Thursday, April 22, 2004

Ah, study season. Sleepy from not getting home until 2:30 last night from a friend's house, where we BS'd about having, not having, the existence of God, and of course, fashion trends. On the side, we also ate McDonald's and did review problems for POM (Process and Operations Management). Felt strange to walk into a French McDonald's. Could have something to do with the fact that while everyone else was French and wearing dark colors- jeans and hoodies- I came in on turquoise blue kitten heels with shiny blue pebbles across the toes and a bright white and multicolor-flowered sundress with spaghetti straps and a pouffy full skirt. Eh, at least I didn't look typically Asian, right? The little girl in front of me pointed out my shoes to her maman and told me my shoes were "tres jolie."

Things have been relatively quiet here for the past few days - every night the cubicles are crowded with groups shedding papers and pizza boxes. It's actually a rather energizing time to be at school, if you're masochistic like me and enjoy socializing in the midst of studying. Tonight is club night at - don't ask- bizon again. The difference is that all of INSEAD's scheduled to be there since the Septembers have just reached their end of term, so this should be interesting. Attire is over-the-top cheesy clubgear. It'll be one of the last times I get to party with the Januaries who are going to Singapore for P3, since I'll be going in P4 and P5, and we'll completely miss each other in the process, except possibly for graduation ceremony. A few of my favorite people are leaving already, so strange, that. Oh well, it's my belief that if you like somebody enough to keep in touch, you will. If you don't, then you didn't deserve to anyway.

Tummy's starting to growl. Can't handle any more problems about the logistics of queueing, particularly since my mind keeps drifting off and dreaming about vacation in London. Must go in search of food before meeting group for practice OB exam-- oof, what a mess that'll be!

Saturday, April 17, 2004


Oy vey, it's been awhile, eh? What a week! Seems like forever since last weekend, which, although the weather was frigid and the fuel gave out, was as idyllic I'd hoped-- not hard given the company ;) Hosted a little board-game brunch for some Januaries-- nothing like Cranium to bring out the competitive streak in a bunch of international MBAs-- at one point, an all-play round, I found myself unable to communicate "missionary" through charades of a religious worker, so opted to act out the adjective form instead. A distinctly amusing INSEAD twist on the game-- we had the game cards read in various accents available around the table, which consisted of Bombay, American, French, Aussie, Egyptian, Hong Kong, and Thai.

Then, short visit from beau over, I went back to the weekly grind. Can't believe that finals are just a week away-- P2 is definitely more relaxed than P1. Could have a lot to do with the weather, which is off and on misty or nice, smelling of April. Also most people realize that they're not going to flunk out and are comfortable with where they stand. It was a brutal week, and went from great to worse to the low point of INSEAD so far. In order- Monday dinner typical, Tuesday dancing small attendance, Wednesday dinner boring, Thursday dinner shockingly drunk, Friday dinner intellectual debates while in detox.

Monday night heralded a week of deadlines pushed out of mind by peer pressure to socialize. Housemates playing guitar and singing until the wee hours as usual, but them without the case and paper I had due the next day. Sigh, what's a girl to do? She can't let her housemates call her a nerd, can she? So she stays up until the last guest leaves, and then she acquiesces to learning an Argentinian four step dance, and then she falls asleep on the couch and drags herself up four hours later to groggily BS about activity based costing.

Tuesday's dance class was sparsely attended, and I discovered that hustle doesn't mean the same thing in Europe as it does in the States. My goodness- instead of one-two-three-and, they dance and-one-two-three! Totally different, shockingly difficult to compromise. Had chinese takeout in a cubicle with a couple of other study-geeks. They forgot the rice, so it was a tasty but exceedingly salty dinner.

Wednesday's dinner was at a very traditional INSEAD demesne, which they call a chateau but doesn't look like one to me-- beautiful rooms, though (private hot tub! How's that for a come-on line?). The food was good, but dinner conversation was somehow . . . lacking. I don't know why. Too big a room? Too long a table? Too many existing continuous hangovers? It seemed like conversation for the sake of conversation, not any real involved discussion with friendship-building potential. At any rate, I left early, at 1:00am, and had a much better time chatting on the phone instead.

Thursday working intensely at school on a group paper due the next day. Ai, it's difficult to get along with the same group in this environment for so long. Although I still have enormous respect for some of my group members, I am very, very much looking forward to not having to deal with all of them after P2. It's a bit polarizing-- The ones I immediately took to are not the ones who now hold my abiding respect. In general, I feel no more awe at anyone’s abilities, but plenty more exasperation with certain parties’ distinct lack thereof. Anywho, left school at 9:45 to come late to a dinner party, and what a dinner party it was! Something about the right mix of people remaining at a certain point, I guess. Four boys, three girls, and drinking games. Ech . . . all I can say is, whatever it was they kept in bottles labled “jus de pamplemousse” was no grapefruit juice! We drank steadily, heavily, and raucously in shot after shot until all my senses blurred and I couldn’t even sit up straight. Cocktail, wine, vodka, whisky, absinthe, you name it. I think at 5:00 in the morning, we all reached some sort of unspoken agreement, and spontaneously ambled drunkenly toward the door. I slept over at E’s, since her house was near school and empty.

Friday, woke up at 9:00 still completely plastered, and walked the block to school feeling dizzy and disoriented by the sunlight. Drank coffee, ate a croissant, printed out group paper and attempted to read it, but the damn thing kept shifting and forcing me to see double. Felt alcohol still oozing out of every pore in my body, but nobody else seemed to notice (in fact, I guess I look better than usual when completely hung over and feeling like shit, because I got quite a lot of compliments that day). Sat through a marketing class with a guest lecturer from P&G Europe. At a certain point, the discussion about their new product launch of a super-upscale men’s cologne faded into the background, and a looming sense of urgency to go somewhere safe took over me. It’s that rare moment when you realize that you will imminently realize that you will imminently vomit. You’re not sure why at all, but something about the idea of a private bathroom stall sounds like the best place in the world. By the time I had bobbled half my unsteady way to the bathroom, I’d come to the second realization, and just hoped to God that I could make it down the stairs in time not to lose it in public. Thankfully for all involved, I did, only just. I believe I’ll never drink coffee again, it tastes so absolutely foul coming back up. It took me awhile to collect myself enough to stand up again—about half an hour, in fact. Unfortunately, it was a very bad idea, and I ended up right back on the floor, curled up in fetal position atop my coat, cheek pressing against one of the buttons and the white curve of the toilet’s underbelly gleaming at me beyond my knees. Foul, absolutely foul. I lay there semi-sleeping, hearing sounds of people coming in and out of the other stall while I shivered, sweated and and cursed, almost crying with total ignominy of it all. The lowest point of INSEAD? By miles. Eventually, I received a call for lunch, and cleaned myself up enough to wobble out. Again, compliments on the hair, the outfit. Either I’m insane or nobody here has a clue of how to tell when somebody’s near to death. Spent lunch with my cheek on the table (some people actually came over to inquire, assuming I was just tired) and half-participating in the conversation, half having wild daydreams of ripping out my liver to put myself out of my misery. Attended Finance, and the best thing I can say about it was that I didn’t puke on the teacher. Spent the rest of Friday afternoon sleeping on the lawn, then finally caught a ride to get my car and drove home. Collapsed into the shower for a blissful hour, looked longingly at my sheets, and then, fingers still slightly shaking, drove out to a house dinner with my groupmates. Drank water and ate sparingly, but got drawn into a surprisingly satisfying conversation that spanned history, politics and sociology. Made it home by 2:00, and fell into a shallow sleep full lurid dreams of toxic monsters.

Ah, but feeling much better now, thank you very much. Have decided to abstain from alcohol for the next two weeks, at least until the end of finals on April 29. Detox is as good for the soul as for the body, and I think both of mine need a hiatus. Today’s plan is to sit here and laze with the cats, listening to cheesy country music while I start some Finance and Operations review. There’s a dinner tonight and a barbeque tomorrow, but I’ll only stay if they’re low-key. Read- no more debauchery for my poor tentative liver!

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Golden apples by the roadside

Only two more days until the boyfriend comes to visit! Have been smiling to myself while getting ready for bed for days now, just giddy with anticipation—how girly is that? Not exactly the picture of a strong independent woman getting her MBA, is it? Ah, whatever, to thine own self be true, right? And it appears that mine own self is just a saccharine infatuated cheeseball.

But on notes of more interest to normal people: Spent Saturday night watching a verifiably awful Indian Bollywood production with some Indian friends and a few other Bollywood neophytes. The plot went something like this—she loves him for bringing love back into her dysfunctional family life, and he loves her, but he’s dying of a heart disease that she doesn’t know about, so he pretends to not love her, and instead tries to set her up with her best friend, who ends up also falling in love with her, but then they all find out about the heart disease and his imminent death, and so of course dramatic music swells, and all characters spontaneously break out in Indian song and dance. I had to literally hide my head sometimes because I couldn’t handle the cheesiness of it all. A novel experience, except that it lasted three hours—oof!

Sunday was absolutely lovely—went in the morning to a friend’s house for French brunch, and stuffed myself silly on the best bread in Paris (he’s a bread expert) and confiture des figues and potato pancake and honey and tea. We stood in the sunshine and observed the red and black beetles running around like mad, in pairs with their backsides connected, one running forward while the other was forced to run backward—Spring, what else can cause this madness?

In the afternoon I took the train into Paris by myself to the Louvre, which is free on the first Sunday of each month. I wandered, notebook in hand, to the classical French sculpture garden, sat myself before La Toilette d’Atalanta by James Pradier, and got to know my compressed charcoal set. Had a wonderful 1.5 hours studying light and shadow—what I wouldn’t give to be able to carve marble! At some point a girl asked me if she could take my picture—probably thought I was some sort of French art student. Was tapped on the shoulder by a curator 15 minutes before closing, so drizzled down a few highlights with the white chalk, closed my notebook, and off I went.

The weather was blustery but fine, so I walked the streets from the 1st to the 9th arrondissement, hands in pockets, sneakers springy against the pavement. Reminded me of New York, the packed avenues next to the neat little alleys, and the ubiquitous construction. Was struck by a sudden but intense craving, so popped into a brasserie after awhile and ordered une demi-douzaine des huitres speciales . . . my favorite oysters in the world. I wonder what “speciales” translates to? I’ve read a little bit on oysters, and I’ve never heard of a “special” oyster. Will have to do more research. After that, wandered around a bit more, then took an evening train back home.

On the train, while touching up my drawing of Atalanta, was once again requested for a photo (this time of just the picture) by a nice fellow sitting nearby. Said he’d love to use it (I assume for a website or something, couldn’t understand his very fast French that well), and I said no problem. Came home to a warm kitchen and spicy Indian dinner on the stove—it’s so wonderful to have roommates finally! Ended an idyllic day with an idyllic evening chatting for hours at the kitchen table over a bottle of wine. Called a friend to wish her happy birthday, and fell asleep smiling.

My INSEAD week so far, though, has been far from relaxed. Allergies are really catching up with me, and I spend much of my day blowing my nose. A slew of 8:30 class starts have been absolutely murderous—I feel so useless, like a stone dipped in thick egg batter. Monday dinner went far too late (as usual), dragging out over intense trance music, limoncello shots and wild discussions of business plans. Yesterday spent 3 hours writing a cover letter for a very cool-sounding summer internship for which I’m not really qualified (my first job application at INSEAD!), after which I ran to Salsa lessons. Taught some basics and connection techniques, then got in there a nice cha-cha at the end, just for fun—new partner, amazing guy, far better dancer than I am. At night was supposed to go to a house party with a Beach theme, and even had my bikini at the ready, but was just so exhausted, sniffly and sick after an unexpectedly long dinner (French service, you know how it goes) that I called it an evening, leaving school by 1:00am.

Woke up this morning at 7:15 feeling absolutely awful, and decided it was time for a mini-vacation. Turned off alarm, went back to bed, and blissfully fell back into my pillow until the start of my second class. Spent second class in a leisurely shower, then cooking myself a little Chinese rice porridge with the fixin’s. Went to Finance finally at noon feeling, if not refreshed, at least not quite as fatigued. Ah, and that brings me to now, trying to avoid the writing of my OB essay about the importance of shareholder value as a decision driver for the modern corporation, blah blah blah, until dinner time. Ai yai, back to the grind.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

No, where are you really from?

Ah, a Saturday off. Last night was the Africa party, held at a club in Fontainebleau. House was packed, and drums reverberrating all evening. I was so exhausted from my week that I once again slept through dinner (a friend who was also witness to last week's tardiness joked that he hoped never to go on a date with me, because it would just be asking to be stood up). Am starting to feel more and more at home with the group of people I know here. Witness-- at some point in the evening, an extremely drunk guy from the Exec Ed program grabbed me by the middle and started pushing his hips toward mine. Seeing the look of aghast discomfort on my face, two (larger) guy friends immediately came to the rescue, maneuvering me into a safer circle and sending glowering looks at the trespasser. Ah, but it's good to have friends.

Which brings me to the topic of come-on dynamics here. I feel that in the States, men will often come up with the line, "hey, where are you from?" My immediate response is generally (irrelevant of the ethnicity of the person querying) an immediate freezing of the neck, and an icy cold, conversation stopping, "California." Most boys who (very mistakenly) think they are being cute continue pushing, with "no, where are you from originally?" Yes, it's true, I look Chinese, I have black hair and slanted eyes, and maybe I was even born in Shanghai, but if I tell you I'm from California and I speak accentless English, why don't you believe me? That's the hackles-raised, hostile response I usually give in the States. Here at INSEAD, it's a completely different story. People are from all corners of the globe. You have ethnic everythings from everywhere, and it's impossible to tell from look or accent alone. There are people with Chinese faces and British accents who hold Spanish passports. I have no problem with being asked my background, and never find it difficult to delve into the complexities, and am never disbelieved when I say, "I'm American."

I thought this was just because I wasn't in the States anymore, but after last night, I've decided that the reason I've always reacted so negatively in the past must have been due to the unconscious "creep" cues received from the queries. Last night, not one, but two men I'd never met used the line on me, and pushed me for my "ancestry," as if that mattered at all, or was an interesting point of conversation. The fact that I could see them resorting to this line of questioning as some sort of way of flirting with me was just purely unpalatable. There was no innocent curiosity at all, and all I could feel was the calculations going on behind their eyes--"can I get this girl to flirt back by pretending to be interested in her culture?" "she's Chinese, is she docile in bed?"

Ugh. My advice to men-- save it. If you're honestly fascinated by the culture, go study the culture. If you're just fascinated by the women, buy yourself a porn subscription and don't bother with the bar scene until you can grow up a little. Women are not stupid, and they can tell a stupid anonymous come-on line from real curiosity. Speaking for myself, I consider myself an individual, and prefer to be treated as such. I have no desire to be sized up based on my ethnicity alone. We've been doing all sorts of cultural awareness exercises in our classes, and it's been great. What's wonderful about INSEAD people, I think, is that they realize the importance of culture as a background for understanding, but just as importantly they realize the importance of the unique individual when it comes to really doing business.