POETIC MEMORIES OF CHINA II: THE FLYING DRAGON-By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil
CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY
President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada
Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum
An Opportunity to introduce Sri Lankan Cuisine to Hong Kong
In early 1981, from the post of Manager of one of the Walkers Tours/John Keells Hotels, I was promoted to the corporate office. I was the first Manager-Operations for Hotel Management and Marketing Services Limited, with some responsibility for all six hotels of the John Keells Group. At age 27, I was getting used to the corporate culture of the largest group of companies in Sri Lanka.
I was busy taking over the management of the Ceylinco Hotel, which became the seventh hotel of the group. In the midst of my busy schedule, my immediate superior, Bobby Adams, Director-Operations entrusted me at short notice, to travel to Hong Kong. He wanted me to quickly plan and organise a large Sri Lankan and Maldivian food festival at the Hotel Furama Inter•Continental.
It was an important two-week tourism promotional festival with partnership of a few organisations represented by: M. Y. M. Thahir for Walkers Tours, Pani Seneviratne for Ceylon Tourist Board and Ahamed Didi of Universal Resorts of the Maldives. The Inter•Continental Hotel Group, was expected to be represented by their Executive Chef in Colombo. The festival included 28 large
buffets for lunch and dinner over 14 days, promoting Sri Lankan cuisine and a few dishes from the Maldives. The Hotel Furama Inter•Continental had agreed to provide three cooks to assist the Guest Executive Chef representing Sri Lanka.
At the eleventh hour, the Executive Chef of Hotel Ceylon Inter•Continental had refused to take part, complaining that the support in Hong Kong is inadequate to produce 28 large buffets over 14 days. He wanted three Sri Lankan chefs from his brigade to be provided with air tickets to Hong Kong. That request was not accepted by Air Lanka, the airline sponsor of festival.
The reputation of Walkers Tours as the main organizer of the festival was at stake. Bobby asked me, “Chandi, we need someone like you to rise to the occasion. Can you please help the company?”. I planned the menus, calculated quantities of all ingredients and purchased a few key buffet decorations on the same day from Laksala, and took off on an Air Lanka flight to Hong Kong, the very next day.
My trip to Hong Kong in 1981
During the flight, I was thinking of my father’s advice given to me just before my trip. He said, “Chandana, try your best to do even a short trip to China, after the food festival. Future global tourism will be divided into two – China and the rest of the world! Don’t miss this opportunity.” My father was a visionary thinker and his predictions since his visit to China in 1958, were: “China one day will become the number one tourist destination in the world and China will also become the most powerful nation in the world.”
When I debated with him about his rationale for this prediction, he said that when many democratic countries in the world do their national master plans for a shorter period, China does 50-year master plans. China is not impacted by aspects such as general elections and change of political parties in power, as experienced in democratic nations.
The food festival was a big success. By the end of the two weeks, I was exhausted from cooking virtually all dishes for 28 buffets. My three Hong Kong Chinese assistants also worked very hard providing me support, but they were totally dependent on my final cooking. The experience I gained in Hong Kong was helpful in later years, when I organised four more large Sri Lankan food and culture festivals in Singapore, Oman, Guyana and Jamaica, as the Guest Executive Chef and Event Coordinator.
I was in Hong Kong for three weeks. My extra (non-cooking) seven days were spent on event planning, advance preparations, public relations and promotional events for the national TV in Hong Kong.
My trip to Macau and China in 1981
Finally, before leaving Hong Kong, I found two days to do a quick trip to Macau and Southern China. Compared to Hong Kong, Southern China, appeared to be totally underdeveloped in 1981. Nevertheless, I loved the experience of being one of the early tourists in China. In terms of Tourism in 1981, China was at a very early developmental stage, much behind small countries such as Sri Lanka.
My father was pleased and proud of me. Upon my return home, he had long chats with me about China, Macau and Hong Kong. He told me, “’I must go back to China to see if they are getting closer to the predictions, I made in 1958!” I felt that he was disappointed that he did not get an opportunity to re-visit China, for 23 years since his first visit.
Two More Trips to China in 1985 and 1987
Having retired from the Sri Lanka Administrative Service by the early 1980s, my father worked as a Consultant to the Chairman of Phoenix Advertising (Pvt) Ltd, a Company Director for Lanka Tiles and the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Ayurvedic Drugs Corporation. He continued to travel overseas for business purposes, but did not get another opportunity to travel to China. He was getting frustrated about it. One day in early 1985, on the spur of the moment, he decided to visit the Chinese Embassy in Colombo, with a copy of his 1963 book, Cheena Charika (Travels in China). He showed the book to the Deputy Ambassador and narrated stories about his memorable trip to China in 1958. He also told them that he would love to visit China again to see the development in the areas he visited 27 years ago. My father had a gentle persuasive personality.
A week later my father was invited to have tea with the Ambassador for China. During tea, my father was given the good news. The Chinese Government had invited my father to travel around China for three weeks as a special guest of the Chinese Government, on a fully paid trip. They honoured my father for being one of the first foreigners to write a book about the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
In addition to re-visiting most of the cities and attractions he visited in 1958, my father was able to visit places of importance related to visual arts during his second trip to China in 1985. It was evident that he especially valued the opportunity to get some art lessons at the famous Shanghai School of Art. Years later, my father published the following poem about that productive visit.
Some skilful strokes
with a bamboo brush
on a sheet of rice paper
and stamping it in red
with his signature seal
the Chinese painter says:
“Let this painting be
the memento of your visit
to the Shanghai School of Art.”
I thank him and wonder why
salient features of the landscape
are not in the painting.
Reading my mind
his response was quick:
“What is most important
In a work of art is what
The artist chooses to leave out.”
And that advice has been my guide
every time I tried to paint or write.
(R. D. K. Jayawardena, 2008, p. 15, Fingerprint, Sarasavi Bookshop (Pvt) Ltd, Nugegoda)
My father was an excellent landscape artist. After his art lessons at the Shanghai School of Art in 1985, he tried simplistic black and white drawings, in addition to his China-inspired landscapes in oil paint. As my life-long mentor and art teacher, he continued to give me lessons on visual art on new techniques he was mastering. As a semi-professional artist, I benefited tremendously from my father’s passion for arts and his ability to teach all forms of art.
In mid-1980s, my father was invited to help a friend of his, Minister Gamini Jayasuriya. He assisted the minister and worked as the Coordinating Secretary for the Ministry of Health, Agricultural Development, Food and Co-operatives. In that capacity he traveled to China again in 1987, representing Sri Lanka at the World Food Council meeting in Beijing. He used that opportunity to travel around China, once more.
Three more Trips to a changing Hong Kong
In 1991, I was able to arrange a Management Observer period at then the best hotel in the world – the Regent of Hong Kong. I was proud to hear that the resident band of this great hotel was the well-known Sri Lankan band, The Jetliners. My friends Tony Fernando and Mignonne Fernando (Band Manager and the Lead Singer) arranged my assignment.
A year later, in 1992, I returned to Hong Kong to present a case study from Sri Lanka at the Pacific Asia Regional Tourism Education Forum, organised by the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) and an agency of the United Nations – the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). I was proud to meet two Sri Lankans leading PATA at that time – Lakshman Ratnapala, President & CEO and Renton De Alwis, Vice President – Asia.
I returned to Hong Kong in 2001, to present a case study from the Caribbean. This was at the International Hospitality Industry Evolution Conference, organised by the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Cornell University, USA. On this fourth visit, I felt the changing political climate of Hong Kong. In time to come, I will narrate fun stories from my trips to Hong Kong in chronological order in this column.
My memorable trip to
China in 2010
In 2010, l was asked by my then employer, George Brown College, Toronto, Canada (where I worked as a dean), to spend three weeks in China on work assignments. Two members of my team of professors accompanied me. Our work was mainly at the Guilin University of Technology, with whom, George Brown College had an educational pathway agreement. In time to come, I will provide more stories about this memorable trip, in this column.
When I stayed in Shanghai for some education partnership work, I took a couple of days off to attend the largest exhibition I had ever seen (EXPO 2010). The train I took from Shanghai city centre to the exhibition ground was also memorable.
It was easily the fastest, the cleanest and the most efficiently operated train ride I experienced during all my travels around the world. The most memorable experience I had in China was a day excursion on the mystic Li River and ending the day by watching a fully choreographed show staged on the banks and in the water of Li River for an audience of 4,000 spectators. This show, ‘Impression Liu Sanjie’ by director Zhang Yimou is a local tourist attraction. The show is the world’s biggest natural auditorium that uses Li River waters as its stage, with its backdrop to be twelve mist-enveloped hills.
On my return to Canada, I could not stop dreaming about the mystic hills, the beautiful Li River and the fascinating show in Guilin. Inspired by my Chinese tourist experiences, I completed a series of Li River paintings. The largest of this series was purchased by the President of George Brown College, during a fund-raising art show I did in Toronto in 2010. This art exhibition, ‘Century ½ – 50 years in Art’, was presented by George Brown College’s School of Design to raise money for student scholarships.
First Art Lesson
A guiding hand
Taught me to walk
Talk and read
Then to paint
A little kid
In a tropical zoo
A first-time wonderer
Amazing big animals!
“Paint what you see”
“Pen what you feel”
Still useful, decades later
“Use less paint”
“Be gentle with the brush”
Critical, as ever
During my last meeting
Lessons in life and art
From my first visit to the zoo
To the final lesson from my father
My last meeting with my father was in 2020, in Colombo a few months before he passed away at nearly 99 years of age. We discussed many things that were important to him – my three children, visual art, poetry and China. He repeated his 1958 and 1981 predictions, again, “China one day will become the number one tourist destination in the world and China will also become the most powerful nation in the world.”
Today, China has climbed to the number four slot in the world of Tourism (after USA, Spain and Italy) and has become the second most powerful nation in the world after USA. I think that my father’s prediction will become a fact during my lifetime. International criticism about China’s behaviour is ever growing. The list includes poor record of human rights, religious freedom, handling of prolonging conflict in Tibet, handling of protests in Hong Kong, lack of respect for the Law of the Sea, indirect colonisation via massive developmental projects with 99-year rights, environmental pollution, cyber warfare and honesty about COVID-19. In spite of all these black marks as a bad global actor, the Dragon is Flying Higher. Meanwhile, my curiosity and fascination over China continues…