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In my line of work one of the most frequently asked questions from friends and acquaintances is “How much discount do you get?”  They may not remember my name, they sure don’t have the faintest idea (or intention to learn) of what I do in the company, but they will always remember to raise this question – sometimes – more than once.

I actually don’t mind since I would do exactly the same if I’m in the others’ shoes.  Everyone loves bargains, and if these bargains apply to the brands we carry, you can expect to see mini-riots around our neighborhood.  Depending on the rules of the specific brands, getting the entry tickets is a skillful art itself.  What they have to understand, however, is that staff sales are not to be taken for granted, even for us.

Being a pseudo-ambassador for the brands I’d always keep an eye on items that suit my close friends.  For others, they will just have to trust my taste, particularly on sales that ban all guests, and yes, even my own cellphone.

So you get the drill.  For these so-called maximum security sales, you feed me with your likes, dislikes and budget, and you have to depend on my judgement.  If you don’t trust me, I will not be bothered.  I have no idea what merchandise is available, and if you decide to be a pain in the ass, you will be better off without me.

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And here you go.  Top facts about staff sales.  (These facts will self-destruct in 10 seconds)

  1. Only staff employed by the brands directly have ongoing purchase discounts.  Group staff are invited to off-season sales only with leftover stock.  Discounts of the former is lower.  For the latter, it can range from 80 to 90% off.  Sample sales are often only in model sizes and may be worn / used / photographed so the bargains are always bigger.  Be selective in queuing for sample sales.  The good stuff is always grabbed by the brand staff in advance unless you believe you have a model figure which outshines everyone.
  2. Hierarchy always exists.  The order always goes like this: Brand Senior Management – Brand Management – Brand Everyone Else – Business Unit Everyone – Group Senior Management – Group Management – Group Everyone Else.
  3. What about guests you ask?  Well it depends on who you know in the hierarchy in the above, and it very much depends on the policies of specific brands.
  4. You have no idea what’s on offer in off-season sales, until you set foot in one.  Asking “what’s available” is just dumb.
  5. No pain no gain.  The queues are endlessly long, and the sales are always in office hours.  I have seen one time 4 more queues once you thought you have passed through registration.  It is far from a luxury shopping experience.  If you can’t at least take a day off, don’t ask your friends to bring you in as guest.
  6. Simple because number of guests invited per staff is limited.
  7. Certain maximum-security sales are for staff only.  No cellphones, no messages, no pictures, nothing.  Limited time, locked environment.  And yes, there is a limit of how many items we can buy as well.
  8. No returns, no gift wrapping, no warranty, no repairs, no alteration, nothing (even for watches & jewelry).  Some items are marked and some packaging is removed to avoid reselling.  Buy at your own risk.
  9. Some sales will slash prices further on their second or third day.  Prices, sizes or availability, your decision.  Stop whining, you cannot win all.
  10. It’s a benefit, not a right.  Be grateful.  No complaints.  Remember, brands can always shred their items.  Cash versus prestige, they will always pick the latter.

Happy shopping!

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Writing, or Reporting?

Haven’t you had the experience finding yourself cursing at the end of reading an article or commentary on the paper, only to find nothing more than a literal description of commonly known facts or events?  I am experiencing that again today.  The newspaper column describes the pitfalls of checking into private hospitals in town, resulting in gigantic hospital bills due to the recommendation of private rooms by the medical staff.  The bills are seldom adequately covered by medical insurance and more and more patients end up having a second heart attack the moment they take a glimpse of the six-figures screaming at them.

So I was captivated by this very real and relevant topic and read on.  The article quickly ended advising patients to watch out for such occurrences.  That’s it.  No advice, no suggestions, and no tips for further information.  What’s the big idea of pointing out some commonly known facts and nothing else?

This is robbery, since I think the columnist is paid a fixed fee for regular posts on the paper, and she needs to keep writing to earn her paycheck.  I know it’s a short column, and I shouldn’t be expecting investigative journalism on a paper that is aimed for a 15-minute consumption during subway rides.  Yet, I still want better standards.

I always think there can be various angles to write.  You can offer help, advice and solutions, or if that is too heavy for the lifestyle and entertainment section, write with a viewpoint, or simply, an emotion.  Let the readers understand you.  Let the readers feel for you.  Not everyone will care about it, but at least you are writing something, or some emotional reaction, that is one of a kind.  If I don’t find material, at least I want to see some authenticity.

The best columnists that I have come across offers sincerity, humor, wit, and the willingness to open up for those who enjoy some emotional stimulation through reading.  That takes some skills and practice, but more than anything, the confidence and also the humility to share one’s true viewpoints.  It’s harder than you think.  Expressing coherently a relatable thought on a short column proves to be a lot more challenging than it seems.  No wonder I’m seeing so many ridiculous columns by pseudo-reporters, instead of the true columnists that I have expected them to be.

Not everyone may agree with me of course, but I’ll admit that I’m looking for passion when I read.  It may not exactly be chicken soup, but at least it can be a small piece of chocolate, for the soul.

Writing

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I have no idea whether it’s because we really have nothing else to say in front of our friends and relatives.  After all we have already shared on Facebook over what marvellous life we have, the trips we have gone on and the mouth-watering food we have inhaled over the weeks.  If you think that we can then finally get down to what’s at stake, and what’s real – our lives, our ups and downs, our struggles and revelations when we finally got time to sit down with our best friends and family, you are wrong.

We are multi-tasking even when we have company.  Our conversations are constantly interrupted by instant messages, texts and up to the minute Facebook uploads and downloads, as well as tweets and weibo.  It feels that everyone else in the virtual world is more important than our companions at hand.  Oh yes, they would understand, since they are doing exactly the same in their virtual friend sphere, at the same time.

And for the few who are not so much into the latest digital gizmos, or the unthinkable catastrophe where your gadgets are either out of power or network coverage, not to worry.  If physical human interaction cannot be avoided, there is always our most loyal friend to the rescue, television sets.

There is nothing more tacky in my opinion than large screen LCD hanging television panels in restaurants in town, and they can be as densely installed as ceiling lights.  I hate it when it’s now considered a must-have item on the restaurant fixture list.  Not only are they in no way aesthetically pleasing, these 60 inches panels just suck the life out of everyone , turning them into chewing zombies.

Call me old-fashioned.   If you want to catch a TV show, stay home for it, or record it for private viewing later.  Please don’t strip away the last bit of enjoyment of actually sitting down for dinner, over a nice long chat.  For me, that latter eye-to-eye interaction is actually what makes a meal memorable.

If it’s up to me, I would really pick some place without the floating TV sets.  Maybe I’m really getting old.

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For the first 100 pages, I was imagining I was Christian Grey.  I immediately changed my mind after that and starting from around page 300, I found myself losing patience and skimming toward the end.  If not without a few daily interruptions in the past week,  I would have finished this worldwide bestseller in less than 3 days.  And no, even though I already have them on my iPad, I don’t think I’m going to continue to parts 2 and 3.

Yes, I’m talking about the renowned Fifty Shades Trilogy that has recently taken the world by storm.  The first part is Fifty Shades of Grey, followed by Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed as the grand finale.  I first heard about it from the Today Show one morning, and recently encouraged by a friend to give it a go.  I was eager to join the 40 million (and fastly growing) readers in finding out what the fuss is all about with this literary sensation that has swept past the Harry Porter series in terms of sales and popularity.

I’m positive that the essence of erotica lies in the imagination.  Everyone got something different out of fictional characters, and there simply isn’t an absolute right or wrong of whether the novel works or not.  At least, it saves you from a world of stress and headaches and transports you into a heaven of fantasies, 500 pages or so.  With that, there is only one single story line which even an 8-year old would follow.  Although this is not exactly the kind of reading material you would share with an 8-year old.

There was some suspense when the NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) was out, and believe me I will never look at the NDA in the same way, at work, from now on. (Oh and don’t forget my “soft and hard limits”.  I will surely use them in my next negotiation at work.)  What is this dreamy, rich, handsome, charismatic, tasteful, young, hunky, “cocky”, self-made CEO with a heart to save the world from hunger is hiding from Anastasia?  Well once you find out Fifty Shades of Grey is actually 50 Ways to Play, the hype is quickly over.

I believe the fascination lies on the unthinkable, or a side which not many of us have crossed.  Like what some have mentioned, little did I know that I have been living such a vanilla life.  I seriously think sales at hardware stores around town would surge, and I can certainly see product placements appearing in the rumored movie version of the trilogy.  Yet that hype (and high) passes quickly as you read on, and soon you will be faced with 300 more pages of a highly repetitious story line of “should I?” and “should I not?” revelations.

Indeed.  The book has 79 “Oh My…!”, 82 “Jeez…” and 101 “Crap!”.  I thought Ana could only bite her lip and Christian cocks his head from side to side at all times.  Because the attraction is almost purely sexual in nature, there isn’t any emotional element to draw me to the end, undisturbed.  Yes I know you wouldn’t expect a literary masterpiece from erotica, but it certainly can be more varied and sophisticated in terms of the writing.  I know the following 2 parts will continue to unveil the 50 shades of Mr. Grey in probably a psychological manner, sadly I don’t care anymore as the main characters look a bit silly and stupid to me.

If you ask me the writing has pretty much taken away the excitement, or kinkiness, away from the book.  Nevertheless, the fact that the trilogy has captivated so many women around the world proves that there are so many of us who are dissatisfied with our sex lives, or to put it a bit mildly, way too vanilla.  It certainly is a topic worth studying.  I recently have the same sentiment when I witness the thousands of ecstatic women and men screaming at the 60 hunky, chiseled, 6-packed, jaw-dropping handsome, 6-feet-2 shirtless models staging outside the new Abercrombie & Fitch store in Central.  Yes, we all need a piece of fantasy every now and then.  And yes, sex always sells.

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I really don’t know why people are STILL complaining about their jobs being outsourced.  Yes, the obvious drawbacks are possibilities of wage deflation, losses of luxurious corporate benefits, absence of job security, and absolute increase in work pressure and workplace efficiencies.  Plus, most of us complain about the degradation of service levels as well as increased costs in inter-partner bureaucracies and training.

I wrote last year about the irreversible trends of corporate outsourcing, and they are only getting more popular.  My arguments are that even if you are fortunate enough to still be employed by the big corporates, none of the so-called solid benefits are going to last forever.  You don’t have job security, your bonuses are increasingly tied to the ever-rising or unattainable goals.  The company is talking about a “review” of your pension plan, and human resources just broke the news that rising health care premiums are driving their need to reduce medical coverage gradually over the next few years.

Unless you are at the so-called top of the food chain, and making huge revenue for the company directly, chances are, no one is immune.  The world is a flat economy, and cheaper labor around us are certainly going to “steal” our jobs, whether we like it or not.  Instead of complaining, we really need to step up our game by finding out what makes us either irreplaceable, or what’s unique in our problem solving approaches.

If you are real worried about your life at an outsourced company, hear it from me, your days are already numbered at your current one.

Life is hard, and people pay you because you have the ability to handle head-scratching problems, and very often ahead of its time.  Money is not going to fall from the skies and working models are evolving every second.  So get over it, stop reminiscing, and grow a pair.

 

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6 more days and we will enter into a new era under a brand new Chief Executive of the HK SAR. All we are bombarded by the news these days are the various scandals going on with the two transitioning heads of state. For months, the incumbent Donald was caught repeatedly by the press in reckless spending on business trips, accepting lavish traveling and even residential favors by local tycoons, and very much to our horror, smuggling truckloads of liquor from the chief executive’s mansion to his home. On the other hand, CY, the CE-elect, was wildly skinned by the public for lying blatantly about his illegal building works at his home – an offense which he harshly accused of his rival Henry only a few months ago. These scandals have hardly anything to do with public policies or the welfare of our fellow citizens. Worse yet, they speak about our leaders’ character and integrity. Or, the lack of it.

There is a saying that our souls can be corrupted by power, and don’t act all naive and shocked when you turn on the TV news. This happens everyday at the work place and in your households. The difference is only in terms of the level of misuse for personal gains. I am never saying that any of this can be condoned. I’m just saying that while we point our fingers at those around us, we should at the same time have the decency to look at how we conduct ourselves.

In my profession I always look into areas to minimize wastage and inefficiencies. I agree, these are only fancy and politically correct words. My company charges me to make sure we tighten up our expense control measures so that no one is stealing corporate resources. That’s why I am in one of the most hated professions on the planet.

Corporate resources can be traveling guidelines so that the junior marketing manager won’t be checking in to the presidential suite like our Donald did. They can also be how the heads of departments spend our money on unnecessary external consulting firms so as to “pass on the blame” for below-par business results. Talking about how it is best to spend company’s money is challenging and confrontational alone from a third-party point of view, but nothing is even remotely comparable to the landmines of employee benefits. You can imagine the extent of it by looking at the public riots you see in the cash-trapped countries of Greece and Spain.

What are these so-called employee benefits? Alright, we have hotel categories, hotel breakfasts, hotel locations, serviced apartments, daily spending limits, flight classes, lowest cost airlines, airline lounge access, airport limousines, club memberships, blackberry models, cell phone packages, laptops, flat screen monitors, office furniture, name cards, stationery, pens, folders, giveaways, and the list goes on.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE nice things. I love to be pampered, and I like to think that I have earned my ranks enough to be treated nicely by my boss. However, I know what the reality is, and I know how to draw the line. I come in to work and deliver and get my pay check. Then I can spend it on nice things. I’d rather see my employer make money and then reward me with a bigger pay check. Then no one owes anyone anything. What strikes me hard is that I often see many well-off senior staff thinking very much like Donald and CY – let’s get as much out of the company/government as possible.

I am fully aware that there are blood-sucking corporations out there who take advantage of innocent workers like running a sweat shop. That’s why we protect our employees with well written policies – something which our Chief Executives conveniently omitted for themselves. We know what we are entitled to when we sign on to a job offer. From time to time, companies will want to revisit those policies due to flagging business results or other priorities, and this often creates an outroar of frustrations and resistance from everyone. In my years of experience, I often find the biggest resistance actually comes from the highest ranking staff and often the most wealthy ones. They work their way around with smart excuses, threats and pressure through their poor secretaries. The only thing they almost never do, is walk away. No, it’s not worth losing those high paying jobs, they admitted.

That to me is a complete revelation of their character, and it is eye-opening. I believe it is a competitive market out there, and every one of us should know how much bargaining power we have in all circumstances. If you truly believe you are being ill-treated by not getting the true rewards of your deliverables, walk away. There must be tons of other companies who want to grab you. You have suffered enough. Don’t bully your way through the innocent policy enforcers. Negotiate a bigger package and then take 150 days of leave a year to indulge. Don’t spend your precious time haggling over the next hotel tier or that first class window seat on your next business trip. The reality is, a business trip is a business trip. Even if you have Donald’s presidential suite, you can still hate it because your diamond shoes are too tight.

That’s why, if I am charged with attacking “greed” as one of my buying commodities, I will happily and politely defer to my fellow human resources colleagues for their professional enjoyment.

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Leftovers, anyone?

The latest talk-of-the-town mass media sensation is Hong Kong’s first (at least so on the city’s free longstanding and conservative TV station) reality TV show, “Bride Wannabies“.  Don’t let the show title fool you, it’s nothing like “The Bachelorette” of the States.  5 single ladies allow a TV crew follow their every move in their romantic adventure toward finding their future partners.  The show won’t be nearly as entertaining or captivating to the public without the abundant supply of so-called life coaches, match makers, psychologists, dating strategists, and of course, a variety of makeover stylists and cosmetic surgeons.  Everyone I know have watched the show with at least a comment or two, to say the least.

The show centers around one theme, which is the literal translation of “leftover ladies” in Chinese.  Apparently some also called them “3S” ladies meaning ladies who are single, seventies and stuck.  I think that’s harsh.  Anyway, it generally refers to women who are highly educated, make a good living and certainly have high standards of everything in life, including their choice of men.

Enough has been said about the show itself, the 5 bride wannabies, and the highly controversial experts.  I am rather interested in the social phenomenon and why there is such a difference in treatment between the men and women in this city.

I will never understand why single women are brutally labelled as leftovers as if there is something wrong with them.  What about the men?  Alright, scholars are rationalizing it saying it’s the conservative notion of women looking for men to protect and take care of them, and that there is still this historical belief of female inferiority in our society.  In my opinion, if you have lived through life with enough experience knowing that Prince Charming only exists in fairy tales, you will certainly adapt and adopt a new standard of your significant other as you age.  However, if you feel that you need to be absolutely honest with yourself with what turns you on, both physically and emotionally, by all means keep your faith, look for your Mr. Right,  and embrace and enjoy your single life in the time being.  There is no right or wrong.  You are the owner of your life.

Some people brought in the financial aspect claiming that it’s becoming less and less viable sustaining in this economy without living a coupled life.  Isn’t it better however making your own bucks than looking for a meal ticket somewhere?  It’s harder than winning a lottery really, and you still risk losing it through unexpected breakups or divorce.  It’s not a business transaction.  If you are really committed in setting yourself as a commodity in the market, please, assess your market position and how much bargaining power you have.  That goes for both men and women.  In my line of work, so many buyers and sellers fail to come to an agreement solely because of the absence of such awakening.  My job is to shake some sense into both parties.  I kid you not, I can very well make a career change into a match maker in this booming market.

Some women complain that men are often intimidated over how successful they are.  Well, either these men are not worthy for them to begin with, or the women need to reflect over themselves whether they have actually been sending derogatory remarks all along.  If it was the latter, then they are just digging their own graves by possessing extremely poor social skills.

There is nothing wrong with singles, women or men, at any age.  The key is whether they lead a happy life, and be content with what they already have.  Step out of your comfort zone and expand your circles.  Whinners are losers, if they are not doing anything about it.  Time and time again people report that they are attracted by cheerful, confident guys and gals.  And remember, confidence doesn’t mean cocky.  If you carry yourself well with elegance, humility, confidence and a positive outlook on matters, I really don’t see how you won’t find yourself surrounded by admirers.

So instead of those stupid and meaningless dating strategies that are nothing more than sound bites, you will never go wrong with investing in yourselves, and believing that leading your own life in your own way probably is one of the best blessings of it all.

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