Monday, March 22, 2004

What's wrong with Philippine commerce

Our DVD player has been really dicey lately. It'll play a disc fine, then will refuse to play the same disc later - it just spins. It's been doing this for over a week. So, with my wonderful wife Michele's blessing, I got a new one. And a 5.1 speaker home theatre system. (Uh, it came with it.) But buying things here is never easy...

We saw the system, a Panasonic HT-860 (this particular model is only available in Russia and Asia, although there is an American version as well, the 900) at a large electronics display area at Glorietta mall on Saturday. It looked and sounded good, and the price was right. But one big requirement is that it had to play DVDs from different regions. We now have discs from Region 1 (USA), Region 2 (Europe) and Region 3 (Asia). The salesman claimed that it was multiregion, even though the brochure said it was only Region 3.
Having lived here long enough to believe nothing that store employees say, we came back Sunday with a Region 1 DVD (The Usual Suspects) and a Region 3 DVD (Die Another Day). To my surprise, they both played. Wow. So after an admonishment from my dear wife that this is my 31st birthday present 4 months early, we told the salesman we'd take it.
Unbeknownst to us, this huge electronics display was only for people who had credit cards from Bank of the Philippine Islands. Of course, we don't. After he ran around trying to figure out what to do, he said we could get it with our own card if we accompanied him to the electronics store next to the mall. And off we went.
We got there, and found the same system for the same price. After handing over our credit card (with me following close behind to track its progress), then Philippine Commerce Machine went into effect. It was amazing. No less than 7 people handled my card. One person called a Visa number to verify it. Another one swiped it through a machine to verify it. Another wrote down its data. Another wrote out a credit card receipt. Another swiped the card _again_ to put it into the store's systems. Other people wrote out other forms, and still others just carried the card 3 feet to the next person. In the States, all of this would have taken one person and been done in a tenth of the time. But it's not like they don't have the technology to make it easier, they don't _want_ it to be easier. This is the Philippine Way -- a jobs program.
As we were going to go grocery shopping, I decided to pick up the system later that day.
(As an aside, we got fresh salmon sliced at the store, and had it for dinner last night. It tasted great. But while I waited for the salmon to be sliced, I had plenty of time to stare at this ridiculously big squid they had for sale. It was, no kidding, the size of our 2 1/2-year old Jonathon. It's as if Jonathon got exposed to Radiation X and mutated into SquidBoy. Able to... swim under water, wave its suckers around and eject ink. Perhaps that's why there are no squid super heroes.)
I returned to pick up the system that afternoon. It took about an hour, because as with every piece of electronics that you buy here, they have to prove to you that it works. So they unpacked _the whole thing_, and set it up. It worked. Yay. Then I had to go outside because a guard told me my car was triple-parked. (It sure didn't look that way when the other cars were there...) That gave the employees time to repack it all, and I got it out to the car.
So now we have surround sound. Here's what it looks like, by the way.

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