14 December 2015
Once again I am in a hotel room, this time in Shah Alam, Kuala Lumpur. I have never stayed in so many hotels as in the two years I have been living in Malaysia. We are often in this particular hotel because Jim has regular meetings nearby, but we also stay in other hotels around KL depending on what his work commitments are. I always tag along because the alternative is staying alone in Ipoh. These hotel stays are now too normal to be viewed as a treat.
A while ago I was asked, as someone who often stays at hotels, to bring back the teeth cleaning kits and little soaps provided in the bathrooms and donate them to a charity, which puts together care packages for people who cannot afford toiletries. Of course I agreed and recently dropped off a bag filled with little boxes of toothbrushes, toothpastes and soap. It made me feel somewhat ashamed.
I am perfectly able to pack a bag with all the toiletries I need for a one- or two-night hotel stay, and I do. Yet when I get into the bathroom all those things are provided for me. From the depths of my memory the sentence “To those who have, more will be given, and to those who have not, even the little they have will be taken away” popped up. A bit of quick Googling reminded me that this is from the gospel of Matthew in the Bible. While I know that the writer of this gospel did not have hotel bathrooms in mind, it seemed apposite.
The other issue here is the waste. You tear off the plastic wrapper around the shower cap, use the cap once and then toss both the wrapper and the cap into the bin. You unwrap the little soap and use very little of it to wash your hands. You uncap the little bottle of gel and use perhaps half of it for your shower. Unless the housekeeper takes the leftovers home (in which case his/her family must get heartily sick of getting their toiletries out of tiny containers and long for a brand-new full-sized bottle), all of that goes straight into a landfill. To mitigate this, I now use only the soap, toothpaste and shower cap that I pack into my toiletries bag at home. But I am not under any illusion that this is common practice or that my small gesture makes any difference to the amount of waste from hotels.
We recently stayed at a beautiful luxury hotel beside the sea for a long weekend. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was indeed a real treat. Lying on a lounger at one of the pools, I looked around at the other people similarly relaxing. Most of them had the shiny, well-groomed glow that seems de rigueur in such places. Is anything ever a treat for them, I wondered? Wherever in the world they go, they experience luxurious rooms, bathrooms stocked with piles of white towels and fragrant toiletries, air-conditioned cars and obsequious attendants. And are they really very different from me, who has become blasé about hotel stays and can drop off a bag of toothbrushes and soaps for those who otherwise would not have them at no personal expense?