Lin Yaode

Photograph by Sherman Ong


The distribution of HOTEL signs over a city is a result of topographical evolution associated with the flux of its inhabitants. A congested metropolis not only becomes more manageable—it pulses veritably to life with these signs. This has to do with both the familiarity of the word HOTEL and its suggestion of anonymity, cold but thrilling.

They appear at the intersections of streets, in the depths of alleys, on the facades of buildings and especially in residential quarters. The HOTEL sign, competing with other just as glaring signages, fights to be seen by pedestrians down below, like a devil-may-care maverick at a table of fogies. Even if the kind of service that the HOTEL sign advertises should lie entirely within our quotidian understanding, and does not extend the boundaries of what we call "real knowledge."

We may however avail ourselves to some sort of insight.

The moment a HOTEL sets up shop in a building, the building experiences an "estrangement," as if, same location in the town council's blueprint or not, it has suddenly been designated the place where exchanges of a sexual economy—so short in supply! (i.e., in relation to its demand)—are realized. The "aborigines" of the building begin to experience a sort of unease vis-à-vis their surroundings: sharing an elevator, they consider with suspicion the unknown faces at the same time as they themselves are cross-examined—with three parts prejudice, seven parts contempt, these strangers size up one another's intelligence and bodies.

Thus a hotelier moving into new premises will do well to acquire tenancy of 50% and upwards, which will give him the upper hand in all decisions made democratically at the building's AGM, and so staves off the possibility of other tenants ganging up against him.

Also, rather than buy up a few floors, a far-sighted hotelier would do better to purchase the entire right half of say, a seven-storeyed, building. What ensues can easily be foreseen: the inhabitants of the left half, from first storey to seventh, will henceforth be unable to sell off their properties, except to the one prospective buyer, i.e. the owner of the HOTEL right of the building. After a reasonable discount is negotiated and the title deed transferred, the enterprising hotelier may, on the day of their moving out, extol the virtue of old playgrounds and urge his soon about to be ex-neighbors to return for trysts.


A HOTEL's assignation, objectively speaking, does not stem from any collective activism-related subconscious, but is nevertheless one of the efficacious solutions to the problem of space. HOTELs are nodal points of passing space: they are there only to "pass through", but they will never be passed through entirely.

Each HOTEL room exists in a state of perpetual lack: when a room is vacated, it immediately goes back to that lack, i.e. the lack assigned it in the blueprint; if literature's history is really a history of readers of literature, then a HOTEL's history is too a history of its guests.

No matter the identity of the person who enters a HOTEL room, the moment he occupies it, the room is completed, its imbalance resolved. The actions of any couple (male-female, male-male, female-female) inside that room result in a new arrangement of space, balanced and whole. From this perspective, any visitor is merely an accessory that transforms the HOTEL room from a purposeless space to a purposeful one. Since the HOTEL has already become a public entrepôt for private sexual exchange, allowing for both sexual performance and deviant lifestyle to merge, it naturally needs to bear the scrutiny of cultural investigation.

For example, the way in which the employees make up the bed, whether it is to create a snail with blankets, or a rugby pile.

For example, the relationship between the color of its wallpaper and that of its carpet.

For example, the gender of the employees, and their tasks.

For example, the soundproofing of the room and the scenery lent by the window, shut out.


That which is elastic and bounces back in the human flesh is akin to the tucked away under-the-table transactions in politics (or perhaps the analogue and the referent, in this case, ought to be switched). Of course, comparing a HOTEL with a bedroom is a bit like juxtaposing a democracy with a dictatorship (still, it's not as if the two are light years away). The HOTEL that one checks into for "relaxation" thus differs from the bedroom in one's house insofar as libertarian and democratic values counterpoint the mores imposed by society's marriage machine.

The HOTEL also has to compete with: the sacred patch of grass at the foot of Hu Shi (or other statues), the MTV brimming over with the spirit of improvisation, the corner of a school's swimming pool, the gym over a holiday break (where, because of the sunlight, motes of dust particles, suspended, fill the air), the shade under a tree near the Research Institute for the Implementation of Social Reform.

At night or at noon, or indeed, all around the clock, when carnal impetus erupts, as it is wont, human darkness and sexual murkiness play out differently, lending themselves to different interpretations. But at the very heart of the matter is the democratic impetus that the HOTEL be absorbed into the residential area, admitted as one of Life's little pleasures.

The HOTEL that is integrated into residential quarters is simple, veiled, economical, compact, divested of fatal thrills—but representing anyway a solution—, a node of perpetual lack.

The never-complete or completable HOTEL, just like the never-complete or completable blueprint of democratic life, holds implications for how we conduct our secret life.


Duchamp's Fourth Law: it takes two to tango....


Sexual love with another human being requires the other's endorsement; each one of our lives contains a cheque book related to sexual matters, each cheque either valid upon presentation, or else uncashable forever.

Thus, we select or are selected by our fellow kind, and press our entire bodies against one another's to correct our perception and understanding of one another's mental states.

Don't close your eyes and use the elephant's trunk to understand the elephant.

Don't close your eyes and use the elephant's ears to understand the elephant.

Don't close your eyes and use the elephant's tusks to understand the elephant.

Don't close your eyes and use the elephant's forelegs to understand the elephant.

Don't close your eyes and use the elephant's stomach to understand the elephant.

Don't close your eyes and use the elephant's tail to understand the elephant.

(Sorry, try as I might, I wasn't able to insert the verb "touch" in any of the last six sentences.)

Perhaps we should designate beforehand an elephant's model, and then use the above procedure to feel all the different parts of the elephant to arrive at an adjusted image of the elephant.

Everything is a puzzle with pieces waiting to be filled in: man and man using each other to complete the puzzle, man and HOTEL using each other to complete the puzzle.

Everything is the philosophy of HOTEL.


The "heavenly temple" as conceived by those post-dadaists doesn't in actual fact require thousands of years to build—such a utopia already exists in a city's thousand HOTELS.

Each one of these HOTELS is a fragment of the Utopia assembled subconsciously by man; Utopia is such a miraculous architecture ever changing in time and space.


By the by, my friend tells me, when you check into a HOTEL, you should never forget to pull up the floral bedskirt to see if there is a single bowl of rice sitting plaintively under the bed. If you should see one, you must muster up the courage to request a change of rooms; as for why such a bowl of rice was ever there in the first place, you would do well to ask our teller of ghost stories, Mr Sima, about it.

But, the most exciting moment when you check into your room has to be when you draw apart the window curtains, and spy, through a window in the opposite building, a careless couple in the act of making love. Didn't Duchamp also say, "Let others do, or don't do what others can do better than you?"

In avenues and alleyways, a HOTEL sign flashes, beckoning one and all.

translated from the Chinese by Lee Yew Leong

Original Chinese text used by permission of 聯合文學.