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THE WINDS OF CHANGE – Part 32

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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

End of the Hotel Union

The Manager of the Coral Gardens Hotel, Major Siri Samarakoon was convinced that the results of the general election in 1977 indicated the end of socialist unions in Sri Lanka. Leftist parties which controlled these unions had lost all their seats in the parliament. He was determined to bring the number of members in the hotel union to zero by the end of July, 1977. Sabinus Fernando, a member of the management team with the longest experience in handling tough unions, was entrusted with specific tasks to reach Major’s goal.

Sabinus was successful in choreographing mass resignations of full-time employees from the union. Losing the political power of the union plus the fear of Major’s ‘bull in a china shop’ attitude, actions and reputation, coupled with Sabinus’ attractive incentives, helped to increase resignations from the union. After a week, only a handful of employees were still members of the union. During his rounds Major kept on asking employees he met if they had resigned from the union. Most employees avoided meeting Major and kept their distance from him. During this hostile period, as the Assistant Manager, I kept a low profile.

By early-August, 1977, when Major was checking the monthly accounts, he became angry to note that one employee was still paying union fees. He asked the secretary, “Ganeshalingam, check with the accounts department, and get me the name of the single employee still paying fees to the bloody union!” He was informed that it was Van Dort, the person in charge of the changing room, with whom Major had a confrontation on his first day at the hotel, five months earlier.

Major became angrier, and screamed. “Summon Van Dort, now!” When a nervous looking Van Dort came to our office, Major asked, “How come that you have not resigned from the union?” “Sir, I am not able to read or to write” Van Dort sheepishly confessed in a very low voice. Major immediately dictated a letter of resignation from the union and told Van Dort, “Here sign on this dotted line, you uneducated idiot!” That was the end of the Coral Gardens Hotel union.

End of the Village Problems

Soon after that Major focused on the village problems which included beach boys, touts and vendors who appeared in large numbers during each tourist season. Fisherman leaving their boats on the beach right in front of the hotel, in spite of security guards requesting them not to do so, was a year around issue. On hearing about this problem, Major said, “Chandana, get ready quickly, we are going to the Boossa Army camp to meet the commanding officer, a good friend of mine.” On our way Major explained to me that this army camp is where the 61 Infantry Division Headquarters was established in 1971, during the insurgency.

During our visit to the camp, Major told the Commander there, “Colonel Wickremanayake, Chandana will be a good candidate to become a volunteer Second Lieutenant. He held the rank of Corporal of the National Cadet Corps when he was at Ananda College. Chandana is a sportsman and was also one of the four House Captains for athletics when he was in grade 12 at Ananda”, Major boasted. The Colonel was impressed and said, “Sure, I will recommend you to the Commanding Officer of the Sri Lanka Army Volunteer Force.” He then introduced to me his son, Roshan, who also had studied at the same school.

After socializing at the army camp with its top brass, we returned to the hotel with two tough-looking Sergeant Majors in their army uniforms. They hardly spoke during the short drive. Major and I took them to the beach and showed where the defiant fishermen kept their boats, obstructing the beach entrance to the hotel. “Sir, leave this in our hands. We will find the culprits and solve the issue, immediately” one Sergeant Major told Major, and saluted standing at attention.

We returned to the office while two of them went to the town inquiring for the names of the owners of those boats. An hour later the two Sergeant Majors returned to our office and reported the good news. They found and warned the fisherman responsible and the boats were immediately relocated elsewhere further away from the hotel. After that incident the village problems were reduced drastically.

The only continuing occasional problem was a loud noise made within the hotel premises by a powerful local thug, whenever he was under the influence of liquor. Security Guards were scared of this individual who was armed. Soon after Major heard about this challenge, he came out of his apartment carrying a pistol and at point-blank shot one of the earlobes of this thug. Soon after that Major called the Inspector of Police for Hikkaduwa and made an official complaint that the thug threatened to kill him. The Major’s action was justified as self-defence. That was the last problem the hotel faced from the locals. Major commenced boasting to everyone he met. He described in detail how during his first five months at Coral Gardens Hotel he single handed solved the two key challenges the management of the hotel had faced over a period of ten years – the union and the village problems.

Major loved to hear various rumours were spreading about his unusual behaviour pattern, including raising a leopard cub as a pet in his apartment. As a result, room boys who cleaned our apartments were petrified in coming to Major’s apartment. Some of these rumours were not true, but he did not mind as long as people feared him. Major gave me the impression that he had been given licence for violence by the head office!

A couple of years later when I watched Francis Ford Coppola’s classic motion picture – ‘Apocalypse Now’, I could not stop thinking of Major Siri Samarakoon. Marlon Brando’s brilliant portrayal of Colonel Kurtz, once a promising military officer turned in to something else, was simply mesmerising and shocking at the same time.

More than a Pen Pal

Everything soon became calm at the Coral Gardens Hotel. Low occupancy, no union, no village problems and Major being away from the hotel frequently all contributed to a quiet summer. One day, I received a long letter from Sweden. It was from Miss Marie Blom (Blondie), a friend I met for two short days in Negombo in 1974, just after graduating from the Ceylon Hotel School. She was 19 then and one year younger to me.

After that brief romance, Blondie and I became pen pals. Soon after her holiday in Sri Lanka she joined the crew of a Scandinavian cruise liner. Around twice a month, I received a postcard from Blondie from a different port in Europe. I promptly responded to her with my news in brief on aerograms. I was surprised to receive a long letter from her for the first time.

Blondie explained in her letter that she wanted to get to know me better. Now 22, she had decided to visit Sri Lanka again after three years. Her intention was to spend three weeks with me. She wanted to do a round trip in Sri Lanka and requested me to do a nice travel itinerary. I was happy to hear that she planned to arrive in Sri Lanka from the second week of August. I was able to take my annual leave during that period as it was a low occupancy period. I called a few of my good friends working as executives at hotels in different cities and towns and made well-discounted hotel bookings for Blondie and myself. My friends were eager to meet my long-distance girlfriend.

Blondie Returns

Blondie landed in Colombo after a night flight from Malmö. It was a happy meeting after three long years of anticipation. On our way to Colombo, we chatted a lot trying to catch up. We spoke about Blondie’s travels and my eventful first three years as an executive. We laughed about our casual meeting at Blue Oceanic Hotel in Negombo, when I was visiting two of my friends managing that hotel in 1974. Blondie remembered every detail of our memorable and care-free, barefoot walk on the beach, while counting the fishing boats and the stars, on a beautiful moon-lit night.

Blondie was happy about the arrangements I had made for our round trip. After travelling around Sri Lanka, we ended up in Hikkaduwa. With a view of not mixing my leisure time with work, Blondie and I stayed in a small inn near Coral Gardens Hotel. She also met some of my friends and made everybody laugh with her jokes.

One day I took her for a walk to my work place. “Who is this interesting fellow?” Blondie asked when she saw my pet monkey, Dudumskie. She found him to be simply hilarious and entertaining. After her regular sea baths, Blondie loved to drop in at the Coral Gardens to tease Dudumskie.

Towards the end of Blondie’s holiday in Sri Lanka we had some serious chats about our future. She enjoyed Sri Lanka, but when she told me that she cannot settle down on the island, I was somewhat disappointed. “Why don’t you come to Sweden to live with me?” she asked. “What type of a job position could I get in Sweden?” I was curious to find out. When Blondie told me that I could start as a cook, I was not interested. I was very career-minded and Blondie was a free spirit. Unlike in Sri Lanka, as a well-developed nation, in Sweden not many people cared about what level of position one had.

During her departure at the Colombo airport, we had an emotional parting. We agreed to keep in touch and consider options to meet again. Blondie was my first ‘serious’ girlfriend. We continued our pen-pal connection for some time, but sadly we never met again.



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Responding to our energy addiction

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by Ranil Senanayake

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

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

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

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

The creation of desire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Australia-Sri Lanka project in the news…Down Under

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Manju Robinson’s scene…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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