Welcoming Remarks at the 2013 FTA Spring
Dinner at Kuala Lumpur
Welcome to the Sixth Annual
FTA “A Spring Evening in Kuala Lumpur with Very
We gather in New York City spring and
fall, and annually at New Delhi, Singapore,
Shenzhen, Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, Bangkok,
Mumbai, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Ho Chi Minh City
to recognize hospitality excellence; in the
names of those whom we honor, provide
scholarships at schools of higher hospitality
education; and to make charitable contributions.
An industry is only as
strong as the wisdom, vision, compassion and
actions of its leaders; leaders who define
excellence for the benefit of all those who look
to them to know the way to realize their dreams
and ambitions and not be left behind.
In the end we are judged not by whom we
include, but by whom we exclude.
Great leaders inspire and teach all those
who seek to be included, because serving the
least of us is truly the highest calling and the
only measure of service from the heart.
This evening we come
together to announce the 2013 FTA Hospitality
Awards for Excellence and the scholarships in
the names of those whom we recognize; and to
donate to charity.
This is truly a very special evening for
us all and I thank you for joining us, because
as I say at every FTA dinner, YOU are the
But the deeper meaning of
why we come together is really at the very heart
of why the hospitality industry is so special to
those of us who have come to consider it our
Hospitality is about
SERVICE and in particular, Service Excellence.
Service is truly the Highest Calling.
It is not what we do for ourselves, but
what we do for others that are the measure of
our worth to humanity: And simply because it is
the right thing to do: Not for personal
The truth is that we are
free to dwell at any given moment in as
beautiful a place as our hearts are open to
loving others and our willingness to serve them
without regard to our advantage.
Life is a series of micro
steps from the time we arrive to the time we
depart and the quality of our life is but a
reflection of the quality of our contribution to
the peace and happiness of others: It is not
about pleasing ourselves or collecting “things”:
It is about serving others and after one’s
basic, personal needs are met, allowing what
remains of what comes our way to pass through
our fingers for the benefit of those less
While I have nothing against luxury
goods, when it is your time to pass from this
life, do you want to be remembered for your
collection of Rolex watches or your charity for
those less fortunate?
I am confident if Mother Teresa or
Mahatma Gandhi was given a Rolex, they would
have honored the gift for 24 hours and then
offered it to someone they thought would cherish
So, why should we be any different?
I ask you to consider making charity your
way of life, rather than an annual after thought
for a tax advantage.
I ask everyone to please
remember those less fortunate, especially the
estimated 500,000 refugees at the United Nations
camps in Kenya, which is running out of water
and food; not to mention the now 50,000 refugees
in camps in South Sudan, some of whom are
without water; and the 1,000,000 refugees from
Syria. And the poverty and suffering in
Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, China, the
Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam and everywhere
else; as well as the massacres taking place in
Africa and the Middle East.
A recent report by UNICEF and the World
Health Organization says that annually at least
7.5 million children under the age of five die
from preventable diseases. The suffering of so
many continues, as does their need for your
compassion, including the recent natural
disasters and floods around the world.
On a recent Clinton Global Initiative
panel carried on the BBC & CNN International,
Deepak Chopra said 50% of the Earth’s population
is living on USD$2.00 a day; and 20% is living
on USD$1.00 a day.
So, I ask you to consider your
comfortable lives, and accordingly, open your
hearts, just a little bit more to those less
fortunate and in need.
And while the few luxuriate
on the finest of culinary delights at Five Star
and other such comfortable hotels & resorts, the
many go wanting; and some go wanting to
Is this the envisioned world of
Voltaire’s Candide “….the Best of all possible
I think not.
We as a
Human Race can and must
was born into an upper-middle class,
American family with both upper class society
standing as well as lots of money.
My family had a very prosperous food
distribution business in Albany.
I was sent to the finest schools; we
belonged to the “old money WASP country club”,
which quietly discriminated against everyone who
was not exactly like us, because of their race,
religion, education, income and neighborhood.
We had a live-in combination maid & cook,
plus a cleaning lady who came on Thursdays to
help with the heavy cleaning.
We vacationed at fashionable resorts in
Florida; my parents went on luxury cruises
around the Caribbean and from the west coast to
I was sent to ballroom dancing classes; I
attended all the area society cotillions both
charity and debutant; I was sent off to one of
the best prep schools in New England beginning
with the 8th grade, where I found
myself academically and I awakened to my skills
as a writer.
I was taught that all of these advantages
and all of my energies should be spent towards
retaining and carrying-on the family name and
standing; and to selfishly hoard as much money
and as many conspicuous possessions as possible
to grow the family reputation.
It was all about hoarding wealth, power
and our social standing at the expense of all
Our charity was to appear generous; and
to seem to have an altruistic, social
consciousness; not to mention the annual tax
benefits for our charitable contributions.
The ego of the family and my own ego were
to be constantly massaged.
And when I realized that I
needed to move to NYC to achieve the kinds of
success my family expected after my prep school,
university and graduate school education, in
October of 1974 I found myself in the Bronx at
Hunts Point, the token gentile at a very
successful, but aggressive Jewish food
And it was this experience that changed
my understanding of discrimination forever: For
instead of discriminating against the Jewish in
Albany, the Jewish in the Bronx were
discriminating against me.
I learned for the first time in my life
what it felt like to be the object of
discrimination with few options of avoiding it
on a daily basis.
I must say it was one of the most
important lessons I have ever been privileged to
But today, I do the
I draw no salary from my consulting
business: I have converted my business into a
We give away to those less fortunate all
our monthly and annual company profits, leaving
no reserves, except just enough to keep our
business checking account open at the bank.
We help some families and students weekly
with funds for food, housing, tuition and daily
necessities; we help others monthly; and yet
others at year’s end, depending on what remains
And via our FTA dinners we now give seven
annual $2,500.00 scholarships in the names of
those we honor in equal partnership with the
schools benefitting, resulting in most cases in
$5,000.00 scholarships, as the schools match our
donation; and a total of $1,000.00 or more per
FTA dinner to charity from a portion of each
dinner’s proceeds; with a total of $1,500.00
being donated at New Delhi, New York City Spring
& Fall, Mumbai and as well at Hong Kong.
I no longer worry about my
social standing: I am simply a Soul, temporarily
residing in a body vehicle; and just like
everyone else, doing my best to get by.
I only replace clothing if it can no
longer be sewn or repaired, for appearances mean
very little to me now.
I would rather be judged by the openness
of my heart to all others; by my compassion for
those less fortunate than myself; and for my
deeds, rather than my words.
I will not be with you in
years to come, for my time is nearing its
closure in this life in this dimension.
I already sense the call of what is to
come and I welcome it, for coming and going is
what we all must accept, if we are to remain
grounded: The only question is “when we pass”;
not “if we pass”.
But the Buddhists have a
beautiful saying, “One never knows which comes
first, the next morning or the next life”.
I pray that as a result of our coming
together this evening for higher purposes,
namely recognizing human excellence, providing
much-needed scholarships for students of limited
means and charity for those less fortunate
through UNICEF and Habitat for Humanity
International, that we will all be reminded that
people are more important than things and that
we all wake-up in the morning in THIS life; but
rededicated to devoting our lives to serving
others, simply because it is the right thing to
do; and not for others to praise us or to cater
to our ego.
For Service with an Open
Heart and Right Intention is the foundation of
our hospitality industry: So, from this moment
forward, let “Service unto Others” be your
mantra, until it is your time to wake-up in the
Thank you very
And Now I
ask for just a few more moments of your time.
Please allow me to introduce my lovely, new
Cambodian wife, Toeng Ly, seated to my left:
Toeng Ly, please stand and be recognized.
And let me add the wonderful news that
Toeng Ly is expecting our baby girl on 26
So, now allow me to briefly tell you a
beautiful story that I trust will warm your
Saving A Cambodian Family-Everyone Can Save
Someone or Some Family
The story began on 6
December when I came across them on the street
in Bangkok, shoeless, very dirty, hardly and
They were staying on a cement slab
underneath the outdoor staircase over Sukhumvit
Road that connects The Westin Grande Sukhumvit
with The Sheraton Grade Sukhumvit.
All their worldly possessions were in
five, small plastic shopping bags: They really
looked a though they could use a good, warm
So, through a nearby Thai student
interpreter (the mother only speaks Cambodian
and Thai), I was able to invite them as a family
to be my guest at the McDonald’s just 100 feet
down the sidewalk adjacent to The Westin.
The mother nodded “Okay”.
And I must say they ate as though they
had not eaten in quite some time.
I believe I was back to the counter four
times between more Sprite & Coke, French fries,
sandwiches; and of course, ice cream desserts.
Thankfully, there was a large wash sink
in the restaurant, which allowed everyone to use
the much-needed liquid soap and hot water; and
for mom to clean her baby.
But in the brief 30 minutes
we spent in McDonald’s, I realized how truly
desperate were they and that I had to do more;
which is our mission at FTA, to serve others,
especially those less fortunate.
The baby badly needed disposable diapers
and as they had nothing in the way of soap,
toothpaste, whatever, so we went shopping next
door at the Tops Market.
Afterwards, I took them all next door to
Robinson’s Department Store to buy them
clothing: And about 90 minutes later, when we
left the store, they no longer looked like
beggars on the street, but a normal, happy
family, nicely clothed, the 12 year old girl
with her first doll and the 2 year old boy with
his first educational toy.
I then offered them 200 Baht (about USD
$7.00) for taxi fare to wherever they were
staying at night.
But the mother looked confused: And as
the taxi driver spoke English, he explained to
me that she was telling him that they were
living under the nearby staircase; they had no
place to stay.
What to do?
So, I marched them four blocks to the
Nana Chart Youth Hostel and I paid for a safe,
clean two bedroom, air conditioned room for them
for 8 nights, until I had to return to the U.S.
for the Christmas holidays.
And every morning I would arrive at about
8:00am and we would all have breakfast together;
every lunch I would return and we would eat
something on the street; and every evening I
would return to take them to the same, nice,
casual restaurant for a wholesome dinner.
And when I left for the U.S., I gave her
enough cash to return them safely on the buses
to Cambodia; and for food until I could fly to
Phnom Penh the first week in January and get a
better handle on their true situation and attend
to the acute dental and medical needs of both
the 6 year old boy and the 12 year old girl.
The rest is an even longer
story, but suffice it to say, I had no idea of
how bleak, how desperate was the small, filthy,
unsanitary, unsafe, dark, cinder block, single
room they rented for $25.00 per month including
limited electricity and a water pipe for the
toilet plastic wash basin (but the water was
unfit to drink); all this down a long, dark,
depressing hallway off a dirt road to Hell.
I slept on the cement floor with them for
one night, before deciding I could not let them
live like this a moment longer.
So, with great thanks to
financial contributions from industry friends as
well as many special favors by
Area General Manager, Sofitel Cambodia and his
Team (our base at Phnom Penh until we
could find them a fit place to live), and with
about $30,000.00 to date of FTA direct charity
from our dinner revenues (Including a portion of
tonight’s dinner revenues); and with the
invaluable help of so many wonderful Souls I met
along the way from Batambang, Cambodia where
they lived (about a 9 hour taxi ride from Phnom
Penh); and all the way to Phnom Penh, the family
is now in a safe, clean apartment in a very nice
residential area of downtown Phnom Penh; the
children are at last in a wonderful, nearby
public school; and they look just amazing in
their blue and white school uniforms.
The six year old has now
had under general anesthesia in an operating
room four of his baby teeth removed, which had
become infected with his left cheek swollen like
a balloon and he was in constant pain.
Everyone has now had medical examinations
by an MD at the Chenda Clinic in Phnom Penh,
including blood tests, which revealed that none
of them were protected from Hepatitis; so they
are now all inoculated and the baby even
received the two doses of a vaccine not
administered after birth; plus they were given
other medicines to take in case they have any
internal issues from their poor diet and lack of
And they all had eye exams by an eye
doctor at Chenda Clinic; and as a result, the
mother and 12 year old daughter finally have the
reading glasses they needed so badly, but never
And thankfully, at our
recent FTA Saigon dinner, we found our “Operation
O’Brien with Treasury Wine Estates, who
completely funded the 12 year old girl’s facial
surgery to remove 5 hideous, red tumors that
were growing in size, the result of untreated
Tuberculosis at age 3; and though the surgical
scar will take some time to heal, she can at
long last smile without feeling self-conscious.
And recently at Singapore, Andrew met with me
and handed me the funds to cover the family’s
Cambodian Passport applications, so they will at
last have comprehensive identity documentation
as well as the ability to travel.
And our Hong Kong
Disneyland Angel is our dear friend,
Rudolf Muller, Executive Chef, Hong Kong
At our Singapore dinner, when he heard
that the first trip the family will be taking
with their new Passports is to Hong Kong
Disneyland. He vowed to do everything possible
to insure the experience would be one to
forever, fondly remember.
But we still need a
Dragon Airways Angel,
to cover the roundtrip, economy airfares; so, if
that Angel is among us tonight, it would be my
honor to shake his or her hand.
In addition, the mother,
Toeng Ly has had no means of transportation for
herself and her three young
children; and so, likewise,
thankfully, we most recently found our “Honda
Motorcycle Angel” in
Henry Phua, Managing Director, visMarketing.
And, thankfully, there continue to be
other Angels who have
contributed towards the
family’s sustenance, such as
Jake Jacob, who
substantially helped with the April
apartment rent at Phnom
Penh: Jake, kindly stand
and be recognized.
And so now you know how we
spend some of the revenues we collect from our
many valued dinner sponsors across Asia Pacific
and at NYC; and of the many compassionate Souls,
like Andrew, Henry and Rudy who have helped us
and continue to help us succeed with our most
recent direct humanitarian effort in Cambodia.
Thank you very much for your kind attention.
The children desperately
needed a loving, caring father; and the mother
very much needed a loving, providing husband.
And so one day in late January, the last
night we were staying at the Sofitel Phnom Penh
before moving them into their apartment; and
with the two oldest children soon to be in
school; and their lives beginning to become
stabilized, the 12 year old girl, with the
others standing around me, looked up at me and
And I looked into her eyes, knowing this
was a very, very important moment in time: In
fact, a life-changing moment.
So, I smiled broadly and
replied “Yes, Pa”.
And from that moment, I was officially
adopted by the family.
I became the father of the children and
the husband of the mother.
And now whenever I am home, I arise at
5:00am Monday through Saturday, to be sure the
children are up at 6:00am; and at 6:30am I ride
the “tuk tuk” to school with Mr. Sna and the 6 &
12 year olds; and I even help feed the 2 & ½
year old baby some of the time. So, if you want
to find me from now on, when I’m not at one of
our 12 annual FTA hospitality industry
humanitarian dinners at NYC Spring & Fall or
across Asia Pacific, just come to Cambodia.
And while we will continue
to shoulder this humanitarian effort from our
dinner revenues month in and month out, as there
is only so much to go around, there continues to
be a continuing need for more Angels to help us
to help Toeng Ly and the children.
If you would like to help, just let me
know tonight or afterwards and I will be happy
to let you know how to do so.
you very much.