Shanghai Tea Scam

Throughtout my adventures in China, one thing has been truly awesome. That thing is meeting chill people, hanging out with them, and becoming friends. This has happened to me with my Alabama friends on the bullet train, Polish friends in my hostel, Virginia friends in Beijing, Allen in Huangshan, and others as well. So naturally I figured the people I who asked me to take their picture would be new friends as well. As it turns out, they were just trying to scam me. But the day started out pretty well!

Slept in for once and had breakfast without Chases (Michael was already at work), then had a great discussion with Heather about life as an artist for a solid hour. It was raining and would continue to remain for the rest of the day so I grabbed an umbrella and headed out to explore. A Finnish guy named Kari (met him a few nights back) told me about this place called Yuyuan Gardens so I figured I would check it out. Took the train to Line 10 where I got off at Yuyuan Station and took exit 1 to get to the gardens. Got a can of Caffe Latte for 4¥ and snapped a pic. Creative juices were flowing pretty well. 

There was this girl. Just standing there on the subway and all she did was look at me and smile. A genuine, curious, happy smile. So I smiled back. The intercom announced my stop was next and I looked away, but I could tell she was still looking at me. I looked back up and there it was again. That innocent smile from a cute foreign girl. I could tell she wanted to say something but couldn't because of the language barrier. So she turned and leaned her head and arms up against the subway doors, deep in thought. The train came to a stop and I got off, but I realized what a beautiful moment this was and I turned back around. One last time, that smile was shining at me, through the crowds of people, past the subway doors, and right into my soul. And just like that, the romantic comedy of two people separated by language who communicated with smiles, faded away. I looked up to find my next stop, and she turned back to leaning against the door. 

As I exited the subway, I crossed the street looking for the gardens. Finding out I was in the wrong place I had to go back to where I was. Right as I was about to start walking, someone behind me asked if I could take their picture in English. It was a Chinese boy and girl who were cousins. She was from Xian visiting him here in Shanghai. We started talking and they invited me to a tea ceremony. Naturally I jumped at the chance. We walked a few blocks and entered a mall that was so dark it could have been out of business. On the second floor was a small room where tea would be served. We chose 6 different teas because 6 means overall well being or something? The first was Ginseng which is good for kidneys and better for males. My new Chinese friends were surprised that I didn't speak any Chinese and that I knew very little about Chinese tea culture. The second was jasmine for women. Third was for fruit and the rest I don't really remember. 6 was expensive black tea at ¥128. It hurt to say yes but this seemed like a really cool opportunity. Overall I spent ¥400 on this ceremony (cringe) and it was absolutely fascinating. I had no idea about the amount of work, love, and meaning behind all of the teas. Each tea had different teapots made of different materials. I tried to take a picture but was scolded. They didn't want their tea making secrets to get out. This is the only pic I took. Anyway, it was an excellent experience. They showed me to the gardens, exchanged WeChat info and parted ways. 

Now I had written that right after I met them and before I knew I got scammed. While it was fun and a little bit pricy (roughly $60) it could have been way worse. All of the stories I heard later were about people getting blackmailed and scammed out of ¥2,000 ($307) so overall not too bad. That being said, if someone in China asks you to take their picture, don't immediately think you could be friends and have a fun adventure. They may be trying to scam you. The rest of the day was really awesome though!

Wandered around the Yuyuan Garden and it was just okay. I feel like I've seem a lot of places like this already like the Forbidden City and Lama Temple. It closed about an hour after I got in which was the perfect amount of time for me to get in, snap some pics, experience the place, and leave. 

I wandered around the city again and walked around trying street food. I tried 2 different places, the first was just a lady cooking up some chicken and squid tentacles which was delicious but left me hungry. I kept exploring until I found a place that cooked the whole squid on a stick. Naturally I got one and it was phenomenal.  

Walked back to the Bund with a full belly to do a time lapse of the lights turning on at night. Super fun because I just listened to the new Beartooth album... again. Everyone around me is taking photos with their phones of the beautiful skyline. A couple girls came over and took pictures as well but we're taking pics in a different direction. They were taking pics with me in the background. Once I realized this I turned and smiled but the girl who was taking the pic with me didn't see. When she went to review the pic and saw I was looking at the camera and smiling, she giggled and was embarrassed. It was a cute and funny moment. From there, I walked back to the Chase's house where I was staying, told them about my adventures, learned more about the whole scam thing, and went to bed.

Back to Shanghai

Woke up and got some breakfast thanks to Allen and headed for the Yuping Cableway that would lead me off of the mountain. By this time it was 8:15am and I had to be at the train station at 2pm to catch my bullet train back to Shanghai. Based on the map, it said it would take me 4 hours of hiking to get back to Huangshan and from there about an hour taxi to the station. I was a bit stressed on time but I had no other options.

So the hike begins. This time I have all of my luggage. My rolling suitcase weighed probably 20lbs and my backpack with cameras, laptops, tripod, watches, etc. was on my back. It was grueling. I basically spent the first 45 mins entirely in prayer because I surely felt doomed to fail. My legs were aching and started shaking, I was running low on water, and the stairs kept climbing higher and higher. However, after that intense 45 mins, I reached Bright Top and things leveled out for a time. Also I stopped feeling the ache in my legs and the scenery became even more beautiful. The hike continued and once I reached the Bayiun Hotel, I had only 2 hours left until I reached the cablecar. The whole place was magnificent. There were many forks in the road and I kept asking for directions, but each time I asked I was directed toward the more difficult option. Awesome. I really wanted to launch my drone in a few spots but I knew it wouldn't be worth missing my train so I snapped a few pics while walking and made it to the cablecar about an hour ahead of schedule!

The cablecar was the finish line. I finally got to sit and enjoy the wondrous beauty around me. I had a gondola all to myself and just listened to the bugs chirp and the wind blow through the small windows. Dragonflies the size of canaries were everywhere on the mountain but they vanished once I began my descent. Hoped on a bus to Huangshan and took a taxi to the train station.

I spent most of my time editing (as usual) but I also read a bunch too! When I finally got back to the Chase's home I was so sore and exhausted. They fed me wonderful food and caught up with me on my travels until we all crashed and went to bed.  

Huangshan Mountains

First thing in the morning, I took an hour and a half taxi for 185¥ and ended up at a town near Huangshan Mountain. I met a Chinese national named Allen who became my travel companion. We took a bus to get inside where the driver was basically whipping us around hairpin turns for 20 mins. That cost 20¥. Getting inside the park and a gondola ticket was another 310¥. The gondola ride was unlike anything I had ever seen. That alone would have been worth the 330¥. 

This pic reminds me of Jurassic Park

Because I left my old lodgings behind, I took my suitcase with me. This turned into quite the hassle when hiking the mountainous trails of Huangshan. Eventually we made it to a hotel where Allen had a reservation and he booked one for me as well. The amount of stress that took off my shoulders was immaculate. He even paid the 300¥ for the room for me and tole me to send him money over PayPal when I got back to the states. He did this because he's an amazing human being and he wanted to make sure I had enough cash to last me the rest of the trip. Seriously Allen was a Godsend. Once my hotel was booked, Allen bounced. I left the heavy pieces of my luggage in my hotel room and headed out to see some of the Hunagshan Mountains. 

I started maybe around 2pm and went along the Xihai Grand Canyon. It seriously makes the US Grand Canyon look like child's play. Not in size, the US still has that one, but in sheer, stunning beauty. Absolutely magical. Several times I launched my drone to get some areal shots of the canyon. There was a lot of interference due to the massive rocks in the area (or so I think), so flying it was not the easiest task. Some of the cement walkways were hugging the side of the mountain, as were most of the hikers. You would see the walkways coming up and notice there was nothing supporting them from underneath. Luckily there were railings and the cement was sturdy. However if the cement failed or someone fell, it would be an utter miracle if they came out alive. No risk no reward. 

Everyone was fascinated with my drone and loved watching me fly it. The shadows of the mountains and the bright sky made for a really high contrast scenario so I'm interested in seeing how the footage turned out. My DJI Phantom 3 Standard doesn't shoot video in RAW, so I'm curious to see how much I'll be able to push or pull the footage. Enough camera nerd stuff. Unless you want to hear more, then tell me!

At the bottom of the Xihai Grand Canyon, there was a tram that ran up the mountain so you didn't have to hike all the way back. Sure it was 100¥ but that is pocket change compared to the amount of effort hiking would have taken. By this time is was probably around 6:15pm and spending another 3 hours hiking didn't sound fun. Got to the top and it states to rain. Luckily Allen was very generous and bought me a poncho earlier on in the day. It probably took me an hour to hike with all my gear in the rain back to my hotel. 

Ate some extremely overpriced food and drank mediocre overpriced beer before sitting down and editing. Allen came by my room and gave me a free breakfast coupon (seriously what an amazing guy) and then left. Sadly I never saw him again. I was going to post on my blog/Instagram but the wifi there was so slow I couldn't even load a webpage. So instead I watched The Newsroom on my laptop and went to bed exhausted.