Today’s post is me playing along with the standard ‘trick foreigners into spending hundreds of kuai on tea’ scam. But tomorrow’s post is something truly special. Big announcement to make, plus I think the post itself should be interesting. Check back tomorrow!

So I just voluntarily got almost-swindled, and it was awesome. Remember this entry from forever ago?

That time I mentioned some high school girls who hang out outside the subway stop and con people. I’d caught them off-duty, having dinner in a cheap dumpling shop and had a pretty good meal. Three days after that happened they all just peaced out; never seen those kids again. Had seen them literally every workday up to that point. At the dinner I had mentioned that I was pretty sure I know what they’re doing. Can’t help but feel these things are related.

Anyway today, walking home, I got accosted by another set.
“Hello? Hello?”
I’m wearing headphones, throw out a “Ni Hao,” keep walking. Sometimes random people — mainly little kids, which is adorable — just greet me in English for funsies. I’m more than fine with this (it kinda reminds me of A&M where total strangers yell “howdy!” at each other all the time and it’s completely socially acceptable); it’s kinda fun. I still haven’t figured out if I like using non-textbook English replies like “hiya” or Oh-P.S.-I-speak-Chinese responses better. Kids will giggle if you “hi there” them and goggle if you “你怎么样?” them — both are thoroughly entertaining.
She’s still following, though, so that disqualifies her as a bizarre greeter and immediately relegates her into “swindler” status. She’s ok looking, maybe twenty five, died brown hair and glasses kinda like mine. And she’s persistent, jeez. How much more closed body language can you ask for than headphones and no eye contact?
At first when I’d get approached like this I would chat with them for a second or two to extract Chinese practice, but since it’s always the same exact conversation even that marginal benefit doesn’t exist anymore; my “hello yes I am a foreigner this is how long I’ve lived here and why and how long I’ve studied your silly language” speech is as fluent as I’m interested in getting it.
So I had a very quick inner debate, and decided that before I continue brushing all these people off as swindlers, I should actually figure out what exactly they do, at least once. I resolved to go as far along with the whole spiel as I could without actually having to pay.
For anyone who is confused at this point, here’s the business model of these people as it was explained to me on my first day back. Quoth myself in an earlier post:

…the girl who accosts all foreigners on their way out of the tiananmen subway station was there with her friends. It was a little weird, because I know pretty darn well that this girl makes money by leading foreigners into redonculously expensive coffeeshops and stuff (like, 20 usd for a cup of coffee. they’re like oh lets go get some tea, and they take you to a certain place and go in and just start ordering things and then when the bill comes you get rocked really hard. rayco told me to look out for these girls on wangfujing but i guess they’re at tiananmen too)…

I stop, take off my headphones, and ask “zenmeyang?” How’s it going?
For some reason, that’s what always gets them. Every foreigner can say ‘ni hao,’ apparently, but when you ask zenmeyang that’s like the epiphany moment. For me at least, I think it’s because I use this expression a whole whole lot (more than anyone else that I know, actually, foreign or otherwise) – so consequently my tones and accent on it are good. Chinese people don’t use it so much but they don’t say ‘ni hao’ either so using the two of them within seconds of each other immediately pegs me as ‘the whitey who is trying but definitely is still just getting the hang of this’ but I’m ok with that, considering that it’s perfectly accurate. If I can convey all that with three words then I’m not complaining. Plus, I have yet to find a closer corollary to “how’s it going” than zenmeyang, and nobody that I’ve talked to has been able to suggest a better standard greeting.

Two things happen – the girl who I’m talking to immediately launches into aforementioned canned conversation, and another (much prettier) girl walks over from fifteen or so feet away. Forty seconds of smalltalk – it’s always almost exactly forty seconds (see the ‘time’ rant) — and then the pretty one: “do you want to go get something to drink? We can practice English, you can practice Chinese?”
Heard that one before. Verbatim. Always in English, even if every single word aside from ‘hello’ thus far has been in Chinese – exactly like that tour guide and her memorized speech that, while technically correct seemed hella unnatural. This line in particular had clearly been rehearsed.

So I decided to test it as much as I could. Staying in Mandarin: “Sure, I was about to go get dinner. The place I usually go is a ten minute walk from here, you’re both welcome to come.”
“Oh that’s too far, can’t we go somewhere closer?” (Also in Mandarin; she couldn’t converse well at all in English and stopped attempting completely after that one line came out. They never realize that this sorta weakens their ‘the whole reason I’m talking to you is to practice English’ cover, but who am I to judge?)
“Hmm I guess. I do know this dumpling place that’s pretty good and it’s nearby” (the same dumpling place where I’d met the other swindlers on their break-time, as it happens).
The first girl cuts back in — “But I don’t want dumplings, I just want to drink stuff. Coffee or beer, you know…”
“They’ve got beer, they’ve got coffee too. Plenty of stuff, good and cheap.”
“Uh, I want tea. Can we go to a tea place? It’s really close”
“We’ll see. Walk with me and if I can look at the menu then maybe.” This is rude as hell. I don’t care too much, I’m dealing with people who deceive clueless foreigners as a living.

The pretty one just straight walks away. Doesn’t say a word. That was game over for her, I figured the other would leave too, I kept walking. First girl keeps up.
Here I’ll note – it seems very much like second girl was there just to be pretty and make the sale, and once I agree to go to somewhere nearby her job is done. These girls almost always work in pairs, both because it’s easier for them to sell something as a team and because asking random people to go drink with you has to be kinda dangerous in terms of random rapists and that sorta thing, so I was surprised when the second girl left. I guess she concluded I wasn’t much of the rapist type, or perhaps just had more business sense than her partner – the second I told them I was going to look at the menu, she called it quits.

“Where’d your friend go?”
“Uhh…”
“I mean, that’s kinda weird right?”
“How long total have you been in China?”
Totally normal human interaction so far, right? No red flags going up here at all, no sir.
“Hang on lemme grab my bike, I don’t want to leave it behind.”
“No! (Like, adamant) No you don’t need to do that we’re not going far!” She was freaked out at the prospect of going anywhere but her one destination that she had in mind, and didn’t have any clue how to make this convincing or give any reasoning as to why it was the case. Again, probably safety concerns, plus they only have one shop from which they’ll get a portion of the bill if we decide to eat there. Totally understandable, not at all disguiseable. I wonder who actually falls for this shit, but it’s enough for a ton of people to live off of, apparently. You’ll see why in a second –
“I don’t want to leave the bike locked back here, even the nearby dumpling place is still two minutes down the road, I’ll just bring it with”
“Could we please just get tea? I know a tea place, we can chat”
At this point there was zero doubt in my head as to what was going to happen, so I started being really really careful. “Ok, we’ll go, but don’t order anything right away, ok?”
“Yeah alright”
She finds this little tea shop, walks in right past the waiter (who she regards in a fashion that makes it painfully clear that they know each other well), and chooses a table. The teahouse occupies an extremely narrow space – it was maybe twelve feet wide but 50 or 60 feet deep – and is clearly pretty upscale. Nice design, pretty lighting, and only two or three tables all with private little walls around them. The tables are decked out hilariously ornately, all sorts of different plates and glasses and shit; I wish I had gotten a picture. Clearly they were trying to make it look at fancy as humanly possible to give some sort of credence to the prices. This table would not have felt out of place in Queen Elizabeth’s room at teatime. No chopsticks anywhere, nothing Chinese at all. There’s a waitress outside the door of our tiny little room, clearly waiting for the girl I’m with to start just ordering shit, because that’s how this works.
Despite me telling her not to do this, she tries. I tell her to wait, ask the waitress to bring a menu. She looks briefly confused – clearly this is not standard procedure – and then haltingly goes to get one. Comes back a second later, puts it in front of me, and I can only imagine tries her damndest not to laugh. I didn’t observe the same courtesy.
Beer –
Yanjing, 40 kuai (street price — 3 kuai, 2.5 if you’re nice)
Qingdao, 50 kuai (same)
More, increasingly pricey.
Appetizers –
300 kuai for, God I can’t even remember. Shrimp, or something. I saw 300 on the first line, 450 on the second, but then something on the right-hand page caught my eye.
Jack Daniels and Coke – 1,060 kuai. $163.
I started chuckling and went to get my backpack to get my camera. Takes me a second to find it, the two girls are just sitting there in stunned silence, trying to figure out what’s going on. I get the camera out and turn it on to take a picture of the menu (which I’ve looked at a for a whole of five seconds. I wish I wish I had spent more time); the second the waitress figured out what I was about to do, she blanched, grabbed the menu from me, and scurried back three feet. “You can’t do that! You can’t do that!”
I won’t ever forget the waitress’s expression. Half shocked and upset, half absolutely baffled. What the fuck did this foreigner think he was doing?
Still laughing, I say “ok ok” and go to put my camera back. By the time I look back up, the girl who brought me is no longer in the restaurant at all. The waitresses in the place say nothing at all. I laugh harder as I brush past them; it echoes awkwardly through the cramped space. Stopping to unlock my bike, the girl who took me comes back up.
She’s fucking FURIOUS.
She spits this ten-or-so string of pissed-sounding phrases at me before I can stop her and tell her she’s talking way way way too fast for me to understand. She gives me this look – pure, unadulterated contempt – and tells me in Chinese: “Kevin, you are garbage.” She spins around on her heel and stalks away.
“…and you’re a bitch and a bad thief,” I call back happily.
She spits on the street. I’m still laughing as I bike home.

As a final thought, those prices make it all make sense. If you can sell someone two appetizers and two drinks, that’s 900 kuai, or 134 bucks. If one of those drinks is a jack and coke, you’ve spent about what I make in a month. If once a week she could find someone to sit down and have three or four beers, a couple appetizers, and a drink or two, their little operation could can divide it up and pay 6 swindlers, two waiters and a cook a decent salary without any issue at all. If each of the six or however many did that once a week, they’d be making bank. What a horrible way to make a living. Fuck these people. I’m gonna be way more rude in the future…

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