Breakfast with strangers, sausages included.
By Yeoh Siew Hoon ~ thetransitcafe.com
Wednesday, 31st January 2007
There I was - sitting at the breakfast table with a German couple obviously on their honeymoon and a gay couple obviously not on their honeymoon, and wondering who would be the first to break the ice.

You know, it's one of those awkward moments when six strangers sit down at a table for a meal. They are there because that's how it's done in some bed-and-breakfast places. One's probably groaning, "Oh no, do I have to talk with these strangers?" Another is adamant he won't.

This being 9am and I am usually comatose before 12 noon, I am struggling. At the best of times, I am not great at small talk. My idea of a conversation is an interview and right then, I didn't feel like interviewing anyone.

The silence is just beginning to get suffocating when Mr Hamburg utters the first word. It's the usual dance between strangers. Where are you from? How long are you staying? How long have you been here? Is this your first time? The conversation usually stays within this safe territory and rarely gets personal.

They have been in New Zealand for five weeks. Other than making reservations ahead for Christmas and New Year's Eve, it's been free and easy. They have a general idea of where they want to go. They drive, they stop at Internet cafes along the way and they pick and book their accommodation as they go along.

They have rarely been disappointed, they say. Before they book a place, they check out visitor reviews.

They make a great team. She navigates. He drives. They are willing to take chances, within reason. They are adventurous, eager to try new things. I suspect if they are still talking to each other after five weeks together in a strange country, they will probably do okay in married life.

Mr and Mr Gay meanwhile remained quiet throughout the meal, except to exchange glances at each other, happy in their silent complicity. They're obviously down from Auckland for a weekend.

This encounter also made me realise how much travel has changed and how much technology is empowering today's travellers to be free in the true spirit of travel.

On this trip, other than a couple of places we had to book in advance due to commitments, we too took it pretty easy. Each morning, we decided where we wanted to go. When it was time to think about where to stay, I would take out my Blackberry and surf a couple of sites I had bookmarked in advance. I would find a place, look at the pictures, read the description and call to make a booking.

That's the wonderful thing about driving holidays in places like New Zealand or England or the US – it's one language, it's okay if you get lost for a bit and you can always find somewhere to stay on the road. In Australia, the distances can be too prohibitive for such freedom.

On this trip, other than the Mercure in Auckland, every place I stayed in had their own charm.

The Bolton Hotel in Wellington is modern and contemporary. I loved the duvets best – made of the softest wool on one side and fluffy feathers on the other.

At Napier, the Mornington Lodge is a private house which only takes one set of guests at one time. You have the whole house to yourself. The good thing about this is you can have breakfast by yourself, no need to make conversation.

At Lake Taupo, we took a lake-side suite at the Millennium and shared breakfast with the swans.

And at Matarangi Manor in Coromandel, I got to know the husband-and-wife team who runs it. Bill and Ann are retired hoteliers. He worked in hotels for a while, then moved to a consultancy which managed distressed assets and now is having fun being lord of the manor. Ann is a marathon runner, a breast cancer survivor, a shoe designer and, in between all that, cooks breakfast and keeps house for her guests.

It made me realise that hoteliers never retire, they just fade away.

The first morning, Ann asked me what I wanted for breakfast. I said, "Sausages." She didn't have any. The next morning though, they were there, two juicy, plump sausages on my plate.

It reminded me of the roots of hospitality and it made me wish that in Asia, we had more individual, charming, owner-run places where travellers could truly feel at home instead of modern, commoditised, branded places which try so hard to make you feel at home when you wish you were.

The SHY Report
A regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry by one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, Yeoh Siew Hoon.

Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her company's mission is "Content, Communication, Connection".

She is a writer, speaker, facilitator, trainer and events producer. She is also an author, having published "Around Asia In 1 Hr: Tales of Condoms, Chillies & Curries". Her motto is ‘free to do, and be'.

Contacts: Tel: 65-63424934, Mobile: 65-96801460

Yeoh Siew Hoon's other writings can be found at www.thetransitcafe.com . Get your weekly cuppa of news, gossip, humour and opinion at the cafe for travel insiders.
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