Thursday, September 13, 2012

Asian Eyes' China - Culture shock

Marco Polo Hotels
First hotel that I stayed 
in China
        I remember my first time trip to China where I got doses of culture shock on the very first day itself. I was there together with a group of other colleagues from Japan, Malaysia and Singapore for a summit in Oct 2002. Only my American boss, Kevin and I stayed at Marco Polo hotel in Xiamen while the rest stayed in Holiday Inn Harbor View. The first culture shock was a funny incident. It was about 5.30pm, and there was a ring on my doorbell. I looked through the peep hole and saw a lady outside. I asked through the door "who is it?". She replied something about some service that I cannot fully understand - about a 'service and bed'. The thing that crossed my mind then was 'prostitute'. I told her I was not interested and then she left. Later I went down to the lobby, I complained to the front desk that I was disturbed by a 'prostitute'. The clerk attending to me gave a call to the concierge/security and had some heated discussion over the phone. Right then as I was waiting for her response, the lady who was outside my room moment ago came down through the lift and I pointed her out to the front desk clerk. The clerk looked at the lady, and in a hush low voice told me that there must be some communication breakdown. She explained that the lady was a hotel worker and her job was to perform a service called '开夜床' (roughly translated as 'prepare the bed for the night'. This lady will come in your room to prepare the bed, unfold the blanket and close the night curtain for you to retire in the night. She is not a p***", the clerk continued. Oops! I had mistaken her for something she was not. Sheepishly, I apologized to the clerk and hastily make my exit to prevent further embarrassment.
         I had prior arrangement to meet Kevin for dinner at 7pm at a restaurant outside our hotel. Since my hurried retreat from the lobby, and with half an hour to spare, I decided to take a stroll outside the hotel alone. It was early fall and the air was crisp and comfortable. There were numerous shops nearby selling knick-knacks, toys, fruits, soybean, small eating shops and shoe shops. I walked about 5 blocks before I made a U-turn and headed back to my hotel. On the way home I was approached by an elderly man on crutches, holding up a cup and thrusting it to me while mumbling for pity and small change. I did not entertain him and keep on walking. He was very persistent and kept on tailed me until I was quite near my hotel. To shake him off, I pulled out a 5 Yuan note and handed to him. Bad bad mistake. In no time, I was swarmed and surrounded by others - old men, ladies and even children, each shouted for handouts, whining why I gave the first guy and not them. Some even cried that they had not eaten for days to get my sympathy. They seem to appear from nowhere and the groups grew bigger and bigger to about 30 odds. They tugged at my sleeves, my shirt and did not let go. I was cornered, could not move an inch and did not know what to do. I shouted out for help in English, and luckily, the bellboys from my hotel heard me and pulled me away while scolding the beggars not to disturb me. I reached my hotel safely but still shaken from the experience. I was told that these beggars came from outstation and they used same tactic on visitors. Phew! What a scary experience.
I now think twice on giving to beggar
       Later I related the incident to Kevin who had been waiting for me. We decided to scrap the idea of having dinner outside. We went to a Chinese restaurant inside Marco Polo Hotel. I tried to impress my colleague with my Chinese and called out "miss, miss (小姐)" in Chinese, as I normally would do so in my country, to a waitress to take our orders. There were a couple of waitresses walked about but none came to our table even though they were within earshot and the restaurant was not busy at that time. After couple of tries, Kevin joined me in trying to get the attention of the waitresses, speaking in English of course. Immediately a waitress sprang to action and attended to us attentively. The following day when we were in office, we related this restaurant incident to our Chinese colleagues and we were greeted with laughter.  After the laughter subsided, Jane said "Here we would use the words "little brother/sister (小弟/小妹)" or "service person (服务人)" instead of "miss (小姐)" to address to waiter/waitress. In China, "miss (小姐)" was misused so much that they become a synonym to "callgirl (妓女)". So, when you called them "小姐 " in Chinese, they turned on a deaf ear on you", added Jane. Oh, no, not again, my face turned red again.
        First trip to China I learnt 3 lessons - extra hotel service, beggars and names calling. I would say it was indeed some sort of embarrassment records!

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