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forbidden city

Forbidden City Scam: How Two Chinese Gypsies Ripped me Off

| 17 Comments

If you follow the blog, you know that my trip to Beijing wasn’t all I’d hoped it would be. To add insult to injury, on my last day in the cold grey capital city of China, I was scammed by two crafty little Chinese gypsies in the Forbidden City.

The Forbidden City, Beijing’s centerpiece tourist attraction, was my final excursion of the 5-day Peking vacation. I mean, anything formally dubbed ‘Forbidden’ is practically begging to be explored.

I set out to wander within its walls and see what all the forbidden fuss is about. In a shoulder-to-shoulder mob of Chinese tourists during the Spring Festival holiday travel season, I shuffled my way through the crowded entrance and into the Forbidden City, paying respects to Chairman Mao on my way in.

About five minutes of aimless wandering brought me to a crossroads within the Forbidden City. Alone I stood, admiring the ancient architecture, feeling sad and restless without my camera.

forbidden city

Took this surprisingly clear photo with my shoddy phone camera. The crowded entrance to the Forbidden City.

In my apparent forlornness, two homely looking young Chinese girls approached me. “Hello! Where are you from?” Their spoken English was excellent.

We exchanged names and pleasantries, then they asked me if I wanted to walk around with them. I couldn’t think of anything better to do and they seemed nice, so I agreed.

We walked quickly, small-talking about Chinese and American culture. We made it to the northeast streets around the Forbidden City where there are gobs of tea shops, souvenir shops, and plenty of just plain old shop shops.

One of the girls asked me if I like tea. When I said yes, she made a beeline for one particular tea shop and opened the door to hail me in. She led me right into their trap.

We sat at a table in a small dim room, me and the two little gypsies, and they asked what I wanted. I ordered green tea. A pot of green tea was no later on our table and we said a cheers to the Chinese New Year.

The girls ordered more tea. Buckwheat tea, green tea and black tea. Then some Chinese crunchy snacks arrived at the table. Then a glass of wine was set down for each of us. Cheers! To the Chinese New Year! Our impromptu kinship was a little awkward, but amiable.

I took a sip of bright red wine. Judging by taste and appearance, it was clearly the cheap boxed Chinese varietal, but I humored them anyway. “What kind of wine is this?” I asked. Their response: “Oh it’s a very good bottle of European wine.” Talk about a red flag.

After about half an hour of small talk over tea and wine, the girls had had enough. They called for the check from the waitress. The bookworm-y waitress shuffled into our small room and placed the bill on our table.

The check—for 4 small pots of tea, two snack bowls of chips, and a half-glass of boxed Chinese wine for each of us—was 1,500 RMB. That’s $250.

All eyes looked to me to fork up the dough. Now, I’m no expert, but in the four months I’ve lived in China, I’ve never paid more than 100 RMB for tea and drinks at lunchtime.

I was an idiot for stepping into this trap, but I had to get myself out of it. “That’s too expensive,” I said. The girls were undaunted. “No, this isn’t expensive,” they said. “This is the normal price for tea.”

I refused to pay the bill. They tried to explain the charges to me, breaking the prices down for each individual item. One of the gypsies pointed to the bill and looked at me. “And here, we had three glasses of fine wine. The wine is 200 RMB per glass.”

Their comically inflated price explanations were actually pretty funny to me, but not comical enough to alleviate my building rage. This was about as clear of a scam as I’d ever seen. I stayed calm, but urged them to lower the price.

Forbidden City

A crowded street in Beijing.

They complained, challenging my masculinity. “A real man would pay the bill! You aren’t a real man! You’re going to try to make us girls pay for this? What kind of man are you?!”

“Call me what you want, but I’m not paying 1,500 RMB for cheap tea and wine.” The gypsies and waitress were upset now.

One of the gypsies raised her voice to me, “You enjoyed the tea and wine and snacks so you have to pay for them. You can’t just order food and not pay!” I calmly reminded her that she was the one who ordered the snacks, tea and wine.

In a show of compromise, I agreed to pay exclusively for the pot of green tea. After all, it was the only thing I’d actually ordered. More attacks on my masculinity followed.

When personal attacks failed, they tried pity. One of the gypsies said to me with puppy dog eyes, “You’re only going to pay for the green tea? Us delicate, precious girls have to pay the rest of the bill ourselves?”

I must have repeated the phrase, “I ordered the green tea, so I’ll pay for the green tea” about ten times slowly, methodically, until it effectively annoyed them into submission.

That damn pot of green tea cost me 240 RMB. That’s a STEEP price for tea (get it?) but I agreed to fork over the money anyway just to get out of that hellish tea shop. When I handed over 300 RMB, the waitress refused to bring my change, trying her best to act like I was the one who had done her wrong.

I walked outside with the Gypsies and asked them how much money they make from these scams. They just played dumb.

I sarcastically asked what the commission structure from the tea shop was like, and if I could join their operation. The gypsies stayed in character, maintaining feigned anger at me for not paying the full 1,500 RMB bill, until we went our separate ways.

If you ever travel to Beijing, don’t let yourself get lured into this common Forbidden City scam. I didn’t know about it until it was too late, and it cost me 300 RMB.

Author: Kevin Cook

I want to inspire you to pursue your own dream of traveling and/or living overseas!

17 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this one. Wow,what a shitty scam!!. Heard about this one a while back. Pity you got sucked in, but glad you came out okay. Did you report it to the police?

  2. That really sucks. But thanks for sharing an unpleasant experience with such humor.

  3. $50 still is a ridiculous amount for any kind of tea.

    Not clear though. They called it ‘fine European wine’ and you say ‘boxed Chinese wine’ I’m sure it was inflated as a part of the scam, but are you sure it wasn’t actual worthwhile wine just a little jacked up rather than outrageously?

    Not that you should be exclusively expected to pay all anyway.

    • I’m not a wine expert, but I can tell the difference between boxed wine and a decent bottle of European wine, based on a few factors. Mostly it was the taste. Once I went out with a girl here in Rizhao and got a bottle of European wine for dinner. The entire bottle cost me 178 RMB. To charge 200 RMB for a (small) glass of any wine is a blatant ripoff.

    • Ben, that’s the one thing I didn’t like about China – being a white European makes you a prime target for scams, especially in a big touristy city like BJ. I was fortunate to visit BJ w/ my then Chinese gf (who later became my wife), so she warned me about it. And I could see there were lots of girls approaching white men. I think I was approached by a few, but knew to ignore them. Also, they jack-up the prices for tourists, so always helps if you go out w/ a trusted native.

  4. Oldest trick in the book. Happened to a friend of mine in Paris, he refused to pay took off running and almost got arrested. The prostitutes, bartender and police were all in cahoots.

  5. Thanks for sharing – Sorry you had to experience this, but you dealt with the situation wisely. This seems to be typical in Asia. I fell for this in Bangkok once and came very close in Vietnam. My losses were somewhat smaller but the experience left a bad taste.

  6. I suppose I’m more hardened and cynical, but I would have walked out saying “shove it up your @ss…”

    No need to be polite or “fair” when these are criminals who are out to hurt you.

  7. Happened to me in Rome many eons ago. $800 down the dirty drain.

  8. Never trust an Asian…ever……or better don”t go to Asia……….ever…..

    • Asia is a much safer (and more trustworthy) country than the USA. Go to Asia, if you can. No guns, lower murder and crime rate, friendly people.

      • First of all Kim’s comment is absurd and racist, so I will just ignore it.

        Secondly, perhaps the violent crime rate is lower in China, but those crimes are rare, even in US. My bigger concern would be theft and pick-pockets, which is more common in China than US. I saw metal bars on lower level windows everywhere. Also, pick-pocketing is very common in crowded places.

    • In reply to your racist comment: there are lots of scammers in western countries as well.

  9. You are so obtuse for getting yourself into this mess in the first place. I’ve never been to China, but recently I was in Beijing for almost a month for business dealings–all ALONE. It should be a common sense that in a country where nobody speak English, it should automatically be a red flag when some stranger speak to you with fluent English in the popular tourist place. It could be that I’m a pessimistic person, but I just waved those fuckers off everywhere they try to speak Chinese or even English with me. Any stranger who approached me in a befriending manner in any public places, ex. Wangfujing I would just waved them off or reply shortly and walk away quickly. Secondly, ALL Chinese people, especially these kind of fuckers are AFRAID of law enforcement. If you refuse to pay, they wont dare touch you (assault would result in very serious jail time—and an assault involving a foreigner could mean life or capital punishment, because the government will lose face) If you get loud enough and try to get police involve and the whole thing becoming a big deal, they will fucking back off. Beijing is the safest of city in China, because it is the seat of the Communist government—who rule their country with iron fist. Chinese scammers are funny because on the one hand, they try to scam you, but on the other hand they don’t do it very neatly, and if caught, they would sometimes make it look funny and give you a “bargain” on their scam—NEVER, ever will they try to assault or harm you physically. I was scammed by a limo driver who promised to use “meter” from the airport but he used his hand to cover the meter throughout the trip, when I arrived, the meter were like 500 RMB, I refused to pay and said he cheated and I only have 300 RMB in my pocket, so he accepted it (it was a limo not a yellow cab)

  10. Sorry to hear your experience; it is a pretty common trick in China targeting foreigners who isn’t used to live in the country. You could have just handed 100 RMB and leave though. Like other people said, there’s no way those scammers are going to stop you from walking out of the door or try to physically restrain you.

Let me know what you think

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