Sex in the Bahamas

This musing is true and one that I may or may not share with my grand kids, I have not decided yet, maybe you can help me to come to a suitable conclusion:

The Bahamas really was paradise when I moved there from Canada in the winter of 86, I remember boarding the Air Canada plane in Toronto when it was -30 and then stepping off the same plane about 2 ½ hours later into glorious warm sunshine. I was relocating there for a 2 year contract as Sous Chef, a management position I had never held before and a position which came with the benefit of complimentary staff housing.

They say there are two great days every week when working in the Bahamas, one is pay day which needs no further explanation and the other is your day off. The most popular pastime during your single day off every week was lazing around the beach, wearing mirror shades girl watching and drinking Becks beer by the bucket due to the immense boredom. Everyone at that time seemed to be having sex in the Bahamas and to be honest, being 26 years old, sitting on the beach and watching the endless parade of topless girls walking back and forth all day was starting to take its toll on me, my hormones were going crazy and I decided that I needed to find a girlfriend of my own.

There was one girl in particular who I had taken a fancy to and who was a croupier at the hotel casino, I decided to ask Susan out and after she agreed we went out for a night on the town. After having my first night dancing and drinking with her, I went back to my room and entered my bed alone and tipsy.

After I had taken care of my later than midnight munchies, I fell asleep with a half eaten bag of potato chips on the floor next to the bed side table. I was woken up with the sound of the paper bag rustling around, I moved across my bed to turn on the side table lamp and when the switch was clicked on I looked down and saw nothing. Thinking the last glass of tequila had taken its toll, I turned over and went back to sleep again only to within seconds of me settling heard the rustling of the bag again.

Feeling rather annoyed, I turned around again, switched on the table side lamp only to see the same blank space on the floor next to the bag of chips. I realized that, the sound of me moving in bed to switch on the light alerted whatever it was to hide and wait for me to turn off the light again before moving in again on my snacks.

Feeling like Sherlock Holmes, I turned off the light, stayed completely still with my hand on the switch and waited for the paper bag to move. On hearing the bag move, I immediately switched on the light and to my horror I saw the biggest, fattest, most well fed and ugliest rat I had ever seen looking up at me with my sour cream & onion chips all over its whiskers and paws.

This bloody stinking rat, no thief I should call it, swaggered ever so slowly with a waddle and its hips swinging back and forth before it disappeared behind the fridge. I walked slowly to look behind the fridge only to see a very large hole in the wall.

The next day I got the engineering to come and put a large wooden plank over the hole and believing that it was all sorted out went to sleep only to find out he had other entrances all mapped out around the apartment.

This went on for weeks, it would come in and I would follow it, find its entrance and plug the hole until I finally got fed up and went to see Rentokil.

They gave me a very large sticky glue tray, which I placed near its latest entrance and went to sleep, the next morning when I checked the tray I saw there was a very large rat arse shape stencil in the middle of the tray where the glue and the rat were supposed to be. There were glue foot prints all over the kitchen where it had obviously been looking around for something else to eat during the night.

On explaining to my Rentokil specialist what had happened, they told me that they had never seen a rat big enough to release itself from a glue tray so they decided to go for broke and gave me a very large tray of poison.

The problem was I had become very attatched to my rat friend and did not want to kill the thing, but I had realized that I could not go on like this and laid the tray of food next to its current entrance. I could not help but think what a disaster and passion killer it would be if I managed to get Susan to enter my room only for the both of us to find the rat waiting for its normal and regular potato chip supper.

The next morning when I woke up the tray was empty, as I looked at the empty tray I felt quite sad and remorse for killing my regular visitor.

A couple of days later I was in the canteen having lunch with a few of my colleagues and Susan was sitting there alone. I went to sit down next to her with two spoons and offered to share the large slice of American cheese cake and 2 huge scoops of vanilla ice cream that I had pinched from the pastry kitchen minutes earlier.

She looked very sad and I asked her what had happened, she told me that “Henry” had passed away and that she was heartbroken. I felt very sorry for her and told her that I was sorry for her loss, I enquired if Henry was her brother, father or another member of her family and she announced, “No it’s my pet rat, I live in the staff housing and I found it dead at my bed side when I woke up this morning”

The joys of being a chef

This musing was first published in Flavours Magazine and is not in Chef’s Tales the book.

The profession of a chef is a challenging one but offers opportunities that are beyond your wildest dreams. Recently, over lunch with a friend who’s in the hospitality training line, we were lamenting the difficulties of getting young people to commit themselves to the hospitality industry. With Malaysia hoping to welcome 16 million tourists this year, (which should generate at least RM26 billion in revenue), securing a good reputation for service, safety, food quality and tourist appreciation has to be our top priority. Towards this end, I am thinking that the hotel industry should do more to make itself attractive to prospective employees. It is only by attracting young, energetic and intelligent people who are dedicated to the hospitality business that we can hope to improve the overall tourism industry. Today, there are many other careers which appear to offer more perks – like an easier life and stable hours. The worst pressure one in the hospitality line has to deal with is that of peer pressure, when others try to convince you that the life you have chosen is a difficult one.

Well, I always wanted to be a chef. Just the thought of having the opportunity to make people happy with a great dining experience – one that they would remember forever – made it the easiest career choice for me to make. A few hoteliers have taught me that this business chooses you and when you embrace it, you will banish the thought of considering the other professions you had initially tried. To remain in this demanding industry, the passion for it has to be in your blood but the hospitality line is a challenging one which offers immensely rewarding careers.

When I was 18 years old and fresh out of hotel school, I was really happy and excited to land my first apprentice chef’s job. During the interview, the executive chef was like a used car salesman trying to sell me the job. “If you are lucky to get the job, you will be in good hands as our hotel has the best reputation and has the best trained chefs. They will be imparting to you, skills which have taken many years to acquire and for that, you should be paying us! “However, we are willing to pay you a nominal salary so that you can use this money to give your mum a little and the rest, you can use to buy some knives of your own – one each month.” A very small one, I thought. “We will also give you a locker, a pair of safety shoes, a clean white uniform and a tall, funny-looking hat that will make all your friends laugh at you and eventually, because of the lack of ventilation to your scalp, will make you go bald.” These were, as he led me to believe, the other list of “benefits.” Of course, for these fantastic value-added benefits, there came a price: 12-hour shifts and six-day weeks. I’m sure that’s written in microscopic print somewhere although I have yet to find it. “By the way,” he continued with his sales pitch, “you will never go hungry again, or be cold and lonely. Most importantly, you will never be unemployed because people will always have to eat.” I looked at him for a second and reflected on the one thing he said that actually made sense. The revelation that “people will always have to eat” was a major epiphany for me as a budding chef. That is so true and is something that will never change.

After the interview, I went home and waited for the phone call that would change my life. A week later, immediately after I had accepted the position, my best friend rang. “Mike, we are going out tomorrow night to paint the town red – are you in?” asked Bill. “I cant – I start my new job tomorrow,” I proudly announced. “That’s during the day, twit. I m talking about after 9 o’clock,” he said. “William, I am now a chef in the most prestigious hotel in town and that puts an end to all the nights out, wild life and crazy days. Tomorrow night, I shall be in the kitchen creating some gorgeous delicacies while you are playing darts and talking about the Saturday afternoon football schedule. Football is no longer my main interest and hitting a score of 180 with three darts is no longer my life’s ambition…” Before I could continue, William broke in: “What the heck are you talking about? Are you telling me you are going to be a cook?” “A chef, my dear boy, a chef.” “Yes, whatever. It is still cooking and cooking is a woman’s job. Men work on oil rigs – that’s what men do; they don’t cook,” came the sexist argument that I would encounter for many years to come. “Whatever,” I countered. “This job is going to take me far and teach me more about life more than any other job could ever do,” I said unconvincingly. “Anyway, I have to go now,” said Bill despondently. “By the way, Mike, don’t splash sauce on your pinny (apron), aye!”

As a guy, it is really off-putting, upon graduation from culinary school, to be told that cooking is a woman’s job. However, the reality is that there are actually very few women chefs. Female chefs are extremely underestimated and despite their superb work ethics and refined approach, they usually give up due to being teased mercilessly by their male counterparts. On the other hand, there are many who thrive in professional kitchens.

When I was working in the Bahamas, I was asked to go to another hotel to borrow some equipment from the executive chef. I entered the hotel’s kitchen through the back door and saw one of the biggest women I have ever seen. She looked totally annoyed with my untimely arrival and stood there with her hands on her hips. She stared at me and thundered: “And what can I do for you, young man?” “Actually madam, I just wanted to speak to the executive chef. Is he around?” I asked. “Are you trying to be funny, my little friend? If you are, I would strongly advise you to be careful. Otherwise, I may have to introduce your face to the kitchen floor,” she responded. Feeling a little exasperated, I replied somewhat gruffly: “Listen here, I’m very busy. Is the chef here or not? Can you call him for me? I need to borrow some equipment.” The ebony hulk raised her arms in the air and roared like a lioness at the top of her voice: “I am the executive chef! What the heck do you want?!” The sheer force of her voice stunned me momentarily. I stood there bolted to the ground and after my pathetic attempts to apologize for my thoughtless assumptions, I explained what kind of equipment I needed. Once I got hold of what I needed, I prepared to scram. “By the way, have you ever been given the Bahamian welcome hug?” asked the hefty executive chef. “Welcome hug?” I repeated puzzledly. I looked around at her giggling staff and before I knew what was happening, it was too late. She grabbed me and gave me a suffocating, bone-crushing squeeze which seemed to last forever. When she finally let go of me, I gasped for air like a dying fish out of water.

That episode sure taught me never to underestimate female chefs again! It also goes to show that women are equally capable in professional kitchens – many female chefs can hold their own in a male-dominated domain and can rise to the peak of the profession. Male or female, chefs today are highly educated, articulate people who offer a lot to the community.

The job of a chef is full of surprises – you never know who you’ll be serving. During my career as a chef, I have cooked for and have had conversations with Frank Sinatra, Madonna, Steven Seagal, Glenda Jackson, Mr T, John McEnroe, Suharto, Goh Chok Tong, the Agha Khan, Prince Philip of England, Margaret Thatcher, Charles Bronson, Stevie Wonder and Duran Duran, just to name a few.

What other profession gives you this kind of opportunity to meet so many luminaries? Chefs, as all hoteliers are, what I term as “world people” – a very small percentage of the world’s population who are able to live anywhere, mix with anyone and appreciate every culture and religion.

These are people who have much better interpersonal and problem-solving skills because of their exposure to people from different backgrounds, from around the world. The hotel industry will give you a sense of being that no other profession could; it will help you travel the world, mature in every way humanly possible and send your self-confidence soaring to rare heights. The hotel business will offer you opportunities that are beyond even your wildest dreams. When your chance to join it comes, grab it by the horns and never look back as you will be on the path to fulfillment. Very few professions will ever afford you the sense of fulfillment that you will get from the hotel business.

A far cry from five star treatment

This musing was first published in Flavours Magazine and is not in Chef’s Tales the book:

Hotel employee’s stay at a five-star hotel is a far cry from the pampered treatment that a guest would expect to receive. Given the nature of my work, I have travelled around the world and put up at the hotels I was working at. While I have enjoyed most of my travel experiences, I have often been amazed by the envious looks from those who imagine me being pampered at a five-star hotel. These people never imagine the lack of privacy I have to put up with, when everything I do as a senior manager is scrutinised by the entire staff of the hotel.

When you’re single, tongues will start wagging if the chambermaid picks up on any lingering scents of perfume or if a solitary strand of hair longer than yours, is found on the pillow. Or it may even be a private letter that the staff found or read. You can also count on your private affairs being circulated as gossip, until the details are distorted beyond recognition. Nobody ever truly fathoms the degree of access that hotel staff have to me, and how I’m often at their mercy. Staying near hotel guests can tax my patience too.

Did I ever tell you about the time when I was working on Bintan island, Indonesia? I was at a new resort hotel that was opening over the weekend. The room next to mine was occupied by a young couple who was celebrating their first anniversary in style. Being next to them meant having to put up with the young man playing football in the room, with his wife cheering his every move, especially when he scored a goal. What was particularly annoying was that the connecting door between our rooms was being used as a goal area. After a while, the din from the ball slamming into the door got on my nerves.

I decided to go for a walk, hoping the game would be over by the time I returned. As I stepped out of the room, I saw some hotel guests in the corridor, drawn to the couple’s bedroom door by the commotion inside. I was returning from dinner when I spotted a chap trying to open his room door. He was shouting and kicking it as if it would magically open if he got angry enough and kicked with enough vigour. “Excuse me sir, as this is an inanimate object, it may not react to your frustrations,” I volunteered. “I, on the other hand, may be of some assistance to you if I may offer it.” “Who the heck are you?” he retorted. “I am the executive chef of the hotel, sir,” I said. “If you are the chef, why are you not wearing your uniform?” he asked indignantly. “Contrary to popular belief, chefs do in fact get some time off,” I replied calmly, trying not to get annoyed with him. He took a second and then announced in frustration, with one last kick of defiance at the door: “I can’t get this blooming door open.” “Sir, I’m not a technical person nor do I possess any psychic powers. But I can tell you why the door will not open.” “Okay then clever clogs, why don’t you fill me in with your worldly vision and tell me why it won’t open?” “Because this is my room, sir.” He stared at me for a second and looked at the number on the door, then the key card packet. “Stopped off on the wrong floor, have we?” I said politely. “Goodness, this hotel is absolutely hopeless! No proper signage or anything!” he shouted as he stormed off.

I shrugged it off and entered my room, hoping that it would be the last bit of excitement for the evening. I decided to take a shower and turn in early as I was expecting a challenging day ahead. As I switched off the light and closed my eyes, I heard people outside my room and could hear someone with a key, trying to unlock the door. The porter, using his master key, managed to open the door and calmly walked into my room, turned on the lights and started to detail the amenities in the room.

“Your bathroom is over here, sir,” he started out. “The remote for the television is here and please take note that it will not work anywhere else other than in this hotel.” As he kept on going, I sat up in bed, crossed my arms, anticipating their surprise when they would finally notice my presence. I felt as if I was in a bizarre training video that was going terribly wrong. It seemed like a great scene from Fawlty Towers or something straight from a new reality TV show.

The Japanese guest turned around and when he saw me, the look of shock and horror on his face was side-splitting. When the porter turned around and turned pale as he saw me in bed, I started howling with laughter. The whole scene turned more hilarious, as I watched them retreat – the porter apologizing profusely and the Japanese guest making rapid bows in courtesy and bewilderment. As they left my room and I tried again to settle in, the phone rang. “Hello, is that Chin ah?” came a male voice. “No, I’m sorry you have the wrong room,” I calmly responded. “How about Mrs Chin then?” “No, there’s no Mrs Chin either,” I retorted, as my humorous mood evaporated. “Ah, ok, How about Chin’s girlfriends from you know where?” “No, she’s not here either. No Ms Chin or Master Chin – any more guesses?” I blurted out impatiently. “Uhh, what about his maid, then?”

That was when I lost it completely. “Let me put it in the simplest terms – I can 100% confirm that there is no Mr Chin here nor a Mrs Chin, nor any of Chin’s concubines, relatives, friends, enemies, descendants. Nor even anyone with a name that resembles the Chin clan. The only person in this room right here and right now is me and my name is Michael ‘blue in the face’ Saxon!” My heart was pounding and I was on the verge of hyperventilating when he responded with: “Oh, you are Ang Moh ah?” My fist was clenched so tightly that my knuckles were turning blue. But I gently placed the handset back to its resting place and went into my mediation mode. Just as I managed to calm myself down, the phone rang again. “Look, there is no blooming Chin here, OK? If you call again, I will smash the phone against the wall and you will not be able to disturb me with your ‘Is Chin there ah?’ nonsense, do you understand?!” I yelled down the phone, unable to contain my fury. “Is that you, Mr Saxon?” asked the startled housekeeper. “Would you like me to call a doctor, sir?” “A straightjacket might be needed if I cannot get any peace in this forsaken place which is supposedly a five-star hotel. Anyway, what the heck do you want now?” “I just wanted to know what time you would like the roll-away bed you ordered, to be delivered.”

“It must be a full moon here tonight – it would seem that the moon’s gravitational pull has drawn all the liquid away from your brains, causing it to dry out so go take a shower. Hopefully, that will restore your senses.” “So, you don’t want it then?” “You know that I live here by myself, you twit! What the heck would I want with a roll-away bed?

“However, the way my night is going, I am expecting Mr Chin to knock on my door any second now so please keep that bed on stand-by,” I muttered, drifting off to sleep as I replaced the receiver. Just as I settled into dreamland, the phone rang with the front office assistant enquiring: “What time does breakfast start, chef?” As tears welled up in my eyes, I could only muster: “Check the room compendium! (the comprehensive list detailing the hotel’s operations)” As I replaced the receiver, I heard, to my chagrin, the front office assistant saying: “Oh, I wish I had thought of that.”

Unfortunately, staff often assume that senior managers who stay at the hotel don’t ever sleep so they think nothing of calling at ungodly hours. The unlimited access they have to us is taken for granted.

So the next time you hear a hotel employee say that he’s staying at a five-star hotel, banish the idea that he will be pampered as a guest. The total lack of privacy, freedom and even cooking facilities totally outweighs the comforts of a complimentary room in a five-star hotel. Now I live in my own house, I can honestly tell you that my wife Beatrice and I are, for once, enjoying the cleaning, cooking, ironing and gardening…at least for now!