Philippines, February 2011 – Last Night I Saw Imelda Marcos…A Story of Three Widows.

February 28, 2011

Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines

English: Imelda Marcos during a state visit ou...

Imelda Marcos during a state visit outside the Oval Office. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I saw Imelda Marcos last night, she is the first of three widows in this story. I was sitting outside Club Havana Restaurant at the Greenbelt Mall in Makati when she strolled by with her entourage occasionally stopping for autographs and photos. I’m not sure where Imelda had been that night. Perhaps she had dined there at one of the many restaurants in Greenbelt or maybe she had been shopping for shoes. She still had her trademark up-sweep hairdo and was wearing a long black dress decorated with jewels and embroidery. I must say for an 81-year-old woman, she looked marvelous.

Allegedly, she and her late husband, Ferdinand, ripped off the country for hundreds of billions. The commission on Good Government estimated the theft to be in the US$5-US$10 billion range. To this day, she still insists that Ferdinand was a financial genius who made all that money speculating in the gold market. Actually, if you talk to many older Filipinos, they will tell you Marcos was a very good administrator the first 10 years of his 20 year reign. It was the last 10 years when he developed serious kidney problems that the corruption accelerated. Indeed, during his first 10 years, the Philippines was one of the richest countries in Southeast Asia. Many say that as Marcos became weaker, Imelda became stronger.


Imelda’s Shoes, Malacanang Palace, 1986

In addition to plundering the national treasury for years, I heard persistent rumors that she and Marcos’s chief of staff, General Ver, plotted the assassination of Ferdinand’s political rival, Begnigo Aquino. For a number of years after his death, there was a statue of Benigno Aquino descending the airplane stairway where he was shot on arrival at the airport. It was a rather macabre statue. I’m not sure it’s still there. I managed to get a photo of it. A lot of mystery still surrounds that killing which led eventually to Marcos’s downfall. Who said your karma catches up with you? The Filipinos are a very forgiving people. Imelda is still going strong.


Seeing Imelda revived a lot of old memories for me.  Her appearance came almost 25 years to the day from my first arrival in the Philippines. On February 25, 1986, President Marcos and Imelda flew out of Clark Air Base to his exile home in Hawaii. He died at a house on the beach in Honolulu 3 years later. I arrived at the Manila International Airport just 10 days after his departure for the first of my many visits.. The cab driver who drove me to the hotel claimed to be part of the great human barricade that blocked EDSA Boulevard thereby preventing the tanks from moving against the demonstrators. He proudly showed me where he had parked his cab sideways in the boulevard just down the road from Camp Crame.  He said he had stood with the nuns who had stared down the tanks.


After Marcos was deposed in 1986, the euphoria in the country was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Nearly everyone was wearing yellow and was making the “L” sign with their index finger and thumb. The sign stood for the second word of PDP-Laban, the People’s Power movement that had ousted Marcos. The wearing of the yellow color signified that people should never forget all of the political opponents that Marcos had jailed. Indeed, the dissidents were now set free and many of them went on to become cabinet members and other high-level positions and start their own cycle of plundering. Generally in the Philippines, when there is a change of government in Manila, inevitably one band of grafters replaces another. The corruption resumes. This chronic corruption combined with a series of natural disasters has made the Philippines one of the poorer countries in Southeast Asia. In the last election, the voters were so fed up with the graft year after year that they elected tough guy Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao to clean it up. We’ll see how successful he is. The jury is still out on that.

On that same initial trip, I got an even closer look at Philippine politics. It was on a flight to Cebu that I met a personable fortyish woman named Paz Regalado. She is the second widow in our story. Mrs. Regalado was on her way back to her home in Cagayan de Oro on the north end of the island of Mindanao. She had just been in Manila discussing a position in the new government. Her late husband had been the law partner of Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, former mayor of Cagayan de Oro. Pimentel had been one of the dissidents that Marcos jailed several times and he was now a national hero. As a reward, he was about to be appointed Minister Of Local Government, a very powerful position. Marcos had centralized power in Manila. All mayors and governors were appointed out of Manila instead of being elected locally. Nene Pimentel had an important position in the new government and he wanted Paz Regalado to be his chief administrative officer. I could tell she was both elated and anxious about it. Her anxiety was understandable. She was the widow of a small town lawyer and had been busy raising their daughter. Although she was a graduate nurse, she hadn’t worked in several years. Pimentel knew her and trusted her which apparently was more important to him than competence.

In that first meeting with Paz Regalado on that Cebu Pacific flight, I mentioned to her that I would be coming back to the Philippines on my summer vacation to do some traveling and possibly consulting. I said it was an exciting time to be in the Philippines with a dictator leaving and a new president coming in. We exchanged contact information and she said she would enjoy taking me sightseeing. When I contacted her in June, she told me she had taken the job at the Ministry of Local Government. She asked where I was staying and I told her I had arranged to stay with my friend Ken in a mansion he was renting in the upscale suburb of Greenhills. Ken was an American who had an import business that he ran out of his home. He had a staff of about 15 Filipinos that either worked in the office, served as his driver or maintained the mansion. Equipped with a pool and all the other amenities, it was a comfortable place to spend the summer.


Chief Administrative Officer Mrs. Paz C. Regalado

During my stay in Manila, Paz would come by the house, pick me up with her car and driver and take me to see the various sites around Manila. We saw the old Spanish Fort and the US military cemetery at Ford Bonifacio. We even went to the presidential palace where they still had 2500 pairs of Imelda Marcos shoes on display.  Sometimes I wondered when Paz had time to do her job. It seemed to me that a chief administrative officer would have a lot to do. When I asked about it, she just laughed. She told me that our driver usually drove for the minister. However, Nene Pimentel insisted on using his own car, driver and security. I assumed he didn’t trust people from Manila. I learned later that he had a very dangerous job at a very dangerous time. It was his job to fire and replace all the corrupt governors and mayors in the country. In Asian countries, when you “break someone’s rice bowl” retribution usually follows. I can see why he paid special attention to security. He only lasted a year in that job and moved on to higher office. He was elected a senator and became President of the Senate. His successor, however, wasn’t so careful or so lucky. Shortly after taking over from Pimentel, Jaime Ferrer and his driver were shot and killed on the streets of Manila. I never had a chance to check, but it may have been the same driver who took us sightseeing.


Washington Post, August 3,1987. Assassination of Nene Pimentel’s successor.

A couple of weeks after I arrived, Paz Regalado told me that the third widow in our story, the newly installed president, Cory Aquino and Paz’s boss, Minister Pimentel were going to her hometown of Cagayan de Oro on July 6 and 7, 1986 to make a major speech thanking the people for their support. Paz had to go a few days early to make some of the

arrangements and she wanted to know if I was interested in going with her. I said I was interested and agreed. We flew Philippine Airlines from Manila to the airport at Cagayan de Oro. As we descended the stairs from the plane, a group of dignitaries including the mayor were there to meet us. The mayor welcomed me and put a garland around my neck made of shells and capiz It was stamped with the seal of the city. I started to fully appreciate what an important job Paz really had. I was booked into the Executive Hotel in the center. Paz went on to her home in the suburbs.IMG_20180205_0002When we arrived at the stadium on the day of the speech. I was shocked to see the size of the crowd. It was estimated that at least 10,000 people were there that day. Many were still wearing the yellow celebrating the People’s Power victory. Yellow balloons were everywhere. Military paratroopers para-sailed into the stadium. The Media were all in place. I had a seat a few rows back from the speaker’s stand. As I surveyed the crowd, I thought, what an opportunity for a president show a vision, to set a course for the future, to start changing the country for the better. I was set to hear the soaring rhetoric of a Kennedy or Reagan speech. I thought this may be an historic, pivotal moment for the Philippines.Aquino CDO speech5 (2)

The first a couple of local dignitaries spoke in the local Visayan dialect. Then, Nene Pimentel, the local and national hero, spoke in a mishmash of Visayan and Tagalog, the main dialect of the country. I could understand very little of what he said but I could tell he was extremely popular with the crowd. Next came the moment we were all waiting for. Newly elected Pres. Cory Aquino, widow of Benigno Aquino, took the stand. Basically, for 30 minutes in clear English, she listed why Ferdinand Marcos was a scoundrel and a rogue and lower than pond scum. She reeled off a seemingly endless litany of his misdeeds. I didn’t hear a single positive, future-oriented comment. What was her vision for the country? What was the mission of her administration? Where do we go from here? I thought to myself, this country is still in trouble. As it turned out, I was right. Cory Aquino proved to be an honest, kind, but naïve person who would gather her cabinet around a long conference table and explain to them all the things she would like to see done. They would say, yes ma’am, and smile and then go out and line their pockets the same way politicians always had. During her term, the corruption continued unabated.

Aquino CDO speech4

One good example is the problem my friend Ken began having shortly after Aquino took office. He had been importing fruit in containers by air from New Zealand. The newly appointed manager of customs at the airport informed him that the bribe would be doubled in order to get a container through customs. If he refused to pay it, his containers would be pushed off to the side and left in the tropical heat to rot. Later, the same manager teamed up with another importer to import apples from New Zealand. From then on Ken was not allowed to bring in apples at all. The customs manager and his partner cornered the market on all apples coming into the Philippines by air. Ken told me that when the man was first appointed by President Aquino, he drove a small Toyota. One month later, he traded up to a Mercedes.

Some of Aquino’s successors have made attempts at curbing the corruption. It usually comes back stronger than ever. The sad thing is that over the years the corruption has caused the economy to fall behind other countries in Southeast Asia. Much of the money that should have gone into roads, bridges, airports, clean water and sewers has been pocketed by many (not all) politicians. Although the economy is showing some signs of growth recently, 2.2 million overseas workers still need to go abroad each year to make a decent living that they can’t make in the Philippines.

The latest president, Rodrigo Duterte, like his predecessors, has vowed to clean up the corruption. What is different about him is that he’s taken strong action against the country’s drug dealers which has allegedly included several thousand nonjudicial executions. Criticized for his heavy hand, it remains to be seen how effective he will be with political corruption. I hope he succeeds. I love the Philippines. I truly wish them well.



Beijing, China, 1982: Watching the Giant Awaken

It doesn’t matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice” – Deng Xiaoping

Richard Nixon made his famous visit to China in 1972. Historians have called it the “week that changed the world”. China had been in isolation for more than two decades since the Communist takeover. It wasn’t until 1979, however, that full diplomatic recognition occurred. An adventurous English teacher from my college and his wife were able to secure teaching positions in China in 1980 and 81. When Len and Emma Pellettieri returned to San Diego. Len made a special point to pull me aside and tell me that his employers in Beijing were very anxious to recruit American business professors. He said that if I was interested he would arrange an introduction. Fortunately, I had been awarded a sabbatical leave for the 1982-83 academic year. To spend the fall semester in Beijing would work out well for my calendar.

Deng Xiaoping and his predecessors had discovered that revolution is poetry but governing is prose. Marxist/Maoist theory was not filling the rice bowl. I remember Deng’s famous quote, “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice”. For nearly three decades now, the Chinese economy had not caught any mice. By gradually moving away from a centrally planned economy and opening up to the West by bringing in business and other experts, they were hoping to ignite a stagnant economy. That’s where I came in. The administration at the Beijing Institute of Foreign Trade had asked me to teach a marketing and management class. My students would be bright young teachers who would then in turn teach business subjects elsewhere in China.

For me to claim that I had something to do with the success of the Chinese economy would be like a rooster claiming credit for the rising sun. Having said that, I was there at a highly pivotal moment in their history. The government started allowing private farming of some farm plots. It turned out that those small farms produced more than the large collective farms. They also introduced something called the “responsibility system” which gave bonuses to workers for extra production. They even introduced this system in the dining room at the Friendship Hotel were I stayed. Prior to the responsibility system, it was difficult to get someone to wait on you. One had to hold up the menu and wave it frantically in the air. Once the responsibility system was implemented in the restaurant, three waiters would descend upon you immediately when you sat down.  Someone was counting the number of orders they wrote each day and applying a bonus.  The responsibility system was being introduced throughout the economy and was making a huge difference. The cat began catching mice.


Friendship Hotel 1982 (Yoyi Pinguan)

The Friendship Hotel was a sprawling structure built in the 1950s by the Russians. It definitely looked like something out of the Soviet Era with its exposed plumbing and generally poor quality workmanship. It housed several thousand of us “foreign experts”. Not only teachers were brought in, but advisers of every type from dozens of different countries. There was a large foreign currency store in the lobby. One needed special currency to buy anything there that was imported. This kept the locals out. My allowance was $448 a month. We were paid in FEC which stood for foreign-exchange certificates. Teachers who had been there for a while called it funny money. Fraternization between the foreigners and the locals was not allowed. Any violation would mean that the local was sent to a reeducation camp and the foreigner would be deported. Plenty of socializing went on among the foreigners, however. Cheap Tsingtao and Wuxing beer helped to lubricate the social life. The French teachers from Canada were a lot of fun to hang out with. pict01661.jpg

In looking around in the retail stores, it was easy to see why they wanted to get help with their marketing. Packaging and labeling were poor. Branding didn’t translate well into English. If they wanted to sell products abroad they needed to make some changes. For example, I personally saw flashlight batteries with the brand name White Elephant. I didn’t see it myself, but I heard there was a Great Leap Forward Floor Wax. But the funniest one I heard was Double Happiness Brassieres!China room


My small apartment was clean and comfortable thanks to two maids who made sure I had plenty of hot water for my tea. Although very basic, I learned that my accommodations were downright luxurious compared to people assigned outside Beijing. I met one teacher who had been working in Harbin who had no hot water in her room and was only able to bathe once a week when the staff heated up the water for her. There was a free clinic at the back of the hotel complex. Some hilarious stories were told about the care received. They practiced Western medicine, Chinese herbal medicine, and acupuncture all at the same facility. Three people with the same malady would come out of the clinic with a completely different treatment depending on which doctor they saw. They all seemed to work.PICT0163PICT0154

Every school day, a car and driver would pick me up at the hotel and take me out to the suburbs where the Beijing Institute of Foreign Trade was located. The institution has now been renamed, The University of International Business and Economics. On weekends and holidays, they would take us on tours. We went out to the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, the Chinese opera and a special overnight trip to the newly opened Ming Tombs. Most of the cars they drove in those days appeared to be 1950 models. They told me they were made in Shanghai. When I return for a visit in 1995, they picked me up in a brand-new Lexus. They had come a long way in those 13 years.

I was assigned a permanent assistant. His name was Chunguang Ma. He was an assistant professor when I first met him. He had been assigned abroad in the past and his English was excellent. We became good friends over the years. I later arranged for him to have an internship at a high tech business in the San Diego area. Eventually he was promoted to vice president and later arranged for me to be a guest speaker again at the University in 1995. He and His family came to visit me in San Diego in 2008 as well. Prof. Ma sat in the back of my class every day. At times I would get other professors sitting in on my lectures. Prof. Ma warned me that students were a bit lazy. As I got to know them, I found out why. They were the best and brightest from all over China. A committee had decided that they would be teachers. Most of them did not want to be teachers. One young man told me that he wanted to be the manager of an enterprise. I’m sure today he is. But in those days, he was reluctantly doing what the committee had told him to do.

In order to preserve energy in Beijing, the government decreed that buildings were not to be heated until November 15 no matter how cold it got. Coming from San Diego, I nearly froze my bottom off for a few weeks before they turned the heat on. The students were obviously used to the cold. Anyway, they wore caps in the classroom and had so many layers of clothes on that it was difficult to tell the boys from the girls. The Chinese are indeed a hearty lot.  They seemed to love fresh air and would leave the windows open when it was nearly freezing outside. During my lectures, sometimes vapor would come out of my mouth and my fingers would be so cold it was hard for me to hold the chalk. When class ended, I would run down to the faculty office and put my hands on the big hot water kettle they kept there for making tea.

When I returned in 1995, the shabby old buildings were gone and the University was occupying several bright shiny towers. Again, they had come a long way in 13 years.


china flowersPICT0155


June 1981 – Moribund Moscow

Red Square, Moscow

Red Square, Moscow (Photo credit: On The Go Tours)

“If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there’d be a shortage of sand.”
Milton Friedman

NOTE: May, 2013. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines moribund as “being in the state of dying: approaching death”.  Indeed, that was what I found when I took a tour from Helsinki to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) then on to Moscow.  It was the summer of 1981 and it was at depth of the Breznev era.  In fact, Leonid Breznev did die a year later and thus began the fall of the Soviet Union and the transformation of the Russian economy to a freer market. Mikhail Gorbachev assumed power in March of 1985 and by December 1991 all of the other countries that comprised the Soviet Union had gained their independence.  (see chart below). The next report on Leningrad and this report on Moscow came from notes taken during my visit there. What these two stories show is a snapshot of a system just before it died.

The lessons to be learned are obvious. Oppressive central governments that attempt to control all aspects of the economy are doomed to a similar fate.  Although the transformation for Russia was painful, per capita income has tripled since then. Many of the satellite countries of the Soviet Union are doing even better.  I visited Estonia later and they are thriving much like their Finnish cousins.  In Thailand where I am now living, we are overrun with Russian tourists flush with loads of money crowding the restaurants and taxis and buying up real estate.  In some areas of my beach town, half of the signs are in Russian. Although some parts of the Russian economy are still under tight government control, whether or not they are willing to admit it, ordinary Russians have been well served by the move to a market economy.  Those advocating more government control of the economy in western countries take note.

Leonid Brezhnev, portrait on stamp.

Leonid Brezhnev, portrait on stamp. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

June, 1981.  Moscow, like so many other capitals, has experienced a problem with people from the countryside migrating there. As a result, it has attempted to limit its growth. In order to move there,  a special permit is needed. Some people say this is a form of veiled racism, a way of keeping Moscow to the white Russians. But, nevertheless, after seeing Moscow, I couldn’t see why anybody would want to live there anyway. Aside from a few older buildings around Red Square, the Kremlin, for example, and  a few grotesque Stalin birthday-cake style buildings like the State Department Building, most of Moscow consists of broad,  gray expanses and mile after mile of ugly utilitarian-looking buildings.

We were put up at the Belgrade Hotel which was a bit south of town.  They gave us free time to look around Moscow before the planned tours began.  Never were we followed and our participation in the organized tours, for instance the trips to the ballet and the circus, were only voluntary. We had a young Jewish-American fellow on our tour and whenever we would go on one of the planned activities, he would tell the tour guide he was not feeling well and that he’d rather stay in the hotel.  Instead, he would go out and visit Jewish dissidents. He was given a list of phone numbers by the Congressman he was working for and he would phone the Jewish dissidents and check on their welfare and take any reports they wanted relayed back to the Congressman. As it turned out, the tour guide never asked us where he was and she wasn’t particularly concerned.

A couple of unusual things happened on this trip, however.  On one of the days when we had free time, I decided to visit the commercial attache, the business officer of the American Embassy.  When you check into a hotel, you are given a hotel card and they lock up your passport in their safe.  My only means of identification then, was the hotel card from the Hotel Belgrade.  I walked the several blocks to the US Embassy where I found three rather tall Soviet guards standing in front. I started to enter the main door of the Embassy and one of the guards shouted  “Ah!…ah!…Nyet. Where is your passport?  Pasaporte?”

And I said, “it’s at my hotel. All I have is a hotel card.”  “Nyet! Passport.” Indicating that I must have a passport. So it’s a catch twenty two…you can’t go in if you have no passport and you have no passport because it was locked at your hotel;  a clever way of restricting access to the US Embassy.  As I was hassling with them,  I happened tolook back in the doorway and there stood a Seventh Fleet US Marine guard.  I looked up and said “Hey, would you tell them to let me in?”

In a big voice that resembled God speaking from heaven, he made the whole tunnel rattle when he shouted, “Let him in!” They parted quietly and I walked into the Embassy.  I thanked the guard. He asked where I was from.  I told him San Diego, and of course being a marine, he had been to Camp Pendleton.  He said, “Oh, by the way, if you and any members of your tour are interested, this is Friday night and tonight, we have a disco going on at the Marine Snack bar and Canteen here in the Embassy compound.” I thanked him for the invitation and I thought to myself, sure, sure, if I want to drink with Marines,  I can do that in Oceanside near Camp Pendleton. I then went in to chat with the staff in the commercial attachés office about the problems of doing business in Russia and then went back to the hotel.PICT0375

Later, at the hotel, I was with several other people on the tour and we were drinking at what was known as the Foreign Currency Bar where only foreigners can drink and the drinks can only be bought with hard non-Soviet currency. It’s another way they have of acquiring foreign exchange money.  I was with a Dutchman and some Nicaraguans and we lost track of the time. It was getting dinner time, so we decided to have dinner on our own than rather in the hotel.

So, we set out to find a place to eat and the first place we came to had a long line at the door. We tried six different restaurants but could not get in because it was rather late in the evening. Basically, the system is that the restaurants are given a quota of meals to serve and once they serve that number of meals, then it’s finished; like say, a restaurant has a quota of two hundred meals and you are number two hundred one, you don’t get to eat. There is no profit motive to serve that additional customer. That’s what we ran into; we could not get into any restaurant. There was no incentive for them to serve extra meal, they don’t make another penny. It was a little bit late in the evening so guess where we ended up eating? At the Marine Snack Bar at the US Embassy. They welcomed in my Dutch friends and my Nicaraguan friends and we ended up spending the evening there with roast beef and sandwiches and dancing with the nannies of the French and English families who were working for the different diplomatic posts in Moscow.

Note: Four years later, Sgt. Clayton Lonetree and two other Marines assigned to the US Embassy in Moscow were arrested and tried for espionage. It seems Sgt. Lonetree was seduced by a beautiful Russian girl and he allowed her “Uncle Sasha” to come into the embassy and plant “bugs”.  The story can be read here

Coat of arms of the Union of Soviet Socialist ...

Coat of arms of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics from 1958 to 1991 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After we’ve been there for a few days, Steve, the fellow who was working for the Congressman, began gathering stories from dissidents and was relaying them on to us.  Basically, the consensus was that dissidents felt the Soviet government was becoming more and more entrenched and more and removed from the people. They felt greater isolation. The Soviet elite were living in their special apartments and, in addition,  had special dachas or summer homes. Their children were sent to special schools and shopped at special stores and were having less and less contact with people and had less and less knowledge of what was going on.

A good example of the elite was our tour guide.  Her name was Irina. She was medium height with short, dark hair and she wore expensive imported clothes. She wore a purple, sort of valor pant suit and good quality Italian shoes and Italian purse.  She was a real contrast with that plain lady that was our tour guide in Leningrad, Natasha. I  got to know her rather well after the week that we were there. She began to confide in me.  So one day I asked her, “How was it that you dress so stylishly?”

“Well, my husband travels to Europe a great deal.”

“Really? What’s his job?”

“He’s a delegate to the world peace movement and his job is to go to Europe and organize anti-nuclear rallies.”  she answered straightforwardly. It was down to the fact that the nuclear rallies in Europe, by and large, were financed and staged by Soviet agents including Irina’s husband. Because he was a member of the elite, her husband was able to travel and Irina was able to have all these imported clothes, shoes, and so on. But for those people who did not have any connections, the other ninety eight percent (98%) of the population who weren’t high government officials or important sports figures or important scientists, they had to subsist on the meager, shoddy production that the system turned out. And if they could not get it through the normal means, then they had to resort to the black market.

What you have in the Soviet Union is approximately thirty per cent (30%) of the economy is black market So would call it the free market. Two good books were written on this.  In his book “The Russians”, Hedrick Smith talked extensively about this thriving black market.  He was a correspondent for the New York Times in Moscow. But even in the limited time I was there, the shortages and mismanagement of the economy are evident everywhere. You can’t walk down the street more than a couple of blocks without seeing a waiting line or queue of people trying to buy something-coffee, shoes, whatever.  It has been estimated that the average Soviet housewife spent three and a half (3-1/2) hours a day in waiting lines to buy things.  You can not travel anywhere without being accosted by someone.  If they see you’re a foreigner, either they want to buy something or to exchange money with you.  I recall walking down the center aisle of the GUM Department Store, the major department store in the Red Square, and being asked three or four times to exchange money. I really tried not to get involved into the blackmarket. I didn’t need the troubles that could arise. But in this one particular time I was walking down throug GUM, a young man pointed to the ballpoint pen that was sticking out of my pocket and offered me two rubles for it, which was something over three dollars. Well, I got this free from my bank and it had my bank’s name on it and, what the hell, I gave him the pen and took the two rubles.

GUM, Main (former State) Department Store, Mos...

GUM, Main (former State) Department Store, Moscow, Russia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This happened repeatedly. People in our party sold their jeans and other apparel.  Glenn sold the pair of white jeans to someone. Many people financed their trips in the Soviet Union through this thriving black market. In fact, I had two friends living in Imatra, Finland, Remo and Sally, and both of them told me that they frequently empty their dressers 0f their old clothes and book a tour down to Yalta or some other parts of the Soviet Union and those used clothes will finance their entire trip.  What the whole problem boils down to is that the free market is a much better planner than some bureaucrat in Moscow.  The whole process is left opened to mismanagement and that’s exactly what you have in the Soviet Union.

The entire time we were there, we had no fresh vegetables in our hotel meals. It was always boiled potatoes and boiled meat and sausages and so on; no green leafy salads like we’re used to in the States. They grow excellent vegetables in the Soviet Union, but the distribution is the problem. They don’t have that wonderful pricing mechanism that allows goods to be shipped from where they’re not receiving a high price to wherever they are receiving a higher price. The distribution system in the US is the most efficient in the world.

Red Square, Lenin's mausoleum

Red Square, Lenin’s mausoleum (Photo credit: veni markovski)

As part of our tour, we were taken to the Red Square and to Lenin’s tomb. Just outside Lenin’s tomb, we saw the grave of John Reed, the young American communist who was a part of the Russian revolution and they divided his body in half and sent part of it to the the United States. The other half is in Red Square and you can see his name “JOHN REED” inscribed there.  I think he was the subject of the movie “Reds” starring Warren Beatty.

To actually see Lenin’s body, it usually it takes about an hour. You  wait in a long line that winds around the Kremlin . You’re searched very thoroughly on the way in and then as you go down into the tomb you walk 30 or 40 feet and look through the glass. And there the famous man is lying, with his sloping forehead. You can’t help noticing his fingertips.  I don’t know how they embalmed him, but his fingertips appear to be turning blue.  This man had supplanted God in the Russian society.  For example, while we were standing in line, we heard some applause and someone rushing by us. It was a bride in a white gown with her groom in tow.  People were applauding them. Our guide told us that as a present from the State, they are allowed to go and view Lenin’s body without waiting in line on their wedding day. Where many Americans go to church on that special day,  Moscovites get to see Lenin’s dead body including his blue fingertips.  What a thrill! They then will usually go up above the city to the University of Moscow area overlooking Gorki Park and have their pictures taken. They are married in a wedding palace instead of the church. All of this, of course, is done very cheaply.

Around Moscow, you notice half of people are in uniform.  The reason is that every male between the ages of eighteen and twenty must serve in the military.  If you look on a typical street, you see a lot of military. After two weeks of traveling in Leningrad and Moscow,  if one were to ask me in which of the two I would like to return to,  I would say Leningrad, and, no, I would not return to Moscow.  Too many of the stereotypes you hear are true.  Living in Moscow would be like spending every day of your life at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

So after our two weeks was up, we took the overnight train back to Finland. We made the border crossing at Vainikola where money was counted out again and where our travel companion, Joaquin, was put under arrest and interrogated about his eight one-hundred dollar bills. (see earlier report on “Train to Leningrad”).   Finland never looked so clean and well-organized and the Finnish people never seemed friendlier.

Helsinki, Finland 1982 – Sisu and Saucers…

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Arctic Circle near Roveniemi, Finland

Note: As part of a sabbatical leave project, I visited this manufacturing facility in Helsinki. It was an interesting study in applying Japanese management techniques and effective communication.

The word “Sisu” in Finnish means strength, perseverance and outright stubbornness. This is the aspect of the Finnish character that enables Finns to survive long cold winters and probably explains why they ultimately were able to gain independence from Russia. Finnish women are especially known for their sisu.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming introduced a management technique to Japan just after World War II called quality control circles. Deming is given a lot of the credit for Japan’s manufacturing success.  Here in Helsinki, it took the introduction of Q.C. circles to reveal an internal problem that was arousing sentiments of sisu within a group of women workers.China Samples

Quality control circles are certainly not for every company. Quality control circles are groups of seven to ten employees who meet regularly to solve job related problems. Management is usually obliged to accept their recommendations. Companies who already have good upward communications get no benefit from the technique. Many firms have tried them and abandoned them as a fad. At the Arabia China factory in Helsinki, however, I encountered an excellent example of where they are best used. Arabia’s parent company, Wartsila, sent forty of its division managers to Japan to study Japanese Q.C. circles. When they returned, they were ordered to try out the techniques in some of the divisions. Arabia was selected for one of the earliest experiments. Arabia makes fine quality hand-painted china. Finnish design is prized throughout the world and Arabia China can be found in many upscale stores throughout the United States. The hand painting is done by Finnish women. The supervision, however, consists mainly of Swedish speaking males. Normally Finland is a very egalitarian place. In this case, however, the Swedish management was oblivious to what was going on in the plant.

Arabia Factory

Finland is a bilingual country. Because it was a colony of Sweden at one time, today, more than six per cent (6%) of the population speaks Swedish. All road signs, directions and public buildings must be written in both Finnish and Swedish to accommodate this pampered minority. Formerly the aristocracy of the country, many of these Swedish descendants now occupy managerial positions.

If ever natural barriers to communications existed, this was the case in the Arabia plant. What you had were Swedish-speaking male supervisors and Finnish-speaking female workers. Although the supervisors could speak Finnish well, the barriers of social class, gender, and to a lesser extent, language existed.

Now, the males were forced by top management to organize the workers into Q.C. circles. During my visit, they told me at first they resented the prospect of having to take suggestions from women, let alone Finnish women. But orders were orders. The women began to meet on company time for two hours each week to discuss production problems.

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Finnair landing on snow at the Arctic Circle

The first problem they were given to solve centered around the new ovens or kilns that were recently installed. Because the temperature and the heat pattern within these new ovens was different from the old ones, many of the cups and saucers would break during the firing process. This problem had been driving management crazy.

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Finnish Friends

After only two weeks of meetings, the workers came up with the solution.  They devised a different way of placing the cups and saucers in the oven. The net savings for the reduced breakage was US$15,000.00 per week. Management was stunned.

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Finnish Summer Home on Lake

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Finnish Sauna

When the President of Arabia asked the female workers “why didn’t you give us this idea before? We’ve been fighting that problem for weeks.”

Their reply was: “Because you never asked us…!”


Conclusion: Much of the imagination and creativity in many organizations is stifled by the autocratic leadership style of management. In most technical jobs, the person closest to the job knows it the best. For an organization to succeed and survive in today’s fast paced environment, management needs to adopt a communication style that draws out all of that imagination and creativity in the organization. The person in the boat with you seldom bores a hole in it.

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Skiing at the Arctic Circle