CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY
By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil
President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada
Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum
An Opportunity to introduce Sri Lankan Cuisine to Hong Kong
In early 1981, from the post of Manager of one of the Walkers Tours/John Keells Hotels, I was promoted to the corporate office. I was the first Manager-Operations for Hotel Management and Marketing Services Limited, with some responsibility for all six hotels of the John Keells Group. At age 27, I was getting used to the corporate culture of the largest group of companies in Sri Lanka.
I was busy taking over the management of the Ceylinco Hotel, which became the seventh hotel of the group. In the midst of my busy schedule, my immediate superior, Bobby Adams, Director-Operations entrusted me at short notice, to travel to Hong Kong. He wanted me to quickly plan and organise a large Sri Lankan and Maldivian food festival at the Hotel Furama Inter•Continental.
It was an important two-week tourism promotional festival with partnership of a few organisations represented by: M. Y. M. Thahir for Walkers Tours, Pani Seneviratne for Ceylon Tourist Board and Ahamed Didi of Universal Resorts of the Maldives. The Inter•Continental Hotel Group, was expected to be represented by their Executive Chef in Colombo. The festival included 28 large
buffets for lunch and dinner over 14 days, promoting Sri Lankan cuisine and a few dishes from the Maldives. The Hotel Furama Inter•Continental had agreed to provide three cooks to assist the Guest Executive Chef representing Sri Lanka.
At the eleventh hour, the Executive Chef of Hotel Ceylon Inter•Continental had refused to take part, complaining that the support in Hong Kong is inadequate to produce 28 large buffets over 14 days. He wanted three Sri Lankan chefs from his brigade to be provided with air tickets to Hong Kong. That request was not accepted by Air Lanka, the airline sponsor of festival.
The reputation of Walkers Tours as the main organizer of the festival was at stake. Bobby asked me, “Chandi, we need someone like you to rise to the occasion. Can you please help the company?”. I planned the menus, calculated quantities of all ingredients and purchased a few key buffet decorations on the same day from Laksala, and took off on an Air Lanka flight to Hong Kong, the very next day.
My trip to Hong Kong in 1981
During the flight, I was thinking of my father’s advice given to me just before my trip. He said, “Chandana, try your best to do even a short trip to China, after the food festival. Future global tourism will be divided into two – China and the rest of the world! Don’t miss this opportunity.” My father was a visionary thinker and his predictions since his visit to China in 1958, were: “China one day will become the number one tourist destination in the world and China will also become the most powerful nation in the world.”
When I debated with him about his rationale for this prediction, he said that when many democratic countries in the world do their national master plans for a shorter period, China does 50-year master plans. China is not impacted by aspects such as general elections and change of political parties in power, as experienced in democratic nations.
The food festival was a big success. By the end of the two weeks, I was exhausted from cooking virtually all dishes for 28 buffets. My three Hong Kong Chinese assistants also worked very hard providing me support, but they were totally dependent on my final cooking. The experience I gained in Hong Kong was helpful in later years, when I organised four more large Sri Lankan food and culture festivals in Singapore, Oman, Guyana and Jamaica, as the Guest Executive Chef and Event Coordinator.
I was in Hong Kong for three weeks. My extra (non-cooking) seven days were spent on event planning, advance preparations, public relations and promotional events for the national TV in Hong Kong.
My trip to Macau and China in 1981
Finally, before leaving Hong Kong, I found two days to do a quick trip to Macau and Southern China. 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 China. In terms of Tourism in 1981, China was at a very early developmental stage, much behind small countries such as Sri Lanka.
My father was pleased and proud of me. Upon my return home, he had long chats with me about China, Macau and Hong Kong. He told me, “’I must go back to China to see if they are getting closer to the predictions, I made in 1958!” I felt that he was disappointed that he did not get an opportunity to re-visit China, for 23 years since his first visit.
Two More Trips to China in 1985 and 1987
Having retired from the Sri Lanka Administrative Service by the early 1980s, my father worked as a Consultant to the Chairman of Phoenix Advertising (Pvt) Ltd, a Company Director for Lanka Tiles and the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Ayurvedic Drugs Corporation. He continued to travel overseas for business purposes, but did not get another opportunity to travel to China. He was getting frustrated about it. One day in early 1985, on the spur of the moment, he decided to visit the Chinese Embassy in Colombo, with a copy of his 1963 book, Cheena Charika (Travels in China). He showed the book to the Deputy Ambassador and narrated stories about his memorable trip to China in 1958. He also told them that he would love to visit China again to see the development in the areas he visited 27 years ago. My father had a gentle persuasive personality.
A week later my father was invited to have tea with the Ambassador for China. During tea, my father was given the good news. The Chinese Government had invited my father to travel around China for three weeks as a special guest of the Chinese Government, on a fully paid trip. They honoured my father for being one of the first foreigners to write a book about the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
In addition to re-visiting most of the cities and attractions he visited in 1958, my father was able to visit places of importance related to visual arts during his second trip to China in 1985. It was evident that he especially valued the opportunity to get some art lessons at the famous Shanghai School of Art. Years later, my father published the following poem about that productive visit.
Some skilful strokes
with a bamboo brush
on a sheet of rice paper
and stamping it in red
with his signature seal
the Chinese painter says:
“Let this painting be
the memento of your visit
to the Shanghai School of Art.”
I thank him and wonder why
salient features of the landscape
are not in the painting.
Reading my mind
his response was quick:
“What is most important
In a work of art is what
The artist chooses to leave out.”
And that advice has been my guide
every time I tried to paint or write.
(R. D. K. Jayawardena, 2008, p. 15, Fingerprint, Sarasavi Bookshop (Pvt) Ltd, Nugegoda)
My father was an excellent landscape artist. After his art lessons at the Shanghai School of Art in 1985, he tried simplistic black and white drawings, in addition to his China-inspired landscapes in oil paint. As my life-long mentor and art teacher, he continued to give me lessons on visual art on new techniques he was mastering. As a semi-professional artist, I benefited tremendously from my father’s passion for arts and his ability to teach all forms of art.
In mid-1980s, my father was invited to help a friend of his, Minister Gamini Jayasuriya. He assisted the minister and worked as the Coordinating Secretary for the Ministry of Health, Agricultural Development, Food and Co-operatives. In that capacity he traveled to China again in 1987, representing Sri Lanka at the World Food Council meeting in Beijing. He used that opportunity to travel around China, once more.
Three more Trips to a changing Hong Kong
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) arranged my assignment.
A year later, in 1992, I returned to Hong Kong to present a case study from Sri Lanka at the Pacific Asia Regional Tourism Education Forum, organised by the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) and an agency of the United Nations – the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). I was proud to meet two Sri Lankans leading PATA at that time – Lakshman Ratnapala, President & CEO and Renton De Alwis, Vice President – Asia.
I returned to Hong Kong in 2001, to present a case study from the Caribbean. This was at the International Hospitality Industry Evolution Conference, organised by the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Cornell University, USA. On this fourth visit, I felt the changing political climate of Hong Kong. In time to come, I will narrate fun stories from my trips to Hong Kong in chronological order in this column.
My memorable trip to
China in 2010
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 on 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. In time to come, I will provide more stories about this memorable trip, in this column.
When I stayed in Shanghai for some education partnership work, I took a couple of days off to attend the largest exhibition I had ever seen (EXPO 2010). The train I took from Shanghai city centre to the exhibition ground was also memorable.
It was easily the fastest, the cleanest and the most efficiently operated train ride I experienced during all my travels around the world. The most memorable experience I had in China was a day excursion on the mystic Li River and ending the day by watching a fully choreographed show staged on the banks and in the water of Li River for an audience of 4,000 spectators. This show, ‘Impression Liu Sanjie’ by director Zhang Yimou is a local tourist attraction. The show is the world’s biggest natural auditorium that uses Li River waters as its stage, with its backdrop to be twelve mist-enveloped hills.
On my return to Canada, I could not stop dreaming about the mystic hills, the beautiful Li River and the fascinating show in Guilin. Inspired by my Chinese tourist experiences, I completed a series of Li River paintings. The largest of this series was purchased by the President of George Brown College, during a fund-raising art show I did in Toronto in 2010. This art exhibition, ‘Century ½ – 50 years in Art’, was presented by George Brown College’s School of Design to raise money for student scholarships.
First Art Lesson
A guiding hand
Taught me to walk
Talk and read
Then to paint
A little kid
In a tropical zoo
A first-time wonderer
Amazing big animals!
“Paint what you see”
“Pen what you feel”
Still useful, decades later
“Use less paint”
“Be gentle with the brush”
Critical, as ever
During my last meeting
Lessons in life and art
From my first visit to the zoo
To the final lesson from my father
My last meeting with my father was in 2020, in Colombo a few months before he passed away at nearly 99 years of age. We discussed many things that were important to him – my three children, visual art, poetry and China. He repeated his 1958 and 1981 predictions, again, “China one day will become the number one tourist destination in the world and China will also become the most powerful nation in the world.”
Today, China has climbed to the number four slot in the world of Tourism (after USA, Spain and Italy) and has become the second most powerful nation in the world after USA. I think that my father’s prediction will become a fact during my lifetime. International criticism about China’s behaviour is ever growing. The list includes poor record of human rights, religious freedom, handling of prolonging conflict in Tibet, handling of protests in Hong Kong, lack of respect for the Law of the Sea, indirect colonisation via massive developmental projects with 99-year rights, environmental pollution, cyber warfare and honesty about COVID-19. In spite of all these black marks as a bad global actor, the Dragon is Flying Higher. Meanwhile, my curiosity and fascination over China continues…
Amusement ride brought to life on big screen Jungle Cruise
By Tharishi Hewavithanagamage
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra from screenplay written by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, and Michael Green, ‘Jungle Cruise’ is loosely based on Walt Disney’s theme park attraction of the same name. After success of the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise, it comes as no surprise that Disney wanted to create another ride-based movie, this time featuring one of its first rides. The riverboat amusement ride was the only attraction to exist in the Adventureland themed section on Disneyland’s opening day in 1955. The live-action riverboat adventure stars Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, and Paul Giamatti.
The film is set in 1916, and follows Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) in a fervent search for a mystical tree whose petals known as Tears of the Moon, are said to have healing properties. Her strong belief that she could bring about medical breakthroughs and save numerous lives, prompts her to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, deep into the Amazon rainforest.
With a map in hand, Lily along with her brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall) enlist the help of skipper and swindler Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) to help navigate the vast waters of the rainforest. Coveting the mystical petals for their own goals are Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) and a team of 400-year old cursed conquistadors led by Aguirre (Edgar Ramírez). In a race against time, the bad guys and the jungle, Lily must place her trust in Frank if she is to ever reach the tree, but it’s easier said than done.
The latest Disney movie is definitely fun to watch. It’s a classic, and far too predictable, adventure, where a small group of protagonists venture into the unknown. The movie obviously borrows heavily from big screen hits like ‘Indiana Jones’, ‘The Mummy’ franchise, ‘Anacondas: Hunt for the Blood Orchid’ and even the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise. This film is a patch-work of tropes.
The two-hour movie also packs a lot, which is precisely why the plot gets murkier as the audiences and protagonists cruise through. The big picture is brimming with smaller side stories which include characters that aren’t essential to the plot and in the end remain forgettable, like Paul Giamatti’s crusty harbormaster Nilo, who unfortunately falls into the margins of the movie. And scenes such as Prince Joachim talking to bees, makes the film utterly nonsensical. However, the strongest points of the movie are seen in the strengthening relationships and character development, which receive just about enough screen time to hold the story together. And while there is no overarching theme for this tale, it handles themes like women empowerment and exoticism.
‘Jungle Cruise’ offers audiences an imaginative look at deeper areas of the Amazon. The titular jungle, Frank’s beloved boat and adorable pet Jaguar Proxima are CGI highlights, whereas most other effects, notably the ragtag supernatural conquistadors, who look like they hung out with Davy Jones for too long, fall flat.
The film also delivers meticulously choreographed action sequences that showcase each individual character’s physical prowess. Everyone gets a chance to throw a punch with good form, not just The Rock. The film also draws in ideas and references from the actual ride. The humor, a courtesy of Frank’s pun-laden jokes is an actual reference to the theme-park attraction. The ride is known for its corny jokes, all delivered by skippers who narrate the adventure to visitors. Everything comes together to make the film a fun-filled experience. It falls short of a strong plot but is driven forward by the performance of the two leads.
An unlikely pair, both Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt showcase their stellar acting skills. Blunt brings a strong charisma as an intrepid scholar and adventurer, breaking barriers in ‘a man’s world’ through her role as Dr. Lily Houghton. Blunt expertly navigates the character’s inner nerd and heroine in doing amazing stunts and even takes on Johnson’s muscular self. Johnson pours his heart and soul into his character Frank. At first glance Frank comes across as a rogue character with no depth and mainly supplies humor to the tale, but as the story unfolds Johnson taps into deeper aspects of the character. The Blunt-Johnson pairing oddly makes their banter fun, but the sense of awkwardness can be overwhelmingly uncomfortable in some scenes.
Jack Whitehall’s role as Lily’s not-so-adventurous brother McGregor, is Disney’s latest attempt to introduce a gay character, but fails to leave a deep impression. It also seems like it’s never a good adventure without the nefarious Germans trying to kill everyone, but Jesse Plemons brings more comedic relief than menace to his role as Prince Joachim. The conquistador villain Aguirre played by Edgar Ramírez, remains sidelined and underused.
At the end of the day, ‘Jungle Cruise’ is a fun summer adventure that everyone can enjoy. Although the film doesn’t meet the standards set by their cooler counterpart ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, ‘Jungle Cruise’ brings its own unique quirkiness that saves it from drowning completely.
Astrologers suggested he be ordained
Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera
Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera was an eminent scholar monk in the nineteenth century. He was the founder of the Vidyodaya Pirivena.
He was born in the village of Hettigoda in Hikkaduwa on 20-01-1827.
As was the Sinhala custom, his horoscope was cast by an eminent astrologer who predicted that the child was under the evil influence of the planets and that he will have a life of misfortune, with a suggestion that he be ordained. The parents then consulted several other eminent astrologers who too, made similar predictions.
(As later events proved, the predictions happened to be from those who had not properly mastered the science of astrology, or due to the inaccurate time of birth recorded).
As per the predictions, his parents then decided to ordain him. With that in view, he was given only a temple-oriented education, with no formal schooling.
When he was about 14 years old, preparations were made to ordain him at an auspicious time. But, as the auspicious time was fast approaching, he was found missing.
After he was found, he told his father not to ordain him and bring the Buddha Sasana into disrepute, as his astrological predictions were adverse.
However, he was ordained later as Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera, of his own volition.
Nobody ever thought, at the time, that he would one day be a scholar of great repute.
The following year, he sojourned at the Mapalagama Temple, in the Galle District during the Vas Season (rainy season) with his preceptor Mobotuwana Revatha Thera and several other monks.
This young Sumangala Samanera (novice) endeared himself to the devotees, with his disciplined demeanour and with his sermons, based on the Jathaka stories (stories of the former lives of the Buddha). One such devotee – John Cornelis Abeywardena, an English scholar (an ancestor of the present day Galle politician Vajira Abeywardena) volunteered to teach English to this young inspiring preacher.
It was a time when some bhikkhus were engaged in native medical treatment. And Sumangala Thera, then still a novice, was to answer this question as to whether the bhikkhus could engage in such a practice.
He construed that it was harmless to treat the hapless, destitute patients, friends or relations, provided it was not for any material gain and that it was not a serious violation of the Vinaya rules.
While travelling by train, one day, this Samanera met a group of pilgrims from Siam (now Thailand), coming down south, after a pilgrimage to Anuradhapura.
The pilgrims knew only their Siam language and the Pali language, resulting in they being cut off from the local populace.
One of them, half-heartedly spoke to this Samanera in the Pali lanugage. It was then that he realised that he was spaking to a Pali scholar. This resulted in exchange of views between the two of them.
Later he continued with his higher learning under several reputed venerable preceptors and also authored several valuable books.
During the Vas Season, in that year 1858, he sojourned at the Bogahawatta Temple, in Galle, and commenced publishing a newspaper for Buddhists named “Lanka Loka”.
He was a close friend of Col. Henry Steele Olcott, who arrived in Ceylon in the year 1880.
During those colonial days, the first class compartments in trains were more or less reserved for the white masters. Quite often, these compartments were seen going empty, except for one or two of them, while the second and third classes were crammed. Though some Sri Lankans had the means to travel first class, they didn’t have the courage to do so. There were others who did not care a damn for the white skins and unhestatingly travelled first class.
One day Sumangala Nayaka Thera was travelling to Kandy and entered a first class compartment, occupied by two high- spirited Englishmen.
With characteristic arrogance they subjected the Nayaka Thera to a barrage of vulger comments and rude insults.
“This old fellow has, by mistake, got into this compartment” one of them said.
“No, this is not a mistake. He is purposely, fraudulently, travelling first class with a third class ticket.”
“Shall we hand him over to the Railway Authorities?” asked the other.
The Thera gazed at them silently with a benign smile on his face.
At Polgahawela, the train was shunted into a siding, for the train carrying Sir Arthur Gordon, Governor of Ceylon, who was returning to Colombo, after a holiday, was due at any moment.
The train arrived and the Governor’s special compartment drew up right alongside the one occupied by the venerable monk. Glancing out of the window, the Governor saw Sumangala Thera and a smile of pure pleasure shone on the Governor’s face. For he and the learned monk were close friends. Scholars both, they visited each other quite often and spent many hours in erudite discussion.
“My dear High Priest! Fancy meeting you like this!” said Sir Gordon, opening the door of his compartment and walking into the one occupied by the Thera. They were engaged in a lively conversation, in English, and the train was 11 minutes late.
With the Governor’s departure, the two louts now crestfallen and repentant at their boorish behaviour, profusely apologised to the Thera.
With a smile on his face, the Thera, accepted their apologies with a brief exhortation. Thereafter they were engaged in a lovely conservation till the journey’s end.
Once there was a clash between some Buddhists who went in a procession and some Catholics at Maggona, resulting in the death of a Catholic.
As a sequel, a Buddhist named Seeman Fernando was sentenced to death. On representations made by the Nayaka Thera to the Governor, Seeman Fernando was released.
One day, a group of pilgrims that also included some members of the Cambodian Royal Family, went to Kandy with the Nayaka Thera for an exposition of the Tooth Relic.
It was a non-event as no prior intimation had been made to the Dalada Maligawa authorities in time.
The next morning, the Thera was walking leisurely along the Nuwara Wewa, when Governor Gordon, who was going in a horse drawn chariot saw the Nayaka Thera and after greeting him indulged in a lively conversation. When he told him about the non-event of the exposition of the tooth relic the previous day, the Governor took immediate steps for a special exposition, directing the Government Agent to make the necessary arrangements.
In the year 1873, he founded the Vidyodaya Pirivena – a seat of Buddhist higher learning. It was his greatest service to Buddhism.
When the permit to have a perahera was first introduced at the turn of this centry, the Nayaka Thera, as Head of Vidyodaya, sought permission to hold the annual perahera of the Pirivena. Permission was at first refused, but mysteriously granted a few days later.
Despite the refusal, the Nayaka Thera had gone ahead with the arrangements to hold the perahera, and when a senior police officer on horseback brought the permit personally to the High Priest, he contemptuously rejected it and sent the officer away.
This incident was reported to the I.G.P. who, in turn, reported it to the Governor of the colony of Ceylon.
The Governor, a close friend and admirer of Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera, sent his Maha Mudliyar, Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, as his personal emissary, to respectfully request the learned scholar monk to come to Queen’s House to discuss the matter, as His Excellency feared that the act of the Nayaka Thera would be an undersirable precedent.
“I refused to accept the police permit for this reason,” the Nayaka Thera, told the Governor. “When I first asked for permission to hold the perahera, permission was refused. A few days later, permission was granted. This indicates that permits are given, not according to any law, but at the whims and fancies of police personnel, which is all wrong. That is why I refused the permit that was given on second thoughts. The freedom to practise the Buddhist religion and its rites have been guaranteed in the Kandyan Convention, and I shall be grateful if you and your minions will kindly remember that.”
The chastened Governor was profuse in his apologies to the outspoken scholar monk.
The Nayaka Thera was taken ill on the 21st April 1911 and passed away on the 29th (about 110 years ago).
Perhaps he would never have envisaged, that his much cherished Vidyodaya Pirivena would be no more on a tidal wave, in the years to come.
Talented and versatile
Shareefa Thahir is not only popular, as a radio personality, but she also has a big following on social media. Each time she uploads a new photo, or an event where she is in the spotlight, the ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ keep soaring. Shareefa does the scene at the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (Radio Sri Lanka – 97.4 and 97.6) as an English announcer, and news reader, and she is also a freelance TV presenter, and news anchor, on Rupavahini.
Had a chat with this talented, and versatile, young lady, and this is how it all went…
1. How would you describe yourself?
In just a few words, I would say a simple, easy-going person. And, my friends would certainly endorse that.
2. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I love myself, and I accept whatever laws I may have. So, obviously, there’s nothing that I would want to change in myself.
3. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
Absolutely nothing because they are amazing…just the way they are (and that hit by Bruno Mars ‘Just The way You Are’ came to mind when you asked me this question!)
Melbourne International, and Gateway College. I was the captain of my house and participated in athletics – track events, etc.
5. Happiest moment?
Oh, I will never forget the day I won the Raigam Award for my work on television.
6. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Accept yourself and enjoy the tiny things in life.
7. Are you religious?
I believe in God, but I don’t think you should go about announcing it. I stay true to my heart.
8. Are you superstitious?
A little …..stitious! Hahaha! Just kidding – not at all!
9. Your ideal guy?
Someone who accepts me for who I am, and who is supportive in my journey…like I would be in his.
10. Which living person do you most admire?
I would say Jennifer Lopez, for the simple reason that she is still very energetic, and active, for her age (52), keeps herself in good shape, and still has a huge fan base.
11. Which is your most treasured possession?
Yes, I would say my talent.
12. If you were marooned on a desert island, who would you like as your companion?
My best friend as I would certainly need someone to chat with! Hahaha!
13. Your most embarrassing moment?
Saying ‘good morning’ to viewers on an evening live show!
14. Done anything daring?
Not yet. I wonder when I would get that opportunity to do something…real daring, like, let’s say, climbing Mount Everest!
15. Your ideal vacation?
A life without social media, in Greece, enjoying the beauty of nature.
16. What kind of music are you into?
Oh, I can go on and on about this; it depends on my mood. I love alternate rock, mostly, but I enjoy reggae, and pop, too.
17. Favourite radio station?
SLBC’s Radio Sri Lanka.
18. Favourite TV station?
Channel Eye (for obvious reasons).
19 What would you like to be born as in your next life?
20. Any major plans for the future?
I’m hoping to start a new venture. However, I’m keeping my fingers crossed, as right now the scene is pretty dicey, with this virus being so unpredictable.
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