There are a few important things I’ve learned over the years about staying in “hotels with Chinese characteristics.” Here are the highlights.
1. Slippers are your friends.
As soon as they open for business, the carpet in Chinese hotels is basically destroyed. For one thing, guests are not used to dealing with carpets: it’s confusing to not be able to throw your cigarette butts on the floor. For another, there’s a general mentality of “someone else is paid to keep this clean.” That happens to be true for hotels, but I don’t think the cleaning staff here is equipped to properly care for carpets. As in, they don’t even have vacuum cleaners. A couple of times, I’ve seen a maid sweeping a carpet with a broom, but in general, I think they just leave the carpet alone to succumb to the stains and burns it suffers. Nasty.
So, keep your shoes on. Or use the slippers that are provided.
2. Rooms are not always rated G.
Most hotels have ads for “massage,” and the pictures in some are racy enough that I don’t want my kids to see them. Then there’s other items for sale in the rooms (see #6) that I’d rather my kids not be introduced to yet. The ads and the items are easy enough to hide, but on occasion, it’s the room itself that has decorations that are not child-friendly. Yikes.
3. The “deposit,” isn’t.
Chinese hotels operate on something like a pay-as-you-go basis, especially if you are using cash. You will be required to put down a “deposit,” but it’s not truly a deposit. It’s more like a big chunk of money from which they will withdraw your daily room fee. They calculate it based on the number of nights you’re staying, plus a security deposit.
At check-out, you’ll get the security deposit part back, provided 1) you haven’t wrecked the room or taken anything (they’ll call a maid to go verify your room’s condition) and 2) you present the security deposit slip you received when you checked in. If you have lost that receipt, you are up Dabian Creek without a paddle. If you end up staying longer than planned, they’ll require an additional “deposit” to cover the extra days. Oh, and if you use up all the money, they’ll alert you by locking you out of your room. Cool.
4. Kids are off their radar.
I rarely see other kids or families when we stay at hotels (that might explain #2), and it doesn’t seem like there are a whole lot of set policies for children. The benefit to this is that they just ignore the fact that we are squeezing two extra bodies into our room. Another benefit is that frequently, we don’t have to pay extra for the kids’ breakfasts, even though rooms generally only cover breakfast for two people. Sometimes the person standing guard at the breakfast buffet asks us to buy two more tickets, but most of the time, they look confused for a minute, and then, fearing mafan, wave us in and mutter, “don’t worry about it.”
5. Transparency is not always a good thing.
I really don’t want to know why this is, but many hotels in China have translucent (or transparent!) glass partitions between the bathrooms and the rest of the room. Meaning that while you shower or use the john, the rest of your family has to either leave the room, or enjoy the show. Yeah, that’s not awkward at all.
6. Freebies are fun.
My kids love knowing that a Chinese hotel stay means way more little packets of amenities than a U.S. hotel stay. In addition to shampoo, conditioner and body wash, they’ll get toothbrushes, toothpaste, shower caps, combs, razors and shaving cream, and sometimes lotion. Now, I’m not saying the quality of these items is great, and they don’t use all of them (razors in particular) but hey, it’s the little things in life.
Worth noting: Somewhere near the electric tea kettle in your room, you’ll also find a selection of items for sale, kind of like a mini bar. It might include things like higher-quality versions of the free toiletries (a metal razor, for example), but we’ve also seen some interesting things like flimsy hand towels and disposable underwear. And then there are usually a few things I hide from the kids because they’re associated with activities mentioned in #7.
7. Late-night phone calls should be ignored.
Unfortunately, certain, um…middle-of-the-night services have discovered that calling up hotel guests, especially businessmen traveling alone, is a great way to get clients. They’ll call to ask if you “need any service?” You don’t need to fumble around in your half-awake daze for the polite way to decline the offer in Chinese. Just hang up, or better yet, unplug the phone before you get into bed. You’ve probably got a cell phone if someone needed to reach you in an emergency.
8. Non-smoking floors mean nothing.
I haven’t figured out why they even bother having non-smoking floors at Chinese hotels. I think it may mean that you aren’t supposed to smoke inside the rooms. But, apparently smoking in the elevator lobby and hallways is perfectly fine. Too bad all that smoke doesn’t stay in the hallway and elevator lobby.
9. Don’t expect English.
This isn’t an issue for our family now, but if you are new to China or just traveling here, it could be. Even if you booked the hotel through an English-language website, don’t expect anyone to speak more than a few words of English, unless you are staying at an international chain in a major city. Learn useful phrases beforehand, or have a friend you can call to help translate check-in, check-out, and any problems that may arise. (If you get lucky and someone at reception can speak English, then…hooray!)
10. Don’t expect service with a smile.
It seems like getting friendly customer service in hotels, as with many places of business in China, is very hit-or-miss. At some hotels, the staff members are helpful and accommodating to the patrons. One place in particular was a pleasant surprise because even the cleaning ladies smiled and greeted us each and every time we passed them in the hallways. Whoa.
About half the time, though, the staff seems irritated that you’ve bothered their life with your presence. I’ve heard customers arguing with the reception staff, and the staff argues loudly back, sometimes even berating the customer for not knowing something or not doing something right. (In one case, the customer who was berated was me. Fun times.) So, as with #9, it’s best to go in expecting the worst. Then you’ll know how good you have it if they’re nice to you.
11. You can hack the power switch.
Once you get into your room, you often have to insert your key card in a slot in order to turn on electricity in the room. That’s fine and dandy, except when your phone (or tablet or computer) dies and you need to charge it while you’re off getting a meal or whatever. First of all, check to see if there is an “always on” outlet somewhere in the room, as they are becoming more common in hotels here. If you don’t have one, just use one of your gazillion VIP cards in the slot instead of your room key. It should work just fine, though there’s a chance the maid will remove it if she services your room while you’re gone.
12. Breakfast is always an adventure…
I’ve heard it said that Westerners have the hardest time with breakfasts when they travel abroad. That is probably true. Even after living in China for so long, I still can’t quite bring myself to eat the width and breadth of what my fellow hotel patrons are downing for breakfast. The grand morning meal at a hotel often includes chicken wings, stir-fried pork and vegetables, and fried noodles. I’ve tried things like that, and find I really prefer to stick with the items on Chinese hotel buffets that most closely resemble the breakfast of my home culture: fruit, baozi, hard-boiled eggs, and pastries.
13. …and so is the decor.
We have seen some pretty outlandish decorations in Chinese hotels. Giant statues of golden wings or mermaids, zebra lamps (I don’t mean zebra print; I mean a plastic zebra with a lamp coming out of its back), chairs only Tim Burton could love, and every kind of chandelier monstrosity possible. ‘Subdued’ and ‘elegant’ do not, apparently, impress patrons here. We’ve come to expect that there will be at least a few fashion-defying surprises, particularly in the lobby. It just adds to fun of traveling in China.