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The Beijing Tea Scam (and a few others)


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(here we go about passing around unconfirmed and potentially scaremongering info again, but i heard a few years ago 2 korean girls got into a 'heiche' in wudaokou and were never heard from again...)

I was told that it was one Korean student who was attending Tsinghua University. Supposedly, her body was eventually found somewhere. Never could find any stories about it when I checked Google, though.

When I lived in Beijing, I almost always took black cars when going somewhere from my apartment. Of course, these were the same guys (and one woman) who hung out in front of the complex all the time so I got to know them pretty well. They usually cost slightly more than a regular taxi but I found it hard to turn them down. Besides, no waiting.

I figure that there's really not much difference in the event I got into an accident. Regular taxi or black car, there'd be no one to sue anyway if I got hurt. This is China.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Someone attempted to tea scam me yesterday. I was walking in the tourist area near Tiananmen Square and a woman approached me from behind asking if I speak English. We had a little conversation, where are you from, etc. It seemed too odd that someone would approach me like that and just instantly become my friend, so I was very hesitant from the beginning.

She told me we should go get some coffee and talk, so I continued walking. I told her I had to be somewhere in two hours and didn't have enough time. Sure enough, she walks right into a tea shop. I told her I had to go, but she insisted I had plenty of time. I just walked out and she followed. She said we can talk through email, but I could tell this gesture was insincere as she never even asked me for an email address.

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I wouldn't think every time a (over)friendly stranger asks to grab something to eat/drink it is a scam. I would say to just use your head and judge for yourself the situation you are in. If YOU suggest a place and the other person refuses on all grounds, then consider it suspicious.

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I had a similar mindset, if she led me to a Starbucks or a place that I know I can pay at immediately and get my coffee or tea, then I would be willing to meet someone.

However, I would like to hear from anyone who's met someone on the street and within a minute suggests you get some "coffee", leads you upstairs to a corner of a department store that we have to go to "right away" because they close over lunch time soon, and also when she suggests to get "coffee" she brings you to a tea house. It just seemed way too suspicious especially that I was in a tourist area.

Although, honestly, I would like to hear from someone who had a positive encounter.

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I wouldn't think every time a (over)friendly stranger asks to grab something to eat/drink it is a scam.

I would.

In China, near a tourist area, I would think that any time a stranger approaches me to talk, they either (i) want to practice English, or (ii) want my money, likely through a scam.

In this, China is not really that much different than other places around the world.

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  • 4 months later...

I'm curious as to what people think about this, although my choice of where to post it probably indicates my opinion quite clearly.

There's a bloke (and if there's one I suspect there's more of them) hanging around places with a high concentration of foreigners, doing quick three minute sketches of them without asking or being asked, and then handing it over. In some cases at least he'll get some money for this - to what extent it's him suggesting a payment and to what extent it's the recipient I don't know.

I happened to be sitting behind him and his lady friend once, and the conversation made it pretty clear this was a commercial operation - how much might you make for one sketch, where are the best places to work, etc (the best places are apparently KFC and McD's at Sanlitun - lots of foreigners coming and going).

Now for me, I class this as somewhere between a nuisance and a scam. It's an attempt to get cash out of people by handing over an unasked for 'gift' and creating some sense of obligation. However I've also seen people leaving one of the cafes he works at make a point of going back over to him to thank him.

So, do I start telling cafe staff they really shouldn't let the guy work there (I know they're not getting a cut, I heard that part of the conversation too) as he's a pest, or should I just let him get on with it?

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There's a bloke (and if there's one I suspect there's more of them) hanging around places with a high concentration of foreigners, doing quick three minute sketches of them without asking or being asked, and then handing it over. In some cases at least he'll get some money for this - to what extent it's him suggesting a payment and to what extent it's the recipient I don't know.

Happend to me and a friend in Shanghai. We recognized him instantly, but waited like 10 minutes and then told him he could stop painting. No problem, he went away.

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The unasked-for gifting with expectance of pay can be annoying, but at the same time, a guy randomly starting to sketch you can be charming. It is a form of art, after all. Also, it's not an excuse, but in other countries similar tricks are done in worse ways. Tourist in Amsterdam is handed a little bag of crumbs to feed to the pigeons, after feeding the giver returns and demands a ridiculous amount of money for the crumbs. On high school trip to Rome, a classmate was given a bracelet, fastened with a knot too tight to get off, and only then was quoted the price, a ridiculous amount of money. On holiday in Rome, a man insisted on selling, no giving me a rose, and after finally pressing it into my hands, insisting it was a gift, demanded my boyfriend to pay for it.

A different approach: in New York, a poet asked if he could read me & family some poems. Sure, we said. They were alright. After reading he said Well, I live off donations... But that was to be expected. Also he asked first, and it was a form of art.

In the end, I'd leave it to the cafes themselves. If the sketchers get annoying like the rose people in Rome, they'll get thrown out; if they manage to make it a funny/charming experience for the tourists, like the poet in New York, it's not a problem if they stay.

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  • 2 months later...

This is just a friendly reminder that the scam is still in place and people are still getting scammed.


(lengthy so caution, copied from my blog):

..... I walked around looking at

various shops and stores. when all of a sudden....

This extremely beautiful girl calls out to me in near-

perfect English... "Hello, sir. Such a handsome suit you are

wearing! My name is Miss Feng, and I just wanted to say that

I admire a man who dresses so well. Most men dress in jeans

around here. I can see that you are a man of great taste!"

I was more than a little weary about her, so I made sure

both her hands were where I could see them. She continued

her barrage of flattery on me:

"I cannot guess where you are from, because I have never

seen such a handsome gentleman as you before. I guess you

came from heaven to bless China with all of your miracle and


Ok, that was just too corny for me. I told her I was busy

and had to leave, but she would have none of it.

"Sir, please. Perhaps I can offer you a deal that you cannot

refuse. I must confess that I am strongly attracted to you

and I would normally never make this kind of offer to any

man, let alone a foreigner. But I sense you are different.

Can I buy us a pot of tea so we can discuss this further?

There is a tea shop just across the road."

Ok, weird.

So anyways, I obviously declined her offer for a pot of tea,

but then she got on her hands and knees and begged me,

"Please, sir. Look at me. I am not a poor girl. I have a

good job." Then she opens up her purse and shows me a lot of


"I am not after anything from you. I am not after money at

all. I just want to be your friend. I would be honoured to

meet your aquaintence. I will pay you for your time. 100?

200? Name the price."

I was really embarrassed, and a few other foreigners were

like "Man, don't be an ass, take her for a pot of tea man!

Give the girl a chance!"

"Ok ok ok, let's go and have tea."

So she takes me to this tea house and we discussed different

teas, and I asked her if she liked lemon tea. "No, sorry

it's too sour for my tongue."

"Well, how about English tea? With milk and sugar?"

Again, she shook her head. "No, I don't like the tea from

India. Let's just get simple Chinese tea, ok?"

Sure, whatever. I didn't mind. Tea is tea, right?

So we had this great long talk (or rather, she did) about

life, love, money, and the differences between Beijing and


As it was getting towards my meeting time, I told her I had

to go to the washroom to get ready for my meeting.

So I washed my face, came out, and she was gone.

I asked the boss where the girl was, and he said "She got a

phone call then ran out quickly. She didn't pay for the


Ok, I'll pick it up. I was going to anyways, as the menu was

all 20-30 yuan anyways and not expensive. (3-4 dollars for a

pot of tea)

So the guy looks at what I later found out was his wife and

said in very clear English "4500 dollars."


After I stopped laughing, I said "Sorry, I thought I heard

you said 4500 dollars. Do you mean 45 yuan?"

"No, I said tea is 4500 American dollar one pot."

I then started speaking Chinese.

"Do you know who I am? Can you read this card?" (I pulled

out my old security license)

I pointed to the part where it says "Issued by the Ministry

of Public Safety and Police Commission", tapping on the word

"police" (hoping he'd fall for it)

His eyes widened then said "Oh oh oh! No 4500 dollar. 4500

yuan! Hahaha sorry I am wrong!"

Now, 4500 Chinese yuan is still like 800 dollars. So no go

on this one.

I flipped open my phone, and asked him (in Chinese) "Are the jails in

China clean?"

He didn't say a word.

"Think very carefully, and now tell me a better price. Last


In English, very slowly, he said:

"250 Yuan. Is how much I must pay girl. I lose money on tea!

Please, sorry!"

I motioned for him to sit down at a table, and I sat down

with him. "How much do you pay for this amount of tea?

(pointing at the tea pot)"

"Maybe 20 yuan."

"So that is how much I will give you. You will not pay the

girl. If I see her again on this street, she will go to


I threw him (literally) a 20 yuan-note and walked quickly to

the location of my job interview.

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I've been approached by tea scammers before, twice in one day actually, when I was down at 王府井 last summer. I did what I always do when Chinese people suddenly appear out of nowhere and try and initiate a conversation in English, I keep on speaking Chinese and claim I don't know English. Sometimes, because of my half-subcontinental looks, I'm able to convince them that I'm actually 新疆人, at which point many of them lose their interest. If they don't believe me, I start talking to them in Norwegian until they go away. That never fails.

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Apparently calling the police will do no good at all, this happened to a friend and he managed to bargain down to half of what they wanted at first, thats the best you can hope for im told.

Did the police actually show up and negotiate between your friend and the owner? I would hope common sense would prevail, and in the case of a 4,500 kuai bill he wouldn't settle for 2,250.

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no i dont think the police was called, my sister who speaks fluent chinese was talking to tea house people (he called her when this happened), she didnt seem to have much faith in the police, apparently if they have the price printed on the menue getting the police involved becomes complicated, and there are tea's that are actually in the 1,000-5,000 rmb price range, so they couldave been serving him very high-end tea for that matter. i think he ended up paying around 1,000 quai. this happened in 2007 , it would be interesting to find out if the government did some cracking down on this before the olympics.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Does anybody know how much such a tea ceremony is supposed to cost?

my story:

My parents were approached by a couple of tea scammers. After talking a while, they were stopped by police, certainly accusing them to be tea scammers - the tea guys told them that the police accused them to be "fake guides" and made them confirm they know each other because they know me when I was in BJ and whatever... so my parents called me to tell me that i shall "know" these guys. I told them that there was a lot of scam around forbidden city etc. and that they should NOT go drink tea with anybody or go for art exhibitions etc. (they had not come to the tea part yet)

What I learned later was that police took one of them, leaving my parents with the other, desperate guy. What would he do? of course suggest to have a tea ceremony! what would my parents do? of course agree in order to relax the weird situation :clap

Well in the end they were asked 2000 but had only 200 with them, so they paid that amount. I guess it was not so hard for them to get out of that for only 200 because of the former police involvement.

So apparently police is starting to act against these scams - which on one hand may be a good thing, on the other hand it consequently means that from know on you have to justify yourself if, as a chinese, you hang out at those places with foreigners - what a sad world.

Anyway, we have heard so much about this tea ceremonies, but still don't know what would be a reasonable price - between 20rmb and 5000 US$ :)

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still don't know what would be a reasonable price - between 20rmb and 5000 US$

I doubt it's very much - I got one for free in Dalian.

But really, since this is a scam, I'm sure they use the cheapest tea possible - probably not even worth 1 RMB.

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  • 7 months later...

I have two experiences:

1. Shenzhen

I was approached by two young girls at the book store in Shenzhen Luohu. They wanted to know if I wanted to teach English. ( no ). Then they asked if I wanted to go to see their school. They were English and Mandarin teachers there. I didn't feel unsafe so I went. I did feel they had some agenda, but who doesn't? The school is right in the Shenzhen Stock Exchange building. They showed me around, it was indeed a neat language school. (Mandarin, English, Japanese).

One girl left shortly, although they both previously said they had free time. So I chatted with another one in Mandarin, and she corrected my pronunciation (she made a good point actually). Eventually she asked me what kind of Mandarin class I want to enroll in (two, three people or private). I said I am not interested is paid classes, so she immediately lost interest and I left.

In the end, it turned out to be a sweet Chinese way to get legitimate business going. She actually later wrote me email praising my Mandarin (Chinese flattery I am sure).

2. Dongguan

After leaving Keyuan garden I was approached by a young girl. She spoke very basic English. I started talking to her in Mandarin and she got visibly confused. Did she expect non-mandarin English-only speaker? So I asked her where she learned English, and she said she was student. Where? There was a considerable delay, eventually she said some name, not in in Dongguan. And after that she quickly left.

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Might it be that the tea scam has come to qq aswell ? I have sometimes been chatted up by girls asking me this question :

哦,请问大哥平时喜欢喝铁观音吗? As it seems that she asks me if i like to drink Tie Guanyin tea and that right away after saying hi to me it seems kind of weird. As i got asked this some months ago when I just started to study chinese I answered something which must have confused her so much she never dared to talk to me anymore so I have no idea what would have followed if I would have been able to talk more to her.

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