Thursday, June 15, 2017

About Quality Relationships - The Spectacle Shop in Singapore's West Coast Plaza

 Soon after settling in Singapore, I realized that I needed my eyeglass lenses upgraded and, perhaps, new frames as well.  Singapore’s “West Coast Plaza,” a mid-sized multi-story emporium catering to local residents, was within easy walking distance.  Across the street was a market center populated by “Hawker’s Stands” (Chinese, Malay, and Indian prepared food shops) and small shops of all kinds  (Chinese medicines, furniture, hair salons – an unimaginably varied potpourri of small commercial enterprises).  It had become become my preferred destination for groceries, vitamin supplements, stationery supplies,  sundry clothing items and an occasional Hawker’s Stand or more upscale restaurant meal. This it seemed a natural choice for eyeglasses as well. 

Most Singaporeans wear eyeglasses and optometrist outlets are plentiful in both sides of the street. How to choose among them?  One Saturday morning, in Spring 2010,  I set out to have my eyes tested and, possibly, to make a purchase.  After brief unsystematic survey I chose “The Spectacle Shop,” located on the topmost floor of the Plaza. The storefront was clean, brightly lighted and decorated with posters of handsome, smiling men and women in their mid 30s enjoying their glasses. This is how I became acquainted, in the spring of 2010 with the owner, Raymond Lau and his wife (whose name I have yet to learn).  Over the six years when I have mostly lived in Singapore, I have continued to shop at the West Coast Plaza, even after my move to University Town made less convenient. From time to time, I stopped by to exchange greetings with Raymond and see how he was doing.  Lately, his business has not been so good, because of increased competition from a renovated “Clementi Mall”, which is adjacent to a Singapore Rapid Transit (MRT) station.

Not long ago, I began to realize that my vision was not what it should be and visited Raymond for a check-up. 
After some extensive testing, he advised that he would not sell me new corrective lenses without a further examination. Guided by his recommendation, I secured an appointment at the National University of Singapore, Eye clinic. After three hours of testing and consultations with three ophthalmologists, I was advised that no surgery was required, but that periodic testing at six-month intervals was advisable. I returned to The Spectacle Shop with the more nuanced prescription I been seeking. With complete confidence in Raymond’s professionalism and integrity, I ordered new frames and two sets of progressive lenses, with a special coating designed for heavy computer users (I often log 7-10 hours each day, 7 days a week.)
 The final chapter occurred on Tuesday evening, when the second set of frames with their new lenses, arrived in Raymond’s office, somewhat later than anticipated.  Because he knew I was leaving the country shortly, and my schedule was packed, he arranged to have his son drive him to my office/apartment complex so he could deliver my new glasses personally and bid me farewell. It was after 10 PM when we met. This was more than a business transaction; it was the latest chapter in a five plus year professional face-to-face friendship.

 My goal has never been “the best price.”  It as always been a mutually beneficial professional transaction grounded in mutual warmth, mutual respect and especially mutual trust.  Our relationship has been both professional and personal, supported by authentic,  congenial face-to-face communication. I believe that such quality relationships; in every facet of my life are one of the most important ingredients of a life that is worth living.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Travails of Online Banking

How often has it happened to you?  You are need information from one of your several bank accounts. The reason you have several is, perhaps, that you arranged deposit of your monthly (US) Social allotment. Since then you have moved several times so the Social Security office with responsibility has changed. 
When you attempt to log-in on line, you are informed there are new security procedures in place.  No longer is it sufficient to have a complex password with capital letters, small letters, and symbols, plus your grandmother’s middle name and the name of your first grade teacher. The additional requirement is that you will be sent a “one time pin”.  This will be sent to your mobile phone or to your email address.  Because the mobile phone service in your office is sporadic, you select the email address.  You check your email repeatedly, but no message comes.  Eventually, reach your bank’s call center in the US and, after responding to multiple “security questions,” the call-center staff member checks on your email.  It turns out that the email you regularly use has a security “firewall” that makes it inaccessible to the server used by your bank. You propose another email address (you need three different email addresses for different relationships), This works and, for the moment you have access to that account once again.  You take deep breaths, repeat the Serenity Prayer and move on to your next task.  A procedure that once took five minutes has consumed more than an hour.
            Were Franz Kafka rewriting “The Castle” he might instead choose internet banking, rather than bureaucracy,  as his subject matter.  However it is worthwhile to step back and reflect on the cause for all of this.  The cause is immorality, plan and simple. Those who “hack” for criminal purposes and those who surreptitiously invade our privacy for commercial purposes or other machinations may not be equally complicit – there are degrees of immorality but they are all complicit in degrading the quality of our human experience.   
            To paraphrase my beloved friend, the late Dana Meadows, the world be a simpler and better place if people could only be honest and care about each other.  And I wouldn’t need to keep track of so many passwords and answers to “security questions.”