52 years and still going strong, it must be love!
Her colleagues call her Nancy Ma (mother). With 52 years of service under her wings, this tag is most befitting.
Nancy Huang, room division manager, is 70 and she is still working at the Federal Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. She started working when she was 18 at the once-popular entertainment outlet Federal Bowling alley before moving on to become a receptionist at the hotel.
Since then she has walked along the corridors of this hotel thousands of times and know each nook and corner by heart. But the pages in her memory are filled with the colourful and interesting profiles of travellers who have set foot into the hotel.
“I started working here in 1967 and Federal Hotel was the best hotel in town. We were proud to be employed here as the guests included the rich and famous, sports celebrities from all over and high ranking politicians,” Nancy recalls.
Among the VIPs who had stayed at the hotel were Sir Robert Menzies, former Australian Prime Minister and Sir Malcolm MacDonald, who was involved in the making of the Federation of Malaya (the prelude to independent Malaya) which was inaugurated on 1 February 1948, earning him a significant place in the history of Malaysia.
Looking at the gallery of old photos on the wall at the reception and one of a young Nancy standing at the reception, you could tell these walls have seen many stories unfolded in this building.
And it is these stories of events and lives that came and went that made this a second home for many of the loyal staff there. Relationships amongst staff built over the years kept them serving for 20 to 50 years.
“Ironically, it was also an era where getting a job in the hotel was not regarded with much respect. People in general or parents did not want their children to work in a hotel because hotels were considered indecent places. During those times, especially when The Federal Hotel was an international class hotel, few would have a chance to come and see it for themselves.
“It was natural for them to think it was like the smaller ones where indecent activities went on.” Many of Nancy’s colleagues had little education and some service staff working in the food and beverage department were illiterate.
“It is remarkable how some of them who could not write would take orders by drawing. If you ordered fish and chips, he or she would draw a fish. So the orders would be in drawings of cow, fish and chicken,” Nancy still finds this amusing.
It is, for her, an admirable attitude of people who were proud of their job and were always willing to struggle and strive to do their best. She described them as “staff who worked and worked regardless of going way past their required working hours.
“It is this relationship and camaraderie that kept us here. We had a colleague who always had medicine and herbs with her to help whoever comes to her with ailments and injuries. Chang Mei Tzuen was a chief cashier who is well-loved and has since retired.
“She would even cook food for confinement for a colleague who had given birth. And we have also celebrated birthdays, our children’s weddings and babies’ full moon here. All the colleagues would come together to help out. Now isn’t that like one big family?”
It is this relationship that made celebrating Federal Hotel’s anniversary such a meaningful event for the staff who had a role to play in planning for the events in 2007.
The Federal Hotel was the brainchild and vision of the late Tan Sri Low Yat, who had the foresight to build a new multimillion-dollar international class hotel to provide accommodation for all the distinguished guests and foreign dignitaries attending the historic day and celebration of Malaya’s independence.
Following that, most of the guests were Americans or British. This trend continued till the 80s when Malaysia’s Look East Policy brought Japanese here to start businesses and factories like the Mitsubishi. Nancy remembers a Japanese guest who first came to stay in the hotel in 1975 and kept coming back for long stay until the 90s.
There were also the Australian jockeys on weekends when races were in town at the then Ampang Racecourse which was where KLCC is now. The race days rotated between Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, Penang and Singapore.
Being close to the Merdeka Stadium also brought many sports celebrities to the hotel. “There was Hong Kong popular star Nancy Sit, Alam Tam, Boxers Mohammad Ali and Joe Bugner and our own Thomas cuppers, just to name a few!”
The hotel boasted its Chinese and western night clubs – The Skyroom and Mandarin Palace. In their pomp and splendour, these were entertainment outlets for the rich and famous. “You needed to dress formally in a suit or jacket to come in. And if you didn’t have a jacket the hotel would provide you with one,” says Nancy.
“If you ask me why you should come to stay with us at the Federal Hotel,” Nancy says “I will tell you because we will take care of you, and take care of you well,” sounds like a promise one friend would make to another.
The staff who worked in the early years at Federal Hotel were grateful for this opportunity to build a career despite their lack of education and they showed it by their long service and hard work. Time and again this team spirit to help one another survived the test of time and their loyalty to the hotel naturally made it their second home.
Although there is only a handful of these “decades-old” old-timers around, they have served three generations of bosses with the fourth coming on board. They will make sure the spirit of togetherness will prevail and the Federal Hotel family will go for many more generations to come.
The Federal Kuala Lumpur Timeline
Federal Hotels International (FHI) has over six decades of experience in the Malaysian hospitality industry. FHI is the pioneer Malaysian Hotel Management Company, established in 1957, to manage the first international hotel in Kuala Lumpur – The Federal Kuala Lumpur – that opened its doors on 28 August 1957. Today, FHI manages The Federal Kuala Lumpur, Hotel Capitol Kuala Lumpur, The Grace Hotel Sydney and Tribeca Serviced Suites Bukit Bintang.