HOTELS are famous as places for furtive activities - people doing things they wouldn't dream of doing at home. One strange thing that people wouldn't do at home is to refuse to use the phone beside their bed and instead use a public phone more than 100 metres away. The reason: despite local calls being free in Hong Kong, hotels charge for them. Often a lot. The trigger for this is the quip made last week about the Marriott, which advertised ''free local calls''. ''How generous'' was the sarcastic reply. It is. If you're not on the Marriott's special deal, you pay $4 a call. One of the town's more famous socialites rang up after the first piece and said their brother had turned up and was booked into the Marriott, but had been nipping down to the hotel lobby because he refused on principle to pay the charge. Also charging $4 a call is the Conrad next door, which starts at $1,950 a night except for the executive floors. Asking a mere $3.50 are the Hotel Victoria and the Excelsior. And a competitive $3 is charged by the Kowloon Panda, Regal Kowloon, Nikko, Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza and the Omni. The $1,950-a-night minimum Hilton also charges $3 a call. So does the Mandarin Oriental, whose rates also start at $1,950. You still have to pay for calls in the $22,000-a-night suite, incidentally. Management described the $3 fee as ''nominal''. Like others, they pointed to the costs of staff and buying the equipment. But surely, phones are as integral as lifts, and no one charges for them. Or do they? Now to the awards: a gold star to the Peninsula, whose rooms start at $2,500. They don't charge. ''One feels that when one gets to that kind of level one should not pay for local calls,'' they said, sensing an opportunity to boot their rivals. Also not charging is the Gold Coast Resort. And a special award to the Grand Hyatt. After paying at least $1,800 for a room, they charge you another $5 for each local call. No charge for the lifts, though. Fun Hung Kai SUN Hung Kai Properties has always been regarded as a property stock. Time to re-write those reference books. It's now a concept stock, and the concept is fun, just like Guangzhou Shipyard. The company's staff newsletter details its attempt to attract customers to its shopping centres by setting up a joint venture and then taking full ownership of a company called Funworld. This company already runs ''family amusement centres'' in Metroplaza and Yuen Long Plaza, and will have one in Chi Fu Landmark by the end of the year. As well as the usual selection of blast-'em-ups and games for winning fluffy cats, they are into the hi-tech simulator business, such as the ''Venturer'' which they installed in the Science Museum. The staid basement of the World Trade Centre in Causeway Bay is on the list, along with Transport Plaza, Landmark North and the planned shopping centre in Tseung Kwan O. It is also planning one in the Hong Jiang Plaza in Jiangmen, China. ''The immense potential for development is obvious,'' says the company. Brand-game IT'S interesting to see IBM is getting its old edge back. The managers at Compaq, its biggest rival in the personal computer market, were irritated to find that a party of three guests they were flying from Europe were all carrying top-of-the-range IBM Thinkpad 700C notebook computers. IBM had given these upmarket gadgets to them just days before they left - unsolicited, purely to annoy Compaq's management. Washing line SELWYN Mar, president of the Sincere Company, was speaking on ''Developing China's retail industry'' at the Amcham 1993 Conference on China: Positioning for Success. Giving practical tips on how to set up retail stores in China, he told the audience that ''whatever you hear about the remuneration, you have to double that''. Other than the pay, retailers need to pay extras, such as allowances for ''hot weather, for cold weather, shower and gifts for various festive days''. As an aside, he said he had to plan a ladies' shower room for 400 women who had only 15 minutes to shower. How to solve the problem? Have a ladies' shower room with a conveyor belt. Heale away AMONG the moves announced yesterday by Swire was Dragonair head Simon Heale moving into Swire's insurance business in London. A strange move. But not as strange as the one that brought him here. Before he started work in Swire's aviation business, he ran a company in California which produced hi-tech weather reports. Overdriven DENWAY Investment deputy managing director Pan Jinbo was talking yesterday about the good old days before Zhu Rongji's austerity programme, when his car company couldn't even remotely keep up with demand from customers: ''In the past, car dealers were dubbed 'official-like' merchants. That means we just needed to relax and wait for business to come. ''If we had gone about luring more sales, we would have been chopped up by customers when failing to fulfil their orders.'' Yule be sorry ONE of those companies offering to produce corporate Christmas cards sent their brochure to Asia Law and Practice. This shows pictures of the cards as they will look once your logo is added. Design MC715 puts your logo underneath the words ''Meery Christmas'' in two-inch-high letters.