Hotel Tales: A Little Adventure and Some Unexpected Tales
Copyright © 2012 Hanley Chew
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Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
Chew, Hanley, 1965-
Hotel Tales : A little adventure and some unexpected tales / with Hanley Chew.
ISBN 978-967-5945-15-1 (ebook)
1. Hotels--Anecdotes. I. Title
About Hanley Chew
Hanley Chew started his career in a travel agency and later went on to an airline company, providing him with the opportunity to travel vastly and amass invaluable experiences. In addition, the nature of the travel industry gave him a prior glimpse into the world of hoteliers. After a brief venture into a hotel reservation business, Hanley joined the Renaissance and Marriott Hotel Groups. In the ensuing years, his global experience was expanded with postings in Sandakan, Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur, Bali, Myanmar, Shandong and Guangzhou in China. He joined the Sunway Group in 2000 under its hospitality arm, overseeing the management and expansion of the Sunway, Allson and the Banjaran brands in Southeast Asia, China, India and the Middle East. Over the years, Hanley developed his personal philosophy, abbreviated as HIRE, which stands for Honesty, Integrity, Respect and, most importantly, Earned Trust. He holds fast to these simple yet essential values to guide him through his life and career.
Year after year, we hire young new graduates from some of the best hotel schools in the region - fresh faced, enthusiastic and nursing very high expectations of the hospitality industry. They eagerly don neatly pressed uniforms, groom themselves from the smoothed down ends of their hair to the pedicured tips of their toes. They put their shiny new nametags on their chest and brightest smiles on their face.
It usually doesn’t take long. After experiencing a few customers’ angry spit flying in their faces, the image of glamour and glitz melts away and the young hoteliers start seeing the reality of irate guests, long check-in lines, overbooking, weird requests, weird guests, guest gone mad, guest who dies. The list is endless.
For the older hoteliers, when they started out as young lads and lasses of 17 or 18 years of age, there was no other way in except from the bottom. It might come as a surprise to the young entrants into the industry today that their General Manager might have started as a waiter or turning down beds, then moved on to become a supervisor, and literally worked his or her way up, from rank and file, step by step, to management through hard work and sheer determination. This was a common career path for most of today’s established hoteliers and allowed them to see, hear and gather the most peculiar experiences. After years of seeing the unbelievable, nothing can surprise them anymore.
Running discreetly through the hotel are the busy service corridors that transport staff, laundry, housekeeping and food trolleys, and the occasional dead body. The front of the hotel must always maintain its calm and elegant front; the guests kept oblivious to the chaos and madness happening behind the scene. Even when emergencies occur, the well-dressed General Manager might be walking coolly through the lobby, smiling at and greeting the guests, only to break into a run once out of the guests’ sight, towards the kitchen that he has just been told is being engulfed in flames.
A room in a hotel gives shelter to a few hundred guests a year, harbouring their share of the bizarre, illegal and memorable. The closed room door does not give away the activities within – the 10 people booze party in a space meant for two, the drug dealing and snorting, the adulterous couple getting it on, the swingers party in full swing, the ‘night angels’ performing unmentionable fetish acts for money, the man climbing off the balcony to end his misery or the man tied to the sink with a dog chain, a gun held to his head. On the happier side of the rainbow, therein also occurs the budding romance, the first holiday, the lucky draw prize winner of a hotel stay, the marriage proposal, the tired businessman on the phone saying “Listen to your mother” to his children and “I miss you” to his wife and the golden anniversary getaway for the grey-haired couple.
About four years ago, the idea occurred to me that somehow the ‘truth’ needed to be told. I wanted to collect stories from different hoteliers, and in these stories shall lie important lessons they don’t teach in hotel school. It was about time someone dispelled the illusion that working in a hotel encompasses merely wining, dining, grooming and smiling, and frankly I wanted to let guests know that we really do work very hard to get their money.
The book took off one fine day quite unexpectedly. I was in a mentoring session with a young lady, discussing aspirations. Mine was to create this book. Hers was to take some time off a corporate career, see the world and dream a little. “Do you write?” I asked her. “Of course!” was her reply. Thus began the one and a half year journey Ee Ling and I took to interview, compile and produce this book which you now hold in your hands.
In “Snapped” and “No Sweat”, you’ll find experienced hoteliers finding humour in dealing with problematic guests, dead or alive. You’ll also see that human behaviour is quite commonly unpredictable and betraying appearances in “Datin Drama” and “Assumptions”.
I don’t mean to imply that being in the industry is without just rewards. Quite the contrary, we have our share of benevolent guests with hands that dip comfortably into deep pockets to hand out tips and gifts as you will read in “Token of Gratitude”; the colourful personalities that stay with us make our days more interesting and gives us stories to gossip about; the royalties and celebrities that we meet, unexpectedly humble and down-to-earth, remind us that they are no more superhuman than us; the cultures and countries we get to explore while working in a foreign hotel as told in “The Azerbaijan Chapter”.
This book would not have taken form if not for the generosity of the hoteliers in sharing their stories. It is my hope that this book serves as an archive of their experiences to be passed on to the next generation of hoteliers. It will also allow those who are outside the industry, if they ever wondered about the receptionist, concierge or housekeeping maid, to finally catch a glimpse of the world on the other side. Whether for hoteliers to share stories, to teach lessons or for mere entertainment, I hope the readers enjoy the stories as much as we’ve enjoyed putting them together.
It was May 1981. Ivo was the General Manager of Hyatt Kuantan, Malaysia, a luxurious beachfront resort.
I stood at the hotel beachfront, looking out to the dark expanse beyond. Only when the moon occasionally peeped through the clouds could I see the waves crashing in from the horizon, aided by the strong night wind. Normally, I’d have appreciated the mightiness of the South China Sea. Tonight was highly unusual.
I turned to look at the two dark shadows beside me–Mr Amir, the senior immigration officer, and the hotel’s Manager on Duty that night, Victor. Just two hours ago, Mr Amir had contacted Victor with a tip-off he had received. Victor in turn woke me up with an urgent call.
“There’s a boat smuggling in refugees from Vietnam tonight. They’ll be docking at the hotel beach!” he said.
The lights on the beach were already switched off and Mr Amir requested that they were kept that way. I could only just make out the hands on the face of my wristwatch. It was just past midnight.
Although I couldn’t see clearly the 12 or more immigration officers scattered across the beach, I could hear occasional yawns. Perhaps it was a false alarm.
“There!” Mr Amir’s deep voice pierced the wind, making me jump.
I could see nothing.
Then the moon came out of hiding to highlight the silhouette of a sampan still 500 metres from the shoreline. It appeared odd. Bulky, somehow.
Mr Amir barked orders and a rustling of sand ensued as officers hurried to position themselves. Victor and I had retreated to behind the low railing separating the beach from the hotel, far enough to feel safe yet near enough to watch.
As the boat quietly floated towards shore, the oddness became apparent. The boat, about eight by five feet by my estimate, was impossibly packed with more than 20 people. Men, women, children and babies were squeezed together almost on top each other. It struck me that they had given up their fortunes, faced unfriendly waters and possible pirate attacks. The better life they envisioned was almost in their grasp, but would soon be snatched away.
It wasn’t long before they saw the officers waiting for them and the chaos began. A cacophony of men shouting, women screaming with children and babies crying filled the air. Bodies splashed into the water before the boat fully reached the beach, I suppose in a hopeless attempt to wade to another shore. Older children climbed off the boat and stretched their arms to their mothers still onboard, who then threw their baby siblings to them. Some waited for the boat to hit the sand before jumping off and literally hit the ground running. The rest didn’t even make it off the boat before the officers pounced on them.
But Weakened by the tumultuous journey and days of hunger, the Vietnamese could neither outrun nor outswim the officers. They didn’t even have the strength to fight back as the officers wrestled them to the ground or pulled the swimmers to shore.
One determined Vietnamese man made his way towards where I was. I anxiously debated whether to step aside or to stop him from running into the hotel building. Only moments away from me, one of the officers caught up with him.
After only 15 minutes, much quicker than I had expected, all the boat people were rounded up.
Resigned to their fate, they meekly walked in line to the vans waiting to bring them on another journey to Pulau Bidong, the refugee camp set up by the government in Terengganu. The lucky ones would be resettled in America or Australia. Most of them would be deported back to Vietnam.
Victor and I were left on the beach looking at the tired, hardly seaworthy boat. There were still bundles and packages hastily abandoned in the failed escape. We could not leave it there for the guests to see, so we called the maintenance department and made an urgent request.
The maintenance workers promptly joined us. They were surprised but got to work quickly. They pushed the boat out until the waves caught it, and set it on fire. We watched the boat drift out until it sank into its final resting place on the seabed.
I walked back to the hotel and looked up at the windows of the guest rooms, wondering if anyone had been awakened by the noise. But the thought of facing numerous customer complaints the next day just didn’t seem to matter then. There were, after all, bigger problems in the world.
During the time Ivo was GM of Hyatt Kuantan, he experienced four attempts of refugee-smuggling onto the hotel’s beach. One of the boats was converted into a beachside bar after a donation to the United Nations was made.
Hotel Manager of a four-star establishment in Kuala Lumpur, 2008.
I’ve met many difficult customers before. But this family from India stands out clearly in my mind.
It was a lost bag, supposedly taken from their room by our housekeeping staff, the common target to blame in such matters. In the middle of the lobby began a dramatic show with ample shouting and unrepeatable curses emitted by the husband, goaded by his wife. In between, they would exchange quick words in their native language, probably reinforcing their belief that the hotel staff were thieves and the management was pathetic. Their young adult son stood silently by, trying to look bored but instead achieving a pained expression.
I stood listening politely, not wanting to provoke them further. Nodding at intervals showed my sympathy for their troubles, which was fast diminishing with each vulgarity screamed at my face. The scene right out of a Bollywood movie ended not quite soon enough before what felt like half the guests in the hotel passing through the lobby had seen and heard them.
I could only ask for time to investigate the matter and to assure them that our staff were impeccably behaved. Theft seldom occurred in the hotel in the years I worked there, and it was even more rare that our staff were the culprits. The irate couple would accept neither explanations nor reassurances, and demanded free rooms and meals.
Every guest lift in the hotel was equipped with CCTVs to monitor every possible entry and exit to the floors. I finally detached myself from them as politely as I could and set off to the Security office, determined to find some trace of the bag, more to silence them than for any other reason.
Before I reached the lift, I heard hurried footsteps behind me.
“Mr Pillai!” It was one of the concierge boys. “Sir, I have something to tell you about that family,” he said. Ah, he had my attention. “Last night, the son came back to the room with an unregistered guest.”
He looked around to make sure no one was within earshot.
“The guest looked female, but I’m very sure it wasn’t a woman. You know what I mean?” He gave me a knowing smile, then returned to the Concierge counter, whistling as he walked.
Good job. I turned and entered the lift.
After perusing the security camera tapes, we did find the bag in question being brought into the room, but no evidence of anyone removing it. The mystery of the missing bag remains a mystery to this day.
I did, however, find the footage of the boy bringing his ‘friend’ into his room which was adjoining his parents’.
The next day, I came face to face with the couple again, sans their son who was out gallivanting in KL. I didn’t give them a chance to start.
“Mr and Mrs ---, I could not trace the missing bags even after viewing our security cameras. But what I did find was your son bringing an unregistered guest into the room.”
I paused to let the surprising news sink in, then delivered the punch line:
“Your son brought a transvestite prostitute into the hotel room last night. I’m afraid I cannot allow that in the hotel.”
The feeling is great when the tables are turned. The couple quickly retreated to their room, shocked and horrified. I never heard or saw much of them for the rest of their stay, which was really all that I wanted.
The year was 1978.
1.30am. I polished the whiskey glass for what seemed like the umpteenth time. Manning the night shift of the hotel’s 24-hour bar was hardly thrilling, but occasionally I’d get insomniac or lonely guests looking for some midnight company.
That night, the bar was empty.
When I relieved my colleague from the previous shift, he had mentioned that ABBA was staying in the hotel. They were performing a concert in town that night. Perhaps I would be able to catch a glimpse of them the next day when they checked out.
I found myself humming “Waterloo” while attacking several water rings on the white marble counter with a dishcloth.Sounds of chatter travelled from the lobby into the lounge. I quickly straightened up and tried to look like I had been attentively waiting for guests all that time.
A lanky blonde girl and a brown-haired man strolled in, settling on the leather sofas. Soon after, a man with a moustache and a curly haired brunette followed suit.
I could hardly believe it.
There they were—Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid—all four members of ABBA, sitting in the lobby lounge during my shift.
My face must have been flushed, but I remained as professional as possible, taking their orders politely. I was calm up until I served them their drinks and before I realised it, I blurted out, “I love you guys!” Right after the words tumbled out of my mouth, I thought, uh oh….
They laughed, amused.
Agnetha asked, “Why didn’t you come to our concert?”
“Well, I had to be here!” I waved my hand across the empty lounge.
Benny took a gulp of his whiskey soda and jumped up. In a few wide steps, he made his way to the white baby grand piano and sat on the bench. As he lifted the fallboard, he asked, “What’s your favourite song?”
Without hesitation, I said, “Waterloo!”
Thum thum thum thum—“My my! At Waterloo Napolean did surrender,” the ladies chimed in to join the energetic thumping of the piano keys.
I entered a semi state of euphoria. Can this really be happening? Am I getting a private concert from ABBA?
“Waterloo! Knowing my fate is to be with you!”
They went on to finish two more songs. At last, Benny dragged his fingers across the keys and played his final chord.
I clapped so hard that my palms stung. I realised my eyes were teary.
“Well, we should get to bed,” Bjorn said and gave me a firm pat on the back.
They wished me good night and trudged out into the lobby. I turned to the now empty lobby lounge. Night shifts would never seem boring again.
Jean F. Wasser
Wasser was working in a Hotel in Jakarta as the Executive Assistant Manager during the early 1980s.
No good thing can be expected when the call comes in the middle of the night. I was staying in the hotel, as many hoteliers do, to be available at a moment’s notice.
“Mr Wasser, we can’t handle this. Please come!” Within seconds, I had done up the buttons of my shirt and left my wife with only the cold indentation of her husband’s shape in the bed for company.
At the doorway of a guestroom on the 16th floor, Eko, my security personnel, and a few other guards were trying to stop a Dutch man from entering the room. Eko was a formidable looking man, a former professional bodybuilder. Inside, a Japanese man was flailing on the bed, clawing at the pillows and sheets, and screaming at the top of his lungs. Water had flowed from the bathroom into the corridor, and my shoes made a squishy sound as I walked on the stripe of wet carpet.
Priority One: Shut him up. When he saw two security guards and me approach him, he bounded towards the window and attempted to open it, to throw himself out, I presumed. The windows were sealed to thwart precisely such a media-disaster, massive clean-up and stress-inducing incident.
He was beyond control. No appeal to his mental faculties could calm him down. The in-house doctor was called. The screaming never stopped.
Meanwhile, the guards and I had pinned him down on the bed. The guards secured his limbs between themselves and I sat on him, literally, using my body weight to prevent him from jumping up again. I used a pillow to muffle his screams. I really couldn’t let the other guests be disturbed.
“Boss, are you
Publisher: BookRix GmbH & Co. KG
Text: Copyright © 2013 Hotel Tales. All Rights Reserved.
Publication Date: 11-02-2015
All Rights Reserved
More Hotel Tales is now available in all major bookstores More Hotel Tales with Hanley Chew is now available. More great adventures and stories that offer an intriguing peek into the life of hoteliers and the industry. Hotel Tales 2.0, otherwise known as ‘More Hotel Tales’ is now available in all major bookstores in Malaysia and Singapore, will share with you more behind-the-scenes stories that will amuse, inspire, startle and move you. Get insights into the hotel industry with tales from industry experts such as CEOs, managers and hotel staffs. Enjoy everything from the creative ways taken to cover up a mishap, cleaning up a thrashed hotel room, dealing with difficult guests and more. So, enjoy the new tales in More Hotel Tales.