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Advertise on the Tentacle

August 26, 2015

Unique, Tiring and Somewhat Successful

Tom McLaughlin

Santubong, Malaysian Borneo – Every year, the tourist administration holds the Rainforest Music Festival where people from all over the world come to hear indigenous peoples play music from their countries. Pygmies from the Congo, a group from the one of the tribes in Taiwan, and Gallic dancing from Scotland are some of the many examples.

This year, we applied to be vendor selling my new comic book, Borneo Boys, at the scene. I had little hope of being selected as usually only the "big boys" were chosen. But, to my surprise and delight we were selected. The cost was RM 500 and we would have to be there about 12 hours over the three days. Never mind, we would sell many books, or so I thought.

We had a meeting about a cashless event. People would swipe their credit card and transfer the money to a wrist band. Vendors, using a small printer and an iPhone, would then transfer the money to their accounts. The problem was, everything for sale had to be listed before the event and the price was set.

Here in Malaysia, as well as everywhere else in the developing world, the cost of something was always negotiable and is a more social event. An outrageous price would be posted on the item and one would haggle with the person to get the best price possible. For example, an item would be posted at RM100 but the buyer would always offer RM50 and negotiate upward, while the seller would move the price downward until an agreement was made. But, the new cashless system would not allow for this interaction. All of the vendors were skeptical.

My booth was located in the worst possible place. It was in the rainforest about five meters away from the raised walkway. People would have to jump down about a meter and then walk to my booth. This would not be a good selling location.

The next day, I brought my card table, cloth and chair and placed it against the walk way. People only had to bend over and buy the book. I gave my booth to a group of indigenous people who had rented only half of the booth as I had. They were delighted to receive this extra space as well as seeing I was a white man.

I was not going to sell the books using the cash less system. Rather I would take RM10 notes for each magazine and negotiate downward to RM7 if I had to.

The problem was the first day there were not many people. I looked vainly for someone to sell to, but they were just not there. I think I sold maybe 10 books the whole period. I ignored the cashless system, taking RM10 notes and the people were grateful to give up their currency with a questions like "Do you take cash?" and when I nodded, they were very much relieved. They didn't like the cashless system either. The music started at seven and I left at nine, being very discouraged, tired and sopping wet in sweat.

The next day I really threw myself into it. I greeted each group with a "Good Morning" or "Hello Good People" in whatever language I thought they spoke. It could have been English, Malay or Iban. Most stopped to purchase "Borneo Boys;" some negotiated in a playful sort of way, but I was well on my way to meeting the goal of 50 books which would pay for my stall. I also encouraged them to visit the stall behind me to the delight of the owners who just sat there looking expectedly. By Saturday night, when I left, I was seven short of paying for the booth. I went home and collapsed in bed after a much needed shower.

Sunday brought the extra seven books to meet my goal of 50, plus 30 more as people unloaded their Malaysian money. I had made only RM300 on expected sales of many, many more.

And I was so tired. I had to sell each book, explaining the history in the book and the story of the comic strip. Then and only then would they buy. I must have repeated the sales pitch over a million times each day.

Would I do it again next year? Let's see. Ten hours each day in the Rain Forest came to 30 hours with a profit of only RM300. No, they would have to live without me next year.

...Life is good. . . . . .


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