Your needs are much more simple when you travel. Today we were both overjoyed for one simple reason. The apartment had a washing machine and we both started the day with clean pants on. Pure bliss.
We found out that we were in the middle of the university summer holidays so all the train tickets were sold out for weeks. We would have to go against our travelling code and book a flight. Chinese government bureaucracy prevents foreigners booking flight tickets on-line (the same as it prevents foreigners using WiFi in public places and Facebook anywhere in the country) so we headed out to find a travel agent.
We decided to go via People’s Park and do a bit of sightseeing on the way. In the park a young Chinese couple approached us and started conversation. This happens about 5 times a day in China, young English students love to try their second language out on westerners. We chatted for about 30 minutes, they introduced themselves as Amy and Tony and offered us help to buy our plane ticket, this was a great help because we couldn’t even buy rice, never mind plane tickets.
“We’re going to a tea ceremony, would you like to join us?” Tony asked. It was on our list of things to do in China, so we jumped at the chance.
Amy and Tony lead us through the maze-like back streets of Shanghai and eventually to a teahouse on the second floor of a building. We had a great time with our new friends, learning the history of tea in china, the traditions and how to drink tea properly.
The fun came crashing down when the bill came. ¥900 (£90)
“Oh my God, I feel sick!” Said Sarah.
We only had ¥400 on us so Amy agreed to pay the rest.
Sarah and I agreed to avoid teahouses from now on.
Tony and Amy said their good-byes and we headed to the Bund, the most famous area of Shanghai.
After half an hour of walking another young Chinese couple walked up to us, introduced themselves and asked if we wanted to go to and art exhibition with them.
It was like a double bitch-slap, both mine and Sarah’s jaw dropped at the same time as we made the same realisation.
“We’ve been scammed!”
“Oh my God, we have!”
Sarah flicked through the guidebook to the section on scams in Shanghai. They were numbered. No.1 was called ‘The Teahouse Scam.’
Sarah has two types of angry, the ‘loud type’ and the much scarier spine chilling ‘quiet type’ – Sarah was now ‘quiet angry!’
I found it particularly upsetting because we pride ourselves on the ability to spot a scam. This one was so obvious and we walked straight into it. I’m still not sure if it was steam coming out of Sarah’s ears or just a bit of heat haze off the river, but she was angry.
“Sarah, we can’t let this spoil our three days in Shanghai. We have to either put this behind us and move on, or…”
“Or what?” Sarah asked hastily.
I hesitated to think, “or we go back and see if we can find them.”
“And beat the crap out of them!”
“I was thinking more along the lines of getting our money back,” I replied.
“And them beat the crap out of them. He’s half your size and I can definitely take her!”
As we walked back I calculated in my head the odds of getting our money back. The answer I came up with was ‘zero’. But that didn’t matter; we were like two bloodhounds on the scent of wanted crims.
We walked through the park but as expected they were nowhere to be seen. Plan B was to try and retrace our steps through the maze of back streets and try and find the teahouse.
I don’t know how we did it, probably driven by anger and frustration but twenty minutes later we were stood outside the teahouse. The girl who had performed our ceremony was at the entrance, and looked like she’d seen a ghost as we walked in.
“We want to see Tony and Amy.” Ordered Sarah.
“Me no understand” the girl replied, looking terrified
“We both know you do, where are they?!”
The girl crumbled instantly.
“Ok, tea too expensive. I give you discount. ¥100 back.” She said nervously.
Reinforcements arrived, another girl ran in, obviously the boss.
“I want ¥200 back!” I demanded.
The boss lady told me to wait and made a phone call. A second after she’d pressed the green call button I heard a phone ring in the back room, followed by the muffled but recognisable short-tongued voice of Tony.
“He’s in the back room!” I blurted out in disbelief, “right! I want ¥300 back.”
The tea ceremony girl pulled out two ¥100 notes and handed them to me.
“And another one.” I ordered.
She reluctantly handed me the third.
We had want we came for. Well, I had what I’d come for.
“Right, get them two out here now!” demanded Sarah, “we have unfinished business.”
There was a ten-minute standoff with Sarah trying to get down the corridor to the back room whilst being blocked by the two tea scammers.
Eventually I had to step in, “ok, enough is enough. Old school rules. We’ll wait for them outside!”
This sent the two girls into a frenzy, knowing we’d tip off the people in the back room when they came out and that we’d stop any new people going in.
We hung around outside for ten minutes just for the devilment of it. Eventually I got bored so we went across the street for a cup of tea. It cost ¥4.