Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The 2005 Olympic Housekeeping Games

The housekeeping services here continue to baffle me. They come in every day and pick very strange things to clean I think, one day it’ll be the mirrors, one day the plastic lamps, just kind of random areas of extreme intricate cleaning. I’ve actually started to play games with them to see what they will and wont clean, nothing sick of course, but just little experiments to pass the time and write totally useless theories of maid services in China.

First game I created I like to call ‘Stack Stuff In Weird Places’. This game features me taking objects from the room and stacking them up to see what the results of the housekeeping staff will bring. I put my water-heating kettle on top of the toilet and she put it back in its proper place (one strike on me). The next day, I stacked all of the cans of beer and cola from the refrigerator on the balcony, once again; it was put back in its proper place (two strikes me). Knowing that I needed something strong to keep the inning alive, the next day I put my shoes all along one wall, all the right shoes on the right, all the left shoes on the left (so that I could jump into any pair exactly right assuming my feet were the correct distance apart). Ahh, finally, I got her, she left them (strike one housekeeping). The following day, I took all of my bottled water that I had been saving and stacked them in a checkered pattern on my bed with a sock on the top of each one. Housekeeping steered clear from that one and they left them untouched (probably because of the socks) and I evened the count (strike two housekeeping). Finally, the payoff pitch. I knew this should be something really strange, or they’re going to send me back to the minor leagues. The next day I removed the drawers from my dresser and built a mini-stage out of them. Then I put a chair on top, kind of like a throne. This may have confused them even more and I won the round (three strikes housekeeping, yerrr OUT!). I was master of ‘Stack Stuff’ this week.

The next game I like to call ‘How Can I Get Housekeeping to Fold My Clothes’. My first day in the room, I noticed that housekeeping folded and put away all of my clothes that I unpacked and left on the bed. I had every intention of doing this myself, but had to leave and when I came back, it was all taken care of. Some days, I notice that they don't fold certain clothes, so I decided that I had to form a hypothesis about the limits and definition of the clothes folding extremes of the housekeeping staff. Here are my findings. The staff will fold clothes left on the bed. They will not fold clothes on the balcony (or even bring them inside). They will fold linens in the bathroom no matter where they’re located (except in the toilet I assume, but I’m not that heartless). If something is left on a chair, they will fold it and leave it on that same chair. If there is a pile of clothes on the floor, they will not fold them. If you have two shirts inside of each other, they will fold both as one and not separate them. They will fold stocking hats. They will not fold any piece of clothing that is taking part in the function of something else in the room (such as a sock on a light bulb to dampen the glare, or a shirt tied up to hold grapes). Not much of a game, but good for the learning process of a slightly bored tenant.

The last game is a game that the housekeeping staff came up with without telling me, I call it ‘Trash Or Not’. I realized this game was being played when I found a stack of receipts on my table missing. The housekeeping staff won this game hands down: it’s all trash unless it’s hidden in a suitcase. I guess we both get to make games up and it’s up to the other team to learn the rules.

I think my games have created some confusion amongst the 15th floor housekeeping staff and the service has started to slack, not that it bothers me all that much, this place is still way cleaner than anywhere else I’ve lived.

Sunday night, in my quest to find a place to work other than the desk uncomfortable desk in my room, I ventured through some unknown parts of the hotel and found a place on the third floor of the lobby the other day that suits my needs fairly well. There’s several off-white leather couches, the seats are stained black brown with some kind of like someone shat in them, but oh well, they’re comfortable. I’ve gone there two or three times over the course week. Finding a place outside the room forces me to use my headphones, which I’m always looking for. I seem to get more work done when I’ve got them on, kind of like an invisibility hat or something. My headphones are the best $25 I’ve ever spent in my life. They’ve got a ten-foot cord and the earpieces are the size of biscuits (not like those gay iPod earbuds). I use them all day every day when I’m in the office back home, since I’ve been in China, I mostly listen to speakers, which is nice for the inner-ear heat buildup problems that come from wearing headphones, but I like to have the music surrounding my entire world, which starts at my ears and ends at my eyes. When they’re on, I feel isolated in my own little world. With that said, I pretty much act like I’m in a nightclub when I’ve got them on. I have no scruples with dancing in my chair and often singing out loud. I also convince myself that everyone within eyeshot of my singing and stomping knows exactly what I’m listening to.

In some strange way, I also enjoy the distractions of people walking around as well. The work that I do involves waiting around for the computer to do it’s magic for five minutes several times an hour, so it’s always a good time to look around, see and be seen, maybe take advantage of the long cord and break out the moonwalk or a couple of bars of the Running Man in front of the cleaning or wait staff.

It’s hard to understand how I can create a less than typical work environment and thrive in it so well. My laptop battery lasts about an hour and a half, but in that short time, three times this week, I got more work done than I had the entire previous week. My Magic Headphones.

I’ve also proved to be pretty entertaining to the staff of the third floor. The third floor has very little traffic, only a four or five people work there and there few facilities to attract crowds (like sauna or restaurant). But those that are up there throw me plenty of smiles, laughs and nearly frightened looks. I think I need to take this show on the road, or maybe just to the first floor lobby.

During dinner in the restaurant Jenny #2 (who works in the bar) brought me a Diet Coke. This is strange since she doesn't even work there, but she brought it, sent all the other staff away and poured it for me, then bowed, smiled and turned bright red. Then we chatted for a couple minutes, she asked me about my book, I tried to ask her if she went out the night before, but she had no idea what I was talking about.

Poor Xinlei. After he’s gone for the weekend, his whole first day back is spent with the hotel staff telling him stuff to tell me that they couldn't communicate to me. They come up to us over lunch and tell him what to tell me, he tells me, waits for my answer, redelivers it to them in Chinese and they smile, laugh and walk off, then the next person comes up and the process repeats. None of it is work related, and it’s usually pretty strange questions from the staff.

“Do you like the fruit?” “Yes, thank you, it’s very good.” Thank you, next.
“Is America big?” “Um, yes, yes it is.” Thank you, next.
“Do you like the Chinese beer?” “I guess so, I’d give it all up for some Makers Mark or Captain Morgans though.” Thank you, next.
“Do you speak Chinese?” “What the hell do you think?” Thank you, next.

This goes on quite a bit, and Xinlei handles it like a champ. I think he kind of enjoys the attention, but so do I of course.

After dinner, which consisted of baby ribs in some type of syrup that’s kind of like eating heaven, as well as small talk with the waitresses (very small talk, as none of them speak English. Write them down ladies, Xinlei will be here tomorrow) and reading about fifty pages of my next book, I came up to my room and realized that I was pretty unproductive over the weekend. This prompted me to sit down to get a couple hours of work done. These weekend hours add up and allow me to sleep in a bit during the week, as well as provide a way to while away the hours some. I pretty much work seven days a week, anywhere from three to fifteen hours a day, they have a tendency to add up over the course of time, but I’m pretty used to it and it gets me used to working long hours when it is required (and it also helps avoid the 100 hour weeks right before a deadline). I have been wrongly accused of having a good work ethic many times, but it’s simply an outright lie, I just try not to get swamped and stay a bit ahead of the curve. But there is a warning that comes with this method of thinking: Becoming too popular or too good or too right or too on time too many times to too many people will cause them to depend on you, lean on you and finally crush you. I feel it from time to time, but have been able to divert the pressure with various amounts of success.

My interest in work lasted exactly seven seconds so I loaded my computer up and headed down to my Third Floor Business Office, but it was so quiet there that I decided to hit the big show, the First Floor Lobby. I sat down there and worked until my laptop batteries were completely drained. If attention is what I needed, I sure got it down there. The lobby is right in the middle of every thing in the whole hotel; the front desk, the buffet, the VIP Restaurant, the Western Restaurant, the Chinese Restaurant and various entrances to other hotel facilities (pool, bar, club, blah, blah…) and the front door. At each door is stationed a minimum of two girls, who, on Sunday night are bored out of their mind. To watch the white guy dancing with headphones on for an hour was quite a pleasure apparently. They would disappear for a second and return with a couple more girls who would watch me for a minute, giggling like crazy women, and return to work.

After my battery died down, I stopped in the bar to see how the German’s trip to the Great Wall was today. He looked pretty worn down, those guys don't wear shorts and Pumas like me, they’re in black pants, black shirts and black dress shoes all the time, so he was probably hurting pretty good. They took him to Badaling, which is Great Wall Tourist Central. Then he told me that they ate at a really good duck restaurant in Beijing.

“For real?! That’s the greatest restaurant in the city man, if I knew you were going there, I would have forged the army of umbrellas and pasty white Europeans.”

“Yes man, it was the best food I’ve had since I’ve been here.”

Wolfgang and another German came in not long after (Michael I think). Those guys love their beer. I was pretty tired, so I said my goodbyes and hit the elevator.

However, something caught my eye on the way to the elevator. There is a girl at the front desk that is movie star hot. We always smile at each other (I smile at everyone here, so it shouldn't be much of a surprise), but when I walked by, I noticed a couple of the other girls talking to her and nudging her. She looked up and said something that I couldn't understand very well, but that was enough of a window for me. I ended up talking to her for about fifteen minutes. She said she didn't have an American name, but her Chinese name is Liu. Immediate respect. Every time you ask someone their name, they always come back with their American name, which they choose themselves (Dorothy, Mary Jane, Petra, John, Hector, what have you); I’m way more impressed by people’s real names. Tell me the name your parents want you to be called, not Ducky or Barbara or Emilio, your real name.

Liu speaks very good English, probably the best so far in the hotel. She wrote some things down for me in Chinese that I can learn to say, which I will memorize because she’s hot. There was a couple words she couldn't think of in English, so she wanted me to talk to her tomorrow and she’ll have her dictionary (Someone say 2nd date? I think so.).

It was a very nice conversation with promise for more in the future. I made another pact with another girl to help them with English if they help me with Chinese, if they really understood English, they would know that I’d help them with English if they help me with booty acquisition.

I think it has something to do with my hair growing into phase two. Phase one is the one to three weeks after getting cut where it pretty much looks like it was designed to look by the barber. Phase two forces me to put a part in it and lasts an additional four weeks. I have no idea how I’m going to get a haircut; I should just grow it out like Sampson. I’m set to enter Phase three in two more weeks which features the middle part with a hat all the time. Phase four is an additional four weeks - the Johnny Damon. My power mullet.

All in all, things are smoothing out nicely, I’m getting to know people around here, getting good work done on time, writing, reading and smiling more. Change and pressure can break you if you let it, but when you see a light at the end of tunnel, you have to charge at it with all your will and hope that it’s not just another fuse waiting to ignite an explosion of pain. You never know until you approach it.

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