HUAIROU, Beijing Province:
Decided to sort out the hotel for my family when they come to Huairou. We were convinced that we wouldn't even need to book a hotel - Huairou is so quiet, there are hardly ever tourists, but thought it better not to risk it.
BUT, after lots of pointing, gesturing, broken English and broken Chinese, we learnt that our chosen hotel was fully book for the entire week around Christmas due to an Official Government meeting!
In fact, out of seven hotels we found - four are definately fully booked, one, which is very expensive, say they have vancancies, but I'm not convinced, and one wasn't sure so will ring me tomorrow (that will be an interesting conversation which will confuse both me and the caller!).
The final place was the most bizarre experience I think I've had in China! The sign on the door said 'hotel', so we went in, and saw two reception desks on either side of the room - one saying 'VIP bar', and the opposite saying 'Therapeutic Aquatic Desk' or something similarly confusing/interesting sounding.
I asked someone in a uniform if this was a hotel, and was told 'yes yes yes', and we were ushered over to some sofas and asked to sit while they all spoke Chinese seemingly arguing about something.
Eventually a man in a different uniform appeared, and I used my best Chinese (with the help of Sarah's Chinese-English dictionary) to ask if it was a hotel and if I could book some rooms. After about five minutes of rubbish Chinese and confused looks, the guy asked, very politely, "please can you speak English?".
Both me and Sarah got the giggles at this - but I persevered and the bloke, after laughing for a bit too, gestured for us to follow him. Obviously thinking he was going to take us to the hotel reception, we were pretty surprised when he took us to a cloakroom desk, and handed us each a pair of flip-flops!
At this point we'd given up trying to control our giggling, and after changing into flip-flops, handing over our shoes and being given a key, we were taken back to the sofas and given a cup of hot water each!
Eventually a woman appeared, sat down next to Sarah, and said "You want a bath?"
(This sounds like I've made this all up! But it really happened! After this question a lot of the conversation was lost in translation, and we were seriously concerned about what kind of place we'd wandered into, so we made our excuses and collected our shoes!)