Lust, Caution

Perhaps anecdotal, but this Freakenomic find is fun to read.

For a lighter read, this coverage on Isiah Thomas' sexual harassment trial is fun too.

Red Sox are heading into the playoffs with the best record in baseball. Of course this doesn't mean anything. But something special is brewing; I'm not even talking about Josh Beckett and David Ortiz and such. It's the rookies. We have a key starter (Dice-K), reliever (Okajima), second baseman (Pedroria), and a key sub (Ellsbury) who are all in their first year in the MLB. Amazing.

In other news, I watched Lust, Caution by Ang Lee.

Like Brokeback Mountain, Lee has kept many unnecessary scenes in the movie. More importantly, like Brokeback Mountain, Lust, Caution is an excellent movie that is Oscar worthy (and just won the award at Venice). The movie is an adaptation of a short story that is a mere 30 minute read. Hence it is quite amazing that Lee has managed to translate a simple (yet intense) 30 minute story into a 2.5 hour movie. Truth be told, the movie could have been 2 hours by cutting 30 minutes of sex scenes.

I won't dwell on the details of the movie. Rather, the movie has once again ranked reality over love - ala Brokeback Mountain. There's marriage love, casual love, sibling love, sex love, patriotism, loyalty, war, separation, reunion, trust, suspicious, fear, ignorance... all these feelings are present in the movie and are a constant struggle within and between each other.

And then there is reality, the mother of all emotions. Perhaps we as audience (I know I speak more for the US audience) are accustomed to the happy endings. It is not easy to comprehend that love did not conquer all. Hong Kong being Hong Kong, the major topic of discussion are the balls - yup, balls, told you there are some unnecessary scenes - of the famous HK star and that diamonds are what's wrong with the world. WAKE UP!

It is reality that governs life. It is situations that governs life. And in Lust, Caution, you will see what happens to those who value love more. Insensitive and cruel, perhaps. But nonetheless true.


On the follies of email...

Once upon a time, email was the cure to homesickness.

12 years ago, I arrived in Kent, CT to attend boarding school. I remember having to (gasp!) write letters to my friends and families in Hong Kong. I also remember the joy of receiving mail (better yet, package!) from Hong Kong, providing all the spiritual support (i.e. Asian food and comics) I needed as a teeager alone in the US - okay, it wasn't that traumatic... but the packages were still great!

When Hotmail was introduced, it was like a gift from god.
  • nobody needs to read my awful hand writing
  • speed
  • copy and paste
  • backspace
  • ctrl+A, del (trust me, this might have saved my life multiple times)
  • cc
  • bcc (very dangerous)
  • archives (also very dangerous)
  • ctrl+f, replace (college, job, and MBA applications!)
All that good stuff simplified communications. It made me feel closer to home and closer to friends. While it didn't replace phone calls (especially to gfs and such) immediately, emails eventually took over when everybody started either a hotmail or yahoo account. It was a great communication tool as I was kept up to date on what was going on in Hong Kong.

The prevelance of email literally flooded the inboxes of everybody because of ease of use. Sure, I can connect with my best friends around the world; but look, I can also connect with all these other people via a few keyboard strokes and a click of the mouse button (I still remember sending one letter back to my classmates in Hong Kong which had a sheet of paper that addressed everybody - 36 of them, I think - in class). Which of course was also done by many people "communicating" with me. People are actually turned OFF by receiving random emails from people they just met.

So the next development was a natural one. Senders consolidated their emails into facebook, friendster, blogs, etc and posted on those. Receivers leave their inboxes flooded (yours truly clears his all the time, drawing awe from many people) and check only those that are important. Result? Less emails!

Instead of emails, you communicate by putting a status on your IM... "need furniture" is mine right now, signaling I just moved in to everybody. A blog entry (oh the irony) is used to communicate. Oh wait, but there's more! Enter Google Reader and Email Reminders (banks, photo albums, friend's websites, and so on). These little gadgets tell you when something is updated!

Thumbs up: no need to go to friends page anymore; everything is fed
Thumbs down: no need to go to friends page anymore
Thumbs waaaaaay down: no more emailing
Thumbs waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay down: no more communication

And that, my friends, is the follie of emails.


Fitting in...

First of all, some pictures from my new (temporary) home. It's actually quite ridiculous that I managed to live in a BIGGER place in Hong Kong than in Chicago. It's not like Columbus Plaza was small either. The convertible was more than enough for myself. And now I've actually got a bigger place. Amazing.

Anyway, this is probably a temporary situation only. I'll enjoy it while it lasts.

Living room and kitchen

Bedroom (there's another that looks like this one)

Fitting back into Hong Kong society is not easy.
  • I'm so used to driving myself to anywhere to do anything
  • Walking three to four blocks to buy groceries is still a challenge
  • Buying everything in small portions is a challenge too... in fact, the most rolls of toilet paper you can buy is 6... which may be a problem for some people
  • Public transportation: there are 5 to 7 buses that get me from my home to my office. The problem? They are spread across 4 bus stops on the same street and I basically have to be in the middle, anticipate the bus, and then run to the appropriate station.
  • Subways (MTR) are the greatest in the world
  • Being frowned upon when you are courteous; city thing, perhaps?
  • Saying thank you and receiving a blank stare
  • Not saying thank you but receiving the best service
  • Great attitude to meeting my needs
  • 10% mandatory tip
  • $0 left for the waiter after th 10% tip
  • Good food
  • Good food at dirt cheap prices
  • Good food in dingy restaurants
  • Manpower is cheap
  • Efficient service
I guess I could go on forever... so here's a notice that I found when I moved into my apartment. The building is old.

2 days without flush water - luckily not my apartment

Luckily, this is Hong Kong so everybody in unit H probably just bent over and said "oh well." This would never fly in the US.


Working life

Here's a chart of my first three weeks of work. The chart is called a mekko, from the famous Marimekko (wiki!), which I saw in Finland. Basically, it boils down to the area of each square representing a share of the total (in this case, time). Always have a tag line that makes a point. So you see: I've spent the most time on case work, though I've spent some time traveling around already.

Some other stats in my 3 weeks:
  • # of flights: 6
  • # of cab rides: can't count
  • # of nights past midnight: 2
  • # of nights past 8pm: 2
  • # of nights in Hong Kong: 5
  • # of nights in hotel: 16
  • # of meals with colleagues: too many
  • # of meals with friends: 2
  • # of meals with family: 2
Based on the above, you may come to the conclusion that I'd prefer something different. Well, not really. I like my job, my company, my manager, and my team very much. It's been two years since I did any serious job stuff (summer don't count!). It takes a little getting use to. I'm glad that discipline is slowly returning and that my work has some impact.

Speaking of work, here's my comment on my friend's blog about what the ultimate purpose of any job is:

Obviously, your job is to make your boss' job easier. And his job is to make HIS boss' (another boss (i.e., BOB, as my brother put nicely) or the ultimate boss - the customer) happy. This will be the same in all professions.

The major difference is how the company as a whole treats it. Does the company allow who likes whom to become the culture of the firm? Or is it based on meritocracy? i.e. if you are good, you will get the chance to shine even if your boss doesn't like you - you can't work for the same boss, but your talent could be used by another boss.

Another difference that you can make as a person is to not join companies and careers that you cannot agree with. I can personally attest that I have chosen my career that way. If it is a world that my principles don't agree with, I will not go there. Unless I expect to make a difference and change it - this of course being close to impossible due to all the inertia that people exhibit once they are stuck in certain situations.

清高? Maybe. Then again I need to make my boss - me - happy!


Retreat to Thailand

Well, in response to BSLW's comment about going to Detroit, I want to note that on the way from Bangkok to Pataya, there was a huge sign post on the side of the highway that read:


And yes, I'm still trying to figure out:
  • what does the sign want to convey?
  • why is it in Thailand
  • and why the hell is Detroit a reference point for any location!?
BSLW, TL asked me to ask you if you got a oil massage...

Here are some pictures:

Team building activity - it was torture

Parasailing on our day off

Next up will be some pics from my new pad (literally, a pad right now) and a recap of my first three weeks at B. Stay tuned.


Getting Old or Something Else?

I am feeling very tired right now... after taking the bus from the Pattaya resort to the Bangkok airport and then the plane back to Hong Kong (the same day a plane crashed at Phuket... scary). The travel day has drained me and my original plans to do some work at home have been delayed. Or procrastinated, depending on your point of view.

I used to be very good at traveling. Why the sudden exhaust now...?

Could it be age...?

Or could it be that I've taken a two year vacation at the GSB plus a summer of ridiculous debt-financed travels?

For my sake, I hope it is the latter.



Honestly, I can't think of anything to write about the sixth year since 911. I've been staring at a blank screen for 30 minutes.

So instead, I give you my travel log from Barcelona!

The real world started a week ago and I'm still around to tell you about it. That's cus it's training and then retreat. The real REAL world starts next Monday as I am already staffed on a case in Hong Kong. In fact, I have a feeling that tonight will be some work as well since I have an early flight to catch tomorrow and I'm due in the office in the afternoon per some request.

I actually enjoy having some discipline back into my life. The MBA and the summer has really spoiled me... my eye sight even got significantly better (doctor said it's cus I rested them for several months).

To the real real world.


Movie reviews finally

Before I discuss some of the movies I watched over the summer which I now barely remember, just a little update on my first week of the job. Well, I should get fired since I forgot to bring my credit card to Shanghai. So when I check out of the JC Mandarin after an eight night stay, I will either have a colleague do the credit card check out for me or grab wads of cash (smallest denomination in China is 100 yuan and 8 yuan = 1 dollar) to pay. LOL.

So, I skipped the entire summer movie season (in the US, anyway) and missed:
  • Transformers, Rush Hour 3, Harry Potter, and Halloween (just kidding), among others...
Though I did see (in order of its "recommendability"):
  • Crazy Rock (瘋狂的石頭) - It's an excellent movie. A Chinese comedy about a heist gone wrong as the professional battles amateurs while the owner of a rare piece of jewel, and the son of the owner have their own ideas, the security chief, and the second in command of the security all have different ideas. It actually almost like a dark comedy making fun of everything that is common in Chinese (mainland, anyway) society. The acting was superb and the way the director cut through certain scenes using an interlinking dialog was refreshing.
  • Bourne Ultimatum - Jason Bourne kicks ass. And he will certainly kick Jack Bauer's ass too. I'm not sure why Desi thought it would be a competition at all. Anyway, the third installment of the Bourne trilogy was surprisingly good. The camera shaking is a little excessive if you ask me; otherwise, the realism of many scenes (the Waterloo assassination scene was just beatifully filmed, using the entire station - plants, ticket machines, tracks, hallways, ceiling, crowds, etc, nothing spared) took the movie to the audience. And of course watching the good guy kick some serious ass is always fun, although Bourne's utter dominance of the government is sometimes ridiculous. For example, why would you empty your office to hunt for a fugitive when you know he is within 1000 yards of your office? WHY!?
  • The Simpsons - it was entertaining and funny. I prefer to see it on TV though.
  • Tokyo Drift - in my defense, I saw this on the plane because the next movie I'm going to discuss was so bad that I only endured 10 minutes of it. Tokyo Drift fared a bit better as I lasted 30 minutes. It's funny to watch some Japanese guy teach an American guy how to drift as the American learns a lesson in life - Karate Kid, anyone?
  • Some HK movie about a girl in police academy - this was so freaking dumb that I don't even know the English name of the movie. I was ready to kill the passenger next to me just because the movie was so bad. The actress was extremely annoying with her voice - for some reason, speaking in a childish way has caught on with Hong Kong girls. Don't ask.
Wow, I miss doing movie reviews. And food reviews. I can't even list the amount of good food I've had since returning to Hong Kong... there's just so much of it. Yesterday I had real Sichuan (四川) food in Shanghai (the Japanese from the day before, not so good). My god it was spicy. Other food favorites I've had are soup dumplings (小籠包), soy milk (豆奶), rice cake with abalone (鮑魚炒年糕), red bean paste (紅豆沙), congee (粥) at my favorite restaurant in HK (for sentimental reasons, anyway), etc etc. Yay!


Final Verdict on Business School

Working is great - the pay check helps; more importantly, discipline is reintroduced and there's actual productivity. Then again, this is only my second day and I don't know any better.

I'm starting to get the "so, was the MBA woth it?" (some in a sarcastic way...) question. The answer is an emphatic yes.

Intellectual: It wasn't just the raw knowledge that came with star stud professors; it was the type of thinking that the professors want you to engage in. Quantify everything. Challenge every assertion. Prove everything you say. You become trained to be "that guy" in the boardroom who is the Devil's Advocate.

Social: Somehow, the GSB gets the reputation for being a quant school for geeks. I tend to think that the free market approach to education (i.e. take any course, bid for course, open evaluations, open historic bids, no attendance, options for finals, etc) means that geeks can certainly come to the GSB, but so can the others. And there are plenty of great friends that I will take away for a life time.

Professional: The career service is top notch and will bend over for you. I trust that the friendships I've built will become networks.

Nonetheless, the MBA is not for everyone. I was very lucky in that I achieved exactly what I set out to do prior to business school - work in strategy in Asia. Plenty of people get lost and plenty of people had trouble getting to the finish line. Part of it is the free market approach. If you don't know what you want, you try a little bit of everything and (oh boy) fail to retain a competitive advantage.

So... in simpler words, in order to enjoy a successful (success as defined by the above terms) MBA life, you should:
  • Know what you want. This is the MOST important thing to do before you step into school. If you don't, have a reasonable set of targets. Else, you are dashing around like a mad chicken. I have seen many people who have the brains to do anything they want, but ultimately don't know what they want to do. They are lost. They do whatever the others do or others tell them to do. They don't think about what they themselves want to do. Two years past, they have become smarter and made great friends, but still on square one as far as career change or advancement goes. You do not want to be that person.
  • Be active. Sometimes, you are lost. It happens. You thought you wanted consulting but the traveling seems unreasonable. You thought you wanted marketing but you haven't got the passion for any particular industry or product. You thought you wanted private equity but the industry is ignoring you. Be active. Talk to many many many people - current students, alums, career services, professors. Most people are eager to help and their combined networks are much bigger than yours.
  • Be social. Although some at the GSB (we wouldn't know them, I presume) disagree, I think the MBA is valued by the friendships and networks you build. You don't have to be class president. But you should pursue student activities in either a leadership role or just as a member. I am of course biased since I was blessed to lead the Chicago Asia Pacific group. Even if you are not leading, it's not a big deal. There are many ways to contribute. As for the social social scene, I'd say participation is important. Afterall, friendships are built over time.
And that, my friends, is my last post on the GSB! Off to the real world (first two days were okay)!


The Opposite of At Cause

The opposite... is bitching. A lot of bitching.
  • "my manager sucks..."
  • "the hours suck..."
  • "Oh, this process sucks..."
  • "Too many meetings..."
  • "Deadlines are unreasonable..."
  • "Workload is unbearable..."
To be at cause is to pro-actively seek a solution that would solve your complain. Even if solutions aren't coming to you, you still have the same solve-it attitude - stop the bitching and get someone to help you out.

And that's the number one thing my BOB (My brother invented this term) wants me to do at my new job. Be at cause.


The Best, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

You know, it's only fair that I acknowledge all the stuff from my travels... before I return to the real world tomorrow (Monday). Woo hoo. The real world! I'm so excited! For the real check!

Best: St. Petersburg - I expected danger and chaos; I got elegance and bright nights; it's all about expectations
Good: Amsterdam - besides the red light district and the coffeeshops, there are also beautiful canals on the trip. Get it? Good trip.
Bad: Ibiza - I'm no longer capable of partying till 8am
Ugly: Copenhagen - For $10, we thought she'd bring a pitcher of beer. We got a half glass.

Best: Loire Valley - home made food is always better; French hospitality cannot be beat
Good: France - Set menus make the meals easy and cheap to order
Bad: Copenhagen - See above. The same case for food.
Ugly: Barcelona - 80% of the restaurants we wanted to go to were closed or full or rude

Ice cream
Best: Paris - I'm going with Amorino instead of Berthillon; in ice cream, size matters
Good: Maxibon - if you don't know Maxibon (Wiki this!), you need to
Bad: Ice cream at Hungarian bath - it melted so bad that I pulled the stick out and had to use the stick to scoop the ice cream out of the wrapping
Ugly: What? Ice cream cannot be ugly

Best: Homemade in Budapest - nice and quiet place for, uh, more mature travelers
Good: Wombat in Munich - nice and noisy place for, uh, more active travelers
Bad: Absalon in Copenhagen - we're cheap, what can I say
Ugly: St. Petersburg - BaBITCHka (see below) was at war with the hostel

Best: Peeter - not only was Peeter 7 feet tall with a deep voice, he also dances and says "it's big" when I asked him about the size of the soup
Good: Casper - the friendly ghost is more like the drunk ghost. He greeted us at Friendly Fun Frank (hostel in Riga) by telling us he's been drinking 208 days straight
Bad: French hotel - we though we were getting complimentary breakfast cus the reception told us so. Not quite, says the new receptionist "they made a mistake." Well then, here's your seven euros.
Ugly: Babitchka - she was at war with the hostel and we were collateral damage. She didn't let us into the building, making two of us sleep at another hostel and two of us barely got into the building. Plus all the yelling and screaming at us when we pass by her.

Best: Hermitage - it's not exactly structured like a museum, but the collection was fantastic and the self guided tour was pretty good as well
Good: d'Orsay, Louvre - I can't really think of a reason why they aren't as good as the Hermitage... besides a somewhat snobbish attitude that tells you "you should see this"
Bad: Russian Political museum - well, not that I was expecting more, but the propaganda was anti-Stalin (deservedly so, perhaps) and gave the rest of the museum less credibility, which is a shame
Ugly: Anne Frank - lines were at least 2 hours long. I couldn't even get in.

Best: Even though Sagrada Familia's elevators didn't work (they did, but the wait was too long and the stairs weren't in operation), it still ranked as the best I've visited. It's just a fascinating piece of work by God's Architect Gaudi, who didn't use much drawings in making his buildings
Good: Russian Orthodox Church in Helsinki - we took a long long nap there, soaking in the views from the city of Helsinki
Bad: Notre Dame - we tried three times to get to the top to no avail. Museum pass didn't work there. And the inside had so many people that I felt sorry for the real worshipers.
Ugly: All the others - honestly, I'm sick of visiting cathedrals. It's really not that bad since you can choose to be there for only 2 minutes.


Best: Neuschwanstein - skip the tour of the castle. The view of it from Mary's Bridge, however, is a must-see. It inspired Disney's main castle.
Good: Trakai Castle in Vilnius - it's a bit touristy, but the nearby lakes make the castle area a very relaxing and fun.
Bad: Suomenlinna in Helsinki - this castle / fortress was built by the Swedes against the Russians. It is now integrated into the vegetation and has very little to see, unless you count the extremely expensive coffee shops on the island.
Ugly: Hohensalzberg in Salzberg. We didn't even go in because of the price. And the hike was a bitch. The view from the top is quite nice though.

Best: Peterhof in St Petersburg - the Summer Palace for Peter the Great had tons of fountains that were all designed differently. My favorite was the rotating one, although most people fall in love with the Grand Cascade.
Good: Residenz fountain was very nice though not grand
Bad: Versailles - well, they weren't turned on...
Ugly: Concorde - just didn't think the fountain matched the place

Best: FlyNiki - there are some sure things in life; when a fly (the insect) speaks about safety onboard, you listen. FlyNiki.
Good: Oasis - low cost international traveling, why didn't anyone think of that before!?
Bad: ClickAir - as EasyJet's two counters handled their entire flight, one counter at ClickAir (the one I am lining up at) checks in three passengers
Ugly: British Airways - you are ugly if you loose every Ibiza-London-Amsterdam luggage

Best: The Scandinavian airports - clean and efficient, they even had automated belts to deliver the plastic containers where you put your laptop and personal belongings back to the head of the line
Good: Biking tours around Europe - most cities are flat and bikes allow the tours to go further away and save walking time
Bad: Rental bikes did not work in Copenhagen or Helsinki; people kept stealing them for their own use
Ugly: Budapest has the oldest metro in continental Europe. It probably still is. The validation machines don't work and you need to validate when you switch metro lines. It's confusing as hell and they aren't shy about fining tourists for not validating their tickets

Best: Eyewitness - with illustrative pictures and a bit of history, EW gives the traveler plenty of information to choose from
Good: Lonely Planet, Rick Steves - it depends on what you want. LP does a good job for the DIY travelers, while RS gives you a lot of suggestions. Beware of RS's hand drawn maps though.
Bad: Let's Go - they put thumbs up on several tourist traps... though the pointers on how to get there cheap was good
Ugly: Let's Go - half the restaurants aren't where they are