Monday, October 31, 2011

Of relationships and I dos

It is human nature, regardless of age, to seek for relationships.

Whether it is found in some dark alley or casual/formal introductions or from adopting parents or, in this day and age - online - the bottom line is: it is human nature to seek for love, even in the most unexpected places or circumstances.

I am sure that each of you have stories about love found and love lost. The circle of life dictates that as long as we breath, we attempt to find the Shangrila in our lives. Is there really one? Can we really find happily ever afters? Is there a relationship that has a love ever after ending?

Even married couples, in spite of vows to love and to hold, in sickness and in health till death do them part have storms that come along their way. Perhaps because of the contract they are attached to or for the sake of the children or conjugal properties and investments, they attempt to work out the differences in spite of the odds that come their way. Some manage to stay together, but there's quite a hefty number that prefer to go their separate ways - in search of new relationships.

What draws people together to form a relationship?

There are two drawing points. LOVE is one of them. This four-letter word seems to be widely used and, often time, abused. Of course, for some, the more intimate part called SEX is usually the first reason to get attached. Yet the latter usually dissipates more quickly than love. People in search for a wham-bam-thank-you-Sam will perpetually be in search of relationships that find no meaning except the exercise of their libido. Whichever it is, having the best of both worlds would probably be the perfect scenario. But the strongest bond is that of LOVE.

Unconditional love allows both parties to grow. Each may falter somewhere, but because there is real love in a relationship, it will allow each person to understand the shortcomings that come along the way. After all, no one is perfect. And with that said, it's always a good reminder that when relationships begin to falter, one should remember how a relationship started and where it is at today. Often times, we forget to assess how the relationship began. It is ironic how many of us forget this.

Every relationship is a work in progress. It's based on promises made with the one you've fallen in love with or exchanged "I do". And while promises made are meant not to be kept, there are those that are. Strangely, we often times don't know the person whom we enter a relationship with. While some people lay their cards on the table as you get to know one other, there will always be skeletons in the closet with others. Eventually, these are discovered and while we sweep them under the rug at times, more often than not, there are more dirty or dark secrets revealed WHILE you're in a relationship that lead to a state of misery.

So now you're in a Catch 22 scenario. You can't get out of it or you're in too deep or you're miserable with a BUT! It's strange that we begin to dwell on WHAT IFs and WHYs and WHY NOTs. One party wishes that the other party would just bolt the relationship to end all misery.

We forget that the reason why, as human beings, and as human nature dictates, that we continuously search for relationships because we search for happiness. I am willing to bet that once upon a time, you were both happy, without a care in the world. That many of us had sworn to even beat all odds. Oddly, when push came to shove, we shoved more than we pushed.

Relationships are built on trust, loyalty and understanding. Without the three there would not be a reason to be together. Whether the relationship is one of friendship or two people in love or even an adopted child or family, the three fundamental instruments of maintaining a sustaining and durable relationship without finding fault in every single act should be considered.

It is easy to move in and out of a relationship. After all, finding what makes you happy is the most important goal in life. But this is a selfish outlook on life. It's only fair that while we try to find our happiness, we take into consideration the happiness of others as well.

After all, even the "happily ever afters" began with "once upon a time".

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Memories of Boston

There's a Beatles song entitled "In My Life" that has the lyrics:

"There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends, I can still recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all...

My trip to Boston was in reality both business and pleasure. The American Academy of Pediatrics was holding its Annual Meeting here. This was the business part. After my training in the US, I frequently came home to Boston annually, until 10 years ago. My last trip to Boston was in 2001. I wanted to reminisce the old times and see the places that I remembered so vividly. The autumn season was the best time to be in Boston. This was the pleasure part.

I arrived on a balmy Thursday evening. Spent the night reminiscing the Copley area and Friday registering at the convention and attending the morning sessions before driving off to Maine in the afternoon. The fall foliage was not at its peak yet but you could see traces of it on the way.

Harvard Square. Beacon Hill. Fenway Park. Faneuil Hall. North End. South End. Boston College. Cambridge Circle. The Boston Public Gardens. The Charles River. Chinatown. Traveling by the T. This was how I remembered the days I would spend those lonely days and nights in Boston during my fellowship training.

Of course, time had changed many of these places. The Prudential is now one chic shopping mall but nothing could beat the high end stores on Newbury St. housed in the cement and brick walls that highlighted the architectural beauty of Boston. The Trinity Church at the heart of Copley Square reminded me of the grand architecture that made this building a landmark of Back Bay. The reflection of the church on a cool Sunday morning against the grand John Hancock Tower was the perfection of combining the architectural design of the old against the new. It was this landmark that made me fall in love with Boston. Even the Boston Public Library had a new look with the center of the library housing a fountain and an area where tourists and students could relax in the ambience of its grandeur.

The Hynes Convention Center has been home to many conventions but the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center replaced the former, in that it's bigger and more state-of-the-art. There are several hotels that have been built but several boutique hotels now stand side by side in amenities and luxury if you plan your trip to Boston.

No other city in America has as rich a heritage in history, culture and architecture as Boston. Aside from the Ivy League schools - Boston University and College (it has recently merged with Tufts University), Harvard University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology to name a few, it is home to the Berkelee School of Music as well. The city of Boston has a young and elite crowd - perhaps owing to the fact that there are many distinguished schools in the area.

On my flight out of Logan airport, I felt a twitch in my heart on how much I missed this place, which became my second home far away from Manila during my training days. With so much memories still in place, like a newfound love that I left, Boston will remain a part of me.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

PAL in transition

I had to go to Cebu to give a talk last Thursday.

The week before, I was skeptical on the flight arrangements on Philippine Airlines. The strike had practically put most of the flights on PAL to a standstill. The outsourcing plan of PAL was already approved by both the Department of Labor and Employment and of course the office of the President of the Republic of the Philippines. At least 2,600 employees of PAL had to go. They were spinning off most its ground staff and call center to other companies. The latter were also owned by PAL erstwhile owner - Lucio Tan.

When the employees who would be losing their jobs went of strike, both PAL and the riding public ended up losers. According to PAL, they have lost $3M - $5M a day in revenue losses. While PAL was giving chit chat excuses for their massive losses, the riding public was inconvenienced. PAL provided profuse apologies both in media and in flight. They are, according to PAL spokespersons, in a transition phase.

On Thursday, October 6, I had taken the 1245PM flight to Cebu for my talk. When I walked into the NAIA 2 terminal, it was like a ghost town. Only flights to Cebu and Davao as well as International Flights were flying out of NAIA 2. There was very little queue. On the Mabuhay Class lane, it took me about 10 minutes to get my boarding pass. I was tapping my fingers at the counter because the guy at the other end was taking forever. He kept looking at my ticket, then back to the monitor, frowned, back to my ticket, back to the monitor, frowned, then back to my ticket...I had no check in bag. Just myself. After all, I was coming home after my talk on the 1020PM flight. After 10 minutes, he gave my boarding pass but NO apologies for his taking gazillion years to process a boarding pass. I counted sheep - taking into account that PAL was in a transition phase.

At the security check in, the guard reminded me to remove my shoes. While I know that, there were no more baskets for shoes. I always remember that there's a basket for shoes. My Prada bag had to go into the dirty carousel? OMG! My bag was more expensive that the life of that pathetic guard and there were no baskets! Besides, the guy that went ahead of me DID NOT take off his shoes! I told the guard that the guy in front of me did not take off his shoes, so why is he asking me to take off mine? And my Prada bag had to go inside the dirty carousel. Where the hell were the baskets? He just shrugged. Counting sheep and taking into account that PAL was in transition...

Boarding was on time. We were only 6 on Mabuhay Class and the guy at the counter had to put someone beside me on the A330-300 plane. Watdfuk?!?!?!! We could have one seat each on business class and the section would still be spacious! Anyway, it was a good thing that the foreigner just sat somewhere else. He too, was scratching his head and wondering why the hell we were all being put seat together. And don't give me that crap that it provided balance to the airplane. The guy at the check in counter simply didn't know what he was doing. Then the automatic announcement went on - that PAL was apologetic for any inconvenience because they were in a transition phase....

In the middle of the flight, they served snacks. I was used to the original trays that PAL provided for Mabuhay Class customers. The old snack trays provided a bit of chic presentation for the crappy meal they served - some fruit salad, a cup for coffee or tea, some glasses for water or juice, a warm snack in the form of pizza or hors d'ouevre of mini sandwiches and some utensils to boot. This time, the stewardess came out with a tray for herself and started handing out beef calzone (that looked greasily deadly) and a roll of Goldilocks mamon. No tray, just put it on your tray. No white mantle gracing the tray table. She asked me if I wanted water or cola. I said a diet cola. She came out with a glass filled with cola, that looked so diluted that I said, I'd take the water instead. The guy on the other side of the plane was still yacking on his mobile phone while the plane was taxing on the runway. The flight attendants were noisily yakking away on the gallery and no one bothered to ask the guy on the mobile phone to turn it off. One of the flight attendants voice was so loud I wanted to stand up and ask him to shut the f*cK up! We were on the runway for about 20 minutes waiting for the plane to take off. And I could hear the attendants yakking yakking yakking away. There ought to be a requirement that the flight attendants do not talk to each other discussing their pathetic lives while the plane is waiting to take off. It's plain irritating.

We arrived at the Mactan International Airport, 5 minutes off schedule, which wasn't bad. Overall assessment for PAL was dismal. I had to remind myself that they were in transition.

Transition is a terrible and sordid excuse for inefficiency. PAL should have prepared for this. It is a reflection of poor management skills. While my heart bleeds out for the displaced employees, I think we need to see the outsourcing of PAL from the passenger's perspective.

First, I know that the revenues of PAL have been declining over the last year. The question is - WHY? Was it because of the large work force? Or are the top honchos getting more of the pie than what PAL was actually making? PAL management was copying the Cebu Pacific model where most of the ground staff and call center areas are outsourced. Fine. But PAL is not Cebu Pacific.

The airfare tickets of PAL, whether on economy or business class are far more expensive than the tickets on other airlines in the region OR in the world. I speak from experience. When my family and I had our annual Christmas vacation in HongKong 2 years ago, we took Cathay Pacific. The economy class ticket was cheaper by $40 per head on CX than on PAL. Last year, when we had our Christmas/New Year break in Singapore, we took Singapore Airlines. The economy class ticket was cheaper by $35 per head on SQ than on PAL. And these were all online rates and bookings! Flying to the US, the fares on PAL are also more expensive on business class than what Delta or Korean Air had to offer. And the flight carriers of other airlines are by far much better in terms of class of service, amenities, food and comfort than PAL. So why the hell would I want to fly PAL? If there's another airline that would take me from point A to point B offering a cheaper fare and YET better service, I'd just take the other airline.

Second, PAL and Cebu Pacific are not co-equal. In short, it's like comparing apples and oranges. You get what you pay for. CebuPac is a no frills airline. You know that it's an all economy budget plane. You know that meals on board should be bought and are not free. You know that extra baggages are paid for. What you see is what you get. That's why it can offer a lower airfare than PAL. But PAL has a business class that is 3x more expensive than the regular fare! And it's regular economy fare is more expensive than CebuPac. Why scrimp on the customer then? You cannot charge something more expensive for the same quality of service as a budget airline. After all, PAL has Air Philippines, it's budget airline that supposedly competes with CebuPac. In short, if I wanted to fly on a plane that would offer a no frills flight at the no frills fare, why would I want to pay more for it? Then everyone would just settle and fly CebuPac.

Finally, the possible solution to the financial woes of PAL are most probably internal. They need to hire more intelligent people to run the business. If PAL is losing out on its domestic flights to CebuPac, then PAL should shut down all its domestic flights and simply convert half the PAL carriers to AirPhil. Offer all domestic flights as a no frills flight. End of story. If PAL is losing out on its international flights, it should probably review why its airfares are far more expensive than other airlines. Of course, many of the foreign airlines are subsidized by their governments. Because PAL is privatized, there will be no government subsidy. But even on a simple frequent flyer level, PAL offers the worst kind of redemption because it has no other global alliance. So you're really stuck with a raw deal. Even HSBC has pulled out of an exclusive PAL mileage program because Lucio Tan's Allied Bank offer a better exchange for peso spend on ABs credit card. A program like this - where only Lucio Tan will profit - will eventually fail and fall flat on its face. In order to prop up the sales of PAL and lower its airfare, it should sit down with the Department of Tourism and other government agencies in helping PAL be the face of Philippine Tourism. And someone has to give in (especially Lucio Tan). Otherwise, its doom is inevitable.

Being in transition is a lame excuse for inefficiency and poor management. It doesn't placate a lousy customer service. PAL has had its financial woes for the longest period of time. It has never understood the airline industry.

It is time the government look deeper and understand further why PAL is turning out to be the Philippines Lousiest Airline. It may be sunset soon for Asia's supposedly sunniest airline.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The final Job

Like many of the Mac-addicts, I was one of the rabid followers who woke up early morning of October 5 (October 4 in the US) awaiting for the launch of the iPhone 5. It was a sordid disappointment to see instead an upgraded version of the iPhone 4 which Apple called iPhone 4S. It would be available in stores on October 14. I guess most of the Mac-followers were also quite disappointed with the upgraded version as they (like me) were expecting something out of the extraordinary. After all, with all the fanfare and secretiveness behind the launching of a new iPhone, it was anyone's wild guess what Apple still had under its sleeves.

But nothing, I guess nothing at all, would have been the greater surprise than the news the day after iPhone 4S was launched - STEVE JOBS passed away.

The icon behind all the Apple gadgets was gone. And while many of us knew that he was battling cancer and that his stepping down from the helm a few months ago was a sign that his health was taking a turn probably for the worse, the rabid fans had just held on to hope that a new techie gadget would be around the corner. The news and speculations about iPhone 5 was probably leaked out by Apple insiders as well. Sneaky, yes. It probably was a way to throw out all speculations surrounding the impending exit of Steve Jobs from this world.

And what a way to go! The day after iPhone 4S was launched, Steve Jobs death is announced.

When my niece informed me that Jobs' death was all over the news I was flabbergasted and saddened. I grew up with Apple. My first Apple computer was like my baby. It had this odd yet funky modern design. My mom would wonder why I opted to buy an oblong like desktop with a weird location for the floppy disk. After being hooked on the Apple computers (mind you, this was way before all the newbie styles of Apple came into being), I have never looked back at any other computer brand again. I remember that I used to carry that candy colored (BLUE) laptop that looked like a space capsule to school. Everyone stared at the cool gadget I had. It was distinctly an Apple. It was uniquely Me.

Today, I have a MacBook Pro for my office, a MacAir for my travel, a Mac desktop for my study room, an iPad, an iPhone4 and an iPod. To me, Mac is everything my techie directed life has put me. Thanks to the man behind the discovery and the dream.

My hats off to Steve Jobs and this generation owes much to the icon behind Apple. He has left a legacy that would be a hard act to follow. It is amazing how one man has changed the technology of this world. After all that hard word, today he rests forever - free from all the worries and pain of health uncertainties. Today he rests forever, knowing that he his life in this world though brief, created an immeasurable impact on all.

Steve Jobs will be missed. But Apple will live on.