Ordinary people in China wanting to experience what life is like in space can now stay in new budget hotel rooms modeled on an astronaut's living quarters.
A "capsule" hotel -- featuring science-fiction design and bedrooms just long enough for most people to lie down in, in Xi'an, capital of central China's Shaanxi province -- has been doing good trade since opening two weeks ago.
Manager Xu Meijang was inspired to open the unusual business, thought to be the first licensed capsule hotel in China, by such accommodation's popularity in Japan and by the number of generally young, adventurous travelers requiring an affordable night's stay in the area.
Occupancy rates at the hotel, in Xi'an's Minleyuan Wanda Plaza, have been over 60 percent so far, and it was full over the Labor Day holiday.
2012: a space oddity
Capsule hotels' lack of services compared to conventional hotels is compensated for by the novel experience and their good value.
Each bedroom is a modular fiberglass block roughly two meters long, one meter wide and 1.2 meters in height. The hotel charges 59-65 yuan (about 9.4-10.3 U.S. dollars) per person per night.
The 480-square-meter building consists of 86 capsules in nine rooms named after star signs to reflect the space theme.
The capsules are stacked side by side and two units top to bottom, with steps providing access to the upper rooms. Privacy is ensured by a bamboo curtain.
Upon checking in, guests are given a basket filled with a cup, a card for electricity, locker keys, a TV remote control and a set of wireless headphones for watching TV. Wireless Internet is also provided.
Each capsule is furnished with a light, a ventilation device, plug sockets, a foldable flat-screen TV and desk, coat hooks, a blanket and a pillow.
Luggage and shoes can be put in lockers outside the sleeping zone, and there are separate lavatories, showers and a shared lounge.
In space, no one can hear you snore
Safety and privacy are the two issues guests are most concerned about, says Xu.
It has been reported that Shanghai hoteliers in 2011 applied to have their business passed as China's first licensed capsule hotel. But authorities denied certification due to fire and personal safety worries.
According to Xu, the materials used in this case for the capsules and indoor decorations are nonflammable. Each capsule has a fire extinguisher and smoke detector, and security cameras are installed in the hallways.
Though all guests are asked to turn their cell phones to silent and there are even more isolated rooms for those who snore, "it is still a place where deep sleep is rare," says He Ni, a regular backpacker from Shanxi province.
But she believes it is still cost-effective to stay here, considering its low prices and comprehensive service guaranteeing clean bathrooms, lavatories and self-help washing machines.
Mixed views on capsule accommodation are accurately reflected by the new hotel's guests.
Xu, 35, says most of them are young backpackers from Japan, the Republic of Korea and Thailand, although some are from further afield, and that they have generally found their way here through the Internet.
Colombian architect Tavo gives two thumbs up, with the praise, "The hostel is amazing, nice, so nice. It also feels cozy inside."
When Luo Fanshao, a 20-year-old student at Lanzhou City University, came across Xi'an's capsules online, he canceled his stay in express hotels in the city. Besides the fair price, Luo favors the atmosphere in his new choice.
"I like travelling on my own, so instead of being in a single hotel room, staying in this kind of hostel provides me with the opportunity to exchange what I saw and thought during the daytime with other travelers," explains Luo.
But the idea of staying in such a compact space is not appealing to everyone.
"Staying in the capsule is like lying down in a coffin," complains Liang Hua, a college student from Xi'an. "And the price is almost as much as a bed in a youth hostel."