Three stories (day 69)

One. So we wander into a restaurant in downtown Shanghai. Hardly anyone is there. Maybe it is not lunchtime. Maybe it is mid-afternoon. It doesn’t affect the basic approach. Take a seat.

All smiles. Can not read the menu at all. Maybe see the word for “noodles”. Nothing new there. Fortunately my companion speaks some Mandarin, so we order what we think is beef noodles, and some veges. But maybe the communication is not so clear. Still, the waiter seems happy enough.

Shortly a plate arrives. It does not look like beef noodles. It does not look like veges. Hmmm. We leave it for a while. It is definitely dead and cooked. Some kind of bird. Chicken? Everything tastes like chicken. We try a bit. Lots of bones. Not chicken. Quail?

Anyway, soon the problems really begin. The waiter approaches. It seems that this was not our dish. Someone else’s. Pigeon even. Very special. We have to pay for it. We are not excited . Why is this our problem? The waiter brings us the wrong dish. The waiter retreats for discussions with her manager. The manager is not excited. In fact, she is seriously unexcited. So unexcited that she starts to tear strips off the hapless waiter in the middle of the restaurant. Not necessarily something you would see every day. The manager is shouting at the poor waiter, who is already in tears. We would attempt to avoid the comfrontation, being Anglo-Saxon by training, but it isn’t exactly easy.

Is it our fault? Should we feel responsible? Should we pay the bill? As it ends up, of course, we do. It costs quite a lot really. Maybe $4.

Two. I check in at the hostel. Receipts galore. I buy one night. Next day I buy two more. And two days later two more. There are always four receipts. One for the back office. One for the front. They give me two. One for me. One for me to give to the woman who stands guard over the wing in which my room is. Of course, I always throw away the last two. I don’t love receipts. But Chinese bureaucrats do. If you do not have a receipt, it did not happen. It does not exist.

So on day 5 the guard in my wing accosts me and asks me for my receipt. I try to explain that I threw it away. Given that we have no common language (I can say ‘a bowl of rice’ and ‘thank you’, she can say more useful things when one is a floor warden, but not much more in aggregate), she eventually gives up in disgust.

Later that same day (they are nothing if not efficient), the man on the front desk (whose english is impeccable) inquires whether I intend to pay for my last two nights accomodation. I, of course, (in impeccable english of my own) explain that I have already paid. He assures me that this is not so. He calls the floor warden, who confirms that I have not paid. I am pretty confident that I have paid. He is confident in his system that says that I have not. He asks me what I have done with my receipts. I tell him I have thrown them away. He finds this difficult to understand.

A rigorous search ensures. All the receipt books for the last five days are produced and minutely inspected. There are lots from my wing, a bunch from my room (logic says no more than seven, since there were eight beds in my room), but nothing for my bed. Several times. Several different people. All of whom are very obliging. All the front desk staff (with the exception of the manager, I suspect) seem to believe me (so do the Israelis I met, which is nice of them), and are mystified as to why they can not find the missing receipts.

I am likewise mystified. I am sure I paid, after all. But I do have a crap memory. So maybe I did not. And after at least half an hour, with all the evidence against me, I guess I had to conclude that I had not paid. I mean, it is one thing to have the courage of your convictions, and to continue to hold to your opinion in the face of opposition from all the people around you. But it is quite another to never doubt yourself, and never pause to check whether you are really really really sure when all the evidence, and all the other witnesses, says that you are wrong wrong wrong. Even when it comes to hostel bills.

Three. So we check into our scody hotel in Xian. It is six million degrees outside. Well, around about. Lucky it is so dry. Because water would be boiling in the streets, if there was any lying around. We ask downstairs. We specifically say “does our room have air conditioning?” and they specifically say “why yes, Hayden, it does”. So we get up there and it does, technically speaking, have air conditioning. So they weren’t lying. Not entirely.

But it would be a bit like if someone asked you if you had a car, and you said yes you did, but it was a totally rubbish car. And it didn’t go at all. And it had lousy gas mileage when it did. And it made a lot of noise that would prevent you from sleeping. And you didn’t tell them that stuff but just waited for them to climb four flights of stairs and get in the car and find out for themselves.

So when we got upstairs and we discovered the trash air conditioner that didn’t actually condition the air, but did make a lot of noise, we were not so impressed. Back downstairs we troop. There are troubles. There are no other empty rooms with four beds in the place.

But, as it turns out, it is okay. There is one other room with a single foreign guy in it. Perhaps he would like to move to a single room and we could have the room for four. And, on investigation, it seems he is happy to move. And so we move in. And the air conditioner works a little better in here. But not much better. And just as noisy. And this room smells. I mean really reeks. But no one has the heart or the motivation to find another hotel. Sure the bathroom is gross, the showers are locked, and our fellow guests (foreign guy excepted) seem a little on the budget side, but what possible reason do we have to assume that anywhere else would be any better? This is China, after all.

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