Monday, May 23, 2005

Moving On Up

May 8
Jason, my very gainfully employed friend from New York met me in Cambodia for ten days of Southeast Asian fun. He’s the first person I’ve met during the four months of my trip who I knew before the trip. I’d warned Jason—and everyone else—that I’d need to maintain my Spartan budget when he visited and that he should be ready for the backpacking lifestyle upon arrival. So I was a bit concerned when he e-mailed saying he’d booked a room at the top hotel in Cambodia. “When else will I be able to stay in the best hotel in a country?” he asked, ignoring both the clear fact he could likely afford the top hotel in any country and that it might not be absolutely necessary to stay in the top hotel in a country.

I arrived in Phnom Penh some hours before him and took a moto to the Raffles Hotel Royale. “Very expensive,” my moto driver noted after I disclosed our destination. (My residence the day before had been a $3 flophouse in Delhi with a room just big enough to fit a twin bed and my bag. The communal , outdoor shower was little more than a pipe hung above a slab of concrete with ample space in the crack of the ill-hinged door to see what was happening outside).

The moto dropped me at the base of a tall iron gate and I slung my packs on and marched through the large, circular driveway towards the towering hotel. I was out of place with my backpack, but it felt better to look a little poorer than everyone else than to be a lot richer than everyone. I shuffled up the red-carpeted steps and two smiling attendants opened the front doors for me. I was told to sit in the lounge and sip a complementary drink while my room was sorted out.

There was some confusion with the reservation—and by confusion I guess I mean they had no record of it but were willing to ask me to write down my name and reservation number on a piece of paper about five times over the course of 90 minutes, perhaps in the hope that either my name or reservation number had changed since the last time they’d asked.

An interesting thing happened. I quickly slipped into old-corporate-Brook. I was annoyed and unforgiving for their poor service. This was a high-end hotel, I was paying (okay Jason was paying) top dollar for the room and I wanted it all sorted our by the time I finished my fruity drink. I’ve endured every manner of traveling inconvenience in the last few months and it’s made me immune to them all. No number of canceled trains or delayed buses can tweak my pulse. But when the five star hotel provided three star service I was ready to demand to speak to the manager. And then I did ask to speak to him. After telling him how it was and how it was going to be I checked into room 139, tipped the bellhop for carrying my bag (the sight of a bellhop carrying my bag was well worth the full dollar) and sat down on the first real mattress I’d seen in a month. The room had a TV. With cable. It had an enclosed shower (as opposed to the traditional showerhead jutting out of a wall in the middle of the bathroom). It had a bathtub. It was the four-month anniversary of my departure and this was the first time I’d had any of these amenities in my room. It was fantastic.

After my shower I laid on the bed and watched BBC and CNBC. Then I took a bath. Then I went in the pool. Then I took another shower. I felt kind of bad enjoying it, like I was betraying myself somehow. But before my fingers even started to prune the feeling had been loofahed away.


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