I was in CUBA – my review of the SARATOGA

August 9, 2010

Note : I was in Havana at the end of July 2010,a place I have always wanted to go.. I ENJOYED it people. Hear ye!! I ENJOYED IT!!!!  . I was also humbled by its glorious past and its spirit to survive and its  sheer simplicity. The SARATOGA is a hotel in Old Havana. This review first appeared in TRIPADVISOR

The SARATOGA  has got class, Cuba style. As what people say class is difficult to define and achieved. The Saratoga can be considered as boutique and the class it has, is achieved without trying too hard, which I like.

If you wish to avoid the other popular but crowded hotels with boisterous tourists and aircrew filling up the swimming pool then the saratoga is just perfect. This is not a business hotel.  Or if you want to be hooked on to your facebook then this is not the place for you. It is a place for you to enjoy the quiet, the ambience, the smell of cohibas while sipping your mohitos or the havana blue.

Considering that it is government-owned, and a socialist one for that matter, the front office staff of Saratoga was not that bad. They may lack the entrepreneurship discretion, delegated authority and service culture but they were far from being the non smiling soviet style stereotype. . They always tried to help without being intrusive. You will be approached for contraband cigars and taxi to the airport and if you do not like it a polite no will suffice to keep that host/guest at the appropriate comfortable distance.

At first impression the lobby looked small but soon I got used to the sense of space provided for by the restaurant next to it and the 24 hrs mezzanine cafe. I must say the mojito at the cafe was the best. Breakfast spread was average and for someone who do not stuff in to avoid lunch, I found the breakfast spread to be just nice for me. The service at the cafe and restaurant was excellent. But you come to CUBA not to complain about food, because you very well know that havana is not the place for good food.

I took the junior suite. By Asian standard it was small but off course it would be reasonable if you follow the European standard. The grand capitol was the view from your room. At sun set it was quite a view. The room and bathroom were relatively new and standard of cleanliness was high. The linen, the robe and towel were the kind I liked although a couple more fluffy pillows would make it very much at home. I did not like the tiled floors, but soon I got used to be in slip-ons which I have to ask from the maid. I was first put in the suite on the top floor. My request to be moved to the lower but bigger room was favorably and politely entertained.

The rooftop restaurant and swimming pool was not well patronized. In any case  I was not in Havana for the pool.

I soon learned that luxury goods and service in CUBA was not cheap and accepted it after considering the embargo. With that attitude you will enjoy HAVANA. The superior quality cigars and the rum, the music and dancing balanced up the economics and compensate for the amount you pay for good hotels and service.

The Saratoga was strategically located. The Partagas factory was just a 100 m away and all other attractions within the Old city was within walking distance. The sights within old haban were within the 3CUC taxifare. But at night be prepared to pay more. I decided to hire the horse-drawn carriage with an English-speaking historidos as our coachman and that was just perfect to explore the city.

I liked the SARATOGA.


Dinner and cocktail in Paris – the cost of doing business

June 17, 2009

I had dinner at Le Avenue a favourite restaurant among americans and the Brits along the Avenue Montaganie, a posh address. The food was good. It was with my Irish brother and my blond  English cousin Emma.

I attended the cocktail reception at the show. The minister was there. The Chief was there. The Sec Gen was there and so were many old acquaintances from the industry.

That’s about  it.

The flight tickets  cost a good twenty grand. You add the cost of hotel and food you end up spending a tidy sum. That is the price you pay to be involved in the industry and I do not complain. You just have to combine business with other businesses and to spice it with the pleasure of travel and meeting friends.

I will be flying to Dublin to see a manufacturing facility. No more crazy horse for me.


Eid ul Adha

December 8, 2008

To those who have just completed their Hajj, this is the day for rejoicing. Celebrate. Time to feast. Slaughter the four legged domesticated cattle and share that with the needy and the poor.

I am avoiding the word sacrifice or offering, as I believe that this simple instruction by God to share and and to be responsible for the poor and needy has been spinned to allow the masses to be exploited by oppressors.

On this joyous occasion let us glorify God. Let us glorify and be thankful by for His mercy by being and sharing with the masses.

The important message is the communal spirit, the need for the haves to help the have nots, the breaking of the barriers and to celebrate by sharing. In His eyes it is your righteousness that matters.

Now that you are no longer shepherds and your wealth are no longer measured in the number of sheep and cattle, why not allocate a fraction of your wealth to the communal cause.


Futile Bailouts!! Watch out…..the depression

October 16, 2008

I sincerely hope that I am wrong. I think the world is already in recession  and heading deeper into it, a depression.

This is going to be unprecedented. This is not the recession of the 30s which was mainly confined to the US. This is WORLD. The economists define recession as two consecutive quarters of negative growth.  That is the technical definition which will make Singapore, the US, France among others to be already in recession. That has occurred before, in Singapore for example.

The fear is high street recession when recession affect the job market world wide. That technically is a DEPRESSION.

GREED has been the cause of all this. The cause of this depression is attitude. Greed is the cause of  the failure in banking. Greed amongst the consumers, greed amongst the bankers and greed among the investors and speculators. Can bailouts cure greed?

The cure for greed is losing jobs, to drink local coffee , to look for discounts, to just spend on food, to get rid of the  second set of wheels, to go to the cobler to get the shoes repaired, to visit your parents for holidays, to fly AIRASIAX, to start a vegetable plot……..

As to the bailouts, the greedy investors have already cashed them out.

Gold anyone?


Back In London Part 2

October 12, 2008

Surprise surprise. The immigration officer was exceedingly nice and polite. We chatted about his visit to Malaysia, the Blue mosque, the Masjid Negara and Masjid Jame. I am a muslim he confided. My salam was genuinely responded from the heart.

The Christmas shopping has started. There was a crawl along Kensington High Street.

It is nice to know that my alma mater  UCL is now  Seventh in the World Best University Ranking. UCL the Godless University, the term used by the Church for the fiercely secular University. I will give Sinead a call, if we could go out for a drink.

The 8 o’clock news was a mix of the worldly. The financial meltdown has not really hit the High Street. The Daily Mail has the unburied dead as its headlines. The high  cost of caretakers and funerals are causing unclaimed bodies in mortuaries. There was a special coverage on Mogadishu, the lawless capital.

I agree, the UK has its fair share of the third world, but it is the first world access to information and official news that I always miss about the oldcountry.

As for today, my Unggal has unilaterally planned for my iternary of Open Houses.


Back in London – of Malaysian Airlines, Langkawi, UCL and the city meltdown

October 12, 2008

I am back in my old abode. The temperature has been kind. It was 20 degrees yesterday. Unbelievable, for  it is the height of Autumn. Today it is going to be 21 degrees, insyallah,

The gloomy the news the better the weather said the TV anchor,

The flight was long. The business class seat helped but the dehydration and being curled up in 13 hours is just too much. The business class fare is just too high. At twenty plus thousand I have a strange feeling that the business travellers are subsidising the first class traveller. The first class cabin was empty. The politicians are just too busy to travel, I guess. Here I was seated in the first class cabin courtesy of my senior of the Old School. We had tea before adjourning to the cockpit. Why not follow the KLM way. They have done away with First Class. The business class fare is relatively lower at  sixteen thousand.

Even my new expatriate friend in the next seat was complaining. It was too much, we agreed. Matthew, considered Malaysia home. His admiration for the manner we Malaysians have been living harmoniously was credible and honest, considering the manner the British have been struggling to live in a changing neighbourhood. He was missing Langkawi, how he wished it was the Langkawi flight he was boarding.

To be continued…..part 2


Paris – a city of culture

June 24, 2007

The Jema el fina is a square in the city of marrakech, where living arts are continuosly being displayed. It is a UNESCO protected site. It is an experience you must not miss. Marrakech also has the biggest and most fascinating souk that I have ever been.I

Imagine the whole city is a display of arts and culture. That is Paris. The word Culture must have its origin in french. That must be the reason, parisien cafes is alfressco, chairs facing the sidewalk. It is watching culture, people passing by. In spring and summer there would be spontaneous displays of jazz, reggae,  and all kinds of world music by street performers. Even watching a frenchman talking to his mobile full of  thearetical expressions and gestures is entertaining. Be prepared, a coke could cost you 6 euro. A glass of champagne is Euro 7.50., but there are the less touristy streets.

The street fashions is second to none. KL is a city where belly buttons is the object de art not unlike mumbai or chennai, but paris is about colours.  From bohemians to high fashions, or african.

I love the passages, which the English would term as arcades. I enjoy the small stores , hundreds of them in the passage. From books of arts to object de arts from all over the world. enchanting. there are restaurants and cheap small hotels in the passages. Cheap here means Euro 70 per person per night.

Then the Museums, argghh!

Even if you observe the architecture of the old buildings, you will imagine how the hell did philip and louis and napoleon could manage the affairs of state while overseeing the construction of these fine buildings. Engineering wonder.

The rivers and the bridges and the canals and the sidewalk. How could you not miss paris?

As a visitor you need money to enjoy Paris. Besides the sights which are generally free, you need money to enjoy the food. still i feel it is cheaper than London.

I had lunch at a parisien makan place for 26 euro, very basic parisien. A long breakfast for three with ommelletes and expressos was 59 euros. A dinner for two was 129Euros. i had a sumptous French fruit de la mare for 150 Euro for two. A kebab is about 10 euro. When i was back packing, i survived on baguette and cheese and milk. i have not had tajines. I have experienced the whole range.

If you are english trained, you would be brought up to believe that french drivers are the worst save for the italians, but what i saw debunked that myth. Where would you see pedestrians given the right of way, where could you find drivers patiently waiting  vans unloading in the narrow parisien lanes, taxi drivers included. Chirac must have inculcated good road manners in the last decade. That is very cultured.

Paris is a cosmopolist. What would Paris be without the jews, the senegalese, the moroccan, the algerians, the lebanese, the vietnamese , madagascarese(?). It would be a boring place.