Scam de la creme: How I got scammed by two old Chinese ladies.

There I was walking by myself in Beijing, minding my own business. I entered a giant shopping street where two Chinese women approached me. They told me they wanted to practice their English and if it might be an idea to just walk around together and talk a bit. I thought: Why not, could be fun…

We talked and laughed a bit, and I told them that I was looking to something to eat. They said, ‘might be nice to drink some coffee/tea together while eating? Then we can talk some more.’. Sounded like a plan, who knows where I might end up. We walked into a side street of the big shopping street and entered a small place with a sign above it which said ‘Coffee Bar’. Inside the walls were dark with a few art thingy’s on the wall. Once inside, we were led into a very small “private” room. I started to get a bit suspicious.

They started talking about noodles for 90 Yuan (€13,20), this is very pricey since you can get these also for 17(€2,49) and cheaper. So that’s what I said and asked for the menu. I didn’t want to be rude, so I just ordered the cheapest thing that that was on it 😛

A teapot filled with green tea for 50 Yuan (€7,30). To give you an idea, you already get a place to sleep in a hostel for 55 Yuan. Shortly after I had ordered, the two women ordered coffee. And then… then… then the check came: 200 Yuan (€29,38). If I wanted to pay that fully.

I said that I had only ordered a pot of tea of 50 and asked the women: ‘Are you going to pay as well or what?’. One of the females answered, ‘For Chinese it’s usual that the man pays’, after which she laughed. To which I replied: ‘Okay that is really nice, but I’m not Chinese and I’m not going to pay for you’. Unfortunately I had only large bills of 100 (€14,69) on me. So eventually we split the bill. After that we went our separated ways. And I was a bit annoyed and wondering whether it was really a scam or just coincidence and bad luck.

Until I walked around the same area 2 days later. And a Chinese lady, in a golden dress with fashionable big sunglasses, started talking to me. She spoke English well, and asked if she could help me since I was looking a bit disoriented. After talking for a bit she said that she wanted to ‘improve’ her English and if we could get a coffee (where did I’ve heard that before?). So I thought, ‘Okay let’s see where she is going to take me to’ and guess what… we stood in front of the same coffee bar. At that point I said: ‘No I’m not going to do this. Bye!’ and walked away with the certainty that I was fucked over the day befor.

> After that I pursued her for a bit like a detective. With a newspaper with holes to really blend in, you know the drill. Soon she had a new victim and I noticed that I wasn’t really good in following someone (see video below… excuses for not keeping the cam still during filming).


The place that I got scammed at in Beijing (somewhere near: )



Loving the weird!

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  • I fell victim to this same scam in Beijing a few days ago too, and now having looked into it I’ve discovered it’s a very common trick that probably ensnares hundreds, if not thousands, of tourists every year.

    After it happened to me I felt pretty stupid and naive, but then I’d spent a few days in Beijing by that point and the vast majority of people are helpful, kind, and trustworthy – even now I still think it’s one of the safest cities I’ve been to – so I let my guard down a bit.

    I had spent the morning in the Forbidden City, and when I came out of the back (north side) of it, my plan was to check out the view from Jingshan Park and then head to the Olympic Park. While I was just checking on my map the best subway route to Olympic Park, a young male of around 25 years approached me.

    He spoke very good English and was super friendly. He said he was studying in Beijing and wanted to practice his English, and we got talking – at this point I didn’t have any suspicion at all. I told him I was trying to find my way to Olympic Park, and he told me directions – he then said “how about we go and grab a drink and I will write it down for you?”. Sounded like a great idea to me.

    We set off walking towards the nearest metro station, about ten minutes walk to the east, when I remembered I wanted to go see the view from Jingshan Park. I said this too him, and he said “sure”, so we headed over the road.

    Once we got into the park, the first thing happened that aroused a little bit of suspicion. I wanted to walk straight up the steps to the top of the hill, which is the way most people in the park were walking. But he said, “no, that’s not the way – I will show you a different way over here”. So we walked over to the left, and we came to a little tea shop. He suggested again that we grab some tea, and he would write down the directions to Olympic Park for me.

    So we went into the tea shop. At this point I still was not really worried at all. This wasn’t some dingy little back street shop, it was a very polished, high-quality looking tea shop inside Jingshan Park, in an open area with lots of people walking past. I even said to the guy I would buy him a drink in gratitude for helping me. We went inside, and an old woman showed us to a table with air-conditioning, and brought a menu.

    However, I didn’t get a view of the menu – she gave it to the young guy. He made a couple of suggestions on which types of tea to try, and I went along with it. I couldn’t see the prices, but how bad could it be? The most I had paid for anything so far in Beijing had been 70 Yuan for a really nice meal in a lakeside restaurant, and for drink I’d spent no more than 15 Yuan on anything. So I went with it and trusted him.

    We chatted over the tea and he wrote down the directions. While we were doing this, the old woman brought over some snacks to our table – a few nuts and things like that. We weren’t told how much they costed, but still I went with it, but with suspicion building a little.

    Then he asked me what I was doing in Beijing. When I told him I was not there as a tourist, but that I had been working on an event with the Chinese Government and was now taking a few days off, there was a very obvious look of worry on his face. By now I knew something was very much out of place, and I decided to try to get out as quickly as possible.

    I told the guy that I was now in a hurry and needed to head off to Olympic Park, as time was getting short. So the woman brought the bill, and spoke with the young guy in Chinese (she didn’t speak any English). He showed the price to me on a calculator.


    Now, the conversation went something like this:

    Me: “740? 740 what?”
    Young guy: “740 RMB”.
    Me: “Are you kidding me? That is ridiculously expensive!”
    Young guy: “This is a government place. It costs more in places like this.”
    Me: “I’ve just spent three and a half hours in the Forbidden City, which is a government place. I ate and drank in there too. Nothing cost me more than 15 RMB in there.”
    Young guy: “This is a different place. I can split the bill with you.”
    [Note: he was immediately willing to split the bill. Would a young student in Beijing really be that willing to fork out £40 for tea and snacks?]
    Me: “The cost of this tea and a few snacks is more than the cost of my high-speed train ticket to Shanghai. It’s more than I have spent in Beijing so far on accommodation, food and drink combined in the last two days.”
    Young guy (again): “It is a government place – this is how much it costs here.”

    At this point, I decided to just get out of there. It was obviously a scam, and I didn’t know if there were any heavies waiting out the back to come and sort me out. I took 100 RMB out of my wallet, told them it was all I was willing to pay, gave it to them and walked out. It was still far more than the tea and snacks should have cost, but it could have been a lot worse. They put up little resistance as I left (I suspect this may have been because I had told the guy I had been doing work with the Chinese Government).

    When you are in this kind of situation, you act on impulse. I think I handled it ok, but looking back on it there are things I wish I had done differently. Firstly I wish I hadn’t given them any money at all. I am sure if I had threatened to call my Chinese colleagues, they would have backed down on the bill.

    Having said that, I’ve now read up on the scam, and it turns out I was very lucky. The same scam has cost other tourists hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of Yuan.

    It’s also clear that it is a huge operation with a vast network of scam artists and tea shops. The guy was originally going to take me to a tea shop on the way to the station, but he was more than happy to divert to Jingshan Park. I’m probably very lucky I did this, as if we’d ended up in a dodgy little side-street cafe then it would have been a lot harder to get away as easily as I did, and I have read other stories about big tattooed men coming out of a back room and things getting violent.

    So while I was seething and angry, once I had calmed down I realised I’d got away lightly, and I now consider the 100 RMB I lost (about £10) as learning money.

    A couple of days after in Shanghai, I came out of a subway station and a young Chinese woman (20 ish) asked me to take a picture of her in front of a tall building. Lots of people do this, so I wasn’t suspicious – until she started asking me questions about where I was going, and then invited me to a tea ceremony. Perhaps my experience in Beijing losing 100 RMB saved me a much bigger loss in Shanghai. Of course, I turned down her offer and walked away.

    I still had a great time in both Beijing and Shanghai, and in the most part the people there are fantastic – among the kindest and most generous-hearted of anywhere I’ve been. But of course, you get good people and bad people everywhere you go. Next time I will be a lot more vigilant.

  • Hi Alex, That’s a pretty high bill. I think you were pretty lucky indeed 🙂 will not happen again soon I guess 😉

  • Oh noooo! Het is in ieder geval een travel adventure die je super awesome kunt vertellen op verjaardagen.

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