Saturday, February 21, 2009

Free range foreigner....

Quick post to say we've arrived in Chengdu, checked into our lovely hotel - it claims only to be three stars, but we'd rate it a four - it has robes and actual coffee cups with saucers and SPOONS! Though we are still puzzling out why they also rent rooms by the hour. Honestly, it doesn't look like that kind of place, faux French name aside.

The staff here doesn't speak a word of English. This was a bit of a disadvantage when I got a phone call, shortly after going to my room, from a very pleasant-sounding woman who asked me if I wanted to arrange for a shower and something else I didn't understand. Now, if I were a man, it would be pretty clear what she was calling about, but after I said, "I'm sorry, I don't understand, my Chinese isn't very good," she chuckled and said, "Then I will say it slowly so you can understand." And again asked if I would like to arrange for a shower and some other services that I still couldn't understand.

Now, there is a whole bath house culture here in China that is in no way sexual. Back in the day when most Chinese people did not have decent facilities in their homes, the communal bathhouse was where you went to shower and shampoo and shave and get exfoliated and massaged and what have you. I actually experienced this for the first time in Kunming. Quite a trip. Not for the shy. The sexes are segregated, but you still spend a lot of time standing around naked. The facility is mostly white tile and wood tubs and dim lighting, giving it a slightly subterranean vibe. I went ahead and splurged for the "milk bath" and was thoroughly exfoliated, all the while bumbling around, not knowing what to do and pretty much making an ass of myself. Unfortunately I didn't have time to experience the "Xiuxi Ting" - the "Rest Hall" - where the genders can mingle and chat and snooze and watch TV after their showers - and then go back down to the bathhouse and shower and exfoliate some more.

Anyway, if you are a man traveling in China, you will more often than not receive calls in your hotel room for "massage," and it's well-understood what this actually means. But as a woman...I'm clueless. What was I being offered, exactly?

The other odd thing about this hotel was that no one asked me for my passport. Richard, my traveling companion, had made the reservations, so they wanted his passport (and credit card, for the deposit). I stood there, passport in hand, because in the past, regardless of who made the reservation and who left the deposit, you had to show your passport.

But no request came for mine.

So here I am, in this genuinely charming and well-appointed Chengdu hotel room, wearing the hotel robe and disposable slippers, and I am anonymous. No record of my arrival or of my stay here.

Free range foreigner...

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