I admit I was dismayed at not enjoying Shanghai more. It might have had something to do with the awkward start I had to this jaunt (please refer to Near Misses entry), or perhaps that destination was really that unpleasant to me, even though seeing my dear ones was wonderful. I figured I was in for a happier time in Hangzhou, a place I had been to a few times before.
Relieved at leaving Shanghai, I anticipated a happy reunion with Gary and a visit with my sweet Vanessa (see Regrets entry). As the train glided along I pondered my next stop after Hangzhou, Shenzhen. I had been there before, too and was returning to visit more friends.
Might it have been because I was traveling to visit, or was traveling in general not a good thing for me to do right then? I don't know. Instead of happy anticipation at long overdue reunions I was gritting my teeth, trying to muster joy. Maybe that should have been a clue.
Exploring new destinations has the appeal that I crave: mysteries needing unlocked. Visiting friends, especially in China has a whole different flavor. When visiting one is compelled to do as your host deems fit: what to eat, where to go, what to do. Here's an example: “What would you like to eat?”, asked at lunch. “I'd love to have Lo Mein (fried noodles with vegetables and meat). “How about we have ____ instead?”
I guess I'm destined to never eat fried noodles when in company of friends... although Vanessa did permit me to have fried rice. Gary has quit asking what I'd like to eat, taking it upon himself to order for the both of us. Feeling as I did this trip, I didn't think I could bear anyone else taking custody of me or making decisions on my behalf. I started longing for home as I drifted off...
Now in Hangzhou I sent Gary a message: which bus to take from the train station to his home? Although this was my third visit, Gary always made it a point to pick me up in his car, so I was helpless in getting around that city. He sent me the bus number, along with a warning that I should take my dinner by myself because he was out of town, due back around 7PM.
I was drained. That is truly the best description of how I felt. I was in no mood for eating or socializing, so I was grateful for the short buffer between leaving Zhanny and welcoming Gary. I sat outside his home for about an hour, my body aching and my mind fuzzy, barely able to keep my eyes open. Shortly after 8PM he texted me that he was still on the road and again instructed me to eat.
I decided on one better: I would find myself a hotel for the night. I simply could not bear the idea of more visiting, even with my dear Gary. Dumbly grateful he was detained, I set off walking on aching legs, my pack feeling like it weighed a ton.
Although the area was populous I could not find a single hotel. The type of district Gary lives in usually has more than a few business hotels: low priced establishments for short-stay travelers on a budget. Maybe it was because I was roaming the main avenue? I tried my hand at side roads and was further disappointed.
A young lady handing out flyers (a common advertisement practice here) on a street corner helped me find a hotel. How to explain my gratitude? Thankful as I was for her efforts, I was irritated because she too took custody of me. Not only chattering the whole time we walked but helping me register at the hotel, and then riding the elevator with me and inspecting my room before declaring it fit for me. I could not be churlish, ushering her out even though I was dog tired and incapable of socializing. I felt ready to scream, pass out, have a fit, explode... Instead I listened as she expounded on the health benefits of yoga, and then did a head stand and demonstrated several poses, after which she encouraged me to stand on my head. I politely demurred, handed her the rose that was on my bed (it was an EXPENSIVE hotel!) and ushered her out.
Alone at last! I just sat there in my sweat-sodden clothes in the air conditioning my kindly yoga instructor made sure was set properly. I couldn't bear the idea of standing just yet, even under the refreshing shower. Gary's incoming message roused me at 9PM. He was now back in Hangzhou but still had about an hour till he got home. I told him I already had accommodations for the night and urged him to go about his business the next day with no worry about me. We could connect after his work.
I needed the break. I imagined, after a restful night and a day to myself I would again be fit to rejoin society. Apparently that was not satisfactory: Gary started messaging at 8AM, telling me to check out of the hotel and be ready for him to pick me up. Well, OK: I'll grit my teeth and grin through the day. It is Gary, after all. He will most likely give up his bedroom to accommodate me and do his utmost to take care of me, whether I want it or not. It is not his fault that I am not in the mood to socialize, and it is only for a couple of days. I had already made up my mind to cut my trip short. I was headed home from Hangzhou.
We spent the day at his office: just where I did not want to be! Seriously? Could he not have seen his way to permit me a quiet afternoon in a coffee shop somewhere? More teeth gritting, more grinning, more bearing. Tomorrow I will visit with Vanessa and then mercifully be on my way home. By now my need for solitude occupied my every thought.
The next day, assured I would be well taken care of, Gary left for work. Finally: a moment's peace! Vanessa and I were not due to connect till after 1PM, so I had virtually all morning to gather myself. I got ready and left the house at 11:30, thinking that would give me plenty of time to breakfast and shop for a small gift for my friend.
As soon as I locked the apartment door to which I had no key I realized I had forgotten my book. Not good, but then I'd be occupied from 1PM on, so I could just not read while I eat breakfast.
Shopping and eating done I settled in to wait for Vanessa. Knowing the Chinese value time, I thought my being 30 minutes early would mean I'm only about 10 minutes early. At 12:50 Vanessa messaged me: “Could we meet later because of the pouring rain?” I was outside and not a drop fell but then, Hangzhou is a big city and quite possibly it was raining where she was.
I shrugged it off, finally taking the hint: this trip is meant to be difficult. On top of everything that had happened so far, I was now stranded outside with nothing to read or do for heavens knows how long and going somewhere on my own was not an option. A few minutes after I started laughing about the irony of it all, rain so heavy I could not see the next building pounded down. Fortunately I had shelter in the arched entryway of Gary's apartment building. It might have been a long wait because he had dinner plans immediately after work but Vanessa did show up, an hour later. We had a beautiful time.
Things started going right as I soon as I decided to go home: buying my train ticket was a breeze, even though I would have to again wake up insanely early and catch a cab to the station. After the hotel incident I had my doubts that I might find a cab early in the morning but there was a line of them waiting outside the apartment complex. I got to the station with an hour to spare, so I decided on a McDonald's breakfast. Because of the recent food crisis, they were out of everything except for fish and spicy chicken sandwiches. Go figure! I chalked it up to another sign that I should not have undertaken this trip. Soon enough I would be home....
Home! I finally get all those songs and poems that describe the joy of home. Exiting the train station, my heart soared as I boarded the bus. Upon arrival, I didn't leave my house for 2 days. Gave me plenty of time to write.