I met a young couple today in People's Park. In a mixture of broken Chinese and broken English, I learned Pingping and Yangyang were from Harbin, but they'd been living in Shanghai for several years.
I told them I'd first come to Shanghai for my wedding in 1989 and since then I'd been back many times. They were a lively couple, and I enjoyed talking with them.
“We're on our way to a Yunnan tea ceremony,” said Yangyang as he gently tugged on Pingping's sleeve.
“Nice talking with you,” Pingping said as she waved goodbye.
What a pleasant couple, I thought as I walked away. And I even got a chance to practice my Chinese.
“Oh, Dawei!” Pingping called back to me, using my Chinese name. “Would you like to join us?”
I was just hanging out in the park, taking in the sights. I had no idea what a Yunnan tea ceremony was, but it sounded cultural. So why not?
As Yangyang led the way, Pingping asked me about my wife's family -- and she has lots of family. We were talking mostly in Chinese, and I kept mixing up the words for older sister and younger sister, older brother and younger brother, and Pingping teased me.
Engrossed in conversation, I was barely aware we were no longer in People's Park but were walking down a side street. I thought Yangyang had said the tea ceremony was in the park. But maybe he'd said it was near the park.
Yangyang led us into a shopping arcade and up to the second floor. Two young women in ethnic dress greeted us at the door. Now I get it!
“I've got to eat lunch right now,” I told Pingping and Yangyang as I turned to leave. “Maybe later.”
“There will be food at the tea ceremony,” Yangyang said.
“No thanks,” I replied as I hurried down the stairs and out onto the street.
I'd heard of the English conversation scam, the karaoke scam and the art student scam, but the Yunnan tea ceremony scam was new to me.
In each case, an attractive young woman chats up a lone foreign man, and then she suggests they go to a teahouse for conversation or karaoke, or else she tells him she's an art student and asks if he wants to see her gallery.
When the duped laowai tries to leave the teahouse or art show, he's presented with a bill for several hundred yuan, and he has to deal with the bouncers if he refuses to pay.
O Pingping! O Yangyang! My new Chinese friends! How could you betray me like this? And yet, I have to admire their skill. They are true con artists. I don't know whether to wish them well or ill.
I returned to the park, bought a spiced pancake from a vendor, and sat on a bench to eat my lunch. Two young women approached and asked how I was enjoying my pancake. They told me they were students from Wuxi sightseeing in Shanghai, and I told them I was an exchange professor at Shanghai Normal University.
“By the way,” one of them said. “We're on our way to a Yunnan tea ceremony. Would you like to join us?”