China Mobile Bill: More Than Communication

I wonder how difficult is it to ask a company to innovate and change its somewhat wasteful ways of delivering service to consumers? 

While many businesses (including government agencies who should serve as models) have openly embraced the use of the Web to transact business with customers like online banking, paperless bills and other innovations that have helped preserve precious trees, there are those who just don’t get it.

Or at least staff well-versed enough with the eco-friendly plans of the company and got buried in a maze of daily tasks.

We have been asking our mobile phone line provider not to send us paper bills since they also send us SMS reminders that reach us much quicker than any form of surface mail. But for some reason, this simple request made at their shop (just after paying the bill) apparently isn’t working. So I thought of different reasons why paperless bill could hardly replace paper bills.

  • They have prepaid their Hongkong Post and wish to send “personal” mails to avail of what they paid for
  • They can attach advertisements and other promotions in that postal message
  • Paper bills serve as invitation to come to their shops for opportunity to up sell new products and services
  • They have staff who would otherwise lose their jobs or expensive machines rendered useless if they switch from traditional to paperless bills

I may be wrong but hey. that’s just what I think every time I check the mailbox and find bill reminders whose information I already know a few days ago.

So if I were to make a play of the slogan “more than communication”, it might be .. “also helping destroy the environment” or “..also helping preserve jobs and businesses”.

Newsweek’s Printing Demise

The moment I learned Newsweek is ending its printing run after nearly 80 years of service, it reminded me of how its sales people must have tried its best to resuscitate an increasingly extinct part of the media business.

I subscribed to Newsweek’s print edition for a year beginning the summer of 2010. At the time I needed a regular dose of news updates and commentary on top of my digital subscription of South China Morning Post where my interests fall mainly on local topics.

But shortly after I received my initial set of copies in our tiny, cranky mailbox at Wai Lee Building, I soon realized that the content was opinion-heavy with emphasis on US political issues, foreign policies, bickering ideologies and the like. None of such topics piqued my interest.

When I decided to make this subscription following an online promotion (which came in with a free silver wristwatch as sweetener), I had imagined its content to be similar to Asiaweek and Moneysaver, two of  my favorite copies to read at the UIC college library. Each page of those magazines seemed like a serendipity in the making, whether it’s the current issue or a historical archive. These two tackle topics that are close to my heart, literally. Asian currency crisis, most liveable cities and how to live a week on a shoestring budget in the university.

As I’d return them into the shelf, another piece of information enriched my brain.

But Newsweek’s content was different. Obama’s policies, healthcare problems and sober news about the economy felt so hardcore for my understanding. Unable to follow closely with its merging with The Daily Beast which emphasized more on analysis of the news, rather than just delivering it plain and simple, and simple changes like adopting a new (read: uglier) typeface, I slowly began to lose interest. Not that Fareed Zakaria’s political views are lame and uninteresting; content was just not a good fit for me and my interest. So once a new copy arrives, I simply skim through the content without ever spending much longer time reading than unwrapping a subscription copy from its plastic cover.

So as the subscription reached its terminal stage, I was surprised to receive extra issues. I called in the customer service worrying if I overlooked the terms and failed to switch off the auto-renew button.

“Sir, those issues are complementary and comes with your one-year subscription”, quipped the man on the other line.

After a couple of weeks, I continued to receive renewal forms packed in white envelopes especially labeled “urgent”, “act now” or other forms of calls to action statements. By that time, I already switched allegiance to National Geographic.

I did not realize that more than a year after receiving my last issue, Newsweek will soon follow the fate of Asiaweek and Moneysaver: shutting down print edition. At least, Newsweek offers online access while those two never lived to see the daylight.

As though ushering the age of digital media just took place, Newsweek’s predecessors made earlier transitions. Seattle Post Intelligencer switched to online version in March 2009.  The revered New York Times made a bold move to pay per access, claiming success afterwards, and proving my initial thoughts on websites ditching ad-supported free pages in favor of paywall wrong. Just last June, Dow Jones positioned SmartMoney as online-only magazine. And did I just mention earlier I have a digital subscription of SCMP?

So as Newsweek marks a countdown to its last printed issue by end of the year, I feel sad. But it doesn’t always mean the paper is conceding defeat — even though admittedly, it’s been losing money for years — only repackaging itself to cater to the taste of modern media consumers.

Price Tag Tricks Consumers Need to Be Aware Of

‘Multiplication and Division’ Price Tags

I need a proof the old price stood before this discounted offer came out.
When shop owners stage their “massive discount” offer, they must think that buyers are compelled to buy because a) this is a once-in-a-lifetime offer of 95% off, a HK$10,000 to HK$500 deal, b) the offer is so irresistible that even if it’s not immediately useful, it may prove its worth later. But who knows this price is just artificially inflated and reduced to the price very close to its original?

I need a proof the old price stood before this discounted offer came out.

Commonly seen: At various types of shops that announce they have a huge, eye-popping sale.

‘Misplaced Products’ Price Tags
These are large price tags that are irresistible from a distance and therefore becomes a magnet for buyers. I noticed this at an H&M shop in Tseung Kwan O, while window shopping with my wife. From afar, the price of a blouse looks attractive. But when we approached it, a fine print below the huge label indicates that the price isn’t for the blouse, but for the shorts found nowhere near the label.

There is a reason why text above price tag is so tiny.
There is a reason why text above price tag is so tiny.[/caption]

Commonly seen: Clothing shops? But I could be wrong.

‘On Sale, Oh Just Kidding’ Price Tags

Look, ma. 0% discount!
Photo credit: Jozelle Gabriel.[/caption]Look, ma. 0% discount!
Photo credit: Jozelle Gabriel.

Just in case our eyes are oriented that the sight of a yellow-labeled product signifies a sale item, let’s try to re-calibratethem. That’s because sometimes we just focus on what a product costs more than how much was cut. In such cases, we could fall prey on a strange tactic: they are no different at all. See the proof below, from a neighborhood 7-Eleven outlet.

Commonly seen: At convenience shops where people go because they need to buy, and don’t care to compare price elsewhere.

Look, ma. 0% discount!
Photo credit: Jozelle Gabriel.
‘Outright Deceptive’ Price Tags

This is probably the most difficult type of price tag deception to deal with. This type of price labeling happens on products that need to pass through the weighing scale such as meat and vegetables. While I see no problem with meat products labeled with price per pound and equivalent price label after being weighed, one experience buying a Taiwan cauliflower at Park N Shop reveals that the price that appears on the package isn’t the actual cost of the commodity. And it didn’t indicate (at least in English terms) the price is per pound. Passing through the cashier, we realized the real value. Hong Kong has its product labeling law, but it’s more about guidelines on printing nutritional values than guidelines on price tagging.

Commonly seen: Supermarkets

Certainly there are various ways shops employ to make their goods look desirable and influence impulse buying: lighting systems, skinny mirrors, product placement and attractive mannequins. But I think pricing products influences greater than all the others. Becoming a smart buyer is easier said than done, but with the examples shared above, we become more discriminating customers.

We know a bit of arithmetic, but still…

Channel News Asia's Japan Quake Business Opportunity

Every event is a business opportunity. This maybe what Channel News Asia thinks all the time. Now that a lot of people are expected to follow the developments of the devastating earthquake that triggered a massive tsunami, CNA had its light bulb moment. Without wasting time, it drafted a sales pitched aimed at advertisers who wish to capture more eyeballs watching the Japan quake / tsunami coverage. As long as there are more people glued to their TV sets watching Channel News Asia, advertisers could pour in and buy ad 30-second ad spots. Regardless of whether it’s a popular TV drama, game show, or in this case a news broadcast.

For its lack of sensitivity, one might ask if CNA management imposed ultra high sales quota on its army of sales personnel. In a forwarded email claimed by the Online Citizen, sales folks reminded potential advertisers that the earthquake in Japan, measured at a massive 8.8 in Richter scale is a good advertising platform via Channel News Asia’s extended coverage.

Not sure if this topic will draw polarized reactions, but personally I see this as an opportunistic attempt to win business at the expense of human tragedy that has drawn attention worldwide. CNA could have simply sent the email without mentioning the Japan quake. Maybe this is a widely acceptable advertising ploy in Singapore, but personally I don’t buy this idea. The email did not mention if Channel News Asia or any news outfit doing the same approach will donate a portion of earnings to the people whose lives are now in danger.

I also wonder what kind of advertisers will this solicitation will draw. Insurance companies helping people realize that such loss could be mitigated if one has covered lives and properties under an insurance premium? Telecom companies who will encourage to buy phone cards and place a call? Or relief organizations who advertise asking for help, instead of using the money to buy blankets, bottled water or boots for the victims?


Source: The Online Citizen

Threatened Filipino Artists Urge Higher Taxes for Foreign Acts

Some Filipino artists are now proposing to the government of a tougher regulation towards foreign artists performing in the Philippines. In an interview with ABS CBN News, singer-composer Ogie Alcasid said it is necessary to impose higher taxes to foreign acts performing in the country.

“We must push for higher taxes on foreign shows and lowering of taxation sa local concerts,” saidni Alcasid, president of Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit (OPM), the “leading and most respected organization of Filipino professional singers in the country,” according to its website.

Earlier, fellow artist Kuh Ledesma urged the government to study a possibility on how to protect the welfare of local artists. Curiously, Alcasid and Ledesma will have separate Valentines concerts so the timing of the request couldn’t be better as foreign talents traditionally come to the Philippines to serenade fans who celebrate the popular occasion. Alcasid proposed that imposing higher taxes to the visitors could help members of the OPM survive the cut-throat competition.

Ledesma’s concert will be held on 12th and 13th of February with Rico J. Puno, Marco Sison, Nonoy Zuñiga, and Rey Valera. Meanwhile, Alcasid will have his concert on Feb. 12 with Pops Fernandez with special guest wife Regine Velasquez.

The group of local artists are worried and feel threatened that public attention has gravitated towards foreign artists who come to the Philippines for concert. Among them are Janet Jackson (Feb 4th), Stephen Bishop, Dan Hill and Yvonne Elliman (Feb 11th), Deftones (Feb 12th), Fra Lippo Lippi’s Per Sorensen (Feb 13th), Taylor Swift (Feb 19th) and Yellowcard (Feb 20th).

Under a democratic regime, fans can select their favorite concerts to attend to. And this could mean the Filipino artists could be left behind in ticket sales, realizing that the concert dates of foreign acts fall close to their performance dates. With expensive tickets, concert goers might save up for their intended event to attend to. And that means giving up the less popular acts in favor of their favored artists.

In a society heavily influenced by foreign media, coupled with deterioration of good quality locally-bred songs, it may be easy to conclude that foreign singers have an edge over their local counterparts. Asking the foreign artists to pay more taxes when performing in the Philippines would then be an unpopular move not only to the artists themselves, but more importantly, to their Filipino fans.

Higher taxes imposed to foreign artists can have multiple consequences. Higher taxes mean more overhead costs in staging an event and this leads to higher likelihood of charging more expensive concert tickets fans will have to bear. In some cases higher taxes could help decide a foreign act not to hold a concert in the country. Governments have introduced higher cigarette taxes to encourage smokers to quit the habit. Imposing higher taxes to foreign acts could discourage them from holding entertainment events in the Philippines. That might bring a smile to members of the OPM. But it will definitely sow anger among concert fans who could miss such once in a lifetime opportunity.

I wonder how will these Filipino singers feel if wish to go abroad and get taxed heavily for being foreign artists. If indeed they would entertain the idea, given their lineup mostly consisting of revival songs of other artists. If you look at the list of OPM members in its website, assuming it is accurate and updated, there are a lot fewer artists in the list. The likes of Rico J Puno, The CompanY, Rivermaya, Sharon Cuneta, Basil Valdez, Freddie Aguilar and Rey Valera, among several others are not in the lineup. Other names in the group look new to me. This Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit group is not as big as I thought.

It’s unfortunate that Filipino fans do not appreciate local talents now as much as they did in the past. But let us not put the blame on them, the radio stations that play foreign music nor the invasion of foreign talent because the root of the problem does not lie within them. Pinoy fans appreciate Filipino music in the past probably because the music singers play then are fresh and original. No wonder the APO Hiking Society, Gary Valenciano and Eraserheads gained popularity not only because they have great stage presence but they sang original tunes. Now, many artists perform songs that they only rehashed from original versions. One member of the OPM group is Jed Madela, whom I often can’t distinguish against superior karaoke singers because they share the same common characteristic: good voice and singing songs they don’t own. Bituin Escalante’s Kung Ako Na Lang Sana is only among a few recent releases I like to listen. In the past there are lots of them. No wonder recycled songs and lame stage presence by certain artists of today only deserve free gate entries.

The same can’t be said when we talk about Super Junior, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, Janet Jackson or The Cure.

The answer to declining concert attendance to Filipino artists is not raising taxes of foreign acts, but improving the quality of local music. Compose new songs that capture the Filipino hearts and build that with charisma that will encourage concert goers like me to go to your concerts and appreciate your music. In the meantime, be open to healthy competition against foreign artists.

Philweb Memories

In not so distant past, I was one ambitious monkey attempting to dive into cyber space at the dawn of the Web. By the time I was officially enrolled in the industry, the unraveling of dotcom bust already took place a dozen timezones behind. But I was glad it happened that way. Otherwise, I could be cultivating a career quite different from what I have now.

After finishing Computer Engineering at UIC, working there wasn’t exactly my plan. However, maybe because I thought it was the safest route to start a career, I’d further my learning by doing BOTH teaching and programming or I was eager to recoup the educational investment I made with my alma mater (yes, I thought about it), it wasn’t a difficult decision to extend my stay at the University.

But after three years, I thought it was enough. So by June 2000, I left UIC at the time when the new school year is starting. (School calendar in the Philippine education system starts in June.) I remembered talking to the school president S. Ma Assumpta David and trying to be firm with my decision. I thought she respected it and didn’t offer to persuade me to stay.

Two weeks of homestay and curtailed income passed before I got a confirmation I was offered a job in Cagayan de Oro City, a good six hour bus ride from Davao City — along the way passing by the house of my future wife. I have relatives in the city where I could stay. And I thought that my journey of hundreds (or thousands of miles) should begin with this step, no matter if it’s more than just a single one.

Thanks to Rizza R., a childhood friend and neighbor who referred me to the job, and an employee leaving the company, I got in. Interestingly, I realized that this reunion marks another milestone between me and Rizza. We went to the same grade school together. We were classmates in high school. And we took the same course in UIC. Now, we’re colleagues. I also came to know a few more in the office. Candice C., Shelley S., Roy Y., Meg V., Kent, D., Alex, Chui O., Edward N., Sir Chavs and Jimmar R. Our office was at Fr. Masterson Avenue, in the third floor of a building called White House because of its immaculate white painting that stands out of the neighborhood.

We’re only about ten people in the office, so it was really an intimate group. We shared lunch together. My aunt Flora prepares packed lunch so I had no problem waking up early and cooking my food. But at times I just want to try what colleagues want to have for lunch. I remember buying mongo at a house located near the office. At work, it’s not unusual to play MP3 from a PC with Winamp; we only got to play what we want to hear. During this time, downloading music through Napster was still prevalent.

In my effort to be with the family every week, I take the Rural Transit bus on Friday nights and arrive in Davao at about 7 in the morning the following day. As I get home, I hit the bed immediately and wake up at about 11, just in time for lunch. I know I had only a few hours left before I pack my things and make the return trip to Cagayan de Oro. By Sunday afternoon, I am already at Ecoland terminal waiting for my bus to leave Davao.

After work, we sometimes hang out at a friend’s house or we ate dinner together. We played Starcraft a lot! I guess we had a lot of plans that time, like going to the beach or other type of adventure. Unfortunately, they didn’t materialize because I was recalled to the Manila office. I thought the move was killjoy. But I realized this was the reason I left UIC.

Cagayan de Oro was a favorite city of mine. As a kid, we go for summer vacation prelude to the exciting Bohol adventure. For some reason I remember urging my mother if I could study high school there. But the idea was frowned upon, and now I can’t imagine why I made that absurd request. Apart from meeting my relatives (mother’s side), my job in Cagayan de Oro also gave me the opportunity to meet my aunt Sylvia a few years before she died of cancer.

In the office we built this e-commerce suite called e-Padala. I thought the system was promising (Oracle database and competent Meg V. as DBA) but the execution was poor. Procedures were lax at best (not scalable, no strict coding practice and a nightmare system to take over, from an incoming I was asked to move to Manila to finish things.

While it wasn’t my first time to go to Manila, I was still mesmerized by its size. I was with Meg and Sir Deck P. reassigned in Philweb in the posh Enterprise Tower in Makati. Staring at tall buildings was overwhelming — not that they’re taller than Hong Kong skyscrapers — and you’d feel you’re a small dot in a big organization. No longer the easy going lifestyle I enjoyed at the White House. In Manila, you have to hurry up. Even if our office is just one jeepney — or a ticycle if you wake up a bit late — ride away.

Our staff house was located along Estrella Avenue, near Rockwell. It wasn’t big (in fact we were crowding in the rooms), but good enough for newcomers in the city. It has air conditioning unit that’s loud enough to wake you up at night. (I have to say many of my house mates snore in their sleep, so if you’re among last to hit the bed, good luck.) My stay at the Estrella staff house also revealed Metro Manila’s weakness. One of the strongest typhoons in the year left Manila flooded and us unable to leave the staff house. Ironically, as water was everywhere down the street our faucet couldn’t produce a drop of water. We had to rely on bottled water as tap water has become an unreliable source. This reminds me of Davao City, where water flowing out of our tap is safe for drinking and buying bottled water was considered a crazy idea. And we seldom experience waterless faucets too.

In the morning colleagues just rush to the bathroom and head to work in a hurry. Many of us just take our breakfast on the road, or at the fast food area (notably Jollibee) of The Enterprise Tower. For dinner I usually eat at the fastfood at Landmark on my own. This made me miss my mother’s cooking. I was always told that in Manila, every move you make costs money. I guess having this dinner instead of enjoying the company of family members and homemade cooking is part of it. From a predictable life at the UIC campus in May to a new layer of freedom in CDO in July and a chaotic Manila in September, this is the break I’ve been waiting for.

If I accomplished something, it was not seeing the beta version of e-Padala but in landing another job at Zurich Insurance at nearby Citibank Tower. When I told Sir Chavs via instant messaging that I have something to share by the time I return to CDO in October, he already understood I was leaving. I did not only bid farewell to colleagues I only got to work with for two and a half months. I also had to bid goodbye to my aunt Flora and uncle Lito as I packed my clothes and take the evening bus trip to Davao.

Chicken Feet Soup With Papaya, Carrots and Dried Longan

Winter in Hong Kong may not be cold but its chilly weather condition makes one wish there is a soup dish available in the table during dinner time. Chinese people themselves like to have soup dishes no matter what the weather is.

Chicken feet to some may not be appealing, but when properly washed and mixed with appropriate ingredients can be an appetizing item on the table.

6 pcs chicken feet
300 grams pork bones
1 medium sized papaya
sliced ginger
few pieces of dried longans
1 pc big carrot

Salt and sugar

1. Wash the chicken feet and cut the nail. Scald with sliced ginger in hot water and drain.

2. Blanch the pork bones and drain.

3. Peel off the papaya skin and discard the seed. Cut it into big cubes.

4. Boil water in the pot and place all ingredients. Lower the temperature and boil it for around one hour.

5. Season with sugar and salt to taste.

Another CNN Typo

I visit more BBC pages and spend more time reading its news stories than CNN’s. But again I found another glaring typo, this time just appearing in the homepage. Should I rename this blog as CNNwatch? CNN should look into the welfare of their editors who may be overworked and to sleepy to correct “terroism” into “terrorism”.

Again I better watch my typos before I do pick on others. But I think my blog has less than ten views a day and I am not paid to proofread it. Do they say news should be accurate and factual? The news items at CNN may be factual (I am not anti-CNN) but these little misspellings bring down CNN’s reputation. Errors

I subscribe to BBCNews, Star Sports, ESPN and Star World because of my limited viewing time. Another reason is that these channels have quality content suitable to my requirements, both on cable and online.

BBC News remains a favorite channel (I love their pumping melody during news headlines) and is an “unselfish” news source which provides links of the same headline to other news web sites without loading the annoying new window.

ESPN is definitely a favorite (I would have chosen only this one if the package did not bundle ESPN with Star Sports). The web site is just awesome, leading others into the next generation sports journalism.

And while I stick to these channels most of the time, I get a glimpse of other sites like Fox, CNN and NBC. has been a good source as well, though I think the presentation is more Americanized than being international.

In terms of quality, has dipped a bit lately. When was reading an article about ABC’s Bob Woodruff injury, I found an error in the caption of the second photo. It says “ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff in a fire photo. The network reported he briefly opened his eyes Monday.” The “fire” should be “file”. It’s good though that errors can easily be reported (you need three clicks though to reach the wrong spelling feedback page) and I did my fair share of keeping it accurate as possible.

Indeed it is easy to spot the mistake of others than to keep myself from having one.

Being Proud of Filipino Creativity

I found one link in our company intranet blog posted by Dwayne, our Creative Director about the Filipino ingenuity. It is a very heartwarming story that I never hesitated to post my comments about it.

While Filipino contribution to the world hasn’t been prominent (talk about Wright brothers and Isaac Merritt Singer from America, Austrian Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Russia’s Vladimir Kosma Zworykin and Ivan Pavlov, Britain’s Britain’s Richard Trevithick, Italian pizza or India’s curry, Swiss cheese and French wine) Filipino workforce is more widely-known for dedication to job, creativity and appreciation for work.

Photo shows a weaving shop filled with busy Pinoy workers weaving some creative products, most of which will find their way to the glitzy boutiques of Parish, London and Tokyo. It’s true that many Filipino ideas have been sold to and patented foreign companies for mass use. This is mainly attributed to the failure of the government to support such product which could have benefited the Filipino people by generating jobs, boosting investor confidence and retaining the honor to the name of the inventor rather than the wealthy conglomerate.

And even if the government is often at the receiving end of endless blaming, many of its agencies work hard despite the usual problems such as logistics and camaraderie among its people. One of which is CITEM which serves as facilitator among manufacturers and buyers. The result has once again proven that Filipinos don’t need expensive machineries to come up with quality design. Especially in the furniture world, the work of hand has dominated the ones that are built by machines; a clear indication that nothing beats the old hand.

In a country more known for its domestic helpers and chaotic South than skilled laborers and serene beaches, this news is definitely a shot in the arm, an inspiration that shows little-known hardworkers share the dream of a prosperous nation, and not just the overseas Filipino workers.

PHOTO CREDITS: William Gordon. Originally published at