On Love, Beijing and My Nostalgia for Hotel Counters With World Maps

I felt a curious flutter of recognition during an evening walk in my Beijing neighborhood, when my eyes fell upon the reception desk at a hotel just around the corner.

There it was, a world map on the wall behind the desk, pinpointing the major cities of New York, London, Moscow and Beijing in a bronze and black montage that must have been more fashionable when bicycles ruled Beijing years ago.

Even though each metropolitan area displayed the current time, I was thinking of the past – my own in Beijing, a city that was once a romantic getaway for me and my first Chinese boyfriend in the country. A trip where we visited many hotels, whose reception desks were a close replica of the one I saw on my walk.

When I see the local times in Moscow and Beijing flashing across that map, I remember that long, drawn-out afternoon in Beijing when we were faced with one hotel after another, following our overnight journey to Beijing from Zhengzhou, which took nine hours at the time.

Why did we visit so many hotels in just one day? We were determined to find a hotel room we could share together, which seemed mission impossible because every hotel asked for a marriage license we couldn’t produce. With no license, we were forced to visit many lobbies, each fitted with a variation on that world map dotted with local times around the world.

My Chinese boyfriend at the time (who parted with months later) had once traveled to Beijing with a past girlfriend who was from his city, and never had difficulty finding a room for two. How had my foreign face changed the equation? Did they think I was Russian (and not necessarily in a good way)?

It should have taken us only an hour, two max, to get settled into a hotel. Instead, we spent over six hours – eventually settling in a state-owned guesthouse in the Haidian district. With, of course, a world map behind the reception counter.

And the funny thing is, after all these years, whenever I see a reception desk like those we encountered years ago in Beijing, a feeling of nostalgia rises within me. Is it a recognition of the fact that, in a sense, love prevailed in Beijing, in spite of the challenges?

All I know is, it’s fascinating to be back in the great capital of Beijing, this time in love for life — with a husband who still thrills me every single day, and in a country I’m proud to call home.

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10 Replies to “On Love, Beijing and My Nostalgia for Hotel Counters With World Maps”

  1. Hi Jocelyn,
    Thanks for sharing with us the very conservative attitude of the Chinese hotel managements (or as a result of pressures applied to them by the local authorities) in the “moral” screening of any potential hotel guests. It is news to me as I had never had such rejection, in North America, just because I brought along an opposite gender friend, regardless of her ethnicity. I would state up front at the check in desk that I had a “party of two” and they hotel employees were satisfied as long as the double occupancy rate was applied.

  2. Isn’t it interesting how many years later, you and Jun end up moving there? Who would have known that in the future, you would be there with your husband, looking back at the same maps that you had once looked at with your ex-boyfriend. I get those feelings too, when I go to a place that I had once visited with an ex-boyfriend, I think ‘I was here many years ago with someone else’; it’s funny where life takes us! 😉

    I love world maps, seeing all of the cities, and all of the places where I would like to go one day. Jocelyn, maybe you should have been a Geographer! 🙂 Your love of the world shines through, which is something that I like about you!

    I never knew that you had to produce a marriage licence to stay in a hotel room with someone else. Is it still like that now? I can’t imagine something like that happening in North America, I think there would be an uproar if it did!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Maria! It’s interesting you have those same feelings as well when you happen to be somewhere you once went with an ex-boyfriend. It is indeed amazing where we end up in life.

      I am also a fan of world maps and hope to visit these places as well. Still haven’t made it to London or Moscow. Ha ha, never considered I could be a geographer…could have happened in another life, I suppose. 🙂

      It doesn’t appear to be quite as strict nowadays. And yes, cannot imagine if that was the case in North America!

  3. I have had problems checking into hotels in China because they refused to believe my home country (a native English speaking country) was real. I was told my passport was a fake (and worse) – even when checking in with friends from the UK, the US, Australia etc. – even when I had confirmed bookings.

    not even a Google maps image managed to convince them. on one trip, I ended up having to check into the nearest 4 Seasons because the receptionist point blank refused to acknowledge my country of origin.

      1. Jocelyn, it is not only hotels, but banks also.

        The main bank branch of Bank of China refused to allow me transfer money direct into my bank account at home – despite being armed with all my bank details and identification “because the country does not exist”.
        Had i been American there would have been no problem “because America exists”
        I had to transfer the money to a trusted local friend’s account who withdrew it and gave me the cash.

        Conversely, Chinese colleagues have no problem accessing or transferring funds from China when i am at home (subject to local anti-laundering restrictions)

        If China wants to be taken seriously as a world player and deal with all foreign travelers there on business, such ignorance should be educated out of hotel workers and anyone who may come into contact with non-UK or US citizens. At home there is always someone on hand to help with non native visitors. The entire population of my home country could fit in one Chinese city, yet even the smallest hotel accommodates non-English speakers from all over the world no problem.

        I am not the only person in my circle of acquaintance that has encountered such problems.

  4. All the trips I took in China and not one hotel ever asked for a marriage certificate. Only got turned away once when traveling with my parents because the hotel wasn’t allowed to give rooms to foreigners.

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