My girlfriend is a hotelier
and currently works as a revenue manager for a five-star
hotel in Thailand with an internationally renowned brand
working in Thailand, she worked in Malaysia for another
five-star hotel with an internationally renowned brand name.
And before that, in Korea for one other five-star
hotel with an internationally renowned brand name.
I am not a hotelier, but I did attend a university
that has an internationally renowned brand name and a hotel
Last week, I unexpectedly had a chance to be forcibly
enrolled in a hotel mismanagement course in Malaysia
at a three-star hotel with an internationally unrenowned
brand name. Click
here to see the video.
A few months back, we planned
a 7-night vacation in Malaysia. Ever the boutique
hotel bargain hunter, my girlfriend sourced
us a decent deal on three nights in the Cameron Highlands, a
former British hill station; three nights in the Southeast
Asian trading entrepot of Melaka; and one final night in the
capital, Kuala Lumpur.
Our flight from Thailand to Malaysia
arrived an hour later than expected.
After enduring an hour-long
queue sending my girlfriend's son off on an ongoing flight to Korea, we
spent yet another hour traveling from the Kuala Lumpur
airport by train to the impromptu bus station in Bukit Jalil
now functioning as Kuala Lumpur's key bus terminus until the
ever delayed renovations are complete at Puduraya.
The last scheduled bus to the Highlands at 3:30 PM
had been cancelled.
We caught a different one to Tapah on the
recommendation of an Australian tourist and shared a
harrowing taxi with her and an Indian local the final two
hours to Tanah Rata, the main town of the Cameron Highlands.
We didn't check into our hotel, the Century Pines
Resort, until after 8 PM.
The Century Pines professes, on its web
site, to blend 'style, nature, and affordability to create a
setting that's serene and romantic, as well as carefree and
can promise anything.
Barack Obama promised to revitalize the U.S. economy
before he got elected.
Did that mean anything?
On the outside, the Century Pines looks like a classy
British-style resort with an Indian touch; on the inside,
like a run-down hotel on par with the best run-down hotels
in India. In
Lonely Planet's edition of Malaysia, it qualifies as a
Malaysia is a multicultural society
made up mainly of Malays (60%), Chinese (26%), and Indians
(10%), and Century Pines' staff reflected the mix.
A Chinese receptionist, blind in one eye and whom
I'll call Chybly, checked us in with assistance from a male
Each was equally apathetic in helping us transport
our luggage to our room, billed as a 'superior' with a
garden and smelling like a dank basement. My
girlfriend immediately checked the sheets.
Century Pines, she found, practices a continuous
bedding policy: the bedding from the previous guests
remains on the bed continuously for the next guests to sleep
on. We requested
they alter their policy and change our sheets to fresh ones.
The next morning, exhausted from the
journey the day before, we slept in until 9:30 AM.
My girlfriend took a shower and couldn't get the
shower temperature knob to work correctly.
Another of Century Pines' unofficial policies is
water conservation: finish showering quickly or you'll be
bathing in the cold.
Century Pines' owners, the Thong Sin Group in Penang,
must be greens at heart.
We'd gotten a late start that morning.
We tossed our wallets, laptop, and passports in our
room safe and scurried off to make the mediocre breakfast
before it ended at half past ten.
My girlfriend was still upset about her environmentally
We stopped off at reception to speak to Chybly on the way
back from breakfast at 10:30 AM to see about having our
shower knob replaced.
Within 5 minutes, remarkable time for a
hotel perpetually on the Siesta Time Zone, the hotel sent a
razor-thin balding, but young-looking, Malay man to our room
to attend to our complaints.
I never got this man's real name.
We'll call him Enjomalay here.
He arrived with a chest of tools and replaced the
shower knob in minutes and explained that the hot water for
the hotel's wake-me-up showers came from a rather limited
hot water tank.
The hot water tank had to be turned on 30 minutes before
showering in order to reap the maximum five minutes of
Just seconds after Enjomalay departed
our room, I had difficulty opening up our room safe.
I tried our 6-digit PIN code three times in
succession, and on the third attempt was locked out of the
system. My girlfriend had not yet figured out how to use the hotel's phone
system so she went
back to the reception in person at 10:40 AM to bring our
safe deposit box issue to Chybly's attention. Enjomalay came
back to our room promptly, bearing wires and equipment
specifically designed to open hotel safes.
It took Enjomalay but minutes to open it up. While
he was there, we asked him how to use the hotel's
proprietary phone system.
We learned the phone worked under pressure
Instead of pressing '1' to reach reception, you had to hold
down the '1' button a half dozen seconds to achieve the
The technology is brilliantly designed so that receptionists
can only be reached with difficulty.
Before Enjomalay left, I pointed out a
few defunct light bulbs needing replacement.
Enjomalay mentioned that the fluorescent light in the
closet was always meant to be burnt out -
a special Century Pines Touch.
He did return within a few minutes to screw in a
fresh bulb near my side of the bed.
We changed rooms that evening, to a
cosier, sweeter-smelling, but smaller room.
Lying in bed at 7 PM, I took out my foreign currency
Malaysian ringgit notes to count them, a habit I developed
years ago on my travels.
The day before, at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, I'd withdrawn
1,000 ringgit (US$320) from an ATM machine, dished out as
twenty fresh-off-the-press 50 ringgit notes.
To my great consternation, remaining in my wallet
less than thirty-six hours later were only 650 ringgit
Is that so hard to believe?
350 ringgit (US$110) got expended in thirty-six
Charlie Sheen and former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer
spent US$4,000+ on one prostitution experience lasting a
couple of hours.
What's $110 spent in a single day?
Less than Sheen's and Spitzer's daily Evian water or
But we hadn't bought Evian water or
hadn't bought much of anything costing anything.
The hotel had been paid for in advance by credit
Between the two of us, we'd paid $8 for train tickets from
the airport to the bus station; $26 for the bus and taxi
combo from Kuala Lumpur to the Cameron Highlands; $5 for scones,
cakes, and tea at the tea plantation; and $10 tops for food.
Malaysia is a low-cost country where you can savor an
all-you-can-eat Indian banana leaf meal for $2.
My girlfriend had exchanged U.S. cash for
400 ringgit at the airport.
Counting our cash and our expenditures as one, we
estimated that I had spent a maximum of 100 ringgit ($32)
and she 50 ($16)
ringgit, including 25 ringgit she handed to her son as a
gift before waving him goodbye at the KL airport.
That meant there was 250 unexplained ringgit ($80)
missing from my wallet, and 50 ringgit ($16) from hers.
Interestingly this missing money comprised 20-25% of
the ringgit notes in each of our respective wallets.
Despite tallying and retallying our
expenses and coming up with the same results each time, my
girlfriend wanted to believe that we'd somehow forgotten to
account for something.
Most of the time, that would be the most sensible
even suggested that perhaps when I withdrew 1,000 ringgit
from the ATM machine, I had only been given 750 ringgit.
That would've been a
first for a bank machine. But
the fact each of us was missing 20-25% of the ringgit notes
in our wallets was a disturbing coincidence.
I also thought it rather coincidental that the safe
in our initial room hadn't worked after we'd returned from
Occam's Razor states that the simplest explanation is
usually the most accurate.
The only time our two wallets had been out of our
possession and in the same place was the 30 minutes between
10:05 AM and 10:35 AM during Sunday's breakfast.
The simplest explanation of events would be that
someone from the hotel entered our room during that period,
opened the safe, and removed six 50 ringgit notes from our
As Enjomalay had proven he knew how to open hotel
safes with ease, he was the likeliest suspect.
Century Pines has closed circuit TV
cameras scattered around the premises, and our first room
was located at the front of a hallway in full sight of a
security camera. Considering
all the unusual policies we'd experienced at this top-end
poser, from the bedding to the shower to the phone, I didn't
have much hope the hotel operated under a policy of
functioning security cameras.
We paid a visit to the hotel's manager Monday
morning, a thin Tamil in his mid-thirties whom I'll call Mgr
Mgr said the security cameras worked brilliantly, and
to prove it, showed us the security camera footage outside
our room during the period in question.
We saw ourselves exit our room at 10:04
AM. Two minutes
later, Enjomalay entered carrying a ladder.
The security camera footage showed him leaving at
I felt vindicated.
My girlfriend was shocked.
She couldn't believe hotel staff of a 'posh' hotel
would flagrantly enter a room to thieve.
I wasn't so shocked, having taken rudimentary hotel
mismanagement courses in various African schools in the mid
1990's and gotten minor things pilfered from my rooms.
Mgr assured us all would be taken care
of. He'd talk to the staff and get to the bottom of the mess
before we checked out at 8 AM the following morning. I truly
believed, with the unauthorized access captured on camera,
that after some reprimands in one direction and apologies in
the other, we'd get the 300 ringgit back.
Chybly's story to Mgr was that we'd come by the front
desk before breakfast to complain about the shower,
and Enjomalay had been sent to our room immediately after.
my girlfriend and I knew this not to be true because we'd
been in a hurry to get to breakfast before the buffet
terminated at 10:30.
We told Mgr to view the security camera footage of
the reception area both before and after breakfast, and sure
enough, there was no footage of us approaching reception
until breakfast's conclusion at 10:30 AM, just as we'd
maintained from the start.
How could it be, we enjoined, that Enjomalay came to
our room at 10:06 to deal with problems we hadn't complained
about until 25 minutes later?
Did Enjoymalay have the power of precognition?
Mgr nodded, agreed, smiled, and
reassured us once more he'd decipher the hidden
called us out into the lobby at 6 PM in the presence of his
proudly multiethnic staff, consisting of Chybly, Enjomalay,
and a tall chubby Indian receptionist we hadn't properly met
before, whom I'll call Indochubby.
A new story was making the rounds.
Indochubby claimed that he'd been working the front
desk and received a call from our room at 9:15 AM from my
girlfriend requesting work on our shower and the
replacement of some light bulbs.
I asked for the hotel's internal phone logs to prove
this call had really been placed from our room.
I suppose within the realm of astral projection it's
possible for a woman who's sleeping to channel her energy
through the phone wires to make a call, but I didn't know
my girlfriend possessed these special gifts or had really known
how to use the hotel's pressure technology phone system 90
minutes before Enjoymalay had taught her.
Indochubby said the hotel kept no such internal logs
but he had some irrefutable proof that he'd conversed with
her: he showed
us a hand scrawled sheet of the room complaints for the
previous day. At
the very top of the sheet, in sloppy writing, was a
complaint from our room about the shower, the lights, and
the safe, marked for 9:15 AM.
Mgr was content with that 'proof.'
The staff had adequately explained themselves.
We were free to send an e-mail to the head office of
Thong Sin Group in Penang and they'd launch an
investigation. I had
looked up the definition of 'investigation' in a Malaysian
English dictionary earlier that afternoon as I started to
doubt Mgr really had our best interests at heart.
Investigation is defined as a 'the illusion of
something being done,' the same definition found in all
official U.S. government dictionaries and borne out from
U.S. investigations such as the one on 9-11 and the JFK
part two to see if we were able to
get a real investigation launched].