As you may know, my Super Secret job with the linguistic CIA sends me all over China to do covert linguistic operations. If I told you more about what I do for a living, they’ll kill Noam Chomsky. We can’t have that.
What I can do, however, is to use my extensive experience and critical eye to give you a better idea of what to expect when you are shipped off to a 2nd or 3rd tier city in China and put up in what is usually a 5 star hotel.
Today, we will start with the charming Oakwood Residence in Hangzhou, conveniently located absolutely nowhere near anything of touristic or culinary interest, in a business district with an acute shortage of taxis and a surplus of active construction sites. As my parents can attest from their painfully hypothermic 3 night visit back in December, the lake is an hour’s walk away, along a busy 6 lane artery devoid of anything that might be construed as ‘scenic’.
The hotel is, however, part of the shiny new Euro-American Centre, which is a plaza of sorts catering to the needs of visiting business folk who really need Starbucks, fake Japanese ramen, and outrageously expensive bottles of wine. I mean, who needs the beauty of one of the most scenic cities in China when you can get a latte and a bowl of udon without having to walk more than a few steps?
To get to the Oakwood Residence, you have two choices: public bus (the B2, found upstairs at the train station, about 3rmb, not recommended if you have luggage as it is a Chinese bus- I mean, there are 8.7 million registered residents in this quaint, tiny city, and only about 3 or 4 taxis to be shared by all. Things can get crowded. Exit at Jiaogong lu stop, after about 30-40 minutes in traffic, half a block past the hotel) or taxi (about 20rmb).
Inexplicably, their own website gives printable pdf directions entirely in English (including the map), which, as all foreigners in China surely know by now, will be totally useful in a taxi. Because all taxi drivers are fluent and literate in English. Not.
I probably should have opted for the bus this time, as the taxi queue was absurd. It was the weekend leading up to the Grave Sweeping festival and everyone and his dog urgently needed to take a taxi from the railway station to, I presume, the local cemetery for a little ancestor dusting. Touts were out in full force and, to be honest, I probably would have hired one of the remarkably comfortable mafia-themed black taxis if I hadn’t needed the official stamped fapiao to claim my expenses.
I have a very thorough knowledge of the world’s hotels, as I spent most of my 20s living in grungy, overcrowded hostels (which are technically hotels, but modestly reverting back to the retro S rather than using the accent circonflexe on the O in hôtel) and most of my 30s in slightly better $20 Cambodian guest houses and small Burmese non-government hotels that provide private rooms with en suite bathrooms, towels and gratis police registration.
This makes me eminently qualified to review 5 star hotels.
The Oakwood, below, is actually two buildings, the North and South Towers. I think one is smoking and the other is non. I’ve stayed in both and they’re pretty much identical. The pool is in the South Tower. They have a lovely pool, which I had time to visit just once (when I had a 4 day session back in January and so didn’t just spend all my waking hours in a small windowless room in a very tall office block ten minutes away by foot) and a gym, which I’ve never even attempted to see.
There’s a huge buffet restaurant where you get a free breakfast on the 4th floor of the North Tower. The coffee is decent. In the past, I tended to go a bit crazy on the food, as I’m not normally a breakfast person and couldn’t decide whether I wanted a standard Chinese, British, American, Japanese or Korean breakfast, so I sampled a bit of each and had to take much of it away in a covert ziploc doggie-bag for lunch. I recommend the build-your-own soups (see bowl below).
Every floor looks pretty much the same.
This visit, I was given a slightly smaller than usual room in the North Tower, as all the bigger and better rooms were being used by actual paying guests staying there for the Tomb Sweeping festival. Unfortunately, in spite of my pitiful pleading, my room did not have a bath tub. The rooms with bath tubs are magnificent, if only because, well, the bath tubs are awesome. They even have a big bowl of bath salts to use. The tubs are built to comfortably allow both booze and snacks to sit solidly on their perimeter, allowing for a very nice bathing experience. This room did have, however, a rather decent chaise longue, complimentary apples and a copy of the Shanghai Daily.
The Oakwood is technically an apartment-hotel configuration, so there’s a full sized fridge, kitchenette with a little stove and kettle, a washing machine that apparently washes your clothes with hot water (a miracle!), ironing board, and a bunch of other wonders I never use. I think there was even an umbrella in the closet. No gas masks though. I always like finding gas masks in Chinese hotel closets. They did, however, have some lovely Twinings English Breakfast and Earl Grey teabags and bottled water (the dodgy Nongfu Springs stuff, but still).
Oh, and they have room service!
The Surrounding Neighbourhood
I work about ten minutes away, just up the street, so my path is a limited but well-trod one. As you can see, the scenic attractions aren’t as compelling as the lovely West Lake or the tea plantations or the various temples scattered in the woods near the lake, but still- this, dear people, is a perfect nouveau-Chinese skyline!
The area has many fine dining establishments close at hand! Immediately within the Euro-American Centre where the Oakwood is located, there is an Ajisen Ramen (part of the chain), a surreal curry place that has purported French and Portuguese curries on the menu, as well as the Malay and Indian ones, a Starbucks (don’t eat the sandwiches! They have been re-interpreted for local tastes…unsuccessfully) and, across the busy road, a KFC.
If you cross the street and go straight ahead past the bright yellow electronics mega-mart, you’ll find a stretch of tiny restaurants, all local. I’ve tried a few with varying levels of success.
This is what I got yesterday for lunch from the place on the left, next door to Gorgeous.
The Oakwood Residence is located at No 28 Jiaogong Road, Hangzhou, Zhejiang
Disclaimer: The opinions stated here are entirely my own and Oakwood has no idea I even exist. Maybe if they see this I’ll get a room with a bath tub next time. Hint hint.