Posted by Joel Martinsen on Monday, July 16, 2007 at 8:22 AM
In an essay published in Beijing's evening Mirror in May, journalist Ai Ma wrote about foreign guests, showering, and the city's deluxe hotels:
To bathe, go to a hotelby Ai Ma
At the end of the 1970s, commoners in Beijing couldn't go into high-end places like the Beijing Hotel. This may seem unbelievable to Beijingers today, for whom hotels are nothing special, but that was indeed the case.
The 22 April, 1979, issue of Reference News ran a piece that contained an AFP reporter's impressions of Beijing, including Beijing's hotels:
I remember wanting to go have a look at the guests at a high-end hotel that catered to foreigners. We were interrogated at the gate - it was like we were trying to do something illegal. We showed our documentation and carefully answered every question, afraid that if we answered one question wrong, we'd not only be barred entry, but we'd also raise suspicion that would cause us trouble in the future.
Even though the AFP reporter said that the food and service in Beijing's hotels could hardly compare to international standards, in the eyes of we Chinese commoners, they were like heaven. We didn't taste hotel food then, but we felt the sanitation equipment was truly luxurious, particularly the shower. Beijingers' homes at that time were not equipped for bathing. To take a shower one had to go to a public bathhouse, which was a lot of trouble. Seeing that the hotel actually allowed bathing 24 hours a day, I said to myself, what luxury! Later, a foreign friend of the family realized how inconvenient showering was for us and invited us to bathe at the hotel where he was staying. Later, I read an article by Ah Cheng in which he told of how his father stayed at a hotel for a conference and used the occasion to invite his friends over to shower. Then that group of old friends "sat there in the room, chatting with wet hair." I had to laugh reading this - what a perfect picture of that era!
Later I became a reporter and would sometimes have to telephone people at hotels. Since I didn't know what room people were staying in, I had to ask the front desk to look them up. At first I was a bit timid - would they tell me? You don't even know what room the guy's in, aren't you afraid of making them suspicious? - I had really been completely intimidated by that high-end hotel back in the day. Hotels exist to serve their guests, so of course they'll serve their guests' good friends. This is where their duty lies. And our requests were entirely justifiable. Sometime in the intervening years, there had been a imperceptible yet total transformation of the former mentality.
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The Eurasian Face : Blacksmith Books, a publishing house in Hong Kong, is behind The Eurasian Face, a collection of photographs by Kirsteen Zimmern. Below is an excerpt from the series:
Big in China: An adapted excerpt from Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising A Family, Playing The Blues and Becoming A Star in China, just published this month. Author Alan Paul tells the story of arriving in Beijing as a trailing spouse, starting a blues band, raising kids and trying to make sense of China.
Pallavi Aiyar's Chinese Whiskers: Pallavi Aiyar's first novel, Chinese Whiskers, a modern fable set in contemporary Beijing, will be published in January 2011. Aiyar currently lives in Brussels where she writes about Europe for the Business Standard. Below she gives permissions for an excerpt.
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+ David Moser on Mao impersonators (2004.10): I first became aware of this phenomenon in 1992 when I turned on a Beijing TV variety show and was jolted by the sight of "Mao Zedong" and "Zhou Enlai" playing a game of ping pong. They both gave short, rousing speeches, and then were reverently interviewed by the emcee, who thanked them profusely for taking time off from their governmental duties to appear on the show.