CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY
Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil
President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada
Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum
Job Hunting in Sri Lanka
At the beginning of 1985 spring season, I moved from the United Kingdom to Sri Lanka to launch the second stage of my career in hospitality management. I was 31-years old and had gained versatile experiences over 14 years. Also, a variety of qualifications, including a master’s degree in International Hotel Management from the University of Surrey. I was ambitious and optimistic.
However, I was somewhat disappointed that I could not find a suitable management position with an international hotel chain in another country. Having worked and researched in over 16 five-star British hotels focusing on food and beverage management and operations for my master’s dissertation, I decided that my ideal next job should be as the Food & Beverage Manager of a large, five-star international hotel. I also dreamt of becoming the General Manager of such a hotel by the age 34.
Having considered the advice by a senior hotelier who interviewed me in London, I decided to go back to Sri Lanka and attempt to join a five-star international hotel in my own contry prior to launching my international hotel management career. My previous job positions in Sri Lanka were as a part-time trainee in 10 organizations during my college years, then as an Executive Chef of two well-known resorts, as the Manager of a couple of small hotels, as the Manager-Operations of John Keells/Walker Tours hotels, as well as a Senior Lecturer of the Ceylon Hotel School.
In addition, I had gained short work and training experiences in England, Scotland, Italy, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Singapore. In terms of international hotel chains, I was briefly exposed to hotels managed by Trust House Forte, Hyatt, InterContinential, Holiday Inn, Taj, Hilton, Savoy Group, etc. I assumed that my efforts to build an interesting resume would impress my prospective employers.
On my first morning in Sri Lanka after two years, I embarked on an early morning two-hour walk in Colombo. That was nostalgic as well as energizing. While walking, I was thinking of my next steps in finding a suitable management position. I decided to write to all five internationally branded five-star hotels in Colombo (Le Meridien, Ramada Renaissance, InterContinental, Oberoi and Taj) that afternoon and then follow up with telephone calls.
As I returned home in time for breakfast with the family, my father-in-law, Captain Wicks told me, “Good news, Chandi. Some people have already heard that you are back in Sri Lanka. Three of the best known Sri Lankan hoteliers called and wanted to meet you as soon as possible to discuss job opportunities.” Two of them – Malin Hapugoda (Hapu) and Bobby Adams were my former bosses and the third, Prasanna Jayawardene (PJ) was equally respected in Sri Lanka as an innovative hotelier. I was naturally impressed and proud to feel that I was already in demand. Before calling three of them, I sent my resume to the five five-star hotels in Colombo.
Vice Principal – Ceylon Hotel School
I was then saddened to hear that my last boss in Sri Lanka, before leaving for England, Pearl Heenatigala, was seriously ill and in hospital. She was the Director/Principal of the Ceylon Hotel School (CHS) and always treated me like the son she never had. She was my favourite boss. I rushed to the hospital and quickly realized that Mrs. Heenatigala was terminally ill.
Seated by her bedside, I was surprised that the focus of her conersation was not about her condition, but about my future career. While I was struggling to hold my tears, she said with some difficulty, “Dear Chandi, as you know, I identified you as a potential Vice Principal for CHS after your Master’s. That position is yours if you are still interested. However, consider all other offers first. I personally think that you would do well in a dynamic international hotel chain.” That was our last meeting.
Food & Beverage Analyst – Galadari Meridien
Stefan Pfeiffer, the German national who was the first General Manager of the Galadari Meridien Hotel contacted me, before my departure from Sri Lanka in 1983. I knew him when he was the General Manager of Hotel Lanka Oberoi in the late 1970s. He returned to Sri Lanka during the pre-opening year of the Galadari, the only hotel in Sri Lanka to open with 500 five-star rooms. Although I never worked with him, he was keen that after my studies in England I join the Galadari.
As we agreed to keep in touch, I called him. He immediately offered me a middle management position as the Food & Beverage Analyst at the Galadari which I did not accept. I told him that my aim was to become the Food & Beverage Manager of a five-star internationally branded hotel. This was a position held only by Europeans in such hotels in Sri Lanka, up to that point.
Mr. Pfeiffer said, “Chandi, my Executive Assistant Manager (deputy to the General Manager), Mr. Garoute also works as the Food & Beverage Manager. When he finishes his three-year contract next year, he may return to France. After that, let’s talk again and look at possibilities. As the Meridien hotel chain is owned by Air France, they prefer a Frenchman for this top post.” We decided to keep the options open. In later years I joined Le Meridien twice, in Sri Lanka as the Food & Beverage Manager/Director and in Jamaica as the General Manager. If there is a will, the way can be found.
Training Manager / Operations Analyst – Hotel Lanka Oberoi
The new Indian General Manager of Lanka Oberoi was impressed with my resume. “Our Training Manager, is about to go on 12 months special leave to work at Dubai International Hotel. You will be ideal for that post” he said. When I asked him what would happen if their training manager returns in 12 months, he said that, “at that point we may consider you for a new senior management position we are planning to create – Operations Analyst.” I did not like the uncertainty of that offer, and did not accept it in 1985. Four years later, Oberoi hired me as an expatriate Food and Beverage Manager in Iraq.
Hotel Opening Manager – Coral Gardens Hotel
When I returned the call of Malin Hapugoda (Hapu), then the General Manager/Director for Ceylon Holiday Resorts Limited, and a former boss of mine, he reminded me of an offer he made to me the day before I left Sri Lanka two years ago. “The new Coral Gardens Hotel will be opened in a few months with 156 rooms. I would like you to open this four-star hotel as the Manager. The job is yours.”
I was most grateful to Hapu for such an offer, and told him that I will get back to him with a final decision in a week. Eventually, while considering another offer with a better designation and salary and benefit package, I reluctantly decided not to accept this offer. Hapu kept in touch with me, and 21 years later offered me the post of Chief Executive Officer of Aitken Spence Hotels in Oman. He was the Managing Director of that company then. I eventually did a short consulting assignment for that great company.
Deputy General Manager – Mount Lavinia Hotel
When I called Prasanna Jayawardena (PJ) then General Manager of Mount Lavinia Hotel (MLH), he was very convincing. “Chandana, I want you as my deputy. The sky is the limit for you at MLH. Can you come to meet the owner tomorrow?” he said and confirmed an appointment, with the Chairman of the company – Mr. U. K. Edmond and his second son, Sanath Ukwatte who was understudying his legendary father.
Built in 1806 initially as the British Governor’s residence, Mount Lavinia Hotel is the most historic and significant resort hotel in Sri Lanka. From the time I as a small kid attended a wedding there, I fell in love with this iconic hotel. My third trainee job and the first internship in the hospitality industry was there during the 1972/1973 tourist season. I was a trainee waiter there when It was Mount Lavinia Hyatt.
Mr. U. K. Edmond was one of those humble Southerners who came to Colombo and built significant businesses in the mid-20th century Ceylon. He was a great visionary business icon who ventured into railway catering, brewing and then the hotel business. Meeting him was a great pleasure. He was very observant and a good listener, but did not ask any questions from me during the interview. His son, Sanath, who had just returned after his business education in USA, asked me a few questions.
PJ then gave a glowing recommendation about me in Sinhala. PJ said, “This is the Sri Lankan with the highest academic qualification in hotel management. He is also a hands-on practical person. Chandana will be undoubtedly a big asset to our hotel.” That was enough for Mr. Edmond, who then asked his first question, “When can you begin work at my hotel?”
At that point, I told him that I have a few offers and a few more interviews. His response was decisive and quick, “No problem. Go to all those interviews and check the best offers they make. We will pay you more.” With that open offer, the interview ended. I did not accept their offer in 1985, but after considering two more offers, I eventually joined MLH to succeed PJ as the General Manager five years later.
General Manager – The Lodge and The Village
When I called my former boss at the John Keells corporate office, Bobby Adams told me of a position the largest group of companies in Sri Lanka had created six months previously. Bobby was the Director, Operations of this largest hotel chain in Sri Lanka. They were looking for a General Manager to manage their two largest hotels – The Lodge and the Village in Habarana in North Central Sri Lanka. Although he did not serve on the selection committee, I suspected that the Group Chairman, Mark Bostock, had strongly favoured my appointment. He was very fond of me and had arranged my first overseas training in England, his homeland, when I was a young 25-year old hotel manager in 1979.
I was determined to earn a five-figure monthly salary which was very high in Sri Lanka in the mid-1980s. After the final interview, I had to meet a main board member and the group’s Head of Finance, Mr. V. Kailasapillai. In an annoyed voice he asked me, “Chandana, why do you ask for such a high salary? What you are demanding is three times more than what we paid you in 1981.” After a little negotiation, he laughed and said, “OK, Chandana, let’s settle for Rs. 10,000 a month. Final offer”. We shook hands. Next day, I packed my bags and was chauffeur-driven 111 miles from Colombo to reach my new home in Habarana.
Habarana Resort Complex
The Lodge (now branded five-star Cinnamon Lodge Habarana) and The Village (now branded four-star Habarana Village by Cinnamon), are two of the best hotels in Sri Lanka. The 40-acre landscaped resort complex is surrounded by nature, water, forest, and wild life (with elephants, serpent eagles, kingfishers and monkeys etc.). Over 2,000 trees, the lake front and a fully-operational farm enhance a totally unique guest experience.
On a day when all 260 rooms in both hotels were full, my team provided hospitality and meals to 1,000 people – 520 guests, 120 tourist drivers, 360 employees and the family members of senior managers, who also lived in the resort complex. We worked hard, played hard, and looked after our guests, always aiming to exceed their expectations. We had very happy domestic customers as well – free accommodation and free meals to 90% of the employees, and lots of sports and recreational facilities for employees (football, volleyball, cricket, indoor games etc.). In Habarana, I felt like a mayor of a small town.
Having worked at the John Keells corporate office for a year in the early 1980s I was familiar with the Habarana Resort Complex. As the General Manager, I did a lot of public relations — with guests, tour leaders, drivers, associates and local communities. On my first day in the new job, I hosted a group of 12 British travel agents who were on a seven-day familiarisation tour of Sri Lanka.Over dinner, we became very friendly. One of them said, “You seem to know a lot about Habarana. How long have you lived in this beautiful place?” When I answered accurately as “One day” they refused to believe me.
After some laughter and wine, a female tour leader challenged me: “OK, if you started this job just today, what was your last job?” She was winking at her colleagues and giggling. I thought for a few seconds, and said truthfully, “my previous job was a part-time banquet waiter at the Dorchester in London.” The whole group laughed loud and shouted in unison, “Chandi, you are a bloody liar!”
Credibility in governance through elections and not security forces
By Jehan Perera
President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that he is prepared to declare a state of national emergency and use the military to suppress any public protests for change of government would reflect the pressures he is under. The manner in which he has used the security forces to deal with the protest movement has been unexpected. His words and deeds are contradictory to what he has previously stood for as a five-time former prime minister. This is especially true in the case of the ethnic and religious minorities who have consistently voted for him and his party at elections. They have felt safer and more secure under his governments which always sought to reduce the heavy hand of state oppression in which national security is given pride of place. He has always promised them much though he has been unable to deliver on much of what he promised.
Notwithstanding the unfortunate rhetoric and actions of the present time the belief still persists that President Wickremesinghe is the best of the available options. Recent pronouncements of the president have reignited hope that he will address the problems of the religious and ethnic minorities. He has stated that he does not want to leave this problem to the next generation. He has said that he wants to resolve this intractable national problem by the country’s 75th independence anniversary on February 4 next year. The hope that the president will make a fresh effort to resolve their problems has led the main Tamil party, the TNA, to desist from voting against the budget which passed with a relatively small majority. Their spokesperson, M A Sumanthiran said in Parliament that due to the president reaching out to them, stretching out his hand, they did not vote against the budget although they disagreed with it.
It is not only in words that the president has reached out to the ethnic and religious minorities. Reports from the north and east indicate that the Maveer (Heroes) Day commemorations this year took place without incident. During the past two years scores of people were arrested and a massive presence of security forces blocked the people from participating in public events. On this occasion the security forces did not get involved in any attempt to stop the commemorations. University students distributed sweets and even cut a birthday cake to celebrate slain LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s birthday. The analogy that the president drew to himself being seen as a Hitler who exterminated ethnic and religious minorities is misplaced. The release of those held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for engaging in similar acts in the past would further contribute to the reconciliation process.
In this context, the president’s use of militaristic rhetoric can only be understood in relation to the growing economic crisis that shows no sign of abating. The anticipated IMF bailout package is at risk of getting indefinitely delayed. It was initially anticipated to come in September then in November but now January is being targeted. Japan’s top brokerage and investment bank, Nomura Holdings Inc, has warned that seven countries – Egypt, Romania, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Czech Republic, Pakistan and Hungary – are now at a high risk of currency crises. Sri Lanka is in third place on the table of risk. The next devaluation of the rupee could see another spike in inflation that will make the cost of living even more unbearable to the masses of people.
The president is on record as having said that the economic crisis will get worse before it improves. Both anecdotal and statistical evidence indicates that it is indeed worsening. University teachers at the University of Sabaragamuwa reported that attendance in their classes was down by at least a quarter. Students who come from other parts of the country are unable to afford the cost of meals and so they stay at home. A study by the Institute of Policy Studies has shown that about four percent of primary, 20 percent of secondary and 26 percent of collegiate students had dropped out of school in the estate sector, which is the worst affected. The future costs to the country of a less well educated population is incalculable and inhumane.
As it is the situation is a dire one for large swathes of the population. Research from the University of Peradeniya has revealed that close to half of Sri Lanka’s population, 42 percent (up from 14 percent in 2019) are living under the poverty line. Professor of Economics Wasantha Athukorala has said there is a dramatic increase in the poverty level of over three-hold across the past three years. In 2019, nearly 3 million people lived below the poverty line, but that number has increased to 9.6 million in October 2022. In these adverse circumstances stability in a polity can be ensured either through legitimacy or through force. It would be tragic if the latter is the choice that is made.
President Wickremesinghe has been stressing the importance of political stability to achieve economic development. His recent statement that the security forces will be used to negate any unauthorised protest is a sign that the government expects the conditions of economic hardship to escalate. The general public who are experiencing extreme economic hardship are appalled at the manner in which those who committed acts of corruption and violence in the past are being overlooked because they belong to the ruling party and its cliques. The IMF has made anti-corruption a prerequisite to qualify for a bailout, calling for “Reducing corruption vulnerabilities through improving fiscal transparency and public financial management, introducing a stronger anti-corruption legal framework, and conducting an in-depth governance diagnostic, supported by IMF technical assistance.”
It is morally unacceptable even if politically pragmatic that the president is failing to take action against the wrongdoers because he needs their votes in parliament. As a start, the president needs to appoint a credible and independent national procurement committee to ensure that major economic contracts are undertaken without corruption. Second, the president needs to bite the bullet on elections. The country’s burning issues would be better accepted by the country and world at large if they are being dealt with by a statesman than by a dictator. Government that is based on the people’s consent constitutes the sum and substance of democracy. This consent is manifested through free and fair elections that are regularly held. Local government elections have been postponed for a year and are reaching their legal maximum in terms of postponement. These elections need to be held before March next year.
Elections will enable the people to express their views in a democratic manner to elect their representatives for the present. This would provide the government with guidance in terms of the decisions it is being called to take to revive the economy and place the burden in a manner that will be acceptable to the people. The provincial council elections have been postponed since 2018. Democratically elected provincial councils share in the burdens of governance. The devolution of power that took place under the 13th Amendment was meant to promote ethnic harmony in the country. The president who has taken the position that he is for a solution to the ethnic conflict should seriously consider conducting the provincial council elections together with the local government elections se their financial costs. By doing so he will also gain legitimacy as a democratic statesman and not a dictator.
WEDNESDAY – Movie Review
The Addams Family is back with a new tale to tell! Originally created by Charles Addams as a comic strip published in The New Yorker, it offered readers a sarcastic take on the ‘typical nuclear family’ by substituting it with a more macabre bunch of strange and eerie individuals. Since then the titular family has been adapted on to the big screen many times, from live action movies to animated versions, the Addams Family has gained many fans throughout the years. Created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, with Tim Burton working on four episodes of the eight-part series, Wednesday is a welcoming tale for young fans, but unfortunately fails to think outside the box and remains anchored to the floor with a messy storyline.
Dead-eyed Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) is a stubborn, independent and intelligent teenager in this new series. Her penchant for attracting trouble wherever she goes alarms her parents, Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Gomez (Luis Guzmán). With an already strained relationship with her parents (specifically her mother), Wednesday is enrolled at Nevermore, an academy for outcasts like herself. Having attended the academy themselves, Morticia and Gomez are hopeful that their daughter will ‘fit right in’. Caught between trying to build her own identity and other teenage complexities, Wednesday soon finds herself in the middle of a twisted mystery.
This is the first time audiences are introduced to a teenage Wednesday, which allowed the creators to build a new world on their own terms, but while keeping true to the original nature of the character. The creators do a fair amount of world building by introducing other outcasts like the Fangs (vampires), Stoners (Gorgons), Scales (sirens) and Furs (werewolves), among others. Nevermore Academy itself is beautiful and comes with the classic package of creepy crypts, hidden rooms and secret societies. The series also offers a decent amount of gore, although they could have added more given Wednesday’s proclivity for gore-related activities. The series deals with classic young-adult tropes which includes teenage crushes, bullies, relationships and even prom, among other things. The series navigates through Wednesday’s journey of self-discovery, which is a new avenue for both the character and the fans. From understanding and displaying her emotions to discovering her identity and understanding her peers, the series takes a deep dive into heavy material.
Ortega’s performance as the titular character plays a major role in keeping audiences glued to the screen. This is also the first time viewers are shown a teenage Wednesday Addams, which works to Ortega’s benefit as she depicts more dimensions to the ghoulish, morose character many are associated with based on previous renditions. Her facial expressions and ability to deliver on seriously emotional moments strengthens her role as the lead. The rest of the Addams Family, even with limited screen time, lack the eccentricities their characters should have. Hopeless romantics Morticia and Gomez seem incompatible in this version and Uncle Fester is far less crazy than he ought to be. The only member worth mentioning is the Thing—a severed hand— who brought more character and spirit to the series acting alongside Ortega. With barely any room to develop a majority of the characters are prosaic and tedious, even though they remain vital to the plot.
Apart from Ortega, Gwendoline Christie and Emma Myers deserve honorable mentions for their roles as Nevermore’s head teacher, Larissa Weems and the peppy Enid Sinclair respectively. Enid quickly became a fan favorite as the character was the polar opposite to Wednesday. Her character is vital to Wednesday’s character development and their journey to find common ground as mismatched individuals is amusing.
Christina Ricci who played Wednesday in the 90s returns as ‘normie’ teacher, Miss Thornhill and unfortunately barely stands out and this in large part due to the messy storyline. The series is bogged down with numerous subplots and overlapping tropes and the characters with potential for growth are completely overlooked. With love triangles, bullies and killer monsters on the loose, the series self-destructs and the climax sinks into disappointment.
At the end of the day, Wednesday plays to the beat of the new generation and touches on new themes, which is welcoming seeing as the character should grow up at some point. While not everyone may relate to Wednesday’s teenage perils, it is interesting to witness her growth and her journey as an ‘outcast’ or ‘weirdo’. And while Wednesday doesn’t exactly offer a distinctly unique story, it gives audiences a small taste of what Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday is capable of. Creating a story around a well-established franchise is a difficult task, and in this case the creators fail to add value to their visions. If the series continues, the creators will have the opportunity to think further outside the box and push the limits to Wednesday’s character and give audiences a bone-chilling experience. Wednesday is currently streaming on Netflix.
Stage set for… AWESOME FRIDAY
The past few weeks have been a very busy period for the new-look Mirage outfit…preparing themselves for their big night – Friday, December 2nd – when they would perform, on stage, for the very first time, as Donald Pieries (leader/vocals/drums), Benjy (bass), Niro Wattaladeniya (guitar), Viraj Cooray (guitar/vocals), Asangi Wickramasinghe (keyboard/vocals), along with their two frontline female vocalist, Sharon (Lulu) and Christine.
They have thoroughly immersed themselves in their practice sessions as they are very keen to surprise their fans, music lovers, and well-wishers, on opening night…at the Peacock, Berjaya Hotel, in Mount Lavinia.
Action starts at 8.00 pm and, thereafter, it will be five hours of great music, along with EFFEX DJs Widhara and Damien, interspersed with fun and excitement…for the whole family!
Yes, opening night is for the whole family, so you don’t need to keep some of your family members at home – kids, especially.
Working on their repertoire for Friday, bassist Benjy says “what we will dish out will be extra special, with lots of action on stage.”
It would be interesting to see Sharon (Lulu) doing her thing with Mirage, after her early days with the Gypsies, and, I’m told, a dynamic performance from Sharon is what is in store for all those who make it to the Peacock this Friday
While the band was at one of their practice sessions, last week, they had a surprise visitor – Edward (Eddy) Joseph, a former member of the group Steelers, who is now based in Germany.
Eddy is here on a short visit and is scheduled to return to Germany, tomorrow (30).
He spent an hour with Mirage, at their practice session, and says he is disappointed that he would not be around for the group’s opening night.
However, there is a possibility of several well-known personalities, in the showbiz scene, turning up, on Friday night, to experience the sounds of the new-look Mirage, including Sohan Weerasinghe and Joey Lewis (from London).
Rajiv Sebastian, too, says he is keen to be a part of the fun-filled evening.
You could contact Benjy, on 0777356356, if you need to double check…their plans for AWESOME FRIDAY!
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