On our seven-and-a-half hour train ride south from Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, to the city of Huaihua, we shared a cabin with Kelvin, a 30-year-old real estate developer from Hong Kong.
There was money to be made around Huaihua, he told us, because its 127,000 residents were renowned in China for their willingness to throw caution to the wind and spend their money.
"If they have a house, they'll sell it so they can have money to spend at the bar," he said, thumbing at his iPhone 4 on the top bunk as our train rumbled through a countryside blanketed by smog.
One night in the city's premier establishment, the Huaihua Great Hotel, convinced me that the locals do indeed enjoy the occasional good time.
The hotel's "presidential suite" costs roughly ¥6888 per night, or $1,090. Staff at the front desk promised we'd enjoy our stay (there's a garishly lit massage parlour in the hotel and a surprising number of Ukrainian women on the elevators), but I wasn't sure The Globe and Mail would enjoy the bill.
Among the items found in the much humbler Room 1402, which cost closer to $45:
- Three decks of playing cards, two standard sets and one long and narrow Mah-Jong deck (for an extra $9 you get a Mah Jong table in your room)
- A “JWT” brand desktop computer with external speakers
- Two different types of condoms for sale on the bedside table. One is described as “IMPORTED ORIGINAL COLOR – FOR A FERVOR COLOR” (15 yuan for two). The other: “VIB-RING CONDOM – APPEAL THING – FOR A LOVE FERVOR.” The latter promises “up to 40 minutes of quivering pleasure to both of you.” Apparently “it’s easy to switch on and off, easy to wear. And great go experiment with.”
- Men’s and women’s underwear, in blue and pink boxes, at 20 yuan per pair. In case you forgot to bring your own.
- A can of Red Bull
- A bedside sign reading “WISH YOU GOOD NIGHT DON’T PUT YOUR WET CLOHES [sic] ON LAMPSHADES, THANKS!”