Before I continue, I just want to wonder for a sentence or two at how all of China has become convinced that "hourly room" should be translated "o'clock room." I think Chinese-English dictionaries should include a special entry for shijian fang.
Here's how it happened. I was in Lanzhou waiting to board my sleeper train to Xi'an. The night before I had taken a sleeper train from Dunhuang, where I climbed sand dunes and explored cave art that survived because in the desert there isn't much moisture. The night before that I had taken a sleeper bus from Turpan. Before I boarded the bus in Turpan I took a shower, but that still left me in Lanzhou two overnight trips on public transportation and two days of sweatiness later. Among other things, the white dress shirt I was wearing had soy sauce spilled on it from dumplings gone wrong.
I thought to myself: I really need to take a shower and change my clothes. I don't need a full-blown hotel, though, because I'm leaving for Xi'an in a few hours. I only need about an hour to get freshened up. That's when I thought of the o'clock room.
I found a hotel, negotiated for a reasonable rate (30 kuai isn't steep when you're desperate), and was the proud owner of an o'clock room—for an hour, at least.
The bathroom light didn't turn on, but that didn't faze me. I took a fantastic shower in the dark and then had energy to consider the rest of my appearance.
I hadn't shaved since leaving Kyrgyzstan, so my whole time in Almaty my facial hairs had time to show me what they could do. I was rather impressed with myself to see that my upper lip had definitively more hairs than I have fingers. And the hairs on my chinny-chin-chin were working to complete a formidable (quarter of an inch long) goatee. The rest of my face was barren except for a small oasis of ambitious mole-hairs, but I think a beard would swallow me, so I'm okay with that for now.
Still, I was overwhelmed by my sudden influx of masculinity and shaved it all off. I did take a picture, though, because I think I'm slowly developing what I hear is called a "tan."
All my efforts to look presentable must have had some effect, because the next morning in Xi'an when I was waiting to take a picture in front of the Terracotta Warriors (along with more foreigners in one place than I've seen since coming to China), there was some pretty American girl there distracted from her picture because, I promise, she was looking at me.
It's all about the o'clock room.