Mall of Asia, that is.
Almost everybody I know who has been to Manila has been to the Mall of Asia (MOA), the biggest mall in the Philippines and the 6th biggest in the world. Thus when my plane landed at NAIA 3 last week, that was my immediate destination. “Sa MOA po tayo,” I said, trying not to sound too enthusiastic, to the cabbie of the yellow taxi.
By the way, there are two kinds of taxis approved and regulated by the Ninoy Aquino International Airport authorities: the white coupon taxis, where before you start the trip you pay a fixed amount for a particular destination, and the yellow taxicabs which are metered. Noticeable were the lines that formed before the taxi stands of these two services. The coupon taxis had only a short line of foreign-looking customers while the local-looking folks patiently queued at the metered-taxi stand. The reason, of course, was very simple. A coupon taxi trip to the MOA costs 350 pesos. By metered taxi, I paid only 170 pesos with tip included, and this was at the evening rush hour traffic.
As we approached the MOA it became obvious that I would not be able to tour the entire place that night. The MOA is like four huge buildings in a row. Mini-mini-mayni-mo, where-to-where-to-now-to-go? To the Hypermart, cabbie suggested, where they have a courtesy booth for traveling bags.
I’ve an ambivalent attitude about malls. Generally, I would say that malling is not my idea of fun. But let me loose in one and I could stay there the whole day. My first impression of MOA was, “Why, I could like this place!”
But before I could get distracted with all the glittering display, I proceeded to inquire, in carefully-enunciated but clearly Visayan-accented Tagalog, where I could find The One Thing that I was looking for. I was so excited I was actually grinning as I navigated the wide mall corridors. Yes, wide enough to have motorized multi-seater carts or trams that you can actually ride around the mall when you’re too tired to walk already.
The MOA was so huge and so full of shops that I was sure to find The One Thing that I wanted. But soon, shop after shop turned out to be a disappointment. They did not have the model that I wanted. Next shipment would be in February yet, one salesclerk said. They offered me other models but somehow my mind and heart had already been set on That One Model and no other substitute would suffice.
Then after some more walking I finally found a shop with the exact model that I wanted! Hurray! But they wouldn’t accept a credit card payment nor would they give a discount for cash payment. And they were so cold, so mechanical, in relating to their customers. Was it just them or was that the Manila way?
Suddenly the MOA did not seem like a fun place anymore. I went around and around looking for rechargeable batteries instead and had to walk a long way to find the shop with the brand of batteries that I wanted. My disenchantment with the place was growing by the minute. I was longing for Dumaguete, where you could go to one place and everything is there already. Or the next place is just nearby and not a long walk away.
This outing was turning out to be a let down from my high expectations and I needed an energy booster quickly. To National Bookstore I went to get a copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, the author of the incredible book I just finished, The Kite Runner. Holding the new book in hand, I instantly felt better. If all else fails, this book will still be a winner.
It was almost ten pm, very near mall closing time and way past dinner time. The array of restaurants was dizzying but I found none appealing. I went around some more looking for ATM machines, asking the salesgirls and the security guards for directions in my labored Tagalog. Then after checking the ATM machines, to make sure I remembered the PIN numbers correctly as I don’t often use the ATM machines in Dumaguete, I went looking for the courtesy booth where my bag was. It was one big “looking for” journey at the MOA as I was unfamiliar with the place.
Near the exit doors I saw this shop called “Picture City” and saw The One Thing on their display window. So I went in and inquired and this very nice salesperson got The One Thing and gave me an instant, detailed lesson on how to use it. Of all the shops that I went to that night, this was the only place where somebody actually took time to explain how the model works. I was totally impressed. He treated me like I was a legitimate customer and not just someone sent out to canvass prices. I decided then and there, based on this salesman's extra effort, to get The One Thing from this store.
Now for the price. All the stores had the same Suggested Retail Price (SRP). The difference was that you can actually ask for a discount. I didn’t know haggling was possible in malls but it turns out that it is. And so I asked if they could give me a discount for cash payment and he said there’s an outright 3% discount for cash payment and, knowing the lowest price from the other stores, I said oh, give me more. He texted his boss to inquire and while waiting for the reply he continued to give me lessons on the many intricacies of The One Thing’s capabilities.
His other companions also chimed in, curious perhaps that someone my age would be interested in learning how to use The One Thing. I told them I was very pleased with their customer attention and service and this encouraged them and soon we had a merry time interviewing each other and testing out The One Thing. Soon, their boss texted, it’s a five percent discount. Done deal.
I’m very glad that my MOA excursion turned out with a happy ending. Here is a picture of the very helpful Picture City staff, Dempsy Fornal (the salesperson par excellance), Gemma Gallos, Lou Tonqo and Wilmore Oliquinio, taken, of course, by The One Thing, my very first Canon DSLR. Whoohoo!
Dempsy, Gemma, Lou, Wilmore