Chapter 8 : Le Petit Palais Part1
Le Petit Palais means the small palace. Once upon a time, it was the palace of the 1st Guinean President Sekou Toure who died about 14 years before I was ordered to arrange a renovation of the place into a restaurant. This event took place in 1997, by which time I was on my 500th days in Africa. It was simply huge for a resident. A double storey building with large garden around it. I tried to scout around for information on why was the palace left untouched for 14 years. I didn’t get any logical explanation except that the people said it was haunted!! Haunted or not, it was my duty then to turn it around to become a restaurant. From the schedule that I had, I was given 6 months to complete the job. So, in the first month, the interior designer was brought in, renovation was started, 2 chefs from Malaysia were brought in etc etc.. I took some of my favourite staff from The Unity Hotel to work for me there.. including a black belt karate guy as the chief security guard, named Gibril. I started the training session as usual. I didn’t change the name of the place coz I thought Le Petit Palais itself sounded great. The new name of the place was Le Petit Palais Malaysian Restaurant. I arranged Karaoke on the first floor, restaurant and bar on the ground floor.
In the second month of renovation.. I received a shocking news that our big boss Tun Daim Zainuddin would officiate the restaurant in another 30 days!! WHATTTTT???? Instead of having 4 months before it was opened.. now I only had 30 days! So I spent 30 sleepless days and night trying to get the place ready. Having a lot of luck going my way.. yes.. I managed to get the job done within the targetted time. So… Le Petit Palais was officially opened after 3 months of renovation..
Within 6 months of operations.. the restaurant had created quite a pleasant name around town. I was very pleased that Malaysian food had a place in Africa. Most of the customers were western and african businessmen. The karaoke was filled up by the Labenese businessmen almost everynight. I still remember their favorite song was ‘Azizah’ sung by late Tan Sri P.Ramlee. Strange enough.. many of them who later become friends told me that I should leave after one year of making money or I will die!! They said.. in many business there.. people make money in the first year.. but in the following years they will be trapped by the local authorities.. The most popular words from them was “Don’t trust anyone here!!”
The most regular person to visit the restaurant was my adopted father. He used to come in every evening to have dinner with me and he would tell me the political scenario of the country and also in Malaysia.. One day he asked me to go and fetch a bilionaire from Malaysia at the airport. His name is Dato Wong. So, I grabbed the military men with me to pick him up right in front of his private jet. Dato Wong was very surprised how I managed to park my car right in front of his jet at the airport.. I just smiled hehe.. of course my adopted father gave me the facilities..
I was briefed about Dato Wong’s arrival by my adopted father and the project ahead that he would do in Guinea. I was assigned by my adopted father to look after him well. He was meant to renovate the previous parliament house which was bombed during an unsuccessful cout d’etat a year earlier. During his lunch at Le Petit Palais, he called me up and said “When you go back for a holiday, please come and visit me at my office in KL”. Wow! That’s an offer for a job! A few months before that I had turned down a job offer by another Dato.. so, this one I just kept in mind coz I was happy where I was then.
Things started to get sour when a Malaysian lady who was working for a Malaysian bank there started to interfere with the restaurant affair. I learnt later that she was assigned as a spy to report what was going on in the restaurant. Irritating enough, she reported mostly the false news to the headquarters. Then I received an order to stay away from my adopted father. But what was I supposed to do if he comes to the restaurant everyday for lunch? To stay away? So ridiculous! I also found out later that she was the one who informed the headquarters that we would be ready for the opening after 3 months of renovation. Hmmm.. I guess she had an intention to run the show! So, I confronted her. I told her that she was most welcomed to take over my post if she could prove to me that she could do a better job!
One day as I was sitting alone in the garden.. thinking about what was I going to do.. suddenly the first lady spy who was protecting me in the hotel appeared!! “Hi Mr Ray!” I turned around and almost screamed with joy to see her there. I asked her where she had been.. and she said that she had been in London. Then she confessed to me that she is the wife of my adopted father. She looks after his business in London.. OIC.. now that explains everything.. Of course she would be on my side.. We had a drink together.. had a long long chat about the situation of the politics there.. she told me many things that I will just keep for myself until today.. I just won’t discuss about it here.. Because.. almost all the political things that she informed me… scaringly became reallity… Something that scared me the most was when she said “Don’t trust anyone here!!” That was the last time I saw her.. Never met her again after that and I had no idea whether she was alive or not!!
To be continued.. DjRay