Archive for the ‘Santo Domingo’ Category
Friday, May 5, 2006
The last time (February 15th) we were on the subject we more or less took the story of visitors to our island of Hispaniola up to one of those black-historical points in human history: the near extermination of the Taíno Indians which then leaves us to cover just the last 500 years or so.
By a clear margin the most famous of all visitors since that time is Christopher Columbus (whose name by the way in Spanish is not quite so famously known by English speakers to be Cristobal Colon). For such a prestigious visitor you would expect it to have been the all-expenses paid trip that it was but not such an obvious thing back in 1492. He was of course the first white man here and by default the first non-Indian visitor and the first ever person to come with a return trip-ticket. His all-inclusive ticket, along with many of the other paradise-seekers who came at that time, was paid for by the Spanish crown and it was the Spanish themselves who abruptly changed this style of paradise-seeking visitor when they started bringing in slaves from Africa who clearly had no hope of any kind of return ticket and were disgracefully brought in for no other reason than to replace those badly decimated Taíno Indians as laborers.
After that the next identifiable group of arrivals, in any significant numbers, was the French who took advantage of the Spanish being distracted by their insatiable search for greater wealth in other parts of South America. The French concentrated on the north and west of the island thereby explaining the current division between French-speaking Haiti and Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic. Interspersed in the early years the English too had their own style of visits with their particular specialty being pirate trips also usually all-inclusive. Most notable of all was that of Sir Francis Drake who just a little along the coast from us very successfully held Santo Domingo to ransom in 1586. By the end of the 19th century both Haiti and the Dominican Republic had established themselves as fully fledged republics even if it came with the usual bubbling turmoil you get between neighbors and visits, at least to this side of the border, both from Haiti and overseas have continued apace in one form or another ever since that time.
For example quite a sprinkling of Chinese can be found here including an up and coming Chinatown in Santo Domingo – as of writing an arch-type entrance way is being constructed, funded by Chinese businesses, at the intersection of Avenida’s Duarte and Mexico to designate the area. The Chinese began arriving from other Caribbean islands together with even greater numbers of other natives seeking regular work and opportunities from the 19th century onwards. Considerable numbers of Americans arrived in the early part of that century to set up plantations as many of the Europeans had done in the previous centuries and then the US army made its first visit in 1903, they certainly must have liked it because they came again in 1916 and stayed for a full eight years. They came again in 1965 but moved on much more quickly this time for they were gone by the following year.
Arabs formed the nucleus of another group of visitors, mainly Lebanese with lesser numbers of Palestinians and Syrians who first started arriving towards the end of the nineteenth century and continued to come and stay through the following century. A visit to one of the principal shopping areas in Santo Domingo, namely Avenida Duarte, reveals names on shop hoardings here and there directly reflecting this, one of the most familiar being the large department store under Lebanese-descended ownership: Plaza Lama.
A peek back to the last century shows that the most notable single groups with, at least, intentions to settle entered the country from the 1930s onwards. Many founded agricultural colonies that unfortunately very often didn’t work out as planned but of these groups there can still be found legacies of their presence here. Among the groups were German Jews (1930s), Japanese (after World War II), and Hungarians and Spaniards (both in the 1950s). Then more Chinese came from Taiwan and Hong Kong in the 1970s and 1980s actually making them second only to Haitians in numbers settling in the country.
Nowadays we have visitors all the year round of course and from all around the world, the majority of which return home tanned and relaxed, some choose to stay on and become ex-pats like ourselves and perhaps still the largest group who come in search of their own paradise or at least to escape the ravages of that desperately unstable seemingly impossible to govern neighbor of ours Haiti.
Friday, April 21, 2006
Is supermarket shopping ever a frustrating experience for you?
We thought you might like to try this story out for size about a good friend of ours who went on a little local expedition for a few simple goodies and came back with absolutely nothing. Just to emphasize the point you should know that our friend, though an ex-pat, speaks fluent Spanish and remember that this expedition did not take place in one of those old communist countries, nor even in a current one such as North Korea or Cuba, but in the heart of our largest city, Santo Domingo, in one of the largest stores of the normally very well stocked and attended larger supermarket chains. So large indeed that the chain proclaims itself with the name “Jumbo”.
On entering the store he marched up to the regular meat counter where the previous week -by the way- he had been delightfully satisfied with the service of 100 grams of fillet of finest beef. So much so that he wanted to have the very same again this particular week. “No. We don’t sell it by the pound”. “You can buy the entire chunk of 10 lbs or not at all!” It was candidly not true, but the trickiest dilemma of all for our intrepid shopper was to convince the assistant of anything… least of all to give him just one tiresome pound of the delicious meat.
So he sloped off to get some 100% cotton socks. At the sock counter he couldn’t find what he wanted so he enlisted the “help” of another assistant. She pointed him to a section of what she thought he wanted. She rummaged very briefly and turned over a pair of socks and said, “There you are, that’s what you want.” Our friend looked at the label and noted instantly that it was clearly printed “100% polyamide.” He then said to the assistant, “Look here, this says 100% polyamide and I said I wanted 100% cotton.” “Yes that’s right, exactly the same thing,” she unhesitatingly and proudly responded. Totally nonplussed for an answer, our friend was now quite bewildered as to how to move on, in what way and where, let alone respond to this declaration.
He had actually come specifically for these two items, although he now realized with this mental buffeting there was another purchase he could make that could perhaps save his day. So he kind of drifted in the direction of the delicatessen stand for that third and face-saving item. He waited at the counter for several minutes while the lady on duty continued wrapping and packing various items with cellophane wrapping… not for anybody in particular because there wasn’t anybody else around. He then called her over and asked for 250 grams of cured ham. “Yes, certainly right away,” she said and went right back to her packing position and carried on packing. Our man waited a further five minutes meanwhile a number of other customers had gathered around in the hope of making purchases. The lady who had by now amply demonstrated her packing skills was called over again and began to attend directly to the other customers’ requests but not our friend’s who saw another period pass by without any movement on his request. He asked again (-actually he confessed to shouting this time-), “What about my *&%*#! cured ham?” “Oh, we don’t have any of that,” she said.
That was the end of our friend’s “Jumbo” experience and his relationship with them. He walked out completely empty-handed and flabbergasted, vowing never to return ever again to that particular store on the Avenida Charles de Gaulle. He acknowledged he was thankful that capitalism really does hold sway here, because there are plenty of other supermarkets to choose from after all, as he relaxed with a drink in the Playa Vista bar recounting this particular supermarket adventure to us.
We heard that his next trip was nothing but successful not a single hitch but true to his word not at the Jumbo chain but at one of their big competitors, of course, Supermercado “Bravo”.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Inverters and the repair thereof:
An inverter is something commonly found in homes and businesses in the Dominican Republic, but we had actually never even heard of such a thing before arriving in this country and rolling up our sleeves to the task of establishing Playa Vista. For the uninitiated an “inverter” is a piece of electrical equipment used in conjunction with car-type storage batteries as a source of power back up. We have mentioned in the past that although the country as a whole suffers great difficulties with its electrical supply, we are generally blessed in Boca Chica usually suffering only sporadic interruptions. However, even that necessitates a back up and we have an inverter – actually two – with quite a raft of the obligatory batteries connected up.
Our smaller 400 watt inverter, used as a back up to our computers, had for some reason or other failed and with unfortunate predictability sat in a nearby Andres workshop entirely unattended for several weeks with the usual and oft-repeated promise that it would be fixed mañana… we even misguidedly thought the down payment we made for services to be rendered would speed things along! Exasperation finally got the better of us and we transferred the inverter to a recommended repair shop in Santo Domingo. This repair man, Ricardo by name, took the task seriously and within a few days called with the good news that our unit was ready and waiting pick up. Ricardo’s workshop actually looks like a real workshop for inverters if you can imagine what that would be like. He only deals in inverters and has his own hand-made testing board with huge early-last-century-type bulbs to show the result of his handiwork when testing the unit by switching between main supply and inverter which he enthusiastically demonstrates.
A matter of very few days went by after getting our newly fixed computer-inverter back into service when our principal inverter also decided to join the non-conformity club. Swiftly, side-stepping Andres this time, we plunked the next inverter immediately on Ricardo’s worktop imploring him to give the job priority as it was of such central importance to our operations here. He duly obliged again. He immediately assessed the situation, gave us a prognosis and set to work to try and repair the circuit board where the problem was. If this were not possible, he said, it would have to be a new circuit board which would not be easy to get and naturally incur more costs. To our surprise and delight he fixed the board within 36 hours and even more importantly kept us informed by telephone all the time.
There could very well be something in the saying ‘problems always come in threes’, because problem number three obediently arrived within a few more days – admittedly during a period of storms and rare considerable irregularity of power supply – and the inverter failed to work again. Oh no… was our professional repair man not as professional as we were beginning to label him… we thought? We rushed the inverter back to his work bench and he immediately set himself to analysis mode. Again, precise communication over his analysis: it was a damaged relay. He could fix the relay but there would be no knowing if that would last two weeks or two years so a brand new relay would really be the order of the day to achieve complete satisfaction. At the point of this conversation it was already inconveniently late on in the afternoon and he had no idea how long it would take him to find the appropriate relay. By the time our “company” car (see Sept 9th blog) arrived home from the trip, Ricardo called to say he had located the relay and it would be fitted by the following morning ready for our pick up. On this occasion mañana surprisingly meant mañana, because the next day Ricardo showed us the newly fitted relay – quite a sizeable chunk of electronics – much bigger than normal and therefore more durable he explained… but unfortunately costing more than the regular and original relay at RD$500. “So how much do we owe you all together?“ “Just the RD$500 because” he acknowledged, “I have only recently repaired the unit and should perhaps have given the entire inverter a more thorough overhaul at that time”. Now there are quite a lot of repairmen who would argue quite a different line… not just in Andres but all over the planet!
Thanks Ricardo, you have got a new steady customer in Playa Vista!
… By the way our man can be found at #42 Avenida 30 de Marzo
And on the web for good computer file back-up.
Saturday, November 5, 2005
The majority of overseas visitors to the Dominican Republic are undoubtedly visiting for a well earned break -spot of rest and recuperation- in the form of a traditional Caribbean vacation… though it has to be said, as the country moves on politically and economically, especially in this area close to the very sizable and significant historical capital city of Santo Domingo there are increasing numbers of visitors arriving for a whole range of different reasons and equally variable lengths of stay.
But… here on the south coast of our island there is surprisingly very little active and therefore credible information available on the region almost in any language, let alone English, for any eager-to-learn guests as to where to visit, what to see and what to do while here. Well… apart from visiting www.DR1.com, www.dr1.com/blogs/playavista, www.PlayaVistaBocaChica.Net and personally coming to talk to us over a drink in BaseCamp & InfoCenter Playa Vista you can now download from the internet your very own reference material. The stylish material currently comes in the form of a 12-page magazine and will be updated on a regular basis by Santo Domingo resident, regular Playa Vista visitor and co-conceiver of the web site cum-magazine, Greg McMillan who featured in a previous blog (April 18th 2005) due to his contribution to a photo-manual on the history of relations between Canada and the Dominican Republic. The press launch for this new initiative was held at the Casa de Teatro – itself well worth a visit – in the very center of the scenic colonial part of the city, where all subscribers and interested parties were invited for the initiation ceremony. Gregg even had a well written speech ready in Spanish to wish the newly launched concept well on its way. Unfortunately Gregg had been plagued by one of the dreaded variants of “greepay” (see blog Aug 1st 2005) for a nagging number of days thwarting his best intentions. In spite of – or maybe because of – the viral attack to his throat and the ensuing absence of the anticipated speech at the venue Gregg instead wrote down the internet contact details for us to hand on to all our valued ‘bloggers’: www.santodomingohot.com.
PS Gregg was later heard to have ventured into other territories and allowed this domain to go unregistered, so if there is somebody out there thinking that hot santo domingo could work for them on the internet then it is available.
Tuesday, October 4, 2005
We presume that all our readers have their own versions of bureaucratic wonderment, but nonetheless we feel compelled to offer you the mother of all bureaucratic horror-stories from the heart of the Dominican Republic. This particular monster is about a man simply trying to comply as best he can with the law of the land regarding the running of his lil’ ol’ car. That man could be any one of us, so for the purposes of the story we shall call him John Doe.
John needed a favor because his Spanish is not quite up to the level of dealing with Dominican bureaucracy. The goal was short and simple: paying the annual vehicle tax! In other words exchanging RD$1200 (US$43) for a small silver sticker about 2 inches by 3 inches to display on the car windshield… but unfortunately the story, and we make no apologies for this, is neither short nor simple.
Bright one sunny morning we visited the Boca Chica tax office to ask what would be necessary in order to pay the upcoming annual car tax sticker, bearing in mind that John, very unfortunately, had had his car documents stolen, along incidentally and even more irritatingly, with his passport and credit cards. “Just get an original title document (known here as a ‘Matricula’) after verifying the car ownership at a police department called Plan Piloto then place an advertisement in a national newspaper to the effect that your matricula has been lost … and then the sticker will be yours”, was what the nice lady told us. But in order to accomplish that seemingly simple goal…well, herein lies the whole incredible time-wasting bizarre story.
First port of call was the ‘Listin Diario’ (the largest circulation national newspaper in the DomRep) where we correctly lodged full details of the stolen vehicle title for placement in an advertisement. We returned a few days later to pick up the certified copy of the official advertisement and then on to ‘Plan Piloto’. First off we lined up with the vehicle for it to have its chassis and registration numbers verified against a copy of the title that John, at least, fortunately still had. This done then a payment of RD$52 had to be made at window number 1… but not until the requested copies of certain documents could be provided! The requested copies, though, couldn’t immediately be provided, because the entire area was subject to one of the Dominican Republic’s infamous power cuts. Quite an extensive hunt ensued to find a place that a. had electricity and b. a functioning photocopier. Here we would like to offer a free plug for the very helpful local savings and loan company – ‘Asociación Popular de Ahorros y Préstamos’ who clearly felt sorry for us and at no cost made the relevant copies. “Back to Plan Piloto”, we mutually recited, completely unaware of how common a catchphrase that would become for us.
Well, back at Plan Piloto window 1 gave us some papers to take to window 2 where they refused to accept the freshly copied ID (cedula) of the previous owner of the vehicle. In retrospect things had been sailing along rather too easily, but this was the first dawning that things were not going to continue quite so smoothly. At this point we learned we had to have a copy of a more “modern” ID of the previous owner, because the original title had never been transferred into John’s name. John confessed that he didn’t know the guy and had never even met him but knew, for a not very helpful fact, that he now lived in Spain. Window 2 advised us to go to the immigration office where they would give us a document proving “something” about this largely unknown Spanish guy – who by the way went by the name of Señor Gordo – that would solve the problem. Off we tripped down to immigration where they took approximately RD$1000 for the service of providing the paper… but not until after the weekend was over of course. Well this, at the very least, would require another trip to Santo Domingo. On the following Monday morning, before leaving the immigration office, we noticed that the newly acquired paper specifically and only stated that our yesteryear car-owning Spaniard Señor Gordo, according to immigration records, had neither entered the country nor left since December 1999. With the “fear-of-wasted-journey” syndrome now well established we feared that there must be some mistake and that this would hardly help prove anything to the man waiting at window 2 in Plan Piloto. The man in charge placated us somewhat, if not entirely, by explaining that because Señor Gordo had not been in and out of the country since 1999 his ownership of the vehicle prior to that was proven to be legitimate and thus the legality of a sale to John acceptable. Strike us down with reverse partial logic, but with the comforting knowledge that this was the very document the police required on we journeyed!
At the now familiar 2nd window they did not even hesitate and accepted the package of documents we handed over including the immigration paper regarding Señor Gordo. However, for them to produce the certification document they would need another few days and at 2 pm on the appointed day it could be picked up if we showed our pink appointment slip. At 1.40 pm on the specified day there were all kinds of people trading their pink slips for the certification document in spite of the wall notice categorically stating that there would be NO exceptions to the 2 pm ruling. There was no sign of our certification. Finally, and conveniently just when the tax office in Boca Chica was closing at about 3 pm, our required document was made available… the good window 2 people had after all needed just a little more time to get the appropriate signature on it in an upstairs office.
The following day at the Boca Chica tax office the “system” was unfortunately inoperative… the entire day that is. Another beautiful mañana beckoned and proudly we presented all the pieces of paper we had assiduously collected to the nice lady, only to be told we didn’t have John’s contract of sale legalized by the relevant government legal office – the Procuradaria. “But it has been legally notarized”, we chirped trying to use persuasive logic. A couple of locals even voiced their approval of this idea… but, “Not good enough.”, the nice lady said “Them’s the rules”. By the way, she NOW added, we would also need a second certification of the vehicle if we wanted to obtain not only an original title document, but have the title document transferred to John’s name. What a good idea that would be we NOW thought.
We were learning, if but slowly, about Dominican bureaucracy though the fear-the-worst syndrome was kicking in, and we somewhat naturally feared that we would have to make a complete re-pass through the now extremely familiar Plan Piloto offices.
Our fears were of course entirely founded: window 2 told us to go back to window 1 and window 2 told us to go back to the man in charge of inspecting the chassis number of the vehicles. We had been up all the ladders and now we were shooting back down the snakes! The man in charge of the chassis numbers wasn’t even there. As we took a patience break the man sauntered back. He gave us a signed card which took us back to window 1 and after another RD$52 (if dear reader you really are following the monster-plot) onto window 2. Now a new little rub which, by the way, we had not at all feared… for this particular extra version of the certification we also needed a copy of the contract of sale legalized, which we were on our way to do anyway, because the nice lady had belatedly told us so, but what we weren’t told, was that we would need it at this point. It would be absolutely imperative in order for us to get our impatient hands on another pink slip! This would be a new adventure, we thought, because we hadn’t yet been to the document legalization office (the Procuradaria). We were right. Before even getting to the entrance way we had people yelling after us telling us we would be refused entry. Why? Because we had sandals on, not short pants as is sometimes frowned upon, not even flip flops… actually perfectly respectable sandals we thought – but they didn’t!
The game of snakes and ladders was turning from the sublime into the ridiculous. We honestly couldn’t face another trip between Boca Chica and Santo Domingo. The only solution was to buy a pair of shoes on the spot. Suffice it to say there are no shoe shops near this particular warren of government offices… but we did of course still have our ever so handy lil’ ol’ car. Buying the shoes, by the way, was ever so relaxing – just handing money over and the job done. Nobody yelled at us, nobody gave us incomplete or misleading information. Comfortingly, the folks in the shop merely accepted the money and said, “Have a nice day!”
With the all important shoes securely tied on feet we went back to the Procuraduria where they also ominously had two windows. Window 1 in this case was a cinch, but window 2 said it would be another 30 minutes wait. We waited actually more than an hour and this gave us time to notice the footwear of some of the women waiting their turn. Quite a number looked remarkably like sandals – quite a lot of bear toes showing all around in fact! One could have felt like making a point on this matter, but we had a mission to complete, even if it was running a couple of weeks behind schedule. So, just as soon as we could make it, we were speeding back to Plan Piloto again and the 2nd window man said “You are too late, we are on another thing right now”. A lot of thoughts went through our minds at that moment – some of them very unpleasant indeed! Perhaps the second window man was able to read a few of them, because with some obvious reluctance he actually finally did accept our new offering and gave us another of those pink slip appointments to come back in four days time.
We were getting very good at all the maneuvers by now, and four days later we sailed in and out again of Plan Piloto with our new second certified document – naturally too late to visit the tax office in Boca Chica, but nonetheless ever so secure that we had done as requested and that the next day all would be resolved…. Now, what about the fear-the-worst syndrome?
Well… the fear-the-worst syndrome, in its own odd way, had turned into the doubting Thomas syndrome! As a build up to the grand finale of this unbelievable saga the tax office system was out of order again for a couple of days… and, as if that wasn’t enough, then the sister of ‘the nice lady’ was out of order. It does make sense, really – she was extremely ill, the sister that is, and the nice lady just had to help by transporting her from one side of the country to the other. Really, we were becoming regular saints of patience. So… several days further on and we smilingly sat down and waited after putting all the collected papers in to the nice lady’s hands. She made a phone call and NOW told us that the rules had changed! We would need an advert placed in a national newspaper for THREE consecutive days – something that the Listin Diario newspaper was not even aware of. In addition she NOW said that all the documentation had to be taken to the collector of taxes office in Santo Domingo where they would issue the new title which would finally give her leave to provide the promised little tax sticker.
Patience, patience, patience! After all we always believed we were within sight of an end, and we did know how to handle the advertisement issue. Or we thought so. It was just that on this second occasion, for some unknown reason, the newspaper misspelt the word “perdida”(lost) in the advert which of course further increased the number of necessary trips to Santo Domingo, but once the newspaper finally accepted their fault, it was all so straight forward. The new title was in John’s name and was rushed back to the nice lady for her propitious handling. Within hours John left the office after a hearty farewell to the nice lady with what he thought was the illusive sticker.
Later that afternoon John was busy in his yard when he surprisingly and suddenly heard the now well known nice lady’s voice sailing over his garden wall. The fear-the-worst syndrome snapped right back in, he told us, his whole body froze and sweat trickled down his forehead. All for no good reason at all… because… the nice lady had actually just come to deliver his sticker personally, as John had walked out of the office with only the receipt for payment leaving the so hard-worked-for and precious sticker behind!
And that is really all there is too it!
All is well that ends well… isn’t it?… or is it?
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Boca Chica is a very small town and is not a place for shopping for much more than the daily essentials. We are however very conveniently located to take advantage of nearby Santo Domingo for any serious shopping or specialist services. Our overall impression is that you can get pretty much any product or service that you may be used to back in North America or any European country although the choice might be slightly more limited and the price almost invariably carries a premium.
One of our more important tools for getting some of our administrative jobs done here is our ‘Larousse’ Spanish/English – English/Spanish dictionary. After many years of constant use the all essential spine sadly became separated from the main body. A repair in the form of rebinding was called for and, as signaled above, Santo Domingo was easily designated to provide the service.
Santo Domingo’s old colonial zone is a warren of all kinds of buildings containing a myriad of micro businesses as well as residences and offices. You can walk around and peer into many an open door and see exactly the kind of operation they have inside. It didn’t take us long to track down a bookbinder thanks to a recommendation from another mini company huddled in the colonial lair where they print our invoices. The company recommended was ‘Leo Antillas’ and can be found at Calle (Street) Mercedes #305… a mainish and straightish road running parallel to the more well known ‘El Conde’. Fran, the actual bookbinder, beckoned us in to what at first glance seemed to be just a small stationery store. He then beckoned us behind and then behind again and yet further back into the depths of the increasingly narrowing building. We finally seemed to be in Fran’s exclusive bookbinding operations room and we were so far away from natural daylight now that we took a nervous glance around wondering about the dangerous cocktail of piles of paper material and lack of escape route in the case of fire which we actually mentioned. Fran, presumably after so many trouble free years, nonchalantly answered “Oh, I would just have to break down some of the metal security bars covering the windows to get out”. As further discussion of the matter didn’t look as though it would lead anywhere more helpful, we thought it easier to pass immediately on to the subject in hand.
“Now, this Larousse dictionary… would it be possible to rebind it”? “Certainly” he said, pointing into the corner to another Larousse dictionary as if he was familiar with binding this precise book on a daily basis. “How long would it take and how much would it cost?” “At most about three days and RD$150 (about US$5)”, was the surprising answer. He certainly seemed sincere, it was definitely a bookbinding place and if we were prepared to risk our paranoia about our valuable dictionary being trapped in the inner sanctum of the colonial zone while fire rages around then we figured it would be worth trying his services out.
We delivered the book on Tuesday and we were told it would be ready Friday.
It certainly was ready and what a wonderful job the man had done. We were aghast at the splendor of his workmanship at the princely sum of $5 for a book that would cost well over a $100 to replace. Fran had made it look brand spanking new. To be honest the cover was now better than when first purchased. It had a classy glossy royal blue cover embossed with the name of the dictionary in imperial gold! As if that wasn’t enough, Mr. Fran had in addition cleaned up the entire area of the edges of the pages which over the years of those countless fingerings and thumbings had turned very close to black in places… brilliant!
At the risk of being accused of massive understatement it could be said that it’s not every day we have an uplifting experience of excellent craftsmanship in combination with decent pricing (like this), but here is the proof that it can still happen even in the Dominican Republic.
Well done that man Fran!
Friday, June 3, 2005
Rumor has it that Plaza Lama – one of the larger department store chains in the Dominican Republic – is not good at handling repairs of electrical goods that fail after purchase. We would like to scotch that particular rumor, based on our recent personal experiences, and state that they are unbelievably and deplorably atrocious at handling repairs …even begging the question as to what is their function if as a repair center they don’t in fact affect repairs?
We purchased a Sony stereo unit for use in the Playa Vista Bar and unfortunately well inside 12 months it very disappointingly and surprisingly broke down. We naturally took the unit back to Plaza Lama’s repair service center where they startlingly and immediately departed from the norm of accepting liability for component failure within the first year, and in a customer not-so-friendly way declared that if we went off and bought six specified transistor components at the other end of Santo Domingo they would “try” repairing the unit. We should have smelt a rat at this point… firstly because of the oddness of us, the customer, being requested to search for the necessary parts ourselves and secondly because of the half-hearted promise that this “might” result in a repair! The time consuming and inconvenient purchase and delivery of the components back to the repair center, followed by a few days of grace for the technician to try his hand, left the unit precisely as it was: not functioning. Plaza Lama then instructed us to take the unit to ‘Curacao Trading Company’ who we later found out were the only genuinely authorized Sony distributors in this country. When reaching the Curacao service desk they informed us that only with a direct internal request from Plaza Lama, which they certainly had not received, could they take on such a situation. So we were left embarrassingly clutching the unit and facing the further time consuming extremely irritating journey back to the Plaza Lama repair center. We deposited the unit back where we started and felt so extraordinarily frustrated and insulted we got in contact with Sony International directly.
Sony in Puerto Rico – the closest Sony office – immediately took hold of the situation and sent two circuit boards with a CD containing circuitry manuals at the request of the Plaza Lama technician. The boards were fitted… and again the time consuming operation yielded absolutely no improvement in the performance of the unit. Amazingly the technician could not be deterred from his track: after the first two completely incorrect diagnoses he boldly made yet another ‘secure’ diagnosis and request to us for yet another part… which again was not available in this country, but valiantly once again couriered by Sony Puerto Rico for the “technician” to fit. By this stage we were not the least surprised to discover that this, his latest and third diagnosis and repair attempt was not the solution either! To the praise of Sony in Puerto Rico it should be said that they never gave up, but just like us gave up believing that Plaza Lama would be capable of ever fixing the unit. They therefore agreed to send us a replacement unit, again by courier service, so that we, in spite of the astonishing incompetence and downright rude treatment from the technical department at Plaza Lama we suffered for an unbelievable seven months, should be able to maintain the high quality of music we have always craved for the Playa Vista Bar.
A very big thanks to Sony in Puerto Rico… we presume that they will consider very carefully who they will appoint to replace Curacao Trading as their representative in this country, as that particular organization has gone into receivership. If there is any justice Plaza Lama will not even figure on their short list!
Wednesday, March 2, 2005
We claim, and there is plenty of proof-positive, that Playa Vista attracts a very wide spectrum of individuals from around our little planet earth. All kinds of types, from all kinds of backgrounds earning their living in all manner of ways far beyond the rudimentary list of tinker, tailor and candlestick maker, gather in this crazy but entertaining corner of the world.
We hadn’t seen Randall – and for regular Playa Vista visitors we are not referring to the vacationing sunbather extraordinaire farmer from western-Kentucky – for some months, but brightly and breezily he came to the bar one Sunday lunchtime and generously handed us two personally signed copies of a work of fiction he has recently had published.
We are particularly pleased by the association because as he placed the books on the bar top he proclaimed that perhaps as much as 70% of it was written while ruminating here in the heart of Boca Chica relaxing on a Playa Vista sun lounger. For those of you who are general Dominican aficionados you will be interested to know that the content of the story clearly draws extensively on Randall’s more than two years of experiences in this country as well as his own extensive military background.
For your further information the writer’s full name is Randall H. Miller, he teaches and lives in Santo Domingo and the book, independently published by ‘iUniverse’, is titled “The Xpatriot”.
Sunday, February 13, 2005
We do, where it is possible, like to give credit where credit is due and so due it is to a certain medium-sized casual furniture supplier in Santo Domingo. The company is known as ‘Aire Libre’ and can be found, if with some difficulty, in the heart of the Herrera industrial zone on the western side of Santo Domingo.
It was one of those usual bright warm Dominican ‘winter’ Saturday’s as we journeyed into Santo Domingo with a friend of the Playa Vista family, “Tio”(Uncle) Bob. The story began quite spontaneously as things often do in this tropical idyll: “Where did you get your sun loungers because I need one for my mother-in-law?” Bob asked. “Funny you should mention it,” we said, “we are on the verge of beefing up our own sun lounger collection for all those extra sun worshippers that thankfully keep popping up, and just the other day we got a lead on a place that could offer a very competitive price on our favorite brand… much better than even Ferreteria Americana where we bought our original supply some five years ago.” We actually started the popularity of this particular brand when we discovered the attractive looking reasonably priced ‘Master’ design and in subsequent years noticed the proliferation of this very same design up and down the length of the Boca Chica beach.
Anyway…. back to the mutual mission that we now had going in Bob’s little green Jeep where we checked back to Base Camp Playa Vista for directions to the recently acquired lead on the company in question. This was to be the only hiccup in the entire exercise: finding that particular company in the maze of the industrial zone. They were located on Calle (Street) ‘B’… only B did not have any direct relationship with A or C or any other letter for that matter. After asking a myriad of people, who just confirmed that by getting to A, C or even D wouldn’t necessarily lead us to B, the local firemen came to the rescue finally giving us good clear directions so that we were able to arrive at the front entrance… 30 minutes after closing time! Amiable Dominican spontaneity was in our favor because the staff, fortunately still on the premises, opened up the door, let us in and showed us their wares… and the deal was consummated both for Playa Vista and the needy mother-in-law in one almost seamless exercise. Her particular sun lounger was more urgently needed, so we set off with just this urgent one tightly strapped to the roof of our vehicle with the promise of a call regarding a follow up delivery of 10 more after the weekend.
On Monday the phone rang to ask if we wanted the loungers delivered that day at the very reasonable charge of RD$500. “Sure thing,” we said and a few hours later the delivery man turned up exactly as promised without any difficulty in finding us, sun loungers neatly wrapped up, and offloaded them into our store room ready for use the next day.
So why don’t you pop by and check the new batch out for yourselves while you soak up the sun, lounging in style!
Monday, January 5, 2004
It wasn’t at Playa Vista and not even in Boca Chica, but not so many miles removed in the Avenida Mella branch of Banco Popular in Santo Domingo that this little piece of irreverence was experienced.
We were in line waiting our turn at the tellers’ counter when a poor disheveled middle- aged woman came shuffling up to the first person in line with her hand outstretched begging for money. She was for sure in the right place for getting money but she was clearly going about it the wrong way especially as she had her back turned to the counter itself. The first guy in the line stepped back a mere half a step to avoid her advances. The woman then turned around and went back more on the regular track by approaching the nearest teller although the technique was unfamiliar because she slumped over the counter as she made her request. Apart from anything else she had of course no bank book or withdrawal slip in her hand and especially as she was crowding in on the poor customer being attended to, the teller waved her back in our direction. At this point we, in self-defense looked around to see where the nearest security guard might be. Strangely, where there are usually several parading around bristling with intimidating weapons in almost every Dominican bank, there were none in this case. At this point somebody shouted out “watchi” which is a commonly used Dominican abbreviation of watchman or more realistically (should it be surrealistically) security guard. The “watchi” was sitting in the middle of the bank on a comfortable rotating chair enjoying a couple of half spins for good measure. Clearly the intrusive woman had passed right by him, because as the cordon of security he had naturally positioned himself between the tellers and the main entrance. Having now acknowledged the watchman’s presence we naturally assumed the matter would be quickly dealt with and calm and order secured.
The persistent woman returned to the line of waiting customers, as directed, and when one customer raised his arms claiming he “didn’t have any money for her” the woman immediately responded to his defenseless raised arm gesture by not only making a lunge for his private parts but triumphantly grabbing the bills in his hand claiming “Oh yes you do!”
She moved on to the next customer begging him for money in the same way. He had learned that raising the arms was an inadequate defense and so stepped well back out of reach. Meanwhile… what on earth had happened to the security guard who was only about 20 feet away spinning his way to the rescue, wasn’t he? Nope. Spinning he still was but not to any rescue. We called over for him to do his job i.e. watch and secure things but he remained steadfast… apart from the spinning that is. The woman carried on down the line to us without the slightest intervention from our spinning watchman or any other member of the bank staff. Enough was enough… so we went right over to the watchman to insist that he do his job. It seemed he thought his job was to carry on swiveling in the chair and direct the customers as to what they should be doing, “just get back in the line and wait your turn” he said. Did he mean for money or a private grabbing? The bucket of patience had now overflowed so we thanked Banco Popular for nothing and left the building. Fifteen minutes later we were graciously received by Scotiabank which, at least on this occasion, to our great relief, did not sport any groping beggars or spinning watchmen.
Meanwhile seven years later:
In Boca Chica there are currently only two bank branches and I do not know if it is coincidence but the Banco Popular branch has a reputation of being distanced from their customers sometimes to the point of arrogance. However I have never had a problem with the other Boca Chica bank which is run by Banco Reservas.