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MORE ADVENTURES & MISADVENTURES

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CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY

By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil

President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canad. Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum, chandij@sympatico.ca

Trying Hitch-hiking

A month passed after our period of suspension from the Ceylon Hotel School (CHS) and being gated for cutting school for a five-day cycle trip. Once again, I was hungry for an adventure. Over the holiday period, I did a week-long hitch-hiking trip around Sri Lanka with a friend. We faced some challenges, as hitch-hiking was not a common practice in Sri Lanka in the early 1970s. Our overnight stops included houses of CHS batchmates in Kandy and Nuwara Eliya, a rent-free hostel near Kataragama kovil and my aunt’s house in Akmeemana. We achieved our target of zero spending for travel.

More Cycle Trips

1) Kandy

Soon after that I did another cycle trip. This adventure had four main differences – I went alone, included the hill country in the itinerary, did not cut school and borrowed a better bicycle from a friend. I named the bicycle ‘The Lone Rider.’ It was a three-day trip from Colombo to Kurunegala on the first day, Kurunegala to Kandy on the second day, and back to Colombo on the third day. I stayed in my CHS batchmate’s homes in Kurunegala and Kandy.

I was not able to cycle for seven kilometres going up the steep hill around Galagedara, just before reaching Kandy. I pushed the bike for a long time to reach Kandy. The key challenge was the next day when I went downhill. Flying down (on my bike) Kadugannawa’s deep slope was a nightmare. For around seven kilometres, the brakes did not work to stop or reduce the speed of the bicycle. I was petrified, but quickly realised that I must keep my balance and clearly focus on not colliding with any fast-moving trucks on the narrow road. Slight rain made the road very slippery. I was also scared of falling down the mountainous road, which certainly would have been deadly! I was fortunate to return to the CHS hostel unharmed, covering a distance of around 260 kilometres. I improved my speed and became a better cyclist, since the adventure of ‘The Iron Horses.’

2) Kurunegala

A few months later, I planned another cycling adventure. This time, four of my fellow ‘Iron Horses’ joined the trip. We were surprised when one of the younger CHS Lecturers, Mr. Desmond Fernando decided to join. He was always friendly and informal with the students.

There are many interior Sri Lankan towns that have mysterious mountains and towering rocks as backdrops, and Kurunegala is one of them. Thanks to its picturesque setting with eight peaks, most especially the famed Elephant Rock, Kurunegala has much that makes it remarkable. Once an ancient capital, it also has a history worth becoming familiar with.

Our hosts in Kurunegala, my CHS batchmate, Sunil Perera and his elder brother Leslie, loved to party, sing and entertain. They were the ultimate hosts. Every evening we had a big booze and music party before a late dinner. We were woken up early in the morning on our second day in their house, by Leslie. He said, “Machang, let’s climb the Elephant Rock and have our breakfast on top of the rock with some gin remaining from last evening.” A couple of us were hungover from previous evening’s heavy drinking. That was no excuse for Leslie, we soon ended up having a big breakfast on the rock with neat gin!

The next day they took us on a picnic lunch. It was to a venue popular among locals, Bathalagoda Lake Park. This was believed to be built in the 13th century. A stone inscription on the embankment revealed the historic significance of the lake. A little bit of history and lots of food and booze made this trip very enjoyable. We also learned a lot from our lecturer, Mr. Desmond Fernando. He used his talent in interesting story telling to break the ice at parties attended by people we had never met before. I made a mental note that this is a skill I must cultivate.

3) Matara

Since I commenced my hotel management career the very next year, I organised a few cycle trips with the teams I managed. I also organised a couple of cycle races. In 1976, I organised a cycle trip to Matara with members of my team at the famous pioneer resort in Hikkaduwa – Coral Gardens Hotel (where I worked as the Executive Chef and Assistant Manager). The highlight of that trip was a nice swim and a heavy lunch after several rounds of arrack. A major problem stemmed from that.

Some of the riders had too much to drink. They simply were not fit enough to cycle back to the hotel from Matara. I had to think quickly outside the box, in consultation with the few who were relatively sober. We rented a large truck and a driver from a local trader in Matara. We placed all our bicycles in the truck. As the truck had no seats at the back we sat on the floor while we were driven back to the hotel. Those supervisors who were drunk fell asleep during the ride. When we were very close to Coral Gardens, we got off the truck and paid the truck driver. Then we cycled back to the hotel like heroes!

Not Good Enough for InterContinental

Towards the end of our second year at CHS, we heard some good news. The first five-star hotel in Sri Lanka, Hotel Ceylon InterContinental needed 20 well-trained part-time waiters to work during the grand opening of the hotel. I was thrilled with this news. As I was good at restaurant service, I was somewhat sure of this opportunity. However, when the principal announced the names of the 20 second-year students chosen by CHS, my name was not the list. I knew that Herr Sterner disliked me, but did not expect him to deprive me of this valuable experience. Perhaps, that was his revenge for my role in organising the previous cycle trip and cutting school. I was disappointed and depressed when my batchmates described their experience at the one and only five-star hotel in the country. My desperation gradually became a strong determination to gain that five-star experience, without an official recommendation from CHS.

Flipping Hamburgers at a Small Cafe

One day when I was passing the famous Galle Face Hotel, on my way from CHS to the hostel, I dropped in at a small local cafe then called ‘The Windmill’. It was advertised as the first hamburger restaurant in Sri Lanka. There were no internationally branded fast-food restaurants in Sri Lanka at that time, in fact not until the early-nineties. ‘The Windmill’ was very small, but the layout was well-planned for a fast operation and was quite trendy. I introduced myself to the Manager, Mrs. Chithra Perumal, a well-known cookery demonstrator. She interviewed me immediately. I paused a little to read her personality and adjusted the way I communicated with her. That worked in my favour. She offered me a part-time job as a Grill Cook from the very next day.

My job was simply flipping hamburgers, but the manager occasionally asked me to make other dishes I had learnt to prepare at CHS. The few evenings I worked there each week; I was the last to leave after the manager locked the cafe. Her husband, Mr. Felix Perumal was a senior police officer, and came to pick his wife soon after we closed the café at 11:00 pm. They both were friendly and on occasional Saturday evenings went out of their way to drop me at my home in Bambalapitiya Flats, after work. Mainly because of the friendliness of the manager, I enjoyed my fifth part-time job. It is always nice to work for superiors one likes, respects and can le

arn from.

InterContinental through the Backdoor

While working at the Windmill, I never lost sight of my then goal to get into Hotel Ceylon InterContinental. I was pushy in getting introductions to the Personnel Department (Human Resource was not a trendy term at that time). Finally, after some persuasions I was hired as a part-time banquet waiter a few weeks after the grand opening. I was most impressed with their service standards and I learnt a lot. At that time Sri Lanka hardly had any hospitality managers with five-star experience. Therefore, Hotel Ceylon InterContinental managed to get work permits approved by the Ministry of Labour for twenty-three expatriate managers to open this hotel.

At that time, Gamini Fernando (years later the General Manager of Colombo Hilton) was the only Sri Lankan operational manager. He was the Front Office Manager and his team included a young Lobby Manager – Chandra Mohotti (years later the General Manager of the Galadari Hotel). Forty years later, Sunil Dissanyake, one of my batchmates who worked as a part-time banquet waiter became the General Manager of the former InterContinental now rebranded as the Kingsbury.

Mastering Five-star Banquet Service

Mr. Mansourian, the hotel’s Banquet Manager came from Egypt. He was also a good trainer. We served at dinner banquets with elaborate menus with Beef Wellington as a favourite main course. Once an accident happened when one of my batchmates, Kotte, raced with another student with a butter carving made for a buffet table, on a tall trolley from the cold kitchen to the ballroom. It was a large butter carving of a dolphin, which hit the beam of a low celling in the stewarding area. The head of the dolphin broke and that angered the German Executive Chef. Kotte nearly got fired.

The ballroom of Hotel Ceylon InterContinental was the grandest and most prestigious venue for weddings in Sri Lanka in 1973. However, as the socialist government led by the Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike had restricted catered weddings to a maximum 150 guest, the hotel could not book any large wedding banquets. That meant that weddings with over guests served only soft drinks. When I served at such weddings my tasks were limited to serving the soft drinks and changing ashtrays throughout each function.

The hotel’s standard was maximum one cigarette butt in an ashtray at any given time. Banquet waiters were trained to cover the used ashtray with a single cigarette butt with a clean ashtray, place both on the banquet tray and then place the clean ashtray on the table. Mr. Mansourian watched the banquet waiters very closely, like a hawk. If he ever noticed two cigarette butts in one ashtray, that became the last shift of the part-time banquet waiter serving such a table.

I quickly learnt that attention to details was essential for quality assurance in five-star hotels. It was in my sixth part-time job that I was exposed such strict discipline in maintaining five-star service standards. That banquet service training and experience at the Hotel Ceylon InterContinental in 1973 was very useful for me ten years later when I worked as a banquet waiter at some of the best five-star hotels in London. It was during my graduate student years in England.

From 1983 to 1985, I worked in London in between my classes and research as a banquet waiter at the Dorchester, Savoy, Claridge’s, London Hilton and InterContinental London Park Lane. Coming first in a special banquet service training program in 1984, I was chosen to serve the Queen of England, Prince Philip and the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at a royal banquet held at the best British five-star hotel – the Dorchester. Thank you for the training, Mr. Mansourian!



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Form-ation of Higher Education in Sri Lanka

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By Hasini Lecamwasam

Improving higher education in Sri Lanka is not only important, but essential and long overdue. However, seeking to achieve higher ‘quality’ by ‘form-ising’ the performance of teachers (or the practice of forcing the entire teaching-learning exercise into forms designed to communicate exactly what and what transpires in a classroom) may not be able to bring about the desired change. A new set of four forms introduced recently to this end requires, among other things, drawing up a minutely detailed plan of each and every lesson to be delivered in class, aligned with the Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs), in turn, to be aligned with the Programme Learning Outcomes (PLOs), which should all then be tied to the graduate profile, or the kind of graduate we seek to ‘produce’ at the end of it all. This may, on the surface of it, sound reasonable enough and not encourage serious debate or resistance because, after all, it is only some forms that need to be filled.

Form by tedious form, however, the teaching-learning process at state universities is becoming increasingly constricted, fragmented, monitored, controlled. In this piece, I wish to briefly ponder on the implications of these requirements and the larger trends they signal, while also attempting to reflect on what instead we may do to ensure ‘quality’ in the delivery of higher education.

The problem with form-ation

The larger ‘Quality Assurance’ (QA) landscape in which these developments take place was discussed in detail in an earlier Kuppi Talk by Kaushalya Perera. In a nutshell, QA seeks to standardise education such that study programmes can be assessed against each other, assigned numbers, and ranked accordingly. The deployment of overarching yardsticks for programmes with hugely varying mandates, methods, and content has been the subject of much critique lately the world over, not the least due to its rather warped understanding of ‘quality’ as something that can be objectively established through metrics and audits.

While I do not question the bona fide motives behind the initiative taken with the aforementioned forms, I do think serious reflection on where these developments push us in the longer term is needed. My primary reservation here has to do with the impact of this lesson-wise breakdown on the creative and democratic exercise that the teaching-learning process is supposed to entail. When each topic is broken down into such fine detail prior to the actual occurrence of the ‘lesson’ (for want of a better word), outcomes are foreclosed rather than collectively and organically evolving in the course of the ‘lesson’, which is particularly important to many of the subjects offered in the Arts Faculties. Exactly how many of us are actually quite so democratic in our classrooms is a valid question in this regard, and one I will return to. The point for me here, however, is that for those who do have a sincere commitment to such a democratic classroom environment, such forms and the limiting of the teaching-learning experience they constitute, may be tantamount to strangulation.

Even if the majority of us admit to being very controlling in our classrooms anyway, does that justify going one step further with these forms and institutionalising such control? Should not our commitment be to the emancipatory ideal, rather than simply what most are on board with? There should be meaningful space for creative, organic, and democratic teaching-learning processes to unfold for teachers who wish to make that choice, and for students to explore and think beyond the teacher’s frame of thinking. Micromanaging beyond the general content of a course (laid down in enough detail in the course syllabus) is inimical to even a possibility of democracy existing in the classroom and within the larger university space.

This complete subservience of the teaching-learning process to red tape signals a larger and troubling trend of corporatisation. Corporatisation may be defined as the restructuring of a publicly owned institution to be managed as a business place would be, with a view to privatising in the long term. In state universities, this shift is couched in the supposedly ‘progressive’ language of student-centered approaches and interactive classrooms, hijacked from the democratic pedagogy of the likes of Paulo Freire, but bereft of any of the emancipatory politics within which these methods assume meaning. Despite the use of these catch-phrases, however, such minutely detailed forms signal a return to an extremely teacher-centered model due to the absence of the possibility for students to meaningfully influence the outcome of a lesson, as it is predetermined for them.

The result, as the Kannangara report worried with remarkable foresight some 80 years ago, is students “with much knowledge and little understanding. They have not read books; they have “studied” texts. They cannot write, they produce essays after a set style. They can answer questions but not question answers … Their imagination has been stunted, their originality suppressed, their capacity for thought undeveloped, their emotions inhibited.”

What alternative can we propose?

A valid question countering what little resistance there is to form-ation asks how we can ensure the education we currently deliver is of an acceptable standard, and that everybody observes such. There seems to prevail tacit and widespread agreement that the ‘democratic nonsense’ within universities is what has allowed many to hide behind debates, deliberations, appeals to creative freedom, and so on, without actually doing their work.

In my view, this is an arbitrary causation to draw. Blaming internal democracy for negligence of duties fails to take into account the highly anti-democratic practices at universities that may better explain such behaviour.

Specifically, I think it is the rigidly entrenched hierarchy within universities that blocks the possibility of even dialogue, let alone debate, particularly when it comes to holding those higher-up in the ladder accountable for their actions (or the lack thereof, as the case may be). Hierarchy is why, among many other things, students cannot question the content or the methods chosen by their teachers. As previous Kuppi Talks have endeavoured to show, hierarchy is silently, and therefore very effectively, observed at every level, ensuring the trumping of students by teachers, juniors by seniors, women by men, minorities by the majority, and originality by tradition. It impedes questioning, stifles dissent, and smothers alternative thinking altogether. The problem, therefore, is not that we have too much democracy in universities, but too little of it.

We must make a sincere and sustained effort to radically democratise the university space by relaxing the classroom to allow open and honest exchange between students and teachers; changing the relations of power between seniors and juniors, starting with undoing the practice of deferential treatment; refusing to tolerate snide and not-so-subtle references to ways of dressing and similar gendered remarks; questioning the exclusive use of the majority language in official communications, as a starting point. In doing so, we would be subverting the crippling hierarchy that inhibits thought and practice within the university. Such a radical change geared towards improved quality through mutual accountability, for me, is the only acceptable way of introducing accountability to a space that, admittedly, sorely lacks it.

(Hasini Lecamwasam is attached to the Department of Political Science, University of Peradeniya)

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.

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THE LOGIC OF PRESIDENT’S PLEDGES IN NEW YORK

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by Jehan Perera

The significance of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s speech at the UN General Assembly, in New York, last week, was his use of the time allocated to him to provide an outline of the government’s policies towards the main challenges besetting the country. The President covered the main issues that confront the world with his focus on Sri Lanka. These included measures to contain the Covid pandemic, the economic crisis, environmental degradation and violence. In the final section of his well-crafted speech, the President went into some depth regarding the government’s approach to national reconciliation. However, the response within the country, has been muted and for good reason. Those who voted for the government, on an entirely different platform, which emphasised ethnic majority nationalism and anti-international sentiments, are quite probably at a loss.

It is only recently that the government has started to speak in terms of reconciliation and obtaining international support for it. At the two elections that brought this government to power, the Easter Sunday bombing and the consequent threat to national security, took centre stage. The majority, who voted for the government, did so to protect it from a variety of security threats they were told of, both within and outside the country. The wretched failure of the previous government to prevent the bombing, the first terrorist act of any magnitude since the war ended a decade earlier, was attributed to the personal weakness of the then government leaders. It was also attributed to the 19th Amendment which sought to give state institutions protection from use for partisan reasons by government politicians and to consequent disintegration of the system of command and control.

A second theme, at the two elections, was depiction of ethnic and religious minorities as potential security threats. This stemmed from the country’s experience of three decades of internal warfare with the armed Tamil separatist movements. This was followed by the Easter bombings by extremists from the Muslim community, who were feared to be having a vast support base both internally within the country and also externally. In these circumstances, the re-centralisation of power within the government hierarchy and greater role given to the security forces, received public acceptance as being part of the government’s democratic mandate. At the same time, by denying the equally legitimate concerns of the ethnic and religious minorities, the electoral results demonstrated the existence of an acute polarisation, and wound, in the body politic that continues to fester to the point of bringing in involuntary and imposed international interventions.

EU MONITORING

The challenge for the government is to represent the interests of all communities and not only the majority who voted it into power. The problem is that the government’s mandate comes, by and large, from the vote of the ethnic and religious majority in a country that has been polarised on ethnic and religious lines, for many decades. An ugly part of this reality is that in the prisons are several hundreds of Tamils and Muslims for the most part who are in custody for periods ranging from a few months to many years without trial. They are being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, ostensibly until the security forces find adequate evidence to put them before the courts of law. This contradicts the rule of law and the presumption in our legal system that we are innocent until proven guilty can have negative consequences.

In June this year, the EU parliament passed a resolution that the GSP Plus tariff privileges, made available to Sri Lanka should be withdrawn unless the government fulfilled its obligations in regard to the upholding of human rights. The resolution, expressing “deep concern over Sri Lanka’s alarming path towards the recurrence of grave human rights violations”, and makes specific reference to the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The resolution notes the “continuing discrimination” against and violence towards religious and ethnic minorities, while voicing “serious concern” about the 20th Amendment passed in 2020, and the “resulting decline in judiciary independence, the reduction of parliamentary control, and the excessive accumulation of power with the presidency”. It also highlights “accelerating militarisation” of civilian government functions in Sri Lanka.

A delegation from the EU is currently in Sri Lanka to meet with members of the government, Opposition and civil society, to ascertain whether the country is fulfilling its obligations to be a beneficiary of EU trade benefits. It is likely that the delegation will be provided with evidence of human rights violations and acts of impunity. There are hundreds of persons languishing in prisons without being put on trial, many of whom are Tamils, suspected to be LTTE members, and more of them are Muslims, suspected of having links with the Easter bombings. When questioned in parliament about the latter, the minister in charge justified those detentions on the grounds that Muslim youth, including the Muslim parliamentarian who had questioned him, could contain Islamic State ideology in their heads and therefore be security threats.

NEW DIRECTION

At the last elections, the most potent theme was the failure of the then government to act effectively to protect the country from the Easter suicide bombings and the pressures from human rights actors in Geneva. Among the issues that loomed large at the last election was also the charge that the previous government was giving in too much to the Muslim community within the country. The fact that the Easter attacks were by Muslim suicide bombers added force to this charge. The prioritisation of national security in the election campaign had popular support. The influential religious clergy, associations of professionals and mass media also joined the battle in earnest and their messages reinforced one another. The recent debate in Parliament suggests the government’s thinking continues to be in sync with the mandate it received at those elections.

However, in his speech in New York, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has shown signs of diverging from the politics of the past. The President said “Fostering greater accountability, restorative justice, and meaningful reconciliation through domestic institutions is essential to achieve lasting peace. So too is ensuring more equitable participation in the fruits of economic development. It is my Government’s firm intention to build a prosperous, stable and secure future for all Sri Lankans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or gender. We are ready to engage with all domestic stakeholders, and to obtain the support of our international partners and the United Nations, in this process.” However, the President’s speech continues to be at variance with the ground realities at the present time and the general manner of governance since the President took office in November 2019.

So far the pledge of a new direction is articulated in words. The time for the government to make the President’s words real and act accordingly is now. This will help to overcome the deep and dark cynicism that has enveloped the country regarding promises made by politicians. The first step would be to apply the logic of the Justice Minister in Parliament. Replying to an Opposition Parliamentarian who called for the arrest of Minister Lohan Ratwatte who stands accused of entering a prison and threatening prisoners with his gun, the justice minister said that everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. This also applies to the hundreds of Tamils and Muslims in jail without evidence to charge them in a court of law. The better way to deal with the threats to national security is to win the confidence of all the communities in the Sri Lanka by treating them without discrimination, as children of one mother, as our national anthem proclaims.

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Face shields, sans masks, on TV shows!

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Face shield ONLY does not provide protection from Covid-19

Covid-19 has claimed many lives, in our part of the world. Quite a few musicians, too, have had to face the music, where this deadly virus is concerned.

However, one is perturbed with the setup seen on some of our TV shows, especially where musicians are concerned.

The Covid-19 guidelines are never adhered to – no masks, no social distancing, etc.

There were reality shows held, post pandemic, where judges were seen even hugging their favourite contestants – with no masks.

With the virus turning deadly, some of the judges took to only wearing face shields. And, we now know the results of their stupidity.

By their irresponsible behaviour (wearing only face shields), they seem to be setting a trend for others to follow.

The question being asked is what are the health authorities doing? Why haven’t such folks been taken to task!

If the man on the street is arrested for not wearing a mask, how come these law-breakers go scot-free!

If wearing a mask is a hassle in an air conditioned setup, then such shows should be put on hold, or held virtual…live stream, zoom, from home, etc., and not with the participation of several artistes, in a studio.

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