Confirmed! There’s nothing like a bit of confirmation of one’s sixth-sense to make you feel like a travel god. Which invariably leads to hubris (you can’t fool me, mere mortal!) and then nemesis, in true tragic Greek fashion. (Why YES! I WOULD like to buy an authentic Rolex for two dollars!)
Two blogs back I mentioned the friendly tea-touting “students” in Shanghai, and though I bailed on them and presumably ducked the trap, I wasn’t really exactly sure what the trap was. What was this mystical tea garden located beyond the Capital Land skyscraper??? Today in looking up something completely unrelated I stumbled upon a travel blog discussing it. “There seemed to be an extra zero on the total.” Yes, dear reader, it is what I like to call the Mojito Scam or Havana Hustle (only because that was the first and only place (so far) I got nailed by it). These Chinese “students” say “Let’s go get a traditional tea service at this cool place over there!” And you say, “Wow, you are such nice students and traditional tea, why, that’s too cool for words! I can’t wait to take pictures and show my friends.” And off you go to the tea garden. And it IS a real tea garden and the tea is lovely and so is the atmosphere and the polite chatter with your new friends and then the bill… Ah, the bill. Reports from victims on line have alleged totals of even over $100!!! (not even my Ernest Hemingway mojitos in Havana approached anything near that) And you are the stranger in the strange land and what can you do other than pay? Probably you could get a police officer involved, but that’s big talk when you’re not there on the spot. And whose to say they wouldn’t gladly produce one who works the local beat and wouldn’t mind a share of your $100?
It seems these students are already aware that some of us are on to them, because the ones I met had elaborate stories about their jobs. “What? You’re not students? Well, in that case, tea’s on me!”
It’s a drag. And judging by the fact that I was solicited three times by three different groups in the same spot, it is a widespread drag. So watch your wallet. Ask for the menu. Don’t get anything you don’t know the price for. At some point you have to take a chance on trusting people or travel is just one endless paranoid nightmare. Just play it smart and trust that sixth sense.