Monday, January 23, 2006

Retail Therapy IV

The Philippines is essentially a cash economy. Credit cards are accepted but if you offer to pay cash, out side of the large department stores and tourist traps, the price will be a 3 to 5% cheaper. In the smaller shops the price tags will have two prices, the actual price and the cash price.

If there is only one price displayed, ask, bargains are cash only. In the markets, plastic is the bag you carry your purchase home in. In the shopping malls ATMs are a growth industry.

The Makati Ave entrance to The Landmark, a large Ayala department store, is flanked by 8 ATMs. With the entrance security guards just meters away, scores of people per hour top up purses and wallets. After a quick bag and body search by the said guards, the therapy can begin.

With so many ATMs about, to go more than 5 minutes when out and about without seeing an armoured car is a rarity. Coming in all shapes, sizes and colours these metal boxes on wheels are immune from parking restrictions. With the serious looking armed guards who spill out upon stopping, who is going to argue.

I have yet to see a shopping mall without at least one security guard to inspect your bag and pat the small of your back at each entrance. Often there will be 2 or 3 with entry being split along gender lines for the mandatory inspection by a guard of your gender. The exit will also have a guard, more to stop unauthorized entry than a fear of un-purchased goods exiting.

At down town Makati in the Ayala district 2 department stores, SM and The Landmark, flank the Glorietta Shopping Mall and all 3 are interconnected. It is possible to enter at The Landmark and emerge 3 blocks away at SM without leaving the air conditioning. Along the way you will pass 6 sets of security guards, 3 of which will inspect your bags and check the small of your back for a concealed hand gun.

All manner of business have security guards. Stand alone franchised fast food outlets have them, the local quickie mart has them, the 7/11 will have one, the Pharmacy will have one, the hotel you stay at will have one. The local pawn shop will have 2, one of which will be armed with a swan off shot gun as do banks and supermarkets.

Even car parks have them, often equipped with a dentist’s mirror on steroids to check the under side of your conveyance. The bomb you’re driving may not actually be one, but its muffler’s cavities will be exposed.

In all my time in Manila I have yet to hear a shot fired in anger by this private army. In the smaller establishments they will open the door for you, mind your umbrella and other packages whilst you spend your pesos in their store. They have even hailed me a ride when burdened with packages and all with a smile and a “Hello Sir, Mam.

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