My first stop on my trip to China in 2015, was Beijing. It was such a surreal moment when I had finally set foot in the airport—my longed dream of visiting China was finally happening! It was about 9 PM China time when I had arrived and getting through the airport was definitely overwhelming. The airport had minimal signs written in English, and everything was in Chinese—which I definitely didn’t know how to read or speak (other than the few simple phrases wrote down from the internet). I was traveling with a lot of luggage so a cab or Uber ride would have been most convenient. But I was inspired to be adventurous by a fellow American I had met on the shuttle! He had mentioned, “part of the adventure is being adventurous.” His words really stuck with me so I decided I would take the subway into the city.
I was staying in a hotel in the center of Beijing, and by midnight I was getting sluggish due to the time difference, so I decided to head to bed early. With the help of the reception staff the next morning, they kindly directed me to the Forbidden City. But they did not give me any hints as to the scammers I might run into.
See more pictures like the one above on my Instagram: @jetsetpassport
The picture above showcases one of the most spectacular palaces within the Forbidden City that was once home to 24 imperial Chinese emperors from the Ming dynasty in 1420 to the end of the Qing dynasty in 1912. The Forbidden City is a large area of red walls and yellow glazed roof tiles located in the heart of China’s capital, Beijing. It encompasses over 980 buildings and covers 720,000 square meters (7,800,000 sq. ft.) so walking to explore the city can be exhausting for some people—luckily, I love to walk.
As I was nearing towards the end of touring the palace, I began walking towards my next destination—Jingshan Park. This park has a beautiful imperial landscape garden where you can see a bird’s eye view of the Forbidden City. (See the picture below.) On my way there, two pretty girls in their mid-twenties who spoke English and presented themselves as “students” approached me and told me I was cute, complimented me on my muscles, and asked me “where I was from?” They eagerly asked to have their photo taken with me, which was something that I had quickly gotten used to since arriving in China. I just kept telling myself, these people must think I’m a celebrity. It was quite the Justin Bieber moment if you ask me. The girls had then proceeded to ask me “where I was going” and if they could join. They asked me if I wanted to get some tea before heading up to the park. Of course, I said “yes!” There is nothing better than experiencing a traditional tea ceremony with some pretty girls, right? The girls took me to a teahouse near the Forbidden City. We were quickly escorted into a small room by our host. As we sat down one of the girls who spoke English fluently turned to me, “The host can only speak Chinese. Don’t worry, I will translate for you. I hope you don’t mind!” The menu was in Chinese, so I had no other choice. As they placed the order for all of us, I began to think about the cost of this tea ceremony since I was traveling on a budget. However, no prices were indicated on the menu so I just assumed it couldn’t be too pricey. What started as small talk turned into hours of talking and laughter.
Birds eye view from Jingshan Park – See more pictures like the one above @jetsetpassport
Not ordering for myself was my first mistake.
The ceremony was beautiful. I was so eager to learn about the history of Chinese tea and how all the teas vary. The girls did an excellent job of translating everything to me. These girls couldn’t have been sweeter I thought to myself. I was genuinely having a good time!
Not knowing Chinese was my second mistake lol
After tasting about five to six different teas within a 2 hours period, the lovely tea ceremony finally ended. And then the bill arrived. The prices were scribbled in pencil in handwriting that looked like chicken scratch—it was 800 Chinese RMB. After seeing how expensive this tea ceremony was, I sat there in complete shock for a while. Shortly the host came to pick up the payment. As I pulled out my wallet, the two girls giggled to one another and said “You’re paying, right? You’re such a gentleman.” I wasn’t able to object since I like to believe I am a gentleman and felt kinda obligated to pay after they made that statement.
Third mistake was…..
I thought to myself how I could let my guard down so quickly? I have been so cautious my whole life when traveling.
These two girls lured me in with their looks and eased me in with their sweet personalities. I never could think that they were possibly scamming me.
After paying and leaving the teahouse, they asked me if I wanted to see a music orchestra later that night. I quickly declined! And walked away.
Later I told the hotel receptionist about my experience, and she said “Yes, you may be approached by several young local girls with very good English who will offer to take you to a tea ceremony. Do not go with them! This is part of a decorative scam to trick westerners into paying overpriced amounts of money.”
Little did I know, how different this experience would turn out to be!
People always say that traveling solo is about discovering yourself. I agree 100% but I also believe most of it is about getting over your fears, such as talking to strangers. I think taking the initiative to talk to strangers leads to some of the most interesting travel memories, especially when traveling solo.
Even though this particular “tea ceremony scam” experience was one of the drawbacks of my time in Beijing I still believe good things happen when you meet/talk to strangers. I did not let this setback ruin my whole trip. Honestly, the Forbidden City lives up to its reputation. It is spectacular, elaborate and A MUST when visiting Beijing. Just avoid the scammers! (Haha)
Even the most experienced travelers can get scammed. I have traveled several countries alone and spent time with many locals throughout my trips. Every experience has been fantastic and because I chose to venture out— these experiences I’ve had have served as a source of practical advice, general awareness, and cultural/political insight for me and, in some cases, I’ve made a life-long friend out of it.
A journey on which you talk to strangers is indefinitely unique, it becomes your own un-replicable travel story. You’ll surely gain a memorable experience! You only need a few conversation starters to get things rolling so “Don’t be shy!” As Maya Angelou quoted: “A friend may be waiting behind a stranger’s face.”
Have you ever got scammed while traveling? Let me know in the comments!
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