Eight weeks in deep, dark China and hurrah, we are finally in our own apartment (albeit attached to the hotel…which in all honestly is proving more often than not, a ‘godsend’)!
I’ve come to the conclusion (relatively quickly) living in the five star bubble is an outrageously indulgent, but highly necessary comfort when one is catapulted into central China.
Sure, room service delivered at your beck and call and housekeeping every second day is not to be sneezed at, and a direct line to the hotel chef for groceries is part and parcel of hotel life, especially when food ‘as you know it’ is unavailable and the local supermarkets are filled with just that, ‘local’ goods displaying a plethora of puzzling Chinese characters.
But more importantly when you’re in a strange land and there’s an emergency, be it serious or perhaps just the need for some decent coffee, oh how I’m thankful for the five star community.
Our first night in our new abode (part of the Westin Residences) we’d spent the day packing and unpacking the few suitcases we have with us until our belongings arrive……(which miraculously seemed to have evolved into a fairly hefty amount of loot!)
Unpacked and sorted, we looked around and exhaled – this was our spacious, bright, new and ever so modern ‘pad’ that would become our home in Xi’an. (BTW, now for no other reason than sheer interest value it might be a good time to mention we live above a RollsRoyce showroom? Oh yes we do! Mind you it’s not uncommon with China’s current insatiable appetite for luxury cars.)
As I placed my one ornament in its lone spot, we stood back and exhaled with as much enthusiasm as we could muster, all the while swatting away the underlying but ever present realization that this meant we could no longer pretend we were on an extended sabbatical.
This is real. China is officially home.
Any self indulgent, self pitying thoughts though were soon met with an abrupt slap when our small person’s fingers accidentally met the hot plate in our shiny new kitchen. Of course every parent in this situation silently prays it’s not serious and all will be soothed with a cuddle and a kiss (and a lolly or three)….
Here of all places, I was desperately hoping it wasn’t a hospital visit, where I suspected there would be no English and it would be a scene resembling anything that we know to be normal. “Please no,” I whispered as I watched the tips of her red raw fingers bubble up before us.
It was quickly apparent it was one of those moments where an expert opinion was called for, so through tears and anxious parental pacing (thank God for the long hallway) we frantically called the hotel’s weekend Manager on Duty, who instantly knew which doctors did house calls and how to call or more importantly ‘what’ to say. Within 30 minutes they were on our doorstep, along with two hotel staff to translate.
It was just as well – because in a moment of shock, dealing with the surreal experience of these two doctors who arrived – their white mini vans with giant red crosses – like something out of the sixties, marching out in their white coats, silver ‘doctor’s’ cases at their side was more than enough to cope with.
As anticipated, not a scrap of English was to be spoken as they crowded around me and my whimpering girl on the bed.
I heard the words ‘Soy Sauce’ and ‘burn remedy’ mentioned in the same sentence and tried not to look alarmed. Thankfully it seemed it wasn’t too serious, and their would be no soy sauce or painkillers issued (“these are unhealthy for the body” I’m told – mind you this coming from the land who gobbles up antibiotics sold over the counter sans prescription at an accelerated rate.) I was silently thankful for the kid’s Nurofen stashed in the cupboard.
The next day, frazzled nerves now calmed, I had the chance to revel in the number of cupboards it seems I now have access to… in my own. private. space.
Or so I thought.
But it has become rather apparent, you can’t just pick and choose the elements of hotel life you prefer. Nicole!
if you want the hotel life, you get all of hotel life.
The door bell rang at 9am sharp, someone eagerly letting themselves in – at the ready to clean my rather sparse house.
Er…um…. put on the spot and slightly conflicted between my want for privacy and those oh so hard to make hotel heavenly beds.
poorer better judgement prevailed and I sent them away….but they were not to be deterred…..before too long, two elderly Chinese ladies sidled on past our ‘floor to ceiling’ windows, wielding a large broom, evidently sweeping the already spotless balcony and not without having a good peek inside at us – the foreign species on the block!
Taken aback but not too shocked – after all I had started to become used to a lack of privacy in my 5th floor hotel suite where maintenance men, housekeeping, laundry ladies, you name it, regularly knocking twice, walking in before I had the chance to get to the door.
But things were about to reach a brand new level at the Westin Residences. The two ladies clearly not satisfied with meandering by, were now crouching down at the window of our bedroom, faces pressed hard against the window, waving furiously and smiling at us…
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Instead, I ran to another room to process (in private) what was unfolding on my balcony, before gingerly peering around to see if my daughter was still being eye-balled. Yes. Yes she was.
Um…last time I checked I wasn’t a goldfish, had two heads or looked liked Angelina Jolie. I gently closed the curtains with a tight-lipped smile.
A couple of days later feeling a little under the weather with a winter lurgy, I had an unexpected snooze in the middle of the day (by now ‘snooper’ savvy, I made sure my Do Not Disturb button was on) but woke to a knock, ignored it…thinking like in any normal circumstances, they’d appropriately exit the building. But oh no…next thing a loud cacophony of “Ni Haos” echoed through the house. Stumbling into the hallway I found four faces looking at me as if to say, ah hello what are you doing here? Er Me? I live here! Who the hell are you!!
It’s all par for the course it seems when you take on the machine that is China. Xi’an is a city whose people until a decade ago had one five star hotel in their midst. A city that until recently established as a tourist spot very rarely saw a western face. With 8.5 million people all busily competing for a spot amongst the madness, privacy is respected in the loosest sense of the term.
But alas, our curious friends aside, I am thankful for the hotel….heck my laundry is done and they serve wine 24 hours a day, even if most varieties are “out of order” unless it’s the hard stuff (namely Bai Jiu) you’re after.
I’m thankful that (power cuts aside) in the hotel world we get a smattering of English channels like BBC, CNN and Sky News – even if the quality of the picture is influenced by seemingly outside circumstances.
I’m thankful that when I’ve been out of the bubble into a foreign world where your brain is sapped of energy not only by the winter chill and imposing pollution, but by just going about your regular tasks like buying a coffee or a can of hairspray – not to mention fending off the constant stares, touches and chatter of passersby, more often than not chasing you down for a chance photo (yes even at midnight boarding a plane) — I can return to the bubble and seek out friendly familiar faces to chat to in English (relatively easily) about trivial things and have a giggle at our foreign woes.
Thankful that I have a driver(s) even if some of them can”t speak any English to take us where we need to go in the ancient capital that’s overflowing with all manner of transport….from rickety three wheelers to luxury limos. Thankful that despite crossing five lanes of maniacal traffic, they expertly whiz us through the mighty Xi’an streets on our morning school run. For all intents and purposes, they greet us with a smile, wait patiently for us and most of all, watch our backs (not to mention teach me a new Chinese word every day).
I am thankful for the staff who entertain my daughter in the lavish Lobby Bar while I catch up on some work, with a hot mocha in hand that I haven’t had to chant the words ‘no cream thanks’ in Chinese over and over in my head before they take my order, in case I forget.
I’m thankful for an internet signal full stop! Even if it’s notoriously patchy and takes me three times as long to achieve anything.
And as for the bigger things like visa fiascos, I’m thankful for Hotel’s HR staff, fluent in English, who can fill in the blanks between our Qing’s (please) and Xie Xie’s (thank you’s)!
It’s been a challenging two months, but gently cushioned by bubbles of the five star variety.
For that I’m thankful!