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Spanish - is it really necessary?

Posted by Spod at 14:25 on Dec 1 2010

sometimes I do wonder if a news article is actually true?
Did you read this? (read article)
The Dominican Government is considering stopping teaching Spanish in school to kids in the first 4 grades. Thankfully, it looks like some sensible people have rejected it so far.
For a nation where more than half of the adult population cannot spell even basic words, I would think that MORE Spanish should be taught - not less!
I''ve even read documents from highly educated lawyers with spelling mistakes in, which is rather odd as it means they don't even know how to use the spell-checker.
Even venerable Dominican newspapers make spelling mistakes too, rather more often that they should.
You will often see people confusing the 'v' with a 'b', even in a common word such as 'cerveza' (beer) which I've seen spelt as 'cerbeza', countless times.
So please, in an open plea to the Goverment, do not lessen the teaching of Spanish to kids otherwise the country will become a nation of illiterates, unable even to read the day's newspaper.
or maybe that's the idea?

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All-inclusives, good or bad for the country?

Posted by Spod at 14:5 on Dec 1 2010

A recent news item (read article) said that 80% of all-inclusive hotels in the Dominican Republic are losing money.
This report was based on a study by the Dominican tax office which showed that they were collecting very little tax revenue from these large companies that have for many years been considered a mainstay of the Dominican tourist industry.
Interestingly, the report also said that there are even some incentive schemes in place that exempt some of these hotels from paying taxes.
But if these large companies are not paying tax, and the goverment keeps selling them prime beachfront land cheap, where is the benefit for the Dominican citizen?

Let's just take a quick overview - the tourism industry is really the best opportunity the country has to bring in money and provide employment, but the way the country organizes this is far from ideal.
All-inclusive resorts tend to denigrate the country to tourists, suggesting that for their safety, tourists should not leave the resort. This means that independent tourist businesses in the nearby towns see little of the tourist dollars, which instead is spent inside the resort, perhaps on resort organized trips.
This admittedly is a generalization, but a fact nevertheless.
A good percentage of such tourists do not even venture outside the resort, except to get to the airport on their way home.
All-inclusives do provide jobs, but they are badly paid, and many large hotel companies manage to flaunt employment law, firing staff at will and avoiding benefits outlined in the law.

So how much of a benefit are these all-inclusives, which represent the largest part of the entire Dominican tourist industry?
To most Dominicans, I would guess the answer is far less than previously imagined.

So to sum up, the all-inclusive hotels
1. Create jobs
2. Provide cheap(ish) vacations for tourists, thus bringing more visitors to the country
3. Attract dollars into the economy

1. 95% of the jobs they offer are extremely low-paid and below the rate to pay tax
2. They tend to dissuade visitors from leaving the all-inclusive enclave, suggesting the the country is dangerous, which means 100's of businesses outside the resort don;t get a look in.
3. According to the report, don't provide any worthwhile tax revenue to the country

and 80% of them lose money...
but they have got their hands on some nice real-estate!

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Cell phones in prison – worse than drugs!

Posted by Spod at 10:31 on Nov 24 2010

The Dominican Attorney General, Radhamés Jiménez Peña last week said that they working on a project to block cell phone signals in prisons. Although (I’m assuming) cellphone usage is prohibited by inmates serving their time, it seems they get smuggled in on a regular basis.
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Apparently, many inmates in various prisons are making cellphone calls to blackmail and to coordinate other criminal activities. As you’d expect, few criminals use their time inside to reform their ways.
Suggestions that the attempted murder of lawyer Jordi Veras was set up from within the Rafey Men's Prison in Santiago using cellphones, according to a tape recording are likely to have encouraged this latest decision.
But if you think this is a problem unique to the Dominican Republic, think again. In California in 2008 more than 2,800 cell phones were confiscated from inmates. A prison staff member admitted to earning more than $100,000 that same year by selling cell phones to inmates.
It seems the problem is escalating, even as authorities try to combat the trade of cellphones within prisons.
Cellphones are potentially almost as valuable as drugs in prisons.
Apparently, in a recent sting operation in Texas, an undercover officer was offered $200 by a prisoner for a cell phone and just $50 for heroin. California officials say inmates will pay anywhere up to $1000 to obtain a smuggled cell phone. They didn’t indicate which network they preferred.
An inmate with a cellphone can then earn a good income by renting out his phone to other inmates.
In 2009, Texas Republican Congressman, Kevin Brady, introduced a House bill that would permit the jamming of cell-phone signals within prison walls, saying, "The problem has quickly gotten out of control nationwide.”
"Criminals are using cell phones even from death row to threaten victims and harass lawmakers. Inmates are making literally thousands of calls from prison."
Of course, some inmates use the phones to call family and friends, quite innocently. But evidence has been uncovered through wiretaps that show that cell phones within prisons have been used for a variety of illegal uses, such as orchestrating crimes, harassing witnesses, organizing retaliation against other inmates and even ordering hits.
Even the US has been slow to target the problem, with President Obama signing off a new law as recently as August 2010, prohibiting the use or possession of mobile phones and wireless devices, and calls for up to a year in prison for anyone found guilty of trying to smuggle one to an inmate.

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When you want to buy NEW

Posted by Spod at 14:51 on Jul 22 2009

There is something that retailers in the country struggle with the concept of - and that is selling 'new' electrical products.
I was in the La Sirena supermarket in Puerto Plata some weeks ago, and watched with amusement as a loud American was berating staff about how the electrical item he wanted to buy had obviously been on display and therefore he should be entitled to a discount. He explained loudly in English how in the States these products were considered 'shop-soiled'.
Staff were looking bemused, and it didn't look like he was getting through.
I thought - well, that's just the way it is here - you can expect Western practices to be applied even in the large chain stores.

I thought no more about it until I wanted to buy a new TV. La Sirena had a 29" Hyundai for RD$9999 which for here wasn't a bad price (probably 10 times what it would cost in the States).
But of course, all the large items they have on display are the only units they have. This TV was clearly marked and grubby. When you press the volume button on the unit, sometimes the channel would change, so it was slightly faulty as well (normally you'd use a remote - so not a big problem).
Staff very helpfully told us they would find the original box from the storeroom, and yes, it was new and guaranteed.
But what about the fact it was clearly 'shop soiled' and had a fault?
Nothing they could do about that, they said.
So we left it.
It's still sitting there over a month later!

I understand smaller shops having products on display, and selling them as shop soiled. But for large national retailers to be selling effectively 'second-hand' goods as new is madness.

My advice? Don't buy large goods from La Sirena. We later bought a TV from PriceMart in Santiago. This one was better priced, and was actually new and boxed, and with a 'proper' warranty - we believe.

And now to the other pet peive, which even PriceMart do. When you buy an electrical product, they take it out the box after you've paid for it to test it.
Now in some ways this sounds sensible. I don't want to drive back to Puerto Plata with a faulty TV.
But, in PriceMarts case, they don't have any allocated area or method for testing the TV. We waited for 20 minutes while they eventually got a member of staff to unbox it off to the side of the store and switch it on.
That was it! 20 minutes wasted while he checked of the unit powered up!
No test of picture quality as there was no facility there to plug in a coax or digital signal cable.

To add the icing on the cake, we lug the 37" LCD screen back home, plug it in 'properly' and can now see that there is a missing pixel fault on the screen.
Not PriceMart's fault, and we assume that their warranty will cover it.
But if they are going to waste their time and ours testing a TV - at least test it!!

Now we still have to go back and waste another day!

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Film review

Posted by Spod at 7:15 on May 11 2009

Watched the new Fast and Furious film the other night, but fell asleep before the end it was that good!
I heard all this media stuff about part of it being flmed in the Dominican Republic. There was one bit that was attributed to the DR and ironically, the road looked a bit rough were they making a point?
The previous F&F films were ok, this one just seemed to loose the plot.

On the otherhand, we saw Valkirie last night, the film about a plot to kill Hitler with Tom Cruise. Enjoyed that much more. The plot was alright, the acting pretty good, overall well worth watching!

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Codetel public announcment

Posted by Spod at 12:4 on May 9 2009

If youve got a Codetel/Claro cellphone, you probably received the following text message last week:
Para prevenir influenza: Lava tus manos con jabon, y tapa tu boca con panuelo al toser o estornudar. Mensaje de sespas, Indotel y Codetel.
Which basically means, to prevent flu, wash your hands with soap and cover your mouth with a scarf when coughing or sneezing.

Good advice Codetel! Thanks for thinking of us your loyal customers.
Now I know how to avoid Swine Flu - Ive spent the last couple of weeks telling everyone to keep away from pigs!

I can just imagine all the teenagers receiving the text message and then eargerly forwarding it on to their best friends, sort of like viral marketing. But somehow, I think everybody will pay about as much regard to this message as

It might help of more homes and public places had clean running water. Ive lost count of the number of bars & restaurants where the toilet doesnt flush and the taps have no water. And then of course when the power is off, water pumps dont work.

Maybe Codetel should have sent a text message to the bosses of Edenorte & the Water Authority. To prevent flu, please can you supply 24 hour electricity and running water to the population.

And lets not talk about the incompetency of Codetel: ADSL lines that operate at a quarter of the speed they should, cellphones service that goes off for hours at a time, fixed line installations that take months to happen, and staff that know nothing about the products and services they are selling.
Codetel/Claro and Indotel, please spend some effort on getting your own house in order then Ill go and wash my hands.

Incidently, did they not consider that cellphone and telephone keypads are one of the biggest germ infested objects on the planet?

But a bit too close to home, eh, Codetel?

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The Elliot testimonies

Posted by Spod at 10:6 on Apr 14 2009

The Fred and Derek Elliott court case is certainly getting interesting! You have to watch the video snippets the plaintiffs have put on Youtube see here.

You can also read the transcripts of the preliminary hearings on the same website.

So according to Fred, his son Derek has been in charge of the Elliott Group for the past few years. Poor Fred was back in Canada and had no idea what was going on.

But then according to Dereks testimony, he seems unsure about what companies he owns or has shareholdings in. Really?

He also seems unsure about what hes been doing or what the company does and has done
Where do you live Derek?

Long pause. I dont know.  long pause  I would have to check with the lawyers on that one   long pause  Does the document say where I live?    long pause.   Can you be more specific?

If Derek continues to answer questions in such a vague way, this case is going to take a very long time. I dont know if the Elliotts are guilty of knowingly defrauding hundreds of investors, but if I were Derek, and I was innocent I think Id make more effort to answer the basic questions in an honest way.

In one of the videos, Derek, after being asked a simply question, turns on the prosecutor and says, Why are you asking me that? to which the lawyer says I ask the questions you answer.

Funny stuff.

Draw your own conclusions!!

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Which supermarket is going bust?

Posted by Spod at 18:29 on Mar 31 2009

After all this talk about supermarkets, I saw an ad on page 19 of the El Faro newspaper, advertising what?.


Supermarket carts for sale

Supermarket carts.

Who's selling them?

Too many carts & not enough shoppers?

Hopefully it's not one of the smaller supermarkets going bust as this area really needs competition in the food stakes.

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Tropical's response to La Sirena?

Posted by Spod at 10:21 on Mar 30 2009

It seems Supermercado Tropical in Puerto Plata is suffering from the onslaught of the La Sirena supermarket.
Before La Sirena came to town I'd say Tropical were the most modern and possibly the best in the area.

What does Tropical do when a bigger competitor opens up next door with a wider range or products, lower prices and all the benefits of a large maketing budget?


1. Lower overall prices
2. Advertise special offers


A pathetically small banner on the El Faro Dominican newspaper, saying "14 years... Thanks to you Puerto Plata"

Well, it looks like you won't make 15 years.

I really doubt that the sympathy vote is going to turn it around. As Wallmart and others have proven, people opt for the cheaper or bigger option - unless you have something, something better?

Do something!!!!

Your shoppers will come back if you advertise special offers, lower prices and good service.

I'm sure the El Faro newspaper could do with some extra advertising revenue as well!!!

Having said that, Tropical have extended their opening hours - they are open nearly as many hours as the competition - woohoo!!!

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Freaky weather

Posted by Spod at 12:10 on Mar 27 2009

What's going on with the weather at the moment? It should be blazing sunshine!

I don't think we've had a solid week of sunshine since last October and I emmigrated from colder climes specifically to get some rays.

I think I'm going to emmigrate again - Australia anyone?

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La Sirena still disappointing

Posted by Spod at 11:13 on Mar 27 2009

Now the hubbub has died down, its easier to be more positive about the new La Sirena supermarket in Puerto Plata. If you pick your time carefully, you can avoid the queues. The range of produce is overall better than other supermarkets and the prices slightly better.

Its not without its own problems though.

If youve been here a while, youve probably got used to the checkout boys packing your bags and then transporting them to your car. Not at La Sirena. The checkout girl places each item in a bag after she has run it through the till. You then have to place all the bags into a trolley and transport it to your car. While I dont mind taking it to the car, the fact that the checkout girl has to pack your items slows the whole process down to the slowest possible. Again, I dont understand why the Ramos Group dont just copy the models laid down by other countries. They seem to want to reinvent the wheel - but badly. A circular wheel is no good for the Dominican Republic we prefer it triangular.
In other countries, supermarkets either have dedicated packers, or they allow you to pack your own stuff, which means the process is much, much quicker.

The customer is always wrong mentality as is seen in most Dominican stores also still prevails in this new store.

After selecting some Yucca from a clearly marked pile with a clear price of 5 pesos per pound, and taking it to the weighing/pricing counter, we were told that the price was 15 pesos per pound and it wasnt yucca. No amount of telling them the price is clearly written on a placard, and even though we are foreigners we do know exactly what a yucca is, was of any use. You are the customer and a foreigner therefore you are wrong.

So we left the yucca there, much to the amusement of the staff who as usual really do not give a figs arse whether anything is sold or not.

And still loads of items un-priced why? If you cant get the staff to price the products, how do you expect to sell them? I make a point of never buying anything from a store where the price is not marked.

Oddly enough for such a large store, they are still missing some basic items, reasonably priced tea-bags, tuna chunks and a few other items were not in evidence.

Tropical all is forgiven!!

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Beer thoughts

Posted by Spod at 14:56 on Mar 19 2009

Another supermarket related blog dunno why I hardly go there??
Just found out that Heineken beer is available at Tropical supermarket in Puerto Plata at a price not much different from Presidente 69 pesos for a large as opposed to 65 pesos for Presidente.
Wow, I hear you say and??
Heineken is brewed under strict control in Amsterdam, Holland where labor is pretty expensive and brewing regulations are strictly enforced. Its then shipped 6000 miles in order to be on sale here.
Presidente on the other hand is brewed here where labor is relatively very cheap. I doubt that brewing regulations are strictly enforced I often see rust and dirt on the rim under the cap. Its then shipped just a few miles in order to be on sale here.
Do you see where Im going with this?
The costs involved in brewing and transporting Heineken to the DR must be loads more than Presidente and yet they are virtually the same price
How much profit is Presidente making on a bottle?
Probably far too much?

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La Sirena Puerto Plata

Posted by Spod at 11:51 on Mar 13 2009

If you like queuing for hours, being rammed with supermarket carts (trolleys) and paying for stuff you didnt even buy, then youll love the new La Sirena store in Puerto Plata.

Although my first impressions are primarily negative, you have to credit the Ramos Group (the owners) with something they are pretty smart.
By squashing a small store with an inadequate car park onto a too small plot, theyve picked up a fairly prime piece of real-estate at I would guess a pretty low price.
A few years down the line, when (if) the land increases in price, they can move the store to a more suitable location and then redevelop the Malecon plot into condos or something smart move! Maybe by then the town hall will be shamed enough for giving planning permission for a warehouse-type building to be built on the seafront, that theyll do anything the Ramos Group ask.

So back to the point, my review of the new supermarket. First point is the car park is woefully too small. Theyve already had to block off one lane for each of the two entrances as the design was never going to work. Once you get inside the car-park, expect to wait for 20 minutes hoping someone will leave and you can have their space. We didnt wait, but spent 5 minutes trying to get out of the car-park, so we could park 200m away on the Malecon. Not looking forward to lugging those bags of shopping to the car!

Once inside the store, it was busy. We decided pretty well immediately we werent going to buy anything. Every till had a long queue of people looking tired, flustered and generally unhappy. The queues werent moving quickly. Some of the cashiers clearly hadnt been to cashier school, and were slowly moving items across the barcode scanner as if the slower they were, the quicker their shift would end.

But on to the good aspects the range of goods on offer. If you are still determined to buy there
Its got all the usual supermarket range of foods, dry goods, meat and vegetables, but also a baked goods counter. It also had a fresh fish counter which is definitely a plus, but some of the fish had glazed eyes indicating they were past their best. It has quite a large frozen foods section, but again be careful, some items were defrosting. We picked up a bag of frozen peas that were now mushy peas.

The store sells clothing, footwear, stationery, flowers, perfume, electrical goods, washing machines, TVs, computer peripherals, Ipods, sofas, plastic chairs, ironing boards and even inverter batteries. Not sure I can see people putting 8 hefty inverter batteries in their carts.
Im also not sure of the logic of including an extremely limited range of furniture. If you are shopping for a new bed, and a choice of just one is all you need, then La Sirena is the store for you.
The prices overall dont seem much different to other supermarkets. Some items are actually more expensive.  They do have a couple of loss-leaders which are cheaper and the range is better than most.

The wine and bear isle is particularly disappointing. The choice of wine is dismal considering the size of the store, with all the same brands you can buy anywhere. If you like Presidente and Bohemia well you are in for a treat! If you like Brugal, and Paul Mason wine enjoy!

Having managed to avoid having our shins and ankles rammed by all the carts, we made our way to the cafeteria upstairs. Nice range of food we initially though, all on display in Bain-maries. What we struggled to identify were the prices of anything. Then we spotted of the two price lists tucked away, and we couldnt believe what we saw - all the prices were calculated by weight. Thats correct when you order a portion of rice, it will be weighed and charged for by the lb. We didnt quite register this immediately, but we ended up with plenty of time to do so, when we lined up at one of the three cashiers. Fifteen minutes later with just one person in front of us, we were of a mind to leave the tray of food on the counter and walk out but we were starving and walking back to the car with an empty stomach might have killed us. So we continued waiting.

The problem is, the moronic system the store has decided to operate in its cafeteria. Customers bring their trays loaded up with uncovered polystyrene food containers, each containing a portion of something that has been dished out by the staff lined up behind the bain-maries. The cashier then takes each container one by one, weighs it and types in a code on her till. She does this very slowly, so as not to spill the contents, which is sensible as beef stew does not mix well with tills and cash. If the customer is lucky, she will then put each container on another tray, or not, and you have to reload it.

Each tray takes a few minutes to go through the till. Then the inevitable waiting while the customers are told they have to actually put their hands in their purses (or pockets) and give the cashier some money. Of course, the cashiers have no change, so they look at all the other customers in the queue with a disinterested glance to see if anyone else has change. If not, then the customer will have to overpay, or everyone will be kept waiting until the customer gives up and walks off.
What were the planners of this store thinking when they decided to charge all the cafeteria food by weight? Were they trying to find the slowest and most cumbersome way to bill people? As a customer, you have no way of knowing what you will be charged until you are asked to pay. Its not as if the portions are different sizes as the staff dish out the portions. I guess you could ask for larger portions but them you still wont know what you will be paying until you get to the till.
Overall, a more stupid way to run a cafeteria, I have never seen. You guys should have done a little bit of research like perhaps just visit a busy cafeteria one time, anywhere!

Ah, and dont get me started on the environmentally unfriendly stance the store has chosen with every portion of food going into a separate polystyrene container. Every person eating there will use 3 or 4 or more containers which will end up in the garbage. Thats probably thousands each day, from one cafeteria. The owners are spouting about how pleased they are be generating more jobs for the area. Well why not use normal plates, knives and forks, and employ a couple of people to wash them up. Thats more employment for the area, your customers will enjoy their food more instead of trying to push stupidly weak plastic forks into pieces of meat, and the environment will be spared the tonnes of non-biodegradable waste you are now generating. And tell the lady that was going around cleaning the tables to actually clean the tables. A cursory wipe doesnt do it.

So we sit down and eat. By this time the food is stone cold and doesnt look so appetizing.  The once hot lasagna is far too salty, but then that isnt unusual here. Many places ask if you would like food with your salt.

But to rub salt into our wounds, later in the day we had a look at the receipt for the food and realized wed been overcharged. We bought 4 items and wed been charged for 5. Not sure how the cashier could make such a mistake she had plenty of time, but could we be bothered to go back to the store to demand our 46 pesos back not likely!

So a word of warning, if the cafeteria is putting items on your bill you didnt buy, you will need to check your receipt from the main store as well before you leave.

Interestingly, the store does have a customer suggestion box, but the sheets to fill in were too small to write all this, and I really couldnt face standing in a noisy corridor to do the managements job for them. If they need suggestions for improvement then they must be blind and deaf. Just look at the unhappy faces.

 Overall, Im extremely disappointed with the store. I thought it would add a bit of variety and competition to Puerto Plata, but I think people that value their time and their sanity will probably shop elsewhere. Spending half a day fighting to buy groceries and then being overcharged is not for me.
For those who were hoping for a decent sized store like a Walmart or Carrefour, this isnt it.

As a friend of mine described it, its like a large convenience store, but without the convenience!

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