Sunday, March 4, 2012

Homeless in Harbin

In my first post about Harbin, I completely forgot to write about one of the most hilarious and frustrating things that has happened during all of my travels in China - the time our hostel tried to make us stay in a tent.

Yes, a tent.

So, we took a 22 hour train to Harbin and got in early in the morning. We met Aaron at the train station and all headed to the hostel. He had booked us six beds during our stay (Sarah was meeting us the next day), but when the hostel emailed him to confirm, they only confirmed three of the beds. He tried to email them back, but never got a reply. That was definite foreshadowing for how this place was run.

We arrived at the hostel at 10ish. When we tried to check in, they seemed pretty understanding about the mix up, and we wrote down on a piece of paper for them how many beds we would need on each day - Iraise was leaving first, then us three, and Sarah and Aaron were last. They wrote it all down and told us that we would have the beds, but they would be spread out in different rooms. We were completely fine with that, as long as we had beds. The catch was that we would have to come back at 2pm to check in, and they had a place for us to leave our bags. I was a little weary of leaving my bags, since they were out in the middle of the lobby. They did have these padlocks on them, so we decided to leave and go into the city for a while for lunch and come back later.

We ended up staying out until about 5pm before we got back to the hostel to check in. They checked us in to three different rooms, and told us that there was a chance they could put us together the next day, if we wanted to check out and check back in again. The way I understood it was that we could stay in our rooms if we wanted, but if we wanted to go through the whole process again, they would find us an empty room together.

The hostel itself was.. interesting. It was very clearly not a hostel aimed at foreign guests. First, it smelled like cabbage EVERYWHERE. Everywhere. Second, only about two members of the staff spoke any English. Third, there were NO western toilets. Whatever, we could have dealt with it. The first night was fine. In the morning, we decided that we were fine with being spread out in our rooms and didn't feel like checking out, leaving our bags, and checking back in again, since we were going to be out later than the night before.

We went out and had a GREAT day in Harbin - saw the ice festival and everything. It wasn't until past 11pm that we arrived back at our hostel. We went to our rooms to find that our stuff had been piled in the corner of each room, and the hostel had assigned a new person to our bed. I really, really, really hate people touching my things without permission. It's one of the things that can send me flying into a rage extremely quickly. I immediately decided that I wanted to go somewhere else, and that they were going to give me my money back.

We all had our stuff piled in the corner and went to ask the front desk staff what the hell was going on. They led us back to the laundry room, where they had a bunch of two-person tents set up, under a bunch of drying laundry. This was where they expected us to stay - four people to a two-person tent.

Not only that, but when we got upset about it and asked them to explain why they had kicked us out of our rooms, they immediately began lying. The lady up front told us that she had told Iraise that morning that we would be moved to tents. We told her there was NO WAY we would have agreed to that in the morning; we would have thrown a fit then, just as we were now. Thankfully, we had David there to help translate things for us. There was a bunch of fighting, because this lady was pissed that we were calling her out for lying.

We spent at least 45 minutes arguing with the hostel staff and trying to find a new place to stay. Aaron and David went down the street and found a hotel that had two rooms open for us, so we decided to book the two rooms and split the beds between the six of us. We ended up demanding that we get all of our money back, including for the night we had already stayed. They ended up giving it all back to us, and asking us not to rate them poorly on the Hostel World website in exchange. (Fun fact: they are no longer listed on the website - yay!) Apparently, they had done this to other people as well.

We had another surprise waiting for us when we got to the hotel. We checked in to the two rooms, knowing that one was regular and the other one was a bit bigger. Aaron and Sarah were going to stay in the double, and Emily, Lauren, Iraise, and me were going to stay in the bigger room. We got to the first room, and it was a normal room, except the bathroom. The bathroom was in it's own room, but all of the "walls" were just clear glass, so you could see everything. Then, we went to the bigger room. Not only was it a bigger room, but it was the deluxe "honeymoon suite". It was by far the gaudiest thing I have ever seen in my life.

It had the clear, see-through bathroom, but it gets so much better. In the middle of the room was a red circular bed on a red velvet platform with red velvet carpeting. Surrounding the bed were these purple string curtains that pulled all the way around. The floor was black and white checked tiles, and there was a purple velvet couch on the side. Behind the bed was a stripper pole. Not only were there lights, but there was a disco ball and a machine that flashed holograms of Hello Kitty on the ceiling and played obnoxious dance hall music. In other words, a seizure waiting to happen.

We ended up staying there for the next two nights in our wonderfully gaudy, Chinese honeymoon suite in the beautiful city of Harbin.

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