Expat Magazine

When the Lights Go Out: Hotel Confessions

By Mint Mocha Musings @nicoledwebb

Westin Xi'an | Mint Mocha Musings

It was late afternoon and little Miss A and I were sitting in the hotel lobby bar having a spot of afternoon tea. (What’s a girl(s) to do in a new city!)

Westin Xi'an Expat Life

Ava was doing her best to entertain the staff….regaling them with tales about dad liking beer, mum speaking Chinese (I do?) and did you know I wore a purple wedding dress when I got married! (I did?)

I was cringing a little at what might be revealed next, but just quietly, enjoying the peace — when ‘boom’ the lights went off.

Nothing too serious, we initially thought. Nothing to bat an eyelid over…naturally there was a bit of commotion, some surveying of the damage. Was it just in the bar or the was the entire hotel without power? Wait, we think it’s the whole area!

I casually queried whether this was a normal occurrence?

There is apparently a government request for businesses and homes to reduce their power usage between 4 and 6pm but the staff were confident this wasn’t the problem.

In perfect timing, Ava needed the toilets, which of course happened to be in pitch black, so we called it a day on our fancy cakes and went upstairs to our room.

By now the sun was setting and dusk meant it was getting rather dark.

The hotel known for its vivid red glow was gradually becoming a shadowy figure of its former self.

Westin Hotel Power outage

Given the small fact that candles pose an insurance liability in a hotel, I decided we had no choice but to head to the (conveniently located on our floor) ‘executive club’.

After all, what’s a girl(s) to do in a power outage? A glass of red for me and apple juice for junior, that’s what!

Red Wine and Fairy Wings

Red Wine and Fairy Wings

Emergency lights kept things (like my wine glass and the all important fairy wings) manageable……meantime, a frantic hotelier I know was in and out trying to ascertain the problem through various muddled translations from Chinese to English with his number two and the powers that be… (no pun intended).

Generators were hastily arranged for and negotiations(?) on price underway.

Meantime, irate customers paying through the nose, were clearly getting hot under the collar at the lack of five star facilities, naturally oblivious to the fact this ‘unexplained event’ seemed to be in no one’s control.

10pm and still no one is any the wiser on why the power cut has occurred….(at least no one is taking ownership).

For the frantic hotelier, answers are lost in translation and things are getting chaotic with the generators still no where to be seen.

When they finally do appear, it seems they have come with the wrong bolts to connect these thick, rope-like cables that are now splayed out across the bowels of the hotel. (The hotelier’s aware one wrong connection and it could go more than a little haywire!!)


I can feel his blood pressure rising by the minute…… as he bids us goodnight to survey the scene – us tucked up in bed clutching our torches.

I wake every half hour, the air now stifled with no air-conditioning, no clock or phone to tell the time….and still, no hotelier.

He tells me later, there are frustrated guests lining up at reception in what is now the middle of the night ready to report the injustice of such an atrocity on social media the next day….then there’s the drunk woman who’s planted herself precariously on a chair in the lobby, too intoxicated to find her room.

An Australian is checking in at 130am – behaving far more reasonable than most (go Aussies!) as he’s told of the current dire situation. “Sorry Sir, this is not Fawlty Towers, yet.”

A few restless hours later, voila – it’s 4am on the newly-lit clock and the entire room lights up, hell the door bell even rings, the air conditioning starts whirring….and we are back in business, my small person none the wiser. Phew.

The hotelier arrives minutes later…. exhausted and still unclear as to what has just occurred in the last 12 hours. But for now the hotel is charged up!

A few hours later, it’s a new day, he’s up and off to see the Power Bureau. Apparently a show of authority will ensure more efficient ‘handling’ of the problem at hand.

We wait….

Mid afternoon and a damaged cable is found 120 metres from the hotel and things are hopeful of being resolved (provided the hotel agrees to fork out the cost of fixing the wayward cable) but not in any hurry… and certainly not soon enough for the enraged client who’s holding a swanky corporate party in the sunken garden that evening, boasting enough lights to sink a battleship (or possibly a hotel)?!

Sunken Garden Westin Xi'an

Who really knows…….

The generators pump furiously through the day and night to keep the hotel in action but the luke warm water and intermittent power shortages are not enough to keep hotel guests from blowing off steam at any moment. The pollution in Xi’an is not the great at the best of times and now fumes from the generators are wafting through the atrium, guests now complaining they are suffocating.

I think the hotelier is greying by the second.

Another night and between 4am and 7am the power switches on and off several times, each time it does, the door bell rings. I’m starting to think maybe I really am in Fawlty Towers.

After all, this is China.


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