So very China

February 5, 2009

This is the sort of thing that could happen anywhere, I imagine, but seems to increase rapidly in likeliness once you are within Chinese boarders.

I arrived in Shanghai this afternoon, secure in the knowledge that I had a room booked at the local airport hotel, the “Jinjiang Inn,” that the hotel was very close to the airport, and that this hotel ran a shuttle bus to the airport.  The shuttle bus is key here, as no driver is going to want to queue in the taxi line for ages to get someone traveling a mile away for a pittance.

When arriving, I called the phone number the hotel had given me to find out the timing of the next schedule.  They directed me to a certain place in the airport and gave me an ETA for the next shuttle.  No problem, I thought, and hurried over to the location.  Like clockwork, a van with “Jinjiang Inn” painted on the side pulled up precisely at the designated time, loaded me in with the other passengers, and off we went.  I knew the hotel was quite close to the airport from the website, so I was not at all surprised when five minutes later we were pulling into a parking lot.  I looked up at the building’s fascade, noted the large lettering of “Jinjiang Inn” on the side, and hopped off the van.

After a short wait in line at the reception desk, it was my turn to check in.  Here’s where I started to sense a problem: there was no record on my reservation, under my name or my friend’s name.  Hmm.  I showed her my printout confirming the reservation, and she puzzled at it for a minute before finally her face cleared.  “Oh!”  she exclaimed.  “You’re at the wrong hotel!”

I was unclear as to where exactly I had gone wrong.  Hadn’t I called the Jinjiang Inn for a van, gotten into a Jinjiang Inn van, and had the van drop me off at the Jinjiang Inn?

Well, yes.  But it was still the wrong hotel: the same company owns two hotels, both near the airport, both named “Jinjiang Inn,” and – this part is key – both serviced by the same  shuttle.  If I had stayed on the van for an extra five minutes, it would have dropped me off at the right place.  I have gently suggested that they might consider mentioning this on their website, but that’s a different issue.  Today, the receptionist finally noticed that the phone number on my reservation confirmation was the other branch, and when she called over, sure enough: they were expecting me.

Now came the tricky part – the other branch was close by, but given the highway ramps and lack of sidewalks, not walkable even without my mounds of luggage (I have waaaay too much with me for what I am about to do – i.e. make these pleasant little tourist excursions around Harbin and Beijing – but I failed to build time into the schedule to go back home to Nanjing to dump my excess baggage).  But the next shuttle wouldn’t be coming back around for another hour.  They might be able to get a cab, but that might take as long as the shuttle.  Here I was pleasant but insistent: surely they could find a way to get me over there, seeing as how through all of my communications (in English and Chinese) with the hotel and shuttle driver via email and phone, no one had ever thought to mention that there were two Jinjiang Inns and to be careful to alight at the proper one.  I’m almost positive this is not simply common knowledge to weary arriving travelers.

Well, after a series of hurried consultations, they decided to get the shuttle driver back to bring me over to the other hotel.  I’m not sure why this wasn’t the first option suggested, as it took minutes to do and the driver himself was quite pleasant about it, but I no longer cared about anything but a shower and a nap.  Now, finding dinner in the barren wasteland of airport hotels and highways could prove to be a different challenge altogether….