Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Day in the Life

Yikes! I feel like INSEAD is this huge funnel that I’ve been coasting down in lazy circles, but all of a sudden now I can see the hole at the bottom beneath my toes and am starting to corkscrew faster and faster toward the end.

Oy vey. Went and did some “field research” today for my Business Plan Workshop class—my business idea is to start something like Coco de Mer in Singapore, which like much of the world, truly has a dearth of proper, woman-friendly places to buy pleasure accoutrements. It was fun trying to track down all these places, but a little intimidating to look around and wonder if I could really do it myself.

Tried mangostines for the first time—sweet mushy white bunches of pulp (garlic-like shape) interred within a sinfully juicy purple skin.

Then went to a session with a career counselor to figure out why all these companies in Shanghai who seemed to love me before I knew anything about them suddenly turn a cold shoulder as soon as I actually get interested. She was the most useless thing I’ve ever encountered. Uh. Honestly, this woman was one of those who smile like a cartoon character and then expect you to come back with a chipper “yes! Of course!” about twice before she’ll stop staring at you with her goofy expectant eyes. Oh, I’m being most uncharitable. Probably I just don’t like her reminding me that I have some ways ahead of me before I land the perfect job, and that I’m disorganized as all hell, and that I don’t really know what I want (besides to be fabulous and sip lychee martinis by the beach and add to my shoe collection). But I do think a career counselor at a top tier business school whose specialization is industry jobs in Asia should be able to answer my question of whether my salary indications were in or out of range for a company that recruits many MBAs every year.

Then went to the Chinese embassy to pick up my passport and visa, and got soaked in the monsoon rains that swept over Singapore today. Trailed my sopping sorry arse home in a freezing cab to change into something decent.

Went to meet up with a headhunter for investment banks in Asia, and did what I hate almost most in the world—pretended to be what I wasn’t. You know that song with the lyrics, “How many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?” Dude, how many lies do you have to tell to yourself before you get to the point where you can just act yourself, and still get where you want, and still feel that you are always, perfectly okay? In this world, it could take awhile. Maybe forever. That’s why Thoreau and Dickinson and Kant took off into the woods, I bet, so that they didn’t have that problem any more. We’ll see. The counselor says it’s good to have a backup industry (mine is derivatives sales and trading, but honestly I’d worry for my soul).

Rushed back to school to attend a focus group for a friend’s Market Research project, ate a cup-o-soup, then found partner for Business Plan Workshop to write up financial assumptions, due at midnight.

Sorted out insurance issues with Peugeot by long distance. Yep—my cute little Peugeot that’s been the site of so many little adventures? Totaled, wrecked, ruined, through a barrier and on its side and rolled over twice and banged up beyond recognition. Can’t be sad about that though because I’m just happy that my very good friend who had the keys was unhurt. The kind of unlikely miracle that seems to happen every day to these crazy INSEAD kids.

Nerd, nerd, nerded it out until I sent off the paper at 12:00, and am now here diddling away my time on yearbook instead of the million and one productive things I could be doing (or the one fun and unproductive one of going out drinking tonight).

I miss France, I think. I miss New York too. And I miss the prospect of a broad expanse of more INSEAD in front of me.

Monday, November 22, 2004

A little bit Sad

Doc, I’ve got the blues. It’s the end of term and papers papers papers are piling up on my to-do list. The Christmas tinsel and the snowy pictures in the malls, the end of November with no Thanksgiving celebration, the prospect of not needing to book any more flight returns to France for yet another period . . . soon it’ll be January, and it will have been one full year since I’ve started this whacky journey. I waste so much of my time wallowing inside my own head, lowing like a mournful cow, pining away for the life that’s passing me even before it passes. I suppose I should take my own advice and live life in the present, but it’s hard to when your future is such a haze, isn’t it? So much easier just to fall into the nostalgia trap.

Don’t know if it’s practical to arrange a Bali trip for the week after next, since I’m taking out an entire week of class in order to go to Shanghai for this job-hunting trip. Once back in France on the 8th, it’s time to attend a flurry of last parties, hop on a plane for Sharm, Egypt for our 5-day class graduation trip, then back to France for the grad ceremony in Versailles. It’s such a lavish, exotic life that I’m a bit ashamed, honestly—I’ve done nothing to deserve this kind of treatment, and I certainly have no right to be feeling as sad and dowdy as I do. But sad and dowdy I feel today, and even my white dress with the bright flowers and big poufy skirt is not helping.

It’s strange, isn’t it, how happiness can fall apart the moment you’re satisfied with how nice it is, and try to arrange it and store it on a shelf in a pretty little box? In entrepreneurship, they call this managing growth. In my life, I think I’ll call it managing the passage of time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Oy vey, I am so tired! Woke up this morning feeling terribly queasy-- the ground rocking under my feet every time I tried to stand up. Much safer to lie down on bed, yes yes. That's what you get for banging down Irish Carbombs (a shotglass of Bailey's dropped into a large glass of Guiness, chugged quickly before the chemical reaction solidifies the whole thing), then singing Karaoke at the top of your lungs until 5 in the morning.

But I guess I deserve little sympathy. I ought to go to sleep now, only I have no idea when I have class tomorrow. The reason is that I've lost my precious purple folder that's sustained me through all of INSEAD (the best little folder in the world, with six pockets and a bendy flap, given to me by NYU Stern). I've tried calling Attica (club where I left the thing behind a pillow), but their listing is their fax number, and I've been too lazy to actually visit. It's been a week, what are the chances?

Somebody asked me why I never wrote about schoolwork. Honestly, it's not because I want to hide it-- it's because I never do any. My weekdays, exclusive of those days I miss class in order to vacation, consist of a very similar pattern-- I go to school, check email, attend class and fall asleep briefly, check email for hours in order to while away some hours before it's time to dine and socialize. I really get very little done nowadays. There was an assignment due tonight for one of my classes by midnight. After checking email and getting nothing done until 6pm, I met up with a college friend who was in town for a quick layover, then went to meet a friend of a friend's for chili crab (so spicy and messy! But delicious.), then got home by 10:30 to read the assignment. Got a thank-you acknowledgement from the Prof at midnight exactly. Buyer beware when coming to the Singapore campus-- they don't call this the Club Med campus for nothing. It's impossible to motivate yourself to do anything but plan vacations!

This weekend was spent snorkeling in Phuket with the sparkling aquamarine water lapping at the beach just outside our villa's balcony. A goofy fish zoomed into my shoulder just as I was wondering how they could all move so quickly without ever colliding. I guess there's always a clumsy one. I saw more stars than I have ever seen in my life. Orion actually came to life! I could see every part of him! Did you know that Orion is anatomically correct? The boy is quite impressive, with three stars to his . . . uh, name! These things you learn in Southeast Asia.

Ate the most divine Thai food (best dish was Woon Sen Gu Teow, some clear glass noodle dish that's making my mouth water right now), and slurped a meltingly sweet mango after coming to a secluded beach on our little fishing boat. Little crabs scuttling out of their tiny holes, sun sucking at the moisture on my face, sand as fine as powder, and water as clear as truth. As close to paradise as I can remember, except that I had to pretend that I had a special someone walking the shore with me. Good thing my imagination's pretty strong-- I had a most romantic time with myself.

The nightlife in Phuket left a bit to be desired, though. Was the seediest thing I'd ever seen. The one nightclub, Banana, was blanketed entirely by prostitutes. There were more prostitutes crawing over that place than there are glass figurines on sale in Venice. At one point I felt tired, and sat down, studiously avoiding eye contact with anyone while stealthily trying to observe all the business deals taking place (so blatant!). Noticed a portly old man and his buddy who kept edging closer, checking me out, clearly unsure but eager. I ducked my head down. He coughed, then said, "Tired?" Dude, I've been sitting down with my eyes closed trying to wait out this bad techno for fifteen minutes, don't I look tired? "Yes." He coughs again, "Do you speak English?" I pause, wonder what about me could possibly be encouraging when I'm lying here like a limp potato and there are so many obviously willing gyrating working girls around. "I'm from the USA."

"OH!" He laughs nervously, "Well, I guess you do speak English then."

I just give him a withering look, but I guess that's not enough.

"So, do you live here?"

"I am on vacation."

Then, thankfully, one of my friends came upstairs and saved me from more ignominy. The next night we attended a Ping Pong show. Saw a girl smoke a cigarette with her nether regions, while another shot darts at moving balloons. I was impressed by their muscle control, absolutely depressed by the nastiness and run-down cynicism of everything about that establishment. Not at all titillating, just kind of gross, and very sad. I didn't finish my drink.

Okay folks, it's time for bed.

p.s. I haven't the energy to give a blow-by-blow of Cabaret, which was last week. But it was tremendous, and dealing with the ever-building technical problems as the stage manager behind the curtain was an adrenaline rush I hope not to experience again soon (I did, however, have the best seat in the house when it came to the Men's rugby Full Monty act-- perhaps the only seat with an unforeseen vantage point!).

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Tomb Raider

This weekend's exotic location was Angkor Wat, Cambodia. The Siemp Reap airport wasn't discernably different from Langkawi, I must say. Lush tropical vegetation, air that formed a slick over my skin, the vague smell of wood and plastic in disrepair as I walked through the small sparse terminal. There was only one runway, I think, and we were on one of the two or three flights of the day. But you wouldn't have been able to tell that by the throngs out at 4:45am to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat temple. Obnoxious American accents melded in with the French and German and Japanese and Korean ones . . . warbling to to a meaningless murmur as we climbed up and up and up the stairs to heaven. Supposedly the story goes that heaven isn't an easy place to get to, which is why the stone steps on four sides leading up these temples were each about two feet tall and four inches deep. A bit frightening going up, spine-wateringly terrifying on the way down. All I have to say is they must have put lots of fat priests below the emperor as he ascended to heaven, because otherwise there would have been a serious state security threat on their hands.

Cambodian food is very similar to Thai food, and the best meal I had there was pre-cooked street food slapped onto rinsed plastic plates, recommended by the massage girls who'd just given us foot reflexology when we told them we'd like to try local food. A combination of little dishes- fried fish, soggy potatoes, vegetable stew, bamboo shoots cooked with pork, absolutely delicious, all of it. But nightmares of parasites and the rather unsanitary conditions made us fainthearted about stuffing ourselves on such fare, and most of the meals were spent in tourist traps paying double or triple the price ($4-5 US versus $1 per person per meal). But it was all yummy-- especially the two coconut shakes I had with every meal.

The highlight of the trip, though, was our visit to the floating village on Thom Sap Lake to view the sunset over the water. Imagine an entire little community in the middle of a freshwater lake, with houses built of wood and straw floating peacefully side by side, kids swimming and diving, wooden boats full of fish, floating pig pens, women crooning to babies while swaying side to side in their hammocks in their tiny rocking houseboats. Tiny babies (I swear, no older than 2 years) with wide open features, dark perfect skin and big eyes, big smiles, paddling themselves around in washbasins no more than a foot in diameter! Oh, it was too much. How does this world exist in conjunction with the one I know? After the sun dipped its purple and gold way down into the waters (which I absolutely failed to catch in my new sketchbook-- shameful, how weak my skills when compared to my wishes), our boat turned back and visited the floating village again in the gathering dusk.

I saw a middle aged blond lady laughing as she handed a piece of candy to the paddling babies, who swarmed to her quayside to beg. Reminded me of those annoying people who toss popcorn at the monkeys right under the "do not feed the animals" signs. The kid gleefully littered the wrapper into the water and stuffed the sweet into his mouth, and she exclaimed, "Oh, aren't you cute!." I wished I could be invisible so that I could minimize my intrusion. The village was just so perfect, out of a fairy tale, one that doesn't belong to me or the blond lady, but I suppose I shouldn't judge. Infusions of tourist money into an undeveloped economy are welcome, aren't they? But I can't help the shudder that comes to my skin and the images of a zoo for naked children when I see scenes like the candy feeding, the twenty little hands grabbing for handouts.

But no more took-took rides, no more banyan trees, no more sanstone ruins and buddha-head towers, now it's back to Singapore, to the lethargy of avoiding work and vague disturbing worries about not having a purpose in life (I generally squash those by reading books, but Kafka-esque philoso-fantasy isn't a good genre for this, for anyone considering Murakami as an escape). A friend and I were scheduled to go to Shanghai to job search this week, but neither of us having the resourcefulness or energy to set up meetings in time, we decided to push off the trip until next week. Now that it's set, I must fill it somehow with useful meetings, otherwise this will become yet another pleasure trip funded by money I do not own.

Ah, life, it's harder than it sounds. I know I shouldn't complain. If I'd told my seventeen-year-old big-eyed wisp of a self that I'd have experienced so many things and been so many places by now, I bet I'd have though I was pretty darn cool. But if I then were to turn to that inquisitive, righteous little self and tell her about all the world-doubt and loneliness and ambivalence that still haunts me at so many empty moments, I think I'd also have to slap my older self and shout that I must be stupid or extraordinarily lazy for not having figured it out by now. But this life is a big thing to figure out, as the lame old excuse goes. Maybe tomorrow, maybe later tonight. For now, I'm off to find the next best thing-- sushi for dinner and brownie sundae for dessert. Wish me luck!

Thursday, November 04, 2004


I must say I was on rather bad behavior last night. The American Week party was held at this packed, very frat-boy ex-pat bar called Carnegie's. The open bar covered only basic well liquors and beers, but boy did we get our money's worth. Too old to do shots of bad vodka? It was just like college again. Ah, the memories. I drowned my frustration with the stupidity of my country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of bogus morality, and downed shot after shot in penance to the rest of the world. That's another 4 years I won't be heading back to reside. As much as I love America, I am very aware that the America I love may not be the one that over 50% of Americans love.

Ah, but on with the show, eh? Up on the pool table, and then the bar top poles. There is this irrepressible exhibilitionist urge that always comes over me when I drink, which as I get older, I might have to seek help on. I was once told, when inquiring about the effects of Ecstasy (for intellectual curiousity only) that there was no need, all I needed was a drink. Unfortunately I think this time there's footage-- must get my hands on that tape. At some point someone next to me dropped his glass on the the already shard-littered floor, and I, the good samaritan, helpfully started to sweep all of it aside with my strappy sandal-clad feet. Yeh, drunk girl. A few minutes later, I felt something strange and worked hard to focus my eyes and look down. Hmm. . . I was bleeding rather profusely. A bit miffed, because my sandals were white and very cute, I pulled my toes out and flung my leg over the shoulder of the nearest bloke (bear in mind, I was wearing a man's wifebeater as a dress, in keeping with the American theme of the party). Somebody fetched napkins and I extracted (I hope) the three pieces of glass from my foot, then hobbled still bleeding to the bathroom. Eventually I was able to procure some bandaids from the management (who wanted to bandage the thing with ace bandages, but which I refused because then my sandals wouldn't have fit), and was finally able to get back to dancing. But no more glass sweeping for my feet, thanks.

I also heard some really bad pick-up lines. When one boy's "You look like an angel!" didn't work on me, he tried the opposite tack, "You know, you've got a great arse!" Now boys, how on earth do you ever expect a nice girl like me to like you on lines like that? Some intelligence and originality please! Or at least some tact. How about "You look like you don't believe in angels," or "You know, you've got a great way of carrying yourself- or is that just control top pantyhose?" (actually, better not use that one if you don't want to get slapped).

Tired tired. Time to go for barbeque and karaoke though. My kingdom for a good night's sleep with joy and meaning in the morning . . .