Sichuan nights

Just arrived with Lisa in Chengdu and am amazed that we found a hotel for 270 RMB a night with flat-panel TV, bathrobes, Internet and everything else. 278 kuai! And the prostitute offering “massagey” courteously called my room at 9pm, unlike the one in Chongqing last night who called at midnight, ruining my sleep. (I hung up on the caller last night; tonight I simply said I didn’t understand Chinese and politely wished the silky-voiced lady goodnight.) The train from Chongqing was 100 RMB; I think the total trip will cost about $800 including transportation, hotels and meals. There is still someplace on the planet where you can travel dirt-cheap and have an amazing time.

We met some great people in Chongqing (more on that and other trip details in a later post), and got to see the city that most resembles the world Ridley Scott created for Bladerunner. A bit frightening, the sheer size and impersonal feel of the city, but it’s also teeming with life and optimism, even now. I’m afraid they are in for some very rude shocks soon (construction is everything in Chongqing) but I also think they’ll see it through, after a whole lot of agony.

Spent much of yesterday writing an emergency speech for a client. This is really what I’d like to do the rest of my life – do freelance work and explore the world.

Details about the trip to follow. Please note, comments are still being screened, so if your insights don’t appear right away, be patient.

Last observation: I miss Yunnan. I love every city we got to, but Yunnan is the place that most captured my heart (again). I can live and work in Kunming forever. I’m in love.

The Discussion: 15 Comments

270RMB is still expensive, you can find more cheaper one in Chengdu.

February 21, 2009 @ 10:14 pm | Comment

I know thee are cheaper hotels here – a lot. I was just blown away by all the amenities for this price at this place compared with the others. I stayed in 3-star and 4-star hotels the past week, all about the same price as this (and cheaper) but without the flat-panel TV, robe, central heating and most of the physical amenities you get at a 5-star hotel (though the service is still on the 3-4-star side). What has impressed me on this trip is just how cheaply you can still travel here.

February 22, 2009 @ 1:30 am | Comment

I am still happily surprised by the coffee cups – with saucers! And spoons! really, it’s a great hotel.

February 22, 2009 @ 1:45 am | Comment

Which hotel are you staying at? I might need to find one later this year when I visit there.

February 22, 2009 @ 3:34 am | Comment

Can you let us know the hotel name for future reference? Also if you’re paying the standard rates or got a discount somewhere. Cheers.

February 22, 2009 @ 4:16 am | Comment


Next time you are in Shanghai, check out the Holiday Inn Express for about the same cost. This is the new one on the north side of the main train station, not the older Holiday Inn on the south side. Deco there is so futuristic. It’s like a modern art museum.

February 22, 2009 @ 3:19 pm | Comment

I have never wrote to your site before though I have checked it out for years. I live in Kunming now and and glad to hear your enthusiasm about it. I wonder if my wife and I will be able to stay here though I hope we can for a while longer. We live in a less developed area of the city but still manage to enjoy the laid back life and atmosphere here. By the way… great site.

Bill in Kunming

February 22, 2009 @ 8:42 pm | Comment

Was it the Prime Hotel (Ziwei Jiudian) by any chance? I had a very China-is-changing moment at Christmas watching a demonstration take place outside this Chengdu Hotel (I was sat in Starbucks opposite). Seems like some ex-employees/investors workers were airing their grievances, waving placards that accused the hotel of being swindlers. A large crowd gathered, the police showed up and a large squad waded in and snatched away the signs and placards. Interestingly though, they left the protestors to keep on with their protest, so long as they didn’t wave placards. A sign of a more tolerant China?

February 22, 2009 @ 8:59 pm | Comment

After staying here a couple of nights, I would probably not recommend this hotel, much as I like their extras. The location is too much in the commercial area of downtown and there is a lot of noise outside.

Bill, Kunming is closer to my heart than any Chinese city, after Beijing, for a number of reasons. I would do anything to live there.

Michael 2, yes there’s plenty of evidence of more tolerance, within limits. But if you cross the line….

February 22, 2009 @ 10:55 pm | Comment

The location is too much in the commercial area of downtown and there is a lot of noise outside.

Fair enough.

February 23, 2009 @ 3:25 am | Comment

“And the prostitute offering “massagey” courteously called my room at 9pm”

I trust you accommodated her with an equally courteous response.

February 23, 2009 @ 9:59 am | Comment

I do a lot of work-related travel, but budgets are so tight that I still have to keep a beady eye on expenditure.
The trouble is, even some of the local 3 or 4 star hotels with their “try to impress” big receptions fall down when you take a leak……that’s because the plumbing joins you and any carpets have that “old mould” smell – the kind that stick to the soles of your shoes as you pad to bed.
There are, however, exceptions.
In Chongqing, at Hongyadong, try the Cygnet hotel (part of Madame He the hot pot queen’s empire). Great value, well furnished rooms and great views over the Yangtze / Jialing confluence.
Many cities now have a Home Inn.
With a “Home Inn Card”, rooms price is around 168 RMB in the hinterland, or just short of 300 RMB in Beijing. Internet provided, cup and saucer etc. When I have to drop into the capital, I get the Airport Express into town and there’s a Home Inn about 5 minutes away.
Call me an old cheapskate – but I’d rather deliver shareholders and myself greater profits than pour cash into someone else’s till when all I’m doing is sleeping over.
In Chengdu, there are a couple of Jiangjin Inns for under 200 RMB that are ok – though a wee bit small on the room.
Super 7 have places across the country now for around 200 RMB per night.
Actually, the best budget conscious business traveller hotel that I’ve ever stayed in was at the Supr 7 in Ordos. Just recently opened.
Another chain that provides good value for money is the Shanshui chain down in Guangdong. There’s one of these at Guangzhou East Railway Station – with a walk in rate of 198 RMB. Really handy for the next morning train to HK.
But remember, have coffee sachets and track down a nearby baker for breakfast….the budget hotels usually fall down on morning munchies, unless you get up early. I’ve found that most of the food, which is left steaming away far too long, gets fairly soggy by about 8 am.

February 23, 2009 @ 11:24 am | Comment

“And the prostitute offering “massagey” courteously called my room at 9pm,…”

I say there Governor! Jolly Good!

February 24, 2009 @ 10:59 pm | Comment

“I’m afraid they are in for some very rude shocks soon (construction is everything in Chongqing) but I also think they’ll see it through, after a whole lot of agony.”

Well, it’s not like we have much choice.

Incidently Richard, you fxxxcked me on your advice to buy oil. But I forgive you.

February 23, 2009
The Abyss Stares Back

The public perception of the ongoing fiasco in governance has moved from sheer, mute incomprehension to goggle-eyed panic as the scrims of unreality peel away revealing something like a national death-watch scene in history’s intensive care unit. Is the USA in recession, depression, or collapse? People are at least beginning to ask. Nature’s way of hinting that something truly creepy may be up is when both Paul Volcker and George Soros both declare on the same day that the economic landscape is looking darker than the Great Depression.
Those tuned into the media-waves were enchanted, in a related instance, by Rick Santelli’s grand moment of theater in the Chicago trader’s pit last week when he seemed to ignite the first spark of revolution by demonstrating that bail-out fatigue had morphed into high emotion — and that the emotion could be marshaled against public policy. The traders in the pit on-screen seemed to color up and buzz loudly, like ordinary grasshoppers turning into angry locusts preparing to ravage a waiting valley. “Are you listening, President Obama?” Mr. Santelli asked portentously.
In the broad blogging margins of the web that orbit the mainstream media like the rings of Saturn, an awful lot of reasonable people have begun to ask whether President Obama is a stooge of whatever remains of Wall Street, with Citigroup and Goldman Sachs’s puppeteer, Robert Rubin, pulling strings behind an arras in the Oval Office. Personally, I doubt it, but it is still a little hard to understand what the President is up to. For one thing, the stimulus package, so-called, looks more and more like national sub-prime mortgage itself, a bad bargain made under less-than-realistic terms, with future obligations fobbed onto whoever inhabits this corner of the world for the next seven hundred years — and all to pay for a bunch of granite counter-tops and flat-screen TVs.
I suppose Mr. Obama is burdened with the knowledge that the economic truth is so much worse than he imagined back in November that there is simply nothing to do at this point except pretend to serve up a “tasting menu” of rescue plans in the hope that markets and mechanisms might be conned back into compliance with our wish keep getting something-for-nothing forever. FDR already used the fear of fear itself trope, so Mr. O is left with little more than displaying pluck and confidence in the face of overwhelming bad news.
The sad truth is that banking has become a Chinese fire drill — a frantic act of futility — as insolvent companies persist in covering up their losses in order to avoid the counter-party hell of credit default swaps that would ring the world’s “game over” bell. This can only go on so long. All the chatter about “nationalizing” the banks really boils down to what kind of bankruptcy work-out will they be put through, how destructive will the process be, and how much of the pain can be shoved forward in time to people now in diapers and their descendants.
Among the questions that disturb the sleep of many casual observers is how come Mr. O doesn’t get that the conventional process of economic growth — based, as it was, on industrial expansion via revolving credit in a cheap-energy-resource era — is over, and why does he keep invoking it at the podium? Dear Mr. President, you are presiding over an epochal contraction, not a pause in the growth epic. Your assignment is to manage that contraction in a way that does not lead to world war, civil disorder or both. Among other things, contraction means that all the activities of everyday life need to be downscaled including standards of living, ranges of commerce, and levels of governance. “Consumerism” is dead. Revolving credit is dead — at least at the scale that became normal the last thirty years. The wealth of several future generations has already been spent and there is no equity left there to re-finance.
If contraction and downscaling are indeed the case, then the better question is: why don’t we get started on it right away instead of flogging rescue plans to restart something that is DOA? Downscaling the price of over-priced houses would be a good place to start. This gets to the heart of Rick Santelli’s crowd-stirring moment. Let the chumps and weasels who over-reached take their lumps and move into rentals. Let the bankers who parlayed these fraudulent mortgages into investment swindles lose their jobs, surrender their perqs, and maybe even go to jail (if attorney general Eric Holder can be induced to investigate their deeds). No good will come of propping up the false values of mis-priced things.
No good, in fact, will come of a campaign to sustain the unsustainable, which is exactly what the Obama program is starting to look like. In the folder marked “unsustainable” you can file most of the artifacts, usufructs, habits, and expectations of recent American life: suburban living, credit-card spending, Happy Motoring, vacations in Las Vegas, college education for the masses, and cheap food among them. All these things are over. The public may suspect as much, but they can’t admit it to themselves, and political leadership has so far declined to speak the truth about it for them — in short, to form a useful consensus that will allow us to move forward effectively. One of the sad paradoxes of politics is that democracies do not seem very good at disciplining their citizens’ behavior. The wish to please voters and the influence of campaign money overwhelm even leaders with mature instincts. In America’s case, this could lead to what I like to call corn-pone Naziism a few years down the road. Someone will design snazzy uniforms and get us all marching around to “God Bless America.” At the point of a gun.
It’s not too late for President Obama to start uttering these truths so that we can avoid a turn to fascism and get on with the real business of America’s next phase of history — living locally, working hard at things that matter, and preserving civilized culture. What a lot of us can see now staring out of the abyss is a new dark age. I don’t think it’s necessarily our destiny to end up that way, but these days we’re not doing much to avoid it.

February 25, 2009 @ 5:20 pm | Comment

Oil is still a good investment. Don’t sell. It is going to reinflate.

February 25, 2009 @ 5:30 pm | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.