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Stan’s Stuff

Three Hotels In Three Cities

In 1966 I was part of a tour party in Tokyo for a three-day visit. We stayed in a large down-town hotel. Like most Australians I knew very little about Japan and the Japanese people. What I thought I knew based on my memory growing up was that they were cruel, merciless and the manufacturers of cheap plastic toys. And, surprisingly manufacturers of small, portable tape recorders. 
 |  Stan Stewart  | 
Wrapped figures in the foyer of the World Red Cross Centre  in Geneva
The first two days were interesting in more ways than one. We were not badgered by souvenir sellers. In fact, when I visited a large store, I could not find any staff to serve me. Later our guide told me, ‘They were hiding. They can’t speak English and were frightened you might try and talk to them.” The biggest surprise came on the last day. As instructed, we brought our bags to the foyer of the hotel. We were to be taken on a six-hour tour. The miniature tape recorder I had purchased was still in its box and in plain view on top of my suitcase. I asked the concierge if my bag and my precious tape recorder could be placed in a storage room. This was standard practice in an Australian hotel. The concierge asked why I wanted this? “In this busy foyer someone might steal them”. I was especially thinking of my tape recorder. “Your possessions are quite safe,” he said. “Japanese people don’t steal.” I was incredulous. He was speaking the truth. To my amazement, I now know that there can be more violence and mayhem in little New Zealand on one weekend than in Japan for a whole year. The second large hotel was in downtown Chicago. From our room, my wife and I could see that we were on a shopping street. It was a mild evening, and we were interested in window shopping. We were about to exit and a uniformed hotel staff member stopped us. “Please don’t go outside” he said. “That would be a mistake,” and he then escorted us to a window with a clear view of the street. “Do you see those people out there?” We did. About a dozen men were scattered the sidewalk. “Do you know what they are waiting for?” he asked. I said “A bus!”. “Wrong” he said. “They are waiting for people like you. If you walk on that sidewalk, they will rob you”. We couldn’t believe him, but he was insistent. Subsequently, we learnt that he was speaking the truth. It may be the land of the free but in many areas, it is not the land of the safe. For years we had wanted to visit Geneva, Switzerland and see specific historic sites.  Finally with the help of a friend, we were able to spend six days in Geneva. It is the city of dreams for world peace. The League of Nations had its’ magnificent headquarters here. Global Red Cross is centered here. The weather was fantastic; the air clear as crystal. We wanted to visit ‘The Reformation Wall’, huge statues and bas-reliefs which honour the founders of the Reformation. We knew it was walkable and so we set out at 8.00am  We were surprised because the beautiful streets were empty – no walkers – no joggers. Then we noticed a few people seemed to appear from nowhere. Later we found out that they had been sleeping in doorways. As we neared the park, we passed a couple cuddling on the sidewalk. At the end of our street was a very tall man with a child’s scooter. He started to skate towards us at surprising speed. Turning around we saw the cuddling couple were now following us. We felt and were, unsafe.  We took a short side street that led to a shopping district. We joined a woman who had entered a large store.  “Come into the store, quickly,” she said. “By 9.30 there will be lots of people and then you will be fine”. We realised that early morning walks in this city of peace was not a good idea. Whitianga does not have a large hotel, but we certainly accommodate many visitors. What have we to offer? Scenery yes, hospitality for sure, and thinking about it, I would add ‘safety’. Add to this a cherry on the top –  ‘kindness’. A few days ago, a young mum paid the shortfall for my groceries at the checkout. (I had forgotten my credit cards and did not have enough cash). “Leave it,” I said. “I will come back.” The young Mum would have none of it. Before I could blink, she paid the outstanding amount. I was flabbergasted. In my confusion I never asked her name. I thanked her and took the goods. The experience left me overcome. Is this spirit typical of our town? If it is, it could be our best contribution to our guests? More than that, could it be our contribution to world peace?