I am a Chinese American businessman in Shanghai and staying by East Nanjing Road. At night, men and women will aggressively approach me as they apparently can easily tell I am a foreigner. I do my best to blend in but these people are able to tell.
Last night, I went for a foot massage (which was great) and on my way back to my hotel on Nanjing Road, I was approached by a lady who spoke good-enough English. She offered the same service as countless of others before her but since I had just experienced a good massage, I asked her how much was it for normal, non-sexual massage. That was my first mistake.
She engaged me and gave me “recommendations” on where to get massages for locals. She insisted I go with her so she could show me places where I can get normal massages or sexual massages. She assured me that it was perfectly fine to just look so that I could go there tomorrow by myself.
I figured, since I only had 1 credit card and 30RMB on me nothing could really go wrong. Also, I was under the impression I was going to a general area with multiple venues. This was my second mistake.
So, we get on this motorcycle taxi to a tall building in a seemingly ok part of the city about 5 miles away. As soon as we got there, she walked fast in front of me to guide me inside the building and then to an upper floor.
At that point, I sensed she was taking me to a sexual massage place and not the regular massage place I was looking for and I politely told her that maybe we shouldn’t waste time. But again, she insisted I just take a quick look and if I didn’t like it, she would take me to the massage place. I said ok and followed her into this open apartment with maybe 4–5 not-very happing looking prostitutes.
As soon as I got in, she asked me to sit down in one of the rooms in the back so that I could meet everyone. I sat right next to her as I didn’t want to get swarmed by these women but as soon as I sat down, she left to “get water” and the mama san asked me which one I thought was pretty.
I told her I wasn’t looking for sex at all and that they were all pretty. She then asked me what was my type, I said slim ones and she chose one and left me in the room with her. At that point, I was confused as to what was expected of me. The girl couldn’t speak English and she did not exactly look happy to be there either.
So when the mama san came back after a minute, I asked her what was I doing there. I told her again that I had no money. She said I could “try” a little and if I like then I could come back the next day and pay 400 RMB and then left. I tried to be nice to the girl and told her that I was more sleepy than anything else and that I wasn’t a good prospect.
After this, she called the mama san and they both left and told me she was going to get the scout that got me there in the first place.
Then, to my surprise, two men came in the room with one man acting as the boss/bill collector and the other as muscle and shut the door close. Technically speaking, I could have taken on both of them as I am strong and skilled in fighting.
However, there was no way to know who else was out there or if they had any weapons, plus I just didn’t know how bad it could get if things got violent. So, I realized that I had to oblige to everything they said to get out of the situation.
The bill collector demanded money for using the room and spending time with the girl. I told him I only had 30 RMB and I had explicitly told the scout and the mama san that I had no money on me.
Then he said, the services were going to cost me 29,000 RMB and that I had to find a way to pay him. I remained calmed but acted nervous, I explained to him that I had no way to get cash since I wasn’t carrying an ATM card but that he could try charging my credit card that had a limit of $3000.
He then called a third person that came with a bag of point-of-sale machines and started swiping my card. After charging me 23,000 RMB, he said I would get a discount and to be careful in Shanghai. I said ok and I reminded him I had no money to get back to my hotel, so he asked someone in the front and got me 100 RMB for a taxi.
I quickly left the premises escorted by the guy who came with the bag of machines and he was even talkative and friendly, he got the taxi and waved goodbye as if nothing had happened.
As soon as I got to the hotel, I called my credit card to report the incident and to dishonor all charges. The credit card company issued me another card and I am sure the scammers will not only get a single RMB out of me. Instead, they actually lost money by giving me 100 RMB for the taxi home.
I am always cautious when I travel abroad and I am glad that my cautious plan of taking only 1 credit card and some cash out worked in this case.
In almost 30 years of traveling internationally, I never had an experience as bad this one and this serves as a reminder that one should NEVER trust anyone approaching you on the street, especially in China.
It’s rather sad that authorities seem to turn a blind eye on this issue as there are numerous scouts on Nanjing Road approaching foreigners with the police present. I was lucky to not lose money and learn from the experience but I am sure many others are not.
These practices stain the image of China and my hope is to contribute my story so that it can help others in avoiding scams.