Just Ad Water

October 25, 2005

Politicians looking like newscasters Elections were held in Argentina on Sunday and Kirchner (the incumbant president) won in a landslide. However, mainly what interests me in Argentine politics are the ads. Here in Mendoza I have been enjoying two in particular.

This first ad features local candidates, although I saw it a dozen times before I realized it was a political ad. At first I thought they were newscasters. It makes sense. People trust newscasters. After all their job is to tell you the truth. People are less trusting of politicians. The obvious solution is to make your politicians look like the channel 3 news team. Brilliant!

Political ad from Mendoza, Argentina with the Slogan: Bueno. Conocido.Here is the second ad. De Marchi looks like he might be a newscaster too. After all he bills himself as: “Bueno. Conocido.” or in English: “Good. Known.” That strikes me as over simplifying things even for a politician.

I can not really explain why all these ads amuse me so much, but I think it comes from being completely unaware of, or interested in, the politics. This disinterested perspective leaves me looking at just the execution of the ads.

This is actually true to a lesser extent of all the advertising I see. Seeing advertising in Spanish makes me really see the words and phrases individually. Things that I have long since accepted as reasonable in English show there true silly pompousness in Spanish.¨”Nothing but the best for you, etc”.

I have been collecting some sample photos that I’ll post soon.

What time is dinner?

October 20, 2005

It is Saturday, four minutes past midnight at La Lucia - Sandwichs & Bar. Our waiter, a college student type clad in a red T shirt and jeans, hustles over to take an order from a party of six people that have just taken a table by the french doors which open on to Mendoza’s bar district.

The table includes a trim man in his mid-thirties with his pregnant wife and their four year old daughter, an energetic mass of fluffy pink perched in a high chair. They are accompanied by a couple in their late sixties who I imagine are their parents and a cheerless woman, who I conclude must be a sister or sister-in-law of the mother.

There is a steady dance beat audible just below the dinner chatter, periodic cries of toddlers and the constant clank of plates and glasses. A young couple in the corner smoke an endless chain of cigarettes just a few feet from a mother rocking her baby while she eats. Three 18 year old girls baring midriff and cleavage traipse in looking for a table, there are none to be had.

The waiters deal out large flat steak sandwiches to a hungry family of eight and then hurry back to the kitchen for toasted ham and cheese sandwiches for a couple in their twenties. We have been sitting with half eaten plates pushed to the far end of the table for nearly an hour, and the waiter has walked by 20 times and not said a word to hurry us out. By our side, a family with three children under 10 years old waits for a table. After all it is only 12:30 AM, what’s the rush?

This is so Argentina! At 8 PM most restaurants haven’t even opened for the evening and no Argentine waiter ever brings the bill until you ask for it. It is not just acceptable to linger for an hour after you finish eating, it is expected. Thank goodness, because the scene is great!

Nevertheless, it is late for us and we are tired. As we get up to leave and I step over a stroller, I am stuck by how different from the US this is. The teenagers getting an early start, couples in their twenties and thirties, pregnant mothers and their multigenerational families all enjoying the cool evening, eating and drinking together late into the night, they are all comfortable together.

As we walk home I wonder what would cause the most outrage in the US? The teenagers just getting started with their drinking at 12:30 AM? No, surely the huge number of children in a bar past midnight would be worse. What about chain smoking near the pregnant mother? I can’t really be sure, but I’m glad to be in Argentina where no one seems to bat an eye.

See more photos of the La Lucia.

Getting high in Argentina

October 17, 2005

Jonathan and Soyan in the snow. Moving from Hyatt to hostel was quite a change. Rather than business poeple and couples, we shared our hostel with budget travellers and Chilean students on a “Senior Trip” AKA drunk fest. It was nice to chat with a few other travellers after leaving our very pleasant Hyatt cocoon. We spent two days getting to know Mendoza, since we had barely seen it while we had been at the Hyatt. Then we tried to figure out how to get high. We weren´t looking for drugs from our budget travelling brethren. We were in search of altitude to help us train for Kilimanjaro.

We flipped through a book of available excursions and booked 2 days of trekking in the mountains north of Mendoza. I should have been clued in that the suggested gear list included snow shoes.

The next morning, we took a van 2 hours north of Mendoza to the San Antonio Refugio at 8,446 feet. This is slightly more than 3000 feet above Denver, but nothing like Seth´s visit to Everest base camp.

Our guide looked at our boots with a hint of concern but pronounced them OK and than asked if we’d like to rent gators. I always thought gators looked silly and doubted that they served any useful purpose, but she seemed sincere. I noticed that the other couple going with us had gators on so we agreed to rent them. As we set out I noticed that our guide wasn´t wearing any gators and I wondered if I had been had.

I didn’t wonder long. We set out to climb to Andrecitos Summit with our guide and and another nice couple. After about 600 vertical feet the terrain turned from dry, rocky scrub to slushy snow and run off creeks everywhere. Many of the creeks run right under under the snow. They remain invisible until somebody heavy enough puts a foot down and locates it for the group.

This was the first time I had really hiked in the snow. I had seen snow before hiking in Colorado and in Nevada I had to cross 100 meters of snow from an avalanche shoot. This was different. This was crossing countless muddy creeks and hours of hiking with every step in snow, some times up to my knees and ocassionally to my hips. I now clearly understood why people want gators.

On both the climb and the descent we spent a little time looking for a geocache nearby. The altitude, the terain and the need to be back down for our fellow hikers to catch a bus prevented us from finding it. For those of you not familiar with geocaching, it is a sort of GPS assisted treasure hunt. You can read about it at geocaching.com and I’ll write more about it in the future.

At the end of the day, our boots were unsurprisingly soaked! A little ingenuity resulted in a way to dry them above our room heater for the next day.

The next day we were alone with our guide and it I realized that there had only been four pairs gators to spare the day before, so our guide had given up her gators for us the day before. Some moducum of faith in mankind was restored. Gators in place, we set out on a steep climb gaining 1100 feet in just 3/4 of a mile. Our final destination for the day was a high plane (10,580 feet) used as a camping spot for summit attempts of the nearby peaks. It was a hard hike up, but once we had some lunch I felt like I could have kept on going, but we had a bus to catch and so we headed down.

This is where I discovered the joy of hiking in the snow. The descent was a breeze. We dropped 1700 feet in 45 minutes. The snow acted as a shock absorber and a brake letting me practically skip down the mountain. Of course every now and again a leg would suddenly vanish up to the hip. Nonetheless, I was sorry to see the snow end because walking on the loose rock was a lot more work.

The scenery was beautiful and gave me a little taste of what hiking in the snow is like. With Kilimanjaro just 10 weeks away, I am going to need a lot more to get ready. So we’ll keep looking for ways to get high.

Soyan has written about our hike here.

Rain nor sleet nor snow…

October 12, 2005

Argentine Postal Worker Rain nor sleet nor snow will stop the mail, but don´t put any tape on it, or there is going to be a problem!

One of the things I really like about travel is how it makes me look at even the most mundane activities with a fresh perspective. I recently discovered an interesting variant of Dominoes where the dominoes go up to 9/9 (instead of 6/6), and being a fan of all sorts of games I bought a set for $12.50. Since they weigh a kilo (2.2 lbs) and I didn´t want to carry them around I went to the post office this morning to mail them home. What could be more mundane?

The post office itself was very much like the large impressive marble palaces built in the US during the WPA. Inside it was crowded with dozens of people paying phone bills, registering to vote for the election here at the end of the month, and wiring money. Of course I immediately looked for the longest line knowing it would be the one I needed. I was not disappointed. I left Soyan in line and went up to make sure that it was the right line, and to find out what packaging or paperwork I might need so I did not have to wait in line a second

The postal worker explained that they only provided envelopes for express mail, which he estimated would cost $30.00, but I could send it regular mail for about $10.00, however I would need to go across the street and buy an envelope. I left Soyan in line and went to get an envelope. I was first offered an 9×12 padded envelope that looked like it would work well, but I´d need to fold the envelope over and tape it up so the dominoes didn´t move around and break through the package. The salesman explained that the post office would not accept it folded up like that, so I inquired about a smaller envelope. He
told me that the dominoes wouldn´t fit in the smaller envelope, but eventually he let me try and they indeed fit perfectly.

I used the single use self sealing closure on the envelope and sealed it up. Given the width of the dominoes it put a little pressure on the closure and I asked for some tape to close it. The salesman looked sheepish and explained that I had to seal the envelope in the presence of the postal worker to avoid running afoul of postal export rules. I bought a second envelope while he explained that in addition to not folding my envelope, I could not apply tape of any sort to it.

I thanked him, addressed my envelope and hustled over to get to Soyan before she got to the head of the line. I praised myself for the efficient use of time and for having figured out the system.

When it was our turn I approached the postal worker and presented my dominoes and envelope. He looked at them and asked me if they´d fit and I assured him they would. He put them in and sealed the package. I told him I worried that it might open the way it was. He told me that I need not worry and gave a gentle tug on the seal to demonstrate the needlessness of my concern. Of course the seal responded by tearing part way open.

I suggested that perhaps we could apply some tape. He explained that if the package had tape, it would be an indication that someone had tampered with it and resealed it. Then he looked quizzically at the partially open seal and wandered off. He returned a moment later with a loop of tape around the package and stamped the tape with a rubber stamp that I suspected was likely to rub off on some other package almost immediately.

I thanked him for his assistance and he told me that it would take more than thanks, I would need to pay to send my package. I assured him that it was in fact my intent to pay.

He asked me if I´d like to send it quickly or slowly and I told him that minimizing cost was the primary consideration rather than speed. He told me that it would cost $25.00 “certificado”. I protested that the estimate had been $10.00. After some consultation with an adjacent postal worker he agreed to check the price for sending it “regular”. It was $23.00. Apparently the weight of my padded envelope caused me to exceed the magic 1 kilo limit and bumped up the price.

I sprung for the “certificado” paying twice as much to ship my dominoes home as I had paid to buy them.

Mystery Shopping: Secret Agent Man

October 11, 2005

Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

Fly to a fine hotel. Stay for a couple of nights. Eat at all the resturants and have a drink at the bar. Be sure to lay by the pool and visit the gym. Finally, stop by the casino and do some gambling. We will pick you up at the airport and pay for everything.

Sounds great so far.

Then answer 2,118 multiple choice questions and prepare detailed narratives of everything you have done, carefully noting and commenting on any deviation from the exhaustive standards of an international corporation committed to consistant worldwide excellence. Be sure to include the name, height, age and hair color of each and every bellhop, housekeeper, server, bartender, dealer, cashier, pool attendent, shop keeper, valet, driver and concierge you come into contact with. Note their greeting and whether they smiled. Did they thank you and ask you to come back again? In the resturant were you offered a beverage (other than water) within 2 minutes of being seated? In the casino, did they announce and wait for approval on every bill change of $100? Were dirty towels by the pool stored out of sight of guests? Do all the faucets in all the bathrooms work? Are there at least 10 hangers of which 5 are skirt hangers and are there additional satin hangers in your closet? Were the lights dimmed and music left on after turndown service? Is the sign for the ice machine clearly visible and clean? Was your request for a wake up call answered within 3 rings? Was the call itself delivered with in 3 minutes of the requested time?

Now you are beginning to get the idea of what it means to be a mystery shopper.

I have spent the last few days at the Park Hyatt, in Mendoza, Argentina as a guest of the management, but not even my hosts knew I was there. I am pleased to report that even though it was a long weekend, one of the busiest leisure weekends on record according to the Buenos Aires Herald, and the hotel was completely full every night, it was a wonderful place to be. Like any large organization with scores of employees, not everybody was perfect and not every service was flawless, but in general it was excellent. That is hardly a surprise from an organization committed enough to hire a company to send people around the world monthly to visit and evaluate their hotels.

Businesses large and small talk about a commitment to customer service. The very best organizations actually mean it! From small independent restaurants to large multinational chains they hire companies to “shop them”. Mystery shopping companies, like Service Sleuth, have an army of detailed-oriented note takers willing to go under cover and tell companies how they are really doing.

My assignment was admittedly a plum! You´ll generally have to start at the bottom, driving to a furniture store in the sticks on a Sunday to report on how they are doing. If you prove yourself as careful, punctual and reliable you´ll soon find yourself getting paid a few bucks (and more importantly having your expenses covered) while you go to the movies or out to eat.

As a business owner, I believe that if you can´t measure, you can´t manage. Mystery shopping is the tool that lets businesses measure. As an individual, I love the idea of getting something for nothing, but each and every time I do a shop, I am struck by how much work it is. Soyan and I have together spent atleast 40 hours completing the detailed evaluation forms, and that doesn´t even take into account all the time doing the actual evaluations, but if you´d like to take a shot at being a mystery shopper visit Shurlock and click on new shopper signup.