Rabbits on the Loose in the Beijing Hotel
In 1980, only a handful of American companies had rep offices in Beijing, and the number of American business people resident in Beijing was tiny.
So, many if not most of the hundreds of American delegates who came to the show in support of their companies’ exhibits were first-time visitors, full of curiosity and not a little apprehension.
The majority of US delegates were assigned accommodations in the Friendship Hotel. The lucky few were permitted to stay in the Beijing Hotel, which had nicer rooms and was more centrally located. This was long before Beijing began to experience traffic jams.
No matter whether visitors stayed at the Friendship or Beijing Hotel, this was before the arrival of Coca Cola, Cadillacs, or cheeseburgers in Beijing. Both hotels were fine, but basic. Star rankings for hotels had not yet begun, nor had the concept of “service with a smile” in the hospitality industry generally. Many foreign visitors’ first words of Chinese were “mei you” because they heard this repeated so often by hotel staff.
Western food was nearly impossible to find in Beijing, apart from some basic offerings in a few hotels and some surprisingly good Russian food, including inexpensive caviar, in the old Russian restaurant adjacent to the exhibition center.
There were no bars in Beijing even in hotels, so delegates were pretty much on their own in the evenings ; but banquets were numerous especially for executives of larger companies who had already begun to develop some business in China, or for government officials.
For food and entertainment, the American visitors took to heart a slogan which was popular on walls and posters in China at the time “Zili gengsheng” or “Self-reliance”.
Given an unusual amount of free time on their hands outside of working hours, with little in the way of entertainment options, some delegates got up to mischief.
In one such incident, some senior executives of one large midwestern equipment company were invited to a banquet by a Chinese organization. Another group from the same company, not included in the guest list, knew that their colleagues would return to their hotel rooms after the sumptuous dinner most likely having had too much Maotai to drink. They decided to plan an ambush.
So as a practical joke, they purchased a half dozen rabbits from an agricultural research center in Haidian District, along with a dozen heads of lettuce. The rabbits and lettuce were inserted into their colleagues’ Beijing Hotel room after they had left for the banquet.
By the time the banqueters returned to the hotel, they had indeed had a few Maotais and Qingdaos too many. They were in a jovial mood. Their colleagues hid nearby and waited for the commotion which occurred after they walked into their hotel room and found what looked like an enormous salad bar on the floor, now half eaten, with startled rabbits darting every which way.
Their first reaction was shock and a fleeting thought that perhaps they were hallucinating from a Maotai overdose. Next came the natural instinct of trying to catch the rabbits, which by this time were very well fed and much more agile than the Maotai drinkers. So the rabbit hunters slipped and fell onto lettuce-strewn floor, which was also covered by lots of those little round things which rabbits leave behind after they eat large quantities of lettuce.
Within minutes the rabbits were running down the corridors of the Beijing Hotel, followed by the pranksters as well as the prank victims, and the befuddled hotel staff members, for whom this was definitely not in the training handbook ( Just imagine Chapter 36, Section 12: “Measures to be taken when the foreign guests bring unregistered rabbits into the hotel …”)