Sunday, August 31, 2014

Could I Live There? Part 2

The first time I wrote an entry with this title, it was with the idea of reviewing some of the cities I'd visited from the perspective of seeking a possible new home. Looking back, that screening proved unnecessary because here I am 4 years later, still in Wuhan, and still loving it. That doesn't stop me from traveling around and, with each visit considering: Could I live there?

Wenzhou: Seemed to me a rather mean town, where people drink the beer and eat the glasses. Industry  is king there, with factories of all sizes – from mammoth, fume-disgorging concerns to hole in the wall, piecemeal and no doubt poorly paid work. This relatively small town gets virtually no government money and I saw no repair work or new construction, even though it was sorely needed. There is a bus system, but they run infrequently and the vehicles are sad, tired things, belching smoke. However, the people I met (through Gary) were nice and welcoming. CILT? No. No foreigner commodities that I saw and hardly anything to do.

Hangzhou: Now there is a gem of a town! Hangzhou has a lot to offer. In fact, it is an up and coming financial center whose focus is fashion. Someone looking for work could do well there. Beyond that: public transportation is more than adequate and there are plenty of foreigner conveniences. For entertainment and relaxation, one can take in the tea plantations and temples, and ride a cable car to the top of the mountain to see the whole city spread out at their feet. Lots of shopping, nice restaurants and funky cafes to while away an afternoon. Abundant, lush vegetation and clean air. CILT? Yes. But not so much that I'm enticed to leave Wuhan.

Qingdao: a lovely coastal city with a lot of history. Plenty to see and do, but food choices seem to be lacking if you are not into seafood. In spite of its German heritage, I found virtually no German influence (no German restaurant!), which was kind of disappointing. Maybe I didn't look hard enough. Public transportation is widely available and the city is easy to navigate. The people are very friendly and accommodating. There are some foreigner concessions and vigorous sea air. CILT? Probably not, because of the chilly, damp climate and the food.  A nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to call it home.

Wudang: For me, a mystical place. While no great shakes, the people more than make up for what the city lacks. Public transportation is adequate for a town its size, and everywhere there are cars for hire. No foreigner concessions that I know of. The temple of Wudangshan – the birthplace of Shaolin Kung Fu  and this burg's claim to fame is a must. The higher up the mountain, the better the air but at street level, beware of dust. CILT? Perhaps. It is close enough to Shiyan and Wuhan that I could ride the train to make a day out of shopping and dining. 

Suzhou: Beautiful! I couldn't help but repeatedly exclaim over its loveliness. Wide avenues where the many buses trundle along efficiently. Her 2 subway lines are clean and well maintained. This city is not as crowded as some, and seems to beckon visitors. Water villages Zhou Zhuang and Tong Li lie nearby, and there is a riverwalk to dally around in the evening. The food was good. Plenty of foreigner concessions. People seemed a bit reserved, though. CILT? Probably, but not my first choice of places to hang my hat if I had to leave my current digs.

Wuhu: EVERYTHING about this city is perfect for me! Plenty to see and do, and the food is fantastic! What really crowns it are the people: they radiate happiness! Plenty of public transportation, and -  surprise, surprise: courteous drivers! I couldn't help but notice: cars stayed in their lanes, did not cut each other off and did not continuously honk their horns. There are some foreigner restaurants but not many concessions... which really doesn't matter because Wuhu is only 2 hours by train from Nanjing. CILT? Yes. YES!!! A thousand time YES!!! If not for my loyalty to my school I would be packing my bags right now.

Hefei: to be perfectly frank, I did not give this city a fair shake. Coming from my perfect Wuhu, the dirt, the cacophony, the rudeness of the people I met in Hefei did not make a favorable impression. This town seems to be undergoing a rebirth and everything is topsy-turvy. Renegade traffic, torn up sidewalks, people aggressively hustling. Objectively: there are some foreigner restaurants but not much in the way of concessions. However, it is close enough to major cities where those outlets abound. The air is dirty from all of the construction. I was not impressed with the food. CILT? No. In spite of my optimism at the outset of my visit, I found little that might convince me to want to hang my hat there.

Jingdezhen: the porcelain capital of China. Active archeology digs make it interesting to me, but there is not much else there besides Pottery Row where one can buy wholesale china. It gets virtually no government money and suffers from that lack. There is a mass transit system but traffic seems to be a nightmare. I imagine it might be difficult to get around. Few foreigner concessions and the people seem reserved. I did not care for the trademark food: sour noodles. CILT? No. Even if I had to, I wouldn't want to.

Ezhou: a mostly rural, quiet little town one hour outside of Hubei province's capital city. It is easy and cheap enough to get to Wuhan that the lack of foreigner goods and concessions doesn't matter. The people are very friendly and kind. For being a smallish, industrial town the air is fairly clean. Public transportation is adequate and the city is easy to navigate by bus. Plenty to see and do outdoors. CILT? Yes. I'd like to retire in Ezhou.       

Shanghai: I probably don't need to give anyone a description, do I? I can share my thoughts, though.
Plenty of foreigners and foreigner conveniences. Plenty to see and do. The subway system is a marvel and buses abound, but they are unreliable. For such a large city the air is remarkably clean. Food tends toward the sweet, although I did have some super salty dishes. In the right district Shanghai is indeed a 24-hour city. CILT? Well, I could but I don't want to. Shanghai felt deceptive to me, with the pretty, rich Eloi playing while the Morlocks toiled away, unrecognized and unacknowledged.

Twenty cities in 4 years. Not bad, I'd say. Makes me wonder...


Whore Cards

I'm neither naïve nor a prude. I'm well aware that the sex trade is a booming business, even though it is illegal most everywhere, including China. So why do I keep getting business cards depicting lovely young ladies shoved under my door at every hotel I stay at, even nice ones?

When I first started traveling around China this phenomenon was unknown to me. It was only when I traveled with Gary to Wenzhou (see Wen Zhou entry, posted August 2012) that I/we received our first whore cards. We had done a bit of traveling together before and had never gotten any, but Wenzhou was a different kettle of fish – if you'll remember, I said it was a brutal sort of town. I figured Gary was the intended recipient of those cards just because he is a handsome, refined guy and somebody made note of him at check in, even though I don't remember anyone else being in the lobby at that time.

I teased him about it. He got embarrassed. I apologized. Balance was restored. 

Since then I've been traveling mostly on my own and have had whore cards intended solely for me pushed under the door. I have to assume they are for me because I am the only person in the room. I started questioning whore sensibility, considering they would offer up their services to males and females indiscriminately. Idly, I wondered what would happen should I call one of those numbers.

It was on one of my jaunts – can't remember where I was, that I had a chance to find out, without my having to call any numbers. As I'm getting settled in (and hear the shoosh of cards being slid under the door), someone knocks. I thought it might be a desk clerk. Perhaps I had neglected to sign something, or left something downstairs? Before opening the door I asked: “Who is it?” A seductive voice replied: “Open the door to see.” I said I wasn't interested and she asked me how I knew, being as I hadn't laid eyes on her. I told her I was female. She apologized and I heard a knock on a door down the hall, indicating she had moved on.

If I had been such a person who would accept such an offer, I would have selected her simply for her industriousness. Personal effort beats a business card any day!

As much as the Chinese government prefers her citizens to be moral, and as hard as they try to deter prostitution, the fact is that it is rampant in China. While not exactly espousing an 'if you can't beat them, join them' mentality, the powers that be have opted for education before prosecution. Sex education is all over the news: getting over the embarrassment of talking about sex – heretofore a taboo subject, which direction it should take, how young children should be when starting their education in this matter. Even migrant workers are being educated.

Condoms are widely available these days, whereas when I first came to China I didn't notice them being so prevalent. Most hotel rooms now offer them as a concession, right along with colas, teas, snacks and playing cards.

I only have limited acquaintance with the female side of the sex industry, from one of my students who, sadly, became a part of it. About a year after her fall from grace she asked me to help her purchase 500 FC2 female condoms from an American website. I am morally opposed to contributing to the delinquency of anyone and thus had no desire to help her. However, realizing she and 'her girls' – she was the team manager, would continue with or without protection I reasoned I should help protect their health, but have a sound discussion with her. Fortunately I was absolved from abetting because the website she gave me was inaccessible. I still gave her a stern talking to. She didn't heed then,  but she is ruing it now. Poor kid. I'd like to know if it is her job to distribute those cards? I'm not going to ask.     

I have to wonder: how does the whore card thing work? At every instance, within 30 minutes of check-in, I get cards. I'm fairly certain nobody is lurking in the lobby when I check in making note of which room I'm in in order to entice me later. If, in fact there were such a person they probably wouldn't want to entice me, seeing as I'm female. Without fail, all of the cards depict women for hire. I've yet to see a man offering himself for a fee.

Do these cards get pushed under doors indiscriminately? Is there a certain time of day when someone makes the rounds, promoting his/her stable of lovelies by peppering every room with cards? Not likely. I've yet to check into a room  already carded. And, considering I check in at random times in various cities, the odds of my consistently checking roughly 30 minutes prior to scheduled card delivery – in any town, in any hotel would be staggering.   

Is hotel management in on it? It could be a symbiotic relationship: the house would allow a certain stable of girls in return for a cut of the take. That would involve the desk clerk providing the card pass-out person a list of occupied rooms. That seems the most likely scenario but: if s/he is in on it, why wouldn't s/he not indicate which rooms would not summon a girl? Say... a room occupied by a female? Or a room with a family? And, if hotel management is in on it, why not just place a stack of cards in the room, by the condom display?

Whore cards became a running joke between Gary and I. Now that he is a drudge grunt – working full time, he does not have the opportunity to travel with me as much. Sometimes he asks, but I never fail to report to him how many whore cards I receive in my travels. Till now, I only ever got 1 or 2 – as opposed to his 5, that time in Wenzhou. In Hefei I got no fewer than 11 cards!

What to do about this constant barrage of cards?

I used to just leave the cards on the floor, by the door. And then, I had the bright idea to kick them back into the hall for all to see. In Wuhu they got snatched up fairly quickly: by the time I opened my door about an hour later, they were gone. This latest group: I had to pick them up and arrange them for the picture. And then, I stacked them neatly by the condom display. The next morning I noted the people in the room next to mine had kicked them into the hall. I guess I'm not the only one who is sick of those cards. Or, maybe sick of what they imply.     

I certainly don't wish to degrade these ladies by calling them whores. I'm  sure they are all pure young women who seek only to pat my brow and serve me tea... while wearing provocative garments and projecting wide-eyed innocence.

While I deplore these attractive women earning their living by selling themselves, there is not much I can do. I failed to redirect my student. I suspect a talk of dignity and morality would fall on these strangers' deaf ears. I wonder if, years from now, should one of them have a daughter... what would  she think of her daughter earning her living in such a way?

Sunday, August 24, 2014


In retrospect I reckon I was biased against this city. Leaving Wuhu's friendliness and serenity, and nursing what turned out to be a magnificent sinus infection; my feet aching in spite of new shoes, I simply wasn't ready for the cacophony that greeted me when I first set foot in Hefei. 

As everywhere I've been in China, POV drivers hustle for fares just outside the train station exit and a foreigner is their prime target. I generally manage to avoid their scrutiny by striding purposefully past them. This time, feeling punk and assaulted by the unfresh air and noise I tarried, casting about for direction. My hotel was supposed to be within walking distance from the station. I figured: if I can walk there, then surely it must be visible.

To my right, down a murky looking, run down lane I spied the hotel's logo. I remember striving for optimism as I walked there: most cities' bus depot are near the train station. Even though I only allowed myself one day here, I could make the most of it just by riding buses and sampling local food. Now with anticipation I entered the hotel lobby, the text message with my reservation number at the ready.

The desk clerk told me that my reservation was for a different hotel in the same chain further from the  station. Would she not be able to honor my reservation? Even though she had told me she had rooms available, I was told my reservation was not valid and I would have to pay full price. I found that unacceptable and moved on. Looking back, it was a good thing I did. That hotel was on a main thoroughfare, where 6 lanes of cars fought for space on a 4 lane road. To  my aching head, the din was untenable. I moved on.

Another hotel chain, 7 Days Inn had a house relatively close to the station. They too had rooms available but I  was told the room rate was over 230 Yuan. I pointed to the sign board which indicated rooms could be had for 187Yuan. The clerk explained the reward card: I can purchase such a card for 50 Yuan and then get the 187Yuan room rate. My fuzzy, aching head did the math and concluded I would still be paying more than 230Yuan for what I deem pinch-hit, last resort type of accommodations. I moved on.

Traversing the plaza in front of the train station again I was assaulted by drivers shouting 'Hello!' and 'Take taxi! I drive you!' directly in my face. I had to push two men out of my way because they were so close. From the road, the constant klaxon of horns and shouts of angry drivers.

I had only been  in Hefei about 20 minutes and already missed Wuhu. And Wuhan, too. After waving away the latest onslaught of drivers for hire I saw some people crossing that monstrous traffic jam. I followed them. Together we braved cars inching forward in spite of us walking across the road to a median divider that a policeman was holding open for us. Once safely across I asked another officer if there is a Jin Jiang Inn nearby. Those are my hotel of choice with their comfortable beds and friendly staff. The man gestured vaguely down a side road. I had my doubts but what did I have to lose?

Let me say at this point that Hefei seems to be in the throes of rebirth. What is there is dirty and run down. Sidewalks are cobbled with small tiles, some of which are missing, making walking treacherous. The side street I was directed to was grungy and greasy. Food carts were setting up for the afternoon trade. Open fruit stand and liquor market mavens hawked their wares and hollered at each other. It reminded me of a scene from the movie An Officer and a Gentleman where, as a young boy, the protagonist was assaulted by a myriad of strange sights on the streets of Singapore. I dreaded walking down the center of the street, as most people did, because I was in no mood or shape to be the focus of attention. I risked the sidewalk instead.  

The lane grew progressively narrower, and the branched out into 3 others. There was another 7 Day house down one alley, a Green Tree Inn on the corner in front of me and to my left, a hotel I'd never heard of or seen: YoJo Inn. Green Tree was definitely out because that is where I stayed in Suzhou and my first night in Wuhu, the most memorable part being the exquisitely hard beds. I was not willing to repeat that experience, so I turned left...

Into a most darling, welcoming house! The room cost 160Yuan a night, breakfast included. The lobby had large, beautiful aquariums. To the left of the counter, two mynah birds cheeped: “Ni Hao! Ni Hao!” I answered them. They, and the desk clerk laughed at me. Things are beginning to look up!

The fourth floor lobby also had 2 large aquariums: very feng shui. A floor to ceiling window revealed  an inner courtyard for each floor. The concrete beams were astro-turfed with potted plants placed every few meters. My room, down a gold-carpeted hall, was quaint: tiled bathroom, a small sitting area and a comfortable bed. On the desk, a computer hook-up and the ubiquitous tea service: an electric kettle, 2 cups and 2 tea bags. The only drawback was that my room faced a parking lot.

After turning the A/C on – it was much hotter in Hefei than in Wuhu, I took stock. I didn't feel well: my feet hurt, my head was pounding and I had zero energy or desire to go back out, even though I only had 24 hours to experience this city. What I had seen so far was quite the opposite of fantastic. I holed up.

A few hours later, I realized I would have to go out for food. Well, some food. Upon leaving Wuhu I had run across a vendor selling plump, veggie filled dumplings. Reasoning I might get hungry on the train I decided to buy some. They were 2 for 1Yuan, but I believe the vendor misunderstood me when I said I wanted 4. she gave me 4Yuan worth of dumplings!

So, here I am in Hefei, unwilling to subject myself to the noise and grime that, so far had been my experience there, with 6 dumplings left to eat. I took a short walk to a convenience store for chips, a soda and a small cake for dessert, and then returned to my room. I filled the kettle and suspended the bag of dumplings in it, and then set it to boil. Within a few minutes I had delicious steamed dumplings to complement my chips and drink!

Just call me McGyver.     

The next morning I took my time checking out. My train was scheduled for 12:36 and check-out time was noon. I saw no reason to hurry. Walking back up that grimy alley I reasoned: it will be 3 hours back to Wuhan. I might get hungry and, besides the hotel breakfast, I'd not tasted any local fare so I stopped at a noodle stand and placed my order.

The cook went to the back and returned with a vacuum packed bundle of precooked noodles, tore it open and dumped them in a steaming pot. “Would you like 'hot-n-spicy'”? “No, thank you.” “Well, how about a little spicy?” “OK, I can stand that.” after scooping the noodles from the hot water she added a few dried ingredients and topped it off with broth from a steaming cauldron. I got it to go: better to be at the train station and eat than lunch at the restaurant and be late... who knows what type of traffic mishap might separate me from the station?

Once I got there I realized I might have a problem: there was nowhere to sit! Every train station I've been to in China has a few benches out front. Here, people were squatting, or flat out laying down on the pavement. Where to eat my noodles? I found a seat in McDonald's and sampled my first bite. The noodles were rubbery and the broth I anticipated soothing my sore throat was too spicy to drink. After a few bites I started coughing from the spiciness of it.

The time was getting close, anyway. I abandoned my nearly full bowl of noodles and headed for check-in.

In spite of the Martin Cloud and the not so good time in Hefei, I realized I did not want to end my travels. Unlike my last trip that I cut short for the yearning of home, I could have stood to linger somewhere else. Probably not in Hefei, even though I would be the first to admit I did not give this city a fair shake.

It is time to get back into real life. My travel budget is depleted and school starts in 2 weeks. I'll use that time to transition from vagabond to teacher, and to write more musings. Stay tuned! 



My arrival in Wuhu was not auspicious. The train station was a throwback to another time when traveling for pleasure was unheard of in China. In fact, so off the beaten path is Wuhu that no bullet trains go there: it took 7 hours to get there from Suzhou on what is now considered the slow train.

I decided, while I was at the train station, to extend my stay in Wuhu and only allow myself 1 night in Hefei, reasoning that Hefei is easy to get to by Gao Tie (pronounced g-ow tee-ay) – fast train from Wuhan: I could always come back to explore that city at length. While the rest of the debarked passengers fought for taxis I repaired to the ticket window. I felt unguilty, savage glee as I exchanged all the tickets Martin had arranged for me to suit my plans, and then I took my first proper look at Wuhu.

Wuhu means 'Weedy Lake'. I was prepared to be assaulted by strong, swampy smells and people who made their living on the water. Instead I saw tall buildings, some neon-lit, an attractive boulevard with flower planters strung together as a median divider and... little noise! That last was a pleasant surprise. Normally there is all manner of honking horns and drivers hawking their services, especially to an obvious tourist such as I.

From long habit I knew that I might have to fight for a taxi, so I headed in the opposite direction of the crowd, toward the parking lot. I was rewarded by a stream of taxis off-loading passengers, but when I tried to get in one, the driver instructed me to walk 100 meters to the taxi stand. When I got there I was the only passenger needing a ride. I got into the first cab in line, wary of possible rudeness – not every taxi driver is fond of ferrying foreigners. I was taken aback by the man's courtesy and helpful attitude.

3 interactions; 3 courteous, helpful, friendly outcomes. I'm beginning to like this town.

The hotel Martin had booked me in adjoined a furniture store, the only building in a construction zone. The desk clerk was given to sneering, especially after his call to Martin yielded unsatisfactory  results. I couldn't help but notice his countenance changed while on the phone with a native Chinese speaker... Fortunately, the hotel manager was onsite. She ordered him to clean up his attitude and give me a room in spite of the fuddled reservation. When I got to my room I found it spartan, with an exceedingly hard bed, just as I had in Suzhou, at another house in that hotel chain.

Now that I had a room, it was time to look for food. The hotel's security guard confirmed my suspicion: there was nothing to eat anywhere close. About 2 km away I could see the lights from a newly built shopping plaza. If I wanted food – and I did! I would have to walk there.    

You would think that these initial experiences might somehow sway me to form a bad opinion of Wuhu. I put them down to Martin's influence, resolving to see how things go the next day, when I'm on my own. Quite glad I did! Once out from under the Martin Cloud things decidedly turned around.

The hotel I found on my own the next day went out of their way to accommodate, even going so far as to walk me to the bus stop when I asked how to get to Snack Street. Unbelievable the trouble they went through to help me! I experienced that everywhere I went.

My first stop was Phoenix Snack Street. I expected a merry collection of vendor carts selling street food. Instead I found Restaurant Row. It was a little bit disappointing, but then: a very wise friend once told me 'you are only ever hurt by your expectations'. He is right, of course.

After walking up and down the street I settled on a restaurant that advertised barbecued short ribs. They were some of the best I've ever had. The meat was so tender it melted off the bone, their taste complemented rather than dominated by the tangy sweet and sour sauce. I had also ordered corn cakes but they turned out to be glutinous rice bars containing an occasional corn kernel, and coated in corn flakes. Yummy looking, but not particularly tasty.  

Initially, I was the only patron to that restaurant, which was divided into several private dining rooms but had no open area. Thus I was seated alone in a room at a small table for 4 next to a big table set for 10. About 20 minutes after I was seated, a boisterous party joined me... and invited me to join them!!!

The people in Wuhu are decidedly friendly.

A large part of my pleasure in traveling is watching what goes on. In Wuhu, people did not seem to focus on their phone, preferring instead to look out the bus window or converse. On the buses, people sprang up to give their seat to an elder without being admonished to do so by a recording, as in Wuhan. Whereas in the latter city I get frustrated by phone-absorbed youths, seemingly unaware that a senior has boarded, it seems that youths of Wuhu go out of their way to watch for elderly citizens so that they might perform that virtue.

The people of Wuhu seem to radiate happiness. I conveyed that impression to the taxi driver that took me home the second day I was there, himself a friendly person. He validated my thoughts. That meant a lot, considering he is  native Wuhu. I didn't see any elders gazing out forlornly, children being reprimanded or crying, lovers quarreling. I did not see anyone intoxicated or behaving badly.  I didn't see any drivers cutting people off or threatening passengers; in fact I hardly heard a horn honk the whole time I was there! Pedestrians stayed on the sidewalk, bikes and scooters used the bike lane and cars did not drive on either sidewalks or bike lanes. Again it struck me how orderly this city must be.

Wuhu is a city without pretensions. She is not trying to be like any other place and the people are not trying to be superstars, fashion plates or millionaires. She does not have the 'in your face' attitude I found in Chong Qing, nor the humble pleading of Yi Chang. Wuhu is Wuhu, unlike any place I've been so far.

Chugging around on the buses, imbued with  endemic happiness I couldn't help but smile, in spite of the constant rain. It rained every day I was there. Perhaps that is why there were no throngs of people about in the attractions I visited.  Or, it could just be that this city is not jam packed, like Wuhan.

I did not see any other foreigners. That, and this charm of a town being off the beaten path led me to ask the hotel clerks: do many foreigners come here? “Yes”, they said. For work and for play. That made me think: could I live here? 

There are plenty of things to see and do in Wuhu, but the rain and my aching feet kept me from making the most of my visit. Nevertheless I saw plenty by riding the buses and catching the people's good vibes, and I felt great about being there. I most definitely could call this place my home. If I had to leave Wuhan and the school where my loyalty lies, I would want to hang my hat in Wuhu. True, there are not many foreigner concessions but Nanjing is relatively close – about 2 hours by train.
I would want to live in Wuhu because the people are so happy. I liked the rhythm of that city and the dwellers' relaxed, forthright attitude. Not a single person stared at me or accosted me for my foreignness. Those I interacted with did ask what country I came from and how long I've lived in China, but only after complimenting me on my language skills. Their eyes mirrored their smiles, leading me to believe their laudings were not about giving 'face'.

Unfortunately, the last day I was there I could feel myself coming down with a cold. I couldn't bear the thought of going out in the damp and sitting on a bus, so I chose to stay in that last afternoon, foregoing the temple and the mountain. I had a lovely hotel room: why not make the most of it? 

I want to come back to Wuhu, sometime when the weather is more cooperative and my feet are not torturing me. With so many other places in China to visit... would I make it a priority? I don't know. For now, it is on to Hefei.

As I pack my bag I hold Wuhu's peace and happiness in my heart.           


Monday, August 18, 2014

What's Wrong?

You'll remember I declared being wary of traveling with Martin, mostly because of my infuriating experiences while visiting his hometown (see City Chicken entry, posted August 2013). Also, he tends toward arrogance. I figured I could deal with both annoyances because our time together would not be that long – only 2 and a half days, and he said he wanted to learn how to travel from me, a seasoned voyager. Gullible me,  I believed him.

“We'll meet at the school gate at 7AM, eat breakfast and take a taxi to the train station.” He commands.

I reply: “No, I will meet you at the train station.” I didn't want to jump start the frustration I knew I would have to battle, as evidenced by this edict. His reply: “Don't be late.” Why would I risk missing a train I had paid more than 200Yuan to ride?  

See what I mean by arrogance? 

We had reserved seats in the same car but not together. Relief! Another buffer to the constant companionship I anticipated having to endure. I was glad he deferred to the sweet little old lady who had the seat next to mine – he had intended to swap seats with whoever sat next to me, but I was not thrilled at all when he admonished her that I should not be disturbed.

He apparently believes I am incapable of fending for myself for many reasons including the language but, as I proved to him later (with malicious glee), I understand Chinese, including what he told my poor seat mate. He probably didn't make the connection. He certainly showed no contrition. 

We'll touch on fending for myself again later.

I understand Chinese culture (even though I was accused of not understanding). Elders and guests are to be treated with reverence, but I figured: we'd associated for nearly 4 years, and now we were traveling together. Surely he knows me well enough by now... right? Perhaps we could drop all that deference and just be traveling buddies? Not a chance! I should take the front seat: it would be more comfortable for me (as opposed to having the entire back seat of the SUV to myself). I should have the best servings of food (I wasn't hungry). He wanted to carry my bag... surely it must be too heavy for me. When I wouldn't surrender my bag I was warned against sustaining injury. When that didn't work I was told that there would be no sympathy when I got tired or hurt.  

I was trying not to fume.

After the upteenth time of his trying to snatch my pack from my back (no joke!) and his helping me put it on/take it off (really only getting in the way) I finally told him I have to carry it because I am in training for a 10-day hike/camp-out with my son next year. He advised me not to do that because it would be too dangerous.

The sad thing is,  I think he has no idea how offensive all of that was.

Aware that he felt less than hale on our marathon outing, I offered him Tylenol. Running around in muggy weather, walking for hours on end, being congenial... none of that is fun with a pounding head. He refused to take medicine, implying that it was my fault that he was suffering: if I were to stay longer, we could pace the visit out, rather than having to run frenetically through these sights.

What??? I never asked to see any sights! As I had told him when we were planning the trip: my idea was to ride buses, see what there was to see, and enjoy each others' company. That is when I was accused once again of not understanding the culture. He MUST show me a good time, could I not grasp  that?   

Who says I was having a good time? Or that he was, for that matter?

At this point you might wonder: why did I stick it out? Simple: I made a promise and I always keep my promises. I will admit: I was seriously tempted to walk away. However, I am a reasonable adult. I hoped that, by explaining my version of visiting – relaxing, talking, riding around on public transportation and maybe playing games was what I had anticipated.

“Well, we can't spend all our time talking” he said.

So be it.

As we were almost constantly together I expressed anxiety about buying my ticket to my next destination ('my ticket outta there' is how I thought of it). So far, no chance had presented itself. Of course I would be chauffeured to the ticket agency... and, yes: my ticket was bought for me. I expected it but still raged inwardly, the only consolation being that I would soon be away from this all-encompassing dominance. 

I figured: as long as I was at the agency, why not buy my other tickets – from Wuhu to Hefei and then back to Wuhan? I spoke to the teller and Martin repeated what I had said to her, presumably because she did not understand me. When he counted his money out to pay for these tickets, I put my foot down.

“It is difficult for me to accept your paying for my ticket to Wuhu, but I cannot accept your paying all of my passage.” He looked at me as though I had suddenly turned into some weird species but allowed me to fork over the cash.

The morning prior to my departure took the cake. The plan was for it to be just me and him. We would spend the morning talking, and then make the rounds to the factory and the outlet store so I could say
'good-bye'. His cousin would then take me to the train station.

Anticipating his arrival I had woken up early and gotten ready to go so that, when he texted me I would be in the lobby to meet him, all check-out formalities complete. Being as the elevator is key card access only, I was confident that I would be allowed to leave my room by myself... and I did. Chalking up that small victory, I summoned the elevator. When the doors opened, there he was, having gained access from another guest.

I feel like I'm choking from oppression.

The hotel his family had booked me in offered only WIFI internet access, which my computer cannot use. However,  there was a business center where I could scout for a hotel in Wuhu. The train was not due to arrive there until 8PM and I might be hard-pressed to find accommodations if I wing it, as I usually do. I told him  I needed a few minutes that morning to browse for a hotel. Martin interjected: “You don't need to look at anything” and produced a piece of paper with Chinese writing on it.

“What is that?” I asked

“This is your reservation for your hotel in Wuhu. I made it for you. All you have to do is hand this paper to the taxi driver when you get out of the train station and he'll take you right to it. The people at the hotel know you are coming. They will call me when you arrive so I can take care of everything for you. If you have any problems you can just call me.”

I was livid. He went on to further explain. To shut him up I snatched the paper and said: “Fine: I'll do it your way.” 

I was sorely tempted to jump in a taxi and make my own way to the train station but his family, who so kindly put themselves at my disposal and forked out who knows how much money (even though I didn't ask them to) deserved better. So I stuck it out.

From our conversation, concerning my aging. Who would care for me? He averred I should be thinking about that at my age. He volunteered to see me through my sunset years. Naturally he would have to curtail all this traveling I do because I'm too old. And then he volunteered his mother, who would love to take  care of me.

I would prefer self-evisceration to being smothered by anyone in that family.

Arrival in Wuhu: the hotel was the only building in a construction zone on the outskirts of town. When I presented at the counter, the clerk asked for my reservation number, which I didn't have. What about the phone number that made the reservation? He talked to Martin for a few minutes and then hung up, frustrated. I tried to call him: no answer. Fortunately, I was able to book a room under my own name.

There was nowhere nearby to get any food and  the buses had stopped running. I fumed the entire 4 km round trip I had to walk to find something to eat, vowing to sever ties.

The next day I moved to another hotel,  put this extremely unpleasant experience behind me and enjoyed Wuhu.