inside thoughts on China and beyond

Shangri-La Experience (2)

Heavenly Hotels (2) (click here for part 1)   (Note: This blog was meant to be published after part 1 -seems logic, doesn’t it?!- but somehow got blocked rather than blogged, then delayed and forgotten …Here it is anyway…)

Ever forgot your 20th wedding anniversary? Take heart: it can only happen once. And it happened to me -nearly. I know, I know, how could I? -don’t get me started. To be honest, I was a bit surprised myself because as far as I could remember, our tenth anniversary was only a year ago.

As it was, my wife was much too busy to complain about it and first I intended to let it quietly slip-by; I was busy too. Maybe she won’t notice. And, hey, didn’t we already go on holiday twice a year?

My wife remained quiet. My friends didn’t. And life became really unbearable when even my secretaries threatened to get involved and when the brightest among them argued that “you’ll never have this chance again!”, I was ready to go. Never argue with Sichuan women.  A hotel had to be found, booked and enjoyed.

But when it comes to hotels in China, that is easier said than done -the enjoying, that is. Chinese stars are not the same as Michelin stars: instead of being the hard earned symbols of continues quality and excellence, they reflect a faded ambition and -perhaps- the quality level as it was during the opening ceremony. For us lawai, hotels in China continue to be a fountain of inspiration for the one; a source of frustration for the other. Very much like the traffic here: it never stops surprising you.

Because hotels here never quite seem to live up to the promising pictures on their websites, visitors from abroad will unquestionably be disappointed and complaining and causing you to wonder why you invited them over in the first place. Then here a tip: the best you can do for these visitors is to pack them in a low-budget street corner hotel for the first night, complete with hard beds, moldy walls, defect toilet, cold showers and armies of cockroaches. And when they then complain the next morning (and you know they will, regardless where you put them), you upgrade them to a typical Chinese 2 or 3 star hotel. It works miracles, I tell you: gratefulness guaranteed! After the first night’s experience, never mind the upgrade’s pealing wallpaper and the leaking shower and the cigarette burns in the never washed carpet.

But it wouldn’t work for us though. Not today.It had to be over-the-top.

And so the plotting began, carefully keeping my wife out of the loop –which, believe me, is easier said than done. A hotel was selected and not just any hotel: Shangri-la. No less would do. They don’t have rooms: they have suites. From deluxe to presidential to imperial (with the latter some complementary rooms for the concubines, of course). And so a suite was booked. Flowers were ordered. A Pinot Blanc was brought. (A true white 1991 Alsace wine to bring back memories and tastes of the early days.) This had to be perfect. After all, it was now or never!

And of we went, my wife and I. As far as my wife was concerned, it was just one of those together-evenings, out without the kids. We decided to go to Mooney’s this time: this Irish pub wasn’t bad and the food in the neighboring Café-Z was right-out excellent, especially their Indian. And -what a coincident- it’s in Shangri-La. Since my wife had gone ahead, settling in behind the first order of light drinks, and waiting for me to park the car, I quickly ran up to the hotel’s lobby and checked-in the room.

“Did the flowers arrive?”

“Yes sir.”

“Please put them in a nice vase. And the wine, it’s white wine, can that be placed in an cooling bucket with ice?”

“Yes sir, of course.” To be sure they understood me, I called in a translator and repeated my wishes.

“Yes sir. All clear” and I saw him typing away making sure my preferences were known now and forever more, from Toronto to Tokyo and from London to Lhasa. After all, this is Shangri-La. The bellboy was called who brought it all with my secretly packed bag to the room. I rushed back and found my wife sipping away on her margarita and reading a magazine she’d picked up somewhere on the way in – clueless, so innocent.

Of course it didn’t last. No secrets remain hidden and this one surely wasn’t meant to. The plan was quickly revealed when we took the elevator up and I opened the door; the suite was ours. Far across the spacious room large windows revealed the river below and the city behind it. Surprise, surprise!

“How did our bag got here? Who packed it?”

“I did.”

“Wow, unbelievable, all by your self?” Well, the kids helped, I wanted to say but instead thanked her for the compliment. Expectations have obviously increased over the last 20 years.

“And look at those beautiful flowers!”

Ah, yes, the bouquet stood proudly in a somewhat awkward vase but still looking impressive: this one bunch had more roses than all roses I’ve given my wife in the past together. But what a strange vase. And where was the wine?  Where was our Pinot Blanc, the jewel of this plan and crown of the evening?

Strange vase. Looking closer, it wasn’t the vase that was strange, it was the water. I lifted the flowers out of the vase and there it was: ice cubes floating in yellowish water and a faint fragrant of diluted wine filled the air. Well, I found the wine. My 1991 gone up in air.

I called room service but the poor girl had no idea of, well, anything, really, not even her own name. Not wanting to waste anymore of her time, I called her supervisor. I really didn’t want to make a fuss about it. That was not why we had come here for.

“Just give us another white wine and we’ll forget all about this, don’t you think?”

“Yes sir. I’ll see what I can do.”

Now we’re talking. Here was someone who understood the western standards of good service: polite, humble, responsive and when it comes to problem solving, going the extra mile. After all, this is Shangri-La. No less would do. And already after five minutes  the lady returned. With a bottle of wine. Red wine.

“No no, excuse me, you misunderstood, we really asked for a white wine.” And by now, I really needed it. With a look that showed she didn’t see the need for a difference between red and white wine -just drink that stuff!- she said: “We have no more white wine”. Now that was definitely an extra mile in the wrong direction. No white wine in all Shangri-La? Not even a dozen bottles of wine -no matter how white, red or purple- would help me forget this.

Before I could utter some unforgettable and very likely unforgivable words, my wife squeezed my hand, send the supervisor away and said cheerfully: “What a surprise -Shangri-La!”

(I can’t guarantee that this is the last of our Shangri-La experiences, but to end this story at a good note, I do need to add that Shangri-La’s general manager, after hearing this, more than compensated us for the suffered grief and hardship: a flower bouquet that made a laughing stock of my miserable bunch and a diner without end; over-the-top. We won’t forget!)

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One response

  1. Good idea! SRL is always great.

    September 27, 2012 at 10:54 am