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.