Archive for October, 2005

Oct 31 2005

Bueno, Bueno, Super Bueno…

Published by jl under INSEAD,Main Page

All the things you’ve heard about Barcelona are true: beautiful architecture, relaxing siestas, people and road signs communicate in Catalan, fabulous seafood, great weather, great shopping, late night partying… all of that.  But none of it means anything unless you’ve experienced it yourself.  The near 3 days I spent there were ridiculously fun and exhausting.  I had to return here, begin the new period at INSEAD at 8:30am just to take a break from my “break.”

Our holiday from INSEAD started innocuous enough – four of us from the chateau took the 12-hour overnight train from Paris to Barcelona on Thursday night.  It was just the perfect number because we had our own cabin with four pull down beds, which we didn’t use until the conductor insisted on pulling them out before he went to bed at 2am.  Before then, we enjoyed some nice wines, snacks, and had some real conversations.  It’s on these long road trips that you really get to know people beyond a superficial level.  The flip side is the brutal alcohol hazed sleep deprivation upon arrival at 8:30 in the morning.  Nonetheless, I highly recommend it.

Later that day, another INSEAD friend of ours joined our gang in our rented apartment for the weekend, completing our party with healthy mix of two gals and three guys.  Other than spending the stereotypical amount of time women do in the bathroom and her over-zealotry towards shopping – of which we gave her grief to no end – we welcomed her addition.  Even though the saying goes “misery loves company,” I say good times do too.

Back to the nocturnal activities – the typical Spanish dinner starts around 10pm.  Naturally we had to observe these local traditions.  So after a day’s worth of walking around town and taking a siesta to recover, we filled up on delicioso Spanish cuisine and wine to kick start the evenings.  On the first night, we moved from dinner to this cozy little bar, Mas i Mas, to meet up some local friends of PGuy.  We then hopped on over to this crazy night club called The Sutton, where we were at first barred from entry, something about it being too full.  But being the cool VIPs that we are, which we eventually proved time and time again, they let us in after our local friends dialed up an inside acquaintance.  Inside, it was absolutely thumping, people everywhere.  After a few drinks and getting bearings of the club, we discovered a reserved section for special guests only.  Again, we were inexplicably barred from entering until yours truly talked our way in to mingle with these guests.  To top off the rest of the night, three of us displayed our moves with light shows and hot dancing on the platform -  VIPs till the end.

Five hours of sleep afterwards, we went back downtown in the afternoon.  It’s one thing to hear about these Spanish siestas, where people take 2 hours off in the afternoon to lunch and sleep, but then you witness it and realize how nuts it is.  The city literally shuts down from around 2-5pm everyday.  In broad daylight, you find few people on the streets, stores are closed, and don’t even bother finding taxis.  Good thing the tourist bus kept running and we took advantage of it to visit the beautiful architecture of the city, namely the various works of Gaudi.

Later that evening, we enjoyed an upscale dinner at El Trobador with the friends we met the night before. Fabulous food and company, which was a perfect lead to our reservation at Carpe Diem Lounge Club on the beach.  This place is serious business, owned by a former football player.  The biggest draw here are the beds, where you are “seated” on beds instead of chairs and couches.  Once again, we closed down the bar and even strolled a bit at the beach, feeling the Mediterranean waves before heading home.

On the last day, we had a quick lunch with another close friend from INSEAD before hopping on a cap to the airport.  Leaving Barcelona was really difficult, and despite sleeping even less here than during finals week, there’s still so much more left for us to do.  But alas, our break reached its end, but Barcelona awaits our return!

Pictures coming soon.  ;)

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Oct 27 2005

Barcelona Bound

Published by jl under INSEAD,Main Page

After three straight days of finals folly, we’re leaving for Barcelona tonight taking the sleeper train.  Updates when I get back on Sunday night.  :)

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Oct 24 2005

First Day of Finals Hell

Published by jl under INSEAD,Main Page

“Finals are coming…  Your girfriend left you…  You think you’re in hell?  Well, not being ready when judgement day arrives is the real hell!” – Bible-toting street evangelist at Berkeley’s Sather Gate

I heard that quote 8 years ago, and it came rushing back today during my second exam.  Ok, so nothing drastic, only finals.  The rest of my life and soul are perfectly intact, but my day felt hellish nonetheless.  I paid for yesterday’s procrastination by getting owned on the accounting exam.  Then again, I’m not sure how much studying would’ve helped considering the exam was so different from the actual material taught in class.

In our LPG group exam, we had our typical arguments and unsatisfactory debates that always leave a bad taste in my mouth.  On a happy note, since we decided that I would do the entire writeup, we submitted a semi-coherent 7-page response to the case study.  Most other groups split up the work, with different people writing different sections and came out with a hodgepodge of an essay.  Even though we’re not graded on writing style or ability, I was happy to have one positive contribution to today’s exams.

Regardless, I’m still somewhat shocked that after all that schooling, I find myself going through another round of final exams.  So why am I writing this entry right now when I have two more hellish exams tomorrow and the finisher on Wednesday?  Why did I bring this upon myself?

I must be rambling like a madman.

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Oct 20 2005

Finals Are Coming!

Published by jl under INSEAD,Main Page

Last day of class for P1 is tomorrow, and then three days of finals to finish it off.  Just firing off a few thoughts about the academic environment at INSEAD…

I think I mentioned before that for our promotion here in Fontainebleau, we have about 300 students divided into four sections (Singapore has two).  Each section stays together for the first 2 core periods in the same amphi (classroom), with assigned seating.  This way you become familiar with everyone in your section and the professors get to know you from you nameplate and seating location.

Each session lasts 1.5 hours, and depending on where your assigned seat is, you may be stuck there for the entire duration (ie can’t leave for bathroom break or whatever without disrupting the class).  It’s rather cozy and hence obvious when you fall asleep, read the newspaper, not pay attention, etc.  Therefore, focus is required for most of the class.  The worst is when we have three classes in a row, sandwiching 15 minute breaks in between.  During that break, you can run to the lavatory, grab a coffee, complain to your fellow classmate about how boring/entertaining the class was, and then get back to your seat.  Anyways, these three-in-a-rows translate into a five hour block occupying your calendar.  Afterwards it leaves you little will to perform studies or anything productive.  It’s usually my excuse to have a nice long dinner among friends here.

In P1, we have 5 core courses.  Of the four sections, two of them share the same set of 5 profs, totaling 10.  Although there exists a noticeable disparity between their teaching abilities (in both sets), I am satisfied with the overall quality of teaching.  Some people disagree with me.  They expect, for the amount of tuition we pay, that every single professor delivers at a high level.  I wouldn’t say that they’re wrong, but I view the academics here as only part of my education here, so I will cut the administration some slack as long as I find the overall quality in high regard.  I’ll post about individual courses and professors after finals.

One of the most disruptive aspects to building a routine here is the way classes are scheduled.  There is no single week where we have the same class at the same time or even day of week.  When I asked about this, the response was that it depends on classroom availability, professors, and most importantly, to make it fair.  They didn’t want to stick a particular section to all morning classes.  So some weeks I have classes that start at 8:30, and other weeks they go from 2-7pm.  Like I said, it’s impossible to generate any sense of routine and I’m constantly checking my schedule.  Ick.  The facilities are very conducive to studying.  The library provides a quiet getaway to bury oneself with books and the numerous cubicles setup for group work allow us to discuss and debate over case studies.  And these facilities are rarely overcrowded.

All in all, with the amount of school work and facilities for learning, INSEAD has empowered us to study to our hearts content.  Now if they’d only do something about the scheduling…

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Oct 16 2005

Day After

Published by jl under INSEAD/Montmelian,Main Page

I’m in a muck.  The party last night was amazing, but hosting 400 people has left me with no energy now to write about it.  As a matter of fact, I should be writing my Leading People and Groups paper due tomorrow instead of blogging.  Argh… need recovery time!

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Oct 13 2005

Free Culture Tour

Published by jl under INSEAD,Main Page

Just a brief posting.  One of my friends at INSEAD, Colin Mutchler put on his Free Culture Tour performance at amphi A today.  This guy is truly talented as he played the guitar, sang his own tunes, and ran a slide show of his photography (along with his remixes of other people’s work) that conveyed his thoughts on arts, media, and Creative Commons.  He shared with us some of the songs that were made off of his own work licensed through CC.  Even though most of the students there tonight are not familiar with the legal issues back in the States, they were able to appreciate the freedom of creativity conveyed by the performance.  At the end, he was commended by a huge standing ovation.  Great job Colin for spreading awareness through your talent and efforts!

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Oct 12 2005

Heaven and Hell

Published by jl under INSEAD/Montmelian,Main Page

We at the chateau have been busting our chops prepping for the upcoming party this Saturday.  So dearth of postings and sleep for the foreseeable future.  If you’re in the area, I hope to see you there.  If not, well, too bad you’re going to miss out on the largest INSEAD party this year. 

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Oct 10 2005

Sunday Afternoon in Paris

Published by jl under INSEAD,Main Page

Yesterday I revisited one of my favorite activities – reading and studying in a cafe – in Paris. When I woke up and I looked outside, I realized that I had to take advantage of the absolutely perfect weather, in the city. We pass up too many opportunities to explore Paris with the lame excuse of having too much work. So instead of lamenting over it again, I hopped on the train with a friend to go study and relax. The train ride, a mere 40 minutes, cost a worthwhile 15€. I got off Gare de Lyon and took the metro to the heart of the city. We met up with some other friends at a busy cafe near St. Michel for coffee and finance.

Cafe Malongo

The warm weather filled the streets with tourists and locals: women in light fall gear, guys walking dogs, shoppers, and camera-toting tourists. After a couple hours of studying and people gazing, we hopped to a bar in St. Germain for happy hour. Our thirsts satiated by the aperitif, we walked down the street to fill our stomachs. Since we had French food the night before, it was out of the question. Instead, we started searching for Indian food, the reasonable next option. Too bad the two restaurants we found were either too pricey, or too empty for us to gamble on. Given our time constraint, we settled on the fajitas restaurant in sight. It was the second time having Mexican/South American food in France for me and after the first, I had my reservations. But they were unfounded, and the food was both savory and reasonably priced.

The natural thing to do after a big dinner is to walk, and what better place to take a stroll than Paris at night? For the next half an hour or so, we leisurely walked along the Seine towards the train station while gawking at famous landmarks in their evening glow.

Riverbank of La Seine

Eventually we reached our destination. I admit that I felt a tinge of regret arriving at the train station – enjoying Paris will have to continue another day. Apparently we weren’t the only ones traveling out of Fontainebleau that day. We encountered a couple INSEAD students heading back as well, who were good natured enough to wind down the weekend with us on our ride home.

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Oct 09 2005

Cena Italiana (Italian Dinner)

Published by jl under INSEAD/Montmelian,Main Page

Two Thursday nights ago, our resident Italian delivered on his promise to follow up on our French wine and cheese dinner back in August. His parents having visited recently, he stockpiled on some very hard to obtain goods from his hometown of Bergamo. The guy toiled over the dinner preparations on a busy night (before our team party) in the middle of our midterm week. Even though many of us offered to help or buy things, he would simply say “your presence is all that I require.” When I offered to bring some wine to dinner, he promptly refused with “Italian wines only.” I took my cue and backed off immediately.

So what did we enjoy? For starters, we savored authentic Italian cheeses: Gorgonzola, Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Sardo, Taleggio, Taleggio and 3 or 4 others. Don’t ask me which is which – I’m still figuring them out myself. The main dish was a handmade pasta, “Casoncelli alla Bergamasca”, meaning casoncelli made with the specific recipe* from Bergamo. At the risk of butchering it, I’m going to attempt a description – it’s very similar to ravioli, but has a different texture and more flavor. It’s served with an olive oil and butter based sauce with various spices and sliced strips of pork (see metal pot in the picture below). Knowing I was stepping into a landmine when I asked about industrial-made casoncelli, I had to do it to find out if there was any other way to get some other than going to Bergamo. The danger of this action can be compared to that of asking a French person if we can find the good French cheeses nicely packaged like Kraft Singles in the market. Being the nice person he is, my friend stopped short of killing me. He claims to never even heard of industrial-made casoncelli and hopes to keep it that way.


Delicious Italian Cheeses

And the wine? We enjoyed some very tasty stuff, including a bottle of 95 Brunello di Montalcino from the famous Catello Banfi winery. It’s a type of sangiovese and paired perfectly with the cheeses. I’ve been discussing my newfound affinity to cheese with some of my friends back in the States.  One of them said that he’d be 30 pounds overweight living here, given the tremendous quality and variety of cheeses, wines, and baguettes. And he’s right. Just yesterday, I was just proclaiming the need to cut back on my cheese intake, only to find myself munching down another block of it with fresh baked bread an hour later.

Dinner was concluded with a simple and elegant confection of ice cream and Limoncello. Think root beer float, except replacing the root beer with lemon flavored Italian liquor. Nuff said.

The bonanza of authentic Italian delights heightened my growing snobbery in culinary expectations. Living in Europe (and being around my European, and especially French, friends) will do that. I want to extend a special thanks to our Italian host for sharing with us a glimpse of his hometown delicacies. Speaking of which, anybody who knows him will vouch for his rare generosity and soft-spoken gentlemanly qualities. But I asked myself, was there a bit of competitive spirit behind this elaborate dinner, given his conversation with the French guy the other night? Perhaps. But we learned that competition is good for consumers, so I’m not complaining at all. All joking aside, we are very much spoiled by and indebted to all our gracious European hosts. I look forward to the Spanish dinner soon (wink wink hint hint).

*Email me if you want the recipe. I have it, in Italian, naturally.

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Oct 03 2005

Monty Team Party

Published by jl under INSEAD/Montmelian,Main Page

To celebrate the end of our grueling week of midterms and relentless course work, my French neighbor suggested a brilliant idea – inviting all the team members of all the residents of Montmélian for a Friday night dinner social. Although we’ve been inviting people from various houses over for dinner on many occasions, we’ve never done anything on this scale. With 4 to 5 people per team, we were looking at 40+ guests. There was no way our dining room or outside patio could accommodate that many people. And how were we going to prepare enough food? Not one to suggest ideas without the solution, our resident Frenchy came up with lining up tables in the hall on the ground floor and running a potluck* dinner – each team responsible for bringing some food or drink. Under the organization of our diligent planner, we bought the necessary supplies (including of course kilos of delicious cheeses) and setup the arrangements for our guests.

Even though the date conflicted with the aforementioned Lebanese dinner, we decided to go through with it since we had already made the invites earlier, and after all, we know that it’s not easy passing up a chance to attend one of Monty’s infamously fun parties. Besides, this would be a great warm up for our huge party in two weeks.

Like everyone else who visits our chateau for the first time, our guests simply loved the drive in the forest leading to the spectacular view of our home. We couldn’t hear enough compliments about it. Soon after settling in, with the pleasant company, food and drink, people were mixing it up and enjoying themselves. We set a relaxing mood with some good music and played hosts to our best extent. Throughout the night, each of us gave guided tours of the whole chateau. In terms of division of labor, I assumed pizza heating duty. Because of the limited oven size, I would continuously bake and serve pizzas one by one. I had a pretty good system going, my cell phone alarm would go off every 20 minutes and I’d break off from some lovely conversation with our guests and scurry up to the kitchen. But their disappointment was more than made up for when I came back, and don’t even bother trying to convince me the smiles on their faces had more to do with the hot food than seeing my return.

In the main hall, you could feel the energy of the crowd. The delight of our guests was palpable and we were thrilled to help them start the weekend with such a gathering. The photo below was taken before it filled up. At one point, there was no walking room so you’d have to introduce yourself to each lovely guest in your path and make a new acquaintance before passing.

Half of our Monty gang – Thank the guy
in the bottom middle for this party.

After most of the people left, we hosts decided to entertain the remaining guests in a more intimate setting. We moved the music and wine upstairs to the dining hall. In a blink of an eye, our resident Salsa man from Peru had us dancing to hot latin tunes. As much fun as it was, our last batch of guests reluctantly departed around 2:30 – too early for my taste if you ask. Still, great fun for the night. I realize now how much we actually enjoy hosting our friends. I wonder if the nobles who lived here 300 years ago felt the same.

* The concept of potluck was completely foreign to some of our residents and guests. Back in their respective countries, they wouldn’t fathom inviting guests and then asking them to bring something. I’ll chalk that one up to a cultural learning experience.


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Oct 02 2005

National Weeks – Lebanese Week

Published by jl under INSEAD,Main Page

Continuing with my previous post, I was saying that one of INSEAD’s great traditions is the national weeks run by different students. Throughout the week, the students organize a ton of activities related to their nationalities. Usually there are corporate sponsors that support us, as well as some budget allocated by the student council (so don’t forget to pay your student dues.) The funds help pay for the food, decorations, and even raffled prizes. Some people won plane tickets to goto Beirut.

The week kicked off with a practice known as “Amphi Storming.” (Our courses all take place in amphi-theaters. Each section, 4 per promotion, has an assigned home amphi for all its classes.) In between classes, the Lebanese gang stormed our amphi with a brief presentation of all the upcoming events for the week followed by music and dancing. Another part of the tradition is to address our professors in Lebanese (istez) for the whole week. We also all received in our pigeon holes (what they call our mailboxes on campus) a name plate written with our names in Arabic. (On top of assigned amphi’s, we have a seating chart and laminated name plates so the professors can get to know us.) Here’s mine below.  I couldn’t resist scribbling my name in Chinese underneath.

During the week, we sampled tons of ethnic foods. We had a traditional Lebanese breakfast, a shawarma (middle eastern pita sandwich) lunch, desserts like baklava, and some beverages made from syrups that I don’t recall the name of. They even served Lebanese food in the cafeteria. As far as events went, there were backgammon competitions, the belly dancing performance and competition. We even smoked hookah (no hashish involved) and drank Arak while playing backgammon matches.

Lebanese week ended with a chateau dinner and party. From what I heard, some great times there. Next up is the Indian-Pakistani week (yes, we do really get along). I’m looking forward to some good food; it’s been a while since I last enjoyed real Indian cuisine.

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