I wish it were not so, but I have apparently developed quite the reputation for complaining about service in Chinese hotels. See e.g., Beijing Sheraton Great Wall. China Writ Large Or Me Just Being Petty? Prior to my Great Wall post, I would typically point out one or two examples of bad service at a China hotel that would be incredibly unusual anywhere else.
I just got returned from a couple of weeks traveling on business through Asia, and while there, two people emailed me to say that they hoped my China hotel experiences would be better this time.
I spent time in Japan, Singapore, Vietnam and Korea. And I spent two nights in Beijing on a 72 hour (free) visa that I picked up at Beijing Capital Airport. Just as an aside, it took me all of about 45 seconds to get that visa; it is great!
I was traveling alone and there for only two days and so I decided I would go upscale. So I stayed at a very well known, very expensive, very swanky Western-owned five star hotel. The hotel is gorgeous in every way and in most respects, the service was amazing.
Nonetheless, I once again experienced an incident that again makes me wonder what the hell is up with service in China.
But before I tell you about that incident, let me note that it was only at my Beijing hotel that I had any complaints about my trip. I spent five days at a $100 a night Sheraton in Hanoi and it was great. All I really want is decent service.
So what happened at the Five Star Beijing Hotel? My first morning there I went down for a buffet breakfast. The breakfast room is gorgeous, with marble floors. I loaded up my plate, to include two tiny ears of corn and I was walking to grab some bread when I slipped and fell. Somehow, and truly amazingly, I was able to catch my fall while keeping the plate balanced; the two ears of corn flew off, but that was it. Two Americans right there clapped.
Some guy from the hotel ran over, clearly worried about my fall. I insisted that I was fine (I was) and I pointed out a puddle of water maybe a foot long and a foot wide where I fell. I then looked around and noted and pointed out another puddle maybe ten feet away. The guy who had run over to me started quietly yelling at an elder woman who immediately wiped up my puddle. I went back to my seat, ate a bit and then decided to come back for more.
What did I see? You guessed it. Three small puddles spaced around the breakfast room, including the one ten feet from the one that tripped me up. The cleaning staff had cleaned up “my” puddle but nobody had looked around for more puddles or cleaned up the other one I pointed out. It is unbelievable to me that neither the guy nor the woman made any real effort to make sure that the floor was completely safe. It seems all that concerned them was impressing upon me that they were fixing things.
After breakfast, I met with a China lawyer friend who has been in Beijing for about a year and told him what had happened. I asked him whether my always “seeing” things like this in China was because I was being unfair or hyper-critical or what? I asked him why it was ALWAYS China. He immediately said it’s China and not me. He said that he deals with stuff like this all the time.
He then told me of how at his son’s Chinese emblematic school the kids were told of how they were going to start playing baseball. They were to buy uniforms. His kid was thrilled and my lawyer friend went out and bought the uniform and some equipment for his son. A baseball coach was brought in and for a couple days he taught the kids some skills. On a Saturday or a Sunday, a bunch of schools got together and everyone played a game. The kid loved it. The head of the school and various government functionaries all spoke about sports in the schools, etc.
And then that was it. Just the one game. No more practices. No more games.
The China lawyer said that this was emblematic of China. The whole baseball thing was done simply to say that it had been done. It was done to look good. It was done to check something off. It was not done to inculcate the kids with baseball skills or baseball knowledge. According to this lawyer, this is what caused me to slip. China does not really concern itself with quality. It concerns itself with appearances. The goal is to be “good enough” not “great.” He said this, not me.
So again, I ask, what is going on here?