I followed the two women and we began talking about studying English and I told them that I was teaching high school students in Beijing. I told them the campus that I was working on and immediately doubted giving out that kind of information to strangers.
One of the women seemed interested in my bag. “It’s so heavy. Do you want me to carry it?”
“No, “ I said curtly. I thought of everything that was inside; my passport and my credit cards. But then suddenly I felt a bit guilty for being so quick to judge these women who seemed friendly and were probably just like students I had taught in the past. I felt a bit sympathetic for them as I knew that it was especially hard for Chinese students to master the pronunciation of the English language.
“Have I become so jaded?” I thought to myself. Had years of traveling hardened me to being open to interacting with perfectly normal strangers.
The women led me down one of the older streets of Bejing filled with small restaurants and stalls. Now one of the girls was behind me and I tried to turn my head to keep her in my line of sight. We kept walking down the narrow road and I began thinking of different stories I’d heard where the unwitting traveler was led down the dark alley only to be thumped on the head and to have all of their money stolen.
“Where is this coffee shop?” It had turned to dusk and we seemed to be walking for a long time. Even though parts of me were suspicious other parts of me accepted that these were sweet women who needed my help.
“Just a little further. We are almost there.” The woman in the front said.
“This is a bit of a long way.” I said as my suspicious tone grew louder.
I began to feel as if I should turn back, but I didn’t want to cause an awkward scene. What if I was just a crazy paranoid traveler. And then my doubts were assuaged as the girl in front of me pointed ahead at the stall.
“Here it is, “ she said. Her English was quite excellent. She had a smooth speaking style and she was using some complex vocabulary. I looked at her stylish purse and clothes and thought how normal these two girls must be.
I followed them into a cafe realizing that I didn’t actually know where I was. The owner of the cafe led us into a private room and she turned on the air conditioner. She pointed to me and said something about how I looked so hot. The women were translating for me.
One of the women handed me a menu and I scanned some of the prices. Orange juice was 5 Canadian dollars. I thought that was a bit much but I guessed this room was kind of private and I thought that maybe the air conditioning was a special thing for one of these small stalls to have. I chose the Orange Juice and the women ordered a pot of tea and snacks.
We began to talk about English language studying techniques and I was glad to give the women some tips. I suddenly felt more at ease as I began talking about topics that I was familiar with. The drinks arrived and we continued chatting. It was obvious that the girl in front of me was less confident with her English as she spoke sometimes in Chinese to the other girl who helped to translate for her. She seemed like an earnest student that was having some trouble with English.
Then they were nice enough to offer me some of their tea. I commented on how the tea seemed to be of high quality which made sense as China is major producer of tea. As the tea was finished the girl to my left asked, “Do you want anymore tea?”
“No, I’m fine.”
“OK, “ she said. “We will get the bill.”
She went out to talk with the owner to get our bill. The woman came back and sat down.
“So because we are students and you are the teacher it is custom for you to pay if you don’t mind. “ I was still new to China so it took me a little while to do currency exchanges in my head. I looked at the bill.
“Actually in Canada everyone pays equally, “ I said trying to do calculations in my head while looking at the bill.
“Well it is different in China, “ She said. “Okay we can put in 100 yuan. “
“I only have my credit card. “ The owner came in and I passed the card to her. “It seems a little
“Well we have a private room. And we had a whole pot of tea.”
“Wait! The tea would cost 50 Canadian dollars. “
“Oh I don’t know about the exchange, “ the girl said. “With the tea it is unlimited. “
The old woman came back with my credit card. She spoke in Chinese to the woman to my left.
“Oh she didn’t put everything on your card. She needs to put the rest on it. “
And then I knew it was a scam. I realized that the total bill was for 100 Canadian dollars. “I feel really uncomfortable now. I am not paying anymore!”
“Fine!” The girl on my left hastily threw in a 100 yuan bill and was quickly leaving with the other woman.
Everything was happening so fast and I had little time to process what was happening. The two girls were already crossing the street. “The subway is that way, “ she pointed in the general direction of the way we’d come.
Suddenly I was walking alone down that old street and I was starting to remember things. I remembered that at the other tables in the cafe there were only Chinese women and foreigners. I started to realize that the cafe was full of Chinese women pulling scams on foreigners. And I thought about how these women had caught me just as I was about to head into the subway. They were probably looking for foreigners who were alone in a busy tourist spot. They probably thought that I had no idea where I was and that I couldn’t find the cafe again.
I became angry and I thought to myself that I had to go back and get my money back. I thought about how their scheme was simple and played on my arrogance as a foreigner as I was willing to accept that I could help these women. I had also received tea and drinks so it could be argued that I had gotten something for my money and they might say that I had not been cheated.
I walked past food stalls that I vaguely remembered and then I recognized the coffee shop I had been led into. I didn’t know what to expect when I had returned.