Random Episode 6: How Kevin Rose and Glenn McElhose Got Scammed in China – Ha!

Total length: 20 minutes.

This is a weekend edition of Random. It is a happy-hour special of Chinese scams.

How did Kevin and Glenn get totally screwed by Chinese “art students”? More important, how do you avoid getting scammed while traveling?

This episode lays out one of the most common scams and explains how to spot similar set-ups worldwide…

Show Notes from Glenn:

– Open intro with weird light: Kevin shooting a laser into a “7 Cups” vessel. Animation by Tynan.

– Yin Bar, Beijing – http://www.theemperor.com.cn/

– Travel Website: www.virtualtourist.com


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The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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188 Replies to “Random Episode 6: How Kevin Rose and Glenn McElhose Got Scammed in China – Ha!”

  1. Sorry to hear you guys got scammed but if it makes you feel any better, there’s all types of scams targeted toward domestics as well as foreigners. We even have a slang phrase for getting scammed “kao nie de baong baong” which can mean anything from being scammed outright to being gouged on prices (like at a roadside restaurant.)

    I remember going to a historic village visited mostly by Chinese tourists and the same art scam taking place. They even had fake craftsman making pieces of a woodcarving in front of you to lend it more authenticity. A lot of the Chinese tourists bought pieces.

    I’d hate for you guys to take the sickening feeling of getting scammed and inevitably equating it to how Chinese vendors operate. In reality, Chinese businessmen have always had to deal with an inadequate legal system and as a result, have had to develop a system of commerce based on one’s reputation and trustworthiness commonly known as Guanxi. If it wasn’t for this code of ethics, I probably wouldn’t have a supplier and still be an investment banker.

    Checkout this link from James Fallows of the Atlantic about “Guanxi”


  2. I told Kevin at FOWA the other day: ‘Please we want more randome episodes, they’re awesome!’ And here it is 🙂 Also, this one can be downloaded from vimeo, thanks for that.

  3. If I tried to show this video to and non-tim-ferriss-addict, they would say it is a waste of time. I am still trying to convince myself of the same but keep watching!

  4. The two biggest scams for foreigners in China to watch out is the art room and the tea room ones. If you get students coming up to on the street, especially in Beijing, asking to “look” at some art work or “try” some tea, then run for the hills because you’ll probably end up losing lots of money.

  5. What I’d like to know is if Kevin and Glenn kept the paintings in the end. Because even if it was a scam they seemed to like them at first…

    (and these ladies are definitively in their 30’s 😉

  6. I can understand why people get scammed in China. Mind you those student they got scammed by look late 40’s and that’s being nice.

    I live in Shanghai. The tea scam is the same here its on Nanjing Road shopping street.

    And there are scams all over the world. The one in the USA that i remember was the guys in tourist area of New Orleans kept asking “I can tell you where you got them shoes”

    Like the videos from China be interesting to hear the rest of the stories.

  7. hey Tim, nice explanations about scams and great Chinese accent =)

    Here in Portugal the only one i know is are taxi drivers who take a long way to charge tourist more, but despite this you should visit this country and get to know the language!

  8. I love it – I got the same art student scam in Shanghai, though I got away with just buying an art work and not the follow up milking (and I fortunately paid cash). There was a moment when I got nervous as the ‘gallery’ was in an odd out of the way lane within a department store, past various dodgy guys – and when I at first declined to make a purchase my otherwise polite new friends developed a nasty demeanour.

    For a nano second I stupidly figured I could take on the ‘art students’ but not the other guys, sanity prevailed and said a little cash and a dent to my pride was no big deal.

    The art work actually is nice, and it still hangs in my home.

  9. Excellent tip about being on your guard when people are overly friendly. In Japan it may be OK (I experienced the same situation with people going out of their way to help you find your way in Tokyo without expecting anything in return), but in other places that’s not the case. Most recent example was the Parisian train system- guy sees I’m lost, offers to show me how to get to my train, then demands money for the “service.”

  10. I find it so funny that Kevin got scammed 🙂 Especially when considering he did that Broken / social engineering stuff yeeeeears ago cheating for free pizzas and stuff like that 🙂 I bet he thought himself to be knowledgeable enough not to get scammed.

  11. Thanks for sharing!

    I have to agree with Tim – Thai people are great, almost 0 chance to get scammed there, even though they might appear more over-friendly than any other people.

    The worst scam I ever got was in Tunisia. I was out with some friends shopping at a bazaar and this really friendly guy comes to us and says: “Oh! I know you guys! I work at your hotel! Come with me! I will take you to the store of my family!”.

    Anyway, then he offered to bring us ice-cream (he never brought it). There were no price tags on any products and when we asked how much does this or that cost, we were told that price doesn’t matter, that we are friends and we will talk about money later.

    Of course, at the end they asked for 300 euro, which was probably 10-15 times the real value. The problem was that we couldn’t just leave everything there, as they made some custom (crappy) custom bracelets which we were obliged to buy and 10 angry men were around us.

    In the end we payed just 100 euro but took only 1/3 of the items, so we still got scammed big time.

    What’s most intriguing is that we even felt bad in a way that we upset the friendly man and we weren’t friends anymore :))

  12. Ah ah!

    Good to hear about that scam (I am planning to travel for a while including in China in the next year or so)

    Random episodes are really wicked! It really adds another dimension to your blog and your persona too (is that a step to trying to become more mainstream?)

    Keep up the great episodes (and other posts)..

  13. Thanks for posting. I love the proverb. I play street ball (basketball) with Chinese here in Japan, and I am finally beginning to understand–“Trick if can be tricked”. No more accepting calls on fouls that weren’t actually fouls.

  14. Very cool video! I’m planning a trip to Beijing real soon and the info you guys gave me were priceless. Thanks a lot and keep it up!!

  15. I understand they were pissed about being taken advantage of, but I think reversing the charges was wrong for two reasons.

    1) You still had the products.

    2) You must have said four or five times how great the work was. And it was painted, not photocopied. So even if the girls didn’t paint it, it was good. You didn’t think you were paying more for a “name” artist anyway. So why is it suddenly worthless because it wasn’t done by the girls?

    That second rule really comes down to my general rule for not getting scammed: Only pay what you think something is worth. As long as you actually get what you paid for — and in this case you did — you got your money’s worth.

  16. I encountered a similar art scam in Paris when I visited a few years back. It wasn’t as complex as this though, the “art students” simply set up shop on the sidewalks and streets. I ended up buying one for $20 US, it ended up being very high quality print on canvas.

    I feel for Kevin and Glen, sorry guys. Lesson learned.

    As a side note, do you think they will actually ship you the paintings?

  17. The only time I’ve been scammed was in London. Awesome credit card scam where they timed it exactly so that someone said “hey you dropped a bill” and there was this 20 pound note crumpled on the ground. Funnily enough I thought I had 20 pounds in my pocket, and really thought it was mine, picked it up, and somehow they totally timed it so that they managed to pull out the card from the machine at the exact moment that I picked up the note. Really awesome timing, can’t believe they did it. And they saw the pin number. But luckily they didn’t take too much money for some strange reason.

  18. I ran into the same scams in Beijing. I was more lucky at the tea house. I refused to pay for the girls’ tea, but it still cost about $30.

    I also spent way too much on the “art”.

    You suggest virtualtourist to scope out scams, but your example suggested search for “art student”… but who has the time to search out a scam before it’s happened to them. I thought the dangers section of Beijing was way too vague and wouldn’t have been enough to caution me away from these scams before I had experienced them.

    I’d be interested in a site that was able to rank scams so the most common ones were easily identifiable and could be reviewed on the plane or in the hotel before venturing out on the first day.

  19. In Paris if someone hands you a brass ring asking you if you just dropped it you’ve met a chain scammer.

    To all his own 🙂

  20. I find that while travelling the cold shoulder usually works pretty well. I am not a cold person but I would prefer to not get taken advantage of. Not to say that it will never happen but worked pretty well so far.

  21. I’ll never forget my trip to Rome, Italy where dressed up Gladiators would pose for a picture with you and then demand 10 euros outside the coliseum. Word to the wise…


  22. This is by far the best episode yet.

    The easiest way to not get scammed is not talk to or help anyone, but really you have to find a balance between friendliness and risk avoidance. This balance will change based on where you go. In non-touristy areas you can be more open.

    Most good scams hinge on a few principles. Usually someone needs your help (often pretty girl). They build rapport, maybe help you, and in return you help them. The 419 scams http://www.419eater.com are a good example of this.

    Other scams use basic compliance techniques:

    Foot in the door – make a small request, get you to say yes, increasing your likelihood to say yes to a bigger request. (Can we practice English with you?)

    Door in the face – make an outrageous request, which you will reject, then make a smaller request which you will say yes to out of guilt

    Scarcity – claim that something is unique or that you have a limited time to buy (I painted this, you are leaving beijing)

    Low ball – start with one price, and once you’ve committed, increase the price (buy some art, then pay for shipping)

    Ingratiation – a specific attempt to get someone to like you (friendly pretty girls are almost always the initial contact)

    Social proof and Isolation – by removing your frame of reference, you have no way to tell what is normal (Foreign country in this example), further by substituting a new one, you can make that which is not normal seem normal (it is perfectly fine to pay $250 a person for a cup of tea or some art because everyone here is doing it).

    Read up on Robert Cialdini’s work in compliance. Great for sales and avoiding scams.

  23. I always love the random videos. This one was really entertaining and informative.

    Inspiring to hear you talk chinese Tim.

    Klaus Tol

  24. Great story and great tips on scams while traveling. Best quote though, “That’s strawberry. We make that out of dog piss.”

  25. Great information!

    My brother and I are leaving for South East Asia in a few weeks. I really look forward to meeting the local people and getting a behind the scenes view of the area. Based on the video it seems best to avoid “friendly” people.

    Have you had any success meeting people in Asia which lead to a better experience? If so, do you have any tips about how/where to meet people that are not scammers and are genuinely friendly?

  26. I just got back from travelling for a year, and my worse scam was in Shanghai. I saw the art students in Beijing too, but they weren’t so bad. I didn’t buy anything from any of them and one “student” even bought me a drink after I’d said no to his art. But on to Shanghai…

    A pretty Chinese girl in the middle of the day on a popular tourist street asked if I was sightseeing too, (she was also in Shanghai sightseeing) I said yes, she took me for coffee then ordered loads of food and wine and then invited her friend as well!

    The bill, which I was expected to pay was 1000RMB ($150). After arguing with management I “got away” with paying a massive 300RMB ($45) for my coffee.

    To be honest, I kind of new I was being scammed but I hoped they might at least offer me sex for that kind of money. lol.

  27. dude that is very funny. a pain in the arseno doubt. and a little humiliating but at least it was under a 1000.00 and no real damage was done good thing Tim was with you guys.

  28. Tim,

    Thanks for keeping the video short. Oh yes, the Forbidden City… sorry you missed it. It has amazing views and it’s mind-boggling. FYI- I feel for you about the notebook you lost.

    Kev, Lol. This is hysterical.

    Those girls pulled a quick one on you/Glenn and they weren’t cure. They milked it, though it wasn’t cool. I’m sure you see it from a better perspective nowadays. You deserve another sugary drink on me for that. 🙂

    Looking back on it, enjoy a hearty laugh.

    Hey All, Tim makes a valuable point- question motives and be direct. This is especially helpful for all the ladies.

  29. Interesting. I think the fact that you’re guys “enhanced” your experience. On my first trip to Beijing, in 2000, my traveling companion (also a woman) and I encountered “art students,” but they were much younger — definitely not more than 17 or 18. The art studio was off the beaten path. We each bought a small painting for about $10 (paying cash — we weren’t totally trusting, and didn’t want to give them credit card numbers). They rolled up the paintings and put them in tubes so we could pack them safely, and then they said, “we hope you enjoy China” and said good-bye. No expensive tea or offer of “cheap” tickets anywhere.

    Of course, by my second trip to China, a few years later, traveling alone this time, when an older gentlemen (the instructor, of course) offered to show me his art studio, which was “nearby,” I decided it was, if not exactly a scam (because I did get a piece of artwork I love and it was worth what I paid), at least a very well organized operation, so I declined his offer, saying I already had bought art.

    So I definitely think they approach women differently than they approach men. I’d say that, if you want the art, no problem in going, but know what it’s worth, pay cash, and take it with you — and then say “good-bye.”

  30. I went to China in 06, and out of all the things I saw I had the most fun haggling down vendors in this huge flea market in Shanghai. My sister was too shy to argue over a price so I got to have a lot of fun storming off when they wouldn’t go any lower and have them chase you to give you a better price!

  31. In any third world country a lot of their bread and butter is scamming tourists. I’m not saying that it’s right per say, but if it happens to you don’t be angry. I’ve traveled a lot and it’s really kind of a gamble whenever you’re purchasing something off the streets in a different country. I’ve been scammed and I’ve also made some really great purchases, so when it does happen I kind of look at it as part of the experience. You came out of it with a great story and in your guys’ case the credit card company took the hit. =) Happy Traveling!

  32. Great tips! Can’t wait to go to Beijing and other places while my muse does all the hard work. Tim – you kick ass 🙂

  33. Ah drat. I’m gonna go watch it when I’m plugged into a good power source. Now on a netbook and any vid stuff is going pretty laggy now — only got to see the ox in the first couple of mins in the clip. 🙁

  34. On the point of Chinese people fighting over the bill, I’m Chinese and had the opportunity to visit second cousins (our grandparents are siblings) and if you even mentioned that you thought something was nice, they would jump at the chance to buy it for you. We were in Zhejiang, which is known for leather products, and I mentioned I wanted to get a pair of nice shoes… we spent the next thirty minutes going into a bunch of shops until they forced me to pick one they would buy for me. My wife said she thought my cousin’s purse was cute, to be polite and all that, the next day my cousin gave her one.

    Now, these were strangers, rather than family, when the day started but if they were genuine, they would’ve at least shown a hint of that. Just wanted to add a little extra perspective on it.

    On the flip side, Chinese people, in general, won’t talk to strangers unless there’s some sort of pre-existing relationship (quanxi). So a friend of a friend isn’t a stranger, but some random on the street would be.

  35. When I was in the art business we imported our oils from China. They were good sellers to the middle-class market and extremely cheap for us to purchase wholesale. The point is they mass produce these art pieces.

  36. So the moral is the story is to use your American Express when purchasing things and try not to be scammed……but if you do….just do a charge back and get some free art!

  37. Brilliant and entertaining. My 3 buds & I got hit up by the “art students” outside the Forbidden City… thankfully, we didn’t bite. Enjoy your trip! Fantastic country.

  38. I just watched it again and realized those girls are probably in their 40’s haha. Man there’s nothing that’ll take a guy’s money faster than “friendly” women.

  39. Did you actually see the scam artists ship the art work? I’ve heard of other scams where they will sell you something then take it out of sight to ‘package it for you’ but, actually, they are putting a rock in a box or something similar.

    At any rate I hope they did really ship your artwork so you can always have a good story to tell people when they ask about it.

  40. The “Slumdog Millionaire” technique I’ve witnessed in India seemed only a bit more ethical and transparent: a young man approached me at one of the historical sites and also described himself as an art student giving tours to practice his English. What tipped me off at his ulterior motives was that he was not happy to see me wander off the regular tour path – I’m sure that threw off his customer acquisition metrics 😉 At the end, I did feel that because he spent 20-40 mins walking me around, I at least owed to hear his real pitch.

    We ended up at his father’s shop across the street where the negotiation went on for 20 minutes and the owner ended up accepting my offer through a window of a departing cab – it was somewhat overdramatized. I still don’t know whether I got a good deal, but every time I mentally replayed that experience, I’ve gotten more and more appreciation toward their scheme and their attention to detail.

    Tim, it’d be great to hear your take on haggling techniques you’ve seen and used when traveling.

  41. Another great episode. Huge fan of Random – keep em coming 🙂

    As far as Japan goes – lived there for a year and no scams whatsoever. I did hear about semi-shady venues in Roppongi though – so watch out for those.

  42. Very interesting. It seems to me that you had a great time there, despite the art buying incident. Never really felt like going to China myself thou. On the other hand, my wife would be very interested in tasting all those tea varietes. We’ll have to think about it.

    Thanks for the post.

  43. Sorry to hear you guys got scammed. I think it’s happening less often than it used to. Generally Chinese people are really nice and often do want to help. But you have to be careful in touristy places. Also try to learn a bit of the language, it can indicate that you are not totally green about the country: scammers tend to go for easier prey (but not always).

    Tim if you have time please have a look out our Chinese learning program. We have similar ideas to you on language acquisition. I’d be grateful for your feedback.



  44. It’s not uncommon to hear about tourists getting scammed, but it’s not everyday you run into such a well developed and planned out scam like the one you described. Glad to hear nothing too serious was lost. Really enjoying the random episodes. Love to see these keep going in some form.

  45. I think this show could benefit with more ‘travel show’ elements, rather than just completely using a ‘talk show’ format.

  46. Tim, first of all, your Chinese is amazing! I spent 6 months in China recently (mid ’08 to early ’09), so this really brought a lot of memories rushing back. Strongly recommend people to visit. It’s an amazing place and you come back with a ton of impressions and great new perspectives.

    Feel both bad and good for Kevin and Glenn for getting scammed, but hey – they got a great story out of it. It’s a small price to pay for a video like this. I’m sure they will be a tad more cautious next time abroad.

    Looks like you had a blast traveling together, and Tim, I’d stick to the non-sugary lemon drinks as well (sorry Kevin 🙂 ).

  47. Girl drinks and beard schadenfreude, LOL. Totally worth procrastinating for.

    My friend had her ID stolen by a taxi driver in SF. Go figure.

  48. Fantastic video! Great insights.

    Looks like Kevin and Glenn should go to Brian Brushwood’s Scam School. Don’t know they have heard of it, it’s a rev3 show 😉

  49. One thing to be careful about in Shanghai and Beijing is “fake” unregulated cabs. Cabs in China are extremely inexpensive compared to London and NYC, but there are some “unregulated” cabs in Shanghai and Beijing that have the meter go ching ching ching and charge you 5x or more the usual fare.

    Some tell tale signs are no license plate, different look of the taxi sign on the top, different brand car (most cabs in Shanghai are VW), no protective fiber glass around the driver, the driver speaks extremely good English 🙂 This may save you a few bucks and some nerves because they’d most likely take you on a longer route as well.

  50. wow, that must’ve been surreal. I can relate with their anger. Once I tried to score some herb in New Orleans whilst roaming the town during Jazz Fest. It turned out to be Oregano and I was greatly angered. In hindsight though, I was actually impressed wuth their social engineering!

  51. Tim, this is hilarious! At the same time, also very informative 🙂

    You’re Mandarin is still pretty darn good man, don’t trip. You’re right, in any country, there will always be some messed up people taking advantage of others. But I’m glad no body got hurt! At the end of the day, that’s what counts.

    The way forbidden city charges tourists have changed. They charge separate fees for different sections and rooms tourists what to see. So that’s another way for them to make more money LOL! (umm…scam?) And yes, restrooms are as horrible as anywhere else if not worse; imagination sharing a portable construction stall with someone!

    I like the tip on debit vs credit cards in foreign countries man! So true! Good luck at the BizTech Day!!


  52. If anyone’s like me and likes to download the episode to their computer you can just go here: http://www

    and then scroll down, there’s a link on the right.

    Shame Vimeo doesn’t let you download users videos in podcast form though – that’d be brilliant.

  53. That old man singing is hilarious.

    So why did the girls give you their cell phones? You never went back to that.

    Thanks for the tips!

  54. Kevin and Glen… you guys are just lucky there wasn’t a police sting in that house of artistic prostitution. You two could have been arrested as Art Johns.

    “Officer, I just came for a creative massage.”

  55. Guys,

    That was classic!

    You should come down-under, I’ve got a brother that’ll let you ride his Kangaroo, he lives in town, but you have to watch out for the drop bears (damn Koala’s) they love to drop from the lightposts and grab your wallets…

    Hope you can drop past soon…hahahaha…

  56. Just finished watching the episode, absolutely love it. Reminded me of Diggnation but with a broader range of topics – and that’s a good thing. Hope to see more episodes not as far apart 😉

  57. Great episode, Tim! I agree about Virtual Tourist, it has been a lifesaver for me! The most scam-laden city I have visited? Cairo. Just 5 minutes after arriving at the airport at the airport the scammers were lined up and unleashed their fury on me (I didn’t bite). Visiting the pyramids was even worse!

    Any more scheduled trips on the horizon?

  58. I am always bemused when I hear people say that ‘the Eastern culture is so much more spiritual’, or ‘Asians are not materialistic, not like westerners’. Maybe that’s not the case of those ‘art students’ 🙂 I have friends who sent their kids to China because they wanted them to be immersed in “Buddhism and all those eastern philosophies’. Good luck seeking ancient wisdom in shopping malls and factory towns…

    Oh by the way, Tim, you recommended in your book a few starting points for ‘mini-retirement’. Taipei is one of them. I appreciate the recommendation since I grew up there. However, it’s weird to categorize it as “China”, along with Hong Kong and Shanghai. Don’t you think?

    1. Hi Annie,

      I totally agree on all points. The folks who cite the non-materialist Eastern cultures make me almost wet myself. I don’t consider Taipei to be in China, per se, but the publisher had their fact-checkers all over the book, which is a good thing. Taiwanese culture and mainland culture are as different as the US and China, in my opinion.


  59. Great episode, guys. Keep ’em coming.

    Yes, please tell us the “rest of the story” regarding the women giving you their cell phones.

  60. Definitely got approached by this scam, the Tea Festival Scam (“this tea festival only happens once every three years, come drink tea with us..”), and what else…?

    In Mongoia, they didn’t even bother to scam me, some dude just stole my newly purchased apple juice from me on the sidewalk – right out of my hands. Odd, i know.

    Bangkok – too many to mention. Usually, a guy who “works at your hotel” offers to get you a good price on a boat ride (even though his wife is supposedly having a baby on the other side of the river)….Or, a guy with a job and “is not selling anything” wants to tell you about a once every two years sale going on at some jewelry warehouse.

    Saigon – Malaysian “tourists with family in Saigon” ask to take you back to their house for dinner so that their sister can learn more about “how to get a visa for [insert your country here].” And they usually have a sister who is a nurse in a city near where you live. And beware of all moto drivers here – counter offer at least half of what they say first.

    Cambodia – most of the children selling stuff can tell you the capital of your country, its population, and of course the name of your president. They work hard memorizing all that for sure, which might be worth buying something from them.

    Luckily, I’m too skeptical to get hit by any of these, but after I caught on to the scam in Saigon, I told the Malaysian lady that I was a journalist working with the Saigon government to report on and uncover scams. She couldn’t believe scams would be happening to tourists, but quickly wished me good luck and was on her way.

    Oh – and reading Rolf Potts’s Marco Polo Didn’t Go There (great travel book!!!), he shared how he was ruffied (ruphyed??) and stripped of all his belongings while asleep. Ug – hard to trust people anywhere.

    Someone, Lonely Planet perhaps, should put together a compilation of scams from around the world for travelers to read through before visiting those countries. Hmmm, maybe I’ll go start a site like this right now. Automated income?

    With all that being said, numerous people have helped show me the way while I was lost, or helped in myriad other ways, during my past year in Asia. And for them I am indebted.

    Be well fellow travelers,


  61. Tim & Guys, EXACTLY the same thing happened to me and a friend in Beijing about 4 years ago, so my guess is they have it down to a fine art (no pun intended). Just felt like I was reliving it through watching the video. In the end we were playing on it with them, and they ended up running the other way cos they knew they had been caught out.

    Love the Random episodes. Cheers.

  62. Tim,

    There are rumors that the reason the Tea and Art scamming even still happens is that the local police are profiting.

    That would also explain the reasoning behind the preferential Real Estate detail you picked up on.

    I have also heard that the DVD sales go through the police and so do most small bike repair guys, XiaoMaiBu ??? (the little shops) and any one else that has to profit from a ‘temporary’ spot of land they don’t own.

    Also, now I get why you guys were slowing down on the drinking when I showed up at dusk….

    You guys were literally there all day.

  63. Hey Tim,

    My girl is from Yunnan (Kunming specifically) and it was cool hearing Kevin’s sentiments of countryside vs. city mirror hers (she was comparing to Shanghai, not Beijing, though).

    What was your favorite part of Yunnan? It’d be awesome for us readers to get some Ferriss-tips on the sweetest parts of the countryside, nature, etc.

    Thanks to you, Kevin, and Glen for sharing your trip,


    PS. You look really cool with the beard. Total world-hopping traveller-writer 🙂

  64. Tim,

    LOVED the *Random* video–not only because it was a fun story (that you all will be telling for years to come) but because its wonderful to watch good friends having a great time together.

    I hope the rest of your trip is full of happy/hilarious memories!

    Take Care,


    PS–dude, break down and shave.

  65. I was in Beijing for a few days in 2004.

    I got hit with the tea house scam.

    I got hit with the art student scam too. The first time I fell for it and bought $30 worth of art. The second time I realized it was probably a scam and politely declined. The third, fourth and fifth times I was approached I responded with “no thanks, I don’t want any fake art”.

    Small price to pay for going halfway around the world without knowing the language or customs.

  66. Hi Tim,

    I read your book when it came out, and I only bought it because it was on my wishlist after I saw it recommended and I just purchased it without thinking about it too much.

    And boy, it was one of the best reads of the past few years. I’m now reading Be Unreasonable, and although it’s a good book, it does not come close.

    Anyway, I’ve been also reading your blog for a long time, and I believe this would be my first comment (or second). I just wanted to tell you how grateful I am for your book, for the teachings you share through your blog, and now for the awesome show you three put on.

    I hope I don’t sound too… mmh, I don’t know the word… “barbero” in spanish in case you’re familiar with the word… but you’re the kind of person I’d love to be around with, and I hope I get to meet you some day.

    Next year I’m gonna start traveling, so maybe then… And if you ever come to Mexico, please let me know!

    1. Thanks so much, Ivan, for the kind words. No te preocupes — it’d be fun to grab a drink if I make it to Mexico!

      Un abrazo,


  67. Hi Tim-

    My favorite concept from your book is that money is multiplied in practical value by how free you are to use the ink the money provides to paint the canvas of your life. I was inspired by that idea, and based on the factors you discussed, I developed a tool that allows the user to know the “real value” of their income. I found that by understanding my current reality, it was much easier to focus my efforts in the right places to immediately create more freedom and balance. It has been so helpful and effective for me that I’m sure there is value in sharing this with others. I would love your perspective on this.

    Thanks for showing us the truth about obstacles: They are self made illusions based on untested assumptions.


  68. What an enjoyable 20 minutes spent hearing about your scam. The same thing happened to me and my girlfriend (we are both girls who traveled alone to China together–not ‘partners’). So we were exiting a mall in Beijing when two young “art students” approached us – same deal – so off we went with them to an out-of-the-way, up-the-back-stairs “gallery”…more of a storage space with hanging art and also piles of art you could leaf through. I have to say we had a thoroughly enjoyable time. We didn’t hear of this being a “scam” until after we returned from China, though, but we knew we were taking a bit of a risk to go off the beaten path with two strangers…well, the girls really were young (not like your “students”), they did say they wanted to practice their English, and they did invite us for tea, afterwards, downstairs! But we had a delightful time. The “art teacher” and other guy were on site when we arrived upstairs in the “gallery”. We felt no pressure to buy…but we were definitely willing. The girls and “teacher” showed us around, explained the themes of the art, seemed very polite and forthcoming. They answered all of our questions, too. The prices for the art seemed fair, so we bought a few things. It wasn’t expensive. We took them with us, carefully rolled in tubes and otherwise nicely wrapped for suitcase travel. I am sure I gave them RMB and not my credit card (I hope I wasn’t that stupid…I should look it up for sure!) but regardless, there was nothing amiss about it. When we had tea, which we declined to buy, there was no weirdness at all. I think that the girls even paid for the tea we drank. I was there to adopt a child and my friend came along b/c my husband stayed at home with our other kids. I mentioned the adoption to the “art teacher” who really did have a working art space, and she immediately set to work on a quick painting of my daughter’s Chinese name Lian Hua which was translated to ‘lotus blossom’ and she added a red lotus blossom…and would not accept payment for it! So I have a lovely bit of original art that I witnessed and filmed being made, framed and hanging in my home today. Along with the other pieces that I bought, which believe me, were not expensive.

    So: were we scammed? I didn’t feel scammed nor did my friend. So they sold us some art, who cares? We liked it, we had fun with them, they made a little money and we came away with something pretty and, at least in one case, definitely original! I agree it could have gone wrong in a big way. We were probably stupid for going off with them…they could have had some guys waiting in the alley to beat us senseless and relieve us of our cash, credit cards, cameras and passports. For sure. So, your video is important and I think I’d definitely be wary in the future. But for us, we had a blast.

  69. I know times when we know that we’re in for a scam, but our psychology being programmed to conform since birth feels bad (empathy?) to call the scammer out?

  70. Great video Tim!

    Reminded me of a very similar incident I learned from in Tangier, Morocco 15+ years ago. I got ‘taken’ to a carpet maker in the Kasbah, and after an hour or two bought a rug I wasn’t interested in buying in the first place…

    I thought I had done well with the negotiation… but when my firend (a local) found out what I had paid they gave me a real hard time!

    It was a good learning experience though.

    But as Kevin said not all friendly acts come from greed or suspicious motives. Not long after, I was in Seville,Spain,for one night for the world expo. I decided not to spend money on a hotel for the one night so split the night between a park bench and the stairs of the railway station.

    Some guy approached me at the station around 0800 in the morning and offered to show me around. I was wary of scammers etc (after 2 years travelling at this time), So I immediately told him I had no money, I had a bus ticket and would be leaving at 1100.

    He assured me that his intentions were good and he took me for a 1 1/2 hour tour of some of the most amazing architecture I had ver seen. He spoke knowledgeably of the history of the area. All for a handshake and a smile.

    He filled in a morning, gave me a new pespective on Moorish Spain, and bolstered my faith in people everywhere. :o)

    BTW: Most impressed with your Chinese language Tim… I find it inspirational, I need to get travelling again and oil up my language skills…

  71. What’s the scam? I don’t get it. Do they get a provision from the restaurants, tea bars etc., what about the art work? Btw. the video was fun to watch, hopefully you’ll share more soon.

  72. I enjoyed the video.

    I almost got taken in Thailand.

    I think you have to realize that you are most likely to be approached in the most tourist-packed places. It just makes sense: as the saying goes, “That’s where the money (suckers) is.”

    They are going to latch onto what really interests you. In Thailand I was approached at a temple. He found out I was interested in Thai boxing (I was wild about it.) and he was going to take me to the boxing stadium, he knew trainers, etc.

    I’m sure that if I’d said I was there to buy teak he’d have said that he knew the world’s greatest teak carvers. Or needlepoint stitchers, surfers, hikers, meditation instructors, was the son of the most famous monk, had property on Koh Samui, and so on.

    When he asked the question, “Are diamonds expensive in your country?” I saw where it was headed and left.

  73. So the Chinese women misrepresented themselves and their purpose. You may not realize this but misrepresentation happens all time in US. We see commercials where actors and celebrities endorse products they themselves don’t use or won’t recommend to their friends. Thanks for posting the link to the hotel.

  74. Tim, this is the only way I saw fit to try and contact you where you would respond…yes breaking the rules here…it’s my motto. Anywho I’m a Product Design student from the Art Center College of Design looking into doing some research on blogging lifestyle. Would you be able to answer a few questions via email or mobile? This is a total shot in the dark and simply a student project I doing for a class..


    P.S. I could give you my contact info if you were able to get this and choose to respond…thanks!

  75. Hey Tim!

    I think the beard is hot! Shame on Kevin and Glenn for shaving theirs and getting scammed. 🙂