Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Una noche en Barcelona

I made two women very happy today. The first was this afternoon.

Between work and dinner I came back to the room to pack and get organized for tomorrow’s departure. I was piddling around when my doorbell rang (yes, we have doorbells in this hotel) so I opened the door and the day maid was standing there with a Kit Kat candy bar in her hand. She smiled and said hello and rattled off something in Chinese and I nodded and she said “Minibar, Minibar, Minibar” and proceeded to invite herself into the room and head over to the cabinet that held said Minibar. On the way, she made some comment about the drapes being open that I interpreted as “they shouldn’t be open” and so I just stood their grinning stupidly in the doorway.

She opened the Minibar, took a look inside and shook her head and walked back out to her cart with the Kit Kat. Figuring we were done I went to close the door but she turned around and came back in, scanning the room. She walked over to my closet, opened it and rustled around, pulling out a piece of paper and an envelope. I just stood there grinning stupidly. She walked over and said something to me that I interpreted as “would you fill this out?” I agreed and said “5 minutes” in Chinese and she effusively acknowledged that with much head shaking and smiling. Handing me the paper – Chinese side up - I fumbled with it until I found the English side. Much to my surprise, she walked over to my desk, grabbed a pen and beckoned me to sit down. Which I did. She then stood by my side, just short of having her hand on my shoulder and nodded with her head for me to get busy filling it out. I was so stunned I just did what I was told.

Following the personal information section which appeared to fascinate her, I came to the multiple choice section and I checked the first box as “Very Satisfied,” pleasing her greatly. And so it went for two whole pages alternating between “Very Satisfied” and big smiles until I came down to the essay portion of the test when she offered something again in Chinese and pointed to her name tag. I must have looked as stupefied as I was so she repeated it. Simultaneously boldly and gingerly I reached up and lifted the tag to where I could read it and it said “Maria Wang.” I read it aloud and she smiled and nodded enthusiastically and I finally got it – she was asking for non-anonymous, real-time feedback on the job she’d done this week. So I wrote “Maria Wang Tai Hen Hao” in the comment section and I thought she would explode with joy. I guess Maria Wang is Very Very Good” was more than she could have hoped for.

Thanking me profusely she left me grinning stupidly in the doorway.

The second woman was over dinner.

We went back to Hongmeilu Pedestrian Entertainment Street for a stop at the Tapas Bar, an eponymous restaurant that some of the crew had visited during my sickness. I love tapas, it’s just such a civilized way to eat – a half dozen little dishes and a beer – in this case sitting outside amid the pedestrian stream, enjoying the people watching, the dusk sky and people yammering in a dozen dialects. Two Chinese women and the biggest un-dyed Bichon Frise I'd ever seen sat opposite us while Spanish world beat music boomed in the background. If I closed my eyes for a moment I could just extend my thoughts to a warm May night in a cafe along La Ronda Litoral Mar.
















I did the ordering and as I did, the waitress repeated the names and numbers back to me in Spanish. Having gained great mental acuity from the survey drill earlier, I just went ahead and started ordering in Spanish. And so it went on.

When she brought the first dish, I asked her where she was from and she told me the Philippines. I told her that her Spanish was much more like that of Spain than Latin America and she agreed, her consonants were that soft and lispy Castilian that’s so easy on the ears. She returned the favor asking me where I was from and why being an American I spoke so well. I told her I was from New Mexico and that I live in San Carlos, Sonora for a month each year and she replied that she did the same back in the islands. From there, the rest of the evening was conducted in our shared tongue, much to our mutual amusement.

Dinner came in short courses – chicken grilled in chile oil, potato and cheese omelet, beef in white wine sauce, braised tenderloin kabobs, beef cubes with onions and chiles – served with garlic bread and washed down with Harbin Beer, two for one on tap due to Happy Hour. All of it great. The sky darkened, the temperature cooled, the neon signs twinkled on and it all summed up to another great evening.

Now tipping here is generally not done and if you include it on your credit card bill, the restaurant keeps it. If you really like your server, it’s a nice thing to hand them a 100 note. At the conclusion of the credit card ceremony, I handed her a 100 and said “Para ti” and I thought she was going to light up and explode. She graciously thanked me and took the receipt back into the bar and while doing so I saw her hold up the tip and point to it with her other, showing it off to her husband the manager. As we got up, he, she and all the other waiters came over and thanked us and doing that two handed Asian salute bid us on our way. I left them with “your restaurant is wonderful” in Spanish and they just kept on beaming.

So there you have it. I’ve done my bit today as a goodwill ambassador, hopefully predisposing a couple of people to like us better. It cost me little and the return (for me) was huge.


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