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...