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China Scams Part 3: The Poser

[ 3 ] January 26, 2011 |

This is the third in the series of posts dedicated to the Art of Chinese Scams. This series will continue as long as I continue to get scammed. Learn from my mistakes and avoid getting sucked into the China scam trap.

“You want take photo?…”

We were sitting in a restaurant about to enjoy a nice leisurely meal when we were interrupted by a pair of musicians.  Gesturing to us as if asking did we want them to play we shook our heads and did our best to discourage them.  This had scam written all over it.  They had seemingly appeared out of nowhere, quickly whipped around all the tables and as if premeditated decided that the foreigner’s table would be the best target. It was all too strange, they hadn’t been in the restaurant when we entered, did they follow us in?

Despite all our discouragement they planted themselves down next to our table and started playing.  We did our best to ignore them but then the waiters started surrounding our table really getting into the music, encouraging us to do the same.  The other customer’s just looked on with that subtle grin that says “I know what’s going on but I’m going to choose to ignore the fact that it’s happening.”  I couldn’t believe what was happening and though the situation seemed all wrong I really did want a photo to document that strange moment in time, call that the photo taking fanatic blogger in me!

My friend and I discussed my longing to take a photo under our breaths and decided to ask how much?  They knew that had us then!  They chose to ignore our question time after time so I thought what the hell, how often is this gonna happen, just take the damn picture.  I did and then we got the bill!  It was clearly a calculated scam, follow the foreigners off the street into the restaurant, play them some music then charge them for the photo they’re inevitably going to take.  It was pretty clear that the staff in the restaurant knew all about it, were they in on it, where they getting a commission, did they work for the restaurant?  Maybe.

It really annoyed me that they weren’t upfront about the price of the photo even though it was only 10RMB, the dishonesty really ticked me off, but hell at least I got a picture out of it!

China Scam

The friendly face of Chinese scams

What to watch out for…

  • Anyone in costume is pretty obviously looking for someone to take a photo of them.  Be very wary not all of them will come up to you saying “photo, photo, 10RMB”, so be careful, that sneaky ‘Free’ pic you try to take could cost you money.
  • Anyone’s property is something that can be charged for, bikes, homes, hell even flowers!  While riding around Yangshuo one of my riding companions stopped to take a picture of a flower outside someone’s home.  No sooner had the picture been taken and an old lady swiftly came out and demanded 10RMB.  But the old lady had the disadvantage, she wasn’t on a bike, so that was 10RMB she didn’t make!
  • That kid performing on the street or begging is asking for money, so if you do take a picture expect that you are going to have to pay for it.

Top Tip: Always ask upfront if there is a price to take a photo and don’t stop asking until you get an answer! Once you have the answer then you can decide whether it’s worth taking that snap or not.

Poser’s aren’t the only scammer’s in China, check out the previous post: The Art Student. Stay updated with the Art of Chinese Scams series by subscribing to the RSS feed.

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Category: China

About onurwaytravel: Colin has been travelling the world with his young family for the past 2 and half years. He runs a couple of websites all revolve around travel, family travel and digital nomadism. His websites include,, and now View author profile.

Comments (3)

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  1. Aaaaah, memories of China. :) Although I’ve never encountered this event specifically in three years of living there, I’d like to propose a counter-perspective. I don’t think you were scammed at all.

    Now, the musicians walking in and playing despite your protests is certainly common behavior. Saying ‘no’ and shaking your hand does NOT help, like you said. The thing to do is to imitate the Chinese: gaze indirectly at them, shake your head firmly once, then pretend they don’t exist. They’ll usually try anyway, then they’ll walk away if you absolutely ignore them. Only way to get beggars off your back, too; any other reaction emboldens them.

    Anyway, once they started playing, of course they expected money out of it. They’re forcing a transaction unto you. But I definitely don’t think it’s about getting their picture taken.

    When you asked ‘How much for a picture?’ you monetized that transaction. You indicated your willingness to pay money to take a picture, and unless you had done so, I doubt it would have come to their mind. They didn’t reply with a price, because that’s the opening movement of a bargaining session. It’s better to have you take the picture – in essence, buying the product – before bargaining over its price.

    Now, I bet 10 RMB was even the final asking price. I’m sure you can bargain this down if you’ve got the skills. This makes me think they asked a somewhat outrageous price, expecting to be bargained down. Most likely they wanted 1 or 2 RMB for their performance, and this was their way of convincing you to pay them.

    So there. Maybe I’m wrong… but in my experience, a scammer comes at you with a very specific goal in mind. I’ve never paid anyone for a photo in China, because I believe it somehow dehumanizes my rapport with the person. What I might have done in your circumstance is pay 1 or 2 RMB, smile and chat with them, then ask for a picture in a friendly way.

    Thanks for the memories. :)
    .-= The Backpack Foodie´s last blog ..Xalapa- Our Mexican Happy Place =-.

  2. Sasha says:

    Thanks for the comment, you share some great tips. I’m glad you got to reminisce about China, it truly is a great country that always gives you a lot of interesting memories for sure!

    What I think people need to be aware of particularly in this photo taking scenario despite this being initially more about the music is that every photo may have it’s price so it’s important to be wary, and if you do end up being charged like in my experience and many others it’s important to keep it in perspective and remember no one forces you to pay. The only thing that usually ends up making you pay is a feeling that you have done something wrong or somehow owe them, in this case both me and my friend felt we had done something wrong in not establishing what they were after in the first place.

    Thanks again for the comment! :)

  3. Hi!

    You make a great point on scams and other forms of street hawking… They depend on your guilt to work. A “good” scammer places you in a context where you have to be rude in other to break the scammer’s hold. You just have to realize that they broke that social pact first; that at this point you don’t owe them anything.

    Beggars are a good example. If you make the mistake of acknowledging them by saying “no” and looking at them as you do other human beings, they’ll latch unto you at this sign of weakness. The solution is to ignore them – which I always found really difficult to do at first because I felt I was ignoring their poverty and suffering. Ah, it’s not a simple issue, for sure…

    Cheers, and Xin Nian Kuai Le, by the way! :)

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