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Pinoy Kasi

Nice people

/ 09:01 PM April 24, 2012

“You look terrible,” my 6-year-old son proclaimed. I agreed, and used the opportunity to explain to him that when you shave, you usually move up and down, and not sideways as I had stupidly done.

For nearly a month now, I’ve been running around like a headless chicken with the usual trials and tribulations of the end of the schoolyear: exams, term papers, theses, dissertations, student appeals to graduate, and then moving on to attending college recognition rites and graduations. So, last Friday I just had to shave sideways, showing up at my college recognition rites looking like some disgruntled student had punched me. Even worse, on Sunday morning, right before the university commencement exercises, I again repeated this odd way of shaving so I ended up at our rites like the walking dead, not quite in the mood to talk to anyone.

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Our bodies have ways of telling us to slow down, mainly by making us do silly things. I’m getting the point, and have canceled some meetings and talks so I can have more time for myself and the family. I also thought I’d do light columns this week. As I go into my 15th year of “Pinoy Kasi”—I started out in May 1997—I thought I’d inaugurate a “nice people” column, talking about the occasional encounters with people who go out of their way to be gracious.

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I was tempted to call them “nice people around,” which was a term used, together with “no permanent address,” to refer to the New People’s Army whose members were noted for their discipline and, well, being nice to people. But I thought “nice people” will do as well. The idea for a nice-people feature came, unexpectedly, when I was looking for a bank where I could pay my income taxes. This annual chore is unpleasant in itself, but made more difficult because it’s so hard paying your taxes. You’d think the government would make it less painful, but no, Bureau of Internal Revenue offices are always jampacked, and no one seems to know which banks are authorized to accept payments.

I checked the Internet, found a list from the BIR, and went off to Ortigas Avenue in Greenhills, near Roosevelt, where there’s a row of banks. Two of the banks that appeared on the list said they were no longer accepting BIR payments. Then I spotted a United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB). It was on the BIR list, but I hesitated because I did pay at exactly this same branch a few years back. I still remember how the guard grunted when I asked if the bank was accepting BIR payments, and the teller who glared at me and told me to fill out a form, which turned out to be the wrong one. When I finally got it right she scowled and scolded me for stapling my documents. Typical government office, I grumbled as I left.

Did I want to risk post-traumatic stress syndrome this time? I inhaled and exhaled three times and walked in. Aba Ginoong Maria, I wanted to exclaim.  The guard didn’t do the meaningless “Good morning, Sir/Mam” and instead asked what I needed. When I told him I needed to pay my income tax he pulled out one of the bank forms for me to fill out, even instructing me to leave one line blank. Then he gave me a number and asked me to take a seat.

No lines here. Instead, the bank has nice soft-cushioned seats scattered around, with the ambience of a small hotel lobby. I took one seat, ready for a long wait, but no, it was only a few minutes before I was called. The teller smiled and took the forms. The BIR had a new form with tiny boxes to fill out so I would have understood if the teller grumbled, but no, she processed everything within a few minutes and handed back my copy.

Hope for government

I wasn’t sure anymore if this was UCPB, and asked to see the bank manager, Teresa Tiouyco, who was even more congenial than the tellers. I asked if UCPB was still a government bank and she said yes, and that they were doing a facelift in all their branches, and training staff for better customer service. The skies opened and angels emerged with trumpets and fanfare, singing out, “Hallelujah, there’s hope, there’s hope for government agencies!”

I thought of my own college at UP and of discovering, when I became dean, there was nothing for our visitors.

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I brought in a sofa, chairs, newspapers and coffee, and people were incredulous. Now I’m working on the staff, getting them to smile more, look at visitors straight in the eye, and hand over, and not throw, things. Now I think they’re overdoing it, being nice even to people who

don’t deserve niceness, like mean students and aggressive salesmen.

A few days after UCPB I was at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport rushing to catch a flight and worrying about work and family. At the check-in counter I was asked for my authorization to enter Taiwan. I had done this online, and printed it out. The problem was I didn’t bring it.

But I knew I had an electronic copy in my laptop so I asked around about accessing a printer but it was like one headless chicken asking other headless chickens for help. Until one of the staff, Mary Ann del Pilar, very kindly offered to help, and had a brilliant idea. She told me I could get on Naia’s Wi-Fi to e-mail the file from my computer to her account, and she would print it out. When you’re under stress you tend to be pessimistic, and I imagined snail-pace Wi-Fi, but no, it worked, because Mary Ann told me where the strong Wi-Fi was.

It worked out and this time, there was only one angel and that was Mary Ann and instead of trumpets I could hear the song from “The Sound of Music” that goes “Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.”

Niceness is contagious. In Taiwan I had one more mishap: Globe didn’t activate my roaming until a few hours before I was due to return to Manila. I called them twice, quite irritated, but because they had nice call center agents handling my complaint, I calmed down and in the end, I thought it was just as well I didn’t have roaming because I wasn’t hassled by requests from Manila.

Niceness is good for business as well.  After the UCPB encounter, I checked the Internet to look at its services and products and was surprised to find that it did have a good line-up. I checked independent websites and found good reviews of its financial products. Now the best product lines won’t mean anything unless you have pleasant (and not pushy) staff who can get through to clients, and keep them coming back.

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