Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Learn to get on with life

It is heart-broken having to be away from home and leave an adorable 4 years old girl for a week. It becomes worse, and probably the worst of all, when she has tears all over her face. Paying £40 to change to the next flight so that I can stay a few more minutes seems to be logical and sensible. It could also be a very sound financial investment as well. In the end, I did not. I left a crying child and a half asleep wife in bed, while I dashed off to the airport.

It is difficult for a 4 years-old little girl to learn to get on with her own life and understand that everyone has their work to do. We are still learning that, aren't we? Parents mean a lot to her in her life. It is a lot for her to take, sometimes perhaps too much. Instead of asking me when I will be home, she asked me whether I will be back at all. Of course I will, Ashley. I’m only off to work during the week and it is only for a short period of time. I promise!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Public Transportation in London: rip-off and let-down?

I have never been so furious. After a long week working, I was finally hoping to relax on a Friday evening and slow down a bit. Instead, it goes another furious incident.

I bought a ticket for £7.50 for a one day Travel Card between Zone 2 – 6. I used it for one trip during the peak hour for traveling to work within only Zone 2. After work, I went to Liverpool Street station hoping to catch the train to the airport. When I came out of the gate with all my luggage, the gate assistant (or was she really assisting?) did not let go because I did not have the right ticket. Then I realized that the train station is actually in Zone 1, meaning I have to pay another £3. For a total journey time of around 50 minutes for the two short rides on the day, I had to pay £10.50. It is a lot of money to pay for. It seems so easy to rip off some easy money from consumers by designing a poor and un-user friendly transport system.

Naturally you may ask a question: is there a system where people can use stored value cards to pay for only the trips that they have traveled? As a matter of fact, there is such a system in London. It is called Oyster card. But it is not as simple. It only works on some operations but not the others. It works OK on tube and bus, but not work on other train operation, such as SouthWest train, one of the largest train operators in the franchise network. The company serves hundreds of thousands of people (I don’t have the exact figure but it is likely to be many more) everyday in South East London and England. Their trains go as far as to Southampton and Bournemouth.

In the past, consumers could buy a travel card unlimited trips between zones. Instead of a very straight forward as in the past, the Oyster card has added the unnecessary complexity to the system. So instead of buying the right ticket by knowing where to go during the day, someone has to know in advance whether or not EVERY operators providing the transport means are accepting the Oyster card or not. Only then a sensible decision can be made.

Who is going to benefit from this? It is NOT you and me, or Joe Bloke the consumer. The biggest beneficiary is of course the train operators, and subsequently to the London Transport authority as well. I was not happy so I asked one of the train operators when they will join the Oyster card system. The answer was that it would not be sooner than 2009 when they re-negotiate the franchise contract with the London Transport Authority. It means that consumers have to suffer for another 4 years on top of all the confusions they have already had for the past 12 months. After the Congestion Zone surcharge, this is yet another example of poor planning by the authority. Consumers are being let down again. I left wondering when they can get things right in the first time.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

What is your opinion - London is ...?

London is a horrible horrible place. This is probably not an appropriate opening statement. If London happens to be your dream city, don't read any further. No doubt, London is a charming place to many people, especially the 20-30 single or young couple. It is a place where one can find loads of opportunities and other effluent people. It is a place for those whose priorities are not money or their long term financial stability, unless you are the few privileged ones who have unlimited funds. Well, again, that falls into the group who doesn't have to count their dimes.

For those have high disposable incomes/funds, London is probably the best place in the world. Where else in the world you can stroll along a river, the Thames in this case, and see so many recognisable architectures such as the Big Bang, the Parliament, the St Paul's Cathedral and Shakespeare’s Globe. The list will go on and on and on. Then, by turning one block away from the river, you come to probably the best theatre district in the whole wide world - the West End. Not far away, you come to Trafalgar Square, Queen's Guard House, Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, etc. The museums are not only world class but they are probably among the best of the best. The National Gallery and The National Portrait Museum are next to the Trafalgar Square. In short strolls, one will find yourself in Tate Modern, Tate Britain, The British Museum and British Library. Not far away for a bus ride you come to Victoria and Albert Museum, Science Museum and Nature History Museum, so on and so forth. So far, I think most people would have agreed that the quality of life seems to be one of a kind.

What is wrong with London then? Why do I dislike it? Am I nuts? The main problem of London is its lack of the magical human touch that gives something the warm and comfy feeling. Everything you do in London, you can do it by yourself. And in reality, you probably can only do it by yourself because no Londoners have any time for you. And that is the problem. No, I am not lonely, although you do feel lonely sometimes in this big city. This city is in fact very cold. This cold chill feeling come from everywhere, pedestrians, train passengers, hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, and everywhere where there are people!

It is a very difficult thing to accept when I did not see anyone laughing or even smiling since coming off from work. It has been a long day for me. I was on a train for an hour. Sitting opposite to me was a young pretty woman, dressed in a white coat made of a fine fabric. For the 40 minutes ride on the train, she closed her eyes for 35 minutes of that. A newspaper was sitting on the chair next to her. A young man asked if she could pass the paper to her. She did, but both of them did not exchange any pleasant emotion. They have only raw desire (of getting the paper from the man) and a robotic action (of picking up the paper and passing it to the man from the woman). What on earth is going on there? Are they in drugs or something? The gentleman sitting next to me was reading a stack of colour printout wearing a serious face. Looking closer to his paper, I found out that he was reading something about birds. I safely assume it is his hobby, but his serious look lead me to think that he might be the only expert who could save this world by stopping bird flu from spreading.

Leaving the train and stepped onto the underground. Passengers came in and left. I did not see anyone having a fun day. Is work really that boring? Or has work sucked too much energy out from every one of them? When I came out to the gate, a station personnel was prominently standing in front. I exchanged a slight eye contact with him and immediately felt guilty. I did nothing wrong but it was a sharp scornful look that made my whole body uncomfortable. I had to look away quickly, otherwise I feared that my body would be cut straight through into two halves right there. I pulled my collars close to my face and walked past him in quick steps. I dare not look at him twice.

Finally I arrived at the hotel in which I am going to stay for three nights. I was hoping to have someone to greet me with joy. Well, I actually have lowered the par - just some smiles would do the trick. This is my first day in the new job and it has been a long one for me. “Sir, do you have the booking number?” “You don’t? OK, what is your surname?” “I will have to pull out the booking information. Wait a minute.” “OK, we are full today, but there is a new hotel just around the corner. You can stay there. You won’t be disappointed. This is the address.” He was polite, but indifferent. It is almost like his emotion (especially the pleasant ones) will diminish his credibility as a businessman sitting in the front desk of the hotel.

Next stop is the new hotel. I have no luck squeezing any smiles out from the staff. This is a new hotel I am talking about but I can hardly find it welcoming. I may be partly guilty because I thought I have paid the fee online through my credit card. So I declined to pay them until I have confirmed that the transaction did not go through. I guessed the hotel staff was not very pleased although I felt it was only a more than reasonable request. The room has no internet connection and the TV aerial cable is missing. So I went back to the reception and asked them to fix them. After some friendly (although non-smiling) conversation with two junior staff, the hotel manager came who has completely changed the dynamic. One would expect a more seasoned manager would greet his guest with a bright smile, correct? On the contrary, he came with a short and disguised voice. His only action was trying to avoid taking any action. In the end, he hesitantly agreed to change to another room. New problems had arisen, at this time the power cord for the TV is missing, but no immediately corrective solution has been taken. Until I got really impatient, I looked for this guy only to find out that the power cord will be in place the next day, promised. Yes, it is likely a broken one … again.

Someone please tell me what is wrong with all these people!!