Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Doctor with the Magic Touch

There's this American guy who claims to be a doctor, and walks around Mega, our local grocery store, handing out business cards. I will call him Doctor Ricardo. It makes me wonder what type of American physician needs to drum up business in the pharmacy department of a grocery store. On his business cards he only lists his first name and cell phone - no address or last name. He does not even have an office. If you ask me it sounds rather suspicious.

What would make him that desperate? I would think a good US doctor would have no problems finding clients in Mexico. Although there are good doctors in Playa, I'm sure the whole expatriate community would swarm to a good US doctor, someone they feel they could trust, who speaks their language and charges Mexican prices.

As luck would have it a couple of friends did try out Doctor Ricardo. They called him for a simple house call, as they were feeling ill. Doctor Ricardo took their blood pressure and prescribed some medication. They said he was fine, but that they were surprised that he charged them $200 USD, $150 USD more than what is customary in Playa.

Come to find out friends of friends of mine were also suspicious of the doctor with no last name, so they did a little digging and found out who he really was. Doctor Ricardo was a gynecologist in California who was convicted of sexually molesting his patients and was consequently stripped of his medial license. Doctor Ricardo then proceeded to publicly denounce his accusers, listing them by name, another major no no in the medical community. Apart from losing his medical license he was also made to pay for court costs and damages.

Apart from his questionable past, Doctor Ricardo is not even allowed to legally practice medicine in Mexico. He would need Mexican licensing and certification. If something goes wrong there is no real way to hold him accountable. Even though I can't name specific occurrences in the past I have heard this is not the first time a foreign doctor has been illegally practicing medicine in Playa.

Doctor Ricardo has been added to my long list of people in Playa del Carmen with no integrity. He's a predator with no character who preys on innocent victims, only thinking of himself. If he can't make money as a doctor in the US, why not move to Mexico and expose a whole new group of people to his magic hands that wander all over and then rob you blind.

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Doggie Christmas Photos

We wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.


Matt (the president), Allan (the gopher), Rickey (the geriatric), Mitzi (the boss) and Demi (the brat).

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Saldo Vencido - Dealing with a Cell Phone in Mexico

Don't you love hearing messages on your cell phone that say you've either exceeded your credit limit or have a past due balance, and consequently your service has been shut off? What - you've never had that happen to you before? Neither did I until I moved to Mexico.

Apparently my weekend trip to Merida with my parents racked up extra roaming charges on my Mexican cell phone plan which apparently exceeded the limit Telcel thought was reasonable for a given month, so they cut off my service. Many people in Playa have a pay as you go plan, one where you just buy cards to recharge your balance, rather than having a fixed plan. That worked for me for a while, until I felt separation anxiety every time I left the office because I could not check my email. Once I finally received my FM3 (official working papers), I applied for an email, interent and phone plan for around $1,000 pesos/month ($77 USD). Unfortunately Telcel will not allow foreigners to obtain plans without an FM3 or FM2 (resident status).

Since almost no one has credit in Playa del Carmen, Telcel just shuts off your phone service essentially when they feel there is risk you are not going to pay your bill. I guess they feel this is the only control they have over you. What is ironic is that Connie, our office assistant, went to pay my bill on the 18th, but apparently the invoice did not get issued till the 23rd so they would not allow her to pay. Once the 23rd came and my bill exceeded my allowed credit limit, which I am guessing is $1,500 pesos ($115 USD) my phone service was immediately cut off for outgoing calls - no grace period, no warning, nothing - just a lovely message saying either I had a saldo vencido (past due balance) or I exceeded my credit limit.

Off Connie went to Telcel to pay my bill first thing this morning, and once it was paid I was back making calls. It's interesting how it can take months for furniture to be delivered or days for your maintenance man to show up despite promises that tomorrow he'll appear, but when it comes to making sure someone gets paid they are on top of you to the point where they are in your face. It would have been nice that they at least waited 10 days or so after my bill was issued to cut off my service - not the same day - it's not even past due - heck, it's almost not even due - it's the same day!

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Craigslist Scam

Over the past 16 months we have met two separate victims who have been scammed by the same Craigslist predator who goes by the name of Chrissie. The victim replies to Chrissie's ad on Craigslist for inexpensive rental properties in Playa. Chrissie claims to be the owner or manager and then tries to get unsuspecting vacationers to wire her rent money. Luckily in both cases involving us, no money has been exchanged, thanks in part to our intervention. However it does leave us wondering what kind of twisted sociopath would do this to other human beings?

In the first episode, a few months back we received a call from "Janet", seeking our advice about a rental unit in our condo complex. She had read our blog and knew we lived in the Quadra Alea Condominiums. Janet had replied to an ad on Craigslist posted by Chrissie for a furnished two bedroom in Quadra Alea for only $700/month including all expenses. Chrissie asked Janet to wire her the $700, and refused to accept any other form of payment. Granted Janet was a bit skeptical and hence contacted us.

Janet forwarded us her email correspondence, which included photos of the unit. We were immediately skeptical since a furnished two bedroom where we live goes for $1,700 USD, not including expenses. Electricity alone could possibly be $100 or more a month. Going through our list of owners in Quadra Alea, we could not find a Chrissie. Although we did not recognize the unit by the photos, we advised Janet that most likely it was a scam and to not send any money.

Ironically a week later we were contacted by owners of a rental unit in Quadra Alea about us taking over management of their unit. They forwarded us photos, and lo and behold it was the same unit. Needless to say they did not know Chrissie and were very taken back that their condo was being used as part of a scam.

I'm not sure if Janet or the owners reported anything to Craigslist (we did not). That was the last we heard of Chrissie for a while... that is until our phone rang the other morning. Two ladies, "Mary and Martha", were at the security gate of my complex looking for Chrissie. I was thinking Chrissie was a former renter of the condo, back when it was managed by another company. It was not until I went out to meet them that I realized Chrissie was the same Craigslist predator.

Apparently Mary and Martha had arranged to meet Chrissie at the condo to exchange keys and rent, a mere $600 for two weeks over Christmas ($3,400 USD less than it was really renting for). They also refused to wire Chrissie money, but did agree to give it to her in person in Playa. I related the somber news that they had been scammed: Chrissie would not be coming, and that they had traveled all the way from New Hampshire to Playa during the busiest time of year, and essentially they would have a very difficult time finding a unit for only $42/night.

Of course I could not leave them on the street, so I invited them back to my office, offered them a drink, and then began looking for a rental for them. Allan and I decided to let them stay one night in the unit for only $50, in hopes they could find somewhere else to stay the next day. Luckily they did find another unit, and they were very thankful that we didn't just leave them stranded.

Allan and I were left pondering: what kind of twisted person sends two innocent victims to another country when there is clearly no benefit for either party? It seems like a cruel game, orchestrated by a very lonely, unhappy person. Once it was clear Mary and Martha weren't wiring Chrissie money, why would Chrissie then arrange a meeting in Playa with them to receive the money? One would think Chrissie would just stop communication after hearing "I'm not wiring you the money." Perhaps Chrissie's got a good laugh out of sending these ladies to a foreign country, envisioning them standing there at the complex, dumbfounded that they had arrived on vacation with no place to stay. It's almost like flying cross country to attend the Super Bowl, and the person who has the tickets never shows up at the stadium, so you are left outside wondering - what now?

Ironically I use Craigslist often to market our rental properties. We even posted a help wanted ad for website work, and met a wonderful technician in India, who did a great job and did not run off with our upfront deposit. We will continue to use Craigslist as it is a very valuable resource. Even as keen as we think we are into reading people and sensing who is good and who is out to do us harm, there are always going to be people who travel under our radar. There is always going to be someone who fools us, and tries to take advantage. Luckily for the one or two selfish, uncaring people out there, we have met leagues of wonderful souls, who make the journey worthwhile. Hopefully when Allan and I fall victim, there will be someone to help us out and to pick us up and say, stay at my place, we'll help you out.

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Eight Page Resume

Our wonderful administrative employee, Samantha, (aka "The God Send") left us at the beginning of August after eight months of employment. She headed back to the university after a 2 year hiatus. Luckily she referred a friend to us (Connie) for the open position who has great English skills and wonderful experience.

In the process of reading Connie's 8 page resume I became a bit puzzled at the abundance of random information provided. She listed her educational experience starting from preschool all the way through college. Her place of birth is listed, along with marital status, date of birth, social security number, quality of health as well as the names and occupations of her parents. I asked Samantha if this is normal, and she confirmed that yes, in fact, this practice is standard.

This may be normal practice in Mexico, but it is certainly not normal in the US, and certainly would be a major deterrent. I wouldn't hire someone who sent such a resume in the US. Granted we are not in the US, and need to play by a different set of rules. Regardless, it does make me ponder and question - why on earth...?

I contemplated why all this personal information is not only provided but expected by potential employers. Why should I care that her dad is named Armando and that he's a security agent? Does this have any relevance as to how she will perform as an employee? Why should I care where she went to elementary school? As long as she lists where she went to college, doesn't that automatically mean she went to elementary school and to middle and high school?

I notice in Playa the proliferation of background checks performed for what may be considered basic transactions in the US. When I applied for a cell phone contract with Telcel in Playa I had to list 3 references and their home phone numbers (not cell phones). Telcel then proceeded to call every one of them. When my employee applied for a Telcel contract and 2 of her references did not answer the phone Telcel denied her contract and she had to reapply.

Many Mexicans don't even have credit cards and hence no credit history. It would be difficult for me to run a background or credit check for a potential employee. Perhaps this odd practice of listing a whole slew of irrelevant personal information is just a way of filling in the gaps for a great lack of traceable personal information. I don't know about you, but I am certainly not going to list my social security information on my resume. Perhaps people here are not scared about identity theft because they have no credit to steal, but I certainly am weary because I do have credit, and no, you can't borrow it!

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

I Don't Know

Allan: Matt, what does "no se" mean?
Matt: (intentionally evasive) I don't know
Allan: No, really. I hear you say it all the time. What does "no se" mean?
Matt: (intentionally vague) I don't know.
Allan: (annoyed) Matt, I know you know what it means. What does "no se" mean?
Matt: (to our employee, Connie) Connie, what does "no se" mean?
Connie: I don't know.
Allan: (really annoyed) I know you both know the meaning.
Matt: (to Allan) Who's on first? (to Connie) Connie, what does "no se" mean?
Connie: (to Allan) Allan, it means that you just don't know.

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cooking with Spice

Spicy food in Mexico is a way of life. Like peanut butter and jelly are staples of the good 'ol diet of American children, habenero peppers are fed to Mexican children like candy. If you think jalepeno pepper are hot, you should try habeneros; jalepenos are considered mild/medium in comparison. I have heard they are making a new Mayan chile which may be even hotter.

As part of our Mexican experience, I decided to incorporate some spice into our diet. The first day I made stuffed poblano chiles, which came out fantastic. Poblanos are mild by Mexican standards but would beat Taco Bell's super hot sauce by miles.

My second day of cooking burned me, pun intended. I decided to use jalepenos incorporated into a shrimp dish. No one told me I should have used gloves. I deseeded the peppers by hand and then chopped them up nice and thin. Apparently the juice from the peppers remains on the hands and can be transmitted to other parts of the body. Luckily I only touched my eye once, and was mildly blinded for a few minutes until I flushed it out with water.

However the residue on my fingers lingered for days, causing a mild burning sensation under my finger nails. Even after the 2nd day I could put my finger in my mouth and taste the burn. Thankfully I did not spread it to my privates, which I hear are extremely sensitive to the effects of peppers and burn like anything.

Overall I have found my taste buds are becoming acclimated to more spicy foods. I recall the first time I had spicy food - it was an Indian restaurant in Marbella, Spain and it was not a pleasant experience. How can one enjoy food when one's mouth is burning so much? Over time, and through all the spicy concoctions I eat south of the border, I am starting to like spicy more and more. However, I don't think I will ever become like my employees who use habenero sauce on everything - like we would add salt and pepper. The experience of their tounge burning is apparently a pleasant experince, at least according to their accounts. To support this claim just visit the local grocery store and witness the entire vegetable section practically dedicated to peppers. Like baseball teams are part of the US vocabulary, types of peppers roll of Mexican's tounges quicker than you can say Boston Red Sox.

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holiday Bonuses

Today we are paying our employees holiday bonuses. Unlike in the US, the bonus or "aguinaldo" in Spanish, is mandatory by law. If an employee has worked for a company for 1 year then 1 quincena (2 week's salary) is due, and must be paid by December 20th. For more than one year of service, the bonus is still the same; for less it is prorated based on the time employed.

As an American I was a little taken back at the requirement of having to pay a certain amount at a given time for a bonus, what is considered to be a gift for exemplary service. That being said, Allan and I are both generous and are inclined to pay our employees more than what is required.

I think part of the reason bonuses are required is that employers probably would not pay anything to their employees during Christmas. I am only guessing based on what my employees have told me - that no one really gives raises. Once you are at a given salary it is almost impossible to receive more despite assurances by the employer to the contrary. Perhaps that is why so many employees here change jobs so often. It seems rare than someone works at a given establishment for more than a year or two. Change your job to receive higher pay. It seems the logic is reversed in the states; employers tend to pay more to keep good employees. However, from my experiences in the US hiring people, many change jobs every 3 years or less, so it is not a hard and fast rule.

One of the benefits in Mexico of leaving a job is that the employer has to pay a stipend to the employee upon their departure, so it can really be an entrepreneurial enterprise for employees to start and then leave jobs, making money upon the departure.

Unlike most Mexican companies, we do pay raises and give bonuses based on performance. The mandatory minimum bonus is the minimum we pay - more is given for exemplary performance. We have heard many gringos complain about the poor performance of Mexican workers. Allan and I have to disagree. We have very loyal and hard working employees who voluntarily stay late without complaint and even work every Saturday 1/2 day. It seems many Mexican workers also are not given a lot of flexibility. Talk to the worker who is chipping paint off the side walk to paint, and he'll tell you his sole role is just to chip paint. Perhaps this has something to do with the rather uneducated work force in Playa who are not trusted enough to perform tasks outside of their very limited set of responsibilities.

Regardless of standard practices in Mexico, Allan and I will always follow the law, doing what is required, but will also value our employees and reward them for good service, hopefully encouraging them to stay longer. The Mexican work force earns significantly less than their US counterparts and lives (at least in Playa) in much poorer conditions. As an employer and human being we feel it is our responsibility to give back as much as we can. Paying raises and giving higher bonuses is one way of doing this.

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals