I've just been released from... not prison, gilded as the cage was. I guess you could call it enforced confinement. My jailers were kind as ever. I've known them since I've lived here, and this was my second time to visit their home.
In the three years I’ve been here, I’ve gotten used to certain culturally dictated acts. Or, at least I’ve grown to expect, and even inured myself to them to a certain degree. Certainly being stared at, having ‘HELLO!’ shouted in my face, requests for pictures – usually asked of my traveling companions who are Chinese rather than of me… to a measure, I have learned to live with these phenomena. Some things simply defy my ability to adapt to. That great Chinese illogic concerning my bag is one of them.
I am constantly told to watch out for my bag, look after my bag and make sure my bag is safe… by the very friends who then take my bag and will not allow me access to it. Who will in fact run away from me rather than risk my taking my bag from them, when all I want to do is get something out of it. This has happened several times.
Frustrating as it is, I’ve learned to live with it. However, depending on how much else I’ve been subjected to I can be game about it, inwardly shaking my head, or my voice drops into that dangerous, treacle-sweet modulated tone that signifies that I am about to blow my stack.
Back to my enforced confinement. My hosts live in Deep Country, where people don’t have cars. Their life is all about their farm. Big city doings are about as alien to them as… as… well, as foreigners with their strange habits and ways.
An omen: Because I surely must be starving after hours on the road, I was immediately seated to a table full of food, among them a fine smelling stew. My hostess stirred it up, further releasing its fragrance. Disturbingly, several chicken feet surfaced, claws up as though threatening from the Great Beyond. I didn’t have much appetite to begin with, the day being so hot. Those imploring chicken feet took away any desire I might have had to eat. I forced myself to choke down a few bites.
First offense: my hosts felt I should take some time off and relax. So, in spite of the fact that I told them I would visit from Tuesday morning till Thursday morning, and must leave out on the earliest possible bus, they took it upon themselves to decide on a 5-day stay for me, and tried to stretch it out to six. Firmly I stuck to my time table and a genteel argument ensued. It took me about 45 minutes to convince them I need to stand by my schedule but apparently I had not brought forth any good reason to deny their extended hospitality. The discussion ended on a sour note: liberal heapings of guilt on their part, a nearly uncontrollable rage on mine. I couldn’t sleep for my temper. I pondered my options.
I was in deep country where the only people I know and could appeal to are my hosts. Getting to town would be impossible. We were so far out of town I only vaguely knew what general direction to walk in. Calling a car – what everyone else that lives that far out does would be completely out of my league. Not only did I not have the number to call any cars, but with everyone speaking the local dialect, there is a good chance I would not be understood. Realizing I was stuck like Chuck, I finally drifted off sometime after 2AM.
Thankfully I had set my alarm clock. The next morning my phone chimed at 6:30AM. Text message: was I awake? I should come down for breakfast. I had in fact been awake for 45 minutes, and had finally found an acceptable rationale for leaving on Thursday. I was given the perfect lead in by my host, who broached the subject by declaring I had been up late.
Being as I was not accorded a minute unaccompanied, it should not have surprised me that my inability to sleep was noted. The good thing is that the matter of my departure was laid to rest and all agreed that I should leave on the day I had originally planned.
The Chinese have this perverse desire to do EVERYTHING for their honored and revered guests. I daresay if the house's matron could have moved her bowels in my stead, she would have. She washed the clothes I was wearing the previous day. She cooked breakfast. All I had to do was float down the stairs, take my time in the bathroom and then take my place at the table where everything was laid out. Of course, any help cleaning up was refused and anything I picked up was promptly snatched from my hand.
The day’s agenda: take a car that would bring us to the ferry that would cross the river and take us into town. See how lost I would have been in the dark of night, had I decided to leave?
First, a walk through the market. I enjoy walking through these markets, the more remote the village the better. That day I didn’t dare stop to look at anything. The second my attention focused on any one thing, my doyenne whipped out her wallet, offering to buy it for me. It took a hefty amount of convincing to persuade her that 1. anything at this market would also be available at markets in Wuhan, and 2. anything I buy at this market would be something I would have to carry back to Wuhan. Grudgingly she acceded.
I was not allowed to carry anything, even my own bag. I was not allowed to buy anything, even things for myself. In fact, I needed some more wet wipes. Mine had all been used at KFC. The restrooms were out of order so I offered my wet wipes around, the novelty of which prompted everyone to use wet wipes to wipe the restaurant tables, walls, their shoes. At the supermarket we ambled through later I found more wet wipes. When I insisted I pay for them myself, my doyenne SNATCHED THEM OUT OF MY HAND!!!
That was it. after a day and a half of being tugged at, pushed or pulled; told how to cross the street, having my things taken from me and raked through; after having it arbitrarily decided how long my stay would be in spite of my wishes and other commitments, and a multitude of other abrasions, her snatching those wipes out of my hand was the very final act of control and domination I was willing to tolerate. Rather than make a scene, hit the roof and/or explode I bowed my head, counted to ten several times while clenching and unclenching my fists.
I should get Dupont to test me so that they can emulate my ability for withstanding extraordinary strain for when they design future models of pressure cookers.
Right then and there I vowed that, well meaning as these people are I will NOT repeat this experience. If any more visiting occurs, it will be on my turf.
In spite of my loathing of early morning rising, I leaped out of bed at 5:43, no alarm required. That was about 37 minutes earlier than I was instructed to. My motivation: I was never more glad to leave a locale as I was leaving that house.
Of course, everyone had to make sure I was packed correctly, so the whole family - father, son, mother, diabetic aunt and alcoholic uncle went through my bag. After a few 'corrections', and my refusing all manner of food - both immediately edible and morsels for the road, I was escorted to the bus station, about 20 minutes away
The son and mother negotiated my fare and paid it, and discussed where the bus should drop me off. I was then surrendered to the bus driver, along with my backpack, a separate bag containing 10 pairs of shoes, and one frozen chicken.
It could have been a fish. My keeper’s best friend, after suffering my refusal for dinner, wanted to send me home with a fish. She was told I don’t eat fish, which earned me some decidedly strange looks. Further discussion between the two best friends led them to conclude I needed a chicken. All of my pleas to not send a chicken home with me were dismissed.
“This is a country chicken, much better than any chicken you can get in the city.” I was told.
Immediately my mind conjured up a fleet of young city chicks marching to school in uniform, red cloths around their neck denoting communist party membership fluttering in the breeze. Chicken feet being a gastronomical delicacy in China, theirs were shod in REEE-bok-bok-boks to protect them for future consumption.
Fury, outrage, insanity and absurdity… at freedom’s fringe, all of the repressed emotions of the past 2 days came crashing in. I did my best to not explode, this time with laughter. Fortunately the bus driver was led to believe I was just a poor, dumb foreigner who needed everything done for me. I was left alone to mull this entry on the ride home.