Wednesday, August 27, 2008

INSEAD Memory: House of Moret Sur Loing

Another memory from the year that went by too quick. 

My time at INSEAD lasted 12 months.  The first 8 were spent in Singapore, and the remaining 4 were in France. Singapore was all about the big party, exotic trips, chilling out on the beach.  It was a convenient place, inexpensive to live, and lots of local activities.  France was nothing like that.  The weather stank.  No one spoke English.  Everything cost at least twice as much.  Parties were good but the whole designated driver thing put a real damper on things.  Hey, when 20% of the women are sober you're playing the odds.

Here's the thing.  If you want to compare France on Singapore on fun-ness Singapore wins hands down.  But INSEAD Singapore was a fling.  She knew it, I knew it.  But it was France stole my heart.

We lived a small village 20 minutes from campus called Moret Sur Loing.  It was a 3 story house that once served as quarters for a monastery.  Down the road was a historic medieval town out of a fairy tale.  At the time I thought all towns in Europe had guard towers, cobblestone streets, and gingerbread houses in them.  I would later learn we lived in a Unesco world heritage site. Our landlady was a lovely French woman named Carole.  When I woke up I would play with her 3 pugs, Chin-chin, Falcon, and I forget but I do remember he was super old and liked to be carried around everywhere.  Behind our house was a well manicured lawn and a river where ducks and swans would quack late into the night.

I lived with 7 guys, an Israeli, a Brit, a Russian, a Spaniard, a Portuguese, and a Brazilian.  Although we were from different backgrounds we were like brothers in that house.  Maybe living in the middle of the forest with nothing to do freed us from the realities of career, intellectual elitism, and shallow groupism that you develop when you do an MBA.  It's a comforting feeling to know that somewhere in the house there's a PS3 opponent or an unintelligent conversation waiting to happen.  These things don't happen by making an appointment in your date book and it doesn't happen over dinner at a fancy restaurant.  They occur when you're unshaven, unshowered walking around in your underwear eating Cheetos for breakfast.  The humor was low brow.  We talked in the filthiest of terms.  Everyone, save Vaneet had a "dude you were so wasted last night" story.  France is a very classy place which our house somehow managed to get unclassy - but in a good way. 

I miss my life in Moret.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Westside till I Die - New York, Philly, Frankfurt, Brussels, Vienna

So, I've been doing a lot of moving around lately.  My project in the Philippines ended and for some reason I don't fully understand I was sent to Philadelphia.  This is basically the other side of the planet.  It's amazing how email makes very long distances seem close.  I wish the same could be said about 24+ hours of transcontinental flights but hey, at least I'm racking up the milage. 

I traveled from New York to Philadelphia via the super fast Acela train which covers the distance in exactly 1 hour.  I felt like a big shot until someone pointed out the much cheaper, more frequent regional train which takes exactly one hour and twenty minutes. Somewhere the ghost of John D. Rockafeller just guffawed.  Although I've lived in Baltimore and New York I've never really spent a lot of time in their northeastern sibling.  I learned that there is a good part of Philly and a bad bad part of Philly, the political boundaries of which - like Georgia's - arbitrarily change depending on who you ask.  After a year abroad it was really nice to be somewhere that's - and I'm not being trying to be sarcastic - kind of ghetto.  There's something comforting about going to a fancy bar where they serve "the mojito", and have 10 different kinds of miniaturized mexican fast food items as finger food. 

New York
It's nice to be back in the hometown.  I nearly cried walking around in the East Village.  Someone on the street asked me what was wrong.  I said, no nothing's wrong, it's just nice to be back home.  Then she asked me if I could spare some change.  It really is good to be back home.  Weather was great and lounging around central park made me feel like a new man.  My timing was perfect.  The investment bankers make migrate annually to the big city around August and I was in the thick of it.  I was really looking forward to seeing my INSEAD friends.  As an American who spent the year abroad doing his MBA in Europe and seeing my attemps at picking up women upstaged by my smoother, classier European counterparts I thought I'd be nice to finally see the tables turned.  Wrong.  I quickly learned that my European counterparts who were better at picking up women in Europe were also better in America also.  I also I learned this:  American girls will fall for any man with an accent thus making them the easiest women in the world.  Oh well, at least I saw the Dark Knight 3 times (twice on IMAX bitches)!


After New York I spent 2 weeks in Brussels.  Like pretty much every city in Europe the people of Brussels claims their city was once the center of human civilization.  I'm not sure how valid this claim is but considering that this is where they convene the EU and InBev, the Belgium beer maker who bought out Budweiser is based here, they at least make a strong argument.  One nice plus about Belgium is that have populations that speak Dutch/Flemish and French and hence you can reliably get by on everybody's default language English.  On the weekend I took the train to a real life fairy tale town called Bruges.  This is an almost pristine 14th century European city filled with romantic churches, cobble stone streets, gingerbread houses, and the quaintest Pizza Hut you've ever seen.  Isn't it just adorable?

Walking around the city of Mozart the one thing that strikes you is how freaking beautiful the people are.  No wonder Amadeaus wanted to get the hell out of Saltzburg!  Honestly, the city is filled with tall, gorgeous, blond men and women that bring out all your insecurities.  It's like you're back in middle school with braces, glasses and discount Kmart tshirts.  People are exceedingly friendly in Vienna.  At least three guys came up to me asking (in an Austrian accent), would I like to go to the hottest disco in Vienna?  In any other circumstance, I'd think wow this gay guy got the wrong idea.  But here you don't get any sense of iill will.  Helps that some of the nicest people I knew at my year of INSEAD were Austrian too.  Goes to show What an impression a few people can make on an entire country.

Back in Frankfurt.  Where will the job take me next?  Hopefully will be back in Asia but will depend on staffing.  More to come this week.    

Saturday, August 16, 2008


"Russia has damaged its credibility and its relations with the nations of the free world. Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century."

If I were Russian, the President's recent remarks would have emanated a stench of hypocrisy.  George Bush might be justified and he might be right but you pretty much give up the moral high ground the when you preemptively invade a nation against the will of the UN, wiretap your citizens, and set up offshore torture facilities.

Please step aside and let Sarkozy do the talking. 

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The dark knight plays devil's advocate

SPOILER ALERT - read after you've seen the film

Batman, silhouetted against the gloomy backdrop of a 9/11-esque bomb site, the Joker taking shoddy video footage of a hooded hostage right before his maiming, the sight of a Federal building being blown up in the hard afternoon sunlight.  The images purposefully evoke memories of our terror filled recent history.  The new Batman film is powerful not only for its action sequences but because it's unafraid to reopen wounds we forgot still existed.  There's a grim edginess there that's unexpected. 

At one point Alfred referring to the Joker says to Bruce,

"Some men can't be reasoned with.  Some men just want to see the world burn"

There's something profound about the way Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger reinvents the Joker.  The genius is the ambiguity of his motivations.  There is something comforting about a villain we understand.  All cartoon bandits wanted were sacks with dollar signs on them.  In that sense what motivates them, by and large, motivates us as well.  The difference between good and evil, is in the implementation.  Stealing those sacks vs. earning them.  The Joker's morbid nihilism flips the traditional villain on it's head.  He robs the bank only to watch the mountain of cash burn.  He is a smiling clown one moment, and a psychopath with a knife to our face the next.  Ambiguity.  Unpredictability.  Craziness.  This more than anything chills us to the bone.

In many ways the Joker is the perfect character to tap the demons that Americans live with and Mr. Nolan has played him beautifully.  In the post-Nazi, post-communist era of ubiquitous globalized terror, the struggle often is not with the terrorist but with ourselves.  The Dark Knight puts all our insecurities on screen.  It tells us that we can triumph but the road to do so is more complicated than we think.

Assigned Seating at Movies

Saw Batman on IMAX yesterday.  I now know why they call it IMAX - 4 floors of movie screen literally maximizes every nerve ending in your eye.  Somebody give me a cigarette.

In order to get decent seats I bought my tickets two days in advanced and got to the theater nearly an hour before the movie was scheduled to begin.  As I munched on my nachos meant for 2, bag of peanut M&Ms and my, 30 oz Coke I waited for the movie to begin and I got to thinking how all this would be much easier if only there were preassigned seating at movies.  Why doesn't it exist already?  They do it for concerts and sporting events.  In this age of 500+ capacity stadium seating multiplexes, why not movies?

I've seen it work in less internet savvy nations such as Singapore and the Philippines and in this country of ubiquitous smart phones and always on 3G connections I don't see why it couldn't work in America.  Yes, it does take the spontinaeity out of the moviegoing experience but it more than makes up for it with the time saved waiting for the film to start.