There is not one place in this world that is made up solely of goodness, positivity, sugar, spice, and everything nice. Shanghai is no exception. Today I experienced a side of Shanghai that I have yet to, a nasty side, one that made me very upset. I’m not talking about the reckless traffic or seemingly severe lack of personal hygiene. Those I can deal with, and some days, can take as a unique part of China’s culture. Today I dealt with a nastiness that is present wherever there are human inhabitants – selfishness, manipulation and deceit. It’s not my intention to blow this out of proportion, my aim is simply to write my opinions, feelings and experiences.
Last week, I briefly introduced my readers to the Tea Scam, referencing the two groups of young people who stopped me while I was at Yu Yuan, asking me to take their pictures and then engaging me in conversation. For the whole story about last week, you can reference that blog post. Today, I returned to Yu Yuan to pick up my completed business suit from the Fabric Market. I was coming from meeting with workers for the Chinese government – trying to get my visa extended a few days so that I could finish out my program was a bust, they were relatively unhelpful and was in a pretty bad mood when I left. This encounter left me frustrated, and probably played a small role in what happened next.
As I was walking back to the Metro station with my clothes, I passed by the same place I was stopped last week, and sure enough, the ‘students from Beijing’ were sitting on the steps. There were two that I recognized, and one that I didn’t. I settled for a hard glare at them, making eye contact but continuing on my way. As I passed them, broke eye contact, and looked ahead, I noticed the third person I had talked with last week. He was with another young girl, and they were talking to an older foreigner. I walked past them as well and got about fifty feet away. Similarly to last week, I was debating very hard about what to do in that situation. Of course, I could have assumed that the older man was smarter than I, and didn’t plan on going anywhere with the young Chinese people. However, this was my second time passing them, and at this point I knew, without a doubt in my mind what these kids were doing. As an extremely trusting person, I get very offended and upset when I see people taking advantage of others. After I had been standing in the same place for about three minutes, contemplating, I spun around and stormed over to where the three kids were sitting. I started speaking in a very stern tone to the boy, who had done most of the talking last week. I asked him “Why aren’t you in Beijing? Last week you told me you were only going to be in Shanghai for three days? Why are you still here?” The kids (and when I say kids, it’s because I don’t know what else to call them – but they are not young, they’re about the same age as me.) were looking at me with blank faces with only a briefly passing indications of nervousness. Acting like they couldn’t understand me at some points was not throwing me off – I was speaking a mixture of Chinese and English, but it was simple enough that I knew they could understand me. Even if all of my grammar wasn’t correct, they could definitely get the point of what I was saying, particularly because I knew the two recognized me. The one girl who hadn’t been present last week tried to do most of the talking with me. “What are you talking about? What business do you want with us?” I told her that I was not talking to her. She walked away and mentioned for her companions to follow, saying that I was crazy. The other girl followed, while I continued to rattle off accusations at the young man. “You wait for foreigners to come, here, foreigners who are by themselves? Then you invite them to a tea shop, and then what? You steal from them? You hold them ransom? People your own age? What, you want my money? Why don’t you find a job? You are a bad person.” I feel as though calling someone a bad person is not something a respectable person would do, but in the moment I was so worked up that words were just coming out of my mouth, and any sort of filter I usually have had disappeared. At this point, there was a crowd of maybe twenty people surrounding us. It was not my intention to cause a scene, but if you have a white girl yelling at Chinese youth, partially in Chinese, it’s inevitable. The other two girls had come back by the time I was wrapping up. “You should be embarrassed of yourself.” I harshly said. “And now, I’m going to go tell that other man what your motives are.” I turned on my heel and was walking away when I heard yelling behind me. “Wait! Hey! Wait, come back!”. The girl who had originally tried to take charge was following me. She asked me to talk to her, to tell her what I was trying to say. I almost gave in and started trying to yell/explain what I had said, but after a brief instant it was so obvious that they were trying to prevent me from talking with the foreign man, who had just started walking away with the two Chinese youth. I looked at him, walking away from me about 50 feet ahead, and turned to the girl and said no, and started walking away again. At this point, she grabbed my bag, and the boy who I had been talking to had reached us and was grabbing my arm. “GET OFF OF ME!” I yelled. I yanked my arm and yanked my bag and continued to yell at them to let me go. In between yelling at them, I was looking ahead and yelling “SIR! SIR!” In efforts to get the mans attention. By now, everyone in the general vicinity was watching what was going on, but the man still hadn’t turned around, and I saw the young girl with him gently grab his elbow and urge him forward. I didn’t want to hurt anyone or make things worse than they were, and in my final attempt to get away from the two, I finally was able to yank my arm and bag free. I ran ahead as they followed in quick pursuit. “SIR!” I yelled. As I was almost right behind them, I slowed down and the other two caught up with me.
Out of no where, I heard “CAROLYN!” I looked up and saw my classmate, Andrew, quickly approaching with a friend. I was so happy to see a familiar face! The man had finally turned around after I yelled out to him from just five feet behind. I was out of breathe and probably looked like a mad woman, and I bombarded him with questions, talking 60 miles an hour. “Did they invite you to a tea shop? Are you going to a tea shop with them? Please don’t, they were here last week and asked me the same exact thing! I am studying abroad this summer and during my orientation – ” “Carolyn!” Andrew interrupted me. “Take a breath! Calm down. What’s going on?” The man’s face was priceless – one of extreme confusion and slight anxiousness. “I’m not crazy!” I said to him. “I promise!” By now, it was Andrew, the foreigner and myself, with the Chinese youth flanking us. The two that were originally with the man were trying to convince him to come with him, but at this point I think he was pretty freaked, and backed away from everyone. Andrew and I followed after him with expletives being yelled at me – the Chinese I didn’t understand, but the loud “F*** YOU” I definitely understood. After we had gotten about twenty five feet away, with the kids still looking on, I tried to explain what was going on. I explained that during our orientation, our program director had warned us about something called a Tea Scam, where foreigners get lured to tea shops and then are forced to pay large sums of money, often bringing in big men as a scare tactic if they didn’t comply, and how that same group had approached and befriended me last week. I was half talking to the foreigner and half talking to Andrew, rambling about how I didn’t know what to do last week but this week something just snapped. Andrew gave a much calmer, more rational explanation, and said everything that I was attempting to but just couldn’t. He suggested we cross the street, and when we were on the other side I really began to calm down. “She’s a protector, this one is!” Andrew said, trying to give more explanation to my crazy actions. After everything that needed to be said, was, Andrew and his friend told me to get home safely and that they’d see me later. I was so glad they had happened to be at Yu Yuan the same time as I was. The foreigner(we had now found out he was from Denmark) in all of this was relatively quiet, but as we explained, he grew much friendlier and I think by the end he realized I was (semi) normal. He was planning on continuing his sight seeing and was walking the same way as I had to to get to the metro. We walked along the street and had casual talk. I was a little paranoid, and checked over my shoulder a couple times, but there was no one there. He said that he had no intentions of actually going into the tea shop, and said some other stuff but English wasn’t his first language and I didn’t totally understand what he was saying. I apologized too, because I felt bad if I had interrupted him while he was just talking to some Chinese youth, trying to make the most of his time here. Any other people and I would have left him alone, but seeing who he was with and knowing what they were trying to do, I just got so angry. When we came to where we were to part, I told him I would be going to the metro and he was to go right, towards Jinmao. He asked where I would take the metro to, and I explained that I was living in an international village close to the University I was studying at. That’s when he finally understood that I was studying here this summer, and was impressed with the opportunity I had. I definitely wanted to make sure he wasn’t turned off by Shanghai by this bizarre incident, and explained that I was planning on being here for the next year and that this rarely happens, etc, so we talked about how good China’s economy was doing and how they may pass America within the next five years. As we parted, he wished me good luck and safe travels – and I did the same.
The whole way home I thought about what happened. It’s so unnatural to think about stuff like that actually happening, scams like that actually existing – and I wondered if I had done the right thing. Even though it’s what I thought was right, it felt like I really took it over the top, or at least, it escalated quickly. Just because I’m not afraid of confrontation, doesn’t mean I like it, and just because I initiated it, doesn’t mean it’s because I was trying to cause trouble. I don’t know if I went over there more for them or more for me, but at some point in my decision making process I had believed it was the right thing to do. Regardless, I’m home now and everything’s fine. Though trying, the day was eventful – and I love eventful. It’s unfortunate that there are people in the world who prey off unassuming strangers, and I doubt anything that happened today will change those kids decisions or choices. Maybe this will teach me to be more cautious and wary in this country that is still so foreign to me, maybe it won’t. All I know is next time I go to Yu Yuan I’m taking a friend with me…!