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Posted by on Feb 20, 2013 in Asia, China

Scammed in China – Shanghai You SUCK

Shanghai China - Tea Ceremony Scam - Penny and William

Their names are William and Penny and they are scammers.

I truly believe in the goodness of others. I easily place trust in strangers depend on their inherent goodness. This day in Shanghai left me feeling deflated and shaken, that those core values of trust and goodness have been scattered. I’m irritated at having been mistreated, but I’m furious with having my belief in others taken advantage of. This story may be harsh, but being truly honest – I am hurt by the events that transpired.

Shanghai China - Tea Ceremony Scam- Cups

Shanghai why do you have to be so awful to foreigners? I just don’t get it. You have a bad rep for being an overpopulated and polluted city already. You don’t have much in the way of tourist sights besides the Bund, which isn’t all that entertaining to begin with, and worse, it is crawling with scammers waiting to prey on the tourists that try to overlook your bad reputation and enjoy your city. But no, you couldn’t leave us be could you Shanghai? No, you had to go and be a terrible representative for your country and tarnish its reputation further. You suck Shanghai.

Shanghai, China- The Bund

I was walking along the Bund all willy-nilly having no plans for my day in Shanghai. I had no plans because plans are hard to make for a city such as Shanghai. I was staying near the people’s square and the night previous had an incredible time ordering soup from a local stall and communicating entirely through sign language and smiles. I had a great start to my 24 hours in Shanghai. That was until I made it to the Bund the next day.

William and Penny (their English names) asked me to take their photo while I was wandering aimlessly around the Bund. I had no plans other than to meander and enjoy the atmosphere. But encountering these two turned an uneventful day into a memorable one, if only for the mistrust of locals it instilled in me. We started speaking after I snapped their photo. Their English was clear and delightfully pleasant for me. I knew most locals felt uncomfortable conversing in English and my Mandarin is non-existent so I had expected a day of introspective silence, which means I make jokes in my head and laugh out loud labelling myself as the crazy foreigner to the locals. I’m always ok with being alone while travelling. Today I wished I’d had another to help me avoid the scammers because apparently my internal danger warnings were on holidays. I was about to be scammed. You suck Shanghai.

Shanghai China - Tea Ceremony Scam- tea

But William and Penny were friendly and inquisitive of my being in Shanghai. Penny was an out of town cousin of William’s visiting Shanghai for the week. After 5 minutes of chitter chatter, they said they were heading to a tea ceremony and immediately extended the invitation to me. I was reluctant at first, I didn’t really WANT to go, so I asked how much it would cost and they seemed to avoid the question and I wasn’t thinking I was being scammed so just put it off as them not understanding my question. But I had no plans and these two seemed friendly (don’t all scammers?) so I joined in. Off we went, left turn, right turn, down side streets and into the ‘real Shanghai’, as William called it: Bicycles and carts filling the lanes, laundry hanging from above. Any presence of English labelled street signs disappeared; I was lost in the back streets. You suck Shanghai.

And just as quickly we came to a stop in front of a non-descript building. Nothing, to my untrained eye, could distinguish thing building from the one next. This REALLY should of set off some bells in my head, but I figured all the best places were always non-descript on the exterior making their interior so much more appealing. So I entered, against my now slightly tingling alarm bells. No obvious sign labelled this building as a location for a traditional tea ceremony, but as the door was slid sideways and we were ushered in my girls in red satin shirts (who’s plaid undershirt and jeans I could see). I should of listened more carefully to my gut instinct that all wasn’t what it was trying to seem. What respectable tea ceremony lets their non-traditional clothes show underneath? You suck Shanghai.

Shanghai China - Tea Ceremony Scam- lady scammer

Does this sign say “You’re being scammed” in mandarin? Probably does….

A young girl entered our undecorated side room and began the ceremony. It was presented in Mandarin, but during the breaks in speech William translated for me – she could have been talking to them about how much money they’d take from me. Jerks. Three small teacups (and by small I mean miniature) were placed on the table and washed with boiling water. I thought the cups appeared utterly small, but I figured that was just part of the traditional ceremony – tiny sips right? Or in reality – another way to scam me. You suck Shanghai.

Shanghai China - Tea Ceremony Scam- exploding flower

Blah blah blah, the ceremony continued. Pouring tea from up high, explanations of Chinese history, tea attributes, and some pumpkin seeds. Then the bill arrived. When I asked the price prior to accepting the invitation and didn’t get an answer I expected it to cost about $10 tops. My bowl of soup the night before had cost less than 5 RMB ($1). But no, being scammed doesn’t come that cheap – and they charged me over RMB 500. Are you kidding. I saw the bill and scoffed! I started at William and Penny in disbelief – telling them I didn’t carry that kind of money in Shanghai! They both ordered tea for themselves and tried to get me to buy some but I wasn’t having it. $60 for a tea ceremony and then $50 for a tiny tin of tea? I’m not THAT completely duped  I charged my visa cause I didn’t have that kind of cash for a 24 hour trip to Shanghai. I glared incredulously at these two seemingly nice locals who were blatantly scamming me. I was furious but didn’t say anything outwardly because I just don’t have it in me to make such an accusation without full knowledge I was being scammed. I still wasn’t POSITIVE I was being scammed, maybe this stuff just costs more than I’d EVER be willing to spend on it? You suck Shanghai.

Shanghai China - Tea Ceremony Scam- tea in cup

They walked me back to the main street of Nanjing and said our fair wells. If only I’d known I had just been scammed I would of overcome my internal fury and start screaming on the streets. But no, I walked away feeling furious and upset with myself for every agreeing to such an activity without first knowing the price. Not until I returned to my hostel and told the receptionist of my day did she inform me it was all a scam and I was fortunate to not of lost more money. Where were the signs in the hostel? Why hadn’t I been warmed IMMEDIATELY upon arrival at my reception of such activities?

I’m sad to say how much this negative experience ruined my thoughts on China as a country I want to explore. Before arriving I was thinking about when I could return to China to explore the South and East of the country, but now I’ve scratched China off completely. I hope to never return and it makes me terribly sad to realize how negatively I’ve taken this, but I can’t help it, I just have.

Shanghai You Suck


  1. oh my, I’m so very sorry it happened to you! 500RMB seems not THAT much in this scam (but still is a lot of money), I’ve read about people being charged up to 2000RMB!!! I was lucky to know before visiting China about this scam so when I was approached by Chinese people asking me to go to the tea ceremony with them (and each time the scenario was exactly the same, and it looks like they told you exactly the same things I had heard) I politely declined. I even wrote a blog entry about that later on, to warn people of what might happen in Shanghai…
    China isn’t my fave country either and after being there for almost 2 weeks I don’t think I’m gonna return there anytime soon. I’ve recently wrote about behaviours of local people that annoyed the hell out of me – but they weren’t all that common in Shanghai so it makes you feel any better you still were in the most “civilized” city in China 😉

  2. I’m sure if you browse a couple of articles about the target city or a travel guide you’ll find the warnings. I read about the same kind of scam in Budapest (but done by beutiful women who invite you into a bar they know). Funny this can happen to a woman too.So I’m sure this sort of scam is quite widespread.

    PS: never trust a friendly stranger?

  3. Ugh, that’s the worst!! But you are not the first (or last) person who’s gotten caught up in the Chinese tea scam.

    It just sucks that tourist scams like this are so prevalent these days! I always try to read up on common scams when I’m traveling to new cities – you’d be amazed at how elaborate some of them are!
    Amanda’s Recently Posted..The Truth About BelizeMy Profile

  4. Wow, what a nasty thing to happen during your trip. I was recently in Turkey and read up on all the scams they had there. People get really creative with these things! I would’ve taken it pretty badly too. Hopefully your next trip goes better!
    Jessica of HolaYessica’s Recently Posted..Where in Spain Wednesday – Madrid’s Crystal PalaceMy Profile

  5. Ohh, I’m really sorry to see this. As a local Shanghainese,I’m annoyed by those scammers too. I fully understand your feeling, but hey,look,this country is still growing. Many people, including my friends and my teachers, are trying to make the city better. We love this city even though we know it’s not perfect. So please don’t judge too fast. I guarantee that not every Shanghainese is a fraud.

  6. OK so I thought I was an experienced traveller- 50 plus countries- never had a real scam until today- but luckily I read your post and went back to Hectometer Champs Elysees- not hard to find, and got most of the money back- after all, the tea was excellent, and the small amount finally paid well worth it. What I would really like is to contact the ” student” scammers, as they would make excellent wine salespeople, and that’s what I make… wine! So if by any chance, one of you lovely young kids read this, please contact me for a real opportunity…… as per my business card.
    BTW, read all of the above before you go out with young students in China, or caveat emptor!!

  7. I had my bad day today, got scammed for $400 aud in pub for drinks that I didn’t order because of my Buffy body they threatened to beat me… I absolutely hate this city now , it looks so pretty but has te most disgusting people ever seen and the guy who scammed me was being proud of the fact that he studied in aus , should ban these people and police should take some more responsibility here for tourist .. More than the loss of money I was scared of the consequences I could have been if I didn’t fulfill their demand

  8. where was this Peter?

    • Nanjing east road. it’s a lane opposite to giordani showroom I don’t remember the name of the pub as I was really scared and was just concerned about safely leaving from there and since then I am actually scared to even go out of the hotel room alone .. I guess this was good lesson to be learnt I would recommend anyone to not carry any credit card or debit card . Try leaving your hotel keys at reception as these guys also kept on asking me to show my hotel card( luckily I had left it as reception before I went out) and just carry a small amount of cash . Hope travelers are more careful and none has to suffer like this to learn their lesson.

  9. We met the guy on the left last week at Yuyuan Park, but his name was Lucas and he was with his “cousin” Amy. We fell for the scam hook, line and sinker despite my early reservation. My partner easily persuaded me and encouraged me not to be a spoilsport.

  10. I see things haven’t changed at all since I lived there! A rule of thumb in China is anyone approaching you feigning friendliness is most likely a scammer or at the very least trying to sell you something. Just be careful accepting strangers invitations out of nowhere, ESPECIALLY in a big city like Shanghai. Like cities everywhere, it attracts plenty of desperate and unscrupulous people.

    On the bright side, it is extremely safe. The guy who said he’s scared to leave his hotel room… seriously? Violent crime is nearly nonexistent. Just keep your valuables in the hotel or even better at home, carry a little cash and no jewelry (although tbh in Shanghai it really doesn’t matter).

    Source: 15 years travelling Asia, Africa, Europe, Middle East.

  11. God, this is exactly what happened to me and my husband two days ago in Shanghai! And the guys in the picture are the same- the one on the left said his name was Lucas and…he was wearing the same clothes!! Now I’m laughing at this experience and -forgetting the money (of course an exorbitant price for 12 miniature cups of tea)I try to take out as many positives from this event as possible- I learned that nobody can be trusted after a couple of minutes of conversation and you need be careful when meeting new people and not so enthusiastic about getting to know new culture through socializing with the locals. And I hope the tea ceremony was at least true 😉 I mean all the facts about tea and its healing properties… Stupid me- maybe a bit wiser after this bitter experience. PS They didn’t allow us to take any pictures (which was quite strange for me)- maybe they saw your pics on the net and decided not to allow people take nay pictures….

  12. Hi, Chrystal. My name is Drew.
    You are wondering how Shanghai can be so terrible to foreigners and I am wondering how a foreigner could be working with Tea scammers in Beijing!
    Recently I had a similar experience with a tea scam. I am posting it everywhere on the internet that I possibly can! Their party of scammers included a foreigner whom could speak mandarin chinese fluently. They scammed me for a lot of cash.
    I hope one day this scam is stamped out and nobody else gets scammed anymore but it doesn’t seem likely, as the chinese police dont seem to care enough about it!

    If you want to read about my experience go to

    You can search – Da Shan Qing Tea house – and read about my experience. Its also posted on other sites on the internet so you might be able to google search, it as well.
    Enjoyed reading your experience and glad to know I am not the only one that got sucked into this con!


  13. I was scammed by these two as well! I enjoyed reading this I can relate. I can tell in your tone how upset you were. We share the same experience. Many, many peole have. It’s so disheartening and disappointing that they treat us with an apparent friendliness, only to fool us. We’re nothing but walking pinatas and they can’t wait to whack us and collect their earnings. It’s humiliating. This happened to me last week in Shanghai.

    I’m with you, I never want to return.

  14. Thank you for sharing your scam story. I’m glad my girlfriend and I weren’t the only ones who were fleeced. We’re finding story after story after story.

    We were in Beijing and were scammed for US $300. We got $120 back after getting the police involved.

    The police are lackadasical about doing anything with these scammers. They need to arrest all of them and give them lenghthy jail sentences. This is unacceptable in a civilized society. But you know what? The officers we spoke to told us “If they give some money back, We don’t pursue arresting them”
    Pretty much they are free to scam as many people as they want, as long as they give money back to the people they’ve scammed.

    It really angers me to think these people can do anything they want and get away with it. It makes me disgusted with chinese authorities and China as a whole.

    I understand its their country and they have different rules but this is like robbing someone. Don’t you think?

  15. So sorry this ruined your trip. A recommendation always to follow, no matter the country, is always ask the price in advance. I always play with a smile to avoid them taking me for fool. It works.

  16. My husband and I were scammed by “Lucas” or William March of 2015. We were on a cruise and in Shanghai for a few hours so we were delighted to join this young couple for this special ceremony. Ahhh there is no fool like an old fool. We are in our late 60’s, have traveled the world and still fell for their charm. They were excellent actors and we paid $dearly for their act.

  17. My friend and I were approached by 2 girls in Shanghai, May 1st. Luckily we were headed back to our hotel, and when I heard the magic words, WE’RE GOING TO NICE SHOW AT A TEA HOUSE, I knew it was time to just get away from them NOW. I had read about the scams, just thought they always hit on men. I think the Chinese travel guides should warn tourists


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