Archive for the 'Work' Category

Year of the Ox; Musings on the state of fashion

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

It’s upon us!  Happy Chinese New Year.  I am grateful to be home with family and friends.  Our traditional Reunion Dinner was even more lively than usual this year with the addition of another family.  Instead of New Year’s eve, we had brought the dinner forward a day to accommodate my sister who was on call at the hospital all of today (a touch depressing to have to work for 36 hours on a holiday).  So we had one of our aunts and her family join our early Reunion Dinner, making it the 3 oldest siblings on my father’s side of the family, along with the family matriarch, with whom I really should spend more time while I can.

Me, Puff Puff and Peapie Rooster, 25 Jan 2009

Another thing to be grateful for is the fact that this week-long break falls right in the center of the very intense case I’m staffed on in Shanghai.  Literally as I was stepping out of the elevator to go to Reunion Dinner, the most important meal in the Chinese calendar, my phone rang with a call from my manager in Hong Kong.  My heart sank not a little. 

Blessedly it turned out to be a false alarm – my manager’s phone had accidentally dialed me while in his pocket.  I wonder why I’m first on his call list?  (Later that night at 5am his phone left me a voicemail of him leaving some woman’s apartment… Don’t think I’m not going to tease him about that when I see him again next week!  I’m sure he was just at some house party, or perhaps at his sister’s, but he is single, which makes it all the more amusing.)

Only three-ish more weeks on this case.  And blessedly, again, I can now look forward to an unexpected trip home in two weeks because my class at work is having training.  I love my job, I love my job! 🙂

As business and economic news continues to paint a grey picture, fashion is very clearly suffering.  The Fall-Winter shows for next season are some of the gloomiest, most uninspiring stuff I’ve seen in years.  Gone is the exuberance of feathers, hand-painted fabric and gratuitous fur.  All has been replaced by conservative classics in black, charcoal and navy. 

🙁

I’m not sure what I think of this strategy.  If Burberry Prorsum and Prada–usually some of the most interesting menswear shown–are only showing ultra subtle variations on classics that most men already own (navy double breasted blazers, black wool peacoats, black oxford lace-ups), are these really the pieces that are going to sell and save these companies?  I’m personally not sure.  For the first-time buyer, perhaps that’s what they want, the basic Burberry nova check scarf (also easily available everywhere for about $20 from counterfeiters or me-too manufacturers, and under $100 from Burberry factory outlet stores).

But for the rest of the market (the majority of the market), we already have the black pima cotton crewneck t-shirt, the dark wash jeans, the khaki trenchcoat.  And even if I needed a new one, say a cashmere car coat, how am I going to differentiate among all these designers making the same thing?    As numerous consumer psychology studies have shown, people are worst at deciding among many similar things, they are much more likely to choose to buy nothing.  I know that if I walk by Dior, Jil Sander, Marni and Giorgio Armani and they are all selling the same thing (black leather wallets, white cotton dress shirts), I’m apt to just give up and leave empty handed.  And with the price points these labels are at, I might as well buy my coat from Zara or have my tailor in Bangkok make me a bespoke one.

That’s where I think designers putting out collections based on optimism have got it right.  Yes, we may all want to be more restrained and thoughtful with our spending, but if I am going to be tempted to shell out for a luxury item in the coming months, it’s going to be for a Gucci Tattoo print Babouska tote, or an Etro duffle bag in mottled green python.  In other words, it’s going to be something aspirational, fabulously unique and impeccably made.  And if you make it affordable (the Gucci bag is about $800 if you can find a store with stock, the python duffle will probably be $700 at 60% off), then I’m sold.  In this FT article, the same message is clear: “We are not seeing people trading down,” [Burberry Finance Director, Stacey Cartwright] said. “What we are seeing at all levels of the pyramid is people just spending a little bit less – there’s less footfall to start with and when people come into the stores they are just holding off on buying that second or third item.”  If you ask me, if there was a second or third amazing lace handbag or brocade cardigan, these shoppers would be much more likely to buy.

In any case, this past Fall-Winter 2008 and Spring Summer 2009 seasons will likely be the last great shopping seasons we see for a while.  Both these seasons were designed and priced before the financial crisis, and a lot of the Spring Summer merchandise was probably ordered before retailers like Saks and Neiman Marcus reported huge declines in sales.  Lanvin was still showing whimsical neckties made of feathers, and Dolce & Gabbana were pushing ironically opulent formal wear inspired by sleepwear.  Even thinking about this makes me sad.  Fast forward three or four months and Chanel has fired 200 staff in Paris, Bill Blass has gone out of business (along with Waterford Wedgwood) and the industry is awash in dire predictions.  Burberry has announced up to 540 jobs cut from payroll (coupled with it’s 30% rise in sales spurred by steep discounts, this caused Burberry Group shares to rise 12%).  So stock up on as many beautiful fashion objets d’art you can afford, for in the coming seasons they will be harder to find (and certainly less heavily discounted).

As for me, I should definitely stop heeding my own advice.  In the past two months or so, I’ve bought so many bags that it’s bordering on an unhealthy obsession…  The list so far:

–Salvatore Ferragamo Origami frame bag – I’ve waited literally a year for this to go on sale for the price I wanted.  Yay!
–Fendi Bag de Jour in blue Zucca denim- what a great price for a great bag!  After buying it at Changi T2 with Terence, I found it being sold online at Overstock.com for about 25% more (where it was also sold out)
–Marc Jacobs Daydream bag – I really want the one in Orchid instead of the brown one I got…  still tempted!
–Gucci Positano Scarf Tote – not that exciting, but functional?
–Chanel vintage lambskin large chain tote – I’ve eyed these for a while, now I have one! 🙂
–Prada FW06 nylon and marmot fur bag – has to be seen to be believed, what a gorgeous beauty!
–YSL oversized Muse in Terracotta – I still want a dark brown one… we’ll see

That’s seven, and there are still others: two more Prada satchels, a Bottega Veneta canvas tote, an enormous Burberry duffel/tote in gold from the Shimmer series (irresistible at 50% off), a Ferragamo shopper, a Gianfranco Ferre laptop case and a couple of clutches from Calvin Klein (an amazingly textured pewter number that was selling at 80% off) and Etro (trying to get my total purchase of two fantastic belts up to qualify for a gift).  That’s… fifteen??  Since December? 

Yet I still want a Givenchy Sacca tote, and those other Gucci and Etro bags I mentioned earlier.  Erk.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

It’s three hours to midnight, and 2009.  Today I’m in Beijing, yesterday it was Xi’an, and three days ago it was Shanghai, with a brief day in Singapore.  In just four days I will be back in Singapore and then almost immediately back on a plane to Shanghai.  What a difference a year makes.  I can barely recall where I was last new year’s eve, other than at Zen’s house party, followed by a fun trip to The Butter Factory.  I had just finished up a long project in Malaysia, and would be staffed on a Vietnam case within weeks.

The food here in China is very good, we had roast duck tonight, at what is apparently the most famous restaurant for the delicacy in Beijing (tracing roots back to 1864).

Weather-wise we’ve been pretty blessed with sunshine and not overly blustery or icy days.  Nonetheless at the end of today’s walking tour of the Forbidden City I was grateful for the warm car and the chance to thaw my frozen feet.

Beijing is completely different from the memories I have of the city from over a decade ago.  My half-memories (mixed liberally with scenes from various movies and TV serials) of an ancient Chinese city crowded with bicycles have had to readjust to the shockingly wide streets (filled with Audis and VWs), striking skyscrapers and bright lights.  I suppose I should have expected all this, given the many mournful and/or nostalgic articles and programs on Beijing (and a mythic Old Beijing) I’d previously seen on National Geographic Magazine, Discovery Channel and even CCTV.  Yet the reality is still a little jarring. 

I also realise that many of the memories I had of my last visit to Beijing as a young boy are simply false.  For example, I had the strongest impression that the Temple of Heaven was in fact an annex to the Forbidden City.  It is not.

It’s been a good year, I trust.  May 2009 be an even better year, the best year yet.

“Live” from Lagos

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Here in Nigeria again, for work.  Who would have thought I’d be back here so soon?  Certainly not me.

Nigerian TV is surprisingly good, with top notch Hollywood films and the latest music videos playing seemingly non-stop.  To date, despite being fatigued every night, I have watched Meet Joe Black, The History Boys, and Blood Diamond.  Admittedly that last one wasn’t the best film to see while in Africa.

I recently read an article about Inequality in America which commented that poor health among the urban poor is driven, among other things, by a lack of safe, convenient options for outdoor exercise.  It’s one thing to read it in a scholarly magazine, but it’s quite another to experience this first hand.  Here in Lagos we are often entreated by our hosts not to go anywhere unescorted, and the “roads” around the hotel compound in one of the nicest parts of the city are uninvitingly muddy, pot-hole riddled obstacle courses lined with discarded tyres, fallen lamp-posts and other debris.  I’ve been told the nearest big parks are an hour outside the city, by car.  In this I’m reminded of my time in Dhaka during the monsoon floods back in 2004, when we were equally restricted with few options for taking walks.  Even then there was a small park a block away from the hotel that was accessible for the first week or so before being flooded.

Here I’ve been making do with desultory in-room exercises, supplemented by energetic prancing around the enormous bedroom to music from iTunes.  I’m concerned that someone will embarrassingly see me through the balcony doors, but so far I think that hasn’t happened yet.

I went to church today, prompted by my curiosity to see what is apparently the largest Christian church in the world.  Turns out it’s an enormous network of smaller churches under the “Redeemed” banner that meets as a huge congregation on the first Friday of every month.  On this Sunday we attended a smaller service near our hotel in Victoria Island.  It was more colourful, varied and fun than I had been prepared for.  I supposed I hadn’t formed enough of an image in my head of what it would be like.  The two of us that went were terribly underdressed.  Most of the women wore large hats with feathers and silk flowers, a la Ascot.  The men were mostly in suits or vibrantly hued local garb.  The singing was sensationally joyful, rather like attending a concert, or being on the set of an African Sister Act.  The large church band had an excellent saxaphonist, and a lot of stamina.  I’m glad I went, especially this will likely being the only bit of tourism I do on this 9 day trip.

I pray I manage to successfully stave off excess eating these next few days.  There are many good restaurants here (two lovely Italian outlets in this hotel alone), and our hosts have been very insistent that we eat rather too well for my waistline’s liking 🙂

Happy anniversary

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

It’s been a little too long, I know.  Hopefully it’s a skill not easily blunted by disuse. 

Randomly, at today’s case kick-off meeting I noticed the date and realised it’s been exactly one year since I started at this job.  One year ago today I was a fresh new intern, and today it’s come full-circle and we have two fresh new interns on my case.  I’m even working with the same manager again. 

How to sum up an entire year gone by in a flash?   

Travel-wise, in the last 12 months I’ve travelled for work to Cape Cod (for training) and Bali (for office retreat) and also to Malaysia, Vietnam, India and Nigeria (all for cases).  I took a couple of vacations both brief (Hong Kong, Bangkok, Malaysia) and longer (back to the US).  I’ve worked on about 5 cases for 4 clients (and starting on my 6th case). 

Pet-wise, I now have a pretty full-grown Puff Puff and his two erstwhile companions.  Yay fluffies! 🙂 

— 

Earlier this week, a returning partner meeting me for the first time said, “I look at Jason, and they seem to be getting younger and younger.”  I thought that was funny, since I’m among the oldest of my class here. 

— 

I wanted to blog about the amount of attention that’s suddenly (re-)emerged about Harvard grads being lured into consulting and finance jobs, almost by default, and often to the detriment of more thoughtful, more ultimately fulfilling choices.  Aside from all the media attention, here in the office we’ve had several sessions where we’ve been exhorted by senior managers (and an alumna) to figure out what our personal vision is, our conception of personal success.  It’s hard not to be provoked to thought, and to yearn for that firm sense of personal direction.  But yearning is not the same as figuring it out, to committing to a plan or a path, with all the attendant risks and investment. 

As such, it’s pretty timely that the flavour of the day at Harvard (and elsewhere) is something along the lines of, “where have all the dreams gone?” 

The New York Times: “Big Paycheck or Service? Students Are Put to Test
The Chronicle of Higher Education: “The Big Paycheck
President Faust’s Baccalaureate Address 2008 – the one that started it all

Ok, it’s pretty late now, and I’m still in the office.  This entry took nearly an hour to write (?!)  Maybe it is a skill that gets rusty.

Waiting for… what?

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Do you remember how much easier and more resiliently promising everything seemed to be once upon a time, years ago?  Sometimes it feels like you take a whole bunch of steps forwards, towards some vision of what an “adult life” might look like, with the requisite loosely-framed beliefs and inevitable responsibilities, hazy plans and daily effort, small triumphs and minor compromises.  I filed taxes in Singapore for the first time yesterday (thank God for the ultra-user-friendly e-filing).  Last week a group of us discussed the dynamics of arranged marriages in Indian culture and its more universal applicability. 

Then other times I feel almost perverse in my instinct to push away as alienated the norms of normalcy, growingly aware of the mismatch between the state of my mind and state of affairs, either imagined or otherwise.  Yet I occassionally experience in powerful flashes the strong suspicion that this isn’t it, can’t be it… hopefully.

I’m still in Delhi, give or take a couple 6 hour flights back and forth.  I’ve actually fared very well with the pseudo four-day-workweeks, between fly-backs and a birthday holiday for Lord Rama.  We’ve switched accomodations, to someplace lots nicer, and with copious amounts of quite thoughtfully curated art everywhere–no insipid watercolors–in the public spaces.  I appreciate.

Came across an article about Adorno…  and now I really want to read me some Adorno.  It’s fun to recall the mind-boggling fun we had those days, trying to speed-read through the excerpted convolutions of Horkheimer, Heidegger and Weber in translation.  The titles of those books and articles alone signalled the mental gymnastics to come – Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious, anyone?  Good times.

Today I told a funny story about an economics professor XW took a class with…  and then it occurred to me later that the professor in question had a Nobel prize, and several bestselling books, and worldwide name-recognition.  And there wasn’t anyone around to share in my contentment with this memory.  A small pity.

Puff puff is now big enough to wear his diaper 🙂  Yay!!

A quickie from Delhi

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Ok, I have 7 minutes till my first pre-launch meeting with my new project team…  in New Delhi.  Well technically we’re somewhat outside Delhi, in a neighboring state, actually.  But nonetheless I’m in the Delhi office.  I arrived this morning, about 2am local time after a fairly tiresome evening spent in the airport very unrestfully fixing the consequences of what was probably a poor choice.

By the time I cleared the endless immigration line–I started reading On The Road while balancing my bags out of determination not to put them on the very dusty floor–and checked into the hotel it was already 4am.  This was of course after I was moved to a very nice executive suite, which probably resulted from the large lightbulb that frighteningly EXPLODED in a shower of glass shards over my luggage while I was being checked into a much more ordinary room.

I want to note Kieran’s lovely help (from Chicago?  Las Vegas?  Unclear) in finding out the hotel address even as I trundled along in the dead of the Indian night in a taxivan swarming with lazy mosquitos (I turned my collar up to avoid tempting them).  Merci!

Ok, time to go to this meeting.

Random update, mostly about free food

Thursday, March 6th, 2008

After two consecutive weeks of having my travel plans to Vietnam thwarted, I am left with just one week before the case wraps.   Will my final itinerary be foiled again?  True, I’ve managed to make two trips on so far, but I literally set up the trip for last week (told not to go with team at last minute – after I had already checked in for the flight!) as well as next week (plans still on-again, off-again).  Still, C is partly right, I am determined to see this water puppet show!!!

In the meantime, being based in Singapore these past two weeks has given me the opportunity to fully benefit from the many free meal opportunities here.  In case I ever wondered why my pants are starting to feel tight (?!?!?!), I can remember the past week, during which I ate many rich meals at Relish (late meal), Les Bouchons (mentor lunch), Oso (buddy dinner) and Gunther’s (case team dinner).  I can actually still taste the caviar, foie gras, truffles, wagyu beef, lobster and valrhona chocolate that seemed to comprise the bulk of my meal tonight… it’s actually bordering on being /too/ rich to stomach.  Especially if you throw in some champagne.  No complaints from me though 🙂

I can’t believe I actually convinced myself that I had started to eat more healthily.  Argh!

Provincetown, MA (31 Oct 2007)

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

Click on the picture to see more pictures from the past couple of months! 🙂

This was our only day off, and most people rented cars to drive either to Boston or Provincetown.  I chose to head to Provincetown with two of my teammates and two others from the Sydney office.  Here we are having a lovely seafood lunch.  The shot was snapped by Ren Hua, who was seated with others from the New York office at the next table.

From left: me, Emily, Sofie, Ryan, Alex

A little piece of paradise

 

“If it’s not recorded, it doesn’t exist”

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Since I last wrote around National Day, I have been on what feels like dozens of planes, clocked hundreds of hours of work, written thousands of lines of Excel as well as personal emails and somewhat settled into what might be viewed as an unexpected life choice for me.

To recap: Towards the end of my internship I was extended a job offer and after about a week of consideration I decided to take it.  I started immediately, against everyone’s advice urging me to take a vacation first.  So I’m now an Ass0ciate ConsuItant in Singapore with Ba1n & C0 [apologies for the odd typing, I’m trying to fend off the spiders].  In many ways the job meets the profile of what I’d wanted to do right out of college if I had to have a real job – it’s interesting, dynamic, hectic, and has some pretty great perks.  The expected downside, that I haven’t had time to maintain connections to the people, events and activities I used to (like this blog), hasn’t been too much of an inconvenience so far, and I think as time goes by I’ll adjust to the schedule and reclaim more me-time.

Highlight: A couple of months back Flora was lovely enough to entrust me with the weighty privilege of being the official photographer at her solemnization ceremony!  It was great fun, if a little anxiety-causing since I really wanted to give her and Alfred the best images I could of their beautiful, intimate event.

One of the (many) perks of the job is the training sessions we get sent on around the world every couple of years.  First year juniors like me get sent to Cape Cod, so I got to visit my old haunts in Cambridge and Boston back in October which was lovely.  I saw some Dins, some roommates, some dear friends…  I got to tie up some loose ends and revive some old connections.   And the training itself was great fun, especially because the trainers and other newbies were lovely people.

And while I was there I got some white silkie eggs!  At the Boston Poultry show, no less!! 🙂  They’re currently a week from being due to hatch in my spiffy new auto-turning, state-of-the-art incubator that’s right here in my room.  So exciting!  I haven’t figured out how I’m going to deal with the first couple of  months until they become old enough to wear diapers, but I’ll figure something out along the way, I guess.  My main concern now is finding some chick starter feed next week…  where should I look??

—-

This is the first free weekend I’ve had in over a month, and it’s sad that none of the people I sent messages to are free this weekend.  Meanwhile, half the young’uns in the office are in Bangkok attending a colleague’s wedding.  I’d tried my best to go but couldn’t get tickets in time.  Hopefully next week’s trip to Hong Kong will be better fated.

Next week my current case will officially wrap up, which makes me pretty excited as well.  Not because I’m bored of the case or anything, but it will be the successful end to my first case, and it has been a long one, relatively.  While our office averages cases of about two months, mine has lasted over twice as long at five months.  At this point I don’t even recall how to begin work on a new case in a new industry.  Anyhow it’s been a good ride, and if nothing else I am now intimately acquainted with all the transit lounge options at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 🙂

Maybe I’ll post some pictures up next time.

PS:  Is anyone even continuing to read this blog, after a three month hiatus??

Updates?

Friday, June 29th, 2007

May be slow in coming…  I could say it’s because company policy discourages blogging, but really the complete lack of time would be a better reason.

It’s nice to slowly reconnect, and struggle to regain some semblance of informed-ness in a scene that seems so changed.  The work’s been interesting, though I’ve barely started.  In many ways I’m already feeling very comfortable… which has its own pitfalls, I suppose.

I’m heading to bed, now.