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CHANGE OF LUCK – Part 18

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CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY

By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil

President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada

Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum

chandij@sympatico.ca

Resilience

On September 27 (World Tourism Day), I was very happy to participate as a Co-Chair of the Tourism Research Conference, at the International Tourism Leaders Summit organized by the University of Colombo, via Zoom. Re-building post pandemic tourism in a strategic manner was a key focus at this well-attended on-line summit. Recovering from the devastating impact from the global pandemic is vital for the economy of Sri Lanka as well as the other tourist destinations in the world.

Tourism always bounces back. The tourism boom in Sri Lanka for ten years after a 26-year long war, was a good example. While listening to a couple of noteworthy presentations at the summit about the importance of ‘resilience’, my mind went back to early 1970s. I always believed in being ‘resilient’ to recover quickly from difficulties, in an effective manner. That’s what I did five decades ago, after a shaky start of my career in the tourism and hospitality sector.

Finally, Winning Big

The summer of 1973 was a good period for me. I had a productive internship at Lever Brothers. In spite of my disastrous academic results during my first year, my grades improved by the end of the second year at the Ceylon Hotel School (CHS). I also felt lucky when I finally won the neighbourhood track and field event as the overall winner. It was the fourth and final year that I led a team of my neighbourhood buddies. We organized this ambitious ten-event sports meet for children from nearly 100 houses in Bambalapitiya Flats. In the previous three years I came second, in spite of my efforts to win the overall trophy.

A fortnight after that I won the open championship at the second largest Judo tournament in Sri Lanka. Among ten different categories of bouts based on kyū and dan (Judo grades) and weights of the fighters, open event was the prime event of any Judo tournament. My opponent in the open final was stronger, heavier, more experienced in fighting than I. He was a tough Inspector of Police. I was still in my late teens and he was ten years older. My opponent was expected to win the final bout of the tournament easily. However, I had lot of support around the fighting area from my neighbourhood buddies and CHS batchmates. My aim was not to disappoint my fans by losing quickly with an ippon (full point for a perfect throw). I held my opponent at bay for the whole duration. Twice, extra fighting time was allocated by the referee.

In between, during a short break from fighting, I was kneeling down and adjusting my belt at a corner of the fighting mat. While catching my breath I told one of my friends cheering me by the ringside that my opponent was strong like a big tree. My friend, Roshan Arulanandan, told me, “Chandana, strong trees can also fall down with the right pressure.” To me that summed up a key concept of the art of Judo fighting. Breaking the balance of the opponent was a good tactic.

During the final three minutes of extra time, my strategy was to be very aggressive. I kept on pushing my opponent while holding his judogi (uniform) tightly as possible. That angered the Police Officer and he aggressively pushed me back. At that moment, I used his own strength and pulled him toward me while falling backwards with my right feet pushing him up. This sacrifice throw called ‘Tomoe nage’ () is one of the traditional forty throws of Judo as developed by the founder of this martial art, Professor Jigaro Kano. It was not a popular throw as often it backfired when tried by less experienced fighters like me. That day it worked for me like a charm and my opponent went flying over me and fell flat. I won.

One More Year to Survive

A week later, when I returned to CHS, I was motivated by my wins and recent successes. I showed a newly renewed optimism and a positive attitude. I was determined to do well in my third and final year at CHS. It was fun meeting my batch mates after the summer break and sharing our holiday experiences. I made up my mind to stay out of trouble and survive my final year. I did well in new subjects such as basic management, economics and cost calculations. My improving grades meant that I was able to secure a highly-sought-after placement for my second co-op – Bentota Beach Hotel. At that time, this property was considered the best resort hotel in Sri Lanka.

Training at the Best Resort

Bentota was a major resort area identified in the first master plan for tourism development in Sri Lanka, prepared by Pannell-Kerr-Forster Consulting. Most sections of the resort area, including the Bentota Beach Hotel, Hotel Serendib and the Bentota railway station were designed by arguably, the greatest architect in Sri Lanka, Geoffrey Bawa. He was among the most influential Asian architects of his generation. As the principal force behind the concept of ‘tropical modernism’, in Bentota Beach Hotel, Mr. Bawa created simply a masterpiece.

Arriving at Bentota Beach Hotel with four other CHS students for our co-op, I was fascinated with the first impressions of the hotel. It was like entering a fortress with steps out of rock, combined with beautiful landscaping and art which included batik ceilings, bronze sculptures and colourful and unorthodox furniture. To my great pleasure, I was informed by the management that I will spend equal number of weeks in three departments – restaurant, bar and kitchen. I commenced my eighth part-time job towards the end of the year 1973.

Serving at Bentota Beach Hotel

There were five CHS graduates in the executive team. The Hotel Manager (the title of the general manager was uncommon in Sri Lankan hotels, at that time) – Malin Hapugoda (years later, the Managing Director of Aitken Spence Hotel Group) and the Executive Chef – Paddy Withana (years later, the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority). They both were four years senior to me and were in their mid-twenties. Having being promoted to positions previously held by expatriate managers at the time of the hotel opening three years ago, these two CHS graduates were the most admired among local hoteliers. The Assistant Manager – Indrapala Munasinghe was a graduate of the first batch at CHS, and had just returned after a scholarship in France. Malin Hapugoda returned after a scholarship in Canada. As CHS students we were proud to work under these senior alumni of CHS. They were very supportive to us.

Given my previous experience as a trainee waiter at three other best hotels in the country – Pegasus Reef, Mount Lavinia Hyatt and Ceylon InterContinental, working at the restaurant of Bentota Beach Hotel was a piece of cake. The restaurant supervisors usually allocated us to serve non-tip earning tables of hotel executives, tour leaders and difficult customers. As specific tables were allocated to such diners, we quickly learnt their preferences and habits.

Exploring the Neighbourhood

We were provided with accommodation in the clerical staff quarters which was close to the hotel. We were also provided with all meals for free. After our eight-hour shifts we had plenty of time to have fun, sea bathe and explore Bentota as well as nearby towns Aluthgama and Beruwala. There were around a dozen of new hotels recently opened or nearing the opening. We learnt a lot about the fast developing hotel industry in Sri Lanka, by those informal visits. Depending on our pocket money we rotated our free-time ‘fun’ visits to the following places:

Hotel Lihiniya Surf – The Government Place

It lacked the ambiance of the two nearby hotels which were blessed by the architectural magic of Bawa. It was also managed by the government owned Ceylon Hotels Corporation, which somewhat created a different culture not that appealing to us. However, we went there occasionally to meet other CHS students doing their co-ops.

Hotel Serendib – Fun Meeting Place

This was everybody’s favourite meeting place in Bentota. It was not grand like Bentota Beach Hotel, but had a casual charm and a welcoming atmosphere. It was also designed by Geoffrey Bawa. We had a lot of drinking, meeting, greeting and flirting experiences at their public bar facing the sea.

Hotel Ceysands – Site

This hotel was being built and we used to occasionally visit the site. Although the original architecture had no clear concept, we liked the location. As the hotel was built on a narrow strip of land sandwiched between the Bentota River and the Indian Ocean, it was somewhat romantic. All guests, employees and suppliers had to take boats to reach the hotel. Four years later, I joined this hotel as the Executive Chef and the Food & Beverage Manager.

Hotel Neptune – Site

This hotel was being built as the first hotel of the Aitken Spence Group, who later became one of the largest hotel companies in Sri Lanka. This was another hotel designed by Geoffrey Bawa, and they were clearly planning to compete with Bentota Beach. A few years later when the government star classification was implemented in Sri Lanka, Hotel Neptune earned three-stars. Bentota Beach Hotel became the first resort hotel to earn four-stars in Sri Lanka. The Aitken Spence Group then built a new hotel nearby – The Triton (son of Neptune, the Roman God of the Sea), which by early 1980s, became the first five-star resort hotel in Sri Lanka.

Hotel Swanee – Site

This hotel was opened during our stay in Bentota. During one of our night walks on the beach we discovered that the owners had an overnight religious ceremony with lots of food. We crashed the party and had a good time. I clearly remember criticizing the hotel design, which was like a ‘U’ and built far away from the sea. I never imagined that I would end up managing this hotel five years later.

Barberyn Reef Hotel –The Dating Place

With my short assignment at this hotel six months ago, I had some friends there. This hotel continued to be friendly, casual and inexpensive. As a result, it was the practical choice to visit with our newly acquainted girlfriends.

Confifi Hotel – The Free Beer Place

Chandralal, a graduate of the CHS who was one year senior to us, joined this hotel as the Executive Chef, around the same time. He was very generous. His salary in 1973 was Rs. 350 per month, which was the standard minimum salary for a new graduate of CHS, at that time. Every month he spent more than his salary to entertain us with free beer, devilled beef and cigarettes, every time we visited him. His family was very rich and he had to bring money from home to settle his bar bills as his popularity among us increased.

Brief Bentota – the wonder garden

The only non-hotel meeting place for us was the Brief Gardens, which is a beautifully landscaped garden designed by landscape architect and owner Major Bevis Bawa (brother of the Architect Geoffrey Bawa). In addition to being the most renowned landscape architect in Sri Lanka, he had also served as the Aide-de-camp to four Governors of Ceylon. He was an interesting man who had lot of stories to share about how he offered a sanctuary to many top Sri Lankan artists as well as a few international visitors including Sir Laurence Olivier, Vivian Leigh and Agatha Christie. We befriended his Assistant, Dulan de Silva, who currently manages the property. Brief is is a remarkable home and garden of a remarkably talented and versatile man. Five years later I associated with Mr. Bevis Bawa professionally – I was managing a small hotel in Beruwala for John Keells Group and Mr. Bawa was the landscaping consultant for that hotel.

All in all, we had an enjoyable period of training and a fun-filled stay in Bentota. More about my work at the bar and the kitchen of Bentota Beach Hotel, next week…



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Why Small Farms will be the backbone of food security

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The ecological axiom that: ‘Energy flow through a system tends to organise and simplify that system’, is abundantly clear in agriculture. As farms moved from small interdependent units, bounded by fences and hedgerows, to large cropping fields to accommodate machine management, we lose the biodiversity that once existed on that landscape and the biomass that provided the Ecosystem Services. This sacrifice was rationalised through the invocation of economic profit. The economic ‘profit’ gained by subsidies on fossil fuel and uncontrolled extraction from the Global Commons. The ‘development’ of agriculture has become a race to control the commodity market. The farmer ceased to be a feature of the farm. In a telling statement, the farmers of Sri Lanka sent the following statement to the CGIAR in 1998 :

‘We, the farmers of Sri Lanka would like to further thank the CGIAR, for taking an interest in us. We believe that we speak for all of our brothers and sisters the world over when we identify ourselves as a community who are integrally tied to the success of ensuring global food security. In fact it is our community who have contributed to the possibility of food security in every country since mankind evolved from a hunter-gather existence. We have watched for many years, as the progression of experts, scientists and development agents passed through our communities with some or another facet of the modern scientific world. We confess that at the start we were unsophisticated in matters of the outside world and welcomed this input. We followed advice and we planted as we were instructed. The result was a loss of the varieties of seeds that we carried with us through history, often spanning three or more millennia. The result was the complete dependence of high input crops that robbed us of crop independence. In addition, we farmers producers of food, respected for our ability to feed populations, were turned into the poisoners of land and living things, including fellow human beings. The result in Sri Lanka is that we suffer from social and cultural dislocation and suffer the highest pesticide- related death toll on the planet. Was this the legacy that you the agricultural scientists wanted to bring to us ? We think not. We think that you had good motives and intentions, but left things in the hands of narrowly educated, insensitive people.’

The diverse farm had to yield to production monoculture, which was made possible through the burning of fossil fuels. Ironically the burning of fossil fuels is the major reason for the current destabilised climate and threat to agriculture. One consequence of climate change is the predicted rise in global temperatures. If ambient temperatures exceed 40 degrees , which has become the reality in many places even today, food production will be compromised. All the food we eat originates with plants and plants produce using photosynthesis. Photosynthesis, or the capture of solar energy by plants, is done with chlorophyll, the thing that makes plants green and chlorophyll begins to break down after 40 degrees. Landscapes whose summer temperatures go beyond this limit will have smaller and smaller crops as the temperatures increase. The only solution to this oncoming crisis, is to begin introducing trees at strategic points on the landscape.

Trees and all other forms of vegetation cool the environment around them through the transpiration process, which takes place in the leaves. The water absorbed by the roots is sent up to the leaves which release it as vapor, cooling the air around it. Measurements on trees done by research institutions worldwide, indicate that an average large tree produces the cooling equivalent of eight room sized air conditioners running for 10 hours, a cooling yield 0f 1,250,000 Bthu per day. Plantations of trees have been recoded to have daytime temperatures at least 3 degrees below the ambient. This is an important aspect of Ecosystem Services that needs to be considered for adaptive agriculture.

Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realise the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer facing the headlights.

But placing trees in and around cropping areas becomes a problem in large cropping fields designed to accommodate machine management. The management of such trees and hedgerows requires needs that cannot be provided without human management. Agricultural landscapes will need management that will be adaptive to the changing climate. An example would be; small interdependent units bounded by fences and that increase biodiversity and the biomass while providing Ecosystem Services.

Investment in food security, should take climate change seriously. All new agricultural projects should address the heat thresholds of the planned crops. The Sri Lankan country statement at COP 21 stated that :

“We are aware that the optimum operating temperature of chlorophyll is at 37 deg C. In a warming world where temperatures will soar well above that, food production will be severely impacted.”

And that :

“We are aware that the critical Ecosystem services such as; production of Oxygen, sequestering of Carbon, water cycling and ambient cooling is carried out by the photosynthetic component of biomass. This is being lost at an exponential rate, due to the fact that these Ecosystem Services have not been valued, nor economically recognised.”

These statements cry out for the recognition of the role that small farms will have to play in the future. In a temperature compromised future, small farms with high standing biomass, through their cooler temperatures will continue to produce food in heat stressed periods. If such Ecosystem Services can be given a value, it will strengthen the economy of small farms and ensure local, sustainable food production into the future.

Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realize the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer in sheadlights.

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Encouraging signs, indeed!

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Derek and Manilal

Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving

Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.

They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.

The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.

On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.

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Constructive dialogue beyond international community

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by Jehan Perera

Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.

In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”

Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”

INTERNAL FRAGMENTATION

The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.

There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.

President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.

EARLY WARNING

An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.

The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.

Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.

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