TRAVEL TIP FOR THE DAY:
Read up on scams you can possibly encounter in the destination you’re visiting.
We as travelers have had our fair share of misfortunes, but I guess we just like looking at the brighter side of things in general.
Here’s our story:
Shanghai, March 2009, we had just flown from Manila on a red-eye flight, checked-in, caught some sleep and headed outdoors as soon as light broke in the city.
It was my first time in China, and one of the things I like reading up on before I go to a destination is how to adapt to their culture. The basic DO’s and DONT’s in terms of language, clothing, actions. I remember reading in our guidebook that to be invited to have tea was a privilege, an honor, and something you shouldn’t say no to.
Fast forward to a park in Shanghai (forgot the name), on the same day some time in the afternoon. We were taking photos when a group of students approached us and offered to take our photo.
After taking our photo, they introduced themselves and said they were students from a faraway province and were visiting Shanghai as well and invited us for tea.
Because I remembered the guidebook’s tip, I said yes without thinking much. After all, I’m usually very trusting with people since I’ve just been blessed with good and happy experiences on the road.
So, the group brought us to this tea house and in on a private room. I don’t know if they said no photo taking was allowed, but upon checking the photos now, it seems I don’t have one photo of the tea session.
The truth was, we enjoyed our time inside the teahouse. We were given a menu (with pricey details) and we all ended up getting 1 kind of tea each. As we sipped our teas, the group gave us background stories of where that tea came from and other interesting trivias. To be honest, that time at the teahouse gave us enough energy to go on. Having slept so little that day, the tea really served us our caffeine boost. When the bill came, we were asked to pay PHP 1800 each for the tea! They ended up billing each of us of everybody’s tea! And it was just 5 cups of tea! Still, we didn’t think we’ve been scammed because the “students” also gave the same amount.
At the end of the session, we even took a photo with them!
It was only after our trip that Charlie saw something in YouTube. It’s this American who takes videos of the scams in China, and apparently, this “Can we have tea?” style is one big scam in the country. Upon realizing this, we didn’t really feel bad much because:
1) We were kinda lucky. Others were asked to pay USD100 up. Ours was relatively “cheaper” than the rates we see online. Besides, we got our roundtrip airfare for PHP 1800 only during a seat sale! Yeah, same price as our tea for a Manila-Shanghai-Manila flight!
2) In fairness, effort was given by these people. They gave us interesting stories at each sip. Whether the stories were true or not, the fact is, we were entertained. I’d have this any day than thieves literally getting your stuff then running away.
3) The teas really helped us a lot to go through the day that time. I was honestly very sleepy and that invite was so timely!
We just considered it as experience – and paying much higher than we should have for it. You can say it’s a scam in the sense that they were not truthful to their real goals, but hey, hotels, restaurants, tours, etc charge you much higher than you should pay for many, many times.
BUT of course, we didn’t take this EXPERIENCE lightly. While we did not feel hatred for these people we met, I made sure to learn from this experience. And that’s how I started RESEARCHING ON SCAMS PER DESTINATION.
From then on, I would always search the net for possible scams in a country I’m visiting. And it worked. Because in Beijing, I read up that in certain areas, “scammers” tend to present themselves to you as students from a faraway province and are attending an art exhibition in Beijing (and they say that if they’re really good in English, you better start doubting). They would then bring you to the art area and force you to buy paintings and other artworks at ridiculous prices. So, when I went to Tiananmen Square in Beijing, true enough, we were approached by a woman using this style. Because I knew it was a scam, I politely declined her offer and just told her I was rushing. We had not walked 100 meters when another person approached us with the same style.
So there. That’s my tip for the day.
While I am usually very trusting and I don’t believe in the idea of this being overly paranoid tourist, it won’t hurt to travel with caution. To begin your research, you can click on THIS ARTICLE.