Finding your calling is a special thing - especially when it leads you to your happily ever after. In this Valentine’s Day series, Cornelius Arthur Eric and Lee Ling Li share what it’s like to be a hotel couple. And how their passion for hospitality has shaped their relationship.
How did you meet?
L: In a hotel! (laughs) We met at the then-New Park Hotel on Kitchener Road, now known as PARKROYAL on Kitchener Road. I was working as an outlet cashier in F&B. It was a part-time job after ‘A’ levels, and I was just earning a bit of pocket money before I continued my studies.
E: I was working as a coffee house Captain when we met. She was 19, I was 29. We’re ten years apart.
What was your first impression of each other?
L: It wasn’t love at first sight. I told him, if you’re willing to wait, you wait. If you can’t wait, the door is wide open. We weren’t committed then and were only at the dating stage.
E: Yes, it was more like slowly getting to know each other. We dated for 8 years. I wanted her to finish her studies first, so I had to wait.
How do you think working in a hotel has shaped your relationship?
L: Working in a hotel has helped us to be more accommodating of guests — and each other. Our mutual give-and-take means that he understands my job and I also understand his.
E: Sometimes she goes back early, I stay late, and vice versa. Because we are a hotel couple, we have a mutual understanding of work commitments. At the heart of it, it’s our common understanding that has allowed us to withstand the test of time.
Do you get to see each other more often because you work in the same hotel?
L: You mean to get on each other’s nerves more? (laughs) While our jobs are very hectic, we will find the time to have a simple meal together every once in a while.
E: We rarely cross paths professionally, but sometimes her boss makes a request to me through her and I can’t say no! Not just because she’s my wife. But I’ll look at the bigger picture — does it help with revenue, or guest satisfaction? I try to help whenever I can, but of course when she asks, it does sweeten the deal.
Who is more of a challenge— your guests or partner?
L: Definitely my guests. Each guest has their own unique tastes, preferences and criticisms. We can’t please everyone. It’s the hardest because sometimes we have to read them and anticipate their needs and wants — one person may enjoy chit-chatting with us, while others may not. Eric is easier to predict because I’ve known him for such a long time. I know him well, what he likes and wants.
E: Whether in the front or back of house, it’s always the guest. The bottom-line is they are paying customers and have certain expectations. With my wife, we’ve reached a certain point where I know what makes her tick so I know what her expectations are.
How long have you been in the hotel industry so far and what are your roles?
L: I first joined the hotel industry some seventeen years ago and worked as a part-time cashier. After meeting Eric in the hotel and graduating from school, I left to be a stay-at-home mom.
I came back as a F&B Reservations Agent in 2017 for an all-day dining restaurant at The Westin Singapore, handling reservations and acting as a Hostess. I also assist in set-up, or whenever other departments need help. For example, today, the in-room dining team was short-handed so I sent some orders up to the rooms, a first for me. In my job, I get a chance to learn a bit of everything and this requires me to be flexible. With my part-time and current experience, I’ve been in the hotel industry for two years in total.
E: While Ling Li works front of house, I work at the back of house currently. I started off as a coffee house captain some thirty-five years ago, and now I’m a Stewarding Manager. I’m in charge of cleanliness and hygiene of the entire hotel’s operating equipment, including maintaining the quality of the kitchen equipment, the chinaware, the glassware and induction units.
Ling Li, why did you come back to the Business of Happiness?
L: Now that the kids are older, I decided to come back to the hotel industry to get outside of my comfort zone. I’m enjoying the challenge as it’s definitely different from being a stay-at-home mom. Being a mom, almost everything you do is for the kids. You’re 24/7 on call, 365 days in a year; no pay, no mc, no leave. The prize at the end of the day is seeing the kids happy, something I come home to now that they are independent.
E: I encouraged her to come back to the Business of Happiness as it gives her the chance to meet a diverse range of people, not just teachers and other parents. It’s refreshing for her to be learning again.
What inspired you to join the industry?
E: My first job was at the Capitol Theatre as a cinema usher. I worked there for 8 months and thought to myself, is this going to be my life? As I was walking down Orchard Road, I decided to interview at one of the hotels there to explore more job options. I got a job as a waiter at a coffee house and really enjoyed it. I then progressed to my current role of a Stewarding Manager.
L: For me, it started as just a part-time job after my “A” levels, as I wanted to see what it’s like to work and meet people from different walks of life and ages. While in school, everyone is the same age as you except the teacher, working in a hotel exposed me with meeting different people from all over the world.
Any memorable experiences?
L: Once, a caller who wanted to dine at our buffet restaurant Seasonal Tastes asked if we had vegan options. Although we don’t offer vegan options on the buffet line, I planned with the chefs to prepare some vegan dishes and followed up with the operations team on the actual day to ensure the requirements were met. Our guest was very happy with the arrangements and it gave me a great sense of accomplishment to be able to assist and delight our guest from start to finish.
E: There are things money cannot buy, and there are things you can’t experience in Singapore. Being in the hotel line has given me the opportunity to work in the Philippines, Macau, Maldives, Inner Mongolia and Hong Kong.
I also worked in Inner Mongolia for a year and a half - it was minus forty degrees for six months in winter! From our lodging near the Russian border, we had to walk to the hotel every day. It was nice to take in the mountain scenery and try Mongolian food, but it wasn’t easy. Likewise, my experience working in Macau was demanding yet fulfilling — I was in charge of all aspects of operation for their massive ballroom. I’ve done a dinner with eight thousand guests!
Ling Li, did you join him when he was overseas? L: No, I stayed home to take care of our young children. When he asked if we wanted to come for a holiday in Mongolia, I said, maybe not, especially with two children in minus forty degrees weather! When the kids were older, we did visit him. We stayed at the Shangri-La in Hong Kong, and The Sheraton in Macau — the kids enjoyed it, of course.
Any words of advice for those who want to join the industry?
L: Being in the Business of Happiness, you must enjoy making people happy. Like Eric always asks, is it sincere from the heart or just for show? The long hours are to be expected in the service line, and you have to do shifts and the weekends. But if you enjoy being on your feet, this can be a refreshing change from being in the office most of the time.
E: Come in with an open mind. Be mentally prepared. Love what you are doing. Be humble. Don’t take it too personally. Nowadays, youngsters take it too personally. When I was young, we were taught perseverance and to have tough skin to survive, in Hokkien we say, pa si buay chap, which means: Live in the moment, be more adventurous and try everything once, otherwise you’ll regret it.
L: You only live once. Learn from your mistakes. Ask questions. Have a good attitude and humility in accepting criticism and you can survive in the hotels industry…
E: In fact, in every industry.