Short Story – No WiFi

No WiFi
 
A Short Story by Cameron Brtnik
 
Inspired by a stay at a hotel in Vietnam
 
 
    There was no WiFi password written anywhere… only a sign that read “Free WiFi” on a faded piece of paper on the wall. “Shit,” I said to myself. I was too lazy to walk the four flights back downstairs to ask. “Well, looks like I’ll be drinking this bottle of vodka on my own and without any entertainment,” this time only thinking it (as saying it would mean I am crazy, which I don’t believe I am..yet). I was living in Vietnam, on a trip up north to explore and reputable hills and valleys of Sapa. That first night I checked into the “Hoang Nam Hotel” which I believe translates to “no name hotel.” It was around the time of the Mid-Autumn Festival and I could hear the sounds of kids’ drums beating outside. It seemed to imbue a rhythm into this normally stagnant and soulless town. Some kids had taught me earlier how to play a traditional beat, and I got pretty good at it, but the kids were better at it, they didn’t have to think, their hands just moved, the sticks an extension of them, the drum just an obstacle reflecting their own heartbeat: youthful, voracious, animalistic. I bought a bottle of vodka and slowly walked back to my shabby hotel room. The aircon barely blew – I had the aircon setting on 19° but all it did was gust around musty, stale month-old air, like the air kept memories of its past tenants, like a fly on the wall, did not like what it saw, and the beast was bitter, no one ever thanking it for cranking out 50,000 kilowatts of power a day, pushing itself to the limit, like a fighting cancer patient, never giving up, yet nobody ever noticing its pathetic existence… With unrealistic hopes I turned the setting to 18°.
 
 
    After checking in, the lady at the front desk – I guess she was an employee, although if she wasn’t working there I could have just as easily checked in – led me upstairs to my room. Upon hesitantly entering the room, the lady pushed ahead first, armed with a bottle of air freshener that she used, without restraint, to spray the entire room like she was covering the stench of a rotting corpse (although it smelled fine, if not a bit musty). After it seemed like ages, she scuttered out so I could bask in the emptiness of the room…
 
 
    I made a routine inspection: There were chips in the fake marble (probably asbestos) floor tiles, cigarette burns in the chair, stains on the white sheets (why white? These types of hotels should probably just go with a dark grey or off black), a missing dresser drawer, an unidentifiable crusted-on condiment in the fridge (unplugged), a woman’s hairs on the bathroom floor, burnt out bathroom light bulb, NO toilet paper, limestone stains on the bathroom door, in the window sill two q-tips and a used bandaid, a dusty 20’ TV (albeit a flat screen, now we’re talking luxury!), trash bin minus the bag with some gluey substance on the bottom, dirt smeared on the pink walls (that’s right; pink), lipstick smudges above the bed’s headboard, dust-coated fan with half the cage missing… I could go not, but you get the point. All this included for a paltry 200.000 dong! ($8 US)
 
 
    I couldn’t count how many times I’d stayed at hotels like these..they all blurred into one. You get used to it when you’re traveling in Asia. There’s a difference in (or lack of) standards compared to, let’s say, your standard roadside motel, like a Comfort Inn without the comfort. But “when in Asia,” I guess. Halfway through the bottle of vodka I was feeling tired and getting blurry-eyed (alcohol is an excellent creative fuel..until it isn’t). My brain wanted to write more, but I could feel my body inch toward the bed without me trying. I loaded up some streaming site to watch the last remake of Friday the 13th, which actually got decent reviews..but didn’t make it past the opening credits…
 
 
    …I awoke to a sound that I was sure came from the adjoining room but, half-awake, it just as well could’ve come from my dream. It was a loud THUD! that sounded like someone dropped a heavy hammer in the room above me..or the satanic sounds of old piping. Maybe someone rolled out of bed? My mind starting racing, making up excuses for such a sound late at night.. Someone dropping their bowling ball on the floor; a dead prostitute being pushed off the bed; an old chandelier, dangling by its last stringy wire, finally falling from the ceiling..but I didn’t hear it again and peacefully dozed off… for what must’ve been less than a minute before the sound woke me up again -THUD! I thought about getting a broom and banging the ceiling to communicate whatever weirdness was happening up there to stop..but thought better of it; if it was a psycho he might come down and hack me up to bits. I wouldn’t be surprised in this hotel… I decided if it happened again I would go downstairs to complain to the lady at the front desk – not that she’d be any help; she was probably the one making the noise. As I got ready to pass back out – THUD! I heard it again —-but this time right outside my door.
 
 
    “What the fuck?” I said out loud (when you’re scared you don’t care if you sound crazy). I slowly moved to the door and flipped on the light switch and said, “Hello?” to probably no one. I opened the door and… nothing. But the sound sounded so close… THUD!There it was again, but..it sounded like it came from inside the room. “Impossible…” (inside thought) My heart was beating so loudly it was nearly as loud as the THUD. I turned around and… nothing. THUD! Again, this time from..the bathroom? My whole body was hot and sweating from, what, fear? “It’s gotta be the pipes,” I thought. The hotel was old as shit after all. “Maybe the old hotel owner’s ghost is haunting the place,” and at that thought I snickered out loud. THUD!!! again in the bathroom. I was hesitating..but finally walked forward toward the bathroom door. I looked at the reflection in the mirror but…nothing. THUD!!!! This time my bed rocked, and I automatically jumped back. I bolted for the front door and it slammed shut. Suddenly the lights when out… THUD! THUD! THUD!!! THUD!!!
 
 
    Suddenly I felt something touch me: slimy, wet, yet ethereal, ghostly… “This is a waking nightmare,” I tried to convince myself while in a state of full-on panic…. Suddenly a voice spoke from the darkness.… ”WHAT IS THE WIFI PASSWORD?” “Umm..88888888!!!!” I yelled into the darkness (most passwords in Vietnam were eight 8s because 8 is a lucky number that means wealth and fortune. Why I didn’t try that earlier, I’m not sure..). After a brief moment, the voice simply said, “THANK YOOOU,” and disappeared, along with the THUD. The next morning I checked out, never to return to the hotel with no WiFi again.
 
END
 
 

Read the review of “No Wifi” by literary critic Virginia Kyriakopoulos here: https://cambrtnik.wordpress.com/2017/10/04/no-wifi-a-critique-by-virginia-kyriakopoulos/

Cameron is a fiction writer currently backpacking through the beautiful and magical country of Vietnam

10P 10: Tips for Hosting Your Airbnb

10P 10: Tips for Hosting Your Airbnb
 
    Airbnb has become the preferred way to travel – especially among nomadic travellers like myself – and to stay in foreign cities, exotic locales, and off-the-beaten-path retreats. I prefer the novelty and adventure of staying in an airbnb over a hotel. Who needs a fancy hotel when you can stay in treehouse or a “tube room?” Sounds fun, right? You often get the opportunity of immersing yourself in the local culture and cuisine, usually under the guidance of a friendly and eager host. As a, ahem, 5-star rated Airbnb host myself, I take pride in offering not only a unique spot for my guests to stay in, but making sure their trip is a truly memorable one. Which brings me to this week’s Top 10 List: Tips for Hosting Your Airbnb. Now go clear out that “office space” you never use and convert it into a ‘space of lasting memories.’ You won’t regret it.
 
10P 10 Tips for Hosting Your Airbnb:
  1. Get reviews! – Like eBay, Airbnb is based on reviews. That starts with making sure the guest’s stay is impeccable to following up with them after they’ve left and reminding them to leave a review. They won’t all be 100% positive, so just take their complaints as “constructive criticism” and an opportunity to make your services better, and make sure to rectify whatever the problem was – now go make sure that litter box is empty!
  2. You are a hotel – When you are staying at a hotel and the TV doesn’t work, what do you do? (Angrily) call the front desk to complain of course! You are the front desk – just deal with it.
  3. Communication is key – Answer potential guest’s questions immediately, and pay attention to your “Response Rate”. After they’ve confirmed, share your Line or Whatsapp for easy communication. Send your info i.e. phone and address along with directions to your home and some photos of the outside to make it as easy as possible to find the place!
  4. Forsee problems before they arise – Pay attention to the smallest details. Your guests will notice and appreciate it. Doing this will also avoid any potential concerns or issues. “Better safe than sorry”, so be prepared when the guest calls you at 12am to ask you where the laundry detergent is, even though it’s right on top of the washing machine – obviously.
  5. It’s all in the details – Any extra niceties you can think to add to make the guest’s stay more effortless or pleasurable, do it! For example, I lay out brochures showing tourist sights and events in Taipei, and I offer my guests an Easycard to use for the MRT and Youbike (that I ask they return on the last day). Breakfast in bed?! No problem! Sunny-side-up or over-easy?
  6. Dirty Work – The biggest bulk of my time spent on my Airbnb business is actually cleaning the place, usually a 4 hour job (and I have an 8 ping flat!). If this idea scares you, hire a maid for $500/hr – takes the stress off, and as they’re professional they’ll probably do a much better job. I mean, just look at your bedroom!
  7. The price is right – The Airbnb website (which is very user-friendly by the way) suggests a daily price based on your neighborhood (and other airbnbs in the area). I take that number and add 50% to it and double it on weekends. As I rent out my whole flat – it’s a studio – I charge more than single rooms, but less than hotels, about what a nice hostel charges.
  8. Caught red-handed – “What if my landlord catches me doing Airbnb?” a) Point behind them, scream loudly, and run for it..you didn’t really need that $30,000 security deposit back anyway! b) Convince him they’re your “cousins from out of town” c) Play the idiot card and feign ignorance d) Offer to team up with your landlord and split the profits 50/50! (Maybe he’ll also help you out with that other “illegal business” you’ve been trying to start in Taiwan…c’mon, you know what I’m talking about.
  9. You break it, you buy it – If you’re worried about your things getting either stolen or broken, you could ask for a “security deposit” outside of your Airbnb agreement. Just make sure to state that from the outset. Also, check if your flat has a meter that reads how many BTUs the air-con used up during their stay – this will prevent another hyperhidrosis-inflicted guest from leaving the AC unit on all day and racking up a hefty bill.
  10. Meet new people! – The best part of doing Airbnb is that you get to meet new and interesting people who also do Airbnb in their home. So next time you’re in Hanoi, Vietnam you don’t have to splurge and stay in the Trump, again.
Cameron is a freelance writer and proud Airbnb Host

Travelogue: How To Get Fired From A Cruise Ship

Travel-ogue: How To Get Fired From A Cruise Ship
by Cameron Brtnik
     The year was 2009, and I was freshly back from Hollywood. I didn’t make it of course – I didn’t have the drive; to sleep in a car, to live off macaroni and cheese for two years, to go to five auditions a week only to get a call back to a tooth paste commercial – I didn’t get that either. I had been working on my magic – practicing daily, I even enrolled in the world famous Magic Castle Hollywood and partook in a master class with my childhood magical hero Mark Wilson (The Complete Course In Magic was the first magic book I studied). And I wanted to do something with it. I filmed a demo video, sent it off to Carnival Cruise Lines – the world’s foremost pleasure vessel and self-acclaimed party boat – and whadaya know, I was hired!
     It was a 200,000 ton (fifty times bigger than the Titanic), 2000 passenger occupancy vessel. Simply put, it was a huge. She was a magnificent beast. And it was all mine: The Carnival Glory.
 
But let me backtrack a bit here….
     That summer I was at Sorcerer’s Safari Magic Camp (I know what you’re thinking, and yes they do manufacture real life Harry Potters there) and one of the special guests – a world famous magician cruise ship by the name of Sean Farquhar – regaled us with stories of magic on the big seas…I was hooked. I approached him later that day to ask him more details. He told us the story of a a cruise that involved certain Playboy Bunny guests, and an onboard magician who woke up one day at the ungodly hour of five o’clock a.m. to a knock at the door to find one of the ship’s officers just stopping by to say hello. He admired the photos taped on his wall, mainly noticing the X-rated material of said rabbit ear-wearing guests. He also recognized who they accompanied, and more specifically, the location of where the photos were taken: in that very bedroom.
     Now this all seems fine and well, even a good story perhaps if it weren’t for one G-darned rule: There’s NO frolicking with the guests – even if they are Playboy Bunnies. So this lucky, damned SOB was fired on the spot. No one heard from him again…or so I say. Foreshadowing anyone???…..
I excelled at my job. it was a perfect fit; magic, entertainment, customer experience, and….women. No shortage of them. It was like a haven, a floating forbidden island, an open buffet, a melting pot of American, Asian, African, Mexican, you name it you got it, it was….Paradise. And I? Zero willpower. I met a smart man early on – the wisest of men and the absolute manslut of the cruise: The Pianist. He knew things no other man did – or should – and more importantly, he knew how to manipulate the rules of a pleasure boat. He gave me one simple piece of advice: If you don’t want to get caught, meet the female guests off board the ship. Book a hotel for a few hours, meet the single, university frat girl, divorce or married woman off the premises, have your fun, and return onboard as if nothing ever happened. Because in the eyes of everyone aboard (including the ignorant) husband, nothing out of the ordinary happened; just another drunk guest enjoying her time on land, probably shopping or getting drunk off three dollar martinis at some cheap local beach bar somewhere in Belize.
     Good advice – advice I should’ve taken to heart, considering that was the second unofficial warning. But me being me, never heading the advice of others, never listening to the warnings of previous perpetrators, always wanting to learn the hard way, me -stubborn, selfish, self-absorbed, egocentric, narcissistic – had to learn the hard way….
It was a warm evening – I know because I was getting a BJ on the balcony of th—wait, I’m getting “ahead” of myself now…. It was a regular night. I was working the martini bar, performing close-up magic for Carnivals guests – couples, newlyweds, singles and some curious staff – and this spicy Mexican broad was making eyes. I’d seen the look before: sultry, exotic, flirty, curious, all come-ons, and I knew i could have her that night. It was all part of the process: Girl goes on cruise for first time with friends, girl gets drunk, girl hunts for boys, girl finds no boys, girl goes in search of something more attractive, more charming, more dangerous: the staff. Not just any staff – no, sadly the housekeepers, chefs and servers are not allowed in the guest area – for entertainers. And if the piano man got laid the most, the magicians (and even comedians believe it or not) were a close second. I just happened to be on her radar, or more fittingly, menu that night.
     Here was my problem: I thought I had out-smarted security – I had not. To rub this obvious truth in even more, a friend co-worker who sold paintings at a gallery onboard warned me not a week earlier: “Be careful: they have their eyes on you.” I scoffed at the thought. Around midnight, the time I usually wrapped up my show, I met her at the ship’s nightclub. We drank. We danced. We left about 2am and hurried back to her door. I had been here many times before; “Should I or shouldn’t I?” were always the thoughts that repeated through my mind. On one hand, I’m sacrificing my job and career (and an exciting one full of future possibilities at that!) On the other hand, this chick is hot and horny and that’s also, in it’s own way, full of future possibilities. Many times in the previous few months I had turned this enticing offer down; this time I overruled my silly worries, and discreetly stepped into her room…
     Fast forward to getting a glorious BJ on the deck off her room, under a full moon, the night sea breeze filling my nostrils full of optimism…then a loud knock at the door. Security: “We know you’re in there and we’re coming in.” Me: (Thinking) “I could totally Spiderman down the side of the ship onto the balcony below and not get caught…” The gig was up – I was caught. Now, the thing is I was friends with these security guys – really nice dudes from India who I said hi to and conversed with daily – so it felt surreal as they handcuffed me and led me into a small, windowless room to interrogate me. I was forced into admitting my actions (and a couple others) and writing an apology, promising that I would never commit such an unspeakable atrocity again. (The rules are in place to prevent the cruise line from being sued by guests. Think “unwanted pregnancy” or “mysterious std”.) I was then freed to go with the ominous warning: “One day you may hear a knock at five o’clock in the morning.” So it was true….
     Four days past without incident; I thought I was in the clear! Day 5: Port stop, Miami. 5am: Knock at the door. I thought I was dreaming. An officer standing at the door; it was told to pack my bags. I was escorted off the ship by the sympathetic officer. It was like doing the ultimate “walk of shame” in front of my fellow shipmates whom I had become close with over the six months I had been aboard. I was met by a local Miami officer – a pleasant, religious woman who gave me sound advice on the way to the airport (something about not drinking too much) and waited with me until my plane home arrived. I learned an important lesson that day: The “Five O’clock Knock” is a real thing.
-Written by Cameron Brtnik
cambrtnik.wordpress.com