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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

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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My favorite pair of shoes ever was this bright red strappy pair of camper sandals that lasted me 3 summers of near-daily wear. I bought them while on vacation in a seaside european town back when the dollar to the euro exchange rate was not as ugly. I am back at this seaside town this weekend, and stumbled upon the shop where I bought the sandals. There, I found my sandals reincarnated into a hideous version of their former selves. The straps were now thinner and the chunky rubber sole had grown a heel, making the whole thing look simultaneously awkward and slutty. It sounds like I’m trying to make a comparison between me now and then, but it doesn’t quite fit.

The trip three years ago followed breakup number 2 with the boyf. I can’t remember if that break up was over my solipsistic driving style or my telling him the cautionary tale of what happened to Jon the Pervert that made him run for the hills. In any case, going on a trip to a place that he was fond of made for a good pretext for getting back in touch, and so we got back together immediately after my return only to break up another 3 months later. Getting back in touch this time around would have probably led to the same conclusion, so it’s for the best that he ignored the e-mail I sent last week in a moment of weakness.

What drove me back into his arms three years ago was actually my feeling lonely and distraught over a breakup that had occurred eight months prior and would take me another two years to get over. The pathetic thing is that I just didn’t want to be alone.

His name was Chris. Chris was an artist. Chris viewed (still does, I suppose) every moment of his life through the wide-open eyes of a child for whom the world is new and fascinating and inspiring and full of wonder. When you’re telling a story, Chris listens to your every word and makes you feel like the center of the universe. Sometimes in the evenings I would read and Chris would draw me. Or he’d draw whatever random thing came into his head: his grandfather hunting whales, a chicken eating an omelette, most often his smelly dog. Chris is responsible for my love of Oerbier (over which he broke my heart), for my obsession with the New Yorker (I got my own subscription as a first step in admitting that the relationship was through), for my crush on Terri Gross, for my collection of nerdy books on molecular gastronomy that he continued to give me as presents long after we broke up, and for my love of esoterica (like documentaries about typeface). This was my first relationship, post college, so in a way, Chris is responsible for who I am as an adult.

Unfortunately Chris was also a co-worker and Chris did not wake up happy. The combination of those two – plus an ex girlfriend with multiple sclerosis who bestowed upon Chris the honor of dealing with her end-of-life issues – spelled doom for the relationship. She didn’t die in the end – turned out she and her team of doctors mistook an anxiety disorder for ms. These things happen, I suppose.

Doing this loop-back made me think about him, and maybe miss him – or more precisely made me miss myself and that time in my life. I once again was 26 and heart-broken, on vacation by myself, still waiting for the rest of my life to start.

Damn. Better hurry back to the bubble and quit this time traveling business.

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I recently stopped by the old office.  I almost cancelled at the last moment, because it’s a huge pain in the ass to get to now that I don’t have a car, but mostly because I had conflicted feelings about going there again.  I gave notice nearly 2 months before I had heard from INSEAD; it was review time and I just didn’t want to go through the motions of setting goals for the following year.  My goals would have included something like, ‘quit job,’ ‘see the world’ which wouldn’t have been in line with what the company wanted to do.    

I needed a way to ensure that I would not stay in my job if I had gotten rejected by the school.  So I bought a one-way plane ticket.  

The idea came from my then four-time-ex (now maybe-no-longer-an-ex-but-I’m-not-sure-what-we-are-but-will-be-traveling-to-visit-to-see-next-week).  He told me of a company started by some of his friends.  https://www.stickk.com//

You join the site and commit a certain amount of money to a personal goal.  Like, $500 to quit smoking – something I highly advise to all my future European classmates – and you set a deadline.  If you don’t accomplish this goal, your credit card gets charged and you get to donate the money to charity.  I didn’t delve too deeply into it – I imagine the whole thing works (if it does) on the honor system.  In the event that you did not accomplish your goal, your money goes to a good cause.  It’s a little ass backwards that the charity is funded only if you fail.  But it’s a cute idea.  That was the rationale behind buying the ticket – I would purchase the airline ticket and if I didn’t get into INSEAD, I would still quit my job to use the ticket.      

While trying to find available dates on frequent flyer miles, the guy on the other end of the phone offered to come with me, promising delightful company. 

The joke around the old office was that I “give good phone.”  When talking to our company’s vendors or suppliers on the phone, I would inevitably invite some kind of personal digression.  A couple of times I even received gifts along with a product sample I requested – a laser pointer/pen, some candy – small, creepy mementos from lonely sales reps in rural Ohio [read: real America].         

When writing my good-bye e-mail, I still did not know whether I would be attending business school after I returned from my travels.   By then I had had a disappointing interview (only one, whereas everyone I had met had two) with a woman who barely gave me an hour of her time and seemed incredibly bored to be telling me about the “best year of her life.” So I was not feeling very confident that I would get in.  I was also too scared to re-read my application essays that I had written over the course of a week while nursing a 102 degree fever.  

It’s sort of a tradition at our office to write a good-bye e-mail long before you actually leave.  This way, for your last month, you get to be the center of attention as you talk about the exciting next thing you’re doing to everyone who is staying behind working for that jackass client on that project that just won’t end.  As I’ve no doubt established here, I’m a huge attention whore.  (Thus, I’m not feeling confident that I’ll be able to keep this blog anonymous.)  

Somehow, during my absence, the word had gotten around that I was moving to France.  But in the interoffice game of broken telephone, I was now moving to France to go to culinary school.  I was known in the office as a giant gastroslut and thus, culinary school probably went along with that image better than an MBA.

When I came back to correct this notion, people looked almost disappointed.  When I was leaving, jumping into the void, behind the admiration and support of my coworkers, I could see their thinly veiled amusement that I had gone nuts.  Now, MBA seemed like such a normal, rational thing to do (even if I am moving to such an unlikely place to do it).  So, fear not my friends with desk jobs, I’m already calculating the earliest I could pay off my loans so that I can quit my life again.  These days, I have an itch to move to Buenas Aires and dance tango all night.

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