东方宾馆对面的广交会会场/Canton Fair Complex Opposite the Dong Fang Hotel
Before The Open Door : The Canton Trade Fair
The Chinese Export Commodities Fair, or Canton Trade Fair as it was known, was the main venue for international business visitors to China until the Open Door policy made it easier to get visas outside of Fair time and to visit cities other than Guangzhou.
During the 1970s most foreign visitors to the Fair were assigned to the Dong Fang Hotel. In 1978-’79 the number of foreign and overseas Chinese visitors climbed sharply, and hotel management made efforts to improve quality and address complaints.
One such complaint had been the cockroaches, which were plentiful in number, large in size, and very self-confident.
An American household products company had given a technical seminar to the Dong Fang Hotel management on the use of industrial pest control products to deal with the cockroach problem.
The hotel was impressed by the promised results. They placed an order, and the bug bombs were deployed down in the bowels of the hotel – the cockroaches’ head office premises.
The Spring’78 Fair opened shortly thereafter. Visitors filled the hotel, and many of them commented on the impressive reduction in the cockroach population.
Unfortunately, there was an unintended consequence of the successful purge of cockroaches. The bug bomb chemicals had been strong enough to kill the roaches down in the basement, but only strong enough to annoy the rats, who shared the same habitat and were even more numerous than the cockroaches.
With their habitat invaded by bad-smelling chemicals, the rats began a mass migration to the upstairs floors of the hotel. They invaded the guest rooms, the corridors, the dining rooms and common spaces — all in great numbers. Rats were everywhere to be seen, scurrying and scampering.
My good friend and colleague, a Chinese-speaking American, was fast asleep in his room at the Dong Fang one night during the rat invasion. There was no air conditioning in those days, but guest rooms were equipped with an electric fan placed on the bedside table.
Suddenly my friend was awakened by a strange noise coming from his bedside table : a loud “cling-clang”, followed by a repetitive “whack…whack…whack” sound.
He turned on the light and saw, to his shock and awe, that a rat had fallen from the wall and landed partly inside the cage of the electric fan, where the spinning blades were causing bits and pieces of rat fur and rat tail to fly in the direction of his face and pillow.
He jumped out of bed in disgust and ran down the corridor toward the service desk on his floor. Two young women hotel staff were asleep there. It was 3 a.m.
The sight of this large, noisy foreigner running down the corridor in his pajamas with arms waving wildly no doubt shocked them as much as the rat had shocked him.
Endeavoring to explain to them what had happened, he intended to say “There is a rat in my room!” and request that they find a way to remove it ASAP.
Unfortunately, in his moment of panic, his Putonghua tones got sloppy. Instead of saying the word “rat” (laoshu) in the proper Chinese tones, he said “old book” (lao shu) instead.
“There is an old book in my room !” was what the two startled young attendants heard this apparently crazed foreigner say, excitedly and repeatedly.
Puzzled, they went to his room to investigate. Instead of an old book, they found the now dead, balding, short-tailed rat, which they summarily removed.
By the time of the next Fair, the rats too had disappeared.