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THE GREATEST LOVE – Part 11

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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

 

Love at First Sight

Sixty years ago, it was love at first sight. From the first time I saw Mount Lavinia Hotel (MLH) during a childhood family walk on the beach, I fell in love with this iconic building. I found the waves of the Indian Ocean aggressively breaking on twenty natural boulders in the front of MLH and that was exciting. I was fascinated to hear that the central section of the hotel was built as a mansion early as 1806 by the second British Governor General of Ceylon, Sir Thomas Maitland.

I wondered why he built a mansion just six miles south of his official residence in Colombo. My father then told me that the Governor did so to spend weekends with his mixed-race (Sinhala and Portuguese) secret lover – Lavinia Aponsuwa. As the legend goes, it had been love at first sight for the Governor who had been a confirmed bachelor. He had to keep this romance a secret from his superiors in England. Therefore, a secret tunnel had been built from the mansion to Lavinia’s nearby shanty house. Lavinia had to use this tunnel to visit her lover without being noticed by any of her village neighbours, every weekend.

This mansion had been converted into a hotel in 1866. Both the hotel and the city of Mount Lavinia bear the name of Lavinia, who had been an exotic dancer, before falling in love with the Governor. It was the mansion built on the Mount for Lavinia. Numerous famous people who stayed at MLH enhanced the historic significance of this great hotel. My first visit to MLH as a child was to attend a wedding there. Stories my father told me then, created even more interest about this mystic hotel in my young mind. He told me how he saved money as a young government servant living in the Town (now a city) of Mount Lavinia during the World War II, to treat himself to an occasional sumptuous English breakfast at the MLH.

He also told me how the famous movie director Sir David Lean and the crew of ‘The Bridge of the River Kawi’ lived at the hotel in 1956. It was also used as a location for the movie. By early 1970s MLH became the first ever hotel in Ceylon to get an international brand name. Hyatt Hotels Corporation in USA managed MLH. In the early 1970s MLH was owned by a well-known Sri Lankan businessman, Mr. Razeen Sally who lived abroad. His brother Farook managed the business here.

 

An Opportunity at the Hyatt

At that time, to graduate from the Ceylon Hotel School (CHS), each student had to do two mandatory co-ops or in-service periods in the second year and the third year. These were timed during the peak tourist season (November to February) in consultation with the hotel industry. Having already worked at the only four-star level hotel in the country, the Pegasus Reef, I was determined to do my two official co-ops at the other two leading hotels in Sri Lanka at that time, internationally branded the Mount Lavinia Hyatt Hotel and the best new resort hotel, the Bentota Beach Hotel. Improving my grades meant that I was able to somewhat negotiate successfully to get an opportunity to do my first co-op at the Hyatt. As MLH was a 20-minute bus ride from my home, I left the CHS hostel and moved back home for three months. This made my mother extremely happy. Once again, she was able to spoil me with her excellent cooking, which she always did with the most important ingredient in home cooking – love. I did not realise how much she had missed me living at home, since I joined CHS a little over a year before.

 

First Impressions

I arrived at MLH with four of my batch mates on a Monday morning in November 1972. Most of my batch mates were assigned to smaller hotels around the island, and had no CHS buddies working with them during the co-op period. Therefore we (Neil, Kotte, Udda, Saibu and I) were happy to be at MLH as a team of five CHS students. The classic architecture of the old building of MLH always made an excellent first impression. We were also impressed that the American General Manager, Robert McFadden met us on our first day, during our job orientation. We were all dressed well as we wanted to make a good first impression. This is essential in the hospitality profession. One never gets a second chance to make a good first impression.

 

Lasting Connections

The next four managers we met were all Lankan. It was a coincidence that all four of them in later years became my work colleagues and peers. As all five of CHS students worked at MLH as trainee waiters, we reported to Lucky Wijekoon, the Food & Beverage Manager. He was a CHS graduate, three years senior to us, and had progressed very well in the industry. Lucky and I became work colleagues seven years later when we both worked for the same company. I later succeeded him at the corporate office of John Keells Hotels in 1981.

The Assistant Food & Beverage Manager, Nirmo Thambapillai had graduated from CHS three months earlier. He was two years senior to us and a good friend. Years later, Nirmo succeeded me as the Director of Food & Beverage of Le Galadari Meridien Hotel. Dr. T. Pablis Silva, the most well-known Master Chef in Sri Lanka today, was the Assistant Chef of MLH at that time. In 1990, some 18 years later, when I returned to MLH as the General Manager, he worked on my team as the Executive Chef. Palitha De Alwis, a Chartered Accountant was the Financial Controller. In mid 1980s, Palitha and I became work colleagues and peers at Le Galadari Meridien Hotel as the Director of Finance and the Director of Food & Beverage. The first time I met these four managers at MLH in 1972, it was not possible for me to imagine that I would be able to climb the management ladder rapidly to become a peer to those pioneers of the modern hotel industry of Sri Lanka, in a matter of few years.

 

The Terrace

We always did an evening shift from 3:00 pm to 11:00 pm. Five of us had to set up the entire main restaurant for dinner service. We did this very quickly, so that we were able to work at the world-famous MLH Terrace overlooking the Indian Ocean for a couple of hours before dinner service. Today in 2021, having tea there at sunset is widely considered as one of the “Best 100 Things to Do Before You Die.” I preferred to serve alcoholic beverages on the terrace, instead of tea. When serving alcoholic beverages, the bills were larger and the tips were higher.

As tips were better at the terrace, we tried to work there as long as possible. Our immediate supervisor, Butler Somapala was in charge of both the terrace and the main restaurant. He was annoyed whenever we returned to the restaurant only just before dinner service commenced. At times he chased us out of the terrace to the main restaurant around 7:00 pm, 30 minutes before the dinner service.

Years later when I was the General Manager, Somapala was still working at MLH as a Butler. Every time I introduced Somapala to a VIP guest, I mentioned what a great Supervisor Somapala was during my trainee waiter days. He was very happy to hear me saying that in recognition of his long and loyal service to MLH. He was very proud of me, as a one of his trainees during the 1972/1973 tourist season.

During the tourist season of 1992/1993, a difficult guest complained to me that Butler Somapala did not allocate preferred seating on the terrace for this customer’s family. As a General Manager I usually considered customers as being always right. However, on this occasion, I said to that difficult guest, “Whatever decision Butler Somapala took, stands, as he knows what is best for all our customers.” I had one unhappy customer that day, but one of my most important internal customers, Somapala, was very pleased that I had full confidence on him and did not undermine his authority. Somapala postponed his retirement until I finished my three-year contract as the General Manager of MLH in 1993.

 

The Greatest Love

I take the last bus home

from one of my first jobs

well past midnight …

lights are on and she is still up

waiting for me to have a chat

and listen to my fun stories

over a cup of coffee,

with lots of laughter.

I wake up to sounds of waves

of the Indian Ocean and

singing birds behind our flat …

I smell freshly cooked breakfast

which she serves me lovingly.

 

Rest of the day we are together

and she insists that I must eat every four hours

something prepared by her

to be fit for another long shift of

serving guests at the historic hotel.

 

Although long years have passed

since those memorable days

and her untimely demise,

I feel my mother’s love

almost every day …

 

Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena

has been an Executive Chef, Food & Beverage Director, Hotel GM, MD, VP, President, Chairman, Professor, Dean, Leadership Coach and Consultant. He has published 21 text books. This weekly column narrates ‘fun’ stories from his 50-year career in South Asia, the Middle East, Europe, South America, the Caribbean and North America, and his travels to 98 countries and assignments in 44 countries.



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Antics of State Minister and Pohottu Mayor; mum on chemical fertiliser mistake; The Ganga – a link

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Reams have been written in all local newspapers; much comment has traversed social media and persons have been bold to call for justice on two absolutely unrestrained and yes, evil, SLPP VIPs who have recently been dancing the devil as the saying goes. These evil doers seem to be pathologically unable to control themselves and behave as human beings: heads outsised with hubris and apparently bodies often pickled with liquor.

Very succinct comments have been made on Lohan Ratwatte, one being: “a leopard never changes his spots” referring to the many crimes supposed to have been committed by him, and the other that he is a gem of a man who may make a jewellery heist soon enough. He has the audacity to say he did nothing wrong in barging into two prisons; in one to show off to pals the gallows and in the other, to brandish a gun and place it against the heads of two shivering Tamil prisoners. All done within the week when world attention was focused on Sri Lankan human rights violations directed by the UNHRC

Cass’ comment is that Lohan Rat was committing hara-kiri (minus even a trace of the Japanese spirit of self sacrifice) and taking the entire country on a suicidal mission through his inability to hold his drinks and destructive hubris and murderous inclination. Cass particularly favoured Don Mano’s summation in his comment on the unlawful prison intrusions in the Sunday Times of September 19. “Any semblance of a shabby cover-up to enable Lohan Ratwatte to retain his position as State Minister of Gems and Jewellery will not only endanger the economy by depriving the nation’s dollar bare coffers of a GSP benefit of nearly 2.7 billion dollars, but will risk putting 21 million Lankans from the frying pan into the fire and test their tolerance to the core.”

The visit to the Welikada prison by the State Minister of Prison Reform and … was said to be with some men and one woman. Identities were kept under wraps and confusion raised by making the dame a beauty queen or cosmetician. But who she was, was soon known along the vine of gossip. One report said the person in charge of the prison or its section with the gallows, cautioned Lohan Rat and tried to dissuade his advance with friends in tow since the lady companion was in shorts and them walking through where prisoners were, would cause a commotion. But no, the State Minister advanced to show off the gallows with his short-shorts wearing woman companion and imbibing mates.

Cass is actually more censorious of this woman than even of the State Minister himself. Is she a Sri Lankan, so vagrant in her woman-ness? Doesn’t she have even an iota of the traditional lajja baya that decent women exhibit, even to minor level nowadays? Is associating with a State Minister and his drinking pals such a prized social event? Shame on her! She, if people’s assumption of identity is correct, has boasted political clout and been elevated by it too. Such our young girls! Do hope they are very few in number, though this seems to be a baseless hope as social events unroll.

Pistol packing – correction please – toy pistol packing Eraj Fernando is aiding the ex State Minister of Prison Reform to deface, debase and deteriorate Sri Lanka in the eyes of the world. He is interested in land and not in gallows or scantily clad gals. With thugs in tow he trespassed a property in Bamba and assaulted two security guards. Repetition of an incident he was embroiled in – a land dispute in Nugegoda a couple of weeks ago. He was taken in by the police and before you could say Raj, he was granted bail. What quick work of police and courts.

As the editor of The Island opined in the lead article of September 20: “The Rajapaksas have created quite a few monsters who enjoy unbridled freedom to violate the law of the land.” A convicted murderer known for his thug ways was presidentially pardoned a short while ago.

The good thing is that people talk, write, lampoon, and draw attention to these heinous crimes and do not seem scared for their necks and families. White vans have not started their rounds. And very importantly the memories of Ordinaries are not as fickle as they were. Wait and see is their immediate response.

New fad – jogging lanes on wewa bunds!

Some monks and men gathered recently on the partly torn up bund of Parakrama Samudraya and had the foolish audacity to say the bund needed a jogging lane. Tosh and balderdash! Then news revealed that other wewas too were being ‘attacked and desecrated’ to construct jogging lanes. In such remote rural areas which even tourists do not visit? Is there illicit money-making in this activity? Otherwise, no explanation is available for this sudden interest in farmers’ and toilers’ physical well being. They get enough exercise just engaging in their agriculture, so for whom are these jogging lanes?

Sharply contrasting persons

As apposite to the former two, are superb Sri Lankans up front and active and giving of their expertise, albeit unobtrusively. Consider the medical men and women and their service to contain the pandemic; farmers who protest to ensure harvests are not damaged too severely by false prophets who won the day for the banning of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and weedicides. The latest blow and justification of what so very many agriculturists, agrochemists, have been saying all along – organic is good but to be introduced very slowly; without importing compost from overseas, is the Chinese import containing evil microorganisms. Experts have categorically stated that chemical fertilisers are sorely needed for all agriculture; more so paddy and tea; and if used prudently cause no illness to humans or injurious side effects.

The four experts who comprised the panel at the MTV I Face the Nation discussion monitored by Shameer Rasooldeen on Monday September 20, agreed totally on these two facts and went on to say that it must be admitted a hasty decision was taken to stop import of chemical fertilizers. We listened to the considered wise opinions backed by true expertise of vibrantly attractive and articulate Dr Warshi Dandeniya – soil scientist, of Prof Saman Seneweera from the University of Melbourne, Prof Buddhi Marambe – crop scientist, and Dr Roshan Rajadurai – media person of the Planters Association. Listening to them, Cass swelled with pride and told herself see what sincerely-interested-in-the-country’s welfare eminent scientists we have in this land of rowdy politicians and uneducated MPs. They labeled the sudden banning of chemical fertilisers and insecticides and pesticides as “very dangerous and causing irreversible harm. It is not too late to reverse the decision, even if admitting fault is not possible.”

Garlic

Oh dear! The stench! Never ending series of scams; executed or approved by politicians and all for illicit gains. Even the tragedy of the pandemic and suffering of much of the population does not seem to have curbed selfish lust for money.

Focus on the Mahaweli Ganga

Interesting and deserving of thanks. Chanaka Wickramasuriya wrote two excellent articles in the Sunday Islands of September 12 and 19 on the Mahaweli Ganga, imparting invaluable facts of the present river and its history, as for example which king built which wewa or anicut. He ended his second article by hoping the waters of the great river will feed the north of the island too: “Maybe then this island will be finally uplifted. Not just from north to south, but across class and caste, language and philosophy, and political partisanship. Hopefully driven by a newfound sanity among its denizens, yet symbolically attested to by the waters of the Mahaweli.”

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These humans are Crazy!

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Those of us who grew up reading the “Asterix” comics by Goscinny and Uderzo will no doubt remember the resonant words of Obelix, the menhir delivery man. So many times, he has observed the actions of characters ranging from Roman Emperors to Goths and made the statement “these humans are crazy” often accompanied by a few taps from his forefinger to his ample brow. These words remain a universal truth and valid even today when looking at what is going on around us.

Let’s start in Aotearoa – New Zealand with the continuing saga of the young man of Sri Lankan origin who went berserk in a supermarket and stabbed so many innocent people. Despite many assurances from the government and almost all the Kiwi friends and even acquaintances we have in this country that we Lankans are not responsible, we feel deep down inside us that we are in some way, shape or form, responsible for this person’s behaviour. Articles not only from people of my (archaic) generation but young upstanding millennials and those even younger have expressed this emotion in their own characteristic fashion. Also, we feel responsible that our network of ex citizens of the Pearl living in Aotearoa have been unable to offer any support or counselling to this person or others of his ilk.

Just as we start clawing our way out of this mire of guilt somewhat reduced by finding out just how greatly the immigration and refugee systems of New Zealand have been duped, we are now told how a currency smuggler has been granted refugee status. Now currency smuggling happens all the time, mainly due to the punitive profits taken from customers by those licenced daylight robbers the banks, but more on that later. Apparently, a currency smuggler who arrived on a forged passport, evading arrest by the authorities in the Pearl has been granted refugee status! REFUGEE seems to be the magic word as far as the NZ authorities go. Those of us who have gone through the legal immigration channels and filled reams of forms and waited years for replies are left gasping at how those worthies in the government departments of Aotearoa have one set of rules and standards for us and another completely if one puts the word REFUGEE on one’s documents.

We move on to the pearl, if I were to attempt to apologise for the “offensive actions” of members of my family (bearing my “sir” name and direct relatives) that would take up a series of tomes resembling the encyclopaedia Britannica! It may also feature my name in a few volumes as well! The current antics of a kinsman with regard to using his position and power calls for a level of responsibility, on my part. The only caveat being a request to the fourth estate to use the person’s first name. Frequent displays of a family name which some have treasured and tried to bring enhancement to, associated with behaviour of this kind, brings dismay at a level that can only be understood by those who have tried to live up to the standards set by ancestors who held high office with honour in the past. There have been many articles some ranging from biting sarcasm (unfortunately not understood by the majority) to others simply parroting what they have read on the internet. The bottom line is standby O denizens of the Pearl, this maybe just another episode in the teledrama that is Lanka under Paksa rule! There are possibilities of scripting to distract the majority and even a wider spectrum involving human rights issues in Geneva. Also, scrutinize yourselves and remember that “those who live in glass houses should not throw stones” and “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”?!

In Aotearoa, we call our Prime Minister by her first name and a PM that has gained the utmost respect of the people not to mention the world! Isn’t it time the Pearl followed suit? Of course, comments by the leader of the opposition like “Opposition Leader Premadasa said he vehemently condemned the disgraceful and illegal behaviour” reiterates the comments of Obelix. Especially when allegations and witnesses exist to “disgraceful and Illegal” behaviour by the person who uttered those very words. It may have been in a different context and “only” to do with the decimation of a national park in the Pearl but the behaviour had the same connotations. Looks like social media is the mitigating factor, as in those days, too, the fourth estate had to take care of continuing to exist and survive! Being the first party to spotlight such actions usually led to the “death of the messenger”.

As promised, back to the licenced daylight robbers of today, the banks. There is a “Robin Hood” tax in effect in some of the leading economies of Europe. The most “interesting” aspect for me being taxes on the profits of banks. The billions it could raise every year could give a vital boost to tackling poverty and climate change around the world and definitely in the Pearl. We call upon the “genius” in charge of the Central Bank as he is the “acknowledged” financial maestro of the Pearl (although he is never going to take RESPONSIBILITY for our plight) to look at this aspect if he has the cohunes to do it! But then again levels of corruption and obligations to high profit-making organisations that fund election campaigns, have to be taken into account in countries such as the Pearl.

Powerful efficient and successful economies like Germany and modern Demi-Gods like Bill Gates endorse this tax. Here is an idea for the government of the Pearl. Tax the banks on their huge profits and give some of that money back to the people without burdening an already insufferably burdened people! I fear ideas expressed in this column will meet their usual end either in the oblivion chaos and mayhem or the lack of mental fortitude that exists in the Pearl and her officials.However, one can only hope that people who wish the Pearl renewed status in the Indian Ocean region if not the world, continue to survive in these circumstances, as the village of indomitable Gauls in the face of the mighty Roman empire. We need an “Asterix” brave and quick-thinking warrior, armed with some magic portion from “Getafix” the druid. Instead, we seem to have plenty of pseudo “Getafix’s” concocting “dammika Pani” and such portions and far too many “Vitalstastix’s”- muddle-headed incompetent chiefs!

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Policy quandaries set to rise for South in the wake of AUKUS

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From the viewpoint of the global South, the recent coming into being of the tripartite security pact among the US, the UK and Australia or AUKUS, renders important the concept of VUCA; volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. VUCA has its origins in the disciplines of Marketing and Business Studies, but it could best describe the current state of international politics from particularly the perspective of the middle income, lower middle income and poor countries of the world or the South.

With the implementation of the pact, Australia will be qualifying to join the select band of nuclear submarine-powered states, comprising the US, China, Russia, the UK, France and India. Essentially, the pact envisages the lending of their expertise and material assistance by the US and the UK to Australia for the development by the latter of nuclear-powered submarines.

While, officially, the pact has as one of its main aims the promotion of a ‘rules- based Indo-Pacific region’, it is no secret that the main thrust of the accord is to blunt and defuse the military presence and strength of China in the region concerned. In other words, the pact would be paving the way for an intensification of military tensions in the Asia-Pacific between the West and China.

The world ought to have prepared for a stepping-up of US efforts to bolster its presence in the Asia-Pacific when a couple of weeks ago US Vice President Kamala Harris made a wide-ranging tour of US allies in the ASEAN region. Coming in the wake of the complete US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the tour was essentially aimed at assuring US allies in the region of the US’s continued support for them, militarily and otherwise. Such assurances were necessitated by the general perception that following the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, China would be stepping in to fill the power vacuum in the country with the support of Pakistan.

From the West’s viewpoint, making Australia nuclear-capable is the thing to do against the backdrop of China being seen by a considerable number of Asia-Pacific states as being increasingly militarily assertive in the South China Sea and adjacent regions in particular. As is known, China is contending with a number of ASEAN region states over some resource rich islands in the sea area in question. These disputed territories could prove to be military flash points in the future. It only stands to reason for the West that its military strength and influence in the Asia-Pacific should be bolstered by developing a strong nuclear capability in English-speaking Australia.

As is known, Australia’s decision to enter into a pact with the US and the UK in its nuclear submarine building project has offended France in view of the fact that it amounts to a violation of an agreement entered into by Australia with France in 2016 that provides for the latter selling diesel-powered submarines manufactured by it to Australia. This decision by Australia which is seen as a ‘stab in the back’ by France has not only brought the latter’s relations with Australia to breaking point but also triggered some tensions in the EU’s ties with the US and the UK.

It should not come as a surprise if the EU opts from now on to increasingly beef-up its military presence in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ with the accent on it following a completely independent security policy trajectory, with little or no reference to Western concerns in this connection.

However, it is the economically vulnerable countries of the South that could face the biggest foreign policy quandaries against the backdrop of these developments. These dilemmas are bound to be accentuated by the fact that very many countries of the South are dependent on China’s financial and material assistance. A Non-aligned policy is likely to be strongly favoured by the majority of Southern countries in this situation but to what extent this policy could be sustained in view of their considerable dependence on China emerges as a prime foreign policy issue.

On the other hand, the majority of Southern countries cannot afford to be seen by the West as being out of step with what is seen as their vital interests. This applies in particular to matters of a security nature. Sri Lanka is in the grips of a policy crunch of this kind at present. Sri Lanka’s dependence on China is high in a number of areas but it cannot afford to be seen by the West as gravitating excessively towards China.

Besides, Sri Lanka and other small states of the northern Indian Ocean need to align themselves cordially with India, considering the latter’s dominance in the South and South West Asian regions from the economic and military points of view in particular. Given this background, tilting disproportionately towards China could be most unwise. In the mentioned regions in particular small Southern states will be compelled to maintain, if they could, an equidistance between India and China.

The AUKUS pact could be expected to aggravate these foreign policy questions for the smaller states of the South. The cleavages in international politics brought about by the pact would compel smaller states to fall in line with the West or risk being seen by the latter as pro-China and this could by no means be a happy state to be in.

The economic crisis brought about by the current pandemic could only make matters worse for the South. For example, as pointed out by the UN, there could be an increase in the number of extremely poor people by around 120 million globally amid the pandemic. Besides, as pointed out by the World Bank, “South Asia in particular is more exposed to the risk of ‘hidden debt ‘from state-owned Commercial Banks (SOCBs), state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and public-private partnerships (PPPs) because of its greater reliance on them compared to other regions.” Needless to say, such economic ills could compel small, struggling states to veer away from foreign policy stances that are in line with Non-alignment.

Accordingly, it is a world characterized by VUCA that would be confronting most Southern states. It is a world beyond their control but a coming together of Southern states on the lines of increasing South-South cooperation could be of some help.

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