It’s a true story from the 1940s. About a young man tired of traipsing the world. So, on a little street, he built a small inn for travelers as world weary as he was. Sailors. Merchants. Drunk singers. No Little India then. No trains. No shopping complexes. Just a little anonymous inn on an anonymous street. But the young man offered the same to anyone who dropped in. A warm handshake. A hot drink. A comfortable bed to sleep in.
The inn lived through it all. World War II. Recession. Tough times. Yet, the inn remained standing. And it stood firm as it was passed on to the second generation. And because there’s nothing quite like enterprise to stir a Singaporean’s heart, the inn was developed into a modern hotel in 1996. The quiet street it stood on had become a bit louder. With more restaurants, pubs, and shopping around the area. Times have changed. The hotel opened its doors to budget travelers, wandering writers, and busy businessmen.
Today, the hotel stands at an important cultural crossroad. With vibrant Little India chocked full of spices and curries behind and an international complex with modern shopping, movies, trains, just in front. Really, times have changed. What has not is the art of the serve. The warm welcome. The cosy, clean rooms. The hospitality from 70 years ago.
Sometimes guests come back not just because of our exceptional service but also for other things etched deeply in their memories.
Take Kent Bollini from Australia. He made it a point to stay at our hotel everything he made his pilgrimage to Singapore. And every time he came back, he wanted his packet of curry rice, bursting with all the meats and veg wrapped inside, from the stall just round the corner. Kent Bollini went missing for a long time eventually. And when he came back, he was propped up either side by his grandchildren. He’d lost all his hair, and quite a few teeth, but he was dead determined to have a go at his favourite curry rice.
Obviously, we couldn’t disappoint him. Out we went, buying the rice for him, but with special instructions that everything be cut into little pieces and topped off with an extra dollop of curry to make everything smaller and softer. Kent loved it, tearing in front of us as he ate with his grandchildren. And the last we checked, the curry stall is still serving curry rice that way – cutting everything up and laying an extra ladle of piping curry sauce over the rice.
Kyle has stayed with us for a few times, each time lasting a couple of months.
There is a melancholic reason for his long stays. He accompanies his toddler on medical visits for a tumour in his head. He’s got so much on his plate, yet he greets us always with friendly chit-chat and a wide smile.
One midnight, he appeared at the reception, nerves frayed and tears a-flowing. What had happened? The poor son was acting up, shivering in spasms one moment, crying in pain the next. Calling in a general practitioner was out of the question. We called up Kyle’s hospital, zeroed in on the doctor on duty, made him retrieve the poor boy’s medical docket, and passed instructions to Kyle on how to assuage the pain, thereby allaying the situation.
Kyle came down the next day with his usual grin and launched straight into a retelling of the midnight crisis.
Things get left behind at our hotel all the time: mobile phone chargers, toiletries, soft toys, and even bags. At Tai Hoe, our policy is strict. All such items get stored in the housekeeping section until we hear from our guests again.
But when the item in question is a state-of-the-art SLR camera possibly containing thousands of stored memories, we feel compelled to take things one step further. We rifled through our booking.com records and tracked down a mobile phone number that went all the way to Lebanon. After several redirections and emails, the camera was arranged to be couriered back to be reunited with the rightful owner, where the photos can stay with the person for whom they matter most.