PEKING — Overcrowded Peking has a new place for lodging foreign visitors who cannot find a hotel room--a quiet building where the service personnel wear white coats and medical help is never far away.
It is the Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital, which was opened last year and where officials are having trouble finding enough patients to fill the beds in the rehabilitation wing.
They acknowledge that they have been opening up the rooms for use by foreign visitors who are not sick of anything but negative answers from hotel registration clerks.
A small room in the rehabilitation wing, nicely furnished with a television set and refrigerator, costs 50 yuan a night, about $16, and a more spacious room can be had for 100 yuan. What was designed as a library has been converted into a tiny souvenir shop.
"In China, all our hospitals are subsidized, so the basic fee for a bed is not very high," Dr. Pan Xuetian, the hospital's assistant director, told a reporter. "In the U.S., a hospital room costs more than a hotel room, doesn't it?"
Hospital officials insist that the rooms are not open to just any sort of tourist. Proper credentials or introductions are required. At the outset, the spare hospital beds were used by visiting advisers from Japan; later, visiting doctors were allowed to use the rooms.
But Zeng Xianfa, director of the hospital's foreign affairs office, admitted that in emergency situations, the Chinese Ministry of Public Health has sent along other visitors in need of accommodations.
Zeng said that on occasion hospital rooms have been made available to the Japanese Embassy here.
"There is a special relationship between the hospital and the embassy," he said, "and so if there is an emergency and they really can't find a hotel, we help them."
Hospital officials say they cannot say for sure exactly how many foreigners have used the hospital beds for purposes other than medical treatment, but they say they have lodged visitors from Japan, the United States, Australia, Canada, Britain and Holland.
This year, particularly in the fall, the number of tourists and foreign business officials visiting Peking has far surpassed the hotels' capacity. As a result, many leading hotels have been fully booked for months at a time, and businessmen making sudden or unplanned trips have been forced to engage in a daily search for one-night accommodations.
"The trip I just terminated was the worst I ever made in 20 years of business life," Kurt Eichenberger, a Swiss businessman, wrote recently to the newspaper China Daily. "I spent seven nights in Peking, and during this time I was forced to change hotels four times."
The Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital was a gift to China by the government of Japan. The late Japanese Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira announced the plans for the hospital while on a visit here in 1979, and construction was completed last year.
The hospital has two connecting wings, a 1,000-bed in-patient section and a special, 300-bed rehabilitation wing. About 90% of the beds in the in-patient facility are occupied by patients, hospital officials say. In this section of the hospital, old Chinese women bicker and shove against one another in the halls, waiting for visiting hours so they can deliver the food and gifts they have brought for their their ailing husbands.
The rehabilitation wing, by contrast, is as empty and quiet as an American suburb on a weekday afternoon. Hospital officials escorted a reporter down halls that were devoid of nurses, past room after room with empty beds.
Guo Shuying, assistant research fellow for the hospital, explained that the hospital had planned on using many of these beds to attract visitors from abroad who were interested not only in conventional Western rehabilitative medicine but also in Chinese traditional medicine, acupuncture, tai chi chuan (shadow-boxing) and qigong (breathing exercises).
At least 100 rooms in the rehabilitation wing have been set aside for foreign patients. But so far, she said, "not too many people" are coming from abroad for treatment.