Business in the Caribbean
On Thursday Josh asked me if I wanted to go to the Caribbean. That’s such a ridiculous question to get out of the blue and about the last thing I would have expected when he came over to chat to me. I thought I heard wrong or that he was joking… you know what, I don’t know what I thought! He explained that a dealer had been rolling out a store upgrade project but kept falling behind. They needed guideline and support for rolling out about 30 store upgrades, and the two usual’s here were not in the office for the next week or so. So I was asked. And I accepted. 😉
I left Sunday morning as the itinerary had me spending the night in Miami. This was fine by me for one main reason: I had never been to Florida. While I didn’t actually do anything in Miami I still got to check that state off my list as a visit is a visit. I began my language barrier adventures slightly earlier than expected when I attempted to order ONE pizza and ONE garlic bread from the local Pizza Hutt. I called and asked if I could get a Hawaiian Pizza with real bacon instead of Canadian Bacon. They said no, so I asked about other offerings. She rolled off a few and I chose Meat lovers. The total came to $25ish, whatever. To my surprise the middle eastern looking gentleman (who was really nice but bad with his English, as was the Pizza Hutt operator) handed me TWO pizza’s and a garlic bread. I told him I had ordered one; he appeared confused, got on the phone and rattled off something in another language. Finally I was handed the phone. For some reason she ordered me Hawaiian even though I, in my opinion, had changed my mind when they wouldn’t give me real bacon. She begged to differ. She also said that I should have realized $25 was too much for one pizza. I was a bit annoyed and said something to the effect of, “I’m travelling, I don’t know what you charge for large pizza’s, garlic bread, tax and all that.” Whatever. How rude, blaming me for the mistake! The dude at the door seemed most confused on how to defuse the situation so I just took them both and thanked him.
I want to go on record as saying that I was and am excited to visit new places. I love visiting other countries and I look forward to the language barriers. And I completely accept it and have patience for it because I will be a foreigner in that country. I do not accept language barriers in my own country (well actually Australia is my country but same diff) and I believe foreigners who come here should learn English. While these guys could somewhat speak it, they were missing the manners part of the language. Except the delivery guy, he was pretty cool but clueless on how to deal with the situation. I’ll forgive him. The following morning at the airport I noticed the announcements over the loudspeakers were spoken first in Spanish. And then English! What is up with that?
Flying over the Caribbean was cool. I kept checking the window expecting to see some remote island below me. I reckon most people don’t realize just how big the Caribbean sea is. It was a 4 hour flight from Miami to Trinidad! That’s not much shorter than flying across the USA! I did spot a number of Islands though, and I’m pretty sure the large one was the Dominican Republic (or Haiti, but not Cuba as I doubt passenger airlines fly over that area ;)) As we descended into Port of Spain I would love to think I saw the coast of Venezuela but I’m not completely sure. South America is only 7 or 8km off the coast, or so I was told. I surely did see Trinidad though; it was lush, green, wet and pretty much everything I thought it would be. It was beautiful.
Port of Spain, as a city, is anything but. It’s a fascinating mix of modern and 3rd World shamble. I personally loved it. You’ll see a modern building, nice landscaping or a new Porsche on the road. Then you’ll see some of the most run-down buildings you’ve ever seen just next door. Or a ruggedly poor street merchant trying to sell you all sorts of stuff. However they love their cricket and their soccer, I knew I would fit in just fine.
Getting into the country proved a bit of a bother. It turns out while Americans can enter quite freely, Australians can not! I was declined entry and had to enter another line to purchase a Visa. Upon asking I was told it was going to be $50 T&T for a Visa. I had no clue what that was, but found out it was $9 US. Not a bother at all! Well so I thought. I wasn’t carrying cash and they only accepted cash. I found exactly $9 US in my wallet, I kid you not.
Then I was stopped because I didn’t have the address where I was staying in Trinidad. Since this trip was as last minute as it gets, I was travelling without hotel arrangements. I’d be meeting Ewart at the airport who would have the hotel arrangements with him. This obviously wasn’t good enough for Immigration officials. My mobile phone wasn’t working. There were no phones nearby. I had no currency anyway. I was told to return up to the terminal and speak with American Airlines about using a phone to call Ewart. I decided to open the good ol’ laptop and see if I had a WIFI connection. My luck I did and was able to IM the guys back in California to get me address info. Some address, any address and get it now!
Needless to say I finally made it through, met Ewart and got on the road towards Port of Spain.
Unfortunately much of my week was spent working within the confines of Barada Information Systems head office. This I did not know; they are not only a Retail Anywhere dealer who sells and installs the register software, but also owners of six Radio Shacks, another half dozen mobile phone stores, twenty gentleman’s clothing stores (called TruFit) and a Suzuki/Porsche dealership. And probably countless other ventures. They do well.They use PC/Register in all of their stores as well as reselling it in a number of others.I’ll spare you the nitty gritty of my work, but in a nutshell we devised a plan and rolled out register upgrades in one Radio Shack and one TruFit store. My role was overseeing and administering the roll out, training their IT staff on good roll out procedures. Both upgrades went virtually flawlessly which gave me satisfaction. I had not performed an installation in over 4 years but I felt like I was in my element pretty quickly.I did get to eat local food, drink local coffee and go on a bit of a sight-seeing drive tour with Ewart. We drove by all the major destinations in Port of Spain, each with it’s own fascinating sliver of history that I listened to intently. We stopped by Queens Park Oval, home of one of the more popular international cricket grounds in the Caribbean. Queen’s Park Oval is generally thought of as the most picturesque of the old grounds in the West Indies, it’s currently under renovation in preparation for the World Cup being hosted in the West Indies next year.
There was a major cricket tournament being played in India that was into the finals while I was travelling. I watched Australia beat New Zealand and West Indies beat South Africa in the semi finals from the hotel. I also watched the locals following intently; their team who had struggled in the past 15 years were perhaps on the rise. The West Indies actually won this tournament 2 years ago and were defending champions. They again started this tournament huge underdogs; in fact they had to play in an extra pre-tournament series just to qualify. Teams like Australia, India and South Africa did not need to qualify being shoe-in’s. This aside, the West Indies brushed aside virtually everyone (including Australia) and made it to the final. I just loved how cricket was the buzz word, this is something I am no longer used to being in the USA.
This made it very interesting because I was Australian, working with West Indians, leaving just 2 days before the big final between the two. We cracked a lot of jokes and talked a lot about the makeup of the two teams. I’m very proud of the West Indies resurgence in world cricket. Australia ended up thrashing them in the final to continue our almost spotless record of winning finals.
I’ve decided I want to go back, perhaps not to Trinidad but another island. The folks at Barada were quick to point out that Trinidad is the business island of the Caribbean. It’s not really a tourist destination with exquisite beaches and all the things visitors look for. This was made obvious to me by the fact that mining rigs could be seen offshore and the water was a strange gold colour. I was told this was caused by runoff from the rivers in South America. The northern side of the island apparently had “better” beaches, as did the sister island of Tobago. Many parts of the island made you wonder how anyone could live in such conditions.
That and the fact that there were a number of murders that splashed the headlines of the newspapers while I was there. Including a 13 year old boy. I’m told that murders generally happen to the shady kinds of characters that get mixed up in drugs and violence which is quite prominent in areas. While I never felt unsafe, and was assured I’d have to really do something stupid like walk the streets alone at midnight to find trouble, the island is not THAT big so it was always in the back of my mind.
I ran into further troubles coming home. We left Trinidad an hour late due to a late captain and electrical problems on the plane. It was like déjà vu, the air conditioner was not functioning. This happened to me during my trip to Australia in September. Once we got airborne I still had hope I’d make my connection in Miami. That hope was shattered when we had electrical problems again, this a new one for me. The luggage compartment door on the plane wouldn’t open so they couldn’t get our luggage off. Seriously! The long delay had me certainly missing my connection, I made it onto the next flight with the same itinerary 2 hours later and was home around 10pm Friday evening.
I’ve now been overseas three times this year. Quite the adventurous year…