Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Notes from a massage table in China: It's time for world peace!

(photos are of the Shenyang train station waiting room, my masseur and dancing in North Korea -- which I missed)

When I got back to Shenyang after my four-hour train trip to the border between North Korea and China, I was really glad to see my sweet little hotel room again. After having lived in Room 811 for almost two weeks before going off to Dandong, returning here felt just like coming home. I practically hugged the bellhop.

"But Jane, you were only gone for two days," said my conscience. Yeah but it was a very intensive two days. Being busted by the Red Army for taking photos at a strategic military installation during a period of heightened terror alert really takes it out of one. Tourism can be exhausting!

So. Wearily, I trudged off to Room 811, my own little sanctuary in China, only to find that I'd been locked out! What?

"You haven't paid your bill," said the reception clerk. What! I was totally paid up -- for the whole last 12 days plus one day more! They can't do this to me. I'll protest!

"Attica! Attica!"

But nobody knows what that means any more even back in the States. In China, they didn't have a clue.

It's not so much that I minded giving my hotel more money. It's the principle of the thing. I had freaking LIVED there for 12 days. They knew me. I knew them. If they needed more money, they just could have asked. It's not like they couldn't locate me or nothing. In a 14-story building, I was the only non-Asian in the place. Trust me. I stood out.

But just when I was contemplating bursting into tears right there at the registration counter as my next strategic move in this loathsome chain of events, two members of the Delegation for Friendship Among Women walked into the lobby, back from their trip to North Korea.

"Oh, Jane," said one of the women, "we had such a wonderful time! On the last day we were there, they had a huge festival with 100,000 people dancing in the streets and we got to dance too. It was the experience of a lifetime!" Way to rub it in.

"We are about to go off for another massage," said the trip leader. "Want to come with us?" That would be yes.

"Please put my luggage in storage," I said to reception. "We'll sort this all out later. Right now, I've got a masseuse to catch!"

You have no IDEA how good that massage felt. But after the footbath in scalding-hot water and the 15-minute scalp massage and the 20-minute shoulder rub, my very essence of being started to break down and I started thinking, "Gee, I'm old, my body is a wreck, life is a struggle, why bother, it's time I was dead." Life is a struggle. I'm tired of struggling.

Then I thought of my granddaughter, baby Mena, and how she was so fresh and innocent and how over the years all she had to look forward to was life grinding away at her too so that she would eventually just end up like me -- old, tattered and disillusioned. And try as her parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents all might, nothing we could do can protect her from this -- especially now, with the whole world going to Hell in a hand-basket thanks to a few national and corporate leaders with no shame, no limits and no sense of vision.

Silent tears rolled down my cheeks. The masseur silently wiped them away.

Then, after another 20 minutes of bodywork on my neck and upper back, I started to feel more optimistic and started remembering a prediction that some hypnotist made about me back in 1976 -- that I would live until the year 2030. 22 more years left to go! Screw it. Just screw throwing in the towel. I was gonna make those 22 years freaking MEAN something. "To hell with people who think that the reason for life is to torture and maim and be as mean and greedy as humanly possible. The real purpose and aspiration and greatness of the human spirit is to bring peace! I'm going to work for peace for the rest of my life!" And I almost grabbed up my clothes, jumped off the massage table and ran off to start writing my Noble Prize acceptance speech right then and there. But the masseur had just started in on my lower back and upper thighs and it just felt so GOOD. The speech could wait.

Plus before I became the next Mahatma Gandhi, I wanted revenge. So after the massage, I stomped back to the hotel, had it out with the reception clerk (it turned out that THEY owed ME $36!), grabbed my luggage and moved to the rival hotel across the street.

But revenge wasn't as sweet as I had thought it would be. "Goodbye, sweet little hotel," I muttered, shoulders slumped, as I trudged out the front door. "You've been my home for the last 12 days here in China and I will miss you a lot." And then I really DID hug the bellhop.
But I do gotta admit that the four-star Royal Hotel was a really nice substitute. A little money goes a long way in China....

PS: "Jane, you are getting your knickers all in a twist over nothing," someone said. "It is quite customary in China for guests to be locked out of their hotel rooms in order to alert them that their room rent is due." Yeah, but the front desk staff of this hotel had already locked me out three times before and after those first three times I had been all helpful, understanding and obliging -- but enough is enough. Four strikes and you're out! I gots customs too.

During the Great Depression in America in the 1930s, people who couldn't pay their hotel bills were unceremoniously given the boot. My parents were young adults during those hard times -- proud people who worked their fingers to the bone to avoid that kind of situation. And they had taught me well. "Always pay as you go, never go into debt, always pay your rent on time." And I always have. It's a matter of pride.

Throughout my entire life, I've never used credit, never borrowed from anyone, never taken out loans, never missed a rent payment and never went into debt -- except to my parents of course.

PPS: Another good thing that came out of this trip is that now I have learned all the exotic secrets of Asian massage -- so now I'm gonna set up shop. If anyone wants an exotic Asian massage from me, I charge $2 a minute and not only is it worth every penny, but all the proceeds will be donated a charitable cause -- my next attempt to embed in Iraq.