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HONG KONG-MACAU-CHINA – Part 45

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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

Hong Kong – A Concrete Jungle

As the Manager – Operations for the hotel company in the corporate office of John Keells Group, 1981 was a busy year for me. As I was required to leave for Hong Kong for three weeks, at short notice, I quickly placed many of my projects on a back burner or delegated those to members of my team. Within two days after I was assigned the task of performing a special role of the Guest Executive Chef for a two-week long Sri Lankan and Maldivian food festival, I arrived at the Hotel Furama Inter-Continental in Hong Kong. Compared to what I had seen during my limited overseas travels before, Hong Kong Island struck me as the first, overpopulated concrete jungle I had visited.

The Furama Hotel, with 33 storeys, had opened in 1973 and was taken over for management by the InterContinental Hotels three years later. During my quick orientation by a Swiss German, Peter Luedi, the Executive Chef of the host hotel, I was most impressed with their revolving restaurant on the top floor named ‘La Ronda’. “This is our premier restaurant. Your food festival will be held here for lunch and dinner over two weeks. Our sales and marketing department has promoted the festival very well and we expect all buffets to be sold out. Let me introduce the three Chinese cooks who will report to you during that entire period”, Chef Luedi ushered me to the roof top kitchen. I was pleased that he was very optimistic, helpful and positive.

Cooking and PR

My extra (non-cooking) days before the festival were spent on event planning, fine-tuning the menu planning, special grocery shopping in local markets, advance preparations, public relations and promotional events. The food festival was a big success. By the end of the two weeks, I was exhausted from cooking virtually all of the dishes for sold-out buffets. My three Hong Kong Chinese assistants also worked very hard providing me with support, but they were totally dependent on my food requisitioning, food seasoning and the final cooking. I was also responsible for most of the buffet arrangements and decorations. After my final cooking for each meal and a quick shower, I appeared behind the buffet tables to explain the dishes to hundreds of diners.

I had five free days in Hong Kong after the festival was over. The day after the festival, I planned to rest the whole day, but I was woken early in the morning by the Public Relations Officer of the hotel. “Chef Chandana, you need to get ready quickly. We finally managed to arrange a spot for you to appear on the most popular TV show in Hong Kong, this morning!”, she said enthusiastically over the telephone. “What time is the interview?” I asked. “In three hours. I will drive you to the TV studio. The interview will take place simultaneously while you cook the most popular Sri Lankan dishes for TV. Let’s get ready!” she said in an excited voice.

I realized that this was the first time over a million Hong Kong TV viewers would see how popular Sri Lankan dishes were prepared. I quickly got ready and ran to the hotel stores to organize the ingredients I needed for my assignment at the TV studio. I was a bit relieved to hear that the show would be a pre-recorded program. When I arrived at the studio for the food demonstration, I was treated like an exotic, celebrity chef and an ambassador for Sri Lankan cuisine. I took that mini assignment very seriously and enjoyed my work in front of the camera.

A Tourist in Hong Kong

After that busy day, I took time to explore tourist sites of Hong Kong Island which was a very small area of 29 square miles. While Hong Kong Island then had around a quarter of a total population of over five million (five million population (today over 7.5 million). Kowloon and New Kowloon areas had half of the population of Hong Kong. Hong Kong had a high population density.

My tour guide explained that Hong Kong in Cantonese mean ‘Fragrant Harbour’. Hong Kong had been inhabited since the Old Stone Age three million years ago. Later, it had become a part of the Chinese empire, starting out as a fishing, farming and salt producing village. Then it had gradually become an important, free port and eventually a major, international financial centre.

This small island situated off the south-eastern coast of the Kwangtung Province of China had been under the British rule for 139 years, since the Qing dynasty ceded Hong Kong to the British Empire in 1842 through the treaty of Nanjing, ending the First Opium War. Hong Kong then became a British crown colony.

Japan occupied Hong Kong from 1941 to 1945 during the Second World War, and by the end of the war in 1945, Hong Kong Island had been liberated by joint British and Chinese troops and returned to the British rule. Hong Kong greatly increased its population with the refugees from Mainland China, particularly during the Korean War. In 1981 I sensed that in general, Hong Kong residents felt fearful and uncertain of their future if and when the territory goes back to Chinese rule in 16 years’ time.

My tour of Hong Kong was very interesting. I enjoyed the beach area of Repulse Bay, fishing towns and food streets. The panoramic view of Victoria City and its harbour from Victoria Peak, 1,800 feet above sea-level, was breath-taking. When I asked the tour guide about the beautiful, blue hills visible from a distance, he said, “That’s Kowloon and beyond.” Then he suggested, “You should join me tomorrow on a special day-long tour to Kowloon and New Territories.” I did not require much persuasion to join that tour.

Kowloon and New Territories

After winning the Second Opium War, Kowloon had been ceded to the winning side, the British, by China in 1860. The New Territories had been leased by the Chinese to the British for 99 years in 1898. While getting ready for my second tour, I accidently bumped into a few British tourists who used to visit Hotel Swanee frequently, when I was the Manager there. They were my friends and insisted on hosting me for dinner at their hotel. They also took me on a long, shopping walk on the famous Hankow Road.

Kowloon (meaning nine dragons) was different from the Hong Kong Island. Large ‘H’ shaped blocks of flats in resettlement estates were occupied by thousands of Chinese refugees who fled from the Communist China. As we travelled to the New Territories, more agricultural communities were visible. We also had a glimpse of the Shumchun River, the natural boundary between the British colony and the China. After that tour, I was determined to cross that invisible ‘Bamboo Curtain’. I thought of my father’s advice to me to visit China, and booked a two-day tour to Macau and Southern China.

Macau – Smoke-filled Casinos

The next day early in the morning, I left Hong Kong in a hovercraft boat to Macau. This very small (two square miles) island and the close by mainland areas of the territory added up to just six square miles. Macao had been under Portuguese rule for over 400 years. Although 95% of its population were Chinese, the official language was Portuguese.

The tour group which was predominantly British and Australian, enjoyed visiting many historic ruins, gardens and casinos. This was my first time visiting a casino, but because of the totally, smoked-filled atmosphere, it was not pleasant. For me, the most memorable thing I did in Macau was visiting the memorial house of Dr. Sun Yat Sen. The tour guide explained to us that Dr. Sun Yat Sen was considered as the ‘Father of Modern China’ and the ‘Forerunner of the Revolution’ in recognition of his instrumental role in the overthrow of the Qing dynasty during the Xinhai Revolution in 1911.

Southern China – Unprepared for Tourism

After visiting Macau we were taken in two tour buses to the south of the Pearl River Delta in the Cantonese-speaking province of Guangdong, for two nights. Wherever we went locals paid some attention to me as they were not used to seeing non-white tourists in China in 1981. We visited the city of Zhuhai which had been identified in 1980 as one of the original four special economic zones, as well as potentially one of China’s premier tourist destinations, being called the Chinese Riviera. Then we proceeded to the city of Zhongshan which is one of a very few cities in China named after a person. It was named after Dr. Sun Yat Sen (who is known in Mandarin as Sun Zhongshan).

Compared to Hong Kong, Southern China appeared to be totally underdeveloped in 1981.

Nevertheless, I loved the experience of being one of the early tourists in modern-day China. In terms of tourism in 1981, China was at a very early developmental stage, much behind small countries such as Sri Lanka. When he heard that I visited China, my father was pleased that I had commenced following his footsteps in becoming a frequent global traveller.

In 1981, it was difficult for me to imagine how China would become one of the four top tourist destinations in the world within 35 years. It is simply an amazing success story. In the year 2019, the World Tourism Organization also identified China as the # 1 source country in tourist spending for the year 2019.

Back in Hong Kong

I returned to Hong Kong just in time to attend a farewell dinner for the Sri Lankan and Maldivian delegates who attended the tourism promotion events. Hotel Furama Inter-Continental was grateful for my work as the Guest Executive Chef. I was thankful for their hospitality and support. The food festival was considered a great success in terms of publicity, food quality, diner satisfaction, revenue and profits.

The experience I gained in Hong Kong in 1981 was helpful in later years, when I organized four more large Sri Lankan food and culture festivals in Singapore (1982), Oman (1988), Guyana (1994) and Jamaica (1996), as the Guest Executive Chef and Event Coordinator. I considered organizing a large food festival in another country as the ultimate challenge in outside catering. Based on my experience in Hong Kong, I prepared a detailed checklist for organizing food festivals, which I shared with my team as well as with students of the Ceylon Hotel School where I was requested to deliver a series of guest lectures on my return to Sri Lanka.

Over the next couple of decades, I returned to Hong Kong a few times.

In 1991, I was able to arrange a Management Observer period at then the best hotel in the world – the Regent of Hong Kong. I was proud to hear that the resident band of this great hotel was the well-known Sri Lankan band, The Jetliners. My friends Tony Fernando and Mignonne Fernando (band manager and the lead singer of the Jetliners) arranged my assignment.

In 1992, I returned to Hong Kong to present a case study from Sri Lanka at the Pacific Asia Regional Tourism Education Forum, organized by the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) and the World Tourism Organisation. I was proud to meet two Sri Lankans leading PATA at that time – Lakshman Ratnapala, President & CEO and Renton De Alwis, Vice President – Asia.

In 2001, I returned to Hong Kong, to present a case study from the Caribbean. This was at the International Hospitality Industry Evolution Conference, organized by the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Cornell University, USA. On that fourth visit, I felt the changing political climate of Hong Kong, under the Chinese rule.

In 2010, l was asked by my then employer, George Brown College, Toronto, Canada (where I worked as a dean), to spend three weeks in China to lead work assignments. Two members of my team of professors accompanied me. Our work was mainly at the Guilin University of Technology, with whom, George Brown College had an educational pathway agreement. During that trip I spent interesting periods in Guilin, Beijing and Shanghai.

In time to come, I will narrate stories about these memorable return trips to Hong Kong and China, in this column.



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Responding to our energy addiction

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by Ranil Senanayake

Sri Lanka today is in the throes of addiction withdrawal. Reliant on fossil fuels to maintain the economy and basic living comforts, the sudden withdrawal of oil, coal and gas deliveries has exposed the weakness and the danger of this path of ‘development’ driven by fossil energy. This was a result of some poorly educated aspirants to political power who became dazzled by the advancement of western industrial technology and equated it with ‘Development’. They continue with this blind faith even today.

Thus, on December 20th 1979, an official communiqué was issued by the Government and displayed in the nation’s newspapers stating, “No oil means no development, and less oil, less development. It is oil that keeps the wheels of development moving”. This defined with clarity what was to be considered development by the policy-makers of that time. This fateful decision cast a deadly policy framework for the nation. The energy source that was to drive the national economy would be fossil-based. Even today, that same policy framework and its adherents continue. Everything, from electricity to cooking fuel, was based on fossil energy.

The economics of development, allows externalizing all the negative effects of ‘development’ into the environment, this being justified because, “industrialisation alleviates poverty”. The argument, is that economies need to industrialise in order to reduce poverty; but industrialisation leads to ‘unavoidable emissions. Statements like, ‘reduction in poverty leads to an increase in emissions’ is often trotted out as dogma. Tragically, these views preclude a vision of development based on high tech, non-fossil fuel driven, low consumptive lifestyles. Indeed, one indicator of current ‘development’ is the per capita consumption of power, without addressing the source of that power.

A nation dependent on fossil fuel is very much like an addict dependent on drugs. The demand is small, at first, but grows swiftly, until all available resources are given. In the end, when there is nothing else left to pawn, even the future of their children will be pawned and finally the children themselves! Today, with power cuts and fuel shortages, the pain of addiction begins to manifest.

The creation of desire

This perspective of ‘development’, the extension of so-called ‘civilised living’ is not new to us in Sri Lanka, Farrer, writing in 1920, had this to say when visiting Colombo:

“Modern, indeed, is all this, civilised and refined to a notable degree. All the resources of modern culture are thick about you, and you feel that the world was only born yesterday, so far as right-thinking people are concerned.

And, up and down in the shade of glare, runs furiously the unresting tide of life. The main street is walled in by high, barrack like structures, fiercely western in the heart of the holy East, and the big hotels upon its frontage extend their uncompromising European facades. Within them there is a perpetual twilight, and meek puss-faced Sinhalese take perpetually the drink orders of prosperous planters and white-whiskered old fat gentlemen in sun hats lined with green. At night these places are visible realisation of earthly pleasure to the poor toiling souls from the farthest lonely heights of the mountains and the jungle.” The process goes on still …

Develop we must, but cautiously – with the full awareness of the long-term consequences of each process. Development must be determined by empowering the fundamental rights of the people and of the future generations. Clean air, clean water, access to food and freedom from intoxication, are some of these fundamental rights. Any process that claims to be part of a development process must address these, among other social and legal fundamental rights.

One problem has been that, the movement of a country with traditional non-consumptive values, into a consumerist society based on fossil energy tends to erode these values rapidly. Often, we are told that this is a necessary prerequisite to become a ‘developed country’, but this need not be so. We need to address that fundamental flaw stated in 1979. We need to wean ourselves away from the hydrocarbon-based economy to a carbohydrate-based economy. Which means moving from a fossil fuel-based economy to a renewable energy-based economy.

Fossil Fuels or fossil hydrocarbons are the repository of excess carbon dioxide that is constantly being injected into the atmosphere by volcanic action for over the last 200 million years. Hydrocarbons are substances that were created to lock up that excess Carbon Dioxide, sustaining the stable, Oxygen rich atmosphere we enjoy today. Burning this fossil stock of hydrocarbons is the principal driver of modern society as well as climate change. It is now very clear that the stability of planetary climate cycles is in jeopardy and a very large contributory factor to this crisis are the profligate activities of modern human society.

As a response to the growing public concern that fossil fuels are destroying our future, the fossil industry developed a ‘placating’ strategy. Plant a tree, they say, the tree will absorb the carbon we emit and take it out of the atmosphere, through this action we become Carbon neutral. When one considers that the Carbon which lay dormant for 200 million years was put into the atmosphere today, can never be locked up for an equal amount of time by planting a tree. A tree can hold the Carbon for 500 years at best and when it dies its Carbon will be released into the atmosphere again as Carbon Dioxide.

Carbon Dioxide is extracted from the atmosphere by plants and converted into a solid form through the action of photosynthesis. Photosynthetic biomass performs the act of primary production, the initial step in the manifestation of life. This material has the ability to increase in mass by the absorption of solar or other electromagnetic radiation, while releasing oxygen and water vapor into the atmosphere. It is only photosynthetic biomass that powers carbon sequestration, carbohydrate production, oxygen generation and water transformation, i.e., all actions essential for the sustainability of the life support system of the planet.

Yet currently, it is only one product of this photosynthetic biomass, sequestered carbon, usually represented by wood/timber, that is recognized as having commercial value in the market for mitigating climate change. The ephemeral part, the leaves, are generally ignored, yet the photosynthetic biomass in terrestrial ecosystems are largely composed of leaves, this component needs a value placed on it for its critical ‘environmental services’

With growth in photosynthetic biomass, we will see more Oxygen, Carbon sequestering and water cleansing, throughout the planet. As much of the biomass to be gained is in degraded ecosystems around the planet and as these areas are also home to the world’s rural poor, these degraded ecosystems have great growth potential for generating photosynthetic biomass of high value. If the restoration of these degraded ecosystems to achieve optimal photosynthetic biomass cover becomes a global goal, the amazing magic of photosynthesis could indeed help change our current dire course, create a new paradigm of growth and make the planet more benign for our children.

Instead of flogging the dead horse of fossil energy-based growth as ‘Economic Development’, instead of getting the population addicted to fossil energy, will we have the commonsense to appreciate the value of photosynthetic biomass and encourage businesses that obtain value for the nations Primary Ecosystem Services (PES)? The realization of which, will enrich not only our rural population but rural people the world over!

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Australia-Sri Lanka project in the news…Down Under

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The McNaMarr Project is the collaboration between Australian vocalist and blues guitarist, John McNamara, and Andrea Marr, who is a Sri Lankan-born blues and soul singer, songwriter and vocal coach.

Her family migrated to Australia when she was 14 and, today, Andrea is big news, Down Under.

For the record, Andrea has represented Australia, at the International Blues Challenge, in Memphis, Tennessee, three times, while John McNamara has also been there twice, representing Australia.

Between them, they have 10 albums and multiple Australian Blues awards.

Their second album, ‘Run With Me,’ as The McNaMarr Project, now available on all platforms, worldwide, has gone to No. 1 on the Australian Blues and Roots Sirplay charts, and No. 12 on the UK Blues charts.

Their debut album, ‘Holla And Moan,’ released in 2019, charted in Australia and the US Blues and Soul charts and received rave reviews from around the world.

Many referred to their style as “the true sound of soulful blues.”

= The Rocker (UK): “They’ve made a glorious album of blues-based soul. And when I say glorious, I really mean it. I’ve tried to pick out highlights, but as it’s one of the records of this year – 2019 – (or any other for that matter) it’s tricky. You have to own this.”

= Reflections in Blue (USA): “Ten original tunes that absolutely nail the sound and spirit of Memphis soul. Marr has been compared to Betty Lavette and Tina Turner and with good reason. She delivers vocals with power and soul and has a compelling stage presence. McNamara’s vocals are reminiscent of the likes of Sam & Dave or even Otis Redding. This is quality work that would be every bit as well received, in the late 1950s, as it is today. It is truly timeless.”

= La Hora Del Blues (Spain): “Andrea Marr’s voice gives us the same feeling as artistes, like Betty Lavette, Tina Turner or Sharon Jones, perfectly supported by John McNamara’s work, on vocals and guitar…in short words, GREAT!”

Yes, John McNamara has been described as an exceptional vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, whose voice has been compared to the late great Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, while Andrea Marr often gets compared to the likes of Tina Turner, Gladys Knight and Sharon Jones.

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Manju Robinson’s scene…

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Entertainer and frontline singer, Manju Robinson, is back, after performing at a leading tourist resort, in the Maldives, entertaining guests from many parts of the world, especially from Russia, Kazakhstan, Germany, Poland…and Maldivians, as well.

His playlist is made up of the golden oldies and the modern sounds, but done in different styles and versions.

While preparing for his next foreign assignment…in the Maldives again, and also Dubai, Manju says he has plans to do his thing in Colombo.

Manju has performed with several local bands, including 3Sixty, Shiksha (Derena Dreamstar band), Naaada, Eminents, Yaathra, Robinson Brothers, Odyssey, Hard Black and Mark.

He was the winner – Best Vocalist and the Best Duo performer – at the Battle of the Bands competition, in 2014, held at the Galadari Hotel.

In 2012, he won the LION’s International Best Vocalist 2012 award.

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