Monday, December 29, 2008

Thoughts on Seoul

Some broad observations in bullet point format for easy digestion:

  • My grandmother is 93 (not 90) and still as sharp as a wit.  Within seconds of seeing my father and me, she was already complaining and forcing food at us.  Her memory is also completely intact, better than my dad's even.
  • Everything's really clean, from the streets and department stores, to the subways and even the taxi's.  People take quality seriously.  
  • The train system, e.g. KTX, is superior to Amtrak.  Smooth ride, flexible ticketing, and free bottled water and snacks.  
  • Over half of the women have the same unattractive bowl haircut.  But prevalent plastic surgery makes their faces look ridiculously attractive.
  • Service is better, from ordering food to hotel staff to taxi drivers.
  • Everyone thinks I look Japanese, as evidenced by multiple greetings of "konichi-wa" by hotel staff and random women on the street.  
  • I can understand conversations in Korean, though I couldn't tell you what each word meant.  I think my unconscious brain interprets language because my parents talk to me in Korean sometimes so it's in the back of my head somewhat.  
  • Soju doesn't really hit you till the third bottle.  
  • Kimchi is really a staple.  I ate enough kimchi the first two days to completely cure a cold I had on the flight over.   That is some strong, spicy stuff.
  • My dad's side of the family is very loud.  At dinner or other meals, it's like they were yelling at each other, but really we were just chatting.  Now I know where I get it from.  
One thing I've realized, though, is that I'm American.  As much as my family is Korean and I grew up with some Korean culture, my thinking, habits, language, and philosophies are distinctly western.  So there was a distorted "Joy Luck Club" epiphany but I've come to accept this truth. While I enjoyed learning about my past, the future remains my chief focus and priority. 

Monday, December 22, 2008

Jetlagged: Part I

It's 4:41am in Seoul.  It's 11:41 PST to my internal clock.  I just took some dramamine, which is supposed to have cause some drowsiness.  Let's see if this actually works. 

The 14 hr flight was actually bearable, thanks to in-flight movies.  I brought all this reading material (When Genius Failed by Lowenstein, and the Panic of 1907, for some financial crisis related reading) and didn't open one once.  The food was also good, edible even.  And the pilot landed well - I've been on enough flights where a bump or two is expected, but we flew down like a knife spreading butter on a bread - that smooth.  

I just checked this site for "jet lag advice."  Unsure how this will help but will try it.

Day 1
Seek light between 19:30 pm to 22:00 pm
Avoid light between 22:00 pm to 0:30 am
Day 2
Seek light between 23:30 pm to 2:00 am
Avoid light between 2:00 am to 4:30 am

Seeking light

The advisor has suggested the optimum time to expose yourself to light. Light is important because it is one of the primary cues that the body clock uses to maintain it’s link with the outside world.

When it comes to seeking light, any kind of light will do. Daylight is best, but if it’s not available, simply switching on a bedroom light is sufficient to help you minimise the effects of jet lag.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Action Revelation

"How much can you know about yourself, you've never been in a fight? I don't wanna die without any scars. So come on; hit me before I lose my nerve." 
- Fight Club

"You can tell a ton about someone by how they play basketball."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Where I am

In Irvine from Dec 17-21
In Seoul from Dec 22-28
In Irvine from Dec 28-Jan 5
Possibly in SF from Jan 5-7
In Philly Jan 7

Spend some money.  There's not much left.

Monday, December 15, 2008

What is the question?

The point of our lives is to answer questions.

In college, it was "what do I want to learn?" and "what do I want my first career to be?"

At Bain, it varied by client:  from "how do we grow?" to "should we close this plant?"

At Warner Music, it was:  "how do we get consumers to pay for content?" and "how do we get paid for content in a digital world?"

At Wharton it seems to be:  "What should the CEO/CFO/manager do?" and "What do I do after business school?"  In investment banking, it appears to be: "who should I buy / sell to?" and "at what price?"

Our entire existence appears to be about answering questions.  
Some of them are asked of us.
Some of them we try to ignore.
Some of them we can't answer.

But we have to always ask.  It starts with a question.  If there is a God, perhaps what s/he asked was "why not?" and at the end "was it worth it?"

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Why are you the way you are?

This is a little long but the question was on my mind...

So I've been reading all these cases and articles trying to explain why certain industries are consolidated, or why certain cultures work most in building a high performance business.  And I've read Outliers by Gladwell recently which attempts to answer why talented businesspeople, hockey players, and lawyers became who they are.  The short answer being luck, timing, and a support network which propagated intelligent repetition.

But beyond talent, have you ever wondered why you are the way you are?  What makes you angry, sad, happy, messy, grumpy, laugh?  What makes you like or love a certain person, but hate another?  What makes you react one way in a given situation, and another with only a minor difference in context?  We know the broad, generalized answer is a mixture of genetics and environment (the whole nature / nurture construct), but what specifically in nature / nurture made you the way you are?  

For example, I'm a messy person - my worktable is filled with strewn papers, chewing gum packs (orbitz if you have to know), and business cards.  I almost never put my coats back on the hangar - I always leave them on the couch or a chair.  I inevitably clean all this stuff up, but I've never learned how to be organized in a continuous process.  I think I'm like this because my home was pretty messy growing up (our home was never clean) as our family business demanded so much time and effort, and I was never punished for disorganization.  Also, it reflects my thinking - I tend to be nonlinear at times and my imagination hops around like a rabbit on crack.  Similarly, my sister's home is pretty messy, though we both clean up when guests come over.  Whenever I see someone's clean, organized desk, I'm always a little envious - and completely baffled on how he/she does it.

Now it's impossible to explain a person entirely (or is it?), but of the few most prominent features of what defines you, how would you explain those features?  If you dig enough, there's an interesting story behind the little tics and characteristics which explain who are better than broad philosophical statements like "loyalty" or "hard work." Certainly, the answers won't be consistent

PS  on a more ironic note, I wonder if I can explain why I send out these random question emails.  Some of the reason is pretentious - I mean, I think understanding who we are helps us get some meaning or truth out of life.  

Some of it is just distraction - all my coursework is so analytical and causative, that it fails to take into account the complex, nonlinear, and unpredictable aspects of existence.  Life is boring if all we do is plug a formula, interpret data / facts, and make obvious assertions.  

And some of it is just curiosity - so much of what we know about each other are these small snippets of shared experiences which do little to truly reveal who we are, because the tricky part is that you can't ask this question directly.  It's like staring into the sun - you only get a true sense of its heat and light by feeling it, or seeing the reflection, never by staring directly into it.  

Sunday, December 7, 2008

What's next?

So banking is dying:
VC is next:
And PE is shuttering, due to lack of debt.  

And MBA's always get in too late - look at the Soifer index

It feels like we're recruiting for dying industries.  Sure I admit, I'm doing banking for the summer, but I'm not exactly bullish on getting more than one or two offers, if there are any banks left by January.

So the question is:  what are we missing that could be hot?  Is it entrepreneurship?  A new financing product?  Something completely different?

No answers today, but worth asking the question...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

B-school, the first three weeks

We are busy.  We are crazy ass busy.  Wharton is no joke.  

But it's fun.  I've learned more finance, both for startups and large corporations in the last three weeks than I have in the past ten years.  I've improved my speech giving skills.  I've worn a wig.  I've done an LBO model.  It's been great.  

The best part of school, versus work, is just the feeling of freedom.  No need to follow a corporate culture.  No need to censor my language or stop an inappropriate joke.  No need to meet anyone's expectations but my own.  I work at my own pace, manage school and activities at my own pace.  It's like personal entrepreneurship or self-expression at some level.  

I miss NYC sometimes though, and weekends.  Every day is a marathon of meetings, classes, preparation, and the like...just to keep up.  But the energy is good, everyone is pretty damn friendly, and there's a party every week so I can't complain.  

I'm beginning to sound like a damn advertisement. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


I am tired but cannot sleep. I feel the need to check email every 5 minutes. I feel incomplete, like I missed something or forgot to do something. I cannot sit down and read a book or see a movie. I feel like the time is crumbling underneath my feet like quicksand and I must keep moving else fall to my demise. There is so much to do and so little time.

None of it really matters. I have everything I need. But not everything I want. The distance between those two desires is the source of happiness and misery.

And not for the first time, I wonder where I want to go even though I know where I am going. I wonder if they are the same place.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Maybe it's the warm weather. Maybe it's burning off stress from being busy at work. Maybe it's time.

But I've been exercising like crazy.

Five hours of basketball last weekend. Two hours of b-ball and twenty miles of biking yesterday. Nine miles of running today through Central Park. Like I'm unconsciously training for a triathlon (without the swim part). Thankfully I gorge myself right afterwards - buffets and Korean BBQ definitely hit the spot.

When I was running today, about the midway point, I started feeling euphoric. The music in my headphones, the sweat soaking my shirt, and the light shining through the trees. I felt I could run forever (but of course, didn't; my knees were killing me as I finished the CP loop).

But I remember having these strange feelings and ideas (thankfully no visions, but they felt close). I realized (or maybe it was "revealed" to me :-P) that death is a painful, frightening experience, but it is a transition. The pain strikes, and then leaves. We remain, in some form. To where or what, I don't know. I wish had facts or experiments or something to prove this intuition, but at the same time I don't think data would make any difference.

I need to go running again.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Spitzer, Crane, and Bear Stearns: Bad Things Come in Threes

A career on the rise. A sturdy building overlooking the Hudson. A company which stood for decades.

In one week, all gone.

I'm not moralizing. But it is humbling, isn't it? We can marvel at our own greatness, congratulate ourselves and each other on conquering the impossible, and then we fail. Horrifically. Spectacularly.

Ok ok, I'm moralizing.

In other news, I think I'm going to give up cynicism and sarcasm for lent. That's for a week. I think I can do it. I'm actually worried that my cynicism/sarcasm, while generally hilarious and entertaining, is making me bitter, or sound bitter. I'm beginning to forget what it feels and sounds like to be sincere and straightforward.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Saying it without words

The young man sips his coffee. His head stares out window, then the other. His eyes squint then relax, then squint again. He sips his coffee again. A woman sits across the table, one hand on her chin as she nods against her cell phone. She puts down the phone and reaches for his hand in a fingertip embrace. She stares at his polo shirt and old slacks and grimaces. He puts on a grin masking a grim foreboding. They chatter and worry, tossing words into the air like rock salt on snowy asphalt.

A gray-bearded man and gray-haired woman walk through the door, their eyes searching. The younger man and woman raise their hands. They smile like the practice piece of an apprentice dollmaker, the teeth too big and pupils even bigger. There are handshakes, hugs, and offers of coffee. The young man leaves and after three quick steps, exhales.

He returns with the wrong order, and the gray-haired woman tightens her lips while saying nothing. The young man speaks too quickly, laughs too often. The young woman clenches her teeth. She says what she came to say. Both couples stare at each other and can hear only the conversations around them. The graying couple nod their heads in resignation. They gray-bearded man reaches for his coat, the older woman grasping his shoulder but half-heartedly. He points his wrinkled finger, and as if in aim, launches his sentences in a cadenced cannon volley. Spit, like marker rounds, accompany his words as his cheeks blush like an overheated barrel.

The young man falters to the chair. He searches within for his own barrel of retort, but instead stammers and repeats. He spills his cup of coffee onto the porcelain floor in frustration. The young woman's eyes blink and fill like an overdrawn mug of cold tea.

The heater belts out warmth through a raised vent, but the air is cool and empty. The older couple flee the scene while onlookers stare in surprise. There will be no police tape, no reporters seeking eyewitnesses. Just a woman in tears and a man who is still looking for his gun.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Salsa (not the food)

So I went salsa dancing the other night and I realized there are three levels of salsa dancing. There are:

1) the couples who can twist and turn and look like they know what they're doing, and "know" that they know what they're doing. These couples are both impressive and annoying because they're so damn proud of their skills. But they also seem mechanical, as if they're not dancing for enjoyment, but just to show off. Still, part of me is pretty envious of all that wiggling and wagging. They tend to be dressed in very light clothing and comfortable shoes.

2) the couples who don't really know what they're doing, but are smiling and moving so much that they don't care. I like these people - for lack of skill they make up with good attitude and smiles. They tend to wear very stylish clothes, as if the fashion can make up for certain deficiencies. Fooled me.

3) the total beginners who are looking around for tips and also not to look like complete fools. Still, you have to admire their willingness to try something new and be a literal fish out of water. These couples are wearing sweater vests, slacks, and really baggy dresses, almost as if they're at a math convention (not that I would I know) or an academic talk.

I fit between 2) and 3), which is probably generous but you know, my ego likes to do that. The other thing about salsa is that everyone is very friendly. It's as if everyone remember what it was like to start dancing and all the missed steps and initial awkward stances, and tries to be accommodating. It's like being in the Catholic church - all are welcome, which is a nice, though it does tend to devalue things a bit. I suppose salsa would have more of an allure if there was some sacred council preventing the teaching of such moves without rigorous practice and passing of arcane tests (much like martial arts) but that would probably just end up being parodied in a Will Farrell movie. Or should be, at least.

Shaking the booty, and encouraging you to do so as well.

Monday, January 28, 2008

What do you want that you'd be willing to sacrifice for?

You start with a premise, a truth about the world you believe in. Like, ruthless ambition leads to self-destruction (MacBeth) or The greatest love defies even death (Romeo & Juliet). More modern versions would be, sacrifice and honor lead to triumph over intergalactic, violent robots (Transformers), being true to yourself leads to great burgers and making out with a really hot neighbor (Harold & Kumar), being right makes you a great doctor (House MD).

You need really developed characters, as they drive the story and keep the plot moving. Characters can be explained via physical, sociological, and psychological characteristics. The protagonist/hero must want something so badly he or she is willing to make difficult choices to attain that thing. The antagonist may want the same or similar thing, and thus presents him/herself as the obstacle to the attainment of that thing. Without great passion, there is no story.

I guess more broadly speaking, what do you really want? But something you want so much you'd be willing to give up something else you also like/enjoy, as well as work and strive to fight in order to get that "thing"? Obviously this question could have been worded more concisely but you get the idea.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Airports are noisy

As I wait for my flight to Las Vegas, I just realized how noisy these places are. Scratchy intercoms throughout the terminal blurting out that the gate number 3, flight 71 to Mars is ready to go.

I could buy something to eat but I'm not that hungry. I could drink some coffee but want to sleep on the plane. I have twenty minutes before they call my flight. Twenty minutes of waiting and thought.

Okay, now I'm hungry. I could eat.