The hotel staff are friendly and anxious to please, but even when they finally understand my request, they don't quite understand my reasoning. Nevertheless, after all the pantomime and apologies, they are bringing me a power adapter.
I was smart, you see, and only brought things that take batteries. All my AC adapters can handle up to 240 volts, so all I'd need was a physical coupling that would convert the three-prong Chinese plug into a standard two-prong American one. No need for a heavy voltage converter like the one I'd schlepped all the way to Germany years ago, only to discover my laptop's power adapter could handle the higher—or is Germany lower?—voltage just fine.
But on this trip to Shenzhen, I'd forgotten to actually bring an adapter. I'm in a rather nice hotel—almost uncomfortably swanky, to be honest, but it was the cheapest one listed on the travel site—that appears to be underbooked, so often there are half-a-dozen staff members waiting to attend to me. Plus, being the savvy traveler my shabby but sturdy canvas pants have been specially selected to denote, I often hit up hotels for stuff I forget. Razors, irons, toothbrushes. If you've ever wondered who actually likes all the single-serving hotel toiletries, who would actually take great pleasure in hoarding them each evening only to delight in the discovery of new stock from housekeeping in the morning, who stays in nice hotels but then acts like a tacky chump without the willpower to turn down a free sewing kit wrapped up like a packet of sugar—that person is me. I am a hotel abuser. Would you like some hot sauce or ketchup in a packet? I have several varieties.
I'm draining the last of my iPad's battery busily not getting on Twitter, which is banned—which I knew, I guess, but it's still strange to have a website actually just be turned off—and my doorbell rings. In comes a bellhop, complete with a power strip which will convert one three-prong Chinese sockets into...four more three-prong Chinese sockets.
I grab the iPad's charger from the desk and go through the motion. "I need this," I say with extremely precise enunciation, which makes me hope he doesn't understand English at all, because then he might find my clean consonants and Von Trap vowels actually insulting, "To plug into this," and I act like I'm going to plug the AC adapter into the Chinese socket.
The bellhop looks at me. He looks at the power strip. He looks at the adapter for my iPad.
He takes the AC adapter from me and plugs it into the Chinese socket.* Those two up-and-down slots at the bottom of the socket? For US power plugs. Work just fine.
I laugh into a sigh—my most common expression since I hit the ground. "I'm so dumb! I'm sorry!" The bellhop turns neatly and leaves me alone with my thoughts, which I'm cataloging meticulously on my own private Twitter, retweeting the especially pithy ones by emailing them to myself.
Which is to say: Hello from Shenzhen, China, the City Where Your Stuff Is Made. Why I'm here is a long story—or it's going to be—but for now I thought I'd take some notes and pictures and share them with you, as well as these handy travel tips.
* People are reminding me that these are "universal" sockets that also accept UK plugs, etc. That makes me even more dumb!