ASo, this is the story how I went to Shanghai for two days. Sit back, relax and enjoy the show.
After my Hong Kong trip I had planned another two days of Shanghai before I return to the UK. Even though I only got a single entry visa I was aware of a “city-visa” rule which allows you to stay in big Chinese cities such as Shanghai for up to 72 hours if you have an international flight after that time.
So, on Thursday I arrived back to Mainland China (sigh) and had to make my way through immigration. Well, the immigration officer was familiar with the term, but the had to call his supervisor to handle all the transit visa stuff. I had to sit down in a room for 10 minutes and they came back with my passport with a custom stamp. So far so good, my Shanghai trip could have stopped there already! I made my way to the exit and as always, there was soooooo many scammers at luggage exit. I do not know who runs this airport, but I am pretty sure they have not been there often in the last months. Scammers introduce themselves as airport staff. I’ve been through this exit before the first time I entered China and I should have guessed that there is more (because there was more, see below!)
Shanghai has a magnetic based train from the airport to (roughly) the city center called “Maglev”. I think it is a German engineering project which only the Chinese government was willing to pay for (Germany never built a single on in Germany itself). I paid 40 园 yuan, so roughly £5 for a 15 minute 180miles per hour ride into Shanghai. I liked it. It was quite noisy for a train which is supposed to have a super low friction. There were a lot of Chinese people on there and it was easy to spot that this was a upper-class commodity.
I had to change to Line 2 to go to my hostel at Jingan Temple (?). At the ticket machine I met a student from Hong Kong going to the same hotel so we joined forces on the way to there. At the hotel I met Jannis from StudyChina and we had a late night dinner with the student from Hong Kong. We found a place which had INCREDIBLE Chinese food. It was so good that I actually returned on Sunday. Emma was right, you get the best Chinese food in the smallest no-brand places with mediocre hygiene rating. I went to bed and planned to grab breakfast with Jannis the next morning before he boarded his plane at noon.
After some 5 hours of sleep I already had to get on my way to Jannis. I had an hour of walking from west Shanghai to somewhere at People’s Square. I saw a good portion of the city and it really looks consumer driven. A lot of shops and lot of expensive shops. Fancy advertisements. Clean streets, at least the main ones.
We had breakfast and then Jannis already went his way. Sadness. He recommended me some places to go to and so I did. Because I only had 5 hours of sleep and basically none because TWO out of my 3 roommates where DEAFENING SNORERS. I was really tired and should have gone back to the hostel to get some more sleep.
This was my FIRST MISTAKE that day which would culminate in a near-catastrophe. Keep reading.
So, I went to the National Museum of China just around the corner of People’s Square. They had four floors of Chinese history and culture. I learned a lot about art and history and the people, but could not really take away a lot from it because I was so tired. Several times I had to take a seat to take rest. I am stupid. I know.
Next up was walking further east towards The Bund, which is the place where all tourist take their pictures. I walked further down Ninjiang road, a road with more shops than any other city I have seen in my life. I got lunch at starbucks and slept there for an hour or something (they had very comfy seats!).
I arrived at The Bund around 2 o’clock and it was a good view, not lying. I went up and then back down and then on the other side, the financial center (?). You know, you can see all this stuff on google, there is nothing big to say really.
Because all Shanghai pictures are taken during night when all the towers light up pretty, I went back to the other side.
THIS IS WHERE THINGS WENT WRONG. Let me start by telling you the story from the perspective I experienced it the first time and after that we can reflect on what happened. I try to get all details right. Stay with me.
I left East Ninjiang Subway station and had a map in my hand to check wether I need to go left or right to get to The Bund. I turned left and turned right. I think actually had figured out where to go already. A girl and her friend walked past me (not a coincidence) and she asked me where I a want to go. I said “The Bund for the view”. She said, oh yes, she can point me that way and asked “Where are you from?” I said I am from Germany. She said “Ah, i see, so you are here for business?”. I said no. I am a student. We started walking towards the bund and I asked her where she is from and what she is doing here in Shanghai. She said she is studying English and from a province a train hour away from Thailand (between China and Thailand you either need to pass Laos or Burma, I don’t know how this makes sense. she also said it’s only a three hour train ride from Shanghai. Once again, that would be a bit too short.)
She said that she and her friend, who was in the city for business, do want to go out tonight and if I wanted join for some drinks. Sure, I said, because I did not have any idea what else to do that night and having some locals (or at least something close to a local) on your side might prove helpful in navigating and managing the place. Well, we walked further and I said that we maybe want to go somewhere else, because this streets looks expensive. No response. Ok, so we go into a lounge of one of the many shopping buildings and into an elevator. We get out on a fifth floor restaurant which looked average and sat down with a window view over Ninjiang road. The girl order three saki shots and a coke and I ordered a tea. I thought “Oh wow, it’s not even 8pm. They are rushing. I guess that is part of their culture. Better not confront but play along.” So I did.
They were quite nice to talk to (or pretending to do so at least) and I got to learn the one or other Chinese word. The one girl, who I now will call the leading girl (she introduced herself as “Shainxi”, any native speakers know what that means? Maybe something like “seamer”?. The other girl was called “mei”, which she said means “flower”.
So the leading girl was quite upfront and said she wants to party to night, because she broke up with there boyfriend a month ago. I said, “a month, how long was the relationship?”. She said “One year”. I said “Oh, ok so it was no super serious.” Weird looks from the girls.
Her friend suggested that the prettiest babies are Chinese German as she can tell from her friend. I say “Ok, I don’t think that there is a correlation and I have never seen any so …”. They keep pushing.
“Come on, Jakob. Have some fun with us tonight!” They repeatedly raise their saki glasses and I tag along, because CULTURE.
I am taking it slow on the drinking and balance it with my tea. The leading girl finishes her saki early and orders another one, having almost forced me to get another one as well, but I refused.
She drinks some and then puts a half into my glass. What do I do? I guess I have to drink it. I am not a trained drinker at all and I start to feel the effects, but I am still thinking ok. So, the girls wanna go and I say, sure let’s get the bill.
The bill comes around. 708 YUAN. 7-0-8. I am bit shocked. Maybe they did a mistake. Something is fishy here! The girls look at me and expect me to pay. I am like “Ah, no, let’s split!” They pretend like they did not understand. I get a pen and make the calculation. They are like
“Oh, noo, nononono!”
“We don’t have money”
Oh, ok. I am thinking. Well, I guess if they are “poor” Chinese students I can take some one me. I ask them to give them all the money they have. The one friend shows me some 240 yuan. I want to take it, but then she says, nononono. 40 Yuan for Taxi. I am like, ok, if she says so.
But then, she gives the 200 Yuan to the waiter. Why would she give the 200 Yuan to the waiter instead of me? Why would she do that? Well, the reason is easy. The bill is not us three against the restaurant. It’s me against the restaurant and its two professional scammers. They get a provision for each single saki shot which was ordered for a whopping £15. (I only understood that fact later, at that point I still assumed that it’s the restaurant against us, but I also knew these girls were dangerous.)
So, it was at that point that he knew he had f*cked up.
Because I did not want the girls to know that I wanted to leave ASAP, I played along and pretended that I am fine with paying 500 yuan for some shots and a tea. I typed in my PIN code for my visa card (they were very attentive at that moment…) and we left. We left the building and I said I had to take a call. They were (pretending to be) sad and I made my way to the subway station. They wanted to give goodbye hugs (and roll a last scam on me). The leading girl jumped in front of me and hugged me wholeheartedly, while the other one was out of my sight. Well, TOO BAD JAKOB DOES NOT STORE ANY VALUABLE GOODS IN HIS BACK POCKETS BECAUSE I COULD FEEL THAT YOUR HANDS COULD NOT FIND ANYTHING, YOU THIEF!
I escaped into the subway. On the way to the hostel. I slowly realised what had just happened. I also realised that scam artist that involve alcohol also involve other drugs, so I needed to get to a safe place ASAP, because I don’t know what they potentially had done to my drinks. (They luckily did not get that far). I arrived at the hostel, drank a lot of water and started ranting on the StudyChina (unofficial) WeChat group (sorry my friends, but I was in shock!).
Ok, all good so far. Let us examine how this could go so wrong.
A) I was very tired that day. I was slow to think and slow to think ahead.
B) During past travels I have meet strangers on the street. All these strangers, mostly students, I could verify from where they were coming from and going to that they were not a threat. These girls introduced themselves as students. I failed to filed this properly. They knew I would not expect anything bad from students. They went with the role I am familiar with and trust as a student: students.
C) I WAS looking for something to do that night. They offered a solution to this problem. I saw an easy fix.
Let’s do this story again. But this time, I am will point out all the hints I should have gotten that something was wrong.
Their stories were not cohesive. They improvised them. And they verified them on the go by talking Chinese. From time to time they would switch to Chinese and talk very professional and straight to the point. When I told them I know some Chinese. They never spoke Chinese to each other again. They probably feared I would be able to guess that they were scheming to scam me right in front of my in Chinese.
They were acting as a team. They leading Chinese girl was always jumping ahead and drinking fast while the other one was bringing here back down. These were not their characters. These were their roles. The leading character was supposed to look like a girl I could stay the night with (while they then take all my valuables, phone, credit card of which the PIN they could read before and my watch when I was passed out either by alcohol or by their drugs).
The leading Chiense girl was very confident. She has done this before. A lot. The other girl was a bit shy. She was new to the game. Here role play was also not that great. In fact, the leading girl had to plot here character out many times. She was talking for her friend. I thought that her friend was shy. In fact, her friend just was a bad actor.
So, how sophisticated were they? Sophisticated, but not sophisticated enough to take all things I had. I was lucky to get away with 500 yuan. I could have been much worse.
How was I so stupid? Well, as soon as they introduced themselves as students, they were trustworthy for me.
What is the learning? Never, ever trust a stranger. Even more, never expose yourself as a target. I was a Westerner in China. I had a fancy watch (it really is not, but they think so). For scammers, I look like business. This isn’t just a lesson for travelling, it is a lesson for life. Most people will go for money, always. There are few exceptions.
THIS IS ALSO NOT ABOUT CHINA. This can happen to you anywhere, probably most likely in places where you obviously are easy to exploit, but still.
I hope this benefits someone else who is reading this. I was very down after this experience. I went through the stages of shock, realisation, fear, anger, more anger, angerangeranger. It had a big impact on my China experience.
My China experience was amazing to this point. This whole thing reversed my experience 180 degrees. But overall, i think I should be happy. Again, this was a bad travel experience which coincided with a stay in China. Yes, China maybe has more scammers, but really this should not have a dominant impact on my stay there. This is how I see it now and I hope you can understand why.
Finally, a poll:
ALSO, here is another story, which is just another very interesting variation of this scam:
Thanks, Fredrik Lind, for sharing!