Archive for July, 2009

I’m alive. And so far I haven’t been afflicted by the swine flu that my roommate and half of London has. The reason I haven’t been writing is because I’m following the old adage “When you have nothing nice to say…” And I have nothing nice to say.

It seems that Chicken Little and I have done a Freaky Friday role reversal. While he has found his London heart, I’m quietly flipping my shit as I elbow my way through the humanity of Picadilly Circus in the rain. I don’t feel too bad about emotionally dumping all over him because he owes me one. Or ten. Except that he’s not very good at talking me off the wall.

To keep this blog alive I will temporarily suspend my resolve to fake positivity, and satisfy my readership [my mom and dad, a fellow blogger or two, 4 friends, and the folks on the INSEAD waitlist who keep googling ‘INSEAD class size’] with a few not-so-nice things I have to say about my summer.

I was so psyched to have a job for the summer that I didn’t think to spend any time talking to people inside the company to figure out what exactly the work would be like. Although talking to the people in side the company now that I’m here doesn’t seem to reveal that any of them are aware of how painfully boring their jobs are. Though many of them do cringe and twist in their seats when I ask whether this job fulfills their aspirations.

Being in this transitionary (transitory?) year means that I am constantly having the ‘what’s next’ conversation with myself, my friends, everyone I meet. It’s weird to now be with a group of people who might not be asking themselves that question in such an immediate way. Their next move might be a few years away, or maybe they don’t think of their lives as consisting of a number of steps and progressions. Maybe they have arrived, though I have trouble believing this could possibly be the embodiment of anyone’s dream.

As it turned out, I am being managed by a consultant about three years my junior who has the world’s most annoying voice. She has a way of sneaking up behind me and nasally intoning a “hi” that lasts about five minutes: “hhhwwwwwooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaeeeeeeeeeee” What also makes her hard to take seriously is that she’s about 4ft tall, wears a lot of pink, and laughs continuously in an awkward hiccupping way when speaking. I have to bite my tongue to keep myself from asking her what exactly is so freaking hilarious about market research on the green hotel industry.

It also turned out that no one does any work in Europe during August, so my project has stalled because there’s no one around to provide input on the client side. And being in a giant, hierarchical beast of a company means that I can’t just e-mail people to ask them to do their jobs; I have to elevate the matter via a memo the head of somethingorother who will then e-mail them to follow up (when he gets back from vacation in three weeks, that is). That said, I’m having lots of fun applying the LPG teachings of GP in deciphering the complexity of formal and informal organizational structures at play here.

Since I’m left projectless, my legally blond manager has been racking her brain and spending her entire days writing e-mails to me of possible things I could do. She has come up with a list of projects which will culminate in power point presentations (Arial Narrow, Red 188.20.25, Gray Tint2 174.175.176) – the latest and greatest developments in the self-storage industry! – that no one will ever read. I’ve countered her offer with a proposal to use my time to write some free-lance pieces for a couple of industry journals and blogs. But I think she didn’t see the value-add of my self-promotion on the company dime (err… company pence?). So I’m working on that anyways.

I also put together a proposal for work for a high tech startup I met at a conference during P3. Somehow I managed to convince this company that I know something about marketing of high tech products. The thing about consulting is that if you know marginally more than your client, you’re in good shape. “Consumer-led innovation” just has a catchy ring to it, doesn’t it? They’ve offered me a nice chunk of change, but I’m nervous to jump in because this temporary activity will take some focus away from the job search. After this summer’s experience I feel the pressure to better define what exactly it is that will make me famous in 5 years. (Yes, I’ve said it. The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have a problem. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a narcissist.)

from here

Excuse No. 2 for my absence from blogging is that instead of writing, I’ve been reading. Not business cases but travel writing! This summer I am traveling vicariously through pictures posted by classmates on facebook, and through travel writing. Don’t take this part as complaining. In all honesty, I’m not a very good traveler. It takes me a while to warm up to new surroundings (5.5 months in the case of France) before I come to love a place. I’m a much better staying-putter.

Reading good writers has a way of making me feel incompetent when I try to string words together in a post. And in this case, consoling myself that English is not my native language doesn’t work either, because the writer is Italian and writes in English.

“A Fortune Teller Told Me” is written by an Asia correspondent for Der Spiegel who is one day told by a fortune teller that he must not fly for an entire year or he will not survive an air accident. He decides to take the fortune teller’s prophecy seriously, or perhaps finds in it an excuse to mix things up a bit. And so spends a year traveling by land and by sea and diving into the occult – seeking out fortune tellers, witch doctors and practitioners of black magic in every city and village he visits. He writes about his experiences with a critical eye of a journalist and a descriptive ability of a great story teller.

He also writes a particularly harsh chapter about a week he spends in superficial, artificial, suffocating, straight-jacketed Singapore. Reading this chapter coincides with my own vacillation about whether or not to go to Singapore. I’m reading between the lines that this particular journalist doesn’t really like food, as not a single meal is mentioned or described. Meals happen in the background – during meetings with Thai government officials or Cambodian royalty – and the food is never described. So perhaps he was unable to turn a blind eye on the politics of Singapore in favor of the XO fishhead noodles or the Bak Kut Teh, as I will surely do. He probably didn’t carry a Makansutra everywhere.

I’m on the waitlist for P5, and will most likely be able to get a spot – but am starting to wonder whether going to Singapore just for the food is justifiable. Yes, there’s also the travel – but my carbon guilt compounded by my fear of flying won’t make for lots of trips around Asia.

So, another rambling, ranting inconclusive post. Watch this space.


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:: Look Right. Look Left. Sometimes you’ll still manage to look the wrong way, and a double decker bus running a red light will come two inches from running you down. The only thing that saves you is that the crowd collectively gasps. At which point you just start bawling in the fucking middle of Oxford Street. Not because you almost got killed. But for all the other reasons life is confusing/hectic/sad/unsettled right now and you’ve been wanting a good cry for a while. I’m just saying: it could happen, so look right first.

:: The Paul on Marylebone High Street has Chausson Pomme, not Chausson Aux Pomme. Not sure what gives. I’ve been craving one for a week now and felt particularly smug pronouncing the ‘aux’ this morning. Tasted like the real deal too. Shouldn’t make it a habit at £1.70 and a stick of butter for breakfast. And anyway, according to a Frenchman INSEADer also in London, Paul in Paris is for subway stations. Paul in London tries to be fancy. The lesson here might be that abroad I’m brand illiterate.

:: Burkas are totally in this summer. Everyone in Hyde Park is wearing one. Only £7 at Primark. Black only.

:: Londoners hate lunch. This is my conclusion in face of the overabundance of really well-branded lunch places and the level of art to which the triangle sandwich has been elevated. All the Wasabis, the Pret-a-Mangers, the Eats, the Itsus – they’re all a testament of London’s loathing of lunch. Don’t get me wrong; Itsu’s miso-based dumpling soup with toasted pumkin seeds is divine. Hating lunch is not the same as hating food, though I cringe at the sight of apples shrink wrapped to death and pre-bagged portions of broccolini that make you feel pathetically lonely. They seem to be saying, ‘if you had friends, you’d be dining out.’ Well, fuck you, broccollini. Who cares what you think, you fucking veggie?


But lunch here is not an event. It’s not a time to make conversation. You go and pick up your crawfish, rocket, garlic aioli, whole grain bread triangle sandwich. Then you hurriedly stuff it in your face at your desk.

Maybe I’m just getting sentimental about lunches in the park in the summertime and lunches at a huge communal tables made from reclaimed bowling lanes at my old firm. Lunch was done when the conversation ended, not when you finished your food. I miss lunch.

:: Pubs have the most bizarre compound names that involve two unrelated, incongruous words. The Bear & Lettuce, the Hog & Arms, the Ship & Shovel, the Lamb & Pilgrim, the Swan & Fiddle. I’m still on the lookout for one to call my own.

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Last night it intermittently pissed and poured as I pushed my way through the crowds on Oxford Street – trying to steer clear of short people with umbrellas, swinging them dangerously at eye level – on my way to meet a friend in Notting Hill . I swung by Primark in order to buy a couple of sweaters; this morning I spent some time reading their CSR policy to find out whether they had slum children in Jakarta making the rain jackets that retail for £7 and shirts at 2 for £1.96. Seemingly no, but I remain dubious.

I missed the heat wave by a week and since my arrival have enjoyed some combination of gusting wind, occasional sun and pissing rain – usually all three alternating every 2 hours. It’s no wonder the Brits talk about the weather so much. It’s just as well, since I’m spending the summer at a desk instead of on one of those striped lounge chairs you can rent in the park.

I really want to fall in love with this place – I really do. If nothing else, than to justify having spent all this time, effort and money trying to end up here. I’ve felt the stirrings of London love when I had come to visit the then-boyf back in P1, but I wonder if I wasn’t just mirroring his own resolve to love everything about his new home. I didn’t quite expect that coming here would bring back all the hurt and resentment that I feel because of the lack of closure in that great love affair that ended so abruptly. In the relative isolation of the Fontainebleau forest, and the busyness of life in P3, I didn’t give myself time to be upset about the breakup. Now, it seems I have too much time on my hands.

London, I’m looking to foist upon you my misplaced emotions. I can overlook your bad teeth and your crazy crowds (as an aside, I’m convinced that the driving on the wrong side of the road causes chaos on the sidewalks – in most other cities, you walk on the right, pass on the left. Here, the pedestrian areas are a mess). I will stop complaining about your scaly water and can maybe even suck up paying £750 per month to share a bathroom between three people (well, for another 5 weeks, and then NEVER again). Eventually, I might swap my z’s for s’s and even start putting extra u’s into words that don’t require them (colour, humour, rumour) and get over feeling embarrassed about my totally obvious American accent and accept the fact that British men weren’t brought up to hold doors. I’ll even look up some cricket stats so I can relate to the boys at the office. I’ll do this in favor of the tranquil gardens with crazy looking blue-beeked water fowl, and the free art galleries, and the mushy peas, and big mugs of coffee, and English fry-ups, and concerts in the park.

It’s just that at the moment, my powers of self-delusion are failing me. It’s not you, it’s me. Give me some time, okay?

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Last night I had settled in and commenced “freaking the fuck out”. Wondering why I’m here, instead of just about anywhere else. Where I really want to be is home with people (and cat) I love and care about. I’d even settle for back in the French countryside where I’ve loved whiling the last few days away in the blossoming garden of a friend’s villa, listening to her stories, and laughing what felt like continuously and a little too loudly.

Maybe last night’s pissing rain was a sign of good luck for the journey ahead. Maybe living in this shit apartment with its peeling walls and its scary shrieking water heater will be great fodder for the novel I one day write about my quarter life crisis.

I called an amigo who’s doing an internship in a developing country and requested some Skype therapy. He’s having a genuinely magical summer. Not the fun and high-flying stuff you want to capture in a photo and put on facebook so that everyone else at INSEAD can see how your summer is so much cooler than their summer. But a summer of experiences that cannot be related. The conversations that last until the wee hours of the morning and have nothing to do with who’s-hooking-up-with-whom INSEAD gossip. Eating exotic fruits you don’t know the names of. Waking up with nothing to do but read Borges and stroll to the seaside market to buy clams.

I had the same panicked, sinking feeling when I first got to Fonty, which didn’t serve me well. So this morning I woke up and resolved to make this town mine.

Step 1: food. The nearest Marks&Spencer is three blocks away. The Tesco is closer, but I still have my self-respect. Soho is walking distance and has tasty pork belly. I’m still on the lookout for a Waitrose and the odd farmers’ market. The coffee is served in large cups. Heaven.

Step 2: classical music. The BBC Proms start this Friday, I’ve book-marked all the schedules for other venues and I have a list of Evensong services to attend for every night of the week.

Step 3: Art. The Royal Academy of Art Summer Exhibition blew my mind. I resolve to use this summer to make up for my philistine ways of the past six months.

It’s going to be okay. Oh, and I start my job tomorrow. Collated copies and coffee, oh boy!

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snailsDrive drive drive (S 402km) :: fields of sunflowers on all sides – all facing the same way :: dinner for five at the brand extension of a Michelin starred bistro. food is lacking but the bathrooms are fancy :: an INSEAD classmate is at a table next to ours. small world :: the city itself is gorgeous. i find myself wondering if i could live here :: 12:30AM :: drive drive drive (S 229km) :: staying awake by having ‘cultural exchange’ with travel companion whose parents mortgaged their house so he could attend INSEAD. he insists on the importance of Dean’s List. for him, this is a high stakes gamble. i wonder whether or not I should be taking myself a little more seriously as well :: 3AM. night guard at shitty hostel won’t let me park car inside the gate (his logic goes like this: “What is everyone who came in at 3AM wanted to park inside the gate?” Um… I guess you could do your job and open the gate for them too?) :: under the scorching sun set about discovering the alleyways of a medieval fortified city of the popes :: quaint, lovely. my parents were here just a few years ago. wonder if we noticed the same things :: soft serve for lunch – cassis melon swirl :: a visit to Les Halles makes me wonder if i could live here too :: drive drive drive (SE 260km) to try to make it to a hotel that won’t take reservations. we don’t make it but realize that we hate the town we’re in :: regroup, rebook, retrace steps :: get takeout lunch and sit on the beach :: drive drive drive (W 77km) :: check into adorable hotel on top of a hill overlooking the sea :: discover that the town has two streets and no one is serving food. beer and olives for dinner it is. the kids next to us are wasted – keep saying, “we love you, English.” we don’t contradict. their drinks are bright green. they tell us it’s called Jet (written Get) :: sleep like a rock :: the town is weird in the daytime. packed with old people. i keep thinking they know something. some big event is happening just on the outskirts of town, but no one is telling us. there’s a tiny circus in town. the cage with a plaster gorilla on top has a dog in it. :: drive (S 5km) :: beach is scorching hot. lots of topless old ladies :: drive (E 22km) :: soft serve break – Cola flavor. might be my new favorite. the rest of the trip is spent searching for it, to no avail :: I’m on a boat! Boat’s fun until it slows to a crawl in front of rich people’s villas so that the guide can fill us in on the gossip :: guide keeps making tacky comments at me, telling me which of the villa owners is single. the presumption of course is that i could never possibly do anything worthwhile enough to earn enough money to buy a fancy villa of my own – or at the very least rent one for 40K/week. he clearly hasn’t seen our NBV business plan :: a sunset walk through the vineyard and world’s biggest salad for dinner. rosé. mmm… :: hit the town and get some Get of our own (tastes just as foul as it looks – Mouthwash and ToiletDuck) :: more beach :: drive drive (NW 121km) :: bum around another old French town. they’re all starting to blur :: major strike out on both lunch and soft-serve :: drive drive drive (N 154km) :: sunflowers, lavender, windmills :: check into a hotel in a weird, nearly deserted town. there’s a brand new nuclear power plant on the outskirts of town, and the town is seemingly filled with single men who work at the plant. there are no women in town, so the attention we get will hopefully tide us over until P4 :: giant sundae to celebrate fourth of July. we say the pledge of allegiance to our sundae. a car backfires on the street and we jump, thinking the town is having fireworks. return to the hotel and watch the Boston Pops on YouTube as consolation. i’m crushed when i find out that Keith Lockhart divorced Lucia Lin (2 years ago). sing along with the Star Spangled Banner and call it a night :: at check-out have completely ridiculous argument over 4 EUR parking charge when told parking was free the night before (“Sir, why would we lie to you about this?” Full body shrug. “Perhaps you’re trying to gain 4 EUR”) we can’t decide if what transpired was very French of if this man’s brain is addled from living too close to the nuclear power plant :: drive drive drive drive (N545 km). time flies as my travel companion tells hilarious dating disaster stories and we compare notes on a certain classmate (closeted gay v doesn’t-know-what-he-wants debate continues) :: at home, i find my roommate gone, my visa still not here :: write blog entry :: resume existential crisis.

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P3 is done – we’re 3/5 of the periods through the (cheat-sheet propelled, for some) MBA and half way done with our year together. I snuck away from the Grand Cafe before the tearful good-byes because I’m not very good at those. A lot of people got last minute jobs – a lot are taking unpaid internships, hoping to make a career switch. Some are working 100 hour weeks in London. Suckers. The rest are sailing in Croatia/trekking in Kashmir/partying in Beirut/studying French in Nice, Mandarin in China, German in Munich/getting married in India and Israel.

One of my friends keeps saying that leaving the bubble for the summer will be a reality check – a real-world reminder to most of us who we are, what’s important to us, what we want to get out of the remaining year. I hope that’s true. P3 has been a blast, but I need to find some time to have a good think about what happens afterwards.

Since I’m still in visa limbo, I’ve been hanging out in Fontainebleau awaiting a verdict from the UK Border Agency. This respite from the frantic, intense, unrelenting P3 has been quite welcome, though I imagine it could get boring eventually. In the meantime I’ve been learning how to Artfully Communicate (I’m just as awkward as I suspected, now I have video footage to prove it), making a half-hearted attempt at some bouldering, picnicing by the reflecting pool of the Cheateau, wandering around sleepy French towns where in the 1800s Romantic Realists painted en plein air, seeking to capture the matte late evening light over the tranquil Loing.

At 10:45 it’s still light out – the days last forever, and on most nights I don’t even start to think of getting to bed until around 2. Not so good when you have class the next day. Perfect when you can sleep in until noon.

I’ve been cramming in q-time with my favorite(st) people before we disperse for the summer, and am thankful for the visa delays that are giving me a chance to get to know some of my classmates better. (That’s another shout out, yo.)

But being in Fonty also means that I can’t get the distance I feel I need to sum up the last 6 months in a meaningful manner.

A friend from home came to visit recently. When I say “friend” I mean it in the loosest sense of the word – someone I had classes with in undergrad, and would see about twice a year when visiting my parents who lived in the same town where he worked after graduation. He had been traveling the world for the past few months, and came to France (I suspect) because he’d have a free place to stay. Moocher. There are very few people I would feel comfortable crashing with for a few night, let alone an entire week. Someone more socially skilled and perceptive (or perhaps simply less selfish) would be self-conscious, but he has no compunction about imposing for an entire week. His world travels have produced little else other than a slew of complaints about lack of infrastructure in the developing world (umm, what did you expect?) and shallow generalizations about how the US is different from Europe because you don’t have to add tip and tax.

This guy is a complete downer, which makes me wonder what our friendship was based on some 8 years ago. Was I also like him? Did I look at the most negative aspect of every situation, complain about every trivial inconvenience? Is it just recently that I’ve changed so much?

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