This weekend I left beautiful Shanghai to attend a conference in Suzhou. Suzhou is a beautiful large city about an hour and a half from Shanghai. I had been there three years ago on my first visit to China. This required me to spend a couple of nights in a hotel, which conveniently happens to be the topic of this week’s blog. The first noteworthy mishap was the location of the conference. It was not in Suzhou, but rather in the farmlands about an hour south. So we didn’t get to see the city. We arrived at the hotel about 10:00 at night. This hotel ranked as a four star hotel and costs about $50 a night. Remember we are in a farming community. A downtown Shanghai hotel would be substantially higher. It’s late and some of the principals went for a beer, but I was tired and just wanted to crash. So I am off to my room. As soon as I enter I can smell cigarette smoke. Now I have requested a non-smoking room and there are signs stating “Absolutely No Smoking” There are however, two ashtrays with matches in the room. The appearance of three or four cigarette burns in the carpet which confirms my theory that rules are often meant for others to follow. I sit down on the bed to remove my shoes. The bed was very hard. It was like a box spring but you are laying on some sort of a bamboo mat. The one thing you want is a good night’s sleep. This wasn’t going to happen. The room was very stuffy, but I had an air conditioner. All the controls are in Chinese so trying to get it working was also a problem. I phoned the front desk and they sent up two young girls dressed like stewardesses from the 1960’s. They played with the controls for about fifteen minutes. They laughed and giggled, but couldn’t get it working so they opened the window so the room wasn’t so hot. It was pretty strange to think about being a couple of days away from November and still requiring air conditioning, but I assure you that was the case. I was a little sticky as it is still quite warm here in China so I decided to take a shower. There are a bevy of light switches just out side the bathroom and as a curious guest I spent some time reading the English and trying to guess what the lights would do. I am certain that when the hotel manger asked someone to translate the light switch information into English, some employee had a cousin who claimed to speak some English and could do the job for a couple of bucks. They also have knack for putting a certain “Mystical Eastern Slant” to the description. By Eastern I mean very flowery and and poetically written piece of prose, by mystical, I mean I had no idea what the light switches did after reading the English below it. Let me give you an example the light switch that read “A New Spirit” turned on the exhaust fan over the toilet. Very poetic and mystical…. I am enclosing a picture with the rest of the switches. Knock yourself out and have fun with this. The wash room was most interesting. It had glass walls between the washroom shower and bedroom. This means that anyone sitting in the bedroom area can you watch you shower or while you are sitting on the throne. Now to be fair there is a blind you can lower for privacy. However this blind is controlled from the outside of the bathroom not the inside. I learned early that it takes about 10 minutes for the hot water to make it up to the 5th floor so I could shower in comfort. Another interesting artifact I discovered was a vacuum cleaner style hair dryer. This box was attached to the wall and had a four foot hose attached to it. When you lift up the hose the hairdryer starts. Really different! So I am showered and clean, my hair is dried, and I just need to brush my teeth before i go to bed. Usually the hotel leave 2 or 3 bottles of water free so the patrons can brush their teeth. Pretty much all tap water around the Shanghai area is not consumable. They didn’t have it in the bathroom but I was able to locate some by the night stand. Throughout this older hotel there was evidence of some attempt to update the rooms and common areas. For example, new carpet had just been put into the elevators. Once again some employee had a cousin who could do this for a couple of bucks, and this resulted with the carpet in all six elevators having a one once gap between the door and the start of the carpet. It looked as if it had just been done so it had not started to wear and people had not ripped or torn the new carpet yet. I give it a week. The breakfast buffet was western style and delicious. I had heard the the Chinese will not serve any meat that has any burnt bits on it. Crispy bacon is almost impossible to find. In fact it seems that the preferred method of cooking bacon is to take it out of the package and carefully put it into the frying pan without separating the strips. Then the bacon is cooked until some of the fat starts to come out of the bacon. When the fat part starts to turn opaque. The bacon is quickly removed before any sign of crispiness appears. The sausages also looked suspiciously albino. I love sausages, but couldn’t convince myself to put one of these white wieners near my lips so early in the morning. The western breakfast consisted of some delicious udon noodles with a beef sauce, a churro kind of bread roll that was somewhat sweet, a fried egg, almost cooked bacon, a piece of fruit that was unknown, cabbage, that I wouldn’t eat and coffee. The Chinese drink coffee as a pick me up in the afternoon. The morning drink is tea. The fact that coffee was served in the morning meant it was a western breakfast. There was other food as well. Some western, and some not, but to be fair the chef was not some one’s cousin and he knew what he was doing. The food tasted pretty good. The conference was held at a school. According to what I heard the school was built at the site of a former theme Park which had closed down. Prior to that it was a hazardous waste landfill. The sessions were decent and it was good to meet other principals from all over Asia who had come to work here from Canada. There was nothing more to write about the hotel except checkout. In all hotels in China, when you check in you must have a passport if you are a foreigner. I knew about this but had no issues with it either, however, I did not know that the plastic room keys which open the doors to your suite were such an important commodity. Danika, my amazing daughter has a room key collection from her travels and any time Kim and I have gone away. I thought it would be cool to bring back a key from China. Every hotel Kim and I have stayed in has insisted we return the key. So I have checked out and I turn my key into the girl and she returns it back to me. I told her I am leaving. She doesn’t speak English and pushes the key towards me. I gave back to her and said Bye bye. The Chinese recognize and use bye bye. Again, she pushed the key back towards me. So I put the key into my pocket and got on the bus for the trip back to Shanghai. I think to myself,”Cool, Danika gets a Chinese hotel room key after all. ” I am on the bus when suddenly, the hotel security and another girl are there looking for me because I have not turned in my key. I am escorted back to the front desk where the first girl is waiting very embarrassed and unable to look at me. It was clear that she was going to get into trouble for this, so I returned the key and apologized explaining that this was likely my fault. I am sure it didn’t help. As wonderful and entertaining as my hotel experience was, it was wonderful to get back to my soft IKEA bed with the pillow top mattress and to see my poor recovering wife again. We went to dinner at the Lost Heaven Restaurant that night. Amazing! See you next week bloggers!
The BC Offshore Principal’s Conference