Monday, October 10, 2011

Tea tasting and scam artists

The plane ride went relatively smoothly, save for the man sitting beside me who smelled strongly of dirty laundry. But, really, I'm becoming immune to bad smells after living here for almost 2 months.

The flight offered drinks and food, even though it was only a two hour flight. The food was bizarre, though, so I only ate part of the pastry. The weird spicy rice and packaged boiled egg didn't look too appealing to me at 8 in the morning.

Following my flight, I took off toward baggage claim. I found my backpack almost immediately and went off on my way to find the metro. I had no real plan, except to head into the city and wait for Lauren and Emily. I headed toward the metro ticket stations and kind of bumbled around until one of the workers helped me choose a line two ticket and pointed me in the direction of the People's Square exit.

Walking through the airport with my backpack, alone, I had the sudden urge to take off and just backpack the world. Step one, find someone crazy enough to do it with me. Step two, find the money.

Thoughts like these are why I know I will never be happy living a normal, average, suburban lifestyle.

I boarded the metro line two, surprised at how calm it was. It wasn't until the fifth stop or so that it started to get busy. After a while, it stopped and every single person got off. Reluctantly, I followed their lead. Turns out that was a good choice, because for some reason the line splits there. The original train I was on loops back to the airport, while the new train continues on into the city.

After that point, I had to stand and it was crowded. I spent a little over an hour total on the metro before arriving at the square.

Immediately upon emerging from the underground exit, I was surrounded by a group of three Chinese university students, and thus began my first Shanghai adventure. They all wanted to practice their English with me, so we stood and talked for a while. Then, they told me they were headed to a "tea tasting and performance" and asked if I wanted to join them. Since I had a few hours to kill, I agreed to go. We walked about four blocks or so before entering a tiny tea shop. We were ushered into a back room.

The tea tasting itself was actually pretty cool. We tasted six different types of tea from different regions throughout China. The guy doing it wore this robe and made these hilarious and elaborate hand gestures in an attempt to help me understand, since he spoke no English and knew I spoke no Chinese. The girls, of course, translated. I was kind of impressed by how well they spoke English. The whole thing lasted about 45 minutes, and then I was roped into buying some ridiculously expensive tea.

Turns out, the whole thing was a scam. The first thing we saw when we got to the hostel was a sign warning us about the "tea scam" where groups of people act like they're studying English and their university and rope you into spending too much money. Ah, my midwestern naivete.

After the tea shop fiasco, I realized something was amiss and declined their offer to visit a history museum with them. Turns out, according to the sign, this is part two of the scam.

I knew I needed to stay close to People's Square so I could find Emily and Lauren, so I headed back. I needed lunch and a place to sit, but I didn't want to spend very much money. I went to the cheapest place I saw on the square - McDonald's. It was disgusting, but it served its purpose. The actual building was packed full, so I took mine to go. I wanted to go find a table in the park to sit and chill at, but couldn't find a bench. I sat down on a stage with my backpack, my sandals, and my McDonald's, looking every bit the part of the white, American tourist. I'm positive that I am a part of at least 25 Chinese families photo albums off that stint alone.

As I started to eat, it started to rain. Since my umbrella had previously been lost as part of a Club Deep casualty, I had no intentions of getting rained on. Thankfully, I had seen the beacon of light, Starbucks, on my way to the park and booked my way over there. I became fully convinced that it was the best decision I ever made when I realized two things: 1. Emily and Lauren were going to be at least another hour and a half to two hours and; 2. There was a western toilet.

I settled down with my coffee and finished off my McDonald's. No shame. None at all.

The three of us have been so good about living in China. Save for September 11th, we've only been eating Chinese food at our favorite restaurants and food carts. Shanghai was going to be our week of indulgence before going back to the "real China".  I'm writing this at the end of my time in Shanghai and it's crazy how ready I am to be back in the Shiz. Our ghetto little apartments are looked upon lovingly. In just six short weeks, our smelly city has become home - it feels like ours, and I kind of love it.

I sat in Starbucks for a while, just reading and waiting for Emily and Lauren.

Note: I also spent my time at Starbucks in culture shock. I hadn't realized how long it had been since I'd seen other westerners, and I spent an embarrassing amount of time staring at other white people.

I finally met Lauren and Emily at the metro station, looking disheveled as they told me about their near-death experience. We quickly decided that we would be cabbing it to the hostel.

We also realized that we didn't have the address in characters. A call to the hostel and the problem was resolved.

We were on our way, and thus began our journey in Shanghai.

1 comment:

  1. "...and I spent an embarrassing amount of time staring at other white people."

    HAHAHAHA we are officially Chinese.