Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Chichen Itzá

A visit to Chichen Itzá recently was very interesting, since I hadn't been there in probably 10 or more years!

Turns out you can no longer climb the Castillo - with all those tourists visiting (some estimates put the annual figure at 30 million!) there would be just too much erosion. Back in the day, you not only could climb the Castillo and admire the wonderful view that probably was enjoyed only by the Mayan priests but also go inside the Castillo to see the jade eyes of the jaguar found in its interior. Anyone who had the chance to climb those claustrophobic, humid one-person-at-a-time steps will remember the experience fondly, although the wet smell of all that sweaty humanity was a bit of a turn-off.

Also, the sellers of kitschy souvenirs were outside the ruins, not on the actual grounds as they are now. This is a real distraction when trying to appreciate the grandeur of the ruins; having someone in your face waving a carved mask saying "my fren my fren, goo price for jew" or "here fren" as if you were some kind of dumb ass that was going to obey this canine-like command. Now they are all over the site, which might not be a bad thing if it was a lot more discreet, a little more authentic and they actually sold things made in the region by locals. But to see those mass-produced fleece blankets with the aztec warrior waving in the hot sun was a little jarring.

Think of the money that pours into this site with all those visitors! Walking around the ruins and the entrance lobby, stores and nearby "market" you can only think how awful it looks. Not the ruins, all the crap around it. The restaurants and little 'shops' look like they were designed by a ... I can't think of anyone suitably unqualified. They are not designed at all. Ugly, half-painted concrete, dirty, run down and staffed with indifferent sallow faced employees. No money has been invested in the infrastructure for decades, or so it seems.

I sat in the market area, where you leave the site, watching 2 out of 3 red-faced tourists stumble on the uneven paving stones while glancing over their shoulders at the depressing spectacle of 4 or 5 half-naked Mayan men and boys wearing plastic feathers and half-heartedly performing pieces of a ceremony. Under a tree, a guayabera-wearing young man with a microphone was announcing that the show was free, that people could take pictures at no cost, that the show was about to start, that the show was a real Mayan ceremony, it would start in a few minutes. He narrated what they were doing, which seemed to be the same thing over and over again, in preparation for the show that would start 'eena few meenits". It never really started and no one really took any photos. It was a joke, like the Indian shows at some tourist stop in the US or Canada, or the Aztec dancing at the traffic lights in Mexico City. Is this what the Mayan culture has evolved to? Doesn't anyone see how pathetic this all looks and feels?

While the ruins at Chichen Itzá are as imposing and majestic as ever, it is extremely difficult to reconcile the obvious culture and knowledge of the ancient builders of this impressive site with the mediocrity and complete lack of good taste or sensitivity aka culture of the modern chimpanzees charged with the administration of Chichen Itzá today.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Great Service - Gasolinera Maya

Here is a note about some really nice folks - the staff at the Gasolinera Maya Pemex station on the highway to Progreso (the one that has a crappy 7-11 on the premises).

This gas station has always struck me and my better half as being leagues above the norm in customer service. When you arrive at the pump, the greet you with a smile and "welcome to the Gasolinera Maya" and they actually look like they are happy to see you. They are also one of the first gas stations with a remote credit card terminal so you can pay with debit or credit cards from the comfort of your vehicle.

Yesterday, I filled up one car and paid with my debit card. 2 hours later, I stopped by again with a second vehicle and had that one filled up as well. When I tried to pay with the debit card, there was a communication problem with the terminal and, after two attempts, I tried with the credit card. None went through. Not having any cash on me and with no ATM around, I half-jokingly said, "well, you know who I am, I can come back later and pay you". And guess what? That's exactly what happened! These people just asked me to sign a small slip of paper, leave my name and number and to come back later when the terminal was working again!

I have got to say I was blown away by their confianza and goodwill! I would rate their customer service, on a scale of 1 to 10, at a solid 10. Don't subject yourself to indifferent or bad service (Servicio Campestre, across from Sam's is a consistent and depressing -1 on the service scale, for example) by buying your gasoline anywhere else!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Notes on Mall Sanitation Methods

This morning, as I headed to work in my store in the Gran Plaza mall and prior to its opening to the public, I observed a cleaning person standing next to the electric escalator, his grey haired mop horizontally positioned on the hand rail. It took me a minute to realize what he was doing: "cleaning" the black, rubbery handrail that moves along with the electric escalator! As he looked around and watched the comings and goings of the people around him, his probably less-than-sanitary mop was wiping the handrail without any effort on his part whatsoever.

While not a particularly effective way to clean, it is most assuredly another fine example of Mexican ingenuity!

Something to think about next time you are at the mall, going up or down on one of those escalators and reach out to grab the handrail...

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Hewlett Packard Service in Merida, Yucatan

One Christmas, not too many moons ago, my much better half bought me a computer for Christmas; a brand new, top of the line HP computer from Liverpool.

Living as we do in the land of the CFE, the national electricity monopoly that works for the "progress of Mexico" (it says so right there on their logo) while remaining unable to maintain a continuous flow of electricity to its over-paying client/victims, it was inevitable that one day the computer would sputter to a halt, as a result of an afore-alluded-to power problem.

I therefore headed off to Liverpool to ask about service and repair; where to obtain same, and was informed that Liverpool had nothing to do with it since it had been longer than the in-store guarantee and I should visit the 'authorized' HP service center, a company by the name of Genesis located on Avenida Cupules in this formerly white city.

At this once-stately Garcia Gineres area address, Genesis has haphazardly and tastelessly converted a formerly elegant residence and made it into a junky looking office where it is the authorized service center for not only HP but Epson as well. Unsmiling, unhelpful employees abound and eagerly await your departure so they can get back to whatever important tasks they are undertaking.

The receptionist, also unsmiling and rather sad looking, kind of like a mistreated pet, listens with a face totally devoid of either interest or empathy as you explain the problem. She then proceeds to make out a service order in her computer which you then take and off you go.

About a week or two later, I was informed that no problem had been detected with the CPU (a cooling fan problem that caused the machine to shut down at start-up) and that the problem probably lay with my electrical source (ie wall plug). OK. It was running fine here in the shop, they tell me. Fine. I pay my service charge (about $20 USD) pick up my computer and take it home, eager to get it up and running.

You know what happens next. I connected everything and voila, same problem. "Falla en el tubo de ventilacion, se apagara el CPU para evitar daños a la computadora" or something to that effect.

I call them, just a little miffed.

"Well it was working fine here" they answer.

"But it's not working now, here. Can't you come and get it and check it again - here where the computer is actually plugged in - to make up for what was obviously a complete waste of my time and money for the first reparation?" I insist on thinking like a foreigner.

"No, we don't do that."

After asking for and speaking with a supervisor, Genesis agreed that they would come out to pick up the CPU and take it back to the shop, as a customer service gesture, which was evidently not something normally within the scope of their operations.

"When can you come?" I ventured, still on the phone.

"En el transcurso del dia de mañana" - sometime during the day.

"Could you be a little more precise since there is no one in the house and I would have to come back from work to get you access to the PC so you can check it out."

"No, we would call you before coming to let you know. Can you give us your home number?"

"If I give you my home number, no one will answer it because there is no one there. I can give you my cell phone number and you can call me and we can meet at the house." I am starting to think that not only are these people not particularly service-oriented, they are also a little cerebrally challenged. And here comes the best line of this whole exchange:

"No, a cell phone won't work."

"Why?" This is wierd.

"We just need a regular phone number, not a cell phone."

"Are you telling me that you can't or don't have permission to call cell phones to communicate with your clients?!" I am suspecting this and can not believe what I am hearing.

"Asi es" is the response I get.

To keep this story from going on forever: I finally wrangled a three hour time frame from them and we were set. The technicians came and checked the computer, which did not respond to their repeated attempts at starting it up; the technician doing the rebooting was even spinning the ventilation fan by hand and saw that it was indeed, stuck. So they took the CPU back to the shop. That was mid-July.

A few days later I was informed that the CPU was working fine and it was indeed a problem with my electrical outlets. Knowing the CFE and how electricity comes and goes, I did not consider this outrageous and resigned myself to hiring an electrician to come and break apart my walls and re-cable everything. Viva Mexico. At the shop, a different technician, one I hadn't seen before, escorted me into the back area where my CPU was, to demonstrate to me that it was working just fine, there in the shop. The technician I had previously talked to was on the phone with me at the same time making sure that the gringo (me) could see that it worked and would he please leave us the hell alone. The technician in front of me flicked the switch and lo and behold, "Falla en el tubo de ventilacion, se apagara el CPU para evitar daños a la computadora". There is a god and he is just, I am thinking.

The guy on the phone wants to talk to the technician "no puede ser" he says to the guy in front me.

"I'm looking right at it." he replies. "Yes, it's the right computer" he insists.

OK. Now they will have another look at it. I should come back later. They will let me know.

In the last week of August, having heard nothing about my computer and having received no phone calls (at home) to update me on what was happening, I visited the sad receptionist again and she informed me that the problem was now the motherboard and they had not gotten a price for its replacement and that is why they hadn't called. Oh. And would it not have been nice to let me know that they had made this discovery and perhaps given me a call to inform me about the ongoing saga and perhaps get an opinion from me as to whether or not to proceed? This unreasonable remark provoked only a shrug from the sad receptionist and I again left with the idea that I would be called as soon as they had a price for the new motherboard.

On September 30, I drove for the fourth and last time to Merida's Hewlett Packard 'service' center. No, I hadn't received a call (at home). I just figured it was time to rescue that CPU before the technology became completely obsolete and my family photos were lost forever. A sallow faced individual who was obviously there against his will on a prison work experience program judging from his attitude, looked at my worn piece of paper, got my CPU and asked me to sign. He also asked me to pay. For what? I asked. Nothing has been done and the original 'revision' had already been paid for. Oh yeah. OK. Es todo. And I was free to go.

Hewlett Packard - you should be ashamed at having these people represent your company! All that advertising money spent so that people take this memory with them when they have a problem with your equipment! Why should anyone buy a HP product and not a 'patito' brand instead? The service will be the same, so why pay more?