Emotional Food Rau – Restaurant in Naples‏ with interesting concept

Emotional Food Rau NaplesRaù, a trendy ‘Mediterranean’ restaurant in the heart of Naples, boasts a fairly novel concept: “Emotional Food.” While we did not get a chance to try the place and experience the food, I was struck by how ‘on trend’ the concept was and thought it worth sharing. I found a few snapshots of Rau food taken Emotional Food Rauby others; however, they don’t overflow with emotion, per se. That said, I am sure that the concept could be rendered true in the right hands… Here is a writeup on QYPE.

If you are ever in Naples, here is the address to go and report back on!

Starter Emotional Food Rau

Raù Emotional Food, Vc. Satriano 8/C, Chiaia, 80121 Napoli, Tel +39-81-245-5057
email: info@rauemotionalfod.com

Crazy signposts and driving habits in Southern Italy

Driving in Italy is quite an experience for most of us non-Italians.  However, driving in the south of Italy is considerably worse, in my opinion, than driving in the north of Italy (cut off at Rome).  Even if I consider myself a handy driver and get by in Italian (più o meno), I was still rather confused by the signposts.  I snapped this shot in Salerno, on the coast south of Naples.  Anyone’s guess as to what it means!?

Street signposts in Salerno, Italy

You can find similar paradoxical signposts all along the middle of roads.  Rather unnerving.

Of course, there are also the southern Italian driving habits.  On dual-lane carriageways, there are, naturally, two lanes.  You might say, the ordinary lane and the overtaking lane?  The Napolitans have repurposed the lanes.  The super slow lane (less than 60 kmh) for the panic-striken and the super fast lane where the drivers, often in swank SUVs, speed up to your tail at over 150 kmh, ominously flashing their beams to get you out of the way, to move into the docile slow lane.  Again, rather unnerving. 

Anyway, when I returned to Paris, I found that some of the driving ‘habits’ I had picked up (to survive) in Naples came with me.  The Parisians found me particularly rude.  After a short while, however, I was able to curtail my Napolitan style driving and avoided any Parisian tickets.  Anyway, if you plan to do any driving in southern Italy, get your lead shoes on!

ATM or Computer Screen Readability in the Sunlight

Here’s a business opportunity for an enterprising individual: create a screen that can be read despite the sunshine.  I was in Naples last week and, braving the 40C degree heat, I attempted to draw some money from an ATM (pictured below).  With the direct sunlight, the instructions on the screen were absolutely impossible to make out, regardless of the shading I tried to provide.  You would think that bank managers with ATM machines in sun-drenched locations would have contemplated this need already.  Anyway, I thought I might put this one out there to try to inspire some keen engineer… Surely, for those of us working on the beach (laptop, iphone, etc.), we’d also benefit from the innovation that would allow for a screen to be readable in the sunlight.

ATM Screen blinded by Sunlight

I got my share of sunny money all the same.

Starbucks opens eco-store, 50th in France

Starbucks France celebrated last week (July 1st) the opening of its 50th store in the country, with all the Starbucks high brass in attendance.  Located in the Disney Village at Disneyland outside of Paris, this store is the first “eco-responsible” Starbucks outside of Seattle, where they have already opened two such eco-concept stores. 

The concept and design of this Eco-Responsible Starbucks is “an evolution of the Third Place concept,” whereby, according to the company, Starbucks would be the third “go to” place behind the home and the workplace.

Starbucks Disney Paris Eco Store: Light within a Light Concept
 Light within a light decorations

In keeping with a Sustainable Development approach, the design of the store was conceived by using as many local partners as possible (furnishings were all provided by businesses within a radius of 30 km of the store) and to be strongly ingrained with the local [“Disney”] community.

One of the highlight points was that this Starbucks store is LEED certified.  Now recognized in some 90 countries, LEED has become an international standard for benchmarking energy consumption and CO2 emissions.  Three pillars to the eco-conception: natural ventilation for the air conditioning system (-30% reduction in energy), LED and fluo-compact lighting (-90% in electricity consumption in the public zones of the store), and various water reducing mechanisms (mousser, sensor systems…) which are expected to reduce water consumption by 49%. 

Starbucks Euro Disney Store: Wine Rack Lighting 
Wine rack used for ceiling decoration

This Disney Village Starbucks features a number of recycled materials and objects, including using wine racks for lighting (pictured) and ceiling decorations, wood from wine barrels, airplane carpeting and used leather from jettisoned cars. 

Starbucks Founder CEO Howard Schultz in ParisI spoke with CEO and founder, Howard Schultz who was on hand to cut the ceremonial ribbon, and asked about when Starbucks would make it to coffee-paradise Italy?  He said that there were no definitive plans, but that Italy’s day would come some day.  Meanwhile, in another coffee-loving country, Turkey, Schultz was quick to say how well Starbucks has done there. 

Starbucks Community Involvement
Around the store were plaques that made for casual reading and reaffirm Starbucks’ official policy regarding its community involvement (pictured left) and environmental stewardship.  In all, the Starbucks store continues to provide a different way to enjoy coffee and clearly the Starbucks employees (“partners”) were enjoying the new concept.  Starbucks plan to generalize this concept throughout its network for all new stores and any renovations.  Read here for more on their own news wire.

Irony of the opening ceremony was how hard it was to get served a coffee.  A little “pull” and I was served.  After the store opening ceremony, Starbucks “partners” in France were invited to a 5-year anniversary party in a big tent behind the 50th store.  I took a sneak preview and enjoyed a few words with a woman there to teach about Starbucks’ philosophy regarding bean selection and coffee-making.  Kudos to Starbucks France Managing Director and fellow INSEAD grad Philippe Sanchez.

Permanent Changes arising from the Economic Crisis

Changes? What Changes?
Change InvertedThe ongoing worldwide economic crisis has created many obvious changes in behaviour, mostly focused on the effects of reduced funds. Whether it is the fear that makes a salaried person “tighten” his or her budget or someone who actually has less money coming in (for example, an entrepreneur struggling to make ends meet or, worse yet, someone who has been fired), there is less money floating around. However, given human nature, once the world’s economies recover and businesses reignite, with fuller employment, most of these shifts in behaviour will inevitably revert back in pavlovian style to the habits of the past.

The question that interests me most, however, for this post is which of the changes will be permanent. The profound changes in culture and the creation of related new processes are what will cause the change to stick. Many of the changes pre-date the recession, at least in their origin. The recession has also provoked new business models and practices. Among the lingering changes in behaviour, clearly, from a corporate standpoint, managers who have never had to face such difficult times will have plentiful learnings which should augur well for being better prepared in future downturns. A perfect example is how management at internet companies have managed this crisis much better since getting their proverbial fingers burned in bursting of the internet bubble in 2000-2001.

I will present below which four major changes I believe will have staying power, at least in the much of the developed world.

Durable Sustainable Development Effects

Instant Sustainable Development

As the need to green has invaded mass media, I have three thoughts here about the more lasting cultural shifts: (1) There is clearly a move away from heavy consumption of fossil fuels (SUVs and cars in general), creating new habits such as walking to work or taking public transport which may, in turn, help justify and finance more public transport development. (2) Purchasing “green” for the long term should have, by definition, a long tail. An example is the purchase of long lasting LED lights whose benefits of durability and low energy consumption are slowly gaining traction, even if they present a higher upfront cost. (3) Attention to reducing water consumption has meant walking away from bottled water (at restaurants as well as at home) and perhaps showering a little quicker and, perhaps, less frequently… On average, every minute under the shower represents 2 gallons or 7 1/2 litres. (Find out how much water you use daily with this handy USGS calculator here). There’s a continuing business opportunity for the water filter companies, although it is not so good for the shower gel business.

ChangeGoods that are good for you and the end of consumerism
I would argue that, for an ever growing part of the population, there is going to be a true and lasting trend away from hyper consumerism. Ownership is not all it is be cracked up to be. Beyond the worry of reduced finances, the issue of buying and owning goods is one of quality of life: people will come to the realisation that owning too much is actually a burden, a headache, often times actually creating additional embedded costs and hassles; and, it certainly does not lead to greater happiness.

Someone who owns more than two homes knows what I am talking about: each home creates multiples of paperwork, presumably having to adjust to different rules and regulations. Just making sure that each house is stocked with the basics, much less complete dinner settings, etc. is quite the ongoing exercise. If you are someone who owns a super expensive car, you know that investing in spare parts and getting little scratch marks fixed is a hassle — especially as you roam away from the local dealership. Finding “protected” parking when you decide to take your jazzy car for a ride in town is an extra constraint. Of course, having too much of anything means that you need to have the space to store it… extra hassle and expenses. One of the more potent trends that plays to avoiding owning yet another holiday house: swapping homes (whether for the holidays or not). Here’s a plug for a friend’s initiative, Geenee, which allows for a swap with the “world’s best.”

Slow FoodOn another level, eating at home as opposed to going out to the restaurant will create a new culture of homecooking, with a sharper attention to the ingredients (not just their cost). There has apparently been tremendous growth in cooking school enrollments. And, in a similar vein, there is also the notion of SLOW FOOD*, as promoted diligently and valiantly in the US by Alice Waters (check out her restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley CA where they serve only in-season fruit and vegetables).

So, the lasting trend here is a move away from amassing goods that crimp my space, burden my mind and waste resources. Instead, people w
ill focus on goods that bring mental freedom, physical health and, hopefully, a smile to the face. As the literature and media coverage latches on to this trend, I see this trend going mainstream even in the rich circles. Recommended reading: The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard and The Art of Simpe Food by Alice Waters.

Buy Local
Buy Fresh Buy Local LabelThere are two driving forces to buy local: “sustainable development” and latent protectionism. If you buy locally produced goods, the concept is that the items didn’t use as many resources travelling from faraway lands, and at the same time that you are supporting your local community. There are two sBuy Local Posterubplots to this trend: the potential revival of the feelgood effect of buying from a local shopkeeper who knows you (even by name!), and greater attention to the content (“made in” labels) and ingredients (“made of”). In economic tough times, this may be a counter-intuitive trend in that mom & pop stores have a hard time competing on price. Nonetheless, I would look for this “Buy Local” trend to prosper on the other side of the recession.

How Well do You ShareSharing, renting and leasing versus buying

There are certainly economic reasons for not being able to buy something and, to the extent the item you are looking to buy is for limited use (e.g. a new dress for a party, a bigger car for a 2 week family holiday…), the option of sharing, renting or leasing becomes more inviting. Sharing & renting may also be collateral plays on the reduced need/desire to buy and own (point 2 above) as the need to preserve and store the item(s) is less onerous. Sharing & renting also pander well to the green conscience. With this burgeoning trend, there are many new offers that have cropped up. I cite a few of the more interesting ones that I have come across:
  • Zipcar: a for-profit, membership-based carsharing company providing automobile rental to its members, billable by the hour or day.
  • ArtRentandlease.com: providing “rotating monthly rental packages, Fine Art Leases and direct sales… Individual prices start at just $20 per month, including eco-friendly Green Art.”
  • Avelle, or BagBorrowSteal: Rent by the week, the month or for as long as you’d like top fashion brand names for jewelry, handbags, sunglasses, watches, etc. “There’s never a late fee.” You don’t have to be a member, but if you are, the prices are better.
  • Babyplays: A membership-based online toy rental site. About time kids’ closets stopped bursting with just-opened, barely used toys, no?
Craigslist, Olx and eBay are the leading internet plays on the circulation of second-hand goods (and services). With Craigslist and Olx, there is the local play as well.

Underpinning virtually all these structural changes in behaviour are (1) the internet and (2) sustainable development.

I wrote a while back about how inter-related I felt web 2.0 and sustainable development are (read here), and when you overlay the evident economic benefits, I can only reinforce how this crisis will accelerate the changes and how, coming out on the other end, we will all be that much more on the web, taking advantage of new behaviours and goods & services, indeed creating a kind of new ‘unpop’ eco-culture.

*Slow Food, a non-profit, eco-gastronomic member-supported organization, was borne out of the anti-fast food movement in France in 1989 and is headquartered in Bra, Italy. Slow Food stands against “the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. To do that, Slow Food brings together pleasure and responsibility, and makes them inseparable.” The organisation boasts over 100,000 members in 132 countries.

Entrepreneurship – Economist Special Report on Why and How…

Mind of an Entrepreneur

The Economist ran a special report (March 14, 2009) on Entrepreneurialism and there were several interesting and important points that I felt like writing about. The 16-page report discusses the state of entrepreneurship around the world. In some regards, the report contains an apologia for European entrepreneurship, at least as it pertains to the non-Anglo-Saxon countries. Denmark is cited as a standout example in many regards, and most of the Scandinavian countries, as well as Britain, have a good record in the promotion of and opportunity for start-ups. The United States generally retains its leader status for entrepreneurship and one of the articles, “The United States of Entrepreneurs” describes a number of reasons why the US has managed to continue its run of entrepreneurial successes.

The one reason that really caught my fancy was the power of the story. The notion is that, all throughout high school and university, American-educated children hear stories of inventors and entrepreneurs such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Steve Jobs, etc. How on earth one can substantiate the positive benefit, I have no idea. However, the underlying concept is that icons and role models have no uncertain power and stories, etched into the young, moldable minds, have a habit of being converted into dreamed up business plans.

The article describes the usual suspects of freedom to hire and fire and access to venture capital. [If the notion of investing in a start up is considered a venture in the US, it is called capital risk in numerous European countries].

Another surprising point, as far as I was concerned, is the link with Academia. According to the Economist article, another advantage in the US “is a tradition of close relations between universities and industry. America’s universities are economic engines rather than ivory towers, with proliferating science parks, technology offices, business incubators and venture funds…” That the content and instruction in the “MBA” schools, borne out of the US, provides best-in-class business-training is probably unassailable. But, I would not have known about the comparative strength of the link between academia and business, as I am unaware of the strength of the link in other systems.

The final point I would like to highlight is the U.S. “immigration policy that, historically, has been fairly open.” A professor of Duke University, Vivek Wadhwa, is quoted as saying that “52% of Silicon Valley start-ups were founded by immigrants…” What is not said, but which I firmly believe, is that the reputation of America – all that is incarnated in the American Dream – attracts the entrepreneurially spirited immigrants. Immigrants who, at least in theory, have the choice of which country to which they will attempt to emigrate, will not select the USA if they are fearful of failure, if they are looking for protection and care for [a large number of] children. The reputation of you can “make it rich” in the US is inevitably accompanied by the knowledge of the lack of a safety net. In short, I maintain that the US has a habit of receiving applications from immigrants wishing to create and produce.

The final piece that is fascinating to observe is the propensity for start-ups in the US, not only to survive longer, but more emphatically to scale quicker. Witness the number of companies in the top 100 (based on market cap) that did not exist twenty years ago (Google, Ebay, Yahoo, Amazon…, but the list is not just limited to internet stories). The chart below is particularly telling, measuring the net number of people hired by surviving, new companies. (Source OECD)

Net Employment Gains

If you want to have some fun, look at this complete list of the world’s countries ranked according to the ease of doing business (source: the World Bank Doing Business database). There is no single column on mafia or corruption levels, per se, but the different categories are broad and quite fun to explore: getting construction permits, trading across border, enforcing contracts… Topping the listing is Singapore, followed by New Zealand and USA (with no changes in the top 8 from 2008). Among European countries, Italy comes in at an appalling 61st, while France is 31st (2 ahead of Azerbaijan) and Greece is 96th. Russia (120) and Ukraine (145) are at the “deep” end of the table. Below is the top 20, ranked according to ease of doing business (2009).

Ease of Doing Business Top 20 Countries

A parting remark: The word entrepreneur is a distinctly French word, n’est-ce pas? But, somehow may have been lost in the [bureaucratic paper] shuffle, if not translation.

You can be a Fantoo – sports viewed by serious women fans

Women are sports fans… too! That’s the notion behind Fantoo, featuring a blog and downloadable podcast (mp3 via iTunes here). A far cry from the Italian women “sports journalists” that are sported on television programs (“il calcio“) in Italy, Fantoo is for serious sports fans. Launched and operated by Robin McConaughty and Carol Doroba, there is plenty of interesting [and at times quirky] commentary that, as Robin mentions in the videoclip below, is enjoyed by guys as well as girls.

Being based in Philadelphia, Robin covers my dear Flyers. And here you can follow the Podcast, interview and on-ice throw-down with Flyers’ enforcer Riley Cote! If you are interested in how the hockey goons start a fight, you can hear it from Riley in this clip. As Robin said to me, “…things always go better when you ‘ask in a nice way’.


With the Philadelphia Flyers heading into the first game of the first round tonight (of the Stanley Cup 2009, that is) with our Keystone rivals, Pittsburgh, I can only imagine that Riley will have his hands full more than a few times.

And kudos to Robin and Carol for their fantoo.

Six Nations 2009 Grand Slam Goes to Ireland

Six Nations Rugby Countries Flags

Saturday, March 21st 2009 was a great day for Six Nations rugby. Each game seemed to have something riding on it.  There was some great rugger. The end of a 61-year journey. Some pride recuperated (France). Two away wins. Some things better left unsaid (Italy). Aside from the glorious sunshine that swept through the day from Murray field to Rome, the sporting entertainment was top notch.

Ireland beat Wales 17-15 to claim the Grand Slam for the first timeIreland Wins Six Nations Rugby 2009 since 1948, beating off the incumbent as well as the other pretender for the 2009 title in a tense, up and down match which saw the lead change hands 4 times, twice in the last 5 minutes via reciprocal, beautifully struck drop goals. Wales’ last gasp penalty kick, like their game, just fell short. Congrats to the men in green.

England handed out a 26-12 defeat of Scotland with some very enjoyable rugby (albeit mediocre kicking) to win the Calcutta Cup.  I can remember when rugby had very little kicking, then went through a phase of too much kicking. Yesterday saw some great running, 8 and 9 phase balls.  Scotland made a game of it, especially in the initial few moments with a penalty conversion and a startling run down the left flank by Thom Evans that was brilliantly stopped by Ugo Monye.  Then, with 10 minutes left, Scotland closed to within 6 points.  England then managed another score to put it out of reach for the Scot.  Overall, the game was most enjoyable to watch.

And, finally, albeit in reverse order for the day’s play, there was France’s drubbing of Italy 50-8, a fitting reminder that it is truly a Five plus 1 Nations tournament. Italy (who have won just 6 matches out of 50 since the beginning) typically plays the role of spoiler in the Points For/Against category.  The second, third and fourth places were decided on points (all on 6 points), with England, pipping France for second.  


Luxury market on the decline in France — What deeper effects will occur?

A Return to Values

Recession brings luxury down to earth…but what of the more urgent changes needed?

The Herald Tribune ran a front page article entitled “A return to Values?” (15 Jan 2009) on the situation of the French luxury market.  What struck me about this article was the inherent contradiction about how France, the country that frowns heavily on the bling bling nature of the nouveaux riches, should also yet be the country of reference and, along with Italy, the leader in luxury wares.  Both the French and Italians have essentially got a wrap on the luxury market (at least in terms of reputation) through masterful craftsmanship, suave marketing and a culture of developing taste and sophistication.  The curiosity is that, in France (or in Italy), you really cannot be seen sporting too overtly any of the luxury items.  The socialistic veil would claim that all people should be made equal… But, beyond the impact on luxury consumption, the bigger question for me is whether this crisis will also have a deeper paradigmatic change in France in the way the economy is actually “engineered” for growth.

Decline PricesMajor luxury brands are talking of bringing prices down (some are even talking about discounting) and cutting back personnel.  End of November 2008, LVMH dropped prices by an average of 7% in Japan.  Many brands in India have announced major discounts (read here for the story from Business Standard India).  Chanel announced the cutting back of 200 temporary employees.  Champagne sales (with the proper appellation) were off 16.5% in the month of October 2008 versus the year before (having been -2.4% in the first nine months of 2008).  Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel’s designer, is quoted in the IHT article as saying “Bling is over.  Red-carpety-covered-with-rhinestones is out.  I call it ‘the new modesty.’”  Another IHT article in early December already traced the fall in luxury prices in the US.

The IHT article, written by Elaine Sciolino, writes that “only in hyper intellectual France could a sharp economic downturn be widely lauded for posing a crisis in values.”  The statement is inaccurate on two counts.  First, the hyper intellectual are a clique of people (a portion of which are often given the moniker “la gauche caviar”) which, by definition, is limited in number and therefore cannot also be “widely” praising such a crisis.  Secondly, the economic crisis that is hitting so many countries will also give rise to criticisms and rejection of the past “systems and values” that are at the root of the current situation.

For example, I believe that the USA, among other countries, is clearly reviewing its own value systems.  In coordination with the arrival of President-Elect Obama, there is a true opportunity for the US to revisit its values.  Hopefully, going well beyond the issues of financial liquidity, credit living and low savings rates, such a re-evaluation will look at the three biggest problems: (1) the lack of curiosity and poor general education levels, (2) the excessive consumerism and a reconsideration of the value of money, and (3) poor health levels, including poor eating habits combined with the terribly low medical coverage.

Great Depression: Jobless Men Keep GoingDuring the Great Depression, many people were no doubt forced to change their habits.  But, as the years went by, perhaps blurred by the impact of WWII, it seems that the Depression did not provoke any long-term change in values — at least not beyond the generation that was directly affected.  Will the countries hit by the current recession — assuming it gets deeper — truly change the paradigms on any long-term basis?  To talk of the need for a revolution is misguided in ambition; but, there will surely be enough people where the impact of this current recession will enter into their psyche.  As with the recession itself, you see that the psychological issues play a hard-to-overstate role in the duration and depth of the crisis.  But, what scar tissues will linger in the fabric of society?

In France and other mature countries, the removal of excesses [in the luxury market] and a return to values are seemingly upon us, at least for now.  Whether the crisis also cleanses the economies of its excessively inefficient components would appear to be the bigger question for France and its mature and less dynamic European partners (i.e. Italy, Belgium…).  The ability to restructure in down times–to help create a healthier base in the upcycle–will be critical for the future of France.  And, if there were such change brought to bear, then one could imagine that the luxury market will flourish with as great, if not greater fanfare in the next upturn.  If not, we might truly want to batten down the hatches.

What do you think are going to be lasting effects of this recession?

Reflections on the Philippines post Christmas Holidays 2008 Visit

Reflections on the Philippines – Mabuhay Bloggers

Map of Philippines
I have written in the past that the Philippines placed highly (6th) in the World Economic Forum 2008 global gender gap ranking. The report says in the latest publication:
“…The Philippines is one of two countries in Asia to have closed the gender gap on both education and health and is one of only eleven in the world to have done so. However, the Philippines’s score relative to its performance in 2007 fell due to a drop in the perceived wage equality between women and men employed in similar positions and a decrease in the percentage of women ministers [to 10%].”
It would seem that this high ranking was largely favoured by the female President (the second Filipina President in its history) and the good representation of girls/women in school at every level. I also wonder about the impact of the relative earning power of Filipinas abroad who, with even numbers, send in $18B versus $32B for men (OFW statistics). After my visit to the Philippines over the Christmas holidays, I can make a few more observations.

Children playing in Garbage Dump
First, courtesy of my kind acquaintance Charlie Avila, I learned that 57% of the Filipino university students are women. Second, just by circulating around Manila, you can see that women very clearly have an active role in business. That said, in this activity, there is a traditional division of labour (e.g. 99.9% of jeepney and tricycle drivers are men; while, for the women, there is obviously a lot of childbearing and rearing) and, outside of Manila, the ‘latin’ machista culture dominates. And, third, during our stay in the Philippines, I read how the government signed into law the so-called Magna Carta of Women, presumably promoted by the relatively large representation of women in parliament. In the Lower chamber, there are 49 out of 240 (20.4%) women elected, while there are 4 out of 24 (16.7%) in the Upper chamber. The ‘Magna Carta for Women’ bill (#4273) seeks to provide women equal treatment before the law, equal access to information and services related to women’s health, and equal rights in all matters relating to marriage and family relations. The cynic would say that if they need to create a law, there must be good reason for its need.

Skylab PhilippinesWooden Homemade Bicycle in the PhilippinesNonetheless, although I would like to believe so, women’s equality is not necessarily tantamount to progress. Since my first visit to the Philippines in 2004, I have observed little progress in the Philippines. The standout difference is perhaps the Subic-Clark-Tarlac dual carriage tollway (funded by the Japanese). Otherwise, the infrastructure and travelling conditions remain difficult–opportunities to break the speed limit (60kph) are exceedingly rare. Driving around the countryside, you are besieged by the 3rd World poverty (cf kids playing in the burning trash). People seem either to be mulling about doing absolutely nothing or on the move going absolutely anywhere. Any transportation is optimized; single drivers are an oddity. Passengers ride on the roof or hanging out the side. Cities are chockerblock with tricycles, bicycles and jeepneys. And the forms of transportation are quite inventive. You will see rice thresher contraptions and a “skylab” (down south, pictured above right) consisting of a balancing beam placed perpendicularly behind a bicycle/motorcycle with equal portions of people on either side. You can hardly fall asleep at the wheel thanks to the ingrained–if poor–driving habits and continuous overtaking.

  
Philippines Lorry Party - All AboardAs a testament to the constant to and fro’ movement of the people — and semantically revealing — the typical greeting in tagalog is “saan ka pupunta” meaning ‘where are you going?’ Another common greeting is “saan ka galing” meaning ‘where are you coming from?’ In terms of an answer to this greeting, you can say eith
er “diyan” (just there) or “doon” (doh-on, yonder/over there). 

Keep Philippines Clean Signpost

Signposts, and I am not referring to the names of towns, lead the way. There are signs calling for healthier (washing hands, drinking clean water, etc.) and greener Keep Bagac Clean - Philippines Sign(no trash, less water waste…) living; others invoking God and revoking drugs in the same breath; yet others demanding to stop abuse of children and/or women. All these signs, of course, are mixed in with a robust cocktail of commercial enterprise. And, yet, the progress seems slow.

As Charlie said, it seems that the Philippines suffer the instability of stability (as opposed to Italy which finds stability through instability). Part of the challenge evidently lies in the continuing stranglehold of the top 100 families who stubbornly refuse to yield. A defining Filipino saying is, roughly translated, Filipinos have “a loud but short fizzle” — the firecracker (a national pastime over New Year’s eve) is a good metaphor for the Filipino character. After the smoke, not much has changed. And yet, the success of Filipinos overseas, one of if not the largest diaspora (11 million or around 11% of its population) in the world is paradoxical. Beyond the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) in Dubai or the Filipinas that set the standard for domestic help around the world, there are ample cases of successful Filipino professionals (medical technicians, engineers, etc.).

From my various conversations, it would seem that the Filipino education system has taken it on the chin in recent years. An experiment to convert the curriculum entirely to Tagalog lasted a couple of years, but has had a lasting negative impact on English literacy levels. What was once a sizable competitive advantage — wide ranging English fluency — has decreased without compensation in any other form.

The other calamity is the growing strength of the “other” Filipinos occupying the southern islands, particularly Mindanao. Aside from hurting what is already a diminutive tourism, there seems to be a real schism between the predominant Catholic Filipinos and the Muslim population in the south.

Philippines TricycleTo overcome the handicap of the terrain and climate and its reliance on the centralizing, megapolis capital (12-15 million), the Philippines will need to overhaul its education system (as is the case, that said, for so many countries) and invest in its infrastructure (none more so than in Manila itself). With its pro-Western stance, the large and growing population and the generally genial charm of the Filipinos, there is much potential for this country. Will have to come back in another ten years to see how it all transpires.