I chanced upon an interesting article in Yahoo Japan (in Japanese) about Hiroyuki Nishimura (of 2ch.net and 4chan.org fame) relating how he solved his small problem of exchanging his dollars in the Philippines in the middle of the night while all the money-changers were closed.
Photo by Danny Choo
The same article quoted him: “I think about my current choices and about the future without reference to morals, then take action. Normal people have morals, so they’d probably say thinking like mine is strange.”
So here is the Yahoo Japan article in English.
How to exchange dollars in the Philippines in the middle of the night
I am currently living in Paris, France, but I have always loved going abroad and have visited more than 60 countries so far.
What makes going abroad interesting is that things happen that you would never expect to happen in Japan.
When I encounter unexpected problems, I feel as if I am enjoying a game of how to solve them with limited means.
I have had many experiences abroad, but here I would like to share an episode related to problem solving.
When I was in my 20s, I went to the Philippines with some friends and we decided to go shopping in the middle of the night. But none of us had pesos, the Philippine currency. It was the time when money changers were closed and none of us had credit cards, but we wanted to go shopping.
What would you do in such a situation?
Many people might wait until the next day when the exchange offices are open. But I took a different approach.
I went to a convenience store without pesos.
When negotiating, aim for a situation where the other party is in trouble
It was late at night, but there were quite a few customers in the convenience store. We put what we wanted to buy in our baskets, stood in line waiting for the cashier, and when our turn came, we handed our baskets to the cashier.
When the cashier said, “That’s X pesos,” I said in a voice that could be heard by the customers in the store, “We don’t have any pesos.”
“We don’t have any pesos, so would anyone be willing to let us buy X pesos in dollars?”
Then one of the people waiting in line behind us said, “Well, I’ll buy it!” So we exchanged pesos for dollars and were able to make a purchase at the convenience store.
This was just as I had planned.
For example, if a foreigner suddenly asked you on the street to exchange money, most people would not take the offer. In this case, however, the line at the cash register would not be able to proceed unless someone exchanged money, so the people waiting in line would have to wait until the situation was resolved.
In short, negotiations work better in situations where the other party is in trouble.
That is why we dared to create a “difficult situation” where the people in line would not be able to pay their bill until our problem was solved.
I should add, however, that although Hiroyuki got his dollars exchanged to pesos as he wanted, he most likely got a bad exchange rate because no Filipino would do this without getting something in return, even if they would wait in line forever.
But if everyone was happy–Hiroyuki got his pesos in the middle of the night, the cashier got her payment, the money guy got his dollars with favorable exchange rate–then the negotiation was successful.
Besides his experience in the Philippines, he also relates how he got his 10-year Malaysian visa, with a little help from a young friendly female staff at the hotel where he was staying.
How to find the right person to ask for a favor
In negotiations and problem solving, the probability of success varies greatly depending on what kind of situation the other party is in.
There is another problem-solving episode I experienced overseas.
I have a 10-year long-stay visa for Malaysia, and this is the story of how I obtained it.
This long-stay visa can only be obtained locally, so I went to Malaysia after researching online and preparing all the necessary documents for the visa application. However, when I went to the local government office, I was told on the spot that I needed a Malaysian witness and signature.
But of course, I didn’t know anyone in Malaysia. Besides, I would be leaving Japan in two days, so I needed to find a Malaysian to be my witness on the same day.
Well, what should I do?
I don’t want to do anything wasteful, so I don’t want to procrastinate getting it the next time I visit Malaysia. After much thought, I decided to ask the receptionist at the hotel to sign the form.
Who would have the best chance of success?
There were several reception staff members, so we first decided who we would ask.
Asking an older staff seemed to have a high probability of being rejected because it was too much trouble for them.
Besides, during my stay, I felt that Malaysia tended to have a male-dominated society, so I narrowed down my target to young female staff, thinking that women would be more courteous to male customers.
There was also a reason why we chose young staff. I imagined the relationships in the workplace: "If it’s the youngest staff member, she won’t be able to just dismiss it as a hassle and leave it to another staff member, so she will have to deal with it.
Once we decided on a target, the next step was to figure out when to ask for help.
The receptionist would probably be busy with check-out duties until around 1:00 PM, and then at 3:00 PM, the check-in process would start, so things would get hectic again. So I thought the most likely time for them to respond would be between 1PM and 3PM.
If negotiations are interrupted by the arrival of guests, the probability of rejection increases, so I decided to aim for a time when it would be difficult for the other party to escape.
What can this person do to make a move?
So when it was past 1:00 PM, I approached the target female staff member.
After introducing myself as “My name is Hiroyuki Nishimura, I am Japanese and an engineer at …,” I said, “I would like to apply for a long-term visa, but I don’t know any Malaysian people. I am sorry, but could you sign my application?”
When I showed her that I was a proper Japanese, she said, “Okay. You don’t seem like a bad person.”
To tell the truth, I thought it would be tough to get a visa if I was rejected by this female staff member.
When it comes to requests, if the first person fails, the probability of success drops for the second and subsequent people, saying, “That person turned me down, too. So I wanted to succeed with the first person at all costs.”
Thus I was able to get a long-stay visa within the time limit.
When negotiating or making a request, the important thing is to first imagine the other party’s situation.
The more specific you can imagine what kind of organization the other party is working for and what their motivations and objectives are, the more accurate your hypothesis will be and the more likely you will be to succeed.
And here’s the rest of Nishimura’s thought about negotiating your way out of difficult situations.
If you know the behavioral principles, you can get behind the other person’s back.
In this kind of interpersonal problem-solving, it is important to know “what is the motivation of the other party?”
What is the motivation of the other party?
If you are able to simulate such a principle of action, you will be able to play the other person’s game.
In some cases, the motivation of the other party may be unexpected.
For example, if someone is an extremely busy businessperson, you may not be able to get them to do business with you, no matter how hard you try to present your product. No matter how good the product is, if they think “I don’t want to do more work,” it will not motivate them to sign a contract.
With such a person, the key is to ask, “What can I do to be of service to someone without causing him or her any trouble?”
If you say something like, “As long as you give us your seal of approval, we will take care of everything else, so you don’t have to do anything,” they will see that it is beneficial to them, and they will be more likely to hire you.
Some people even sign contracts because the person in charge is cute, so if you make a habit of simulating the motivation of the other party when solving interpersonal problems, I think you will have a much better chance of success.
Here are comments from Yahoo Japan’s Japanese community:
Many Filipinos are optimistic and cheerful, but they are almost all Catholic, so the culture and spirit of helping those in need is deeply rooted. In recent years, due to the culture and economy, there has been a shift to Korea, but there are many people who respect the honest Japanese, so please moderate your comments.
I would love to see Hiroyuki-san help someone who is in the opposite position, not to return the favor, but to help them.
I don’t want to get close to people who target those who are in a weak position and take advantage of them in everyday life, let alone when it comes to diplomacy and other tactics.
It just happened that it didn’t turn into a fight, but that kind of thing shouldn’t be done abroad.