Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Little Hearts Everywhere

Going to China from Hong Kong has always been pretty easy. Our route was best served by a boat from the Kowloon Ferry Terminal for a 2 hour cruise up the coast. It's a medium sized catamaran, non-smoking with some straight-to-VCD Chinese movie on screens at the front. The Chinese port is the same building as years ago but everyone seems more ... at attention. Smart uniforms, no loitering, efficient customs (better than Chep Lok Kap airport) and they even had a beagle sniffer dog. I'm thinking Olympic effect but it's early days.

The hotel was really nice with boiling hot tap water and a huge staff:guest ratio. Reception was staffed by Fiona, Sean and Jack. Later at dinner, the server was Wendy, assisted by Trainee Wong, leaving me to conclude that front-line staff with some English use solely Western names, while others are mono-syllabic Chinese surnames. It doesn't much matter to the Chinese, they will just called out "xiao jie" (little girl) to summon a waitress of whatever linguistic ability; the name tags are strictly for foreigers.

The in-room information pack listed Internet access at RMB40 (£2.60) for one hour, and a fairly reasonable RMB60 (£4) for a whole day. The system had to be retro-fitted onto the older hotel infrastructure by using ADSL over the extension wiring which I thought was neat and perhaps ensures greater accountability than wireless. Strangely, they also listed the prices for many of the room's fixtures and fittings, such as net curtains, bath towel, bath robe, kettle and shoe basket (RMB70 £4.60). I can only presume this is charged for missing items so it was reassuring they didn't give a price for the mini safe.

What is also striking are the nannying warnings. Hong Kong ferry terminal kept repeating annoucements about slippy floors (never seemed an issue 10 years ago). The hotel bathroom had the same warning above the toilet (literally: little heart ground wet). The dinner table warned not to let children run around as it can be dangerous. Did Asia suddenly get lawyered up and litigous? Prohibition signs are found in all countries but petty warning signs are pernicious and self-defensive. It's a bad sign.