Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Not so price-smart Bogotá

For the last 20 months Bogotá's only regular quiz (trivia) night, IQuiz, has been on the go. It's still quite a niche event, a nature of the 'beast' that it is perhaps. Nonetheless, as a labour of love, it's been relatively successful and, going by the reaction of those who participate, an enjoyable, fun and lively event, which is what we want it to be.

Pub House, Bogotá, Colombia.
Nice place, but overpriced for what you get ...
From an organisational and venue-sourcing point of view, it's been quite an experience. You see, for us, IQuiz is not meant to be exclusive, set aside for just a certain sector of Bogotá's inhabitants. Yet, in such a disparate, economically unequal city, balancing the needs of IQuiz with the desire to make it accessible to as many as possible has been tricky.

Generally speaking, the spacious, bar-style venues IQuiz requires are only to be found in the more affluent parts of the city, and that means paying multiples of what you'd pay in a more bog-standard setting (Colombia's strata system, where certain parts of the city pay much more for services, plays a part in this). Or if they're not in exclusive areas, such places usually sell their refreshments far pricier than the establishments around them. A case of 'give it a Western tinge, increase the price'.

More than just giving a place a Western flair (in music and style), the more Westerners or foreigners with money who frequent it, the greater justification for price hiking. Fair enough, if the clientele are happy to pay, repeatedly, your prices with business going well, why would you consider lowering them?

Indeed, in many of the pubs we're referring to, those clientele are people earning salaries that would be considered decent in more 'developed' countries, with some being paid in dollars or euros. Also, there's the strategy, so it goes, that maintaining higher-than-average prices helps to keep undesirables away. Yet, for the likes of Bogotá's Zona T and Parque 93, it's unlikely that the ñero types will flock there to socialise, whatever the price. They might come, as some already do, for less innocent reasons. (In any case, gomelos — Bogotá's 'posh' — can be just as unbearable as their opposites, the ñeros.)

Obviously it's a numbers game on two fronts: if people are still coming and you're in the black financially wise, then great. However, from what we've witnessed, it appears that some of these 'finer' watering holes aren't exactly fulfilling their potential. It's actually difficult to see how they are making money at all. It's either a case of the owners having deep pockets or the business is being used for more sinister reasons.

Not only are the places that fall into this underperforming category overpriced and generally underwhelming, they charge for service to boot. Now tipping for a job well done is one thing, but almost forcing people to pay extra for being served when, more often than not, the ones doing the serving behave as if they'd prefer to be doing anything but, that's just a deal-breaker. We'll take the personal touch of the local tienda over such coldness any day.

It would be interesting to see some of these stale Western-style pubs adopt a sort of Ryanair approach: Cut back the prices substantially to get customer numbers up. The arrival over the last couple of years of the Bogotá Beer Company (BBC) bodega franchise in the city was a half-turn in that direction. However, considering these bodegas only sell the 'fancy' BBC beers, they're still somewhat exclusive.

A lack of start-up capital is why the Wrong Way Pub hasn't opened its doors yet. Of course, were that to happen, we might just find that running a bar à la Ryanair wouldn't be viable. B that as it may, for the moment, we'll try to keep bringing IQuiz and its associated discounts to a venue near you!
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Monday, 21 November 2016

The Aroca case: An early test for post-conflict Colombia?

Stop the presses! 'Colombian politician in corruption scandal!' In a country that does corruption as regularly and spectacularly as the 'best' of them, it's not a very exciting announcement, is it? It's even less so when the story comes from the country's backwater department of Putumayo. 'Move on, nothing to see here.'

Sorrel Aroca is facing the prospect of an 11-year ban from public office for what seems a minor offence ...
Governor Aroca: Her political career is on the line. (Photo from Facebook.)
Yet, digging a bit deeper into this distant affair, it appears there's something a little sinister going on. The politician accused of the wrongdoing may actually be the victim. Dark forces with the state's legal apparatus behind them conspiring to remove a governor from office as she doesn't quite fit their agenda. That's the thinking in some quarters anyway.

Here's the low-down: Putumayo's first female governor, Sorrel Aroca Rodríguez of the Allianza Verde (Green Alliance), was found to have committed irregularities in the signing of life insurance contracts for 11 deputies during her time as president of the department's assembly in 2014. The investigating authority, La Procuraduría (Inspector General), has ordered that she be dismissed as governor and banned from serving public office for 11 years.

The amount of money in question here is 20 million Colombian pesos, about €6,000, so not exactly astronomical. Plus, it appears that there was no personal financial gain for Aroca out of this episode.

What she has been blamed of is running up additional, unnecessary costs, as well as not being transparent in her actions. Whatever the case, it certainly seems the punishment far outweighs whatever crime she may have been guilty of. Of all the corrupt things that happen here, this seems pretty mediocre.

For Aroca's supporters, there's more than a whiff of something underhand at work here. Her young, female face doesn't quite fit the bill for the traditionalists, thus they want her out.

Questions have been raised over the way the case seemed to be fast-tracked through the Procuraduría's office, in what is seen as a final hit from the old Alejandro Ordóñez regime. (Ordóñez has previous form in trying to take out those not of his own creed.)

As somebody who describes herself as a governor for a post-conflict Colombia, if it is a case of conservative forces moving against the 39-year-old, it highlights the kind of problems the country faces in trying to put a bloody past behind it.

Aroca is appealing the decision and for the many Putumayans who want her to stay on as governor, the hope is that her case will be viewed in a more favourable light under the new Fernando Carrillo-led Procuraduría.

However, should the Procuraduría's original finding hold and Aroca is removed from office, it won't cause too much of a stir in Bogotá's corridors of power. Therein might lie one of the bigger problems for this new Colombia being constructed, continuing to ignore the fringes. We'll watch this space with interest.
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Sunday, 13 November 2016

Who needs Ebenezer Scrooge when there's Adidas ...

The world, it's true to say, has never been as interconnected, and not just in a virtual way. We can move around the globe like no other time in our history, finding ourselves immersed in cultures quite distinct from our own, yet at the same time be close to home comforts  in some shape or form anyway  should we feel the need seek them.

In many ways and for many people, this interconnectedness is a good thing. It can help, especially when it happens in a physical, real way, to break down boundaries among peoples, to make us question any prejudices we may have, to remove the 'fear of the others' mentality.
A Christmas-less Adidas store in Bogotá, Colombia.
Adidas: Bigger than Christmas ...
However, in the same way that no two individuals are the same, cultural differences exist across the world. While it can be argued that an 'Americanisation' has swept superficially over the Western world and countries closely linked to it, differences remain at a deeper level. The former foreign minister of the USSR, Vyacheslav Molotov, was only partially right in his prediction in this regard back in 1946.

Thus, it tends not to be best practice to lump everybody together in whatever you happen to be at. Yet this is exactly what sportswear giant Adidas seems to be doing with regards its marketing strategy; a kind of 'one size fits all' approach if you will.

It all comes down to, we have it on good authority, a strategic change made a few years back, where it moved from a commercial focus to a brand one. Basically, this appears to mean that Adidas must be marketed pretty much the same across the world, whether that's in Beijing or Bogotá. Cultural differences aren't considered  or at least they are deemed not important enough as to warrant a country or regional alteration in approach.

How that has played out at this time of year is a lack of direct and obvious recognition of the Christmas season. This is to say that in Adidas stores you won't find a festive flavour to them; a good thing for some people that, but Colombia 'does Christmas' with as much gusto as the best of them. The 'bland' Adidas stores will stand out, and the risk is this won't be viewed in a good light.

Adidas Colombia did suggest a marketing campaign that had a bit of a seasonal swing to it, but not ostentatiously so. Personally, I thought it was much better than the nondescript global one (which, incidentally, originally focused on basketball, a sport that doesn't register much of a beat in these parts). However, the company's chiefs said 'nay' to the Colombian creation; but who are we to question global Adidas? It is a German company after all.

In one sense, it might be a thinking, and perhaps with reason, that Adidas is a sort of culture in itself and thus doesn't need to be concerned with others or with seasons. It's bigger than Christmas and all such malarkey. Plus, as noted above, the main focus for the company has shifted to its brand over the commercial side of things. (Obviously there's a delicate balance there; the principal focus would soon switch back if sales declined. You don't get to Adidas' position, though, without having your homework well done.)

So while the Adidas approach may frustrate its employees on the ground in Colombia, it might just be reflecting a world that is more homogeneous than ever before. We may have our cultural differences, but for some things they matter little.
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Wednesday, 2 November 2016

A brief history of reading

One measure of the positive development of a country is its literacy rate. The more people who are competent in reading, writing and arithmetic, the greater chance of a better quality of life is the general belief.

In the not-too-distant past, such abilities were the preserve of a select, influential elite. The invention of the printing press gradually began to change this as the written word became available to a greater number of people. The more rapid diffusion of texts coupled with an increase in the audience for such works saw this medium rise to a position of prominence, arguably greater than that of the spoken word and images.
The tendency for us to carry around electronic devices rather than books these days isn't necessarily a bad thing ...
You still have to be able to read a bit to play Mario. (Image from web.)
Over the last century and a half or so, a host of interlinked technological developments and a greater access to education have seen a dramatic upturn in global literacy levels, further enhancing the importance of the written word.

Yet, what we have seen of late is not a 'triumph of text' but rather a return to what could be viewed as more ancient times where the 'image is king' for the masses, in a very different format albeit.

For some this is portrayed as a 'dumbing down' of society. Examples given to support this viewpoint are YouTube videos of very little, if any, educational or social value that go viral, 'silly' TV soap operas and even computer games. In this sphere, it's very much a case of following the money trail.

Nonetheless, however dismissive we may be of the above, it can't be said that they represent a return to some sort of Dark Ages. They are part of an age where people have access to a vast array of information at the touch of a button  empowering or otherwise as this may be.

Indeed, thanks to the internet, self-learning capabilities have increased exponentially, be that with videos and commentary via YouTube or simply having access to an enormous amount of written sources in seconds. Of course, there's no guarantee that such learning will be completely balanced and impartial, especially considering that we tend to find material that compliments our own biases. Then again, the same can be said for more traditional educational outlets.

What's more, given the changed landscape as regards where and how people source information, even if people are reading less books (a US study this year suggests a slight fall in the last number of years), this doesn't mean they're becoming 'less enlightened/intelligent'. For one, in the majority of the world literacy rates have never been higher.

So while not all of us are reading voluminous tomes, our understanding of issues is, or at least should be, better than in previous times. In this regard, at least the foundations for a questioning, more forward thinking human race are there, however individuals and distinct societies might actually turn out given whatever other conditions are at play at the time.

That last point still carries much weight. We'd like to think that with high literacy rates alongside the ability to self-teach and question long-held yet flawed beliefs, the acceptance to wage war along religious and ethnic lines would be on the wane significantly. Alas, despite the world being as interconnected as it ever has been, this isn't quite the case.

Perhaps that simply comes down to an innate human trait: we'll always find a reason to go to war, no matter how educated, enlightened or well-read we may be. And there'll always be people ready to fight those wars.

So while the power of the book is perhaps waning, the return with a vengeance of images/pictures as master of the masses is not necessarily a backward step. They are being presented to a more knowledgeable population in what are obviously much changed times. What haven’t changed that much are our debilitating animal instincts.
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