Re­fund for Mex­i­can ho­tel with no air con­di­tion­ing?

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

Crys­tal Hana Kim makes her de­but as a nov­el­ist with “If You Leave Me,” a sweep­ing tale that cen­ters on a re­silient young woman forced to tackle roles thrust upon her: care­giver, wife and mother. Born in Queens, N.Y., and cur­rently a res­i­dent of Brook­lyn, Kim, 31, says the inspiratio­n for the main char­ac­ter was her grand­mother.

An edited ver­sion of our con­ver­sa­tion fol­lows.

A: New York has my heart, but I loved my time in Chicago. It’s a deeply cul­tural city with a ro­bust food scene. For two years, I lived 15 min­utes from Lake Michi­gan. My fa­vorite writ­ing break dur­ing the summer was jump­ing off the flat stones in Hyde Park and swim­ming in the lake for an hour.

A: Oh, I’ve got­ten that a lot . ... I want to as­sume the best of strangers who are cu­ri­ous, but I’m also taken aback by some peo­ple’s in­sis­tence on re­peat­edly ask­ing, “But where are you re­ally from?” even af­ter I’ve an­swered. It in­sin­u­ates that there is only one true type of Amer­i­can. I’m a teacher, so the ed­u­ca­tor in

Qme comes out in these mo­ments. It can be a help­ful teach­ing mo­ment to talk about how ques­tions like “Where are you re­ally from?” con­trib­ute to a nar­row un­der­stand­ing of our coun­try.

A: I’d love to go back to Nice where I’d eat more socca, which is a type of pan­cake made of chick­pea flour sold on the streets as a cheap snack. In Mex­ico City, I’d love to eat more es­camoles, a lo­cal dish made of ant lar­vae.

A: I grew up trav­el­ing to Korea of­ten. My par­ents are both im­mi­grants from Korea and my mother’s side of the fam­ily still lives there. She’d take me and my lit­tle sis­ter back dur­ing our summer breaks to visit our grand­par­ents, aunts, un­cles and cousins. All of those sum­mers in Korea helped me to de­velop a deep love for my cul­ture. When I be­gan writ­ing my novel dur­ing grad­u­ate school, I vis­ited Korea specif­i­cally to do re­search. “If You Leave Me” is about five char­ac­ters grow­ing up dur­ing and af­ter the Korean War. I wanted to make sure I rep­re­sented this pe­riod of time ac­cu­rately. I first in­ter­viewed my grand­mother, who was a teenage refugee who fled her home dur­ing the Korean War. Her story in­spired the premise of my novel.

A: Cas­sis, France. Cas­sis is a small fish­ing town in the south of France, about 40 min­utes out­side Mar­seille. I lived there for a month while do­ing a writer’s res­i­dency, and I fell in love. It’s a quiet town where you can lay out on stone beaches, eat plenty of pas­tries and hike the ma­jes­tic calan­ques, which are these breath­tak­ing lime­stone val­leys along the Mediter­ranean coast. For more from the re­porter, visit www.jae­hakim.com.

My fam­ily and I re­cently made reservatio­ns at the Villa Las Estrel­las in Tu­lum, Mex­ico, us­ing Book­ing.com.

When we ar­rived, we found that the room wasn’t as ad­ver­tised. Among the prob­lems were accessibil­ity for our dis­abled daugh­ter, who has Down syn­drome and has mo­bil­ity, vision and health is­sues. The room also had no air con­di­tion­ing.

Our room had only one fan, which did not ro­tate and was at floor level. The ho­tel of­fered us an­other fan, but it wasn’t enough and was al­most im­pos­si­ble to put at bed level with the fur­ni­ture in the room.

We couldn’t lock the room, be­cause with doors and win­dows closed it would have been even more un­in­hab­it­able. The screen door did not close en­tirely. We had bugs ga­lore in the room. There was no TV in the room, but there was a com­mon area out­side with a TV. How­ever, a dis­abled per­son would need con­stant su­per­vi­sion there. Also, noth­ing on Book­ing.com men­tioned that the Villa Las Estrel­las was an “ecofriendl­y” prop­erty, where ocean water was used in the sink and for bathing. For our daugh­ter, that is com­pletely un­safe since she would gulp down water dur­ing bathing.

We let Book­ing.com and Villa Las Estrel­las know as soon as we ar­rived that this would not work for us. The ho­tel of­fered a floor-level room, which cost us ex­tra. But the room didn’t ac­com­mo­date four peo­ple. Can you help us get a re­fund?

— Yas­min Ma­niar, Saratoga, Calif.

A: I’m sorry your fam­ily ended up in a ho­tel room you couldn’t use.

Book­ing.com could have done a bet­ter job with the room de­scrip­tion, but this Mex­i­can ho­tel night­mare was also pre­ventable. If you’re trav­el­ing with some­one who has spe­cial needs, you might con­sider work­ing with a qual­i­fied travel ad­viser. For ex­am­ple, Travel Lead­ers, one of the largest travel agency groups, pub­lishes a list of agents who spe­cial­ize in ac­ces­si­ble travel (www. trav­el­lead­ers.com/travel _a­gent/agent-search -re­sults.aspx?slctIn­ter­est =Ac­ces­si­ble+Travel). There’s also a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, the So­ci­ety for Ac­ces­si­ble Travel and Hos­pi­tal­ity, that can help con­nect you with a prop­erty or agent that will fit your needs (http://sath.org/).

I think you did your best with the in­for­ma­tion you had. The prop­erty de­scrip­tion seemed ad­e­quate. But ev­ery­one ex­pects air con­di­tion­ing in a mod­ern ho­tel. A TV too. I think Book­ing.com should have placed a warn­ing on the site if the ho­tel didn’t have any ameni­ties that ev­ery­one takes for granted.

A brief, po­lite email to your on­line agency might have helped. I list the names, num­bers and email ad­dresses of Book­ing.com’s ex­ec­u­tives on my non­profit con­sumer-ad­vo­cacy site: www.el­liott.org/com­pany -con­tacts/book­ing-com/.

It turns out your fam­ily booked a “deluxe ocean front” room on the up­per floor of the Villa Las Estrel­las. Air con­di­tion­ing and TV were not listed as ameni­ties for the spe­cific room cat­e­gory cho­sen, ac­cord­ing to Book­ing.com. Your on­line travel agency also ver­i­fied that the ho­tel tried to help you by plac­ing you in a room with AC and giv­ing you ac­cess to a TV lounge. Book­ing.com of­fered you a re­fund of $833 — half your room rate for the five days you were in Tu­lum — which you ac­cepted. Christo­pher El­liott is the om­buds­man for Na­tional Geo­graphic Trav­eler mag­a­zine and the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Trav­eler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, el­liott.org, or email him at [email protected]­liott.org.

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