Blog Post #1: The Hilton–内外

After weeks of pre-departure indecision about where and on what exactly I wanted to conduct my economic relativity fieldwork, I have narrowed my search down to Hilton Hotels– with my specific site being located in Wangfujing. Though this company was always on my list, after we attended a W&M conference there, I decided it would be the perfect fieldwork site as it not only suffices the basic stipulations of my project (being an American company in Beijing) but it is also extremely Westernized. This hotel was easily in the top couple most luxurious ones I’ve experienced throughout my lifetime. This website will give you an idea.Wangfujing, however, is still almost the trek that Guomao was (my original field site) that averages about an hour each way on the subway. That said, it is a much more accessible district than that of China’s World Trade Center.

An experience that highlighted one of my visits to my field site actually occurred right outside of the hotel on the street. On my second trip, I noticed a much higher uniform presence up and down the street from the subway all the way to the Hotel. I don’t believe this was the case the first time I went to my field site; that said, I could be mistaken since it was a large group of us and we were all much more concerned on actually getting to the Hilton (which has proven hard to find two times now) instead of observing the environment in detail. After I spent some time within the hotel, I wanted to check out the immediate outside environment too. I wanted to see what I could gather about how the Hilton fit into its “place” in Wanfujing. As I sat outside, three officers were occupying a close by corner. Two were wearing blue uniforms and one sported a tighter, trimmer green one. The difference the colors imposed I still don’t know, but the officers certainly played two different roles. The green officer rigidly paced back and forth, constantly eyeing the environment. The two blues seemed much more friendly and held a conversation almost constantly. After awhile, the green officer took notice of my presence. I continued to observe the environment and write things down sporadically. It was then I noticed the green officer was taking a particular interest in me. I pretended not to notice. After what may have been 30 minutes, he walked over to the blue officers, said something, and all three men looked up at me. Three serious faces looked me over. Immediately I felt uncomfortable and questioned myself..was I doing something wrong? Should I leave? What if they come question me and I’m holding this notebook with blatant descriptions of these very men written down? These questions only became more frantic in my mind as one of the blue officers began to walk my way with a thoroughly unreadable face. Can they arrest me for sitting here writing stuff down? What if I can’t get out of jail? I turned a couple pages in my notebook to perhaps give off the impression of “just studying” as the questions running through my brain got more and more ridiculous. I’m not sure what would have reassured me or what flipping through my notebook pages would have accomplished at this point, but the officer slowed his gate and stopped about 15 feet in front of me. I deliberately did not look up from my notebook in order to avoid any eye contact for what seemed an hour as he stared me down. Apparently satisfied, he turned and strolled back to his post. I quickly gathered up my stuff and took the long way around the block to return to the subway and get home as quickly as possible.

What could have explained this? I can certainly say that within the Hilton I have felt more comfortable than almost anywhere in China. Why though? The Hilton’s luxury is hardly what I’m used to either. I think it’s the fact that, though the environment is indeed extremely high-brow, it is still Western. And therefore, in a sense to me, “home-y.”  Though I don’t know the nature of all the police presence, it was certainly a completely different world from within the walls of the Hilton to strolling out onto the street. When inside the Hilton, both during the conference then again the following day as a visitor, I was treated with respect and interest. The staff, though all Asian, seemed eager to initiate conversation with me, and once I explained my project, they all raised their eyebrows with an intrigued look and were eager to offer their assistance. Whether this displayed interest was because I’m white and was dressed somewhat for the occasion, I’m not sure. Regardless, the treatment I received in the hotel was starkly different than from just outside its’ walls with the officers.

Though this brief interaction seems to have little to do with my main research base of “economic relatively,” it does highlight environmental differences as well as interactions on the personal level– both are important components of my research. Inside the hotel I felt respected, comfortable– at home even, and though a subject of interest, it was in a very positive light. Immediately outside the hotel, I felt I was intruding somehow into an environment in which I was unwelcome. This seemed to quickly reach a point where my presence was questionable, if not suspicious. All of this will play a role into my research, along with the economic infrastructure I plan on analyzing over the next few weeks.

As I do my research, I will probably periodically upload pictures to my Instagram, which you can find here.2

Bibliography:

1. Hilton Hotels & Resorts. http://www.hilton.com.cn/BJSWFHI/ (accessed July 2, 2013).

2.”Kayebayybay”. Instagram. http://instagram.com/kayebayybay (accessed July 2, 2013).