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Graham Reid: The things you find in the back streets

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I wish I could remember the name of the place so I could recommend it - but then again, maybe it's best I can't.

I had spent a tiring week travelling around Taiwan by myself, negotiating train timetables and ticket offices, finding hotels, temples and places to eat. By the time I got back to Taipei where I could count on a tiny bit of English being spoken I was weary and just wanted a place to sleep where I could sort myself out.

My previous hotel had been a horror show: a run down, cockroach-ridden place populated by oddball English kids and Americans who were in the country illegally teaching English. I had no desire to go back there.

Nothing flash like the gilt-filled Ambassador, just a place where I'd be able to get out if the kitchen caught fire, as it looked ready to do in my former accommodation.

At the end of Chungshan Rd I looked to my right. Just another block of small street cafes and restaurants, electronics shops and the local equivalent of the 7-11.

I dragged my suitcase along the rough footpath and at the end of the noisy, motorbike-jammed street looked up. There on about the 6th floor of a building opposite was the word "Hotel".

I made my way through the traffic and got into the lift. The doors opened to reveal a large and attractive lobby with a marble floor and two women behind a desk who were clearly surprised by me appearing in their hotel. I assumed they saw few Europeans. Neither spoke any English.

Through my faltering Chinese and a series of gestures, miming sleep, a lot of giggling on their part, then some figures scribbled on a piece of paper I got myself a room for the night. It was more than I had expected to pay, but I didn't have the energy to walk the streets again.

The women had obviously enjoyed the transaction and laughed as they handed me a key.

I was given a room near the lift, opened the door, and gazed slack-jawed at what was before me. The walls, carpet and curtains were a vivid, blood-red, the fittings around the bed were gold, and there were mirrors everywhere. It was an especially garish style of decor and I started laughing the minute I closed the door behind me.

I stopped when I saw the bath which could accommodate three people, comfortably. I ran the taps knowing it could take an hour to fill the damn thing and was trying out the vibrating bed when there was a knock at the door.

A young woman was offering me towels. I accepted them and she stood waiting for a long time. I thought she was waiting for a tip, but then suddenly she spun around and delicately ran off laughing.

After my bath I was lying on the bed and there was another knock. Another woman was standing there smiling. And smiling.

I had no idea what she wanted then suddenly one of the women I had seen at the desk bustled her off with what I took to be apologies. It seemed the young woman had come to the wrong room.

I came back after dinner and the place was busy with people coming and going. All night high heels clicked, the heavy tread of shoes was outside my door, and the lift doors kept opening and closing.

But I slept well enough and in the morning paid my bill, thanked the older woman at the desk and made my way down to the street.

It was in the bus to the airport that I did the maths and realised I had got a pretty good deal on my room. I'd also had it all night. Most people only took theirs for an hour.

- NZ Herald

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