When I worked for a big commodity trader in Hong Kong a few years ago, we had a young risk manager who used to sit in front of multiple screens all day long looking at multiple parabolics.
He once told me that when he had dinner with his wife, they would spend 59 minutes talking about her fashion business and one minute talking about his job.
I asked him why and he said, “Well, what I do is boring. If the market goes up, we make money, and if the market goes down, we also make money.”
When I saw him surrounded by his screens I was reminded of Gordon Gekko. And indeed this young risk manager eventually went on to work for an investment bank to trade those parabolics, which is called macro- trading or, as he called it, macaroni trading.
My wife bumped into one of her friends the other day whilst on the way back from the toilet in a shopping mall. I was waiting for her in a coffee shop and she dragged back to her friend who was accompanied by her boyfriend. I was really happy to meet this thirty- something collector of superhero statues again, who comes from the Midlands district in the UK and talks with an accent that could be used to torture James Bond.
Anyhow, I asked him how his taxi business was going. He is the owner of 15 taxis that run around Metro Manila somewhere. Usually, he gives me some boring story about lack of drivers, maintenance or road accidents (I remember one about paying a ridiculously low amount of compensation to the parents of a boy who jumped off the back of a jeepney and got hit by one of his cabs).
This time, he said, it is all about the price of LPG, “and I have looked at the forward future prices and it seems I am well set to make money this year.” He told me that he gets up every morning in his small condo and in his dirty t-shirt and shorts (and the permanent baseball cap he wears to hide his bald patch), turns the computer on and goes straight to Bloomberg or Reuters to view the LPG parabolic and “futures market trends.”
My wife said to me later, “What was he talking about? He does not usually say anything and this time he never stopped talking.” Actually, he gave me a 30-minute review of LPG’s past-year fundamentals and its 12-month forward trends. He is convinced that he has cracked it with his 15 taxis telling me that he doesn’t need to worry about a pension plan given his predictions.
Not bad for someone who left school with no qualifications and is now the Gekko of the Manila taxi business. He can afford more Batman statues now.
Hide and Go Seek
I remember I was with Mr Taxi when my brother last visited Manila. During one conversation, my brother asked, “Why do so many cars here have dark windows? How do they see where they are going?”
Although less than the days I used to see every SUV arriving at the Shangri-La forecourt with blacked out windows, there are still so many huge Ford Expeditions with black windows— like huge alien vehicles that Tom Cruise should be sent to destroy.
What are all those people doing inside, hiding from what? Are there so many people here in Manila frightened of being seen? Is everybody still getting kidnapped here? Maybe these people are trying to say I have black windows so I am important and can be kidnapped?
I mean apart from those huge alien vehicles, some people even black out the windows of a Starex van. I mean you cannot be wealthy or kidnap-able if you only have a Starex, right?
Horses and Hounds
An English friend of mine, who has lived in Manila for 30 years or so, used to drive around in one of those monster utility vehicles with black windows. I didn’t really know why. He did tell me he met Mike Defensor once. Maybe he bought his old car?
He told me one day that he had bought a new RAV4. “So much easier to get around town in a RAV,” said he. Actually, I have a boring gray RAV too. Once, after we had finished lunch and left the restaurant, I went off to walk to my next appointment whereas he was picked up by his two bodyguards and escorted to the shiny black RAV4, which pulled up with its pitch black windows. Newly custom made. Old habits die hard.
Maybe these people with dark windows simply cannot handle the child Sampaguita sellers who stare at you with big eyes through your car window every time you stop at a red light.
Of course, they could be hiding from those sellers of metal stand-up ashtrays I once saw somebody selling on Edsa.
Personally, I like the nodding dogs that you can fix to your dashboard and that nod a lot in Manila with all the damaged roads. However, my favorite of all time, is the nodding horse— although a bit tricky to stick those four legs on the dashboard. I once bought a horse each for all my friends in Hong Kong.
Maybe those black-window vehicle owners are just ugly or have ugly wives. Somebody told me that the government had banned these blackened windows, but they still persist. There are just so many people in the Philippines who actually want to be noticed.
Big monster cars with black windows, multiple body guards, and very cute if they wear a little Philippine flag on their barong lapel, and also get a security guard for the house with a great big gun in his holster.
Maybe that Tony Lopez magazine that loves giving constant awards to everybody famous should have a new category for “Best Blackened Windows SUV” and a table showing the top 1000 ‘you cannot see me cars’ in the Philippines.
As Gary Numan sang “Here in my car / I feel safest of all / I can lock any doors / It’s the only way to live in cars. Here in my car / I can only receive / I can listen to you / It keeps me stable for days in cars.” Stable!
What’s the difference between the owner of a car with black windows and a porcupine? One guess.