Goodbye, GSBers

In the last few days, I said goodbye to two of my best friends at the GSB. I'm not very good at saying goodbyes. It's basically take care, I hope to see you in Hong Kong or your city. How lame. Yet I can't find the right words to say. Oh well. Goodbye it is. I'm sure we will all meet again.

Lately I've been wondering about the significance of a successful career. Why is that such a center piece of my (or your) life? What if you make some concessions and you can end up happily with friends and family but lose a little bit on the career side? My MBA training plus a self-fulfilling prophecy means that I will be biased for the importance of career. Let the record show that I do care about my job a lot and I want to do great and progress well in my career. No doubt about it.

Yet in the back of my head is the voice that says I can enjoy life just as much (if not better) if I am willing to sacrifice some prestige, some money, some status...

Maybe it's the effects of Amsterdam. Not. Ibiza was a lot of fun... and Amsterdam might be the only place that can possibly top it. I also sandwiched a wedding in Brussels during my stay in Amsterdam. No pictures due to Western Europe's reluctance in supporting good technology (i.e. WIFI). But they will come, just like they've come for all the other countries!


Travel updates...

I'm in Ibiza now...

But my homepage ( is fully functional now with lots of dots updated. Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Austria are all full with details. Germany is a work in progress. Ibiza will be up soon. And we're flying to Amsterdam in about 5 hours.


My Dry Day

Wow, I used Y in all three words in my title... which is a problem since the Austrian keyboard apparently has Y and Z reversed. I had no idea I typed Y so much!

Anzwaz, here are some important updates... mz website has been updated with a lot of dots. (Trz Mz travel log in Peru is almost done. Need to upload a large amount of pictures to it but wireless connections have been kind of suckz. The page might take some time to load, but it'll get there as long as zou reload once or twice (and hez, sometimes it works great!)

Okaz, must type right now... fun while it lasted. Had to keep asking my finger not to hit backspace. It's so instinctive to do it.

I made some quick picture albums for Copenhagen, Malmo, Helsinki, the three Scandivanian cities. The travel log for those countries are actuallz completed, but I haven't had time to combine the pictures to the albums and also upload into Picasa. St. Petersburg, as zou can see, is a work in progress (LOL), and I haven't gotten to the other cities zet.


The Baltic Capitals

Almost every traveler I've spoken to is envious of my visit to the Baltic capitals of Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius. Now that I have been there and done that, I can report back that they are a little overrated. The party scene is great - perhaps the greatest I've seen in my limited action in partying my entire life. But the rest is merely pedestrian. St. Petersburg was a much more interesting city.

This is the Alexander Nevski Cathedral in Tallinn. Housed inside the Toompea Castle, which towers over Old Town Tallinn, it's really a glorified simple cathedral. It did prompt a follow up as to who Nevski was: he was a Russian prince who was great in war and later sainted. The weather, as you can see, was great though. The rest of Tooppea Castle was basically great views of Old Town Tallinn. Can't complain about the party scene though. Europeans really know how to enjoy themselves.

This is the imposing Freedom Monument in the middle of Riga, erected in the early 1900s before Latvia came under Soviet/German rule. We joked that the Soviets must have used the same statue and changed the meaning of the three stars. Originally they represented three different regions of Latvia. Riga had less tourists but enough backpackers to offer a good time to those who were willing to visit. Everything was less spoiled and had a natural charm to it. Visit the Central Market for a authentic view of how Latvians live. Also in Riga was the Occupation Museum which detailed the somewhat tragic history of this Baltic state.

Vilnius is the least developed of the three Baltic Capitals. It is also the one that was most influenced by Soviet rule, probably due to its proximity to Poland (when Russia was fighting Germany) and the West (the Cold War). This picture is of the main square, which we passed by several times. Vilnius houses a KGB museum which has amazing details on how the agency worked during Soviet rule in Lithuania. Again, good weather works its magic.

Near Vilnius is the majestic Trakai Castle. It is surrounded by 21 lakes and you can sail/paddle/row around it all day. I was tempted to sail but kept reminding myself that I wasn't familiar with the winds on the lake. The castle is actually rather simple but well preserved. We spent a lazy afternoon there drinking beside the lake.

Currently in Munich - a very very very cool city. Did you know all of Munich but for a few buildings are 60 years old, all built since WWII? Did you know that the few buildings that were spared were spared because they served as maps and coordinates for the bombers? Did you know the Nazis started in Munich despite their end in Berlin? Yup, all true. Munich is cool. If I put it in Russia, it'd be cooler than St. Petersburg.


St Petersburg...

Shit, I'm so slow at keeping up with my travels... here's the St Petersburg highlight. I'd encourage you to read to the end, where a timeline is the only way to describe the debacle we went through.

Here is Kazan Cathedral, one of the first sites we stumbled upon (it was beside the ticketing place). This picture almost does justice to the grandness of the place. The little park in the middle of it was popular with couples and families... even at 10pm or so.

The Church on Spilled Blood is built on the site where one of the Alexanders was assassinated. It's a short walk from Kazan and is a fascinating building to walk around of. Every angle provides a new perspective to the colors and architecture.

There's also the Little Bird Statue that was so small that legend has it if you can throw a coin and it lands on the platform, it is good luck. Keep in mind that the LBS was suspended over one of the many canals of St Petersburg. So a lot of coins where thrown and missed and ended up in the river. The first night, we saw two people working very efficiently to drop down to the water and grab the coins.

Day 2 of St Petersburg brought us to the Winter Palace, where the Hermitage was housed. The Hermitage is a museum that rivals the Lourve and MET in terms of collection. They weren't exaggerating. The collection is awesome even though the venue is not. The Winter Palace wasn't really designed to house paintings and sculptures. Often you would find the sunlight glare from the picture. Anyway, it's a very worthwhile museum. This picture is the outside of Winter Palace.

On our way back, we also passed by the Brown Horseman (statue of Peter the Great - he who built the city) and St. Isaac Cathedral, both magnificent structures. We also saw a pet bear frolicking in a pool in front of the Admiralty, former Russian Navy headquarters. Though none of this beat the SCUBA DIVER who was fetching coins under the Little Bird Statue. This man puts the other tandem to shame.

Day 3 we visited the Summer Palace, which was exactly like the Winter Palace but with more space and therefore allowing a Grand Cascade of fountains like this one:

Yet all this cannot beat the true highlight of the trip, which was the hostels' battle (war?) with BaBITCHka. A bit of background: our hostel is situated in a residential building and the administrator there warned us about an "ill neighbor." BaBITCHka is that neighbor. She gave us a staredown as we exited the hostel one day. We did not realize that she was sizing us up for future battles (the following actually happened... at night):

1100: got back to the hostel to rest a bit and then head out
1130: 1st vodka shot
1135: 2nd vodka shot
1200: 3rd vodka shot
1230: we finally head out with Koreans who speak Russian. BaBITCHka meets us at the front door and says "THIS IS PLIVATE RESIDENCE. WHY YOU CRY!?" We try to ignore her.
130: at a random bar to get cheap beer
200: JM and I (BSLW and EK went elsewhere) at Revolution, a club that has more space than people
330: at another random bar, getting hammered
430: time for old man (i.e. me and JM) to head back to hostel
515: BaBITCHka tells us to use the backdoor (JUST OPEN THE DOOR FOR US!)
518: Our keys don't have access to the backdoor
520: Bumped into Russian speaking Korean. BaBITCHka tells us to use the backdoor
522: Our keys don't have access to the backdoor
525: BaBITCHka opens the FRONT door, leads us to the backdoor, and lets us in
530: The backdoor of the hostel is locked. Banged door to no avail.
535: Engaged in stare down with BaBITCHka
540: BaBITCHka let's us in the front door finally!!!!!
543: Wait... where the hell is EK and BSLW!? They aren't even in the room! BaBITCHka must have deterred them (and they were... EK came back at 830, BSLW at 1030)

And that, my friends, is how welcome I felt in most places in Russia. St. Petersburg is still great though! I'd sad that we didn't have a few more days there.


Missing pictures...

Four pictures missing from last post: No Foto from Christiania, architecture of Aalto, biggest Russian Orthodox church in Wester Europe where we took a nap (man, that was long), and Senate Square.


Filling up the world...

Continuing in Scandinavia...

More images from Scandinavia... this one was taken in Christianhavn... Poweryogi, of course we did. For the unsuspecting, this is the "Amsterdam" of Copenhagen, though I would dispute that. Here are the faces of BSLW and JM. Christianhavn put the fear in them, especially when I was doing the forbidden photography (see next picture).

Not me though. Even though I wasn't supposed to take pictures. I did. Hey, I'm into photography and I have a problem with it. Just let me have my fix. No pictures at the famed Woodstock Cafe though. That place put the fear in me for sure. Some bum came up to me to tell me to stop taking pictures. (For one thing, we were on bikes so we knew we (just I?) could make a break for it if we needed to!)

After expensive Copenhagen ($10 beers, buyers beware!), we arrive at the much more reasonable Helsinki. This is from Esplanadi, the main walking street of Helsinki. A very awesome place with just a bit too many people! There were also some architecture by Aalto, though I wasn't too impressed.

One of the highlights of the trip is visiting this Russian Orthodox Church - the biggest of its kind in Western Europe - in Helsinki. It overlooks the harbor and most of downtown Helsinki. We took a nap under the afternoon sun there.

After the church was Senate Square, where a great domed cathedral stood in silence. We spent a lot of time just wandering that place too. People watching is a must in Finland.

They weren't kidding about White Nights... this was taken at midnight and it was still quite bright out. The sun has set but the twilight was still around... I think it eventually went away at 4am... only to resurface at 6am, just in time for sunrise!
We visited the Suomenlinna, Finland's great sea fortress. It wasn't all that impressive from the ground though the air shots looked very good. Here's a cannon for your entertainment. Blah.
The not so impressive sea fortress was followed by a great meal at the fresh fish market right off the pier. I've never had salmon that good!

Next up will be St. Petersburg. I have to say, so far St. Petersburg is the city I like the most, and that's not because of the drop dead gorgeous women who just walk on the streets in regularity. It has to do with a scuba diver and Babitchka, aka Olga Igorova. Oh, and one of the greatest museums I've ever been to! Stay tuned.


Starting with Scandenavia

The vacation didn't look too good when it was raining all night in Copenhagen the first night. BLSW and I soaked ourselfs for some random dinner place. The night was short.

Next morning we managed to take a train to Malmo, Sweden. Yup, a country in a day... pretty cool that the Danes and the Swedish are so close. Here's the Turning Torso, Malmo's prized building that overlooks the bridge that connects Denmark to Sweden.

The little mermaid from Anderson's Tales lives on. Quite possibly the most popular exhibit in Copenhagen... though I do like her older sister better.

Who knew the painted cows were an invention of the Danes before the Americans copied them? This one, however, is quite the alternative. Yes, that's a Beaver on top. No, this cow cannot be alive.

Our hotel, however dingy, had pretty good pastries. I'm just a bit sad that I didn't try these.

Other highlights (in reverse order):
  • its almost 3am now in Helsinki and the sky just got dark
  • nap in front of a Orthodox Church
  • A "Lam" in the airport who was also going to Helsinki
  • biking in Copenhagen
  • watching Die Hard 4 in Copenhagen (don't ask)
  • Malmo, aka IKEA town; there's no IKEA store, but everything there felt IKEA - even the supermarket!
  • Pizza buffet dinner... not!
Off to more Helsink and St Petersburg next!


Chicago Restaurants

Someone asked for a list. Here goes. Oh, but before that, I need to give Oishi its due. PNGF and I were debating which restaurant we would pick if we had to eat ONLY at that restaurant forever and budget wasn't an issue. Mine would be Oishi. Mmmm... Oishi... all my life... I was debating hard between a Tea Restaurant in Hong Kong and Oishi. Went with the higher NPV. haha.

I've divided the restaurants into categories - note that these are the restaurants I remember or recorded, not all that I've been to. (Feel free to add... restaurants or categories!) Without further ado:

Even Goldman Sachs won't pay for this recruiting dinner:
  • Alinea - best new restaurant in America last year, its molecular gastronomy cuisine was excellent and definitely a once in a lifetime culinary experience
  • Charlie Trotter - I didn't try... because he tried to banned foie gras and trying to ban veal
If you have to pay for it yourself, or pay for a group:
  • Takkatsu (Japanese pork cutlets are best in country), Hai Yen (Vietnamese food kicks ass, though you might want to bring your own talking menu to get the great authentic stuff), Fogo de Chao (lunch only, all you can eat Brazilian steak, don't miss the bread though!), Laschet's Inn (German friend went there twice in two days), Volare (Excellent Italian food at very reasonable prices)
Even Accenture might pay for these recruiting dinners:
  • MK, Frontera Grill, Devon Seafood, Gibson, Blue Water Grill, De la Costa, Nine, Capital Grille, Nacional 27 - all the food is very good at these restaurants; it's just the price that can sometimes become a problem.
I'm a sucker for good brunch:
  • Bongo Room, Cafe des Architectes, Yolk, Sola, Lula Cafe, West Egg, Julius Meinl, Erwin
  • Plus I regret not going to Hot Chocolate
Decent food, priced right:
  • Coco Pazzo Cafe, PJ Clark, Bandera, Maggiano, Ken Kee, Joy Yee, Lao Si Chuan
Decent food, slightly overpriced:
  • Room 21, Aria, Tango Sur, Indian Garden, The Tasting Room, Vermilion, Vivo, Marche
If someone pays you to go, maybe:
  • Marrakech, Harold's Chicken Shack, White Castle, Coast Sushi, Rock Bottom, Riva
ONLY if someone pays you:
  • Sushi restaurants in general... my biggest complain in Chicago. Sigh. Even the sushi in Peru was better.

Goodbye, America!

Feel like that eagle... finally leaving.

I can't believe I am leaving for good. I have spent most (all?) of my adult life in the US. Boston, Chicago, and then homeless now. I've always thought about how I wanted to write this final post, and I finally came to a conclusion: I can't. In fact, I'm a bit speechless right now.

There's so much I want to blog about in the last month. Graduation, leaving Chicago, Peru, book reviews, movie reviews, food reviews, packing, moving out, LA & San Diego, Chicago restaurant recommendations, etc. Yet due to my own disorganization, I haven't had time to do any of this.

Anyway, so I figured that I should thank all who have crossed my life in the US for better or worse. CC, GA, CC, AC, WC, GN, TW, JL, GL, CM, FL, high school and my first touch with the USA. All those late night cooking will be remembered. Sanyo pots forever. BK, WL, PF, AT, CN & C, Anger, thanks for a great time at Tufts. Our Hill Hall dorm room cannot be beat. AT, if you don't have a bachelor party, there will be wrath upon you. CP, thanks for always being there through good and bad. We're all better at analyzing other people's situation. GN, TW & MC, Vincci, Vivian, professional Boston would never be the same without you guys. EK, MV, AL, RK, RM, and the other AG folks... I wish I could be back at AG - just open an office in Hong Kong!

And to my GSB buddies... Thank you, PNGF. SZ, I don't think business school would have been fun without you. PP, BSLW, and MK, I'm sorry I couldn't join you in Galapagos due to weak backbones. I'd travel with you guys again anytime (such as this summer). EK, HL, AS, OH, MC, and many others... you have all touched my life one way or the other (but mostly using me as a driver), thanks for the great ride conversations. Honestly, it made the ride to Hyde Park much more interesting.

I'm off to Copenhagen in about 30 hours... and yet I still find the time not enough to talk about my departure. Yes, it's a bit self centered... but hey, that's why I blog!