Only Dongguan: On This Quest, I’m No Guest

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Working around the world granted an enormous opportunity, not only to me, but also to my wife, son and daughter to understand diversified culture, language and the well being of people. On top of this, I have travelled to 48 different countries on leisure and for friend and family reunions. Some may think I am crazy, but I meticulously maintain my travels in an Excel file with dates, the airline I travelled, the hotel where I stayed and the cities I visited. It gives me immense pleasure at times when I go through the list like a dragon through its riches.

Born and bred in Colombo, Sri Lanka, I left the country in 1977 to work in the Middle East and Europe, became an Australian in 1986 and made Sydney my home city. I have had the wonderful opportunity to live and work in nine countries with my family. I am now in the place where I’d like to finish my career.

My last posting before Dongguan was New Delhi, India, but it lasted for a year only. This is not normal for an hotelier, as my average stay in a country has been about three years. India is a great country with lots of different cultures. Every state is different with lots of history, and they are great places to travel while experiencing authentic cuisine of different flavors. However, the working culture did not suit me at all.

You may be inquisitive that two reasons alone could satisfy me in Dongguan. They certainly did not. I have given priority to my wife and my passion for wine, but there are many other reasons as well.

Having worked in the hospitality industry since the year 1975, things are going well in Dongguan, and I have no intention of moving to another city in China. I also want to pen it here that my first posting in China was from April 1992 to December 1995. During this time our two children were studying at the American International School in Beijing, while my wife, Rajini was working at the same school. Today, our two children are also in China. My son Hary, married with two children, has been in Hangzhou for the past seven years. My daughter Therese has lived in Shenzhen for nearly a year, giving me great opportunity to see them regularly. They both love Dongguan and visit us very often.

Throughout my career, I always enjoyed mingling with people, but I did not enjoy the working culture as the way I enjoyed travelling around India. I asked my company to get me out of India and to give that opportunity to a person who would enjoy working there. (I have travelled to India as a tourist more than 20 times.) My company decided to transfer me to Chongqing in China to open a new hotel. We packed up everything and left New Delhi to Sydney after working only about a year.

However, serendipity left me waiting for two months in Sydney as the Chongqing project got delayed, before I was asked to take up the assignment in Dongguan. My initial reaction, before I made Dongguan the home it is today, was not that great because I saw it as an industrial town. I had too many thoughts in my mind, most importantly about my wife Rajini. How is she going to settle? What about leisure? She is a person who will not stay at home, but would rather have morning tea with friends and do charity work here and there. I managed to Google and find the Dongguan Women’s Association. Rajini made it for their morning tea just the day after we arrived in Dongguan in May 2009. This was a big relief for me as she met some expatriate friends and started socialising with them with immediate effect.

There were two main reasons for me to stay and continue with my employment in Dongguan. The first one was due to my wife Rajini, who has adopted Dongguan as her second home very well, making great friends and participating actively in all functions/ activities organized by the expatriates on a regular basis. The other main reason was the Sheraton Dongguan Wine Club. This wine club was initiated by me in September 2009.

I created this opportunity for all wine lovers in Dongguan, so that we can mingle every last Friday of the month to taste different wines with a five course gourmet dinner. As wine is my passion and due to its popularity, it has been happening ever since, and it keeps me going. I am not sure whether this would have been possible in another city in China. We all know that the wine is becoming very popular in China, but we managed to change the trend of drinking wine into a culture of savoring it.

You may be inquisitive that two reasons alone could satisfy me in Dongguan. They certainly did not. I have given priority to my wife and my passion for wine, but there are many other reasons as well. I like the mature expatriate community in Dongguan. They are a friendly bunch of people and very sensible in doing anything and I see them having a great life without complaining on the short falls they see very often. I certainly like my job.

As I was always before posted in a capital city in every country I worked, our associations have been with the diplomatic community and the CEOs of multinational companies. Sometimes our life had been a bit formal and too political. It was certainly different to Dongguan.

However, in Dongguan, our friends are not formal. Easy going, as many of them are business executives, they are down to earth friends. This is a very different experience for us and we thoroughly enjoy its atmosphere. People make a place liveable, and certainly Dongguan has the right people to make many things happen.

San Amalan, the managing director at Sheraton Hotel Dongguan, studied at the Institute of Cost and Management Accountancy in Dhaka, Bangladesh until he discovered a disposition and talent for the hospitality industry. He has worked for Starwood Hotels and Resorts for 22 years.