Oooh You Nasty Locals
Hoteliers are really racists or communalists at heart. Here we go, the in-box on our e-mails are bound to become very full very suddenly. On a quick journey to Trincomalee recently, I experienced this phenomenon first hand so – really – I do know what I am writing about.
The hotel in question was one I had already been to perhaps three times before and I was very familiar with the operation. No reservation was made – so that was dicing with fate anyway – and I pitched up late in the afternoon and was very lucky – the receptionist’s words – to have got the ‘last’ air conditioned room or I could have a room with a ceiling fan. Considering we were having drought weather it really was a non-brainer. Air conditioning it will be. The keys were handed over, no checking-in form was proffered giving me the impression that it was because they already knew me and had my details on file. We were pointed in the general direction of the room – which I had not stayed in previously and looking for the general assistant fellow to help with the bags, I saw him scurrying away towards the kitchen. It was almost funny except that my tennis-elbow-inflicted hand was conspiring to kill me even quicker than I thought thanks to the blasted weight of the computer bag. I made a mental note to drown him in the pristine waters whenever the opportunity arose.
The air conditioning clearly was a Champika Ranawaka fan club founding member. It worked in cycles of ten minutes and then stayed off until I turned it on again. The whole process started again once I restarted the unit. This was ok until I got a bit drowsy and wanted to catch up on kip seeing I had left the capital city in the early hours. Clearly sleeping and turning the air conditioning on every 10 minutes was beyond me. I wondered which other reasonable human could do that.
Since sleep was eluding me and the air conditioning was the chief conspirator, I decided to have a shower and then go for my meeting in town, which is why I had arrived in the first place. Enter bathroom, exit bathroom. No towels, no soap, no toilet paper. It was however a long trek down to reception – so it was time to get the emergency kit out. And the towel I carry as well.
On the way out I stopped at reception and said would you look at the a/c and by the way please leave towels and soap too. Lots of Sri-Lankan style head nodding and bobbing and muttered words about not sure of the air conditioning but you ‘go and come, let us see’.
Returning around the 8 p.m. mark another stop at the reception to check if the towels were left up or not. Different man who I vaguely recollected was the owner of the place. “Towels? Towels? You want towels? And soap? Anything else? Towels and soap would do nicely, I assured him, he seemed clearly put out that he was being dragged away from some rubbish on the box.
“You are a local you have to pay extra for towels. Damn locals they are something else”. With that it was time for me either to slap him very hard and ask him to commit an unnatural act on himself or for me to check out. I checked out and no I did not pay for the few hours of 10-minute burst of air conditioning I used. He was a singularly unpleasant specimen of a humanoid who deserved to go straight to hell.
Another hotel – recently opened and a refreshingly crisp and clean place – a totally different experience altogether saw me settled for the night. But it got me thinking about the hoteliers. They appear to have a singularly one sided view of the locals – forgetting conveniently that they too are locals. Rather like Fonny and his comments about the minorities.
I approached a senior hotel industry man some years ago. I asked him if he missed not having a crowd of people in his near-empty hotel. “Of course I do but no one is coming,” he lamented. Have you tried selling off the under occupied rooms at a lower price, at least to entice locals to have a break. “Oh No. the locals don’t know how to use the toilets, they will break many bottles in the room, they will damage my beds and furniture and they will go off with the towels”. Clearly he viewed locals as a bunch of barbarians devoid of any proper decorum and standard.
He may have a point but it is rather a tenuous point. I once interviewed a chap. After the interview while I gathered my papers for the next one, I noticed that my mobile was missing. I soon realised that the interviewee had robbed it. We gave chase, caught hold of him thanks to good Police work the next day. But I had to take the Police in my car. While the culprit was in my car and the Police were looking the other way I did a Mervyn. I thrashed the fellow until the Policeman standing outside the car took note and ordered me to stop. It was the best 60-seconds of my life. Well the most satisfying. But what a singularly awful specimen.
The locals – and I do find that term absolutely derogatory and quite colonial in nature – are much maligned. But do a survey and you will quickly find out that they are the backbone of the client lists and regularly support businesses. Yet they do get the raw end of the deal. Perhaps it’s like the Taj. A rice and a couple of curries came in at Rs 3,077 recently. Is this a sort of ‘constructive dismissal’ of the ‘local’ business. Especially when all the other hotels – even higher up than the Taj in their league table – charged considerably less.
There is a place close to Thalpe in Galle, whose board specifically states ‘foreigners only’. This country which has gone through hell and come back thanks to a war that was communal in nature, really is a hotbed of racism. The first thing they want to know from you is your ‘jaathiya’ – as if being Sri Lankan is simply not enough. The Bandaranaikes were the masters of communalism – SWRD was elected on the back of his communalism couched as Nationalism. Fonnie made those infamous remarks about the minorities. A Police Officer in Matara on hearing my name decided that my driving licence could not be found. He openly stated to the man entrusted to go and collect the licence that, ‘Thambiyek nay, ithin wadayak denna ownay’. A whole five years later, the licence remains untraced, I have neither been charged nor had my driving licence returned. The Police spokesperson at the time, did not have the courtesy to respond to my registered post letter. Is it communalism or is it plain ignorance. It is a question which is irrelevant in this fairy-tale, make believe so-called paradise that we are led to believe we live in.
How can hoteliers be expected to treat all people as guests when the corruption is endemic and when the head of the Tourist Development Authority himself is embroiled in a controversy; apparently above the law and ignoring the Parliamentary dictat on conflict of interest. How can the stakeholders in the leisure sector be customer service orientated when the very head of the Authority displays scant regard for the supremacy of parliament and ignores the rules and regulations. More to the point, the ‘Appointing Authority’ permits this ignoring of the law to continue unimpeded – as indeed did Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe when confronted by evidence that a member of his Cabinet Dr Jayalath Jayawardena had awarded a contract to rehabilitate roads in the North East to a company that was registered at his mother’s address.
As Sri Lanka is moved slowly but surely away from reality by its legislators and the Executive, as we enter this fairy-tale orbit of supposed respect for each other and each others’ beliefs and customs, let us remember that various forms of freedom – of expression for instance – are surely being eroded. Perhaps our legislators are taking to heart a flippant off-the-cuff remark made by Pakistani icon, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto: “what democracy for peasants?” Bhutto of course was hung at Rawalpindi Prison several years after he made that statement.