Tuesday, 30 June 2009

5-Star hotel, 3-Star room

I will let you make your own judgment on this one, but let's just say that my personal experiences left a bit to be desired.

The Grand Hotel, in Taipei, Taiwan, is an authentic Chinese palace-styled five-star hotel originally built to accommodate visiting dignitaries. It's a nice place, although the campus itself is a bit sketchy and getting there involves a fair bit of walking up hills and watching out for poisonous snakes and stray dogs.

On the whole, I was unsatisfied with the experience I had there...I was fully expecting a five-star hotel, with all the amenities, although in all fairness I'd never actually stayed at one before.

All the other hotels we stayed at were three- and four-star hotels that provided us with a great deal of amenities and services we weren't expecting: complimentary slippers and bathrobes, inexpensive laundry services, soap, lotion, and bodywash dispensers in the showers, nice views of the city/countyside, and low-priced food and drink in the lobby shop.

The Grand Hotel had none of the above for us. There were no bathrobes, and the single pair of feminine, sandal-like leather "slippers" in the room cost NT$250 (about US$8) to use. The bathroom had no dispensers; rather, they provided us with two little bottles, one of shampoo and the other of bodywash, akin to the type you'd find in a Holiday Inn Express here in the States. There was no lotion. The paint in the bathroom was poorly applied and could not disguise the aging and cracked woodwork. Oh, and the unappealing wallpaper in the bathroom was - get this! - moldy.

The laundry service there, should I have decided to throw in all my dirty clothes at the time, would have run me a ridiculous NT$500 in total (about US$15) compared to the ¥50 I could have spent on laundry in our 3-star in Beijing (approx. US$8).

There was a mini-fridge in the room, of course (it wasn't cold), that contained cans of Coca-Cola and three types of beer, as well as mini bottles of whiskey and Johnny Walker, and a bottle of water. The Coke was the cheapest thing there, costing a mere NT$150 (US$4.50). The next cheapest was the bottle of water, with a price of NT$200 (US$6).

Paradoxically, there was a vending machine on the campus of the hotel, down near what I presumed was the maintenance shed, where one could get an identical can of Coke for NT$20 (US 60¢).

Did I mention how small the room was? There was only a single light in the ceiling (the others were above the bed and the table). Notice the two lamps in the picture of our room below? The one on the right had a broken switch so it didn't work. We ended up using the tiny spotlight in the ceiling instead. The far wall, as in most hotels, was all windows, but they didn't open as far as I could tell. And how about this view?

So much for a pleasant view of Shanghai at night, or overlooking the campus of Peking University, or a panorama of Hangzhou - this five-star hotel gives you a concrete wall and a jungle!

I was lucky to snap that picture, too, as the windows had a nasty habit of accumulating condensation to the point where we couldn't see out of them.

I didn't take a picture of the room until my roommate and I were packing in prep to check out. I am standing in front of the door, the bathroom is to my left and a desk with a light is to the right.

The beds were smaller than what we'd had at other hotels, but they were by far the most comfortable, which definitely made up for the moldy bathroom, at least a little bit.

Unfortunately, the lights were positioned in such a way that we couldn't reach them from the bed, as we could in all the other hotels. They had to be turned off before one gets in bed, which resulted in my tripping not once, but twice...

The walls had been spackled over and over in attempts to hide what upon closer inspection appeared to be dents or even holes. Tacky. Just like the conspicuous lack of décor.

Luckily, the breakfast at The Grand Hotel reminded me that we were indeed in a five-star hotel.

It wasn't all that easy to remember that little fact, though. I presume this is a side of The Grand Hotel that people rarely see or hear about. I didn't have a very satisfying experience there, let's say.

Just thought I'd share that. Again, make your own judgment.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Triumphant Return

I am back from China.

Although my primary purpose in going was to hone my language skills, I also used the last three weeks overseas as an ideal opportunity to hone my photography skills. Having never actually owned an SLR camera, much less a passport, I found the trip eye-opening. Pun not intended, I have been awake for quite a long while as I write this post recounting the trip in vague detail.

From a Philadelphia suburb, I and the 29 others on the trip departed by bus for NYC's JFK airport at 2015 hours and arrived at 2345; our flight for Shanghai Pudong International Airport departed on schedule at 0100 and touched down in Shanghai at 0513 local time. That's where keeping track of things gets a little confusing. According to our bodies, it was actually 1713 but naturally, we'd slept on the plane - in prep for getting on another one, which we did, at 0830, en route to Beijing. I think we landed at about 1030 hours. We spent the following hours on a bus, on foot touring the campus of 北京大學 (Peking University), and getting settled at 中館圜(Zhongguanyuan Global Village at PKU), our temporary home for about a week.

Rather than reiterate the time spent in Beijing, I think I'll instead talk about the pictures I took on the trip as a whole.

I returned with about 1,300 pictures between my D60 and Powershot. It'll take me weeks to go through them all and sort them into Facebook albums and DeviantArt-worthy shots and whatnot. This one that I've posted on dA is the last of the trip, as we were all waiting for our delayed return flight home.

I plan on making maybe ten albums on Facebook and uploading many more to dA and this blog.


While I'm in an informative mood, I think I'll post an update on what exactly happened to everyone else here.

Nate is on vacation in California until July 8th; though he can use the internet he hasn't been, really. Tom is in Australia visiting family, and Scott is off dealing with some issues he hopes will be resolved soon.

My personal schedule for the rest of the summer involves hopping around the US East Coast and photographing the places I go with an approach I would ambitiously label "passive photojournalism," in which little unique details, frequently overlooked, serve to describe the "bigger picture." In areas such as rural Vermont, the Pocono Mountains, and beachfront South Carolina, the possibilities are fascinating and barely limited.

A postless month merits at least some attempt at an explanation, so there you have it.


By popular request, the itinerary of my visit to China:

Tunxi (Hongcun Village)