Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bourne Identity

I feel like I'm living my own Bourne Identity movie today, especially that scene where Bourne, Matt Damon's character, goes to the Swiss bank, and opens a safety deposit box full of passports, money in different currencies, and weapons.

Since I'm heading to Germany tomorrow, and then straight away to Marrakech, Morocco, and then back to Geneva on Sunday. I have to carry various currencies in my wallet. I'm not sure if my ATM card will work in Morocco, so I have to carry some extra currencies. At the moment, I'm carrying Swiss Francs, Euros, and US Dollars. That's in addition to the Singaporean Dollars, Malaysian Ringgits, British Pounds, Chinese Yuan, Taiwanese Dollars and Canadian dollars that I'm already carrying with me, hidden elsewhere. Unfortunately, I don't have any extra passports or weapons.

Or... do I? Welcome to the INSEAD life...

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Arabs are in town

Apparently, every summer, lots of Arabs come to Switzerland, escaping the summer heat like Minnesotan's fleeing Florida in the summer. It's a very interesting crowd. You see lots of women shopping at the very expensive/exclusive stores, like Louis Vuitton and the other jewelry stores in town. I had coffee with some of the other students here this summer, and one person saw a limo pull up to one of the luxury stores, and a shopkeeper came out, presenting a bunch of different items. While staying in the car, the lady pointed to the ones she wanted, and the shopkeeper brought those items to her. Makes drive-thru shopping seem kinda posh.

And then you see cars like the ones above.. complete with license plates in Arabic. Sometimes you wonder whether they drove the cars here, or if the cars are flown here on their private jets, while they come to visit their private bankers in Geneva. It's simply a whole another culture that I've never been exposed to. I met a guy at the July 4th party that's managing funds for a Saudi family, something like $1.2b of assets under management. I'm sure they charge a 2.5% management fee, and there's a lot of money to go around.

btw - I always wonder if its too gaudy to be snapping photos of somebody else's sports car while i'm running around in my t-shirt and shorts next to the nice hotels in Geneva... There were all these other kids doing the same thing, so I guess it's OK...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I'm going to Africa!

In today's news, I'm finally visiting Africa. August 1st is Swiss national day, and is a holiday at our office. Conveniently, it lands on a Friday, giving me a long-extended weekend. I've been meaning to take a trip to North Africa, and just yesterday, I booked my tickets to Marrakech, Morroco. I'm excited! Still trying to get some INSEAD folks to go with me, but it seems that a bunch in Geneva have already gone.

My carrier: LCC EasyJet (ie, CrazyJet). Let's hope this time, I don't get stuck coming back like I did in athens. That's another story for another post..

Meanwhile, in other news: the EasyJet reference reminded me of this satirical article I read in the WSJ, finding new ways to generate revenues for the mainline US airlines (much like EasyJet... at least there, I know I'm flying a budget Carrer)..

My favorite quote:

- C'mon. My BlackBerry is not going to bring the plane down. I don't know of a single documented case of a consumer electronic device interfering with a plane's avionics. If they did, al Qaeda would just fly around with iPods. Since we don't fear an iBomber, why not just let me use my BlackBerry as much as I want, whenever I want. (I do anyway.) This one would be free, because it would be offset by negating the need for the flight attendant to expend energy cruising the aisle before takeoff searching for perps, like a prison guard working the tiers of Sing Sing

Link: My Plan to Help the Airlines

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

First week in the office

Amazingly, it's almost been two weeks since I've started at the firm. It's been totally awesome. It's almost like working in Silicon Valley. Check out the perks:

  • Free lunch on Mondays (petite salad, sandwich, dessert)
  • Open fridge - free soft drinks/water (alcohol only on special occassions)
  • Snack drawer - nuts, dried fruit, chocolate bits, fresh fruits
Oh - my hours? Even more awesome: 9am until about 6:30pm, when most people leave. I tend to leave a little later since I'm used to staying later for school. Oh, and lunch? Well - the Swiss love their lunch. If we go out, it's like 1-1.5hrs. Today, I decided to go for a "quick lunch", and brought a sandwich back to my desk, and my mentor looked at me funny. He said, "Wow - that's so unusual for me, normally I like to take a lunch break, maybe 30 minutes or something. But I'm not used to seeing somebody eat lunch and work at the same time". I said "yeah, this is very American.. normally I like a break too, but I like to do something while I'm eating, I've gotten into this habit while at INSEAD". My mentor had previously studied in the US, so he's a bit used to my habits which may seem a bit odd (ie, American)

Oh, the best part? I have a great big desk and a comfy office chair... it's one of those Aeron chairs... the same expensive ($1000) ones that startups went crazying buying with VC money back in the Internet boom days.. Have to say, it's extremely comfy. Not sure if it's $1000 comfy, but I'm not complaining!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

July 4th in Geneva
My mentor at the office pointed out early last week that July 4th was just around the corner. I was shocked.. OK, I knew I was starting at the office on June 30th, but I couldn't believe it was already July 4th! So - in a joking manner, my mentor yelled out to the big boss (President of the firm) that "Kent wants to have July 4th off". Mr President says "well, it's not Swiss holiday - or something to that effect", then I said "well - if you can bring in hot dogs for me on Friday, that's close enough!"

Sure enough, there's an "American hot dog" stand right outside the office. So, on July 4th, I decided to "celebrate" and had a hot dog for lunch. (see proof below). The bread - wow - the most delicious hot dog bun I've ever had. Imagine a baguette - with a hot dog inside it! Then I asked my British office assistant how the British felt about American Indepedence Day.. if there's any resentment, or jealousy. Her response was great "I think it's great - you Americans all don't have enough holidays to begin with!"

On Friday afternoon, I found out that there's this American Club in Geneva, it was throwing a big 4th of July bash. It required registration for some reason, but I decided to just show up. It was totally surprising... 200 people in a sports center park, American flags everywhere, band playing 50-80's hits, and best part: ribs, cole slow, potato salad for only CHF15 (about US$15). That's a steal by Swiss standards. (See proof below)

Going there by myself is a little hard, but I decided to join a table with some other people. And when it comes to explaing where I'm from, and what I'm doing in Geneva, it becomes soo complicated. First I explain that I'm from Ohio, but worked in Minnesota for the past 6 years. THen, I'm now in business school, in INSEAD Singapore and France, but I'm doing an internship in Geneva, but I'm returning to Singapore at the end of August.

After all this, the most common response was: "Wait - are you Singaporean??". It was a bit shocking to here this.. after all, I'm speaking with a plain midwestern accent, coming to a July 4th party - why would I be Singaporean? Because I look Chinese? Expats, of all people, should realize that Americans are a varied lot, of all races. Maybe I was a bit too sensitive, but I expected a bit more from an expat crowd.

Anyhow, it was fun, met a bunch of New Yorkers that have lived in Geneva for 10-20 years (not too surpringly, either working in banking or some international MNC), and had a nice bbq meal to celebrate the 4th.