Pondering Death in Room 3 of the Hotan Happy Hotel, China

happy hotel

     The Happy Hotel was so sad I was ready to hang myself, but I couldn’t decide to whom to bequeath my baseball card collection.

     After a long stay in Kashgar, I went to the desert. Hotan was an eight hour, 33 yuan ($5) “hard seat” ride, it’s called, but the seats weren’t so hard. The train was, however, filthy as all hell by the time we arrived from sandstorms blowing through the windows and the garbage piled up on the floor. (Hotan has an enormous train station, bigger than the White House. How busy is it? One train a day.) Little did I expect that the train would prepare me for my hotel…

Hotan Happy Hotel
     Congratulations to the impeccably-named Happy Hotel in Hotan (aka Khotan, aka Hetian) Xinjiang province, western China, for vaulting into the Top 5 Worst Hotels Ever status. Well done. Competition has been fierce over the years, but it is a very worthy honor. Take a bow.
     The owner said he had other rooms, but mine was in the best condition and he didn’t even want to show others. The best condition! Condition is a temporary thing. They didn’t even try. Cigarette butts were on the floor, garbage was in the corners, the toilet wasn’t even wiped off.
     The only other lao wai on the train came with me to check out the hotel. He thought it was OK, that he’d stayed in worse in Bolivia—as if that should be a basis for comparison, and I’m sure he didn’t pay $13 for the privilege. Part of the reason accommodation is expensive for what you get is because often only a few hotels in each town will accept foreigners.
     By the way, next time I hear someone defend that China charges American citizens the same price for a visa as we charge them, I will counter, does USA allow you to stay in the country only 30 days (and you can’t renew)? Are you restricted in what hotels you can go to? Do you have to register with the police? How many “sensitive areas” are there where you need special permits that you will never get? Do you see military encamped around town like here?

happy hotel toilet

     I was so encrusted in thick dust from the train ride, I had to take a (cold) shower here. Gulp. Even in normal hostels I curl my toes up with my rubber sandals on in the shower. What do you do in this?

happy hotel bathtub

     This is the bathtub where foreigners wake up in ice with a note saying that they no longer have a kidney.

happy hotel stairway

     Another delightful view!

happy hotel pipes

     That’s some nice carpentry there.

happy hotel tv

     Incredibly, there is a flat screen TV in the room. A freaking flat screen TV in the room!? With human labor in China costing almost nothing, why not spend two cents on cleaning the place or a couple of bucks to do anything to the toilet? No, you spend good money on a freaking TV! Flat screen! Maybe even cable! (I didn’t check; I thought I would get an STD if I touched the remote control.)

     When I left the next morning (“checked out” is too fine a word for such a dive), I saw the owner’s wife holding her baby girl while chatting to someone next to her, and I had to do a double-take to notice that the baby was naked and had just taken a dump. The woman was nonplussed by this as it lay there in a luminescent pile, glistening on the driveway, irrefutable evidence that the kid needs to eat a titch less fiber.
     Children use the streets and parks as a toilet all the time. In Hotan I saw the quintessential example when a mother held her baby boy in her lap on the back of a flatbed truck used as public transport. The baby peed as it drove by, almost getting me in the line of fire. Treacherous streets indeed.
uyghur bread

     Delicious Uyghur bread, baked in a tandoor, three yuan each (50 US cents)

     I can’t remember the last time I was so ready to leave a country. 62.37% of that feeling is me (I’ve been gone seven months now, and if that doesn’t sound like a big deal, try backpacking that long every year for 27 straight years and then tell me how it feels) and 37.63% of it is being trapped in western China with no trains or planes out and not relishing epic bus rides just to get anywhere. It’s like being stuck in Winnemucca, Nevada. Plus, I’m ready to pummel the next person who coughs in my face.
     I’m running out of steam and I’ve become irritable, so there’s not much fun in traveling. It’s kind of interesting to be in Hotan, but it suffers from Kashgar Syndrome: it feels like I’m in the middle of a Chinese experiment in urban planning, a place in transition meant to marginalize Uyghurs. I heard there was a recent uprising, so there are tons of police, tons of military, the main square is cordoned off with few people inside, there is construction everywhere—it’s time to go. To Japan.
     I’m not down on China. I had a fantastic time my previous visit along the east coast and came away impressed, thinking how genius everyone is. I’m down on a lot of things the Chinese government does, but I’m down on a lot of things the American government does; it’s no reason not to visit. Every American should visit China. I used to say that about India, mostly as a personal challenge, but China can be equally difficult and it can only be good to try and have an appreciation and understanding of it.
     I was curious about visiting Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province, also said to be the town farthest away from the sea of anywhere in the world. The Prime Minister of Singapore is there now. Singapore was China’s model as it concerns social engineering (I hate that term) and dampening dissent, but now China is the example as well as for economic growth. I’m in the camp that thinks the only thing that can stop China’s ascent is democracy.
and the church large pharmacy

     In most countries this would be Sign of the Month, but in China, it’s only Sign of the Week.

     The check-in agent in Hotan’s airport only gave me boarding passes to Beijing, which deflated me. It meant that for my 15-hour layover in Beijing I would be spending the night in the check-in part of the terminal and not in the cozy, spacious transit area. I knew this was a big difference since I had a 15-hour layover in the same airport last year.
     Imagine if I had lost my passport before I made it to the airport in Hotan. The nearest American consulate is in Chengdu, several days of traveling away. You can’t check into a hotel without a passport, you can’t take a train without transport—my despair would provoke me to immediately hang myself without caring who got my baseball cards.
     Beijing’s gleaming, shiny new airport is said to have the biggest terminal building in the world (to go with the world’s biggest building, opened last week, a shopping mall in Chengdu). If you thought that being in such cleanliness might make Chinese behave differently, I found while walking in circles looking for an available chair that they still clear their throats with gusto and spit on the floor like anywhere else.
     There aren’t many electrical outlets in the airport so everyone huddles around them as if the current was methadone. At 4am an American guy approached me to ask if there was an outlet available for his laptop. He made a show of being tired, exhaling to say he’s been on the road since July 5—seven weeks, he computed for me, to emphasize it. I gave him my Clint Eastwood stare. Trying to impress me at 4am with this achievement in my half-stupor wasn’t going to work. I was about to hector him that he was barking up the wrong tree, but I let it go. He’s a young American traveling. I need to nurture these guys. I unplugged.
chinese wine

     Ah yes, the well-known Chinese wine trademark, Les Champs d’Or. So mellow.

     I used 10,000 United Airlines frequent flyer miles to go from Hotan to Tokyo and paid $22 in taxes plus a $75 penalty for using the miles within three weeks of my flight. That is a recent fee from United as is the $100 fee every time you want to change the date despite the ticket being valid for a year. (Teeth gnashing.)
     The important thing to remember is that I am using 10,000 miles to go from Country A to Country B, China to Japan in this instance, which means I could go from anywhere in China to anywhere in Japan. Use the miles where it would normally cost a lot to fly to if you are touring around, or fly to one end of the country and then make your way back.
     Young Kent Foster would have flown from Hotan to Ishigaki island in the far, far south of Japan, farther south than Okinawa, farther south than Taipei, Taiwan, in fact. It’s the end of Japan, and from Ishigaki I could have used one of two airlines flying there as a new route, Skymark and Peach (Hey Peach, Japanese credit cards only?! Come on, it’s 2013 already!), to get back to the mainland cheaply. But Young Kent Foster, like Elvis, has left the building. It is typhoon season in southern Japan and I got put off by reading about beaches you aren’t allowed to swim at and similar nonsense.
chinese bank sign

     Classic! “In order to serve you better”, we will charge you US$10 to change money. Beijing Airport.

     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+.

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Pondering Death in Room 3 of the Hotan Happy Hotel, China — 28 Comments

  1. Glad you’re out of there! You sound crispy. Entertaining, but crispy. Will you see Greg in Japan?

  2. What a brilliant hotel! My worst ever was a dive in Deraa, Syria that even I was unable to stay at. Chinese plumbing can be dire, and there is no such thing as “Chinese cleaning”. 4000 years of civilization doesn’t add up to a single spotless bathroom…..

  3. Tom, yes, I am at Greg’s right now. I think the deal is I have to write a post about selling his lodge!
    Graydon, why is “Chinese cleaning” a contradiction in terms?

  4. Kent-

    I’ve enjoyed the Western Asia/China commentary.

    Living vicariously, Mongolia seemed like a stones throw away. Was it ever a consideration/possibility?


  5. Hi John,
    It “seems” like a stone’s throw away, and it is only 10,000 frequent flyer miles from Japan, AND Americans don’t need visas, but I’m thinking not this time.

  6. Nice one Kent, a man on the edge of reason! and at the end of his teather. Time for a break I see. I’m gonna be going that way soon so will be picking your brains. Keep on trucking brother, always enetertaining, P.

  7. Are you kidding me?! This is the worst. Nowhere I stayed Bolivia was anywhere near this gross, even for $5 a night hostels. I stayed in a couple places in India that were *almost* this bad, but even they were not nearly this disgusting… or maybe I just couldn’t tell because it was so dark inside. I know the experience of arriving after a long trip and just wanting to take a shower, then you end up feeling dirtier than you did before the shower. Don’t you love how the worst hotels always have the most ironic names?

  8. The more jaded you are the more I seem to enjoy your posts… keep travelling mate, for my entertainment at least.
    Love your blog Kent

  9. Wait a sec, 30-day no-renewal visa? I thought the problem was that US citizens could ONLY apply for a one-year multiple-entry visa for something like $150? Was this a result of your land-border entry?
    I would say you’re getting soft but anyone who’s been through India as many times as you definitely has some hard-won perspective on the whole “dive” situation, so it must have been pretty hideous! I can definitely relate to the travel-weariness (from going through it a couple times, not 27!), chilling in Japan was a good choice! Enjoy!

  10. I think the one-year multiple entry visa went the way of the dodo bird, but if you applied in your home country, maybe everything’s different.
    I am getting soft, I admit it. Now if it would only stop raining in Japan I might enjoy it more.

  11. Okay Dromomaniac readers, am I the only one who wants Kent to go back to Denmark and settle down with a nice Nordic woman?

  12. The restrictions put on travellers in China are probably the main reason I won’t be stopping there on my journey next year. A shame because there is so much to see and experience there. For that to be the only place you could find for foreigners, wow. I’ve seen better hovels.

    Glad that you’ve paved the way and shown me the best places to avoid. I’d like to be generous and say that your time in China is colored by your tooth and general ennui, but no, it’s China. 🙂

  13. Actually the one year mutli-entry Chinese visa still exists. I know because I got one (US citizen, living in California) just last month, when I requested a dual entry. However, I think its pretty tightly controlled, and you need to go with one of those fancy pants visa agencies who likely have some pull at the consulate.

  14. In fact I liked Uygur way better then Kyrgystan.
    Btw, Ishikagi aint more southern then Taiwan.It is on 24.47 parallel.
    Taiwan is 25.02 😉

  15. I’ve been to China, but saw nothing this bad although I found the country appalling and will never go back. But you mentioned Winnemucca. I’ve been there too, and while it’s not a place I would want to get stuck,(I was offered a job there and turned it down)it’s nowhere near as bad as you describe this place. I was in Xingtai (about three hours west of Beijing) and Zhongshan (not far from Guangzhou. The thing I hated most about China was the Chinese.

  16. You turned down a job in Winnemucca? I should take it (not that I am qualified) just to see what living there is like.
    My favorite place in China was Gulanygu island near Xiamen since it was very quiet when the daytripping hordes went home.

  17. Hotan airport is set to become much more famous soon……….
    The missing Malasia airplane is on the ground and is ok, also the people are ok but held hostages.
    The stolen airliner is inside the larger hanger at Hotan HTN airport. The “separatist” Muslims protesting Red China rule there have grabbed the airliner to use later and are using the Chinese citizen hostages to keep Red China military from bombing them into desert dust.

    HTN is within the range of the fuel and its flight path from the Malacca Strait, just fly North over poorly radar covered Burma, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sikkim, and along the Himalayas with their weird radar echoes, and then turn north over a really desolate desert to land at HTN. Perhaps Red China got them on long range radar or spy satellite, but anyway the Red Chinese got their hands full now.

    Red China knows it is there but is holding off due to hostages and their embarrassment that the plane got that far. Red China continues to release misleading and cruel photos of junk floating in the Gulf of Thailand. Pity the families.

    P.S., Will someone at NSA sneak out a usa spy satellite photo of the plane there?
    Come on, help out, hee hee.

  18. That is some theory!
    We’ll see what happens. You don’t think someone with a mobile phone
    would have been able to use it by now if they were on land?

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