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Home / Econ  /
Hotel Mismanagement Courses in Malaysia:  Part I
Century Pines Resort

This Cameron Highlands resort's staff practice Malaysian-style communism:  each takes from your hotel room safe according to his needs

My girlfriend is a hotelier and currently works as a revenue manager for a five-star hotel in Thailand with an internationally renowned brand name.  Before 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 management program.  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 revitalizing.'   Anyone 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 top-end establishment.

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 Malay.  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 friendly shower.  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 enjoyment. 

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 technology.  Instead of pressing '1' to reach reception, you had to hold down the '1' button a half dozen seconds to achieve the desired results.  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 (US$210). 

Is that so hard to believe?  350 ringgit (US$110) got expended in thirty-six hours.  Actor 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 condom expenses. 

But we hadn't bought Evian water or condoms.  We hadn't bought much of anything costing anything.  The hotel had been paid for in advance by credit card.   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 explanation.  She 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 breakfast.  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 two wallets.   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 for simplicity.   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 10:11 AM.   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 meanings.  He 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 assassination. 

[Read part two to see if we were able to get a real investigation launched].

If you liked reading this, consider:
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 Wedding Gift Shakedown
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