I did not even realise it was a scam until I told my story to some other travellers in Tai An a week after it had happened….
Two innocent looking girls aproached me. The best scammers look like this I now realise. They then ask me to take a photo for them, easy enough I thought. I get them to take one of me too for my records of course! We are sat on the Bund, which is the river side walk way, an area to stroll down in the late afternoons. It was all a relatively relaxing affair until the girls turned up, but I thought it was great that I had the chance to chat to some Chinese girls in their own country and share experiences. One of the girls is from Shanghai, works as a teacher and speaks very good english. Her friend, spoke less English and was supposedly from out of town. So, aparrantly they are taking in the sights and are off to a tea tasting ceremony and asked if I would like to come.
10 minutes later we arrive at a lovely looking tea house, completely traditional interior and appreciate this is the real China. We sat around a table and are given a tea menu. Some cups of tea cost 45RMB (£4), which is not too bad considering its Shanghai and the fact that the establishment its quite a posh place. I am asked my lucky number.. 9… so it will be my very best luck if I were to taste 9 teas… mmmm.. as ever I am wary and still on full alert here. The other girls wanted to taste 11 cups- WOW… and how much will this cost? 400RMB or (£35) depending on which teas we choose. I said that I’d like just 1 cup, winching at the extortionate prices.
However as I was sat in front of the girls I couldn’t lose face as a budget traveller, we were getting on so well it seemed! Unfortunately the minimum charge would be 200RMB 20Euros that I had to pay for this taster session and I cannot just sit and watch the girls drink their teas while I have just one. At this point the situation is way too much for me, so I said to the girls and the staff that I would leave. We said our goodbyes and they wish me a good trip. I left the place feeling like I was out of my league.
However I met some travellers in Tai An and an Australian guy had heard that this is a popular scam but not normally operating from The Bund. He told me a story of how 2 Polish guys paid out 1500RMB in the same way thinking that the girls company was heading in the right direction and that it was an investment to be in their company, only to be ditched after the tea tasting, a lot poorer and it turns out the girls have a deal and essentially work for the tea house.
This was the first time in 5 weeks of China that I had experienced anything like this and as I said I did not even know it was a scam, until someone else recalled something like this to me, so can I ever really relax here without the feeling that someone is out to take my money or scam me in some way? May be it was that I had been relaxed too much. I would never have forked out or even ended up ordering any thing before knowing the full price of any thing and yet I did in the end as I was suckered into the situation with the girls that left me feeling embarrassed.
A great scam that I warn others to avoid!