After a grueling 20-hour journey from Florida to Shanghai, my little family and I collapsed into bed at the Ramada Plaza next to the Pudong airport. Surprisingly enough, we all got several hours of sleep during the night. I feared our 15-month-old goober baby wouldn’t let us sleep that night, but our first night in China together went uncharacteristically smoothly. The next morning we would be greeted by a representative from Kang Chiao International School who would wisk us (and our ten oversized suitcases filled with formula, peanut butter, and tampons) away to our new home in Kunshan.
We waited in the lobby the next morning and got a WeChat confirmation that someone would arrive soon to pick us up. Then we had to confirm that we got an invoice for our night in the hotel. Now, an invoice in China must be a pink paper with red stamps on it. Well, I had booked the hotel from the US and my printer doesn’t print pink carbon copies with red Chinese stamps. So now we were standing in the lobby while these two young ladies argued with the hotel staff on our behalf. The school was going to reimburse us for the night in the hotel but only with the correct invoice. The hotel could not issue an invoice because we prepaid. After 30 minutes of going in circles, one of the girls from the school pointed to the confirmation number on my printed hotel receipt and told me to call it to get the invoice. I just wanted to get out of there so I said OK. Yes, I will dial the confirmation number and print a pink carbon copy with red stamps on it from my phone that says exactly what my receipt says so we can get $100 back in a month.
We get loaded into a van and head out of Shanghai. The air is heavy with smog and my husband and I feel disappointed but neither of us want to verbalize it at this point. We sold our house and our cars. We got rid of so much and what remained was packed into a shipping container and already sailing towards China. We couldn’t go back now so there was no use in actively acknowledging the horrendous air quality. The van was hot and our little girl looked flushed then she just passed out. It was nearly noon when we arrived at the hotel in Kunshan where we would stay until we found an apartment to rent. We were getting tired and I had a major headache brewing. There was no one at the hotel to help unload our ten heavy bags so we did it ourselves while holding the baby. Once we got everything piled into the lobby (which was really just a dirt-filled, trash-laden, smoking lounge) we waited while the girls got us checked in. My head was pounding and I was tired of holding a squirming baby. A guy came out of the elevator with a lit cigarette hanging out of his mouth. It was a million degrees and smoggy outside but it was better than being in an enclosed space with cigarettes. I became a huge fan of America’s new vape culture at that moment. My heart was sinking fast. I didn’t want to be in this uncomfortable, stinking dumpster of a hotel. I didn’t want my daughter to be on the fast track to lung cancer. But, we were stuck. We just needed to get to our room and get settled and things would be better. This wasn’t my first Chinese rodeo after all. We had to go up to the 6th floor a couple times to get all the bags up in the on each small elevator. There’s is no AC in the elevators or hallways. We were all dripping in sweat.
The name of this hotel was literally Motel Hotel. Now I’d have Pitbull’s charming lyrics stuck in my jet lagged, aching head the rest of the day. I was wishing we were in the Holiday Inn that Pitbull sang about. When we made it to our room, it didn’t look terrible but it stank of stale cigarettes. I just about lost it. There was no air to breathe. I am a human, and I require actual oxygen to survive. No oxygen outside. No oxygen inside. I held my anger in while the two sweet girls from the school were still in our room. I asked one girl how to get connected to the WiFi but she didn’t know. I managed to navigate the Chinese password page myself. My husband then asked her if she’s knew where we could go to buy some things and she told us she just orders everything online. This is most helpful. Then I asked her about DiDi, the Chinese Uber app. We downloaded the app but you have to have a Chinese bank account linked to the app to call a DiDi. We just gave up and the girls go.
Once we were alone in our stinking room, I exploded. We were isolated and knew nothing about where we were, how to find food, or how to get around. Our American phones didn’t really work and the WiFi was spotty at best. This was one of those moments where culture shock consumes you and turns you into a monster. I frantically started trying to figure out how to get a different hotel while yelling about how I hated China. What made me even more angry was the stupid decorations in the room that read “Go Green.” If you want to go green, why don’t you start with banning smoking indoors!
It would’ve been a decent room if it hadn’t been an ash tray. The mini bar also had a nice selection of Chinese sausages and Durex condoms. That could be a plus or a minus depending on who you are.
We decided we would go find a convenience store to buy water and snacks since it was nearly impossible to try and find a different hotel online. We got onto what we thought was the same elevator we came up on, but when we got to the lobby, everything looked different. It wasn’t the same disgusting lobby we had checked into. I back tracked to make sure we were actually one the first floor. Yes. Was I having a psychotic episode? Where was I? The lobby looked nice. It smelled clean! There were even live plants! This is how Eva must have felt when she found that one tiny plant in the huge wasteland that was Earth. I was so confused but so happy to feel like I could breathe.
An employee of this seemingly imaginary hotel approached us and asked us in Chinese if we needed help. I think we looked really lost. I couldn’t remember the word for store, so I asked the guy if he knew a place where I could buy Coke and Oreos. “You want to buy Coke and Oreos?” he asked with a twisted face. “Yes. We are American. We like Coke and Oreos. Where are the Coke and Oreos?” When you don’t speak the language fluently, you’ve got to work with what you’ve got. “ChaoShi?” “Dui dui dui!!!” He pointed us in the right direction and I started to feel better about my life choices. I told my husband we would just spend all of our time in that mystery smoke-free lobby. When we returned from the shop, we realized we were standing in front of a different hotel. We walked past it and around the corner was the Motel Hotel.
There were two hotels occupying the same building! Our problem was solved! We ran back upstairs, grabbed our Chinese dictionary and went back to the good hotel. In this urgent situation all of my Chinese came back to me and I was able to tell the ladies at the front desk that we were staying in the other hotel but didn’t like the smell of cigarettes. One lady took on us a little tour of some of the rooms and we picked out a cute little room with a tea nook. It’s freaking adorable and doesn’t stink at all!!
It’s a little pricey at $45 USD a night, but it’s worth it. Moving to China with a baby is not easy in any way, so a comfortable place to sleep and live is a life saver.
One week later we are still in the Home Inn Plus and we’ve become friends with the ladies who work here. AiZi has helped with so much and been so patient with my silly Chinese. I feel like she’s family now. She’s having a baby in three months so I need to find her a nice gift before we move into our apartment next week.