May 10, 2009 in Chicagoland, Illinois
FOR OLD timers nostalgic over the old Manila Hotel, its managementâ€™s tussle with the Government Service Insurance System over alleged unpaid loans, said to have ballooned to P17 billion because of interest, seems like a mere quibble when compared to the more worrisome reality: the Old Glory is gone; all that remains of the Grand Dame is a pitiable shell of her old self â€“ an old crone going the way of history in the most dejected of exits.
Then, the OP-ED apprised us about the latest development.
But the first sacrilege committed against the Grand Dame was not the pollution but the defacement of her faÃ§ade. On the corner of the green tropical roof of the hotel facing the walls of Intramuros is her name in quite ungraceful graphics. As if that were not enough, the graphics appear again at the side of the roof fronting the Quirino Grandstand. The redundancy antedated â€“ and, perhaps, presaged â€“ the manic passion for billboard construction around Metro Manila: it reinforces the fact that much of the loss of the quality of life in the metropolis owes to crass commercialism, slapdash development, and the regulated chaos that makes up for urban planning in the otherwise overly regulated and bureaucratized regime obtaining in the Philippines.
I searched Youtube to see if there were any old photos from the grand old days of The Manila Hotel — and I found one about a “Manila Hotel Family Reunion” held at the home of Connie and John Santos at the Hacienda Heights, California, on June 30, 2007. I hope these friends don’t mind that I’m including them in my blog entry to validate what I’m talking about — the Manila Hotel’s family spirit! (Thank you in advance!)
Here is my reply to Roger’s letter to us, his Facebook friends.
I am so sad to hear about the way The Manila Hotel is being treated today. There is still hope, you know.
I am a direct witness to the rebuilding of the old Manila Hotel back to its old “glamour charm” in 1977. Although I missed the actual day of the grand reopening — when methuselah bottles of champagne were poured like water for its guests — I was an intern for my final semester (practicum student) there, a requirement for the B.S. Hotel and Restaurant Administration degree I was pursuing at UP Diliman. There were only five UP students chosen among the graduating class. We had to go through interviews like any other potential employee. All of the employees were practically new, taken from “the best of the best” from all over the hotel industry. Noemi Javier, Guia Sason, Desiree Obana, Violeta Albulario, and I were the chosen few, which meant that we had to work harder to prove that students from the University of the Philippines could handle the pressure. I remember that Mrs. Cruz from Human Resources somehow took a liking to me — maybe because I was this wide-eyed Cebuana who spoke impeccable English with an inquisitive, learning mindset.
The “old crone,” Manila Hotel, was definitely a grand lady. Do you remember the way the movie “Titanic” was filmed, as if you felt you were entering a wondrous world of delight? The Manila Hotel, in 1977, was just like that — and more. There was a revered history. Employees would share with me that, oftentimes, ghosts still haunted the old part of the hotel.
The first person who made a distinct impression on how I would evolve as a customer service professional was The Manila Hotel’s General Manager, Franz Schutzman, one of the most distinguished hoteliers in Asia. I recall that he told the practicum students that it was a standard practice for him to allow a hotel guest’s shoes to be left outside his room for overnight shoe polishing. I was totally awed by Mr. Schutzman’s presence because he was considered an icon in the hotel industry. Plucked from Singapore’s Raffles Hotel, this legendary, engaging, witty, wiry-haired older gentleman had known the likes of my literary heroes such as W. Somerset Maugham. Franz had also concocted the popular cocktail, the Singapore Sling. Thus, I knew I was directly experiencing his expectations about how a true five star hotel should be managed.
Since I came by bus from the UP Balara stop in Katipunan Road every day, I had to be awake by 4:00 am so I could catch the 5:00 am bus. The Philippines was experimenting on its first-ever Daylight Savings Time (and its only time to do it) so you can imagine how dark my early mornings were. I was a fearless young woman, bringing my clothes and make-up in a satchel bag, who endured a dusty, non-air conditioned ride to Luneta (Rizal Park). My efforts to put as little attention to myself during these rides were successful. No one bothered me inside and outside the bus.
As a practicum student, we had to stay at least three or four days — or even a week — in a department. An employee would be assigned to train us and guide us through our responsibilities. The final result of our practicum was my written final report that had to be submitted so we could be considered for graduation.
My most humbling two-day experience was with the Housekeeping Department. When I took a look at the housekeeping department’s arsenal of supplies, I was struck by the hotel’s superior attention to detail regarding the items found inside hotel rooms. Souvenir items were definitely well thought out. I remember that there were replica cigar pipes for VIP guests, probably similar to the ones General Douglas MacArthur, one of Manila Hotel’s most famous residents during World War II era, used.
I accompanied one of the housekeeping staff so I could help her clean a guest room. This was where I learned that I had to start my systematic cleaning at the door — and end at the door, treating the room like a circle. When it came to changing the sheets, I had no clue that bed-making (for superior hotel standards) was so difficult. I swear that there were nine layers of an assortment — sheets and blankets — before a Manila Hotel bed could be called “a made-up bed.” I could only imagine that each housekeeper had to be very physically fit to handle these responsibilities.
I remember visiting the MacArthur Suite. White. The rugs were white. I felt that I was stepping into one of the most luxurious rooms inside the hotel.
Then, Mrs. Cruz took the time to proudly show the Penthouse Suites to the practicum students. Some of the Philippines top designers had been in charge of transforming each penthouse suite to a one-of-a-kind residence, with an in-house butler included.
Another memorable experience was the way the housemen cleaned the crystals of the Spanish-style chandelier in the grand ballroom. These individual crystals had to be brought down and cleaned one by one. Thus, the sparkling presence of The Manila Hotel Ballroom was for real.
The front doors of the hotel seemed like sparkling glass jewels. The white uniforms (and white gloves) of the bell captains made every person who entered the hotel feel special.
My duties at the Front Desk, Concierge, Airport Representatives, and Night Audit were supervised by Lorraine Forbes, who would eventually teach at UP. Who wouldn’t want to work at the Front Desk? The guests were like a “Who’s Who” from all over the world. My first real experiences in customer service were done at this Front Desk. I watched and learned how objection handling was done, too.
The Lobby Lounge evoked such a genteel charm because a young, handsome pianist — Joselito Pascual — transformed this cavernous area into an intimate gathering place, tinkling those ivory keys with passion. Many years later, in 2005, Joselito and I made our acquaintance in San Jose, California at a benefit dinner where Stephanie Reese and he were the headliners. We had a good time recalling our Manila Hotel days.
I had hosting duties at the main formal dining room — The Champagne Room. I had to wear my burgundy formal gown (the only formal I owned) so I could qualify for host duties. There was a rack full of jackets for the men guests to choose from, in case they entered the dining room without the proper attire. Imagine that!
Yet, it was the Jungle Bar next door that captivated me. The women wait staff wore tiger-striped, sexy outfits. The ceiling was full of emerald, glass-like leaves. One night, when there were no hotel executives in sight, in the dark, I crawled my way to the bar and asked for a complimentary Pina Colada. Of course, the obliging bartender humored me.
I remember that I spent more than a week in the kitchen. From the garde manger to the pastry department, I worked the way any intern did: guided by one of the chefs. Marcos Marcos, a Spanish chef who only spoke Spanish, must have thought I was charming or naive that he would greet me by literally lifting me off the floor and swinging me around a few times before landing me gently on my feet. Would this have been misconstrued as inappropriate employee behavior? Absolutely not. Manila Hotel’s employees were the most professionally-trained yet likeable people in my student world. They treated each other like family members.They shared their knowledge and wisdom — and took us under their wings.
Some of the things I learned at the Manila Hotel’s kitchen are indispensable: how to debone a Lapu-Lapu (fish) without cutting the skin and how to make little animals out of almond paste. I never did get to learn how to debone a chicken properly.
It was the hotel’s cafeteria where we all gathered during our breaks. We were happy to be served the hotel buffet’s leftovers-of-the day. Everything had to be made fresh for the guests. Here we were, feasting on gourmet delights for free.
The stress was there, all right. I know this well because many employees smoked — and so did I. My first cigarettes were smoked right there at the cafeteria, HOPE cigarettes. My friend-in-crime was Charlie Barcelona from the Concierge department. Charlie and other group members I hung out with, like Punch Martinez of the Airport Representatives department, would gather at Violeta Albulario’s home in Quezon City, where we would chat, sing, and play the guitar, through the late night.
Working with the airport representatives made me realize how interconnected each department was in making a hotel guest’s stay the perfect one. If you had met Punch then, a guest would think that this huge, mestizo, fast-talking man was one of the hotel’s sales executives meeting him — and he was clearly the hotel’s ambassador, definitely formidable and likeable.
The Sales Department was another department that I remember fondly. While I waited for the assistant sales manager to work with me, I remember seeing Elsa Payumo walk in, bringing in the same air of confidence that was prevalent all over the hotel. After all, she was the sales manager. Every day was a nice fashion show in front of my face. Yet, I was shocked that when they were stressed, the words “fuck” and “shit” were expressions they used in the office — wiithout customers in sight, of course.
These are a few of my favorite memories of The Manila Hotel. Sophisticated. Superior Customer Service. Clean, clean, clean. Beautiful gardens. A green roof.
I hope that the owners, its employees, and the hotel’s future investors can bring back The Manila Hotel’s old glory, now that they are getting a practicum student’s memories.
Let the wise crone of The Manila Hotel evoke its wisdom and old world charm!