tagNovels and NovellasEleven Orphan Daughters Ch. 05

Eleven Orphan Daughters Ch. 05

bymangrove jack©

The local pop band became a nightly feature at the hotel. Their mixture of Western and Vietnamese love songs were very popular. Many of the older villagers who had never had access to regular entertainment other than Karaoke stood outside each night listening and singing along.

John walked outside one evening and saw them standing around. "Why don't they come inside?" he asked. Eddie sighed, "We had a problem with security so we hired some guys to enforce a dress code. They are too tough. So we have gone from too little to far too much."

"Mick has worked out an answer. He wants to convert our site office and storeroom into a bar with a small dance floor to accommodate people other than hotel guests. We don't need the storeroom any more. It is big enough and it is adjacent to that big open patio. If you agree the builder can use material similar to the sandstone of the old building so it won't look out of place."

John became angry, "I don't want them standing outside while we are inside living it up. I want locals to think this is their hotel not a hotel for foreign guests. Any suggestions that locals are not good enough or are to be treated differently will really stuff things up and give our opponents an opportunity to cause trouble."

Eddie reacted quickly to John's anger. "Don't worry there won't be two dance floors only the one. The combo will play in the new area. The inside bar will become a place for a quiet drink".

John was partly satisfied, "Tell Mick to get on with it and convert the bloody room. In the meantime, invite everyone to come inside while we are testing our facilities. I don't want to see anyone left out." He started to walk away then stopped. "Retrain those bloody security guys."

John could hardly object when Lelani pursued her idea of a health club and beauty saloon. Rose had already agreed. He was surprised when Ruby called on him to offer her support. "I know why you men visit massage rooms," she said with a smile.

"We are not against a well run massage business. What we would love, is for you to help Lelani set up a Beauty Salon with well-trained staff and modern equipment. Women up here have to travel to Hanoi for professional beauty care."

"In the past most women in our province have been too poor to pay for professional help so no one has ever tried to set up a proper salon. You have given many local women a chance to earn real wages. Those women can afford to pay for beauty care." She smiled, as she looked hard at him. "If you build massage rooms to look after the men then to be fair you should build a beauty salon for the women."

"I want to be fair but there is no room," he groaned. "You should have asked earlier." They sat silent until Eddie broke the deadlock. "They have a point," he argued as he opened a cold beer. "Let's renovate the old carriage house down on the road just inside the entrance gates to our grounds? It is a big barn with high ceilings. It's a bit decrepit but appears to be quite sound."

Lelani and Ruby immediately went down and inspected the building. They came back all smiles, "it's perfect," Lelani, cried. They whispered together. "We know we cannot count on you two men to plan a beauty salon. We will give Shauna a call and ask her to come up and help."

Every morning John drove Rose to the various enterprises so she could talk to the workers and run a Vietnamese eye over the previous day's work. "We don't want to do anything that might offend," he said when he first suggested the daily visits.

Eddie added the new entertainment area to their program. "You will be pleased to know that the new bar and dance floor are working well. I know you were both worried about the changes. They have not created an impression of first and second-class citizens. There hasn't been a single complaint."

He opened a door. "After the first few nights, we installed this external door to allow visitors to enter without tracking through the foyer. That door has reduced the congestion in the lobby.

"On Sunday nights we run a teenage talent quest and the place fills to overflowing." He looked at Rose. "Lelani told us that you did not want the hotel to promote heavy drinking especially amongst young people. Our bar staff produce a non alcoholic local drink based on limes and sugar cane especially for the young ones."

"We decided to have a fashion parade and ask locals to vote on our staff uniforms. We received entries from all over the country. So many locals turned up to watch we had to hold it out on the patio."

"It was so successful that we have invited Vietnamese fashion designers to use our facilities at no cost. Many small designers have booked times to display their new fashions. We hope the top designers will accept the challenge so we can plan an annual country fashion week as a tourist attraction."

"At the same time to satisfy the drinkers we have cut our margin on house wines and keg beer to keep prices down so more locals can afford them."

"Lobby bar prices will be higher. They will be set to reflect prices in similar hotels in the major cities. We have retrained the security people. They will maintain a reasonable dress code."

Another month passed before Mick was satisfied that both staff and facilities were ready to accept customers. He asked John and Rose to join him for a final inspection. "Eddie and I have invited a number of foreign hotel management people and leading chefs working in Hanoi to visit this weekend."

"They knew there were strings attached when they accepted our offer of a free weekend in the country. They have agreed to be positive. We have told them we do not want to know what is wrong. What we need to know is how to make it right."

John was hanging fruit fly baits on trees in the old orchard with Ronnie and Mick when the foreign experts arrived. Two French women from the group walked down and asked what they were doing. "These trees would have been top specimens when they were planted by your French compatriots," Ronnie said as she introduced John and Mick.

"They have really only produced fruit full of maggots in recent years because of problems with fruit fly. A professor from a University in John's home state is working with a research center in South Vietnam seeking an answer to the fruit fly problem. Their research showed that a fruit fly seeks protein before laying her eggs in the fruit."

"They found that brewery waste is a cheap source of protein and negotiated with the Australian brewery in South Vietnam to utilize their waste and produce protein bait laced with chemicals."

"Trials in the south have been successful with trees that have produced no usable fruit for years returning up to eighty and ninety percent recovery. We are going to trial the bait here, and if it works we will introduce it to farmers in our village."

The eldest of the two women introduced herself as Mali. "We can't get over the size and scope of your gardens. We haven't seen a real lawn and ornamental gardens like this since we left home." Her friend joined in, "When you select pictures to advertise your hotel I recommend that you feature your grounds. You rarely see anything like them in Vietnam."

Mali made friends with Ronnie. She spent hours wandering through the orchard and the old ornamental gardens. "I can't believe how beautiful these old roses have grown," she said after Ronnie told her they were nearly dead when she took over the garden.

Ronnie reacted with pride. "I was told that some of these roses are very unique. We were instructed to prune them very hard. We cut a few old plants so far back that I thought they would never recover. "With the weeds and rubbish cleaned away we fertilized and dusted them to control insects. As you can see most of them produced new shoots and started to flower.

Mali took a real interest in the family and its various businesses. She worked with the local women in the Hotel gardens and listened to their fears. "This place needs a resident Doctor," she told Ronnie after helping a worker who had become ill.

"I have an old friend who has retired he was a doctor in Hanoi for years. He is looking for a cheap place to live now that he no longer has free hospital accommodation. I reckon he would jump at the chance to become your feedlots medical officer if you offered him free room and board and a little spending money." When Ronnie told John of Mali's idea, he acted quickly. "Get Mali to ring him and invite him up. He can move straight in if he likes the place."

The doctor arrived within days. He spent a couple of days wandering around talking to locals. Then joined John for breakfast. "My names Henri Latogue. Call me Henri. I have lived in Hanoi for twenty years. I speak good Vietnamese. I like it here. I do not want to go home to France. Mali tells me that I may be able to set myself up here in semi retirement."

They talked for a while then John asked. "What can we do to induce you to stay?" "Set me up a place to live and a consulting room and I will be back tomorrow," he said with a nervous laugh.

Lelani quickly offered to set up an area in the health club where he could see patients. "You can live at the hotel until we find something in the village." "We now have our own French doctor," she told Rose that night.

The family spent hours arguing about a name for the hotel eventually settling on "The Grand Hotel," because Rose had said its high ceilings and colonial exterior reminded her of the Grand Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. "It really is grand" she whispered to John as they stood in the gardens and watched the young crowd enter.

The foreign experts made a number of recommendations including a major change to the dining room menu. The chefs took over the kitchen and asked each of the local assistant cooks to cook their favorite dishes.

When they finished watching assisting and tasting, they reached a consensus. "You have an opportunity to be different. Use your local products and let your cooks produce their local specialties. Feature them as well as all the old favorites and you will have a provincial menu that people in our industry will talk about and trek up here to taste."

Shauna breezed in for the official opening. Her dress was a voyeurs delight displaying far more than it hid. John stood and stared. He tried to think of an appropriate word to describe her as she waved to him from the top of the stairs. Lively lovely exciting were words that quickly sprang to mind. His body didn't need words. A hard lump showed in his pants.

Rose and her family were dressed beautifully in traditional elegant but understated Ao Dai`s. The comparison with Shauna could not have been more obvious. A hot-blooded male would always choose a hot and sexy woman over a refined and conservative lady when confronted with the chance to choose a partner for the night.

John knew whose bed he would like to share that night. He also knew that a night of passion would soon fade into memory. Shauna studiously avoided him throughout the evening saving him from having to make a decision.

John sat with Rose and the family. During the evening, they visited every table so that Rose could introduce John and thank her friends for coming. The Peoples Committee chairman was the official guest. He was so pleased with the restoration of the old building that he had invited a table of senior Party officials from nearby provinces.

They toasted Rose and John thanking him for his investment in a rural province. One or two Chairmen declared that he would be welcome to invest in their provinces. Although they said it in jest, it was made clear that he could have received a better deal elsewhere. "Yes but we had Rose," the local Chairman said with a grin.

It was after midnight when John walked Rose to her room. He slipped his arm around her and leant down to kiss her on the lips. "You were very beautiful tonight," he whispered.

In the past, she had generally turned her head deflecting his kisses from her lips onto her cheek. Tonight she welcomed his kiss. They stood kissing for a few minutes until Pansy disturbed them as she came up the stairs.

Shauna decided to spend a few days at the Hotel. "I am going to build a chain of serviced apartments in Asia," she told John as they lunched together. "I will need Eddie but Mick can stay a little longer. He tells me he has proposed marriage to one of Roses daughters. Silly boy," she laughed.

John wondered down to the Health center after dinner. Lelani had asked him to have a look at what she had done. "I'll throw in a free massage," she whispered on the phone.

John was pleasantly surprised. She had bought a container load of slightly used equipment from a failed five star salon in north Queensland. Glen had arranged shipment. "Its top gear" Glen told her. "They paid tons of money to get the best but their staff let them down and the customers deserted them."

"I don't know much about this stuff but it looks good to me," John said as he finished his inspection. "I am glad you're impressed," Lelani whispered. "Now come with me. You're the first customer for our new masseuse," She led him to a booth. He tried to protest that he had to go but she ushered him inside.

The lights were dim but he could not mistake the voice that whispered. "Take off your clothes." It was Shauna. She was naked when she moved from behind a screen. His mouth went dry he could not think straight, he groaned. "Lelani's set me up." "Yes she has," Shauna whispered as she stripped off his clothes. "Leave it to me darling; I will make sure you don't regret it."

Two hours later John slumped back on the bed and looked at his watch. He had been meeting Rose regularly each evening. It had become a habit to walk her to the door of her room and kiss her goodnight. He had to leave now if he was to meet her tonight.

He raised his mouth to kiss Shauna's breasts. "I've got to go." He expected opposition but she surprised him. She ran her hands over his body and moaned, "Go on, you can go to your cold Vietnamese bitch but only if you promise to spend a weekend with me in Hanoi." He kept his fingers crossed as he whispered. "Ok."

"Its on the news the government have closed a hospital in Hanoi because of this thing called SARS," Kim told him as they had breakfast. "Apparently some foreigner flew in from Hong Kong. He became sick and went to hospital. It turns out that he had this terrible new disease. They flew him back to Hong Kong and closed the Hospital."

Day after day, the news became worse. At first it was reported that a number of nurses from the hospital were in intensive care. Then news came that some of them had died. Followed by news that doctors had died.

People stopped traveling. Foreigners left Hanoi and returned home. Fear gripped the international community as bulletins were issued warning tourists and businesspeople to avoid travel to China Hong Kong and Vietnam.

As the days grew into weeks and months, John realized that projections for the hotels occupancy would have to be substantially downgraded. "We have hardly had a foreign visitor in our first three months." Pansy told him at the family's regular meeting.

"Government and party business is quite solid. Weddings have been surprisingly strong for both the Beauty salon and catering. The bar and Health club are profitable but the lack of the big spending foreign guests has hit our profit estimates."

They invited Henri to attend the family meetings. "Have there been any more SARS cases in Vietnam?" Rose asked as soon as he arrived. "As far as we know the central government did a good job by quickly shutting the hospital right down. There have been no new cases outside of Hanoi." Henri said with a tear in his eye. "I worked with those doctors and nurses their deaths after caring for an infected patient is a real shame."

"Most of the bad news is about Hong Kong Southern China and a couple of cities in Canada. Vietnam does not get a mention on the news these days. It appears to have hit the tourist industry very hard."

When it became apparent that the outbreak was confined to Hanoi many Hanoi based executives decided to spend some time in the country with their families. The Grand being a brand new hotel with a developing reputation for a fine Provincial menu was one of the first to benefit. In addition, business groups started to travel to the province once more.

Six members of a large Swiss paper manufacturer stayed for days doing a feasibility study on a paper pulp mill. A succession of executive officers of foreign companies followed. Privately one group leader admitted that Shauna had spread the word of the fine facilities at the new Grand Hotel at an international investment and development conference in Ho Chi Minh weeks before.

The increase in guests put a smile on Mick's face. "Without exception our foreign guests have been lavish in their praise for our hotels services and facilities. We are already booking repeat business. Kim too was smiling as she reported a great improvement in profitability.

Monica's day old chicken supply business kept growing. She received orders from chicken farms all over Vietnam. "I need to expand my plant," She told a family meeting. "If we could double our capacity we would have no trouble selling everything we produced." John promised to help if their financial position continued to improve.

For the first time since John's arrival two years ago, no new construction work was planned. The family was now in a position to make life easier for John and Rose. "We are capable of running the businesses ourselves." Pansy said, "John has spent hours training everyone. Let's give them a break."

John's only daily responsibility was to manage the contracts with local farmers who grew food for the feedlot. Monica increased his workload a little by asking him to supervise a few farmers who produced fertile eggs for her hatchery.

He took the time to drive down to Hanoi with Rose to spend a few days shopping. They spent a few happy mornings together meeting some of Roses old friends who were still selling fruit in the same location.

The still kissed at the door to her room each night but the kisses had changed. At first, Rose kept her mouth shut and their kiss was very prim and proper. After a few nights, she allowed his tongue to enter her mouth. Then a few nights later, her tongue responded.

One night after a few rums in the hotel lobby, as they kissed in the hall he ran his hands up to discover two fair sized breasts. She said nothing just smiled as she opened her door and left him standing outside.

The contract farms spread throughout the province. John visited then regularly to check on the availability of fodder. He spent many an hour with Georgia the young family member who acted as his Vietnamese interpreter talking and drinking tea with farmers.

As they became more familiar with John`s routine farmers began to approach him seeking his advice and help. Some planned to purchase dairy cows and heard of his opposition to the provinces plan. "We cannot understand. You have made a success of your feedlot and dairy. You help everyone who seeks your help. Why don't you support people like us getting cows. We thought you would want us to be successful."

John realized they were partly right in their criticism. "I want you to succeed," he told them. "The evidence from your own newspapers in the south and failed experiments throughout Asia is that giving foreign cattle to local farmers generally fails."

He sat in the markets early each morning joking with the women selling their produce. One old woman he had named Mary came up each morning to speak to Georgia.

Gradually she lost her fear of the man from UC and started to ask Georgia to pass messages to John. "My daughter wants to buy two cows. She blames you for the failure of the province to import cows for farmers. She says you have too much influence. You negative, not offer solution just criticism."

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