Thursday, November 29, 2007

Keeping Christmas

Veinte-tres tulog na lang at Pasko na!

It pains me to hear people say that this Christmas will be a sad one because they don't have money. Christmas, they say, won't be the same because there will be less food on the table, no new dress and shoes, no gifts, etc, etc, etc. CNN anxiously reports that people are spending less for Christmas gifts compared to previous years.

Since when did we need money, lots of foods, new clothes and shoes, gifts galore and other material things to celebrate Christmas?

When I was younger, the centerpiece of our Christmas celebration was precisely the commemoration of the birth of Christ. We made plans for attending the Misa de Gallo so that we could take the good seats in the church and enjoy the two-hour high Mass. We took a long afternoon nap, neatly laid down our Sunday's best to wear for the Mass and check our secret cache of gifts for family. For the Media Noche, we had real thick tsokolate ah, quezo de bola, Excelente ham and hot pandesal. Then simple gifts were exchanged among family members and friends in attendance. Then, we made the rounds of relatives in the neighborhood, kissed their hands and, hope for the best gift or a certain amount of money. The morning after was spent going around the neighborhood kissing the hands of adult neighbors with hope of receiving some money-gifts. At the Christmas dinner table, everybody recounted their happy experience during the pleasurable day.

Now, that didn't require a lot of money. It only required all the faith.

We could be frugal and still find bliss in remembering the birth of Christ. For me one word captures the spirit of Christmas—giving. Giving of oneself, be it material, talent, skill or spiritual.

Gather family, friends and work mates and give of yourself to your church, your community, your school, your less fortunate co-employees, charitable organizations, your park, to whoever could use what you have and are happy to share.

Pro-Life Philippines will be happy to have extra hands in their various projects such as their halfway home for unwed pregnant girls. You could volunteer to teach them some livelihood skills like bead making to give them something to work on to support their incoming child. Or share your own and your children's clothes and things. Or simply hold their hands and encourage them to keep their baby and move on.

The Scouting movement, Red Cross Philippines, Caritas Manila and other such organizations would be happy to work with volunteers in their numerous projects. Don't just give money—that's an easy thing to do. God gave more than he could—he gave His only Son to us.

Get your neighbors together and clean up the public areas and facilities in your community—streets, park, Chapel and others. Volunteer to clean up the public day care center, elementary and high schools to make them more conducive to learning. Give the housekeeping staff a break and much needed extra hand instead of simply giving them your usual gifts. Donate your children's used books and some of your own for the teachers. For decorations, please emphasize the Nativity and lessen those that commercialize Christmas.

Organize Christmas Caroling Evenings one hour every evening starting tonight until Christmas Eve. Ask your neighbors to gather at a certain hour at a certain place in your neighborhood, bring with them any portable musical instrument they could use and start singing. You could prepare the song list with lyrics. Or in your office, stop working 15 minutes before knock-off time and every body sings Christmas carols until you all go home. The children would love this. The idea is to spread the word around, but it won't hurt to put a bowl nearby for your neighbors to drop some money into it—you could use the money towards other Christmas projects.

Stage a Nativity play or tableau and enlist your neighbors or officemates as actors. This will not only remind everybody about the real Christmas, but it will also be a venue for thespians in your team to showcase their talents.

Meanwhile Theody Dimaisip sends a invite to the final run of the highly acclaimed play, Dogeaters, based on Jessica Hagedorn's best selling novel about the Philippines during the dark days of Marcos reign. For show details, pls call Atlantis Production at 8401187 or Ticketworld at 8915610.

Again, let's fill ourselves with the spirit of Christmas and enjoy the season with giving of ourselves just like Jesus.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Five, Six, Seven, Eight, CLICK!

Anywhere you go, here or abroad, you are likely to see Filipino tourists merrily posing for their camera. Every adult member of the Filipino family, and some teeners, would likely own a camera. Every OFW family would have a camera or two.

We have this narcissistic fascination for our own image and nostalgic remembrances of places, occasions, material possessions and others. In my younger days, I used to go to Velez Studio in San Juan whenever I have a new hairdo or dress or whatever. We don't just take pictures of views and interesting subjects; we must be in the picture as well.

So Picture City was put up by Eliseo Santos, erstwhile president of Camera World, and his family with some loyal colleagues, to indulge this picture-mania of Filipinos.

PC has now 60 company-owned branches in malls from Baguio to Davao. They choose to locate in malls because from their studies people tend to go to malls for their one-stop shopping, including printing of their pictures—maybe because of airconditioning and parking facilities.

Ronnie Almestas, vice president for operations of Picture City, says that their customers span the wide cross section of the economy, from A to Z, depending on the location of the branch. Their main customers are the Overseas Filipino Workers families. Ronnie says they have the disposable income (compared to the average working class) to spend on cellphones, digital cameras and related products. Many don't have their personal computers so they have their pictures developed and printed and send them to their working parents or siblings abroad. Every day, millions of Filipinos wanting to work abroad or renewing their contracts also require ID pictures for passport, visa and other travel documents.

But competition is rather fierce according to Ronnie. They are competing for the same pie. Since the income of OFWs was diminished (by at last 25%) because of the appreciation of the peso and depreciation of the dollar, their disposable income has considerably shrank.

Their second big customers are the yuppies and students who are very fond of group pictures whether there is an occasion or none at all (basta! Try mo.). Some of them can now also afford to buy inexpensive cameras like Taiwan-made Brica and Aipek whose price range is from Php4,000 to Php10,000. "Basta mayroon lang kaming digital camera."

OFWs prefer the high-end cameras like Canon, Olympus, Samsung, Pentax as they are familiar with these brands abroad. Also those who have "arrived" or salaried employees who have had promotions in position and pay tend to upgrade their camera to signal and "feel" their success. The few can-affords tend to go to trendy stores.

Ronnie says that even sales of their major products such as picture developing and printing, studio (ID, passport and portrait) and film, batteries, memory card, frames and albums have noticeably weakened. Developing and printing have declined because most customers now use digital camera and they store their pictures in computers and CDs and choose only a few for printing. Before, if they have a 12- or 36-shot film in their analog camera, they have no choice but to have everything printed because they could not see the pictures before developing.

Canon still makes analog cameras in limited number and so do small companies in Taiwan and Thailand. There are now also digital albums and home-printers like Canon Selpxy. Copies are more expensive, but people choose to print their own for convenience and instant printing—like the good old Polaroids.

In fact, Ronnie informs, Kodak has closed all their factories for film and paper except one big plant in China. Konika closed their film and paper factory a long time ago. Agfa is now only a brand to remember. Japan's Fuji and Mitsubishi are still operating but, in the future, these two companies need to go into cross production to survive. That is, one can do the paper and the other the finishing; solo factories are not profitable in the long run.

Ronnie cites a case in point is Picture City's branch in DasmariƱas, Cavite—expected to make a killing in film sales because it is in the provincial area. Years ago, it sold 3,000 rolls a month; now it is only selling about 600 rolls/month or 20 rolls a day and waning. Their branches in Manila are definitely only selling about ten rolls a day on a lucky day. Digital camera rules!

To increase per person consumption and keep their customers coming back, they offer very competitive prices and special promos. Moreover they are very finicky about quality of their printed pictures. Every morning and all throughout the day, they use only quality chemicals and follow set-up procedures by the book, no shortcuts. They also do spot checks and other management control processes.

Check them out. With a little prodding they can make you look like a movie star in your next ID picture.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Issues in sourcing from China

Part of the Mega Macau Trade Show last month was a lecture by China business expert Francis Yuk of Intertek Group PLC on the subject "Critical Issues in Sourcing from China: Product Safety and Quality."

Yuk said that the whole of China is busy as a bee manufacturing all imaginable sundry products. But I might say, there isn't much creativity there and most of their products are not original designs except for their native handicrafts and arts.

In South China, particularly Guandong Province, they make toys, children play articles, lighting products, electronics, textiles, precious stone jewelry and others. In the Shanghai Delta, Central China, they make electrical appliances, plush toys, home textiles, silk and other textiles. Custom-made fashion jewelry and apparel to name a few are made in Tianjin, Qingdao in North "China. And there are thousand more factories in Dalian, Harbin, in North Easter China and Szechuan, Inland China.

That is why there is a growing number of Chinese billionaires and millionaires and many of them have made Macau their playground. Macau thrives on wealthy tourists from Mainland China. Even in the plush The Venetian there are very few English speaking hotel employees except for their Filipino expatriates. Why bother when their VIPs are mostly Chinese. Macau is beautiful, but the language barrier is excruciatingly frustrating. Even their facial expression and body language are inscrutable. The only means of communication they understand, when dealing with non-Chinese visitors, is the calculator. And when they, likewise, become frustrated because they couldn't understand you either, they simply shoo you away. But Macau people are generally gentle and courteous. But their drivers seem to be practicing for the Macau Grand Prix all the time—crossing streets is terrifying. published a special report (Russell Flannery 11.01.07) on China's 400 Richest: Another increasingly common "Made in China" item: money, and lots of it. We found 66 billionaires while researching our China rich list this year, up from 15 last year. The total net worth of the 400 richest people in China is $288 billion, up from $116 billion a year ago. Still, the future looks bright for China's richest. Of the 40 richest, all but two built their fortunes from scratch. After all, many of these young entrepreneurs (average age 46, versus 66 for the Forbes 400) have much of their lives ahead of them. Read more at

Yuk identified ways to get ahead in the global supply chain; namely, price, product safety and quality, product innovation, quick response and service. Hands-down China wins with very competitively low price and quick response (According to the manufacturers I talked with, they can manufacture and deliver in 1-3 months.). The big pulldown for China-made products are product innovation, product safety and quality and service. You've heard about those horrendous stories about deaths among children using toys made in China and many others cases of safety and health related product recall.

The Chinese government response to these cases, according to Yuk, is that "Chinese Foreign Ministry sets up climate change international working group." (??????)

Yuk says that many countries have reacted with mandatory regulations and standards for imports from China. USA has activated their Consumer Product Safety Commission, American Society for Testing and Materials, Food and Drug Administration and California Proposition 65. This Christmas many American children will miss their favorite toys and things. Canada has instituted their Canada Hazardous Products Regulations and Canada Hazardous Products Act. Britain, Australia & New Zealand are sticking on their own Standards. Germany has activated its Lebensmittle-, Bedarfsgegenstande-und Futtermittelgesetzbuch, DIN.

On the other hand, Philippine authorities are resolving this issue of unsafe and poor quality China-made products in newspaper release, but when you go around shopping malls and big department stores, including those in Divisoria and Baclaran, you see nothing but China-made products in bright colors (lead and formaldehyde fortified?). Could it be that the rejects of the Western countries are being dumped here?

For legitimate exporters of China-made products Yuk suggests testing in every step of the supply chain—raw material testing, pre-production testing, mass-production testing, pre-shipment testing and on-site random testing. Will our local exporters be willing to undertake and underwrite these tests to ensure that the products they are offering to their Filipino customers are safe, high quality and provide warranty and after sales service.