My hotel in Singapore looked fine online, a 3-star place in a busy shopping area. The actual hotel was a lot more rustic than its photos.
As the doorman showed me around the ‘luxury room’ I’d booked, he kindly pointed out the amenities. ‘Big room,’ he said, gesturing towards the two beds. It was humid in the room. There was a vague smell.
He showed me how to put the tail end of the key ring into the slot on the wall to get the air con and lights working (later I would notice there was no reading light over the bed). He took two steps to the bathroom. ‘Bathroom,’ he said, lifting the bathroom curtain, ‘You can shut the window or keep it open.’ He pointed to a red switch on the wall outside the bathroom. ‘Turn on ten minutes before if you want hot shower.’ He pointed to a hairdryer hanging from a hook. ‘Hairdryer, if you want.’
Eager to impress me further, he pointed to a glass ashtray. ‘Do you smoke?’ he asked. I shook my head. I’d booked a non-smoking room. ‘Just ignore then.’
Later, as I was leaving the key at reception before going out, I noticed a very sparkly bracelet on the boss lady’s wrist. Are they diamonds? I asked. ‘Yes,’ she replied, sharp-eyed but friendly. ‘I bought very cheap.’ I pointed out that her narrow wrist would not require as many diamonds as, say, my wrist. She agreed. I asked if she took the bracelet off to shower. No, she said. ‘You undo the hook too many times, it will break.’
As I went out into the hot, humid Singapore evening, I noticed the offerings placed at the feet of the two white marble elephants next to the elevator. Each had a mandarin orange, an individually wrapped sweet and a glass of water at its feet. There were yellow dots on the heads of both elephants where people had stubbed out cigarettes before getting into the elevator.
The doorman was sitting at his booth with his ear pressed to a transistor radio, listening to a programme in English about illness.