press ‘5’ to schedule a wake-up call

I enjoy the first two bites of tiramisu. I enjoy low fixed exchange rates even more.

When I bought my first squid-ink pasta, I was appreciative of the fact that the total bill did not amount past the single digits. Given the willingness to spend more for the exchange of new experiences on vacations, I felt comforted by the fact that I could look at the items on a menu before I started to look at the price. A thin-crust pizza was around $7, and the quality seemed similar to those that I could find at Snap’s Custom Pizza. Even at the more expensive restaurants in the city, the final tab had still been less than what I would have spent during an evening at Barbuzzo, tip not included. But with a country with half as much GDP per capita as Switzerland, the hotels seem also half as quality given the same star rating, not necessarily in amenities.

I arrived at my hotel room in Rome when the sun had just finished setting. The sky still had faint hints of purple that would linger for a couple more hours. The mirror had a couple fingerprints on them. The TV had a series of Italian channels that I did not understand nor wanted to pretend that I could. The bathroom did not have a bathtub, so I could not take a bath. I did not particularly mind; I felt grateful for even a mere bathroom I could use without paying €1 at a turnstile gate. Although I suppose with my disinclination to stay hydrated with the dramatic increases in the prices of water bottles, I never really had to go anyways. I went to sleep at around 1 a.m. after reading a couple chapter of Chemistry by Weike Wang, my professor next semester in advanced fiction writing.

The next morning, I walked into the upstairs breakfast lounge to the sound of an argument between my tour guide and the manager of the hotel. His voice echoed across the entire room, but unlike project of his voice, his English wasn’t that good. After all, it is hard to pick up another language in his 50s when he had already been fluent in Chinese, French, and Portuguese. His Italian, evidently, was nonexistent as well. “Kai yuan.” He pointed at us. “No Kai Yuan.” He pointed at the opposite end of the room. His sentiments seemed similar to how I could explain how I could explain how play-doh was not edible to a child, or when I tried to explain that I wanted to cancel a block of cheese in self-checkout in the French-speaking district of Zurich only with the word “cette.” I had no idea what he meant, so I sat down at a table and began filling my plate with a wide assortment of bread and jam. When a plate of sliced ham arrived, I grabbed a couple slices of that too.

After my tour guide gave up on explaining himself, he grabbed some coffee and sat down with me and began explaining the situation. Apparently, he had rented the breakfast room and bought the food for only our group: Kai Yuan. But, since there were many people staying at the hotel, some other people from some other tour groups wandered to the breakfast room outside of their designated hour. The waiting staff, unable to differentiate between the Korean group and the Chinese group, let both into the breakfast room, leaving my tour guide to pay for twice the food he ordered. He resigned himself to the limitations of his communication abilities. He thought of the situation as one where he could not win. By continuing to explain himself, he would only continue to annoy the hotel staff. I told him I sympathized with his grievances.

A sentiment summarized in five words: “Kai Yuan. No Kai Yuan.”

After breakfast, I sauntered towards the rendezvous point in the lobby. There, I watched another argument happen, this time between a member of my tour group and the front desk worker. From his accent, I could easier infer that the tourist had come to the United States when he had been quite young, but not younger than when his brain had finished synaptically pruning the majority of the language learning portions of his brain around second grade. He compensated for his thin accent with articulate phrasing and concise tonality, wearing a clean button-up and khakis with his unbranded dress shoes. He clearly worked in a corporate job that required speaking English regularly. The front desk worker seemed to have trouble understanding him, also speaking English with a light accent.

Perhaps the woman at the front desk could not understand English. But I found that idea a little hard to believe since we were staying at a four-star hotel in the center of Rome. From what I have observed, it seems that man in my tour group had called the front desk asking for more blankets because the heater in his room had broken. The front desk worker during the night said she could not understand him and hung up the phone. He called again, but the second time the front desk worker did not even reply before hanging up the phone. Since the hotel elevators were under renovations, he did not want to climb down the stairs to ask for the blankets in person, instead choosing to preserve through a cold night. But it seems that now he wanted to let out his chilling grievances building within him in the past couple of hours.

I followed my parents to the coach bus waiting outside before seeing how the situation had been resolved. I didn’t care to wait. If I wanted to see a spectacle, all I needed to do was to check Twitter and scroll until I find IHOP’s latest tweet.

This piece was written on the bus ride to Florence.

Categories: travel, writing