Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bak Gwa (aka Rou Gan aka Chinese Jerky)

Photo from

Chinese people just love eating pork, and now that it's closer to Chinese New Year, people are going crazy for Bak Kwa, a special type of grilled pork jerky. It's really delicious stuff, but you can see how healthy it is for you, especially after you take each piece out of a greased wax paper wrapper.

The Daily Singapura Makan blog posted a great article about this very topic today, and I can completely identify with it. When my parents were here a few weekends ago, they gave me a bag full of this, and it lasted less than 2 days. I was snacking on it for breakfast, after dinner, midnight snack, anytime. Yum!

But how does this relate to INSEAD, you ask? Well, you know you've been studying when you start to apply economic principles to everyday things like bak kwa. This past Sunday's newspaper mentioned how bak kwa prices have suddenly skyrocketed around Chinese New Years, from around $20 / kilo to around $30-40/kilo. Sure, so nobody really buys a kilo for themselves, but it's a common gift. Our take on this phenomenon? The demand for bak kwa is fairly inelastic, people are willing to pay almost anything to buy this for CNY. And, what happens when prices suddenly increase in a market? It starts to attract new entrants.. and the Sunday paper even mentioned an economist from Morgan Stanley in Singapore, who said that NTUC (a local grocery store brand) should start supplying a private label bak kwa product because the bak kwa industry was dominated by 2 players who had complete control over pricing. Ok - only in Singapore would a MS economist comment about the economics of food!

Ok, guess that makes me a bak kwa / economics nerd, but I found it really interesting..

btw: Lim Chee Guanj is pretty good! I like the chili pork.. but be ready to stand in line (or queue as they say here)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


I passed my spoken Mandarin test!! The teacher administering the test was very nice, and funny too. We chatted about my favorite topics - travel, cooking, and food. Seems like most Singaporeans like talking about these things too...

What? It's Wednesday already?

Time flies here.. I have a Mandarin exam tomorrow, then Economics on Thurs, then Finance on Friday. Definitely will be a busy week. I don't know how people who are taking their language classes right now deal with the work - because it's already a lot without having to learn a new language.

INSEAD prides itself on its internationalism, how its graduates speak 3 languages at graduation. For me, English is native, then I chose Dutch as my second language. Yes, that's right, Dutch., and from my previous post, I amazingly passed the Dutch exam back in May. For my 3rd language (Chinese) I had to pass an exemption exam. The exemption exam was ridiculous, because it essentially tested all levels, all the way up to fluency. I could answer the multiple choice "pick the right word" questions, but had a hard time with the reading passages and essay writing. So, I didn't pass, nor did I fail. It was a written test, and I scored a 45, which puts me in the bucket for a spoken exam. So, there's not much preparation I can do for a spoken exam, so I hope it all goes well on Weds morning.

If this doesn't work - I might try to take the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi test later, which I hear is easier, and there's no essay writing. Otherwise, might try then showing basic ability in German. I'm doing anything I can to avoid having to take these language classes! Don't have time nor money!!

Time to sleep - I think it'll be the first time during a schoolnight that I had > 6 hrs sleep..

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Phone Numbers and Numerology

Numbers carry a lot of meaning in Chinese culture, and it even extends to everyday things. Here are two examples

Unlucky 4
Few weeks ago, I purchased a prepaid phone card for my cell phone. We went to Holland Village (the expat area I mentioned earlier) to buy these cards, and you can choose which phone number you want. I noticed a trend in the numbers.... they all had a 4 in them. In Chinese, the word for 4 sounds exactly like the word for death, and thus 4 is an unlucky number. It seemed like all the remaining phonecards had numbers that nobody wanted.

Even though I'm not superstitious about the numbers, I thought I should try to avoid numbers with "4" in it, you know, just in case. My roommates, however, did not know about this superstition, and one has the rather un-auspicious number of 9044-3774. That's three 4's!! My number, on the otherhand, was 9471 5836... 8 is considered a "lucky" number, and hopefully balances out the other "4"

Lucky 8
Now that Chinese new year is coming, there's lots of sales and advertisements for buying things, and since 8 is such an auspicious number, you'll see all these ads like "Buy a new washing machine, only $888, or a new computer for $1188, or win a chance to earn $888 if you deposit $88 dollars for the next 8 months. The list goes on.....

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Busy Busy Busy

It's been really busy over here. We have readings every day, as well as exercise problems, but the issue is that you have these segments of time between classes, and any moment of downtime needs to be efficiently used to prepare for tomorrow's work. Definitely a different style of studying for me, because you need to stay at least 1-2 days ahead. It's almost like the game Whack-A-Mole, you get one thing done, but more work pops up! As one of my friends said, and it's pretty much become our motto in the apartment, "What's the reward for good work? More work!".

On the other hand, I'm glad I have roommates that are serious about studying... I think we're definitely in the minority. Everybody else is out drinking, socializing and travelling within asia. Seriously, what's up with that? Over half of my section is going to Indonesia this weekend, and we have 2 group assignments due on Tuesday... I think Monday is going to suck. =(

Ok, back to breakfast and time to go for class...

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Economist

Yay! It's nice to get back to old habits... I had a subscription to the Economist (actually has nothing to do with Economics, but more of an international news magazine) back in MN, and still had 6 months left on the subscription before I left MN. I didn't have high expectations that I would be able to transfer the subscription to Singapore, but sure enough, I received my first issue today! Good thing I had an existing subscription from the US - each issue here on the newsstand costs S$12, or about US$9!!

yay! Now I have something to read while I'm on the toilet.... =P

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Career Day

This past weekend, I was walking through Raffles City (a mall connected to the MRT system) with my parents. At the MRT entrance, there was a guy with a sandwich board marked, and he was handing out flyers on how to get your ideal job. The ironic thought that first thought that came to my mind was "Does this guy really think that wearing a sandwich board and handing out flyers for was his ideal job?"

At INSEAD, we're told to start thinking about careers from the very beginning. Unlike the US schools, I don't think the career office is very strong, and at today's summer internship program, I think nearly 20-30% of summer internship positions are found using the student's own personal networks. For myself, I'm noticing an interesting trend. In the beginning, I was interested in banking, consulting, or returning back to industry. As reality sets in, you really quickly start to close off possibilities after hearing what the lifestyles are like. Banking sounded really glamourous, but when you hear what people do (ie, work 20 hr days), or what happens to their lives (disrupted relationships, substance addiction, etc), banking loses it luster fairly quickly. Consulting seemed OK, but I'm not sure if I'm at the point where I want to put in so much travel and time away. That brings me back to my original industry...

A few days ago, we had career day, and the career counselors had this interesting approach for people to find their ideal job, through some introspection, matching interests with strengths, etc. All very elaborate stuff, and a bit ironic because the MBA essays ask you to have a clear idea of what you'd like to do after your degree. But it seemed to me that many of the people in that auditorium did not know what they wanted to do! (despite their essays). My roommates and I walked out midway, because it was a pointless exercise. I wanted to return to healthcare, my roommates wanted to return to consulting. Probably the most interesting things I took from that session was that

1. Most MBAs are career switchers and don't know what they want to do.
2. You quickly narrow down on what you want to do, mainly because you don't have enough time to look into everything (esp with our classload)
3. There are some good techniques for trading off one preference against an another, and this is probably more useful in product development when trying to choose what features to put into a product. Essentially, you randomly list a series of preferences. Then, you compare 1 vs 2, 1 vs 3, 1 vs 4, .... 1 vs n. Then you do the same for 2 vs 3, 2 vs 4, 2 vs 5, 2 vs n. By the end, you count the number of times each number is circled.. the one with the largest count is the "first" priority, etc. Wonder if market research teams use this?

Overall, I guess I only learned one thing from career day: I should go back to healthcare and that I learned a new trick that could be useful in product development.

For a future note: I'll start to post more pictures of my breakfast / dinners, so all of you can be salivating with jealousy. =D

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Little India

Today's entry starts with a little joke from our operations manager here at INSEAD..

"There's a large Indian population in Singapore, many were born here, but many are also guest workers. We have a lot of Indian professors and students here at INSEAD. (KL's note: there are a total of 57 Indians in the entire program between France and S'pore, making them the largest single national group.) So, be careful when you ask a taxi driver to take you to Little India .... they might bring you to INSEAD instead!"

My parents were here in Singapore this past weekend, they flew in from Taiwan, visited here a few days, and they're currently in Malaysia. On Sunday, my mom wanted to go to Little India, so we took a taxi instead of the MRT, because it looked like it was going to rain. There was a HUGE traffic jam once we approached Little India, and the taxi driver told us we should have taken the MRT and it's always crazy in Little India on Sundays. I honestly felt like half of subcontinental Asia was packed in Little India that night. There are millions (?) of imported Indians, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Sri Lankan laborers in Singapore who work in the infrastructure projects here, and they all have Sunday off, and they just spend time roaming around in Little India. I've seriously never seen so many people, and especially for Singapore, such flagrant violation of traffic patterns... these huge groups of people would jam up the streets. It was like driving through a sea of people. After dinner, my parents and I walked around in Little India, and it was an amazing sight - all these people walking around, crazily buying up cheap goods (clothings, etc), and there was even once place where an Indian guy was quickly running a foot-pump sewing machine, tailoring the clothes right on the spot. Not too far away, SingTel was selling prepaid SIM cards like crazy, and it looked like these laborers had never used or bought a SIM card before. I wish I had a photo to explain just how many workers there were! It is interesting to think about the perception of expats in Singapore - not only do you have the highly educated expats, working for international companies, there are also sub-continental expats who come here for the manual labor, and then return to their home countries aftewards.... making me realize that not all the "immigrants" to Singapore are of the same class, but all of them, hopefully, are finding better jobs/careers than what they have at home..

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Week 1 - all done

I've never been so busy! Completed my first week on Saturday (yes, Saturday) because we had classes on Saturday. That was rough, going 8:30 - 5:30, and although that seems like my normal work hours at home, I was mentally exhausted at the end of the day. This whole week feels like two weeks compressed into one. First I had all these exams (language and statistics exemption), so studying for that was stressful.. but hopefully I'll have passed the language test. The stats one... on the other hand... I had a poor showing. Yes, I know, I should have done better, at one point, I knew how to do the problems, but I couodn't remember the steps. Oh well - at least that class should be a guaranteed A

The one thing I've realized here is that you quickly need to prioritize and make choices. Bain (one of the large consulting companies) was doing a party for all the new students.. I was considering consulting as an option, but then, my parents were here at the same time, and I had been very focused on VC. You just have to make a step, choose, and be happy with it. these past few days, I've been thinking about the choices I've made (whether to do one thing or another, whether to go to one info session or not, etc), and hoped it was the right one. Never before has making a choice become so ... important, especially when each choice you make will set you along a particular path / career....

Monday, January 07, 2008

Training Day...

Wow - what a whirlwind first day. Had registration, meeting with our section (we're divided into two sections, and then multiple groups within each section), and even each section is designed to be multi-national. I have a German, Indian, Italian and one other guy in my team.

I've really realized how lucky I am to have grown up in a ENglish speaking environment. Everybody spoke English very fluently, much unlike my experience at CWRU.. These guys must have worked hard to improve their language to a level to be very functional.

I think it's going to be a fast paced year here - I can already tell that some people are very competitive.. and there are others that are laid back. I've been fortunate to have 2 roommate with similar mentalities (laid back, but serious), as well as thrifty. There are definitely party types too - what can you expect from an MBA program??

Friday, January 04, 2008

Holland Village

Walked more around my area today, and found Holland Village, basically an expat (ie, foreigners working in Singapore) area. It's a bit strange though, because it reminded of most ethnic enclaves in the US. You know how we have Chinatown in the US, where there's a bunch of asian stores, and asian people living near by? Well, think of Holland Village as a "Western" town, where you can get all your international groceries (cheese, hams., sausages, pastas, things you won't find in the domestic stores), as well as Western restaurants, in a compact trendy location .... filled with Westerners. I even saw a Mexican place there too - although I can't imagine many Mexicans immigrate to Singapore. Maybe it's more Tex-Mex?

After being so used to Chinatown, Little India, Little Mexico towns in the US, it's so strange to see something like this... it's definitely a nice area though, I'll be meeting up with my cousin's friend for dinner there tonight, so we'll see what it's like.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

I'm in heaven, and what a small world..

Small World
Today was my first day in Singapore, and I was walking around, exploring the MRT station nearby my apartment. While in the station, I heard a guy yelling "Kent! Kent!". I turned at first, but didn't quite know if he was yelling at me or the group behind me. (Ken/Kent in my experience, is a common name for Asians) Then as this guy comes up, I realize it's my cousin's Singaporean friend from Northwestern University! We had met the previous year, and he had been helping me out with some details. What are the odds? Apparently he was on the way to work, and saw me, thinking I looked familiar. What are the odds? Of this little place, my first day, I happen to run into one of the few Singaporeans that I know from the US?

I'm in heaven...

Oh my gosh, I better not gain weight while I'm here. There's two hawker centres right next to my apartment. Should be super-convienient for lu. here's what I had so far...note S$1 = US$0.75

Nasi Lemak (S$2)
Iced Milk Tea (S$1)

Spicy Sambal Fried Rice with Egg (S$4) - this was a huge portion, so I'm saving half for tomorrow

Who knows what dinner will bring? I've been craving a roti prata, but that might have to wait until tomorrow...

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Goodbye St. Paul, Hello Singapore

These last few weeks have been completely a blur, from trying to pack up all my things, studying for my Chinese exam, and doing all the pre-reading during the Christmas break. Just seemed like a couple of hours ago, I was at the airport, and now here I am, 6am, writing a blog entry in Singapore because I can't sleep.

Travel here was crazy. There was a snowstorm that went through the Detroit area, so my connecting flight into Detroit was diverted to Saginaw (small airport with only 4 gates!) because they were plowing the runways in DTW. From there, we waited without any information about what would happen next, but within about 30 minutes, they had us departing again for Detroit. I was so worried that I would miss my connection to Tokyo, but the timing was perfect. What was originally a 3 hour layover in Detroit turned out to be more like 20 minutes. Too bad - I didn't get a chance to go to one of my favorite Japanese restaurants (Sora) in the main terminal.

Then, the flight from Detroit left 1 hr late due to de-icing, and waiting for other connecting passengers. THat meant we were also late coming into Tokyo, which gave me a close connection to Singapore. By the time I arrived at the gate in Singapore, most of the plane was already boarded.

Then, finally made it to Singapore - but more problems! Turns out that the rental agency forgot to leave the keys to my unit at the guard desk, despite my email clearly giving my arrival time. The guards were really helpful, called up the agents, and they were able to put me in another unit (un-occupied) until the morning, where I'll get my keys from the agent.

So, we'll see what happens from here, hopefully this is not a sign of future problems.

On the plus side, the flat is REALLY NICE. Maybe a bit too nice -I'll need to find something cheaper for the 2nd half of the year...

Welcome to Singapore...