2014 was a blur

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1548 – that’s the year La Paz, Bolivia was founded by Spanish conquistadors and the exact number of photos I took in 2014. Over 1500 photos in a year using mostly digital cameras isn’t much, but I’ve been more picky this past year (i.e. a lot more black and white film) and probably had other things on my mind, like becoming a dad. Even if the year was a blur, it wasn’t because of all the traveling I did – the only time I got on a plane in 2014 was for a weekend trip to London. Here’s a gallery of photos which I do every year on Flickr – click on the arrows to move through the photos.

I’m still not totally convinced about the quality of photos from my mobile phone, but I’m getting the hang of it and post some once in a while on Instagram.

What They Teach You at Harvard Business School.

Can you believe we’re already a quarter of the way through 2011? That means it’ll be six months since I first landed in a still balmy Geneva spring morning. Where does the time go? Speaking of time, how long does it take to make friends and build a social network? Of course there’s the online kind where a lot of time is spent on (re)connecting with family and friends. But what about the good-ol-fashion “hey, you wanna go for a movie or something?” type where you actually meet new and interesting people?

Check out this interesting TED talk about the hidden influence of social networks and how your location in the network might impact your life in ways you don’t even know. He throws a lot of numbers and technical details around, but the overall idea is fascinating.

In a place like Geneva, where it’s rumored that there’s more foreigners (i.e. non-Swiss and definitely non-Genevois) than locals, you’d think the international vibe would make it easy to find new people to hang out with. Surprisingly though, it’s a little bit more difficult than you think for both French and non-French speakers. There’s a couple of online social network places where people can find things to do with people that have similar interests (i.e. Glocals and InterNations), but building connections beyond one-off activities takes a surprisingly long time. Maybe because of the transient nature of the city, the fact that it’s a hub to many destinations in Europe where people jet-set on weekends, or just because it’s so damn expensive in the city that most people tend to avoid living in the city limits if they can afford to.

There’s definitely a draw to the city with many of the big international organizations headquartered here and lots and lots of banks. The city is oozing with money… and there’s no end to the high-fashion, fast cars, and opulent attitudes. Maybe that’s why I picked up this book to read to see if having an MBA would improve my quality of life. It’s an interesting read into one of the most prestigious universities in the world and one that churns out high-profile politicians, bankers, CEOs and the like. The author writes about his experiences with the program, the professors, and the student personalities at Harvard Business School, and the kind of stress, reflection, and tribulations of someone going through a mid-life crisis. It’s a fun and easy read that still makes you think about the underlying social and economic forces that shape the world we live in today. After reading this book, I’m convinced that it’s actions and attitudes that shape/make a person and not what they’ve studied, especially when it comes to business and corporate/financial responsibility.

Living in a grey period – enjoying the black and the white

I was just visiting my blog and realized that it’s been about a month since I last wrote something. Well, let’s see, what’s been happening? For one thing, we went to a cooking class last night to learn a few French dishes. If you’re in Geneva and want to go to a cooking course, check out Katrépices. They have lunch, afternoon and evening classes. Book early as many classes fill up!

Here’s the menu. The menu sounds better in French, but whether in English or French, the taste was amazing.

  1. Gravlax de saumon, daïkon & mangue, vinaigrette ciboulette crémeuse – Dill-rice vinegar marinated salmon sashimi and mango-carrot-radish salad with a chive vinaigrette
  2. Cuisse de canard braisée aux chicons et rutabaga confits – Roasted duck and sesasonal vegetables, truffle-oil infused mashed potatoes topped with a port reduction sauce
  3. Gratin d’ananas & gingembre, sorbet banane au sirop de vanille – Caramelized ginger and pineapple topped with baked custard and homemade banana sorbet

Rather than bore you with the finer details of the past month, here are some photos:

The port of Sanary looking from the town tower
Chinese New Year in Toulon with some suprisingly decent Chinese red wine!
Studio photography class with a photogenic model - this reminds me of MJ.
This was really interesting shot I took while the model with preparing for another barrage of photos

Bazaar Bonanza

Every year the UN Women’s Guild in Geneva holds a bazaar to raise funds for children and showcases flavors and products from around the world. Since it was my first UNWG bazaar I was excited to take my camera to capture some of the moments. What I didn’t realize was how popular and busy the event was. The bazaar took place over three floors of the convention area. The 2nd floor was where the food was served and it was PACKED! so much so that it was almost impossible to navigate through all the hungry people – we actually had to take backroom corridors to escape the munching mob. Overall, a great experience and intro into the international and diverse community of the UN in Geneva.  Visit the UN Women’s Guild website to find out more about this charitable group and what they do.

The Mind of the Strategist

Strategy. The word is one that gets thrown around a lot especially with more and more opportunities to start a business, improve an organization, or just be plain, dare I say it, “strategic”. I’m guilty of using the word more often than I need to. But I decided while reading books on advertising that it would probably be a good investment to learn really what all this talk about “strategy” is about.

The one book that keeps coming up as a “classic” is The Mind of the Strategist by Kenichi Ohmae. Written in the early 80s by Dr. Ohmae, known as “Mr. Strategy” worldwide, the book looks at strategic planning for business and uses examples from his consultancy work with Japanese companies. I figured if the book is about strategic planning to improve the success of the private sector, then the theories and processes should also apply to the public sector (i.e. government, UN, NGOs, non-profits) – after all the essence of any business/company/organization is to be successful at what it does. Given the nature of organizations like the UN with diverse agendas and numerous staff spread over a number of offices around the world, a bit of insight from this book could be helpful.

I’ve just started reading the book. To spare the details, I’m going to ‘tweet’ key ideas that I come across while reading the book.

You can follow the ‘tweets’ at: http://twitter.com/vfung

The Return of Euro-Work

Geneva. This is where I’ll be for the next 6 months. International development work especially with the United Nations is generally sporadic and short-term – that’s why I’ve been moving around a lot these past few years. I finally made it back to Europe – in 2005, I spent almost half a year in Eastern Europe with a week stopover in Geneva. Even after spending a week in the city five years ago, the cityscape is still familiar albeit a little fuzzy.

I came right at the cusp of the changing of the seasons… most of the first few days were great in the city. 20+ degrees with clear blue skies… I took advantage of it by walking around different parts of the city. But now in the latter half of the week, it’s been raining and the air seems to be signaling the first signs of autumn. It’s still great to be able to walk on the street and take things slow, which the city is quite catered to. Nothing is open beyond 9pm (and that’s only on Thursday)… most shops and stores close by 6pm from Monday to Saturday. It you have any errands to run, forget about Sunday… everything shuts down. I guess if God rested on Sunday, so should Geneva – but I think this is also quite common in France and other parts of Western Europe.

So now the pressure is on to find a place to live for the next 6 months so I can focus on other things (i.e. work, skiing, visiting other parts of Switzerland).

Shouldn’t parks be green?

Having lived on and off in different countries in Asia since 2000, moving from one country to another for short periods of time to renew visas (i.e. the visa-run) is a fact of life for lots of tourists and foreigners. Last week my tourist visa to Indonesia expired so I took a short (i.e. one night) trip to Singapore. The city is like a second-home to me so when I arrived, I wanted to see something that I haven’t seen before. A quick trip downtown and I couldn’t miss the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino, Singapore’s newest controversial source of revenue.

The feature you’ll notice is the roof of the hotel which is marketed as the “Sky Park”. So without much hesitation, I wanted to visit the park especially for a escape from the urban chaos I’ve been living in Jakarta. After walking over the very cool looking bridge from the mainland to the Hotel, I soon realized that getting to this park wasn’t as easy as I thought. I entered the hotel hoping to catch an elevator up to the 50+ floors to the park, but was quickly stopped by a stern looking security guard.

“Where are you going sir?”

“Uh, I want to go up to the SkyPark”

“Hotel guests are only allowed beyond this point – you’ll have to go around the corner and pay at the tourist entrance.”

“Pay? How much?”

“$20”

“I just want to go to the park. You have to pay to go to the park?”

“Yes, $20, around the corner.”

I was a bit hesitant to go especially when parks are usually free. But I figured it was a good opportunity to see what a $20 park would be like – it must be fantastic, filled with fairies, trees, wildlife, etc. After reluctantly letting go of $20, I rode the elevator to the top and got out expecting a lush forest with walking paths. Here are some photos – you be the judge.

This is the only green space and tree-lined walkway in the SkyPark.

The pool is the main feature in the SkyPark, but it’s only open and accessible to hotel guests. Tourists and visitors get to watch from behind a fence. The hotel really makes tourists and visitors feel like they’re welcome!

The view from the observation deck for tourists and visitors without any benches or covered areas to enjoy the view.

Summary: While I wouldn’t call the SkyPark anything close to a park, if you have to pay $20, I’d wait until the restaurants and bars are open to enjoy the view of Singapore with a drink in hand or for dinner.

Two thumbs up for Megaria

From stores and vendors selling rows and rows of pirated CDs and DVDs, art-house movie groups, to luxurious and plush movie theatres, you can watch just about any movie in Jakarta – although I have a feeling there’s a bit of censorship around. Cheap, air-conditioned, and comfortable, going to the movie theatre is an inexpensive and entertaining thing to do in this hectic city, as long as you can brave the traffic congestion that includes cars, motorcyles, buses, and Bajajs – usually bright orange and noisy, these traditional transportation vehicles became popular in India where they were developed with Vespa and later imported to and built in Indonesia (the photo above).

Movie prices range from USD$2 to $5 depending on the time of the day or type of movie. Going to a movie theatre usually means going to the mall because the mall is kind of a one-stop-shop to movies, coffee shops, supermarkets, and an environment that’s catered to walking. But, I found the Metropole XXI movie theatre in the Menteng district, where President Obama spent his childhood, which isn’t attached to a mall or any other type of shopping complex. One top of this, the movie theatre is part of the Megaria building, the largest remaining Art Deco building in the city and was listed as an architectural heritage site by the governor in 1993.

I found this poster just outside of the movie theatre and it looks like an Obama movie came out in July. I wonder where I can find it.

Perpsectives from August

It’s been a busy August so far. First, there’s getting use to being married, then there’ the traveling, moving around, settling-in, and adjusting to a new culture/country.  I’ve been exposed to an overflow of visions, perspectives, colours, cultures, people, and thoughts. One things is for sure, life is a surprise – when you think you know what you’re doing, life throws you a twist to keep you on your feet. There’s still one more week left in August, which should bring some more surprises. In the meantime, here are some “perspectives” from the first three weeks.

Sightseeing in English is a weird feeling

Burger at midnight - not the best idea

One of the strangest feelings I had when we first came to NYC was being a tourist in an English-speaking country. It was strange to not have to argue, bargain, or explain myself in another language other than English. I was so use to trying to converse in another language (very limited French, Thai, Tetun, Bahasa Indonesian) that being in an ALL English-speaking country was hard to get use to at the beginning. It’s amazing not to have to try to find words, organize your thoughts/sentences/phrases, or even use hand signs when trying to go to the toilet, order food, buy stuff… It’s a strange feeling and I guess it takes a bit of getting use to (or adjusted)… I wonder if this is “reverse culture shock”?

There’s so much to do in NYC that trying to find out what’s going just gives me a headache… I guess it’s a exercise in patience and decision-making. No matter how much you think you know NYC, there are always new things to discover… just check out Time Out New York or NYCGO.com if you need to plan on doing anything in the Big Apple.