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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.)

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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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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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First off, a tip to the gentlemen readers: Never tell a woman that she looks tired. No matter how sympathetically you think you sound, just don’t do it. Admittedly the 48-hour sleep deficit I’ve been running over the last week isn’t doing wonders for my skin or my abilities to stay focused on the most basic of conversations, but I don’t like for that to be pointed out to me, thankyouverymuch.

The lack of sleep can be attributed to the combination of regular end of term happenings and my bright decision to have taken a week to screw off on the beach. There might have been a largely useless conference as well that served as an excuse to travel. The beach trip got a bit derailed by bad weather and my guilt over ditching my NBV group. So I found the one filthy cafe in the whole town with wifi and spent most of the weekend doing work.

This term has been a blast, and letting myself get swallowed up in it has been quite rewarding.

This week alone I managed to make it to Paris 5 times. On Tuesday and Wednesday, a dear friend from home was in town. It was so nice to catch up with someone who’s known me since college. I also spent a lovely Wednesday morning at the US Embassy getting extra pages sewn into my passport. While it’s kind of cool to have finally run out of pages in a passport, it’s not nearly as excited to be crammed in a standing-room-only waiting area full of immigrant hopefuls and wait for three hours. Note to self: if I ever start thinking I’m anything special, I should make a trip to the US Embassy (actually, any embassy) to bring me back down to size. We then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the city and had an incredible dinner at Bistro Paul Bert.

On Friday I was back in Paris to submit a visa application for a Tier 1 visa for the UK. I started the process back when I had a partner in the UK and definite plans to be there post-graduation. I’m now foot-loose and fancy free, and kinda sour on the whole UK idea and just a tad (read: hugely) resentful about the exorbitant financial investment. But I decided to follow through with the rest of the process in order to have a three year work permit. Now it’s out of my hands; please cross your fingers and toes that the frazzled/overworked/underpaid gods of border control will look kindly upon my application. (I’m not terribly psyched to be working this summer. While the subject matter sounds interesting and I have a well-defined project that will help me transition to a role in my area of interest, I really just want to go home and see my parents and friends, sleep until noon, read books, and eat Mexican food. On the plus side, a ton of people from INSEAD will be in London over the summer!)

On Saturday I stayed out at a trashy Paris club with some high-rollers until 5:30 in the AM, and again until 2:30 AM on Sunday for the Fete de la Musique – a huge street party with music acts on every street corner – with two of my favorite people. Paris in the summertime is completely unrecognizable from the freezing, disgusting Paris I encountered on my first trip there in over NYE. I think I might be loving it, finally.

Now I’m sitting in a cubicle in the west wing, staring at a markerboard with my lengthy to do list.
– edit a business plan for my New Business Ventures class
– practice an investor pitch for a presentation tomorrow
– submit an online poll for mergers and acquisitions. wait, no. j/k. I haven’t submitted one all term. Why would I start now?
– finish a paper on why MASDAR freaks me out
– start a 1000 word mini-paper – topic TBD
– start studying for final exams in Macro and IPA.
– find housing in London

Strangely, writing this post will not make this list any shorter.

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These are days you’ll remember
Never before and never since, I promise
Will the whole world be warm as this
And as you feel it,
You’ll know it’s true
That you are blessed and lucky
It’s true that you
Are touched by something
That will grow and bloom in you

These are days that you’ll remember
When May is rushing over you
With desire to be part of the miracles
You see in every hour
You’ll know it’s true
That you are blessed and lucky
It’s true that you are touched
By something that will grow and bloom in you

These are days
These are the days you might fill
With laughter until you break
These days you might feel
A shaft of light
Make its way across your face
And when you do
Then you’ll know how it was meant to be
See the signs and know their meaning
It’s true
Then you’ll know how it was meant to be
Hear the signs and know they’re speaking

To you, to you

:: 5:30AM Saturday ::  Stumbling our way to the Club 16 after party – stumbling not so much for the drunkeness (note to self: a champagne hangover is much kinder and gentler than any other kind of hangover), but because stilettos and cobblestones are not a good mix – we picked up an ’04 alum who got lost on his way to the hotel.  Or rather, he decided to follow us.  The guy was drunk as a skunk, and self-reportedly “living the dream.”  Upon closer inspection, living the dream turned out to be unemployment in London.  The only minor glitch was that he was also broke because the hedge fund he worked for went belly up.  

The guy was very eager to know all about who’s hosting the coolest parties and what the hook-up scene is like.  Answer: (a) Tavers hosts lots of parties.  Some of them are cool and (b) Seriously?  Do 37 yo’s care about this stuff?  I wouldn’t know.  Or I’m being coy.  No, really.  I don’t know.

He followed us to Club 16 and proceeded to sit slouched on the couch, fading in and out, leering lustily at girls in tight dresses who still hadn’t gotten all of their dancing out of their systems by 6AM.  It makes you wonder where one goes that wrong.

It also makes me worry that once I’m done with INSEAD, I’ll be desperately trying to relive these days.  What if my 5 year scenario doesn’t pan out, and rather than come back to Fontainebleau in 2014 with my 3-yo “fertility twins”, I’ll still be trying to score some 29yo talent?  Shudder.  

I’m just now starting to appreciate why you keep hearing – in all sincerity – that this is the best year of your life.  Never again will you have this little responsibility, this many friends in one place, this level of camaraderie with people your age.  It’s extraordinary that while the world is falling apart around us, we’re chugging champagne and humping to Jay-z (yeah… classy!) at the XVI century Chateau from which Napoleon bade farewell to his Old Guard and went into exile in 1814.

Leaving university was so incredibly hard.  I graduated from undergrad in the middle of the post 9/11 recession (though we did just learn that 9/11 had a very small macroeconomic impact and it was the burst of the dot com bubble that had caused the brief recession).  Our senior year career fair happened the week after 9/11 and the indoor 2 story hockey rink and track and field gym used for the occasion was nearly empty.  All the booths had been set up the usual 300 consulting, engineering and finance firms that came to recruit the nation’s biggest nerds.  In the end, about 30 companies showed and most of them had no idea of the ramifications of the terrorist attacks on their recruiting plans.  I remember leaving the career fair and going to my dorm to research graduate programs.  

The grad school admission process was an ego validating experience – and one that will keep my parents always wondering ‘what if’ I had gone to Hopkins for a PhD.  Instead I chose a cop out Masters’ program with the possibility to continue for my PhD.  The entire grad school experience was the failure that I wrote about for my INSEAD admissions essay.  I realized that I hated the isolated, repetitive nature of research.  What I did instead of research was focus on going to the gym religiously (I had some killer abs in grad school…sigh…), spending lots of time doing ceramics, spending every Friday at the Symphony matinee and doing way too much JDating.  I don’t think I mentioned that last part to the adcom at INSEAD.

I have JDate to thank for meting Jon the Pervert.  To my family’s chagrin, this may have permanently turned me off from dating my own people.  The reason I call the guy Jon the Pervert is because it later turned out that Jon had been cheating on me the entire time we were together.  Namely, he was trawling for sex on Craigslist.  “I have tickets to the ballgame in Section X.  I want to take a blond with DD breasts.  Send me a picture.”  You can’t make shit like this up.  Jon eventually got what was coming to him, but that’s a much longer story, and one that doesn’t cast me in too lovely of a light.  So I can tell it to you over a beer (or 5) sometime.  Or ask my talent manager.  

Jon spent 6 months destroying my self-confidence and then unceremoniously dumped my ass a week before graduation, the day before I was packing up my apartment to move to the ‘burbs, and two weeks before I was starting my new job – compounding the anxiety I was already experiencing because I was leaving school.  Moving out of town was stupid move #1.  About two weeks into my new job I got lost on my way home and found myself driving across the bridge by the school – the one told me, “You own this town” – and bawling my eyes out when I realized that I was no longer a student.  (Yeah, I cry easily…)  

For the next four years, I lived vicariously through friends who also stayed in grad school – (didn’t “quit” as my grandma calls my failure to get a PhD) – and found every excuse I could to come back to school to attend conferences, speak on a panel, serve on a alumni fundraising committee, be an industry mentor to a senior design class.  Now at INSEAD, as a club officer, I’m often fielding calls from Alumni who want to come back to speak about their company, share a case study of their startup, install solar panels on the roof of the Plessis Mornay (in a town that gets 75 days of sun a year).  

Somehow I think I might be one of those people in a year.

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