughed and said absolutely not and asked again where I was and said I wanted to be taken to my hotel. Of course he spoke no English and just kept demanding 300RMB. I started to walk out of the alley to figure out where I was and not giving him anything and he grabbed me again this time hard by my arm and demanded the money- this time lifting his fists like he was about to punch me. Having no idea where I was or if this crazy guy could have a gun or knife I paid him and then ran off. When I got to a main street I still had no idea where I was, but luckily was able to hail a real cab who took me back to my hotel using the meter. However the pedicab had taken me in the complete wrong direction and I was now over an hour away. Turns out that this 30 to 300 switch in a dark alley is a common scam done by the pedicab drivers so I would warn people against taking them and most certainly never take them alone.
The second scam I fell pray to was the teahouse scam which went like this: I was walking around the famous Donganmen night market when I was approached by two young Chinese girls who said they were students wanting to practice their English and they asked if they could walk around with me. We walked and talked for about 15 minutes and they were very helpful translating signs and telling me what certain foods were. Then they asked me if I wanted to grab a drink so I said sure. They led me across the street to a teahouse above a tourist shop and straight into a private karaoke room. I had already been to restaurants with private rooms so I thought nothing of it and ordered a beer, which I don’t normally like, but didn’t know how to say anything else. The girls ordered tea and some snacks for themselves. When it came the woman poured it for all three of us even though I said I didn’t want any. I ended up having a few sips, but didn’t drink much. We ended up spending over an hour drinking and talking and then it was getting late so I told them I had to go and to get the check. When it came it was for around $250 USD. I was shocked and asked them what happened, they said the tea we ordered was very expensive and brought over the menu to show me. Apparently there were even more expensive teas all the way up to 500 bucks. I was really confused (not realizing I was being scammed) and when they said they didn’t have enough to pay for it I put the rest on my credit card. I was then given the rest of the unused tea in a pretty container. I walked out kind of stunned and confused, the girls seemed to act sorry that I had to pay for it, but not genuinely and I was confused why they ordered that tea in the first place, but they had said they were from out of town and I chalked it up to a mistake. When I got back to the hotel it was still bothering me and I googled it and found countless other identical stories online about two girls saying they want to practice their English and then getting you to buy very expensive tea. It seems that it is a very common scam practiced all over China where the girls are paid by the tea house to lure customers in and order expensive teas and they will go so far as calling the police if you refuse to pay. It is a weird situation and many people leave not even realizing they’ve been scammed. I showed my hotel the tea I had bought and they did tell me it was in fact a very nice tea worth the 200 bucks I paid for it, but still I would never have purposefully purchased tea that expensive- I am not a tea connoisseur.
So those are the two scams I fell for, I am sure there are more out there so keep your guard up especially when traveling alone, because for many of the Chinese I encountered when they see a white person- especially an American- on his/her own they just see a dollar sign.