"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!
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!"
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.