Another Scam in China: Worthless Foreign Currency (and One More Sip of the Popular Tea Scam)

Thailand-currencyAn American friend of mine visiting Shanghai was shopping at Yu Yuan (Yu Gardens) and bought something from a pushy salesman on the street. He paid with a 100 RMB bill and was given several bills as change. What he didn’t notice was that the  bills he received was worthless currency from some foreign nation (he thought it looked like Arabic but I’m guessing it was from Thailand). So instead of paying 20 RMB, he paid 100. Rip off.

Make sure you know what real Chinese currency looks like so people won’t had you bogus currency for change. Look, verify, and count. Don’t be so trusting and gullible, like many of us Americans are.

Other Basic Scams at Tourist Attractions 

The day before my friend went to Yu Yuan, I warned him about some of the scams he might encountered. I told him that anytime someone approaches you there or at other major tourist sites and speaks English to you, no matter how friendly and attractive they may be, they are probably sales people whose job is to separate you from your money. I warned him that there are people who try to engage foreign visitors by asking them to take their photos, and then some sort of scam is likely to follow. Just say no politely and walk away, I said. I also warned him of the ever-popular and often successful tea ceremony scam, where gullible foreigners are lured by attractive English speaking girls to join them at a traditional tea ceremony for a cup of tea. In this scam, after a few minutes of tea, a gargantuan bill is presented, accompanied with solid Chinese muscle to enforce payment for what was allegedly a rare and exotic high-priced tea. One cup might cost you hundreds of dollars. Never fall for that, I warned. Stay away. Beware. Don’t go inside.

The next day at Yu Yuan, my friend ran into a couple of cute girls who spoke English and asked if he could take their picture. Being friendly and always wanting to help, this young man took the photos and chatted with them. “We are tourists from Beijing,” they said, “and have been to all these major Shanghai attractions on our tourist map except for one, a traditional tea ceremony right around the corner. It’s a great way to experience Chinese culture. Would you like to join us for some tea?”

“Well, I guess I can just take a look,” he said, and followed them into a tea house. But eventually, he later told me, my warnings began to enter his thinking–finally–and he realized he had better check a menu and see what the prices were before he did anything. He asked for a menu and saw that there was a 30 RMB service fee posted in addition to some high prices for the tea. But now he felt pressure to not just walk away, though he explained he didn’t drink tea and needed to leave, so how much did he need to pay for just taking a look as he had done? The waitress was puzzled and went to check with the owner, and came back saying that he needed to pay 200 RMB. That’s for absolutely nothing–what crooks. He said no way and gave them 30 RMB as I recall and left, but they were angry. I think he was lucky the muscle hadn’t shown up yet.  The result could have been much worse.

When you see young people at Yu Yuan waiting with cameras at busy corners or on busy streets, and out of all the thousands of passers-by, they choose you, the stand-out foreigner, to get someone to take their picture, know that the last thing they want is your photographic assistance. It’s a scam. Feel free to take their photo on your camera so you can let others know who these scammers are, but don’t let them lure you anywhere. They don’t want photos, just your cash. Lots of it. And they will use deception and force if you give them the opportunity.

Artistic Bags from TheMozaik.com: New Company from a Friend in Shanghai

An example of a bag from TheMozaik.com

Example of a Mozaik bag

One of my friends at work has left the company (APP-China) to become an entrepreneur in Shanghai. Rinnie, a very sharp and artistic girl, has founded TheMozaik.com, a company focused on beautiful, unique bags, purses, and related goods. I ran into her recently and learned a little more about what she is doing. I was impressed with her tastes and want to give others a chance to check out TheMozaik.com.

You can buy TheMozaik products in Shanghai at several locations, including Yaang Life shops at The Cool Docks and K11, or Inshop.

You can also see more products and a photo of Rinnie herself on her Tumblr page at themozaikcollections.tumblr.com.

Great Lunch Deal on the Bund in Shanghai: Union Restaurant Buffet, 30 RMB

After nearly 3 years working in downtown Shanghai on the beautiful Bund, having explored dozens of restaurants on my daily lunch break, I finally discovered a supreme value tucked away on the second floor of a building almost next door. The Union Cafeteria is clean, bright self-serve cafeteria where you can eat well for just 30 RMB. It’s buffet style with healthy, tasty food including a meat dish or two and great vegetable dishes. It’s on the second floor of the Union Building at 100 YanAn East Road, adjacent to Sichuan Road. It’s on the east side of YanAn, next to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and right above the Construction Bank on the ground floor. I think it’s designed for the many employees working in the financial industry and other companies in the area.

When you enter the front doors on YanAn Road, go to the left side to see a staircase ascending to the second floor. An elevator may also be used, I think. As you follow the crowd to the cafeteria entrance, there’s a little room on the right with a sign in Chinese only. In that room is a desk and a woman selling coupons for the cafeteria. You need to go in there an buy your coupon (or many coupons if you wish). You hand over the yellow coupon as you enter the cafeteria. Then you will be given a tray with chopsticks, a yogurt and a piece of fruit (tangerines right now). You pick up a plate or two at the same time and then head over to one of the food lines to load up your plate with good food. There is also rice and soup.

30 RMB is the lowest price I’ve seen for a buffet in Shanghai. The selection is much smaller than you will get at other buffets like the one at Latina (138 RMB or over 300 more if you want all the meat), the Cook ($$$), or Shangri-La’s 2nd floor spread (almost 400 RMB per person). But for a fast and healthy business lunch, this is great.

Due east (toward the Bund) from the Union Building is another financial tower with another secret little restaurant on it’s second floor, a placed called Tanko. There you pay 15 RMB and can get a healthy meal also with several good selections, though I think the Union Cafeteria is the better choice if you’re hungry. It also suffers from a low ceiling so watch your head there if you’re tall!

By |February 16th, 2014|Categories: China, Restaurants|Tags: , , , , |0 Comments

Origin Disappoints

Looking for a special place for dinner with healthy food, I took a friend and my wife to dinner at Origin in the Tianzifang area on Monday. Reviews from others have been good, but we were disappointed. Food was OK, but lacked the seasonings and attention needed to make it great. The vegetarian mustafa was good but was mostly mashed potato and lacked adequate eggplant and flavor. Was also not very warm. Our friend had a set meal for 248 RMB that was pretty ordinary looking. A little tuna salad, a piece of plain cod, and a dull looking side of grilled veggies, for which they carved an extra 15 RMB on the bill for grilling. Huh? The fruit juices were OK and the grilled baby tomatoes I ordered as a side dish were delicious, but overall it was one of the more expensive meals I’ve had in a while and we left hungry and unimpressed.

I also ordered a Mediterranean sandwich that should have been warm and flavorful but was cold, with hard, flat, dry chicken, and a mysterious absence of sauce or flavor. Disappointing.

Finally, when I asked for the “fapiao,” the official receipt, the waitress made some excuse and just gave me an unofficial bill, not the one that shows taxes have been paid. That means patrons can’t get reimbursed if it’s a business expense. Not good. Sigh.

By |February 12th, 2014|Categories: China, Restaurants|Tags: , |0 Comments

Good Gelato in Shanghai? Yes, It’s Possible!

After a vacation to Italy, I was anxious to see if somewhere in Shanghai there might
be gelato approaching the incredible quality that abounds in Italy. Gelato is
different from ice cream. It has less fat and more flavor, generally prepared with
simple, natural ingredients, and is served at a warmer temperature (around -14 C vs.
-18 C for ice cream) so it is less icy and melts in your mouth easier. It has a
smoother, silkier texture. Some of the “gelato” sold in Shanghai is pretty much just
ice cream or sherbet, but real gelato does exist with surprisingly good quality.

Of the places I’ve sampled so far, Le Creme Milano may be the best. I tried several flavors and
found none to be bad and several to be really excellent. I thought their chocolate
was too rich, but felt that the coconut, strawberry, pumpkin, and Creme de Milano (a
special house flavor similar to flan) were excellent. The person in charge when I
went spoke excellent English and was interested in chatting, which made our visit
extra fun. The shop were tried was at 262 Danshui Road near Xintiandi, just a few
yards north of Fuxing Road and a few hundred meters from the Xintiandi subway
station on Line 10.

Origin at Tianzefang was highly rated by some other foodies in town, but when we
were there they only had four or five flavors and of those, the coconut was
definitely impaired by the presence of added food starch that made the base gelato
grainy instead of smooth and creamy. The chocolate, though, was excellent, as was
the strawberry.

Mr. Eggie’s at the large Dapuqiao food court (an underground area adjacent to the
Dapuqiao station on Line 9) has pretty good gelato also with some Asian flavors like
black sesame and green tea. The chocolate was smooth and flavorful, though its
texture seemed a little more like ice cream.

I will keep reporting as new finds come along. Any suggestions? I’ve heard the
Freshary at the IFC Mall in Lujiazui is excellent, so it’s on my list now.

Related resources:

By |February 9th, 2014|Categories: China, Products, Restaurants, Shanghai|Tags: , |0 Comments