Foreigners banned from hotels in China?

Wade Shepard says it happens a lot:

An old blog post of a situation that seems to have gotten way worse. Hotels in China are still segregated by ethnicity and national origin. Imagine if you went to a hotel in the USA and they refused to let you stay just because you were from China?

And here is the 2012 blog post in question. Sample:

Imagine this: You travel to a new city, scour the streets looking for a good, cheap place to sleep, and when you finally find one you’re told you can’t stay just because you’re a foreigner. Now play this story out over and over again for 90% of the hotels you try to stay in and you have an idea of what it’s like to travel in China.

Technically, Chinese hotels are suppose to have a special permit before they can admit foreign guests. To get this permit they first must have the proper surveillance equipment installed — meaning a computerized registration system — and, or so it is my impression, be up to snuff and project the image of China that the government wants the outside world to see, which is to say: modern, developed, new, clean, and expensive.

These rules are nothing new, but, from my previous travels through China, I don’t remember them ever being enforced very readily. It has been my experience that one out of every two or three inns that didn’t have a foreigner’s permit would let you stay anyway. Like so, travel in this country was not that much of a hassle: when denied at one inn you’d just walk over to another until you found one that didn’t give a shit. But now this seems to be getting more difficult, for the first time in all my travels in China I was defeated when trying to find accommodation. […]

It wasn’t happening. I couldn’t stay in this inn. My foreign face and accent gave me away, and the inn would not give me a room no matter how much I pleaded. No problem, I’ll just walk on to the next one. I asked the lady at the reception desk if she knew of another cheap inn 旅馆 that I could stay at. She told me to go to a hotel 宾馆. The difference between the two is one little character, but the impact is colossal: it means the difference between spending $5 and $30.

Fact check: I cannot confirm the 90% figure, but the idea that many Chinese hotels refuse to accept foreigners is ABSOLUTELY TRUE. Exhibit A: An expat colleague and I were turned away by a hotel in the city of Wuxi in 2010 for precisely this reason. Exhibit B: In 2016, an American friend living in Shanghai’s Yangpu district was told by virtually all of the 10 or so hotels within walking distance of his university that they couldn’t accommodate his foreign friends. Again, this was in a central district of Shanghai, not some backwater town. This friend has had similar experiences in Beijing and elsewhere in China.

Now, I should make it clear that I’m not complaining at all. China is a sovereign country and has the right to subject foreign nationals to this treatment for whatever reason it wants, or for no reason at all — and it’s completely pointless to gripe about it.

Also, I can’t speak for anyone else but if I were travelling to a new city I would very happily pay $30, as opposed to $5, for the privilege of staying in an actual hotel rather than a guest inn or hostel. That’s just me though.

The comments below Shepard’s recent post, however, are fascinating as a cross-section of the types of responses that any criticism of any aspect of China inevitably elicits. Let’s take a look at some:

PERSON A: Exaggerated.

Wade Shepard: Go out of a big city and try it.

PERSON A: Simple research will point foreigners to several hotels in smaller cities. Article’s title is very misleading.

Wade Shepard: Research will lead you to tourist hotels. I’m talking about the cheap local inns. Not places you can find online. Anyway, the point is that accommodation is segregated based on nationality not whether you can find a place to stay somewhere from looking online.

Then there’s this guy, who took the opportunity to offer some insider “tips and tricks” that might be helpful to a theoretical person not named Wade Shepard:

PERSON B: The alternative is to make friends with the owner of the establishment, then walk with them down to the police dispatch to register temporary residence (24 hrs for urban areas/ 72 hrs for rural areas), perfectly acceptable if one has a residence permit and not a tourist visa. One can then give their new friend a 200 kuai hongbao as a thank you. The same can technically be done on a tourist visa provided one declares precise details of their travel schedule in advance. Mandarin skills are ultimately the key to getting anything at the local price.

Well, hokay — no problem then! Shepard’s reply is impressively patient:

Wade Shepard: Hello Connor, I had a residence permit then and I speak Mandarin. 200 kuai hongbao!?! haha I’m talking about 50 kuai per night rooms here 🙂

Then there’s this guy who appears to think that China is a market economy — totally missing the point that the foreigner registration system is imposed on hotel owners by the government:

PERSON C: Any entrepreneur, including hotel owners, should have full choice on who to serve. The customers then have the corresponding right to select which firms they support and carry their money to. That’s called a market economy.
Honestly, it’s rather embarrassing to witness Westerners trying to impose their culturally biased views about equality on other cultures. I was under the impression that modern Western culture is pretty much all about respecting the rights of others and especially those from other cultures. Well, live and learn.

And no discussion of this type would be complete without the guy who interjects his own irrelevant and misleading personal anecdote:

PERSON D: Really? I have never had a problem when travelling with a Chinese companion- maybe it’s more of a language thing.

Freedom of speech is important, but so is freedom *from* speech — i.e. the freedom to tune out other people’s ignorant yammering. Seriously, some people just need to STFU when those with actual knowledge and experience are trying to make a point.

UPDATE: It seems I’ve unleashed the dogs of war. I sent the link to Shepard’s post to my friend Antonio Graceffo and, well… hilarity ensued:

“I’m gonna do…”


I’m hearing this all the time now, from people of all ages and stations in life:

Customer: “Yeah, uhmmmm…. I’m gonna do a 6-inch meatball sub.”

Sandwich Artist®: “And what would you like to drink, sir?”

Customer: “Yeah, I’m gonna do a Coke.”

Where does this horrible locution come from? What is its etymology? Are linguists looking into this? Google is drawing a blank.

“Can I get…” is bad enough – a shameful mutation of the traditional “May I please have…” or the more up-to-date, but still polite “Can I have… please” / “I’ll have… please.” Apparently, we’ve reached another milestone in the descent into cultural barbarism. The next stage will be to jab your finger at the thing you want while grunting ferociously.

Jeez, people. Nobody expects you to talk like the host of Masterpiece Theater… but may you please try not to sound like an absolute moron? Thanks.

Is it really that hard?

Is public wifi going out of style? I often bring my laptop to cafés and coffee shops in downtown Chicago, intending to surf the internet and work. Almost invariably, I discover one of three things:

  1. There is no wifi at the café/coffee shop in question.
  2. There is wifi, in theory, but it’s so insanely slow and dysfunctional as to be unusable. (After spending several minutes trying to get online, I’ll gripe to the server and get a reply like: “Oh yeah, the wifi is terrible here. I’ve asked the manager to look into it.” Of course, it never gets better, even months later.)
  3. Wifi is available, but you’re not “supposed” to use it, because it’s not for customers, or the network belongs to an adjacent shop. (In these cases, the server will give me the password, sometimes scribbled on a ragged scrap of paper, with a conspiratorial whisper: “Don’t tell anyone I gave you this.” I am not making this up.)

Starbucks usually has fast and reliable wifi – but not always. Any other establishment, probably not.

Now, I’m not complaining. Life is good. A dearth of public wifi is very much a First World Problem that I wouldn’t even mention, except that I’m genuinely curious as to why this would be an issue in the bustling downtown of America’s third-largest city.

Seriously, what’s the deal? Is wifi just becoming a thing of the past? Are people so fixated on their phones that they don’t use their laptops for internet browsing or social media anymore, thus obviating the need for wifi?

My observation is that the few places that do offer wifi are often teeming with people on their laptops, suggesting that establishments with crappy or nonexistent wifi are leaving money on the table.

Is the technology really that daunting? Or is there something else going on?

Just askin’…

Spectacular idiocy

I like to think there is a special place in hell reserved for the people who created this regulation.

In a sane world, exchanging money for little discs of silicone hydrogel that you put on your eyeballs would be a thing you can do without government interference. But in America, people are apparently too stupid to be trusted to make their own decisions at the local LensCrafters. The law states that you need a prescription to buy contact lenses, every time.

In China, I would just walk into the nearest optical shop, tell the staff what strength I need, and buy a box of Accuvue Oasys lenses. It could not be simpler, or safer.


One of the downsides of living in a hyper-regulated society like America in the current year is that the simplest activities are often preposterously time-consuming and expensive.

An eye exam typically costs anywhere from $50 to $250. Vision insurance can defray this cost, but the insurance plan can set you back $150-$180/year (or maybe $50/year for an employer-provided plan). Contact lens prescriptions are only valid for 1-2 years in most US states.

The exams are also a headache to schedule if you have a full-time job and anything resembling a social life, since the doctors are never available on a walk-in basis, shops are closed on Sunday, etc.

Qui bono? I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader. In any case, it’s definitely not me.