Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Park Plaza – Bangalore one of the loveliest hotels I have been in.

Did you know that you can save a lot of money if you book your hotel online direct instead of going through a travel agent? As much as 50%? I discovered this when I had to visit Bangalore recently and decided to do my own booking. Since I did not have the advice of an agent to depend on I was going solely by what I read on trip advisor. We all know that some of the stuff on Tripadvisor is false and that has been posted by fake users. So when I started reading raving reviews about the Park Street Plaza Bangalore at first I thought it was too good to be true. Yes, a sixth sense told me that I should stay at this hotel. If not that I would regret my decision. I have always trusted my gut instinct – sometimes not 100% - and mad the reservation for my stay with great trepidation.
But almost immediately I got this sense of comfort that I had made the right decision when the girl at the reception who had answered my call about organizing a hotel car to pick me up at the airport called me back asking for more details within minutes after I had spoken to her.  These guys must be really empowered if the management has an IDD line at the disposal of those who are at the front office; I thought to myself. And this feeling became even stronger when I stepped out of the airport to be greeted by two very smart and kind people who were extremely efficient and courteous in the way they handled themselves..
And once I stepped into the hotel lobby a great sense of relief washed over me as I realized I had been absolutely right to follow my gut instinct.
Chill out music and this amazingly cool ambience greeted me. For a few moments I thought I had stepped into one of this ultra hip and chic hotels one finds in Europe. The kind of hotel that is featured in TV programs and publications talking about the coolest  hotels in the world. that are featured in coffee table books with titles similar to ”the Coolest hotels in the world”
It looks so lovely It was modern and comfortable yet minimalistic and very tastefully decorated. It seemed that all the spaces of this hotel has been designed by someone with impeccable taste.
My room was extremely comfortable and even though it was a standard size room, the clever use of mirrors and glass and the way everything had been placed made it feel absolutely spacious and luxurious. I am always on the lookout to point out something which was wrong or which I did not find pleasing but there was nothing I could find wrong every thing about my room was perfect. Kudos to the interior designer who had done this project it seems he has put in a lot of thought and effort to get things absolutely right.
It was the little things that made the biggest difference. Like the TV remote being placed in a little leather case with the channels neatly marked making it so easy to access and flip. The fact that even the data cable  was neatly concealed in a little container. Even the chair by the desk was so comfortable just like the bed. The bed side alarm clock which was really nice and visible from all corners of the room. Decent sized mugs with the hot water kettle. And even a decent wine glass. And most importantly power sockets within easy reach. These were something’s which were lacking in some of the other more reputed places I had stayed in. And made my stay that much more comfortable.
The toilet was lovely too and the amenities which were on offer such as shampoo, shower gel and lotion were of great quality. I loved the fact that one wall of the toilet was glass and a motorized curtain was available if you needed your privacy.
I tried the dinner buffet and breakfast buffet at the restaurant. I found the food delicious and the spread good.
Even the gym was great the equipment was of excellent quality. And it was a pleasure to work out in it. It was nice touch to see apples laid on offer along with the towels and bottles of water for clients to use.
But what I loved most about the hotel was the staff. They were so friendly, well groomed and so full of energy flashing smiles as they went about their work. Polite and courteous always offering to help enthusiastically. One could see that these offers were extended willingly from the heart and not as if they have been ordered to do so by a higher power. It just made the entire hotel pulse with a different vibe which one could feel and enjoy.
But the icing on the cake was the price I had to pay for all this. It was roughly 100 dollars a night which was peanuts for a 5 star experience of this nature. In fact I would have been willing to pay double. Sadly I did not know what a treat I was in for and I had cut short my trip to one night instead of two. Well as they say one should learn from one’s mistake and the next time I go to Bangalore I know where I am going to stay and I will make sure that I will stay an extra night just to luxuriate in the comforts of the Park Plaza hotel Bengaluru.
And to those of who are interested YES my review of the hotel on tripadvisor was as glowing and wonderful as the others. Guess some other poor soul will be in the same quandary as I was. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

When art imitates life: The machine gun preacher.

Sometimes there is a movie which completely knocks you over your feet and “The Machine gun preacher” is one of those. This is one of the movies which I had with me for a couple of months. Maybe even more but never got down to watching it till the end.  Though I did go through the first few minutes of it once and had to stop due to some strange reason which I cannot recall at all at this point in time.
But now I am digressing. One thing I don’t want you to think is that the reason I stopped watching this movie was because it was boring. That is the last thing it is. In fact if it wasn’t so contradictory and lame after what was outlined in the paragraph above I would be bold enough to say that it is a movie you just can’t seem to stop watching. It does sound kind of self defeating doesn’t it.
The Machine gun preacher is about a typical American hilly billy bad boy who is drug addict, a criminal and a guy who gets his wife to work in a strip club so he can afford to buy his beer. A typical American low life is how he would be best described. But then he goes to a church service gets saved and becomes a completely different man. One day he hears about the suffering of children in Sudan from a visiting pastor to his church and decides to visit Sudan. When he is confronted by the kind of trauma the kids their go through it galvanizes him into action. He builds an orphanage for the kids in Sudan and goes looking for Kids who are abandoned, misused and abused in the war torn country. Where there is no respect for life. Even the life of a little child.
He would go to any length to save the children even if it meant attacking the enemies. Hence the moniker “Machine Gun Preacher”.  This movie brought tears into my eyes whilst watching specially the way children were mistreated in this country. An agonizing sequence was when some kids were chained to the ground to be used as human bait. Also of course to realize that so much good can be within someone who is classified as bad by society. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

How being a credit card whore prevented me from getting screwed. Metaphorically of course!

You had a busy day full of meetings. You rush out of one meeting to rush into the airport.  When you arrive at your hotel you are stressed. You are tired! You are hungry! You are looking forward to a hot shower a stiff drink and warm meal. An
But if something extremely trivial is keeping you away from it how would you feel? Fucking furious??? Yes well that’s exactly how I felt a couple of days ago with the world’s local bank.
I had traveled overseas on some urgent business and was trying to check into my hotel when I was informed that the preauthorization of my card could not be processed. I was flummoxed. I had informed the card center that I would be visiting overseas and they had reconfirmed with me that my card was activated for overseas use and was good to go. But here I was stranded and what was worse was I could not get through to the customer service hotline. Well I could get through but I could not speak to anyone as no human being was answering the call.
For a moment it seemed that I might I have to spend the night on the road in a strange country.
Fortunately for me I had two other cards with me and I had been prudent enough to inform the respective card centers that I might be using them overseas. This precaution paid off and I managed to get my preauthorization processed via my American Express card issued by NTB. 
The sad thing is that the HSBC customer service line was not answered that night though I tried three more times spending a total of at least thirty to forty five minutes being on hold. And that at Automatic International Roaming rates as well.
Which means I missed having my drink before having my dinner. Well at least I had hot water and a cosy bed to sleep on. Thank goodness for small mercies.
Now I admit a lot of people call me a credit card whore because I do have quite a few of them issued by many banks. And I am not faithful to just one. I guess sometimes being a whore does have its advantages. Otherwise I would have ended up being screwed.  Hence the title of this post. Tee hee hee!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

My tryst with luxury…

 Believe it or not I have not visited Heritance Kandalama ever!  Even though it has been around for a long, long time. In the good old days I could not afford it. When I had the money it really did not interest me.
Oh the food!
Oh the view!
Oh the environment!
You have to see it to believe it!
These were some of the statements which followed the horrified look I get when I tell them that I was an oddity that has never stepped into Heritance Kandalama or even its vicinity.
But they kept going on and on and on. Waxing eloquent about the virtues of Kandalama that finally my wall of resistance broke down and me and the brood decided to head that way making use of a substantial discount which was offered by HSBC.
I am a firm believer of under promising and over delivering.
And in this case – due to no fault of the hotel – my levels of anticipation has been built up to fever pitch with all the talk I have been exposed to.
And of course as one would expect it did not live up to my expectations.
Don’t get me wrong. Not that it was bad in any manner if was like heaven compared to some of the hellish places I have stayed in. But guess I had been made to believe that this was the closest thing to heaven one would find. And it was most certainly far from it.
The view? Well I guess for someone who has been stuck in the city it would be wonderful but not for me. I have seen far better and more breathtaking views in my journeys.
The food? Yes the variety was wide. No it was amazing. But all the western cuisine was bland and lacked flavor as I believe it was cooked to cater to the more delicate palates of the foreign guests.
And guess the food which chef Roy does for us on our excursions is far superior in flavor as even the western food is made to suit our taste.
The Service was good but it was nothing outstanding.  The poor people who are employed their would die of exhaustion if they had to deliver outstanding service because the property is so widespread and they have to do a helluva lot of walking every day.
But there is one thing about Heritance I can’t stop singing praises about.
That is the quality of our accommodation. Oh wow! Now that was heavenly.
Since we have grown up kids a conventional room is way too cramped and we end up climbing on each other’s heads and driving everyone mad. And the cost of getting the Royal Suite was marginally more expensive than getting two double rooms. So we decided to splurge the extra dough and lead a life of luxury. At least for the weekend.
Calling it living in the lap of luxury is an understatement. The suite came with one large living room with a dining table for ten – not that you would need it – and an absolutely lovely lounge area. With a wide screen TV and sofa’s you could sink into. On each side of the living room were dressing areas connecting to the toilets and the bed rooms. The toilets were absolutely out of this world each with its own Jacuzzi and rain shower and double wash basins. The Jacuzzi was situated adjacent to a large window with a beautiful view of the lake. And one of my greatest pleasures was to switch off all the lights except for the little light in the tub and admire the stars and the shadows over the lake while the water gently gushed over me. It was pure pleasure.
And to add to all this pampering the welcome fruit platter was also accompanied by some of the most delicious roast cashew nuts I have ever eaten. And the beds were so comfy one did not want to move out of them.
It was so heavenly that we rarely left our rooms during our entire stay. Instead all of us laid about in the room watching tv reading books and enjoying the creature comforts. The miracle was the accommodations were spacious enough to ensure that none of us stepped on each others toes and we each had our own space. How wonderful is that.
And the amazing thing is that this was great value for money specially when you compare it with our experience and the price we had to pay at Malu Malu.
The only down side to this whole experience I have been eating way too much even though I have been complaining about the food. Even though this is not the most complimentary post about this place I can’t wait to go again.

Sunday, August 5, 2012


The banking system has evolved over the years to the sophisticated industry it is today. Sadly one thing has not followed suit. What I am referring to is the common cheque.
Just as a matter of interest the first printed cheque as we know it appeared in 1760. However the use of a piece of paper requesting a third party to handover money to the bearer has been in existence since 362 BC. Amazing isn’t it.
Yes the way cheques are cleared and processed has grown faster with time. Yet one still has to sign it just like one did many centuries ago. And if you can’t sign a cheque it can be a real pain in the ass.
Let me tell you my experience.
Some time ago I pulled a nerve of my right pinky finger and had only partial control of it. You will never believe how vital a role the fourth finger plays in grip till you lose control of it. I could not even eat with my right hand or even a hold a cigarette properly even though I use the second and third finger for that. And of course it affected my ability to write. And that was a real bummer because I write best not when I am typing but when I put pen to paper. All this was inconvenient but I was nonplussed. I could still type my stuff on a computer and use fork and spoon to eat my meals. Of course it made the food less tastier which too was good for my waistline.  
Life was not that bad. Until I had to write out some cheques. I realized that my signature was completely different and however much I tried I could not make it look anything better than a childish scrawl. The amounts I had to pay was quite large so I could not go to an ATM and take the funds out which meant I had to actually step into a bank and make a withdrawal which was a time consuming and frustrating exercise. It has been years since I had stepped up to a bank counter period. Since the two banks I am a client of pride themselves for their service I decided to put them to the test.
First I called the HSBC hotline. I explained my predicament to them and requested for them to honor the cheque even though my signature would not be identical to the one they have on record. I also volunteered to put all the instructions and information down on an email so that the bank would not be held responsible if there was an issue later on. After keeping me on hold I was told that the only way this would happen is if I was to visit a branch and change my specimen signature by filling a new signature form. Which defeated my purpose. And I just gave up.
Then I called the boy who handles my account at NTB. Wow what a difference in attitude. He was accommodating right from the word go. Yes they would gladly honor my cheque. All I had to do was be kind enough to put everything down on email just for their records. Everything was a breeze. And I was happy. A couple of days later I see that I am getting a call from the NTB executive. For a moment I thought there might be some kind of issue but was touched when he said he had called to check if my finger was better.
In the end I managed to get HSBC to agree as well but that was after having to call some of my contacts which was too much extra effort.
And once again NTB impressed me no end with their excellence in customer service. And I am not even a priority customer at NTB which I am at HSBC a bak I have been a customer of for more than 25 years. Whilst with NTB I have not even
It was this incident which got me thinking that there must be a way to improve this archaic method of payment. Sadly I have not been able to come up with any thoughts on how. Any suggestions anyone?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Straight facts about the queer!

I am not a homophobic. Neither am I a gay basher. I even have good friends who are gay. And I am comfortable amongst gay people. Yet it was with a great sense of trepidation I entered the auditorium of the British School to watch the play “If you promise not to tell” billed as a performance of stories from queer men’s lives, organized by Sakhi Collaboration a organization that works with Lesbian, Gay ,Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Intersex (LGBTQI) persons. “Would they think I am gay too” this was the first question which went through my head. This was the first time I had been amidst such a large amount of people from that communityWill someone try to make a pass at me? Or behave in a manner which would make me feel uncomfortable? These were some of the questions which were going through my head a couple of days before the event. But I am glad I overcame my fears and made it to see the performance. My reaction was a sense of sadness and dismay and relief. “Thank goodness I am not gay because it’s a terrible thing to be gay in this country” is what I said to myself after watching all the stories most of which were based on real life situations. You are harassed, you are persecuted and you are misunderstood. From society from friends and even your parents. How sad. There were two scenes which caught my attention and stuck to my mind. One was the story about a boy who loved to dance but he dances in an effeminate manner and how he is harassed and beaten in the end. It took my down memory lane to Wilpattu where I can recall a young boy who was our tracker telling us proudly how he and his friends assaulted some “Ponnayas” at a music show in their area. What makes this terrible is that this young man was a nice young man who was otherwise a very respectful hardworking and kind person. But in his environment this kind of behavior was as natural as killing a cockroach would be for me. He works in the police today and I hate to imagine what queer people in his area of jurisdiction must be going through. The second scene was the one of a mother trying to dress her homosexual son as a man shouting “Aiyo Samaje!” in an anguished way. After all “what will other people say or think?” controls the actions of lots of people. This too reminded me of what one of my friends mother has said when he came out of the closet. Believe it or not her words were “Aiyo Son if you are homosexual at least can’t you marry a lesbian” Pathetic actually Sympathetic isn’t it? The direction of the play by Matt Tyne was very good. It was very simple and minimalist. The acting was good too though it was quite clear that they were amateurs. And the production values were pretty good specially the music which impressed me no end. Even the individual stories were excellent. Some were funny and some were serious though there was nothing funny about the message they were trying to communicate. We need to teach the people around us to treat gay people with more respect. Educate them that being gay is not something you choose to be but rather a manner in which people are born just like some are born with brown eyes whilst others are with black. Or straight hair and curly hair. It is the way god intended them to be. Now I know that if some of my fellow church members saw this statement there would be a holy uproar. But I stand by what I say. And most importantly we need to make people understand that Gay people are human too and hurt and bleed just like the rest of us. After all being Gay in Sri Lanka comes with its own set of dangers. We don’t need to add to it do we?

A Riches to Rags story which is frighteningly familiar

Have you been reading a book and suddenly it hits you that the story line is quite similar to your life and you wonder if your life too could lead down the same path the story does? Well that’s exactly what happened to me when I was reading the book “How Starbucks saved my life”. It is a personal memoir but I picked it up completely by accident thinking it was a business case study book. Guess sometimes when you judge a book by its cover it does lead to finding some gems though this is the exception to the rule. This book was one such gem.
It is about a guy named Michael Gates Gill who was a high flying advertising executive working for the global agency JWT. A company where I started my own career in the trade I might add. He was the committed worker. Always giving priority to the company over his personal and family commitments even leaving them on Christmas day to make sure a campaign was delivered on time. Sadly after 25 years a person who he mentored terminated him and suddenly he was without a job. Naturally this put his life in a complete spin. He ended up divorced, penniless and a father of an illegitimate child. To add to the misery they discovered a tumor in his brain which was not life threatening if removed on time but something that would affect his hearing. Sadly he had not renewed his health insurance due to the lack of funds. You could say he as up shit street without a paddle and was at his wits end trying to figure a way out of his dilemma when he was literally thrown a lifeline by Starbucks who offered him a job as a barista. He took the job mainly because of the medical insurance Star Bucks provided for all their workers. I use the word “workers” instead of employees intentionally because Starbucks offers medical benefits to even their part time employees.
So at the age of retirement the not so young Mister Michael Bill Gates had to start over again from the very bottom and learn a new trade.  He spent most of his first days on the job cleaning toilets. I doubt he would have ever pictured himself doing this kind of menial work even in a worst case scenario. But to his credit he did his work with enthusiasm with humbleness and humility. And he found that finally he was enjoying life. He was looking forward to go to work in the morning and walking in to Starbucks with a spring in his step. Which was absolutely amazing.
Of course being an ex advertising copy writer the book was extremely well written in a very simple and down to earth style. Which made it an easy uncomplicated read. Though I did keep wondering “could this happen to me?” virtually at the turn of every page.
Even though this was not a business case study book it did teach me a lot of things. Firstly how unemotional uncaring and unforgiving the world of multinational agencies can be. And secondly how well people will perform if treated right and given the proper responsibility and authority. It also  increased my respect for Howard Schultz – the CEO of Star bucks – one notch higher and made me committed to be inspired and try to imitate their best practices. I had always thought Starbucks was a great company to emulate and this book just proved it. Do try and watch the video posted below if you have the time it is quite interesting. At least to me. :)

Michael Gill: How Starbucks Saved My Life from Tattered Cover and Tattered Cover on