The Shay Rebellion | Christopher Shay

Beijing: Dec. 27th

I’m a bit behind, so please pretend I posted this in early January.

I’d been had. I was so pissed off at myself that I was feeling a little nauseous. I mean was just trying to be friendly. How could I be so gullible? It was the early evening, and I walked around Beijing angrily, unable to focus on anything. I just kept walking—as I tend to do when I’m upset. I was getting close to where I was staying, and I was just starting to feel a bit better when I stepped in dog shit. I wiped my shoes clean, went inside, and started to grade papers. Right away, I discovered that a talented and friendly student had plagiarized.

I peered through the smog at the Mao portrait overlooking Tiananmen Square. I was thinking about how good Mao’s complexion looks in the painting when a couple from Wuhan interrupted my thoughts.
“Oh, hello,” I replied.
“Where are you from?”
“The states, from Portland, Oregon. How ‘bout you?”
“Wuhan,” the twenty-something year old man answered.
By sheer coincidence, I had recently read the Wuhan wikipedia entry, and I showed off my wikiknowledge. They seemed impressed. Hell, I was impressed at how much I remembered.
“We’d like to practice our English. We study it in school, but we have so few chances to speak to a native speaker. Can we come with you?”
I was on vacation, but I legitimately enjoy teaching people English. Plus, I was happy to have some company. We walked back across the square, and they recommended we go this “culture street” that has over seven hundred years of history, but is about to be torn down. I’ll surely be back in Beijing, and the really touristy sites will still be there, but it could be my last opportunity to see the “culture street.” After a couple of blocks, they said they were tired and wondered if I wanted to stop have tea with them. Without any real Winter clothing, I was visibly shivering; a cup of oolong to warm me up sounded wonderful. We went to a tea place and sat down. The waitress wanted to know if we wanted to do a full tea ceremony. “Rad,” I thought to myself. I really wanted to learn about different teas and the proper ways to drink them. After asking the couple, we enthusiastically agreed. The three of us had lovely conversation. I learned about Chinese history, their favorite English movies, and their family histories. They even complimented my Chinese pronunciation (I never told them I was taking lessons).

Then we got the bill.

I’m not going to tell you how much it was, because it’s too embarrassing. In U.S. dollars, it isn’t too shocking, but in Beijing I could’ve hired a full-time assistant to hit a gong every time I said something profound for the rest of my trip. The couple looked furious. They yelled at the waitress in Mandarin. They didn’t have a lot of money either; they were students after all. But after a heated exchange, the bill didn’t change. I didn’t have enough money on me. I gave the tea place all the cash I had. The student from Wuhan put the money on his dad’s credit card and said I could pay him back after we found an ATM. They were so trusting. After multiple ATMs didn’t work, I really wanted to give up. But looking at the nice couple, I just felt so guilty. I really didn’t want them to pay the burden. It really wasn’t THAT much money. After multiple ATMs, my card finally worked, and I was able to pay back my new friends from Wuhan. We exchanged email addressed and lamented our bad luck. I shook hands with both of them and walked away.

Then, it hit me. I’d been had.

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4 Responses

  1. helen says:

    my heart dropped at the end.

  2. Alex says:

    I know locals in Beijing that refuse to talk to strangers or even answer questions asked to them by people they don’t know on the street. I think they are paranoid, but scams do take place some times.

    And Tiananmen/Forbidden city is the epicenter of these kind of swindles.

    The “foreign students want to practice their English in a tea house” scam is straight out of the book. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to help you. Really, mainland China (and especially Beijing) are filled with really really nice people, I hope this didn’t affect your perceptions. There are people scamming tourists in every city from Cairo to Berlin to Washington D.C.

  3. schneider says:

    Oh that sucks, thats one of the oldest scams too. But I guess becuase it works so well! Happy to see you updating your blog again

  4. Tara says:

    Ugh. What an awful feeling! Reminds me of when I got my purse stolen out of my backpack while riding a bus to work in Kathmandu. The guys who took it kindly offered me a seat before they took off with everything. I didn’t even realize it until two hours later. I guess sometimes all it takes is that one moment of letting down your guard… yuck. It makes me sad that there are people out there that do things like that.

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