After arriving, exhausted, at a hotel that cost almost 100 rmb more than I'd intended to pay, I was at least pleased to see that it looked decent. Then the little hunched-over woman led me, very slowly, through the courtyard, through a reasonably well-appointed lobby, and up to a room. Not the room I was going to end up in, as it turns out.
In Shenyang, last month, I noticed a pretty cool power-saving method which seems to be common Chinese hotels. The room key there was a plastic card, just like at modern Western hotels, and there was a little slot-reader just inside the front door to the room. All the electricity in the room was turned on by inserting the room key in that slot, and turned off by removing it. I thought this was tremendously clever: we never had to wonder where we'd left the room key, and all the lights popped on instantly when we came back in, tired from whatever activities had occupied us during the day.
This time, when the hunched-over old woman stopped at the first room down a short hallway and attempted to get the electricity to turn on, it didn't work. She took a cheap plastic toothbrush out of its cardboard box, squished down the box until it could fit through the slot. Still, no action.
I was exhausted, and I just wanted to get some sleep. The woman struggled for a long, agonizing time before she finally gave up and took me one door down. When the lights came on in this room, it was a ghastly sight.
I've stayed in some pretty nasty motels, in my time. A twenty-dollar-a-night fourth-floor walkup in Tijuana actually turned out to be pretty nice. Twenty-five bucks got me a night in the Panhandle of Florida, with a cracked neon sign glaring in my window and carpet that covered only about two thirds of the floor. But none of them creeped me out any more than a $42 per night hotel a hundred yards from one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world.
I don't know if this picture adequately conveys the disgustingness of the carpet, which had once been off-white but now was gunmetal grey. Too late, the next morning that I discovered a pair of disposable sandals in little plastic bags. The television was just for show: it didn't work all night.
The beds and other furniture were actually decent-looking, but not especially comfortable. The fluorescent light fixture overhead wasn't wired in, so the power cord ran right down the headboard of my bed. When I plugged it in, it gave the room a frighteningly Soviet look.
Looks like someone wasn't happy!
Notice something missing? There's no shower stall. The shower curtain ran down the middle of the bathroom, to provide rather imperfect protection from splatters.
Not that there was very much to worry about in that regard: this was the strongest stream I was able to coax out of the heavily corroded shower head. At least there was hot water.
I was tired enough, I managed to fall asleep despite the nasty conditions. That night, I dreamed of roaches.