Day 09 - Wed 24th Sept: Having slept for most of the journey, I woke up in good time and started talking with one of the locals in our carriage. Billy was a Chinese hair stylist and was also traveling from Hong Kong to Shanghai having just finished a weeks holiday. He told us the main sights to visit in Shanghai and even paid for our subway tickets to the hostel. We arrived in Shanghai at 10:00am, said goodbye to our new friend and following his instructions, found the Blue mountain hostel with ease. On first inspection, the place was a palace compared to Li's hostel. There was a common room with free Internet, wifi, pool table, dvd player and the place seemed fairly lively. The rooms were very spacious, we had king-sized beds, the showers were clean and piping hot.
Not wanting to waste the day, we quickly locked our stuff in our room and headed into the heart of Shanghai. We took the subway to the pearl tower, which although impressive, looks like it has been taken from a 'Doctor who' set and plonked in the middle of Shanghai. We wandered across the waterfront, admiring the view of the bund (although it was spitting rain and the weather cloudy, the view was pretty decent) We then came across a Haagan Daas restaurant and having just endured a 20hour train ride, decided to treat ourselves. Following this heavenly treat, we took the tunnel across to the Bund, stopping on route at the sea museum. We spent around 30mins walking along the front, admiring the buildings and skyline across the river, which was dominated by the pearl tower and the Jin Mao Building .
Just before heading home, we got talking to three Chinese people called Alfred, Jessica and Debbie. They were student's in Shanghai studying English and informed us of all the must see sights within Shanghai. After 20mins, they told us that they were going to a Traditional Tea Ceremony, held every 3 years and asked Steve and I if we wanted to accompany them. With no plans made for that night, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to participate in something cultural and traditionally Chinese. On the way Alfred told me that his job when not studying was as a Salesmen in the manufacturing industry. Being in sales myself, I listened intently and he handed me his business card, in the hope of doing business in the future. After 10mins of walking, we arrived at our destination, which turned out to be a little house/shop, greeted by smiling people. Now for an event that is supposedly held every 3 years, I was expecting something much grander but thought that the relatively small setting was down to the ceremony being a little more intimate. We were taken to a room and shown to our seats. As we were guests, we were treated as 'VIPs' and given the middle seats, whilst Alfred, Jessica and Debbie sat either side. The hostess entered the room and began setting up, with Alfred acing as translator, we learned the history of the tea ceremony.
There were 12 tea's on display and we were asked how much tea we wanted to taste, each number has a different meaning, such as 6 for good luck and 8 for wealth. We opted for 6 'good luck', something we were thankful of later on. Over the next 2 hours, we were taught that tea should be poured 3 times in a graceful manner, the way in which you hold your cup, depicts either your power as a man or beauty as a woman. We learned that different types of tea had different benefits to the mind and body, for example, one tea provided that person with youthful looking skin (we also massaged the tea cups on our face) and another tea provided that person with a headful of hair. We also learned that Tea provides an equilibrium to life, with a Tea set equating to the heaven, the earth and the people. We tried 6 different types of tea, I can't remember all of the names, but one tasted like jaagermister, (nearly made me throw up in my mouth) a fruity tea which was reminiscent of sangria (much more down my ally) and a tea which had been picked by monkey's because the leaves were high up in the hills, and humans were unable to climb the dangerous rocks. I love a good cup of tea but 2 hours is a long time to drink and we wanted to get back to the hostel to meet new people. We told Alfred that we needed to go and our hostess returned with the bill. Steve and I were both expecting to pay something but when we saw the bill, our jaws nearly hit the floor...It worked out at around 40 pounds each! Alfred then turned around and told us that it was Chinese tradition to pay for the females, I really wanted to tell him where to stick his tradition but kept tight-lipped. I told him that it was too much to pay for the ceremony and we simply couldn't afford it. After a bit of deliberation, we settled on paying 20 pounds each, had a group photo together and the hostess gave us peeing Tea Buddha's as gifts.
We then made our way back, saying our goodbyes to Alfred, Jessica and Debbie offering them a place to stay, should they come over for 2012 Olympics. When we reached the hostel, we sat down by the computers, right in front of us, staring us in the eye was the following notice
"To our non-Chinese friends,
We have been made aware that groups of locals have been approaching westerners around The Bund and People's Square, passing themselves off as students and inviting them to 'Tea Ceremonies.' Please be advised, these are fake. There is no such thing as an 'Ancient Tea Ceremony.'
We love you,
Blue Mountain Youth Hostel"
Steve and I looked at each other in disbelief...We had just been well and truly HUSTLED!!! Looking back on it, we sooooooo deserved it as well, we were approached by complete strangers and ignored all the signs of something that was so obvious. We swallowed all their stories about monkey's picking tea leaves, posed for photo's, god knows what they were saying about us in Chinese. I personally feel that we knew something wasn't kosher but wanted to believe they were genuine. The funny thing is, if we hadn't found out about the scam, we would have been raving about this fantastic cultural experience we'd had, drinking some really nice tea with the locals. I think it will act as a bit of an eye opener and we will be more cautious in the future but at the same time, it's in my nature to be trustworthy and we are going to be meet some genuine people along the way that have good intentions, so I'm just gonna put this one down to an experience. Back at the hotel, we met 2 other people that night, who had also participated in a Tea Ceremony, providing a bit of a pick up from my deflated ego. (Note to potential employers, I am not really this naive/gullible)