Like most inhabitants of the Philippines, I often don't follow or take seriously the designated time of a certain event. We have this bad habit, inappropriately called "Filipino time", which oddly puts premium on tardiness. Curiously, one risks being labeled an "eager beaver" if he or she comes in too early.
In my own little way, I have tried to eliminate this shameful practice by arriving on time or just a few minutes late, if I can help it. But bad habits die hard, and sometimes I can't resist being "fashionably late" if I know fully well that a press conference wouldn't start if it's just me who's sitting at the table.
Even if this mindset has only brought embarrassment to the Philippines, it seems it's not going to go away soon. For my part, this disrespect for punctuality almost cost me the opportunity to meet Acer founder Stan Shih, regarded as one of Asia's technology visionaries, who was in the country recently for a short visit.
The scheduled time for our media interview with Shih was at 6:30 in the evening Friday, March 7. I thought the organizers had again employed the tactic of allotting a grace period--30 minutes in this case--before the program officially starts at 7pm. That was a wrong assumption.
As I hurried to leave the university where I am doing part-time work at about 6:15pm, I was confident that I could still catch Shih. Besides, the event's venue was just a few train stations away from where I was. Then, Murphy's Law struck.
Just as the train I was on was about to reach its destination, some mechanical problems forced it to suddenly stop with barely a few meters away from the station's platform. By this time, the PR persons of Acer Philippines had already informed me that the interview was already underway. I wanted to forcibly open the door. But I stood there helpless, wasting some 15 to 20 minutes inside before the train finally started to move.
By the time I arrived at the venue, which was at a hotel just beside the train station, the interview was almost winding down to a close. But I managed to throw a few questions to Shih and get some very interesting insights in return.
According to him, his country Taiwan was once derided for its "inferior" technology products. But it was soon able to enhance its reputation by going up the value chain in the face of the threat posed by its giant neighbor China.
Most, if not all, factories of Taiwanese IT companies, he said, are no longer located in the island and are now--you guessed it--in the mainland. However, IP development and product design are still being done in Taiwan. If the Philippines were to compete with China in the IT sector, it must also find its own niche because it cannot simply match the manufacturing prowess of the mainland, Shih said.
He said Taiwan and the Philippines could derive on each other's strengths by opening up a "technology corridor" where both countries could collaborate and build an environment where high-value partnership can be made.
Despite my difficulty understanding his spoken English, I could sense the brilliance and relevance of Shih's thoughts. Without a doubt, he is one of the reasons why Taiwan has able to ride on the technology train--something which the Philippines wasn't able to take.