The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Sunday, October 15, 2006


A HOME FAR AWAY FROM A HOME © Duncan Graham 2006

BTW, this BTW is being keyboarded in a three-star hotel, an island or two east of the Wallace Line. If you detect bile put it down to the verbal sauce that’s used to swamp any flavour of real hospitality in an industry where the smiles have the currency of a Rp 3,000 note.

Maybe the angst comes from recognising the remnants of last night’s dinner in the mock silver servers lined up for breakfast. They were next to the trays of sliced bread, well hardened after a night in the open.

Or perhaps the rat chomping its way through the cables and pipes in the bedroom air conditioner at 2 am might be a reason.

The suave receptionist, splendid in the uniform of an undertaker, assured me the resort was vermin-free and all rodents – except for one Australian - had checked out. (OK, that’s what he thought, not what he said.) However someone would examine the system to put my mind at rest. What I really wanted was rest for my body.

Hotels are sold on glamour when the reality is raw and rugged. Behind the carved swing doors and potted palms are cluttered kitchens and grimy store- rooms with all the ambience of a foundry.

While guests sit in the cool the people who serve them lose their cool in the sweatshops that keep the place going.

As they say in the business – this would be a great place to work if it wasn’t for the guests. The staff you see are the minority. Most are out of sight where there’s no air conditioning, and the wall hangings are fly-spotted notices urging cleanliness.

Hotels advertise themselves as ‘a home away from home.’ If you live in a house where your family presents a bill every time you open the fridge and check to see if you’ve stolen the towels before you leave, then maybe it’s time to reconsider your relationships.

Remember the good old days before handphones and remote control TV? Then you’ll recall staying at a hotel without a mini-bar – another device to promote lethargy and heart seizures.

Tip: Slide out of the ceramic lobby and stride past the ingratiating flunkies; take a refreshing stroll. You’ll soon find a cool drink for less than 3,000 and a bar of chocolate for much the same. In the mini bar the price will have quintupled and a 21 per cent tax and service charge added while making the same journey.

The room rate that looked so reasonable when you booked is rapidly overtaken by the outrageous fees charged for everything else, from communications to comforts.

Treat the phone like a fire extinguisher – to be used in emergencies only. Unless you’re working for a Saudi oil cartel that’s picking up the tab. Hotels have a meter on every landline that accelerates like a jet on take-off the moment you take off the receiver.

Watch the language – it’s as slippery as a politician’s promise. A ‘superior’ room may advertise hot water but never judge a faucet by its colour.

‘Deluxe’ means there may be a kettle with a frayed cord on the warped laminex, plus two sachets of no-name coffee. Mould in the bathroom is a non-optional extra.

The most expensive word in the lexicon of leisure is ‘executive’ particularly when married to ‘suite’. For this you’ll have more space and a couple of extra chairs for the visitors who must leave by 10 pm, according to the notice stuck over the fire escape procedures.

Is there anything that can be relied upon? Surely the kiblat arrows indicating the direction of Mecca must be correct. Wrong again; Muslims should pack their own compass. I’ve found arrows held to the ceiling by a single pin so one flick sends them spinning.

In the hotel business there’s no doubt who wins. You may get away with a plastic bottle of shampoo decanted from a battered 20-litre drum in the yard and a plastic shower cap, but that’s about all.

Ding –dong! Who’s there? ‘Room service – time to checkout, sir. Could you just wait a moment while we take a look in the mini-bar and the bathroom …’

(First published in the Sunday Post 15 October 06)

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