Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Shanghai scam with tea ceremony

Tuesday was a pretty day. This time we had no problems using the metro system to get downtown to Peoples Square. The map from Mil helped Bill figure out a different route that did not require the number 7 line. I loved the big buildings in downtown Shanghai; so many different styles of architecture, many of which are ultra-modern in appearance and very dramatic. We exited the subway in downtown Shanghai and were immediately stopped by an 85-year-old couple asking directions to the pedestrian shopping road. They were on a 4-month cruise from Singapore to Vancouver, Canada. We couldn't help them with directions; hope they eventually found someone who could. At the first corner we encountered there were huge buildings and on the ground levels were dealerships for Porsche on one corner, Ferrari on another and Bentley on the other corner. There must be some serious money in Shanghai.

Check out how heavily laden the bicycle is in the photo on the left. (Click on photo to enlarge) Hope that is an electric motor assisted bicycle. Her legs must be solid muscle.

Near one very different looking building (the Theater of the Arts) a young twenty-something local couple asked us to take their photo. This struck up a conversation. The young man spoke excellent English; the young girl, not so much. They called themselves Alex and Pei-Pei and claimed they were brother and sister. Uh….yeah….okay. What about the 1 child per family policy of China? Alex said that his parents had 3 children and that Pei-Pei was the youngest at 22 years of age; but that now people can only have 1 child per family. That didn't quite add up in my mind because it seemed that the 1 child policy had been in effect much longer than 22 years, but I let it slide. Then Alex asked us to join them at a nearby tea house for a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. Okay, now we knew for certain that this was a scam.

I had read about this scam when researching for this trip and had explained it to Bill, but we decided to play along and see where it went. This scam is extremely common in Shanghai. The deal is that a local person (usually a young, attractive person) initiates conversation with a tourist and then invites the tourist to join him/her at a local restaurant. After a meal or drinks, the tourist is presented with an enormous bill for whatever was served. That is when the local young person suddenly realizes he/she has left their money at home and the tourist has no choice except to pay the ridiculous bill for what was consumed. Bill told Alex we would join them for the tea ceremony but that we have very little money and could not afford to pay much. Alex insisted that would be no problem. So off we headed to the tea house.

The tea ceremony was interesting and I'm very glad we had this experience. The 4 of us were escorted into a small room and seated around a unique table. A young woman in a traditional red silk jacket entered and prepared the first tea. She spoke only Chinese and explained each step. Alex translated for us. I got out the camera and she told Alex that no photos are allowed. She filled 4 tiny tall tea cups and 4 tiny short tea bowls and poured the hot tea over the tiny tea pot that would be used. The first tea prepared is never consumed; the first tea is used to heat and ritually cleanse the tea cups and tea pot. Alex then selected 4 types of tea to be prepared. A traditional Chinese tea ceremony has a minimum of 4 types of tea and usually there are 6, 7 or 9 different types of tea…..depending on how many people are participating in the tea ceremony.

The girl deftly emptied the first tea from the various tea bowls using wooden tongs. Then she ceremoniously moved the filled tiny tea pot in large circular motions, without spilling a drop. Then she poured the tea into a serving container. As she poured, she raised the tea pot well over her head twice as the tea was pouring into the serving container. Then she poured the tea from the serving container into the tiny tea bowls. The tall tea bowls were presented to each of us to sniff. The tiny tall tea bowls are called smelling bowls and are ceremonial; you do not drink from the tall bowls. Then each of us was presented with a filled tiny tea bowl and instructed how to hold the bowl. Men hold the bowl differently from women. Men tuck their fingers down and women are supposed to hold their 2 outer fingers outward. Each person is supposed to drink 3 sips from their tea bowl; then that bowl is finished even if tea remains in it.

The whole process was repeated 3 more times as we consumed the 4 teas. Each smelled and tasted totally different. One was very interesting as it was a whole bud of tea which was unopened. It looked like a bud of a flower that had a hard outer covering. This particular tea was prepared in a tall clear stemmed glass. As the hot water was poured over the bud, it sank to the bottom of the glass and began to soften and open. Soon a white flower began to emerge and it stood upright; then a red part formed at the bottom. The hostess then added tiny yellow pieces of tea to the glass and swirled it, causing it to look like pale yellow snow swirling around the tall white flower with the red base. It was beautiful! This special tea was called Fragrant Flower Tea. As the flower was opening the hostess went out of the room and came back with 3 bowls of pumpkin seeds that were dyed 3 different colors. I ate 2 of the purple pumpkin seeds but Bill refused to try any.

After we finished the final flower tea, another woman came into the ceremony room and presented Bill with the invoice for the tea ceremony. She wanted about 1,000 RMB which would be about $150 USD. Bill reminded Alex that he had already warned him that we did not have
a lot of money and we could not afford to pay our half of that high a bill. Alex said they would take a credit card, but Bill told him no. Bill gave him 300 RMB and said that was all the RMB we had to spend for this occasion. Alex paid the difference and we left. We took a photo with Alex and his 'sister' Pei-Pei and we walked away toward the museum. We are absolutely certain that after we left then Alex and Pei-Pei went back to the tea house and collected everything that Alex paid them, plus whatever their share would be from the 300 RMB that we paid. That is how the scam typically works. The person who brings in the tourist shares in the take that the restaurant/bar gets from that tourist. Anyway, the whole experience was worth the 300 RMB (about $45 USD) to us and we knew it was a scam all along, so we did not feel ripped off.

After the tea ceremony scam we walked a few blocks to the Shanghai Museum. The architecture of this building is symbolic of basic Chinese thoughts of heaven and earth. The round top represents the heavens; the open arch on top represents the sun; and the square lower structure represents the earth or ground. This museum is free and it is fantastic. We saw unbelievably intricate bronze and gold items that were produced by the Chinese as far back as 13th century B.C. It was just incredible. The jade carvings were also very impressive. This museum is very large and is 5 stories of exhibits. You could devote days or weeks to visiting this museum. After a few hours we were tired and our aching feet sent us back to the metro to return to the hotel.

This was a very good day.

1 comment:

  1. I got the same experience.... I hate those shanghai people...


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