Shanghai, but not as originally planned
We left Xiamen on Thursday for Shanghai, with a hotel booked for that night and then again on Sunday, and we had a flight booked on Tuesday morning to take us over to Datong. This was the first time on our trip that we didn't have hotels booked in advance, we had a plan for the weekend to head out to some of the outlying islands off the coast and see some deserted fishing villages. We had done our research and once we took the ferry out we would book a hotel on one of the two small islands that we were traveling to, the first night and return were at the same hotel so that we could leave all of our luggage there and just take a quick overnight backpack with us for the weekend.
The hotel we found for Thursday night was located a bit away from downtown Shanghai, but close the to long distance bus terminal where you also pick up the tickets for the ferries to the islands. We got up early on Friday, checked our luggage into lockers at the hotel and wandered off to book our tickets. We had read that there is usually a line so we were happy to see only 2 people at the ticket window when we walked up. However, once it was our turn we were told that the ferry tickets were sold out for the day, and for the following day as well. We could get a ferry to another outlying island and then taxi across that island and hope that the ferries there were not sold out, at least we read that online - we weren't learning that by having conversations in our broken Chinese with the women at the ticket office. We looked at each other as we exited the line with our weekend plans crumbling, "Let's find a restaurant for some breakfast and use the WI-fi to look at other options." And with that idea, we started a 40 minute walk through the city trying to find a place that we could sit and would have internet access, as I said we were a bit out of the tourist section of town.
As a side note, internet in China is different then everywhere else in southeast Asia. Usually each location has WI-fi that is locked and they'll give you the code once you order something, in Denang, Vietnam almost everyone's code was 12345678 so it made it easy. In China their sites are unlocked but you then need to login to their network, generally by entering in your cell number and then receiving a text code so that you can enter that in. Without purchasing Chinese SIM cards we couldn't get a text sent to ourselves to log in. This is a control thing in China, they want to be able to know exactly who is posting anything, no anonymous internet users. To get a SIM card you need to have your passport, hotel internet logins require your room number, it's very tough to find places to connect.
So we ended up at a Starbucks, that should be nice and easy to have a coffee and see what our options are. It was packed since it was now about 9:40 and inside of a mall that opened at 10, and for some reason we don't understand people here like to watch their phones with the sounds turned up loud, so we were seated between a guy watching the NBA finals in Chinese and someone watching something like China's got talent. And then we find out we can't log into their internet either, at least until Tina convinces one of the workers to use his phone number to get her a code so she can connect. He's lucky she didn't use her connection to send out anti-government rants. What we did learn is that trying to bus or train to any of the nearby river towns wasn't as easy an option as we thought it should be, the other thing we learned was that our second night at the hotel we had was cancellable without penalty. So we booked a hotel that was brand new, close to the Bund, and offering special rates for four nights and decided to just spend a weekend in Shanghai. We went back to the first hotel, retrieved our luggage, and grabbed a taxi to the freshly booked hotel. We figured that they wouldn't be able to check us in with it being before noon, but it was more that they didn't even see our reservation in their system when we showed up. Once it popped up in their system they were able to get us into the room straight away.
Turns out we picked a great weekend to stay in Shanghai, the weather was perfect. It was an almost cloudless sky and a perfect 26C degrees (79F). On Friday we wandered along the Bund and got some photos of the skyline, enjoyed a nice meal, and finished the night listening to Jazz at the House of Blues and Jazz.
Saturday we did more of the same, but with a visit to an old slaughterhouse built in 1933 that's been converted into small shops, and then enjoying the views from a rooftop bar.
Sunday was pretty much just spent relaxing, although we did still manage to tour around more of the city and the side streets around the hotel.
Monday was our final full day in Shanghai, but the most important as for why we even included a stop in this city. We met up with a former colleague of mine who lives in Shanghai, and who was gracious enough to let us use his address to have our World Cup tickets delivered to. We knew that the tickets would be mailed out sometime in late April, early May, and since at that time we would be at least 3 months into our travels, it worked out wonderfully to be able to mail the tickets here and then meet up with them as we passed through. It was also great just to be able to catch up since it's been years since the three of us have gotten together.
The weekend actually went by really quickly, and we ended up glad that we were unable to book our island tour. At least that gives us a reason to come back...