Monday, September 25, 2017

FloristManila.com – Incompetent, dishonest, or both? You decide!

If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s the way some people appear to think that the world owes them a living. This is especially true when it comes to online stores that promise you everything but which fall short on their promises… and then refuse to take any responsibility for their actions – or total inactions, as the case may be.
 
Your favourite blogger has just experienced another case of a screw-the-customer-as-long-as-we-get-their-money website which makes me wonder how they ever stay in business. In this case I am referring to FloristManila.com – a site I found through my search engine when I put in Tanauan – a town in the Philippines where a friend lived and to whom I wished to send some flowers.

In China, August 28th is Valentine’s Day (OK, so they also use February 14th just like in the West, but I guess there’s no harm in having another go later in the year.) This year it fell on a Monday, and as FloristMania.com promised that all orders received the day before could be delivered anywhere in the Philippines, and as it also had a branch in Tanauan – the town in which my friend lived, I plumped for them. This was Friday early morning, a full three days before delivery was due.
 
 
The roses displayed on the site looked nice, and though the cost wasn’t cheap, you don’t splash out on bunches of roses more than once or twice in a year (do you?) so I reassured my wallet that all would be well and sent off the order.
 
 
Monday morning arrived, and my friend was online, but there was no mention of roses; so at 1425, I got online to FloristManila.com. The website has a Track-my-order button; but try as I might, it steadfastly refused to work.
 
 
There was also a button for a LiveChat, but that too refused to work.
 
 
So I sent off an eMail enquiring about the order. Within 20 minutes I got a reply. I was not to worry. The order had been dispatched and would arrive any time soon:
                                            
Thank you for your order & email. Please be assured, your order is shipped out in timely manner & out for delivery already, your order will be delivered any time soon. Thank you.
 
Attached was a delivery status report, from which I noticed that the flowers had not been sent out from the local town which had been so lovingly written up on their website, and which is why I had gone to them in the first place. Instead the flowers had been sent from Trabajo Market in Manila to Lipa, which is a good 45 minutes drive away from Tanauan. But delivery was still promised that day, though a Valentine’s delivery in the late afternoon is not what I would call very satisfactory!
 
 
By the next morning, still no message from my friend; so I wrote to FloristManila.com again. What was happening?
 
I am absolutely furious. Despite the fact that I made my order on Friday night – nearly 14 hours before your so-called deadline for next day orders; despite eMailing you to ask why at 1425 on MONDAY the flowers had not arrived and asking for assurances that they would arrive that day; despite your response at 1444 saying they were due to be delivered “any time soon”; despite the fact it was Chinese Valentine’s Day; yet STILL at 1100 on TUESDAY there is still no sign of your delivery!
 
I only chose your company because I searched online for Tanauan florists – Tanauan being a ten minute drive from the recipient’s address. Yet you didn’t use your Tanauan branch at all, preferring instead to send the flowers to Lipa which is a good 45 minute drive away. 

Your website made promises you did not keep; and you have broken your contract with me. I demand full reimbursement of all I paid to you; a full explanation of your unprofessionalism; and an indication of what you intend to do to rectify the situation.
 
This time they casually mentioned that the delivery driver had gone to the right address but no one knew of my friend there (this despite the fact that not only she, but also three of her family were indoors all day long); and as she had not answered her phone, the delivery driver had given up.
 
Dear Sir,
Thank you for your email. We apologize for the unfortunate situation & we can’t deny the fact that your order has not been delivered as it should be, however there are some more facts that you should be aware of first before you judge us with all the blames. We surely hope that you would understand the situation. First of all, you have seen from the tracking history that the order was out for delivery, so we were true to our words, & if the order was delivered, you would not have to be stressed with this order. The courier service did try to deliver your order, unfortunately they couldn’t be able to find out the recipient as she is unknown at the given delivery location, we are trying to reach the recipient with your given contact # since yesterday with no luck as the # is always switched off, thus we couldn’t be able to coordinate with the recipient regarding this issue as of now. Thank you for your kind understanding of this situation.
 
All this had happened (I later found out) four hours before the first reply from FloristManila.com saying that the flowers were due for delivery any time soon. I hit the roof. More than a day after the flowers should have been delivered, nothing had arrived.
 
This is a disgrace. Kindly refund me the full amount now and stop trying to make excuses for an abysmal service which is taking money under false pretenses!
 
But FloristManila.com started adding insult to injury…
 
Dear Sir,
Thank you for your email. Please be advised, we informed you already that we are trying to reach the recipient since yesterday, and we would like to inform you that the delivery attempt was made by LBC Express’s delivery personnel, & the tracking status is from their website, so if you are not satisfied with that, we have nothing more to say on this regard
[my highlighting!].
 
I was incensed. Quite clearly the delivery driver had not gone to the right address; but equally clearly, FloristManila.com intended to wash their hands of the matter. What did they intend to do to redress the matter, I asked. Not a lot, it appeared. Once again I replied to them demanding my money back…
 
Now I am getting angry!

According to the LBC tracking info LBC "tried" to deliver at 1041 yesterday morning when I know there were at least four people in the house! Yet when you first wrote to me at 1444 you never mentioned there was any problem with your deliveryman not being able to find the place!

This is also the first time you have mentioned you were using LBC couriers, so how was I meant to check the status of delivery when your web site clearly doesn't work in this regard.

If the LBC deliveryman was not able to find the place how come it took until I wrote to you this morning to be told there was a problem?

How come no one tried to contact me if there was a problem? You have my eMail address and you have my phone number.

Your web site clearly implied that Tanauan City Flowers Shop would be dealing with the order - that's the only reason I ended up at your site, because it is only 10 minutes drive at maximum to get from the centre of Tanauan to the recipient's address. If you chose to deliver by another route that is your choice - but do not make your problems into my problem!

[The recipients’ address] is easy to find as it is a massive development. There are so many trike drivers and security guards around there that your delivery man obviously did not ask directions but simply gave up without bothering.

The fact that the recipient's phone was switched off is no reason for the delivery not to be made. The address was correct and there were people there in the house. So your assertion that "unfortunately they couldn’t be able to find out the recipient as she is unknown at the given delivery location" is ridiculous. Your courier was either extremely incompetent or extremely lazy or extremely stupid. Take your pick!

Irrespective of whom you used to deliver the flowers, my contract is with you, not with LBC. It is up to YOU to honour your contract which you have clearly failed to do. As I have already asked, kindly refund me the full amount now - that's $60.90 - and stop trying to make excuses for an abysmal service which is trying to take money under false pretences!
 
Silence.
 
I wrote again demanding a refund. Again no answer.
 
Luckily I had paid by PayPal, and they have a buyers’ protection in place; so I invoked their procedure. First I would have to write to the seller through the PayPal communications channel (in order, I guess, to ensure PayPal could see the communications between the two).
 
Again no answer.
 
After three days, I elevated my complaint through PayPal to an official demand, but still not a peep from FloristManila.com.
 
 
But finally PayPal decided in my favour and refunded my money.
 
 
PayPal had done a sterling job; but from FloristManila.com, not a peep. No apology; no explanations, nothing.
 
Who are these fly-by-night shysters I wanted to know? A search of Whois.com reveals the following information:
 
Well, it turns out the web site was registered in Hong Kong, but the head office is at 44 G Main street, Makati City , 02116 Philippines. They also have a US call number given: +1 (213) 457-3191.
There are any number of florists in Manila, of course, many with similar names. I have no idea if this outfit is related to any of the other florists (but I did find that, according to PayPal CebuFlorist.com is also part of the same organisation).
 
 
 
 
So in conclusion, from my experience I would strongly warn anyone even thinking of using FloristManila.com to think again. (Yes search engines… I said FloristManila.com. Kindly note that for all to see.)
 
@ FloristManila.com – some may think your courier “service” simply sucks. But their incompetence is only aggravated by your insolent and disgraceful customer “service”. Incompetent or dishonest? In my view you are both!
 
And just for your information, this blog normally attracts approximately 7,000 views every month. I intend to publicise this posting as widely as possible through the likes of FaceBook to get even more views. Hopefully others will be warned off from using your abysmal company.
 
@ my dear blog fans – if I hear anything further from FloristManila.com, I will of course post their comments here and you will be the first to know.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The 18 Museums that Never Were

My first reaction on discovering three museums laid out in my iPhone’s Maps app was one of joy – three more museums to discover and blog about! But apart from being a fan of Beijing’s many and varied museums, your favourite blogger has also become a bit of a cynic in the six years he has been living here.

Surely not? Yes, I’m afraid so.
 
I have learned long ago that wily sellers who want to attract punters through the doors of their retail establishments have learned a super wheeze… Put a notice up saying it is a museum; then when the unsuspecting Joe Public walks in, you show him a couple of interesting artefacts and go to work on the hard-sell.
 
So when my phone bleats at me about three museums, virtually one on top of the other, I smell a rat.
 
 
But as it turns out I’m in the area anyway, visiting a real museum just along the road, so I decide to try my luck.
 
What I’m not expecting, however, is to find not just three “museums”, but a total of 18… including Currency, Ceramics, Jade, Comics, Playing Cards, Medals, Cigarette Packets … well you get the idea.
 
By chance I have found myself in Baoguo Temple in the Xuanwu District of Beijing. It turns out this has become a thriving “antiques” market, which has even earned itself the nickname of "Little Panjiayuan". (Regular blog fans of mine will be casting their minds back to something I wrote about Panjiayuan in 2014.)
 
These “museums” might actually be better described as 'World Currency Exhibition Hall', 'China Stamp Exhibition Hall', and 'China Currency Exhibition Hall', to name but three.
 
Baoguo Si (报国寺) translates as ‘Serve the Country Temple’; and this Temple Market has become a popular destination for bric-a-brac lovers since it was opened as such in 1997. Panjiayuan Market may get all the hype (usually from travel web sites who surely have never visited it!), but Baoguo Si certainly appears to have more to offer.
 
Being a mere 50 metres from exit B of Guang’anmennei, you can hardly miss the old temple complex. (Incidentally, across the main road you will see the Caishikou Department Store which now stands on the very spot where Beijing’s criminals were executed during the Qing Dynasty.)
 
 
Baoguo Si was a Buddhist temple first constructed in the Liao Dynasty in 1103. During the Ming Dynasty, it was used as a minor palace; but in 1466 during an earthquake, it collapsed. By the early Qing dynasty, it had been rebuilt and turned into a popular bazaar selling books and flowers.
 
This isn’t as odd as it might at first appear. At that time, the emperor had a policy of treating the Manchus and the Hans differently. This area was where Han people tended to live and work, and in particular for Han scholars to take their national examinations. Finally, a book market emerged before it developed further into a cultural market.
 
Baoguo Si still keeps the appearance of a temple. It has three halls, of which two – as well as the buildings circling the temple wall – are used either as warehouses or showrooms.
 
 
The big difference between Baoguo Si and other “antiques” markets is that it focuses mainly on ancient coins, old paper money and old books. Of particular interest are the ‘lianhuanhua’, small picture books that had their heyday in pre-1949 Shanghai and what many regard as the inspiration for Japanese manga.
 
This temple faces south on the whole, with the buildings inside the temple constructed on a central north-south axis. It originally had six rows of buildings, but now only four remain. Entering the temple, you see two stone lions standing in front of the first row and two steles on stone turtles situated on the east and west sides respectively. Inside the second row, there is a Palace of Heavenly Kings and two stone tablets at the door of the hall.
 
 
In 2006, Baoguo Si was declared a national cultural relics protection site, but hundreds of stalls blocked the area immediately in front of it, and it was said that it would have been impossible for fire engines to make it to the temple should a fire break out. It took four years for the authorities to manage to get rid of these stalls, but finally in March 2015 the last of the stalls was demolished.
 
Inside the complex every doorway leads to an unexpected discovery. Here, for instance, is a beautiful hand-crafted galleon, together with a wonderful tall vase (which I suspect is anything but antique!).
 
 
Another doorway leads to row upon row of stamps and first day covers. A philatelist’s delight...
 
 
All the signs are, naturally, in Chinese…
 
 
But with the simple expedient of using Google Translate’s image translator, that doesn’t cause a problem. Oh look… here’s another museum!
 
 
Hundreds, nay thousands, of coins can be found here…
 
 
…And in the same hall can be found more cigarette packets than you’ve had hot dinners.
 
 
Jade you’re after? You’ve come to the right place!
 
 
Hardly doing a thriving business today, but it isn’t Saturday when according to the local pundits the place is positively heaving.
 
 
And if it’s Mao memorabilia you’re after, then you surely need to come here; though I have to wonder at how crisp and undamaged a lot of the “antiques” are.
 
 
As for the “Poker Museum”, anything less museum-like I have yet to see; though there are apparently more than 17,000 different card decks here, collected from both China and abroad.
 
 
Ah… another museum beckons…
 
 
Although it seems well and truly locked, I can peer through the window and gaze on a number of “old” vases, though I’m not sure I’d really want them collecting dust in my apartment. Still, taste is a very personal thing, thank goodness, so I’m sure this “museum” will be able to sell off its wares.
 
 
Another sign…
 
 
Another translation…
 
 
But coin fatigue is already setting in. Outside this latest museum / gallery / trading centre are two kids playing with two pet parrots.
 
 
Or maybe they are in the process of setting up a pet parrot museum? Unfortunately there are no more notices for me to point my iPhone at. How much for an (antique) pet parrot, I wonder…

Monday, September 4, 2017

Beijing’s Diabolical Cephalostachyum Museum

It’s there in black and white. Beijing’s very own Cephalostachyum museum. What the…?

 
Being the ignoramus that I am, I look up Cephalostachyum on Wiki and find it “is a genus of Asian and Madagascan bamboo in the grass family. The plants are of small to medium size compared to most other bamboo. Their choice habitats are mountain to lowland forests.
 
A museum of bamboo eh? Well, ever curious, your favourite blogger decides to head in the direction of Guang’anmennei to find out what gives.
 
Right beside the station is a park, and in the diagram of what’s what, there, as clear as day (shown as #3), is an entry for “empty bamboo museum”. I stroll on over, but when I get there I find that it is indeed empty.
 
 
Hang on though, the address given on the map is 9 Xiaoxing Hutong; and according to my iPhone, I’m on the wrong side of the road. I retrace my steps, and walk along the correct road, passing a public loo on my left. Ahead of me is what looks a bit like a building site. And on a wall behind piles of paving slabs is a mural that depicts people playing with diabolos.
 
 
I head on further in and find a traditional courtyard house, or siheyuan, with 北京空竹博物馆 written over the entrance. According to Google translate, I have arrived at the Beijing Diabolo Museum.
 
 
Mystery solved! A Diabolo – or Chinese yoyo, for want of a better word – is traditionally made of bamboo and wood. It is an empty roller, shaped like a dumbbell, which is spun and tossed on a string tied to two sticks, held one in each hand.
 
Empty roller made of bamboo? Empty bamboo museum? The penny finally drops! God bless the man who invented computer translations!
 
In the entrance to the courtyard is a mural that says it all… this is definitely a place dedicated to diabolos.
 
 
And if one wants any more convincing, the stone relief beside it depicts a similar scene.
 
 
The history of playing with diabolos dates back to about 1,000 years ago when it developed as a pastime for the Chinese nobility; but during the Ming Dynasty, it gradually passed down to “ordinary” people.
 
During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), playing and selling diabolos at temple fairs during Spring Festival became a firm tradition. The diabolo also evolved into a popular juggling item on the streets and finally ended up in acrobatic performances too.
 
 
Diabolo spinning has been listed as one of China’s intangible heritages (mind you, what isn’t, these days!). Several diabolos can be spun on a single string at one time, and part of the beauty of diabolos – or devil’s sticks – is the number of amazing things you can do with them.
 
 
The technical name for a diabolo is actually "kong zhu", although it also has many regional nicknames, such as “wind gourd" in Tianjin, or "che ling" (扯铃) meaning "pull the bell" in southern China.
 
The size of diabolos can be as small as a chess piece or as large as a car tyre. They also come in various shapes, such as dragons, balls and flowers.
 
 
And anyone who has ever gone to a modern Chinese acrobatic performance will definitely have seen displays of dexterity as the acrobats strut their stuff with these infernal devices. The diabolo was officially added to acrobatic performances in the PRC as far back as 1950.
 
As the diabolos are spun, they make a weird whistling or buzzing sound, which is said to symbolize the awakening of spring.
 
 
The Diabolo Museum apparently houses over 400 diabolos and is divided into 3 halls, presenting the development of diabolos in terms of history, techniques and playing tricks. Some notable exhibits include diabolos that are over 100 years old, the biggest diabolo in the world, mini diabolos that are only the size of a fingernail, a diabolo once spun by Puyi, the last emperor of China, and clay sculptures of diabolo spinning in ancient times.
                                            
There are also plenty of old pictures such as these showing them being sold on the streets in days of yesteryear.
 
 
 
This museum was first opened in May 2009, and was the first ‘intangible cultural heritage’ themed museum to be sited inside a Beijing community. It covers some 200 square metres.
 
 
There are cases full of diabolos, some pretty and others not-so-pretty. As there are no notices in English, it is worth making sure you have the likes of Google translate on your mobile with its instant camera-translation mode switched on.
 
 
Traditional diabolos are hand-made, and the complicated process goes through about 17 procedures, including cutting the bamboo, making the body, polishing the wood and adding an axle.
 
 
There are photos aplenty showing how they are made…
 
 
…and how when they are gathered together in their individual parts they can be assembled into the diabolos we have come to know and love.
 
 
The tools used are pretty basic wood working tools. There’s also a small lathe and a worktable.
 
 
Also on display is a collection of the sticks used to control the diabolos. Initially, both the spools and the sticks of the Chinese diabolo were made of bamboo, but now they come in different materials such as plastic, wood and rubber.
 
 
And lest you have any worry about what you can do with one of these “toys”, there are diagrams to help you out here as well.
 
 
My favourite set of diabolos comes as a Chinese Chess (Xiangqi) board, with the individual diabolos being the chess pieces which are moved around. Beautiful!
 
 
According to the experts, there are now about 1,000 ways of playing with the diabolo. Not only do they create difficult tricks and beautiful styles, but they also combine this with elegant dancing postures. In circuses you’ll see performers playing the diabolo as they kick shuttlecocks, ride bikes, roller-skate or take part in many other activities.
 
This diabolo troupe was busy practising in 2004-5.
 
 
Being an art form, it’s no surprise that the performers’ costumes are just as important to the overall display effect, and sure enough this museum displays some of the costumes used in famous performances.
 
 
There are hundreds of diabolo organizations across China. In Beijing alone, it is said that at least 10,000 people play it. And can you believe that about 30 schools in Beijing now list diabolo playing as a course! Well, nothing surprises me any more, I guess.
 
One of the most prominent items on display takes one back to November 1st 2007 when the most shuttlecock kicks while spinning a diabolo for one minute were made. Yunji Liu achieved 69 kicks, setting a new Guinness World Record. He was appearing on Zheng Da Zong Yi, CCTV-1’s longest-running entertainment TV show, which became the default PRC home for Guinness World Records, with clips from foreign shows also shown and with audience members answering questions on the Records in order to win prizes.
 
 
I somehow think I’d be lucky to achieve even one kick of a shuttlecock while doing anything with a diabolo!
 
To get to the Diabolo museum, take Line 7 to Guang’anmennei and take exit B. Ahead of you is Baoguosi with Guangning Park on your left. Walk ahead 50 metres and turn left into Xiaoxing Hutong. In about 200 metres you pass a public toilet on your left and the museum is just after that on your right.