I blinked twice, tapped the heels of my red shoes and catapulted into a hotel that had been extracted from a tiny corner in Las Vegas, replete with chandeliers, pink carpeting and smiling butlers in pants that were a bit too snug. I wondered whether there was a dispenser machine around the corner that provided chocolate bars, sodas and condoms?
According to the marketing materials, this was a refined business hotel so this begged the question - did the decorators misunderstand the business categorization or did the translators find themselves amusing?
Once our bags were deposited into our hotel room we wandered over the buffet on the main floor. Still rubbing out eyes from a cross-continental plane ride, our mouths salivated for a strong espresso. The buffet was overwhelming in terms of elegance, size and diversity. There were at least a dozen exotic types of tea bags nestled in baskets and freshly squeezed juices lined up aside massive orchids but there was no coffee in sight. Anywhere. Whimpering, I followed one waitress after another but everyone directed me to a colleague. Dejected, I started to pour myself a cup of tea when a tiny voice trailing behind me asking “Lady, lady want juicey?” The irony is that this should not have been a lost in translation moment since coffee is pronounced kafei in Mandarin.
Later that day, while waiting online at a local coffee shop, I learned that pan-friend-spicy-seafood udon noodles were not an ideal accompaniment to scrambled eggs.
Andy returned to the hotel that evening to find a jet-lagged woman half asleep on the bed watching a bad movie from the 1980s. My only defense is that this choice was more entertaining that the Chinese soap operas floating through the other channels. He somehow cajoled me to wipe the spittle from my chin, pluck the pillow feathers from my hair and remove my much-loved-and-much-worn yoga pants to venture up to the 5* Cantonese restaurant in the hotel complex. While gliding up the gold-plated staircase that was draped with velvet wrapping and complimented by marble paneling, I wondered when cabaret dancers would emerge dancing-kicking-and-wiggling from the Wedding Chapel.
We asked to see the menu before venturing inside and, as neophytes to Chinese cuisine, found the options to be a bit disconcerting: fried pork belly, chicken claws, fish head stew, and jelly fish. So as to not offend the hostess, we exchanged a few words in French and pretended to wave to a friend at the bottom of the staircase. The confused woman limply waved back at us.
After descending the stairs, we ducked behind the massive pillars to craft a plan. Torn between a desire to integrate and a desire to have a simple meal, we opted for the later and entered the hotel BBQ Bar, heads hung low. We settled into a booth and quickly scanned the room. Other than a mob of foreign men, there were two Chinese women lingering at the bar. Dressed quite conservatively, I was surprised to be informed that these women were of a financially negotiable virtue.
Note to self - burgers and fries taste better when one is dressed up. It must be psychological.
While we ate dinner a trio of Filipinas, identical in their short skirts, tight tank tops, thigh-high boots and bleached hair, began to perform. I now understood why the bar was packed with traveling American men, all seated as close to the stage as one could physically allow. While the voices of the women were not necessarily inspiring, their synchronized-kicking-knee-bending-husband-searching-bobbing-and-hair-flipping dance routine had a certain appeal. Jane Fonda would be proud to see how she had influenced a young generation of artists in Asia.
The following morning, a bit dry mouthed from belting out YMCA until the wee hours of the morning with the Filipinas, the housekeeper woke us up. She did not knock, buzz, grunt, or cough when she entered our hotel room but rather zipped in and started vacuuming, shouting and waving her arms wildly. Was she smiling? Perhaps she was not really shouting but there was not need for me to shirk away in the corner as if I were her naughty child?
A bit of jetlag coupled with a bit of lingering wine in my system coupled with a tad of laziness compelled me stay at the hotel and start networking. But alas, the Internet did not work. I called to the lobby and the receptionist transferred me to her colleague, who transferred me to the operations manager, who transferred me to housekeeping. And then somehow, an engineer rang our bell. He flicked on the light switch and was surprised to find that this was not helpful. He unplugged my computer to plug it into another wall socket and was surprised to find that this was also not helpful. And, voila, this was my first introduction to the term engineer – used loosely and incorrectly – in China.
It was raining outside and I had neither books nor Internet. I could do some pushups or flip through the television channels. It feeling ambitious I could do both, I thought. Nothing was in English so I called the reception to inquire about the movie channel. She generously offered the “All Day Adult Movie Ticket” option and, in other words, she was proposing that I sit in the room and watch porn all day.
I took a break from my lost in translations moment in the hotel to hide under my covers and opted for a duped version of ‘The Sound of Music’ - Julie Andrews can bring a smile to anyone’s face, even when she is chatting in Mandarin. At one point I emerged from under the covers to investigate the contents of the refrigerator but, despite my craving for a soda, could not justify a $7.50 Diet Pepsi. I ventured to the buffet downstairs but found that I was not quite ready for the urchins or chicken feet on offer for the Asian lunch special and, manning my magazine as a rain cover, walked down the block to venture into a local supermarket.
After a week in the hotel, we moved to a temporary serviced apartment. The real estate agent had taken us to view a few apartments and we had fallen for all of his car-salesman-from-the-polyster-70s-tricks. What do I mean? Whereas the first two apartments were far away form the city center, small, dark and unappealing, the last apartment was in the center, roomy, bright and lovely. Of course the price of the later was significantly over our budget but somehow, miraculously, the agent managed to negotiate the price down to our budget. To the cent - funny how this works, eh?
The apartment was near perfect excepting a rather odd structure placed in the shower that was neither a tub nor a basin. In fact, we never understood its function and after a slightly overwhelming encounter with the Japanese toilet during which I was sprayed, washed, dried and spanked, I hesitated to push any more buttons on foreign objects. I also began to wonder whether the Internet and television connection did not work in any of the hotels and apartments for the sole purpose of ensuring that the engineers kept their jobs? Reception sent up its engineer - again, recall that the professionalism of said workers is wildly incorrect - and he came to the apartment. No smile, no hello and no goodbye when he left, only to return a few minutes later with a colleague. They pushed buttons, grunted, avoided any eye contact with me and left. A few minutes later a third man joined the group. He added to the grunts and groans and I wondered whether I should play the banjo in the background? Then they sat, staring at the television set, and I wondered whether this was all a conspiracy?
After a very heated telephone conversation between one of the men wearing a blue jumpsuit and someone on the other line, the building manager arrived to inform me that we were not allowed access to the Internet or television since we had not been properly registered with the local government authorities. We were legal in the country and we were legal in the building but we were not allowed to watch the weather station for fear of riot.
Well, while the engineer trio was still gathered in my living room I, with all the optimism of a 4 year old in a candy shop, asked whether the rice cooker in the kitchen could be fixed. A few buttons were pushed, a few grunt exhaled, and it seemed the machine was fixed.
20 minutes later I sat at the dining room table with a soggy white mess for lunch that bore a striking resemblance to intestines. Without a doubt, it is a conspiracy.
A few days later we borrowed a DVD from the building’s library since we wanted to watch a film but still had no cable. The English sub-titles did not work so I returned it to the receptionist who insisted that the subtitles worked. To prove her point she sent the engineer to accompany me back to our room. He failed in his attempts and called down to the reception. Desperate to watch a film and desperate for the engineer to leave, we agreed to keep the DVD. Note to self - never again subject yourself to Brad Pitt speaking Chinese in a love scene.