For many travellers going to visit East Asia, a lot of online research prior explains countless scams where locals will attempt to swindle tourists out of their cash.
I’ve heard stories of non-existent travel agents, tour guides, cab drivers who deliberately travel longer distances, or to other hotels where they are paid on commission.
However the one I am going to write about today is the Asian Teahouse scam. I myself was caught up in this scam last year when I visited Beijing, China. You can read a little about the time I hitch hitched my way out of obscurity here.
The day began as a normal humid bright morning in the centre of Beijing. My friends and I were on our 2nd week travelling from England, UK and were thirsty to experience more and more cultural differences. We decided to visit the Wang Fu Jin a popular district in south Beijing famous for its peculiar snacks and unusual mementos.
In fact our lunch consisted of fried scorpions, many creepy crawlies such as bugs and worms, as well as a huge tarantula.
(A bucket of live scorpions, the man cooked them by skewering them live before deep frying them; delicious)
(The scorpions bigger and a lot more scarier brothers)
(Washed down with an oddly shaped coconut)
Eating bugs, scorpions and spiders isn’t actually a delicacy is these parts. It’s more of an attraction more than anything.
The Tea House Scam
So after a long and satisfying lunch we decided to head over to buy some merchandise to remember our odd day out. After browsing the local stalls for odd stuff to buy, I ended up purchasing a pack of playing cards with Chairman Maos face printed on each and every card (I still haven’t used the deck) we were approached by what looked like a local woman.
Except her English was next to perfect, she sounded like she had had extensive English classes and was well spoken and well mannered. This was very different to the usual ill mannered locals we had encountered and we decided to find out more about her. She told us that she was an English tutor, and that her dream was to visit the UK, where we were from.
This is a well known technique to form a connection with tourists, in order to be friend them. She then requested that we accompany her to a local tea house where we could talk a bit more as she wanted to find out more about where we were from and opportunities in England.
As we didn’t know the local area she took it upon herself to lead us to a ‘very nice popular place’. We should have noticed something peculiar when she took us on a long route through many department stores, weaving in and out of floors which were obviously out of business as some of the items looked like they have been untouched in weeks.
Eventually we ended up at a small corridor with dim lights and nothing to show that people ever we come here let alone know about a tea house. We sat down in the ancient looking store surrounded by very low light and a musty smell almost providing its own natural high.
And then it hit us. A waitress brought over the menu and we immediately knew that this was no normal place. Regular prices in Beijing is quite cheap, you could get a cup of tea for around 5Kuai, which is about 40P, however the prices here were almost 200 Kwai, £20 for one small teacup?!
(A small, rather expensive teapot)
Now that we had already arrived it was way too late to turn back, it had taken us around 10 minutes to walk here anyway especially with the charming lady insisting we try a cup.
At the end of a 30 minute session we had all spent around 100 kuai each which is about £10, netting the tea house around £50. Not bad for half an hours’ work?
We finally got away by insisting that we had no more money left, but stayed long enough just to see another attractive local walk in with 3 American tourists…