Before I was a journalist, I was a hotelier. Well, not quite. I worked at the front desk of a local hotel in Penang for a couple of months while I was waiting for my A Levels results.
My father, worried that his daughter was showing a decided lack of interest in any meaningful occupation, had found through his Hainan-clan network a part-time position manning the reception desk at the Paramount Hotel.
All I had to do, I was told, was answer the telephone, keep tabs on comings-and-goings of guests and manage the petty cash.
I enjoyed the first two, hated the third. There is a reason why it's called petty cash; it's a petty task.
Answering the telephone made me feel important. Saying "Paramount Hotel, good morning," had a certain regal, imperialistic ring to it. After all, even I knew at the time that "paramount" meant someone "supreme in rank, power, or authority".
I loved to imagine the people behind the voices and sometimes, I was curious enough to find out the stories behind the voices by listening into the conversations. Not all the time, mind you - just those times when I was bored because there weren't usually a lot of customers in the day.
It was in the evenings and nights that the Paramount came into its own. It was a favourite haunt for some reason with race jockeys. I liked them because they gave good tips especially after they've had a good ride.
Unfortunately, by the time the hotel got really busy, my shift was over. I believe I asked for the night shift but was denied.
In the mornings, I would come in and I'd be handed a bunch of identity cards tied up with a rubber band by the night security guard. I'd then just have to hand over the right cards to the right person.
I didn't realise it at the time but I believe Paramount probably did 300% occupancy in the nights. Even back then, I think they were practising yield management - a bed sold thrice yields three times more than once slept in.
I am sharing this bit of my history with you because I think my life has just come full circle. Last weekend, when I was back in Penang, I was dining at my favourite seafood restaurant, Ocean Green, which happens to be owned by the Paramount Hotel.
Perhaps it was the moonlight but the hotel looked different. Almost romantic, and full of character, in an island where most hotels tend to look like tall blocks of grey concrete.
The Paramount's been around since 1948 and is a colonial bungalow that Penang's known for on this stretch of road once called Northam Road and now named Jalan Sultan Abdul Shah. It has full sea frontage. It's been in the same family for generations, and now the third generation is running it and obviously keen to adapt with the times.
Curious, I went inside to look at it. The desk I worked behind is still there; the layout still looks pretty much the same; but the place has definitely been touched up. But the original character though remains pretty much intact.
"I think I will stay here next time," said a well-travelled friend who was with me. "It looks full of character."
I then found out the hotel has launched a website - okay, maybe it's a web page because it's just one pager, but what else do you need for a hotel that doesn't pretend to be more than what it is - a "comfortable heritage stay at an affordable price".
Rooms start at RM68 and go up to RM180 for family deluxe. I am told they will be launching online bookings soon.
Right now though, you have to email for reservations and enquiries which I did, asking when online booking would be available. The response was prompt, within four hours. It said, "... online booking service still in progress".
My other question, about whether there were hourly rates, was ignored.
Yes, Paramount & Me, we grew up together. And it goes to show, if you stick around long enough and stay true to what you are, your time will eventually come.