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Facebook: James A Gray

Follow the journey by map

Monday, 19 November 2012


Sunday, 18/11/2012 – 157 A.D.

Both of us took ages to get off to sleep. I could hear Tim huffing and puffing, he could hear me tossing and turning. The reality was that our minds were wide awake, running through what was done to us the previous day, and what we’d do the coming day. I told my brain to stop thinking, shut up and go to sleep, as there wasn’t anything I could formulate now that I couldn’t better formulate come the morning, but brains don’t work like that, do they? Sometimes I’m not sure how mine works at all!

Getting scammed by The Tea Trio had really been an eye-opener. Suddenly I found myself seeing scams everywhere. The woman who handed Tim the baby to hold – if I hadn’t been there with my camera, would she have passed baby across with one hand and used the other to grab his wallet while he’s busy avoiding the gurgling and drool? Crazy, I know, but also equally plausible. I found myself thinking of people we’d met in other countries and wondering whether they’d been on the hustle…the whole world’s a hustle, after all! The websites said that people in China are naturally standoffish to foreigners, so if anyone comes up to you and starts talking then you should run a mile. But take Vietnam, for example, back in the park in Saigon we met students who genuinely wanted to practice their English by talking to us and nothing more. Don’t beat yourself up about it, Jimbo, just sleep for now and sort it tomorrow…

We woke up to bright sunshine streaming through the window – good. When you’re screaming for vengeance, you don’t want to do it in the rain. After coffees and apples and heads-under-the-shower, we sat down and worked out how we were going to play it. Turned out we had quite a bit of ammunition up our sleeves, but more about that later. And what about any real ammunition, such as AK-47s, smoke grenades or elastic bands? Nope, we only had our made-in-England-muscles and intelligence on offer. Oh dear.

[Lieutenant Tim checks the kitbag before battle...
"James, did you pack the Swiss Army knife?"
"No, but the plastic fork from the pot noodle is in there."]

Before we could return to the scene of the crime to confront our cheeky little scamsters, we had the inconvenience of nipping over to Shanghai Central Station and buying our tickets for the Shanghai-Beijing train in a couple of days. Even though it made the anticipation for our main task of the morning so much tougher, this really couldn’t wait as we really had to be on that train. Fortunately we managed it with no problems – two hard sleepers, top bunks again. Who cares about headroom? And with those bought, we jumped back onto the metro and headed for the spot where it all began: Peoples’ Square.

[Would you want to mess with these two well `ard dudes?]

Upon arriving at People’s Square, we were immediately alert and scanning the area for familiar faces. Plan A was to return to where we were “picked-up”, have a reunion with Herman’s Hermits, tell them exactly what we knew about them, tell them exactly what we thought about them, and ask for our money back. No, demand our money back. In truth we just wanted to confront them in the cold light of day and show we were onto them…what’s that quote from the film The Italian Job? “Be careful of these English, they are not so stupid as they look.” But what would happen then was anyone’s guess. It would be a crowded public place so the chances of a ruckus happening were slim. Our other hope was that we would find the three of them hitting on a fresh batch of tourists and we could stroll in and tell them what’s what, thus saving them from getting scammed. That would ease the blow somewhat.

And so we attempted to stroll on the fringes of the Square, but no sooner had we walked a few yards than this happened:

[Group of four students lining up for a photo.]

CHIRPY MALE STUDENT: Excuse me, can you take our photo?
JAMES: [striding past, head down, angry tone] No, I can’t!
JAMES: You know why!
CHIRPY MALE STUDENT: [sounding a bit less chirpy] I don’t…hey, I don’t!

But I just kept walking, possibly turning around to laugh sarcastically his way, I don’t remember. Not one minute had we been back in People’s Square and we were a target for a new group of tea house scammers – unbelievable! Good job we didn’t still have our tassels dangling from our bags! Or maybe we should have, that way they would have left us alone.

After about ten minutes circling the periphery, we moved a little deeper into the square. Across the way I spotted a young Caucasian guy being spoken to by a couple of local girls, dressed in the same sort of clothes and posing in the exact same way as Herman’s hermits did yesterday. I nudged Tim and suggested that there looked like a victim-in-the-making and we both agreed to intervene. Up we walked, bold as brass, and Tim calmly said, “If they ask you to go for tea, mate, don’t bother.” I casually added, “They’ll take all your money. They did it to us yesterday.”

Silence all round. Bloke looks a little embarrassed, yet in complete understanding. We start to walk away.

Then one of the girls goes A-B-S-O-L-U-T-E-L-Y ballistic.

I’m not joking here! She strode up to us, first to Tim, then to me and shouted at the top of her voice, “Why you say that? WHY???” as if we’d committed the ultimate verbal faux-pa. We gave a few responses, but she wasn’t really listening. Instead she followed us as we walked off across the square, still shouting at the top of her voice so that everyone in the area could hear, and they invariably turned to watch. It was mildly intimidating, but only because we didn’t know what she was capable of. At the end of the day, she’s someone who operates on the fringes of the law, despite the fact that in that little cute, student get-up she normally looks like butter wouldn’t melt, but not now. She was so fiery the butter had long ago been burnt into oblivioin!

A selection of some of the things she said:

“This is my happy day, why you have to say that?”
“I tell you get out of China now!”
“You will have accident today!”
“My goddess curse you!”
“You are stupid, so stupid!”
“I remember your ugly face!”

But we were right, weren’t we? To react in such a way only shows she’s a nasty little scam artist who hates it  that she’s been exposed and lost some of her (ill-gotten) livelihood. Her making a big song and dance was maybe a way of making a statement for us not to come back and try the same trick with other punters, but the fact that we stopped one of these scams going through was satisfying enough. Her little mate arrived (meekly saying nothing – probably another trainee) as Crazy Girl followed us to the edge of the park and repeatedly asked my nationality so she could call my embassy to have me deported. I said I was Norwegian. There was also talk of the police and when she threatened to call them, we dared her to because we’d have plenty to say to them about her. Of course, she didn't end up calling them. I’m afraid there are no pictures of this confrontation, but Timbo managed to sneakily video the whole affair on his phone, and I could have kissed my younger sibling for that (but I didn’t).

Crazy Girl eventually went back to the square as we took five across the road. Busting that scam-in-the-making had been satisfying, but it wasn’t enough. We were both still £30 down and we hadn’t found Herman and his Hermits. Nor were we likely to, especially with Crazy Girl hanging around and acting unhinged. There was only one thing for it – time for Plan B – go back to the tea room. But first we had to find it…

Let’s retrace our steps from yesterday. The trio met us on the edge of Peoples’ Square, then took us on a walk through the park past the matchmaking adverts, then down several side streets until we reached a small shopping mall called The Champ-Elysees. I discovered online that victims are often taken on long, convoluted routes to the tea rooms so that they are not able to remember where they are located. Thing is, I only had to do a bit more searching online to find out exactly where the Champs-Elysees was. And yes, it was just across the road from the square, all of that walking through the matchmaking area was a totally unnecessary detour. Ooooh, these little scammers, in one way I admire them, in another I want to throw them off the top of the city’s tallest tower! So, we knew how to get back to the Lion’s Den, but what to do when we got there? Our goal was simply to get our money back, that would suffice. It would be nice to chuck in a few insults and blow the odd raspberry, but that was secondary to our primary purpose. But how to make these people give us our money back? After all, they showed us the prices for the teas that we drank, albeit fleetingly. 

Here were our options:

* We walk in, keep it friendly, say they did very well to scam us, but we know that it IS a scam, and we ask for our money back.
* We walk in looking like we’ve just stubbed our toes and got severe toothache, beat our fists upon the desk and generally use strongarm tactics.

Or a combination of the two. Then, depending how that goes…

* We threaten to tell the police.
* We threaten to put their pictures all over the internet and promise to splash their names across a thousand websites.
* We threaten to sit outside the mall, wait for scammers arriving, tell the victims the score, thus depriving the tea room of future profits. And we’ll do it for as long as it takes.

…in fact, our only real plan was to use an ad-libbed combination of the above. If big blokes suddenly came out of side doors then we’d re-think things on the spot. But if it came to a stalemate we wouldn’t budge. And we wouldn’t shrink away from this, no matter how tricky a proposition it seemed. All I had to do was think back to when I was a kid and my dad offered me 50 pence if I swam a width of the school swimming pool without armbands. I bottled it then, but there was no way I would be bottling this. Yep, this wasn’t for 50 pence, it was for £30, and it didn’t involve armbands…just balls.


[Back to the scene of the crime...]

With balls carefully checked, we arrived at the Champs-Elysees Mall, adrenaline pumping, teeth gritted and noses in the kind of position they're in when you snarl. There were few people in the mall as we strode inside, went up the stairs to first floor and strode confidently along the landing. The tea shop hadn’t moved since yesterday, and the receptionist was sitting there silently, just as she had the day before. As we approached the desk Tim did his sarcastic clapping, but I was uncertain whether to speak or to try and play a role I’ve never managed before in my life – the strong, silent type. Whoever greeted me was going to have to deal with the fact that  it had just gone 12 and I hadn’t had my lunch! But I had to laugh and say hello when I saw the door to the side room ajar and sitting inside was Herman, at first inspecting his camera, then looking up at the sound of fresh guests. The bewildered expression on his face to see us back again was absolutely priceless!

He was in there with a couple of other hermits, Mai Qi and Emmy not being around, which was a shame, but hey-ho. I got the impression that they’d freshly scammed someone this morning and had returned to the tea room to re-distribute their cash. As Herman got up and came out to meet us, the cheeky git actually had the audacity to ask, “Have you come to have some more tea?” “No! We had enough tea yesterday and we’ve come to get a refund!”

Any semblance of a plan that the Brothers Gray may have had went out of the window at this point, but it didn’t matter. We caught Herman in a perfect crossfire, sticking firmly to our guns that we’d come for a refund and we weren’t leaving until we got one. At one point Tea Lady appeared in the shop, then did a sharp u-turn and went to stand out on the landing for the whole discussion. I think both Tim and I were checking behind us for any heavies, but there weren’t any, only Herman and given how small he was compared to both me and Tim, somewhere deep down in a strange place I felt a little sorry for him. But then I remembered that this guy had conned goodness knows how many people out of a lot of money, and I snarled once more.

Herman tried his best to make out that our transaction had been innocent all along, but when I pointed out that he and his Hermits had claimed not to know the people in the tea shop, yet they were back here again today sitting around, he knew he was busted. He asked what we wanted and we said they could have a fiver for their excellent performance, but we wanted the rest of the £60. He offered us £30 at which point Tim carefully dropped in the word “police” and after doing a double take he went back into the side room to collect some notes from the Hermits. The fact he didn’t have chance to reach for a secret box and give us counterfeit ones (a big problem in China) made things all the more sweeter. And so he counted out six 100 yuan notes into Tim’s hand and we turned around and walked away with the promise that he’d never see us again (but without mentioning anything about putting his picture on my blog – serves him right anyway! And he won’t be able to access it anyway from within China). Plus we got to keep the pot of tea that he bought for us - great success!

We kept our heads high and kept walking confidently as we went down the stairs and exited the mall, checking that we weren’t about to get jumped by anyone. We didn’t, though if I ran that tea shop I’d have at least one big lad sitting around reading comics all day, just in case, but I guess Herman never thought we’d come back. But he doesn’t know Grayboys, does he?



Once again I am afraid there are no pictures of this momentous raid, but once again Our Kid managed to capture the whole thing on mobile phone video and he recorded some sweet, sweet footage! In fact, the whole thing couldn’t have gone sweeter. We’d been scammed, fair enough, we hold our hands up, but we'd fought back, infiltrated their operation, got the majority of our money back and salvaged our pride. Just shows that He Who Dares really does Win! Will these people think twice about messing with the English again? Probably not, but at least they’d remember two of them in particular. In fact, the raid coupled with the bust in the square made us feel a bit like undercover cops! Who could we help next? We decided not to push our luck with any heavy stuff, but we vowed that if we saw any tourists with the infamous tassels hanging from their bags then we’d go up to them, sympathise with them, but tell them that it is possible to get your money back. Just stand tall and don’t shave for a couple of days. Oh, and don’t forget to snarl with the nose.

After all that excitement, I wasn’t quite ready for lunch, despite it being well past 12. Instead we headed down Nanjing Road to The Bund. With it being a clearer day Tim wanted to get some better shots of the buildings across the river, so I tagged along and got a shot of him looking at buildings across the river.

Unfortunately, while looking out at the river, we came across a scenario which may well plague the rest of our stay in China. I was just minding my own business when a Chinese girl approached me with camera and asked if I would take a picture of her with her two friends. Hmmm…haven’t we done this one before? I duly complied and handed the camera back, only to be asked where I was from. Yawn! We chatted, but I kept things so laid back my words were practically horizontal. Surprise, surprise, they weren’t from Shanghai, they were from Beijing, here on holiday. The one doing most of the talking was keeping it pretty chilled as well, not like Herman and Mai Qi who’d had verbal diarrhoea the whole time we’d been with them. On this occasion I cut to the chase and asked if they were students, to which they said they weren’t. After a few more exchanges, they politely made their excuses and walked away, but not before one of them had described me as being “very facial”. Really? Two hours ago another Chinese girl was going to “remember [my] ugly face”!

So what was the score here? We couldn’t work it out. Now after some thought we do believe that they were scammers, but at the time we wondered whether we’d been a little harsh on some genuinely friendly people - tourists in a strange city, just like us. Last thing I want to be is rude to people, especially if they’re being genuinely friendly to me, but I don’t think Tim and I will be able to trust any Chinese folk ever again, especially if they approach us. Well, that hard-hearted attitude may soften in a few days, we’ll see. But as ever, we’ve got a plan – anyone approaches us, we tell them how we had a mad day falling victim to a tea shop scam, but we managed to get our money back. They split at the news, they’re gits; they stick around, they just may be alright.

After lunching at the traditional Chines eatery known as Subway, we headed for the Shanghai Museum. Hey it’s got four floors of “stuff” to see and it’s free! But before we got there we finally saw our first vehicle collision in Asia. Some 4x4 didn’t brake in time at the lights and went into the back of a taxi. There was a loud crunch, but no real damage done, possibly a slightly dented bumper. Given the amount of traffic chaos we’ve seen, this should have happened long ago!

The Shanghai Museum is very popular, but most of its exhibits weren’t really to my taste. Focusing on all things ancient and Chinese, there were rooms dealing with traditional dress, traditional pottery, traditional art, traditional calligraphy…and precious things owned the by Tsars and Tsarinas of Russia, which seemed a bit random. Still the Easter eggs were cracking, especially the one that contained a tiny golden replica of the Trans-Siberian Express which even ran when wound up with the special key. And I looked into all of the windows of all of the carriages, but I couldn’t make out the tiny golden replica of Karl Pilkington.

[You weren't actually supposed to take pictures of most of the exhibits, including the one above, but no one seemed bothered by this rule, including most of the staff!]

The Chinese economy may be booming now, but they were never going to achieve such monetary dominance when their coins looked like this:

And I did like the scary Tibetan masks that were on display…maybe next time we need to go bust up some scammers we should wear something similar?

After trailing round the museum we trailed back to the hotel, heroes in our own minds, probably nothing of the sort in anyone else’s. That evening we decided to celebrate getting our 600 yuan back and went to a slightly nicer restaurant in the French Concession than we normally would. I had vermicelli seafood noodles, Tim had kung pao chicken, but with a three chilli rating instead of two because none of the staff spoke any English and he wasn’t sure what the waitress was trying to point out to him on the menu. But despite a slightly runny nose, he managed it. And mine had a kick as well, it being a Sichuan place after all, but I survived. Oh and one thing we should point out for anyone hoping to go to China – they have no concept of bringing everyone’s meals out of the kitchen at once. When they’re done, they come, no matter if your dining companion’s takes another 20 minutes, as has happened to both of us on separate occasions. Ah, the Chinese and their funny ways!

Ah, the Grayboys and their triumphant ways! What a day it was…

[...it's now a trophy to represent a great victory.]

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