As we were working our way east from Chonqing, the logical next stop after Hefei would have been Nanjing – a city we definitely wanted to see – before moving on to Shanghai. The way it worked out, though, hotels were a problem during those days in Nanjing so instead we just hightailed it to Shanghai and will backtrack to Nanjing before flying up to Xi’an.And so we’re back in Shanghai, just to see it a little more leisurely than we did a few weeks ago with Al & the family. But it didn’t quite work that way. Mark’s knee is still bothering him, so he didn’t get out much. And I decided to deal with a problem I’ve been having with my iPhone and just camp out at the Apple Store as long as it took to get it fixed. Turns out I underestimated the meaning of “however long…”.
Without all the boring details, I spent hours in two different Apple Stores, working with half-a-dozen “experts”; ultimately no one could figure out what was causing the problem or how to fix it and the best we could do was just wipe my iPhone clean and start from scratch. But that was most of my time in Shanghai.
Most, but not all. I still took a couple hours to walk up to the Bund and stroll along the river, coming face to face with one of the big annoyances in the city, the Tea Ceremony scam. It works like this: A young, friendly local strikes up a conversation. You know, where are you from, where are you going, what do you like. That kind of stuff. In my case it was a young woman asking if I’d take a picture of her and her friend, then starting up the conversation. All innocent enough. Then she suggests we go to see a traditional tea ceremony. Fortunately I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck and quickly told her goodbye. I didn’t know what she was going for, but I knew it wasn’t good.
Not 10 minutes later, while walking along the Bund another young couple strikes up a conversation. All innocent and friendly, until he suggests we all go to see a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. OK, now I know something is up. And it is – a common scam to vastly overcharge unsuspecting tourists, or perhaps something worse.
The worst thing about it is that it makes you leery of starting a conversation with anyone. It happened to Mark when we were last in Shanghai – someone tried to get him to go to a tea ceremony; of course he didn’t go – and now he’s skeptical of anyone trying to be friendly. The next day I sat in a pretty park to read a little and an older guy sat down next to me, and started to chat in modest English. My first reaction was to try to go back to my book and not fall for whatever he was after. Instead I engaged him, and had a lovely talk with a 66-year-old retired English teacher. Born and raised in Shanghai, was a boy during Mao’s disastrous Great Leap Forward and a teenager during the equally awful Cultural Revolution. Limited to one child when he was having his family, and his one son also had only one son, so in his old age jokes about the big family he wanted. He’s seen it all and it was the kind of encounter you would never want to miss. But with scam artists swarming around, too, it’s sometimes hard to tell who’s what.
The other item taking up our time is trying to figure out where we’re going later in May. The plan has been to go to Yunan Province in southwestern China for a couple weeks, then work our way up into Tibet, down into Nepal, and over into Bhutan. That earthquake in Nepal, though, has pretty much tossed those plans out the window which is really unfortunate, given how hard Mark worked at putting the plans together. Tibet and Bhutan are both extremely difficult to get into and around in, requiring tons of planning and advance permission and all of that. So far we still don’t know what we’re going to do, but as Nepal was kind of in the middle of all of it, we’re going to have to scramble and do something else.