Hospitality, Taiwan Style
As I wrote in an earlier post, when I first came to Hong Kong, I didn’t intend to stay long. I wanted to be in a Mandarin-Chinese speaking environment, and Taiwan was the logical choice at the time.
Things took a different turn after I found a job, settled into Hong Kong, began travelling to the Chinese mainland regularly, and set up my own business. As a result, my first visit to Taiwan didn’t take place until the early 1980s.
I’d heard many good things about Taiwan, including from many schoolmates who had studied and lived there, so I was really looking forward to my first visit.
There was a small problem with my hotel reservation. My travel agent told me that for two nights in the middle of my planned 5-day stay, the hotel had no vacancy. I didn’t want to change my dates, so I went ahead anyway, assuming I could sort the problem out after arrival.
The young lady at the Reception Desk of the hotel was very friendly and helpful when I checked in, and promised to try to solve my problem and find me a room for the duration of my stay, explaining that major hotels were heavily booked that week due to several large trade shows.
We spoke in Chinese, and she asked how long I had lived in Taiwan. When I explained it was my first visit, she was surprised and seemed genuinely concerned that it be a smooth and successful one. She suggested I check back the next day, at which time she hoped to have good news about my reservation.
When I checked back the next morning, and again that afternoon, she was very apologetic in explaining that they really were very tightly booked and despite speaking to her manager, she had failed to find me a room in their hotel for the two nights in question. She asked me to come back the following morning for a final check on the status. I asked her to please do her best because I liked the hotel, and really did not want to have to move out.
Despite her very attentive and helpful service attitude, I decided it would be wise to find an alternative. I found another hotel with vacancy for the rest of my planned stay, and made a reservation, just in case.
When I returned to the front desk the following morning, she was again very apologetic, saying that despite her appeals to her manager, they really had no room for me.
So concerned was she about me having a good experience on my first visit to Taiwan, that she had mentioned the plight of this first-time American visitor to Taiwan who spoke Chinese to her parents during dinner the previous night. They responded by telling her to invite me to stay with them in their family home in the event there were no hotel rooms available to me.
I was, of course, amazed by the warmth and kindness of this remarkable gesture, and expressed my great appreciation. I also explained that in the meantime I had found another hotel, and asked her to relay my sincere thanks to her parents. The gesture left a deep impression nonetheless.
I kept the Saturday free for some sightseeing. Boarding a taxi, I told the driver in Chinese that I wanted to go to the museum. It was a fairly long drive and we got talking. He asked me how long I’d lived in Taiwan, and again I explained it was my first visit.
He was surprised and puzzled, and asked where I’d studied Chinese. I explained that I’d studied it in school in the U.S., adding that I had also lived in Hong Kong for some years. Still curious, he countered that Hong Kong was Cantonese-speaking.
I then mentioned that I had been to the Chinese mainland many times. This was big news to him and opened a floodgate of questions about what it was like there, where I had been, etc. I had suddenly achieved the status of an astronaut returning from space.
The real turning point in the conversation, however, came after I answered his question on which cities I had visited, one of which, Changsha in Hunan Province, was his father’s home town.
He seemed deeply touched and moved by this.
The next thing I knew, he turned off the meter of the taxi and announced that if I did not object, I would be his guest that day. He would take me to the museum, tour it with me, invite me to lunch, and drop me back at the hotel.
All of which is exactly what happened, capping off a very memorable week with two extraordinary displays of hospitality, Taiwan-style.