China / Xian 1994
THE SHORT XIAN CHAPTER
With my previous success in Shenzhen, opening in Guanzhou and teaching at Lido hotel school (besides running the biggest Hotel production operation in the whole of China) that two years in Beijing, I was known as a Chineseexpert with the right purchasing connection, a vital part on hotel survival and success.
Xian Shangri-Las Golden Flower was also overloaded with difficulties during the hand-over period from the former owner. You must go to Xian in central China. It is fantastic. I moved there for a month to the famous terra-cotta city. This time not alone but with my wife. All tickets and transport were booked and handled by the company. John, the right-hand man of the Vice President for Chinas operation was expecting me in Xian the following morning.
On the way to the Penang airport in the limousine, I happened to ask the driver about my flight schedule. I checked my ticket and realized that the plane had already left about an hour earlier. Anyway the secretary of Shangri-La changed my ticket to Malaysia Airlines economy flight to Singapore Airlines business class. We stayed over in Kowloon Shangri-La, Hong Kong and traveled with Dragon Air to Xian. John was already waiting. Luckily we made it on time.
John introduced me to the general Manager whom Shangri-La had taken over from the former SAS management. There was no one else except a sales or front office staff hiding in a hotel room some where. Luckily, I knew the Swedish General Manager, Hansen, while working previously in Beijing. He had once made a mistake in Xian by pushing a local guest in a game of billiard. The guest happened to be a gihg official with political connection. This small incident changed to a racist General Manager form the new Shangri-La group bullying a poor local guest. This very unfriendly behavior in China brought a bad name for Shangri-La and it also created a media-frenzy in the local Hong Kong press and tv...he had to leave.
There was a more friendly atmosphere in the kitchen. The staff were very eage to learn new things and the guest were very motivated by the new food, buffets, menus and so on.
In the evening I gathered with my staff in front of the hotel where we consumed large amounts of Xian beer priced at 40 fen, a 0.7 little bottle about US 4 cents... very reasonable indeed!
When I trained the kitchen staff n clean plate presentation, I found out that none of them were aware of the selling price. It was somewhat a secret to them. My steps of drawing 49 bottles on the wall in comparison to the price of one hamburger was not to create a revolution but rather to make them aware of the importance in clean presentation. The staff were shocked but understood immediately, resulting in change from the not important to the very important. I concluded that in comparison to their life, all are drinkers.
Xian is a very interesting city with its Muslim market and oily food, which inspired me to create the "terra-cotta plate", a one plate combination of Xian food. The beautiful city wall, the fantastic star design roads that end up in the middle of town at the bell tower, the numerous beautiful hotels but with lousy or "mei you" (not available) food. Naturally the biggest tourist attraction in Xian and maybe china is "the Terracotta" A gigantic breathtaking display of life-size soldiers all individually carved and facially formed like a real army with horses and trucks.
Xian is also the most polluted city or better described as the top range, listed in the world. The rivers in Xian are polluted with so much chemicals that it allows films to be developed by itself, as I had been told! A taxi driver wearing a white shirt will show you after 20 minutes a blackened shirt sleeve as a result of resting his arm out of his car window.
My months of helping and developing an international kitchen was finally over and as promised I left my colleagues from the kitchen, the Chief Engineer, the Food and Beverage Manager, Jan Buttgen and the General Manager and returned to Penang.