Overcast doesn’t mean no photos.
San Francisco, CA
Overcast doesn’t mean no photos.
San Francisco, CA
Well, folks, where do I start?
My “hiatus” from blogging wasn’t planned. After last year’s incident, it was difficult to maintain my normally cheerful outlook towards travel and life, in general. There were times when it felt like a facade, an appearance to keep up. I had my job to do, my example to lead, my family to assure. I hated the fact that I was affected by this.
I don’t know if I will ever truly “get over it” but I know now that I am ready to move on.
It has taken me time to forgive myself. I know I didn’t do anything wrong, but there certainly were things I wished I did better. It has taken longer, though, to forgive others around me, especially the hotel in question. I am not going to deny that I considered a lawsuit.
I procrastinated on the idea of a lawsuit for many reasons. When one lawyer explain to me that I would have to at some point quantify what my “damages” are, I realised no amount of money could fix what I coped. When a friend pointed out it would force the hotel to make changes, I concluded a settlement likely comes with a non-disclosure and would do exactly the opposite, allow them to sweep it under the rug. At the end, I decided to drop the pursuit of legal grievance. I had enough on my plate personally and didn’t need the added pressure. I have no aspirations to be a David taking on Goliath.
Nor did I want to just forget it. So I instead worked up the indignation to write an angry email to the hotel chain executives.. and to publish some of that here for other fellow travelers. It felt cathartic. Then I found myself in a laughable position of not knowing where to send it! Fortunately, a friend with amazing research skills was able to dig up some resources (more on that in another post).
I didn’t expect compensation. I didn’t expect any response from Westin, really. I now have reached the point of not caring. Instead, I just needed to get the anger off my chest and close out this unpleasant chapter of my life. I am ready to move on, and this is my final parting shot.
Full disclosure: Westin and Starwood brands responded. Surprisingly quickly. Clearly, emailing the CEO a castigating letter dinging them on their service and quality is pretty effective. I spoke to the current General Manager of the hotel afterward. Despite not being in the position the time of my incident, he was very apologetic and kind, which I appreciate. I acknowledge it must have been difficult to own up to his predecessor’s mistakes, especially when the natural reaction would be “it wasn’t under MY watch.” However, I rejected his offers of assistance, that being a $250 donation towards a charity of my choice, and some large number of points towards future stays. From a large corporation, $250 felt like a slap in the face. Keep in mind, many of their hotels charge more for a single night’s stay. I rather they don’t bother at all and make that donation myself and told them so. And, in a market saturated with competition, I see absolutely no need to ever visit a Starwood again, when the choice is left to me. They later raised the donation amount to $500, to which I have not responded.
Postscript: And it didn’t go away. Final communication with Starwood posted here.
A year ago this month, I checked into one of your Westin hotels. Living overseas, I was returning Stateside for a long trip and looking forward to an “homecoming.”
And what a hell of an homecoming it turned out to be.
As soon as I got into my room, I was held up at gun point, robbed, and assaulted. The man held me in the room somewhere in the window of two and a half to three hours. I was stripped of a majority of my valuables on me and in my bags, and of my sense of my safety. This is not the first time he has done something like this- he was too calm and collected and took his time.
That this happened in a Westin shocked my sense of trust in any business reputation. But how the Westin handled- or didn’t- was absolutely inexcusable and a disgrace to the hospitality business.
The only thing the Westin did right was how quickly they called the police. After that, it was a series of horrendous performance.
The only communication I ever received from the hotel was a pathetic email from your “director of guest services”.. and I paste the text here:
“The safety and security of our guests is our main priority, I’m reaching out to you, to make sure you have my information should you need anything from us.
Hope you are well and please let us know if there is anything we can do for you at this time.
I know you spoke with [name withheld] our Manager on Duty last night, I was also here, but I was unable to speak with you at the time.”
Reading that first communique was the equivalent of being kicked when I was already down. Even without knowing the details of the police investigation, I would hope the presence of 4-6 police vehicles, and the initial report I gave the operator, would clue your own management the seriousness of the trauma I had experienced. “I hope you are well” What utter callousness. I will carry the scars- both physical and emotional- for a long time to come. And, I would really like to know what was so important that she “was unable to speak at the time”
Your vague offer of “help” smacked of insincerity and was far more offensive than I could stomach at that moment. If your guest relations person thought a generic statement would qualify for a more useful “please let us help you contact the banks to replace your stolen credit cards” or “can we recommend a local medical clinic for you” or “let us assist in getting you home or assist you with alternate accommodations while you are stuck in town to deal with the police investigation” you have extremely low standards in your hiring and performance standards.
The friends and family who know of any portion of my ordeal often started with “I am so sorry for your ordeal” because that is an appropriate caring sympathetic response. Instead, you have your carefully worded toneless note that smelt more like fear of accountability than genuine concern over a person’s trauma.
How I was targeted and how the robber chose to come into the Westin are questions I want answers to but won’t get until the police catch him.
At the same time, you, the Westin hotel, owe a lot of answers as to how you don’t have the security coverage to even identify how he went in the hotel. More than that, how you force every single car driving onto the property to take a parking ticket to pay park anywhere on the grounds, but not have any cameras to capture the car traffic, let alone the license plates. Your priorities are clear: revenue over security.
I hate that my confidence and my trust in myself is shattered. Considering that travel is an inherent aspect of my professional demands, being terrified wasn’t bad enough; I dreaded I would be paralyzed to not be able to do my job at all. I don’t skirt with danger unnecessarily; I chose my travel arrangements with my personal safety and comfort level in mind. I expected Westin to meet those needs.
What you failed in your security is an unknown, pending the police investigation. What you failed in your service and reaction to the events of that night is clear. A lone traveler in a city that is not her own, and you left her- me- stranded alone with zero support. Your staff’s ignorance and apathy demonstrated the standards of your company.
Good morning, readers, friends, and family.
I have been absent a lot lately. The first couple months of the year, I have no real excuse. Life just gets in the way of blogging. I am on holiday now, with every intention of catching up, and finishing up drafts of old posts and that is when the monkey wrench was thrown into my rather happy life.
I landed back in the States, in San Francisco, eager to start a wonderful trip in one of my favourite areas. I checked into a hotel, went to my room. There I got robbed at gun point. I was just in the room and something made me turn around. In doing so, I saw a man covered up and pointing a gun at me.
He took all my electronics, cash, and some other belongings. What was more unnerving was how he took his time and was methodical. I was blindfolded and told to lie face down on the bed. I could hear him open all my bags and dump the contents out.
I told the police this wasn’t his first rodeo. He was too slow, calm to never have done something like this before. He had the presence of mind to make sure I took the password protection off all the electronics, rebooting them to confirm. Oddly he didn’t find my driver’s license, even asking me to take it out. I pointed him to my overseas ID card.
I was held hostage for about two hours. I got the sense he tried to leave earlier, but there might have been people in the hallway. He told me to fall asleep and that he would leave half an hour after I was asleep. When he found that I wasn’t sleeping, even checking my pulse to confirm, he accused me of not complying.
He eventually left. He didn’t close the door completely. That door closing was what I was waiting for and I must have waited for another 10 minutes after his departure when I dared to lift my head and look around.
The police knocked on the doors of the rooms in the same hallway asking if anyone has noticed anything. Neighbours confirmed hearing commotion. Hearing that was like a stab in the stomach. I know hotels have an aura of privacy but what if someone had knocked to check? What if my two hour ordeal could have been aborted?
It was the fact that I was held two hours and the fact that his grubby paws touched every possession I had on me that has left me shaken. Had he taken my stuff and just ran, I might not be having such an emotional response. I would have been angry and that would be the end of it. Instead I feel violated, unsafe. Worst, I don’t know how comfortable I would be in a hotel anymore. As a frequent business and leisure traveler, how this impacts me remains to be seen.
I chose not to publish more detail, as cathartic as writing may be, because the police are investigating and I don’t want to interfere with or jeopardise their work. As tempting as Internet shaming the hotel is, I am not ready to do so yet. God knows that hotel has a lot to answer for and that I will never set a foot in any of their properties again. Believe me, all will be revealed in due time.
For the most part, my lost items are a minor nuisance. I am lucky in the sense that I have the financial means to replace my belongings and track my credit activity. What hurts the most is the external hard drive used as an archive of my photos taken since 2008. I have them backed up over Christmas, so the only photos lost were those of 2013. But emotionally, that is the hardest loss to take. In addition to my comfort in traveling being abused, I now lost my best record of my past travels.
I am eternally grateful for my family and friends who helped bring my vacation and my life back on track and the outpour of love and support from those everywhere else in the world. I know we often feel words are useless when we say them but during the ordeal I had never felt so alone. Hearing from people now have helped me realize I really am not alone and I do have loved ones caring.
I love chocolate. I don’t eat chocolate bars from the supermarket anymore. I go to specialty chocolate stores for my fix.
My favourites, hands down, anywhere in the world:
Chocolate by The Shop, Phnom Penh. Who would have imagined there’s be a specialty chocolate shop in Cambodia and that it is really really really good?? It is so good that I bought boxes of them whenever I was in town to gift. The fact that it is easy on the pocket was a huge bonus. Expensive for Cambodian standard of living, but extremely reasonable for the American snob. My favourites are the dark, the white, and the passion fruit pralines. They just melt in your mouth, those chocolates, but somehow with being made in a humid climate, they don’t melt on the way home. Women talk about craving chocolate all the time; when was the last time you heard a man say so? I got my male colleagues hooked and they go for their fix as well!
Recchiuti Confections. I schedule flight layovers in San Francisco just to buy their chocolates. Pricey, but so worth every penny!! A lot of chocolate makers mix in unusual flavors- salt, pepper and cinnamon, rose, etc- but more often than not, the flavors aren’t blended into the chocolate and leaves a jarring taste in my mouth. This one has figured out how to fix that. No matter what flavour, it melts smoothly.
Not to be confused with neighbouring Serendipity Cafe’s celebrity frozen hot chocolate, my favorite hot chocolate either order in or to take back home to brew myself is Dylan’s Candy Bar hot chocolate. Actual chocolate shavings melted in hot milk. Sadly, I haven’t been able to purchase any online lately. But should any be available, highly recommend you purchase some, after I have my turn..
Belgium. Hands down. Don’t bother with the brands or the pre-packaged stuff. Just go to the mom and pop shops that have their various truffles laid out for you to admire. I would stop by a store each day, a different one as there is one every single block, and get a sampling of different flavors. That would be my chocolate intake for the entire day.
Switzerland. But, like Belgium, don’t go to the mass producers. The specialty shops are pricey, but often crowded. That should tell you something.
Just Chocolate in general:
CoCo Sala is the biggest chick pit in DC. It has got to be. Every time I go, the place is packed with women. The few men there who are not staff tend to be boyfriends/husbands humoring their lady’s desire. Their chocolate-inspired menu has changed considerably since their opening, but that’s the nature of a surviving restaurant/bar/lounge.