Les Petits Contes

About life's little observations, which matter. About hilarious situations, which illuminate. About stories which offer immense possibilities, open endings, different interpretations and perspectives.

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Location: Singapore

A nature lover; sun-worshipper, manic book-collector, dessert-devourer and a magnet for hazards

Friday, January 16, 2009

Thanks for the Complications


Greed, greed, greed
All I wanted to get was a box of Pro-gastro 8 from GNC. At the cashier, the sales assistant asked if I would like to take a second item, to enjoy ‘’special Chinese New Year promotion - discount of 25% for the fist item and 35% for the second’’ if I buy at least two items.

So I took a bottle of MSM. She said I should buy another bottle of ‘’joint food’’ first in order to enjoy a heftier discount for the MSM.

OK, so I got a bottle of Glucosamine and paid for all three. Then she said, ‘’why don’t you get a second item and maybe a third and fourth item’’ to enjoy the 25, 35, 45 and 50 per cent for subsequent items? I told her I already had three items – Pro-gastro 8, MSM and Glucosamine. But she said they latter two are not ‘’included’’. According to her, it was much more ‘’worth it’’ – if I got a bottle of some other joint food and then get the MSM for only $12, instead of using the 35% discount. There is a separate discount scheme going on for joint foods.

‘’Look, I really don’t need any more MSM and Glucosamine. I came here for Pro-gastro 8. Let me get one more box of that and be done with the 25 and 35 per cent. Please cancel the first payment and re-do this,’’ I told her.

It’s time we went back to basics. Give what the consumer needs. And consumers really don’t need to have a PhD in arithmetic or marketing/ price strategies when they shop. Maybe I am ‘’stupid’’ or do not know what is ‘’value buys’’, but heck – do you call it savings when all you need is one item and you end up buying 3, or 4 items, all thanks cunning retailer’s appeal to ‘’greed’’?

Fake, fake, fake
I laughed to myself as I stared at the display. Haven’t I just returned from ‘’tea country’’ yesterday, with enough tea to open a tea shop, and here I am today, in yet another tea boutique at TWG?! I could not resist taking a photo with my cell phone, to send to my friend who had just gone to Sri Lanka with me.

‘’You are not allowed to take pictures here, ‘’ barked a coffin faced, steely eyed blond woman. Instead of apologizing for not asking for permission, I was too taken by her cold bloodedness and the contempt in her blue eyes. All I could mutter was, ‘’oh, why’’.

‘’Because you are not allowed. My boss said so. If you want, you can talk to him,’’ she pressed on, almost wanting to shred me to smithereens with her fangs. ‘’OK, call him then,’’ I told her, trying to match her coolness.

While she turned away to make a call, another blond sauntered over. ‘’You want to take a photo? It is not permitted, it’s our exclusive design’’. At least he bothered to elaborate.

I told him, ‘’look, first of all, you did not put up a sign, like what some shops do, to say photography is not allowed. Secondly, even though I had forgotten to ask, you could have been more polite.’’

‘’But we are very polite, we told you not to take photos,’’ he argued back.

‘’Fine, if that’s what you call polite – barking and arguing - then you lost a potential customer,’’ and I marched off, leaving behind my colleague there to browse around.

Who gave you permission to give me permission? Ok, it’s your shop, but it’s customer’s patronage that pays your wages, don’t forget. What exclusive design? What hypocrisy – with all that fake pretend history and bourgeoisie? And hiring French blonds to be condescending to locals?

I told this to my French friend, whose office is just next door. He laughed, ‘’oh, if I miss some French arrogance, I can now just go over and get a taste of it – right here in Singapore!’’ And when he finally took a peep – his first remark, was, ‘’what exclusive design? Isn’t this a copy cat of the world famous Mariage Freres’’?

I could not believe why I bothered to waste my time there, when I have had such an educational experience at the tea factories and plantations in Kandy learning about what real tea is, who are those who did the ‘’packaging’’ and marketing, and what are the fakes vs the real thing. The tea brands of the world all get their tea (over 90% at least) from Sri Lanka – OP1, BOP, BOPI, FBOP, etc. The plants here then send sample packages to tea tasters, and then an auction is conducted for merchandisers of tea brands, who then do the packaging and fancy flavouring – earl grey, ginger, honey, strawberry, etc etc…for marketing.

The higher the altitude, the lighter the tea. The lower plantations yield darker tea. The darker teas are served with milk. Yes, you can add milk to tea. Milk enhances the taste of the stronger teas. In Sri Lanka, the bigger tea brands like Mlesna and Dilmah package, flavour and market their own teas for retail too. Still, they are purists, by Asian standards.

As my friend and I wandered in their shops, we could not help but say, ‘’in Singapore we would have come up with gimmicks like tea flavoured cookies, cakes, pastries and sweets to sell too. But no. At the Mlesna Tea Castle’s café, they served (damned good) tea and good old practical sandwiches to fill a hungry traveller’s stomachs!

Sophistication, sophistication, sophistication
It used to be so simple exchanging Amex reward points for supermarket vouchers. All I had to do was give letters issued by Amex and my credit card to the counter staff at Cold Storage Centrepoint, or Holland Village. She makes a record on a notebook, issues the vouchers and off I went – all within two minutes max.

This time, I gave the same letters to the counter staff at the new fangled, sparkly hi tech and intimidating building with impossibly ugly names like ‘’Fusionopolis’’ (and annexes like ‘’Connexis’’ and ‘’Symbiosis’’.

The counter staff at the largely empty supermarket asked for my ID (isn’t it more logical to tally with my credit card instead?), checked and then disappeared for an eternity behind a door marked ‘’Staff only’’.

After a long wait a security guard came over and asked, ‘’yes?’’. I told him I was waiting for someone.

Much later the counter staff came out with three vouchers and led me to Q at another cashier, behind a few shoppers. The cashier finally asked, ‘’yes?’’, despite the staff having plonked the vouchers in front of her. I pointed at the vouchers, as she ceremoniously took each of them to scan the bar code. Satisfied finally with the sophisticated sounding beeps, she then handed them to me. All this, in 15 long minutes, despite the efficiency that ‘’technology’’ and this ‘’modern’’ building and facilities promised.

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