Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Thanks for your mails. I have not been able to update the blogsite about the Paris trip lately. Actually my laptop keyboard broke down. I am using an on screen keyboard to type this email. It's painful clicking like playing minesweeper. Also, I moved to Paris from campus in Feb and got internet in my studio about 2 weeks back.
Exchange quarter has been great. I even did a 10 day 4 countries 7 cities 3700 km roadtrip in the Feb end. I have maintainted a journal of my experiences and will be updating my blog site in the first week of April.
Will catch you with you guys after I am back in US on Mar 27th.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Monday, January 17, 2005
"Battle plans are the first Casualty of War".
We had "PLANNED " a trip to Mont Saint Michel, Omaha Beach, and Granville - the birthplace of Christian Dior as well as some medieval towns.
Things didn't do as planned, starting with the car rental. The actors in this part of the play are Trang Le (along with her ear muffs), Paul and Doreen (The driver navigator team), Jason (The camera lover from China).
Paul and Doreen went to get the car from CDG Airport well in advance to pick us up at 10:00AM. It took them longer than expected to rent the car. Now you must be wondering what is "Bacon". After Paul rented the car, he wanted to send a text msg to Trang that they are on the way. He wanted to say Bon (Good in French). I think he had T9 on so as soon as he entered B it showed him Bacon. While tring to change it, he sent the message by mistake. So, Bacon became our official word for Wow, Good and Voila of the trip. Whenever we found our way to place, restaurant.. or whenever we figured something out...It was BACON!!!.
We finally started after lunch from HEC. Here is Trang and I at the start of the trip waiting for Paul and Doreen to pick us up.
Question for today: How many exchange MBAs does it take to fill petrol (Gas is called Petrol outside US) in France?
The French Gas Stations don't accept US credit cards. I think it is because the French Credit cards have a chip (Like the one in American Express Blue). It took us about 20-30 mins to fill the gas. Here are some pics (courtsey Jason) of me and Paul trying to find how to fill Petrol.
Friday, January 14, 2005
Airline tip: (May be short term) Ryanair has great deals . They are like southwest of US - travel to smaller airports and have direct flights. I got to and fro from Barcelona for less than 40E . The other airline to try in Europe is easyjet.
I was talking to a friend from Keane (ex firm) and he said “You are having a tough time at Paris”. That night I thought about the statement. Became a little philosophical too and asked myself the question “Why am I here”. Why did I come here? I had never consciously thought about it. Was it the French Girls (Ajay’s reason ;) No. Was it the Chocolate based pastries in Patisserie here? No. Was it the French Language? May be. I like the courses here, but that is not the reason too.
Let me digress a little about the courses. The teachers here are very free about giving their opinion. They don't try to be politically correct. I have heard statements like “Indian government has rejected any foreign aid for tsunami to show that they are a great nation and take care of themselves”. “USA has become unilateralist.”. Actually I don’t remember, but I am sure there are better examples. That’s why microphones or recording devices are not allowed in most classes.
Coming back to “Why I am here?”. Finally I had the answer to why I am here and it has something to an experiment I told my mom sometime back.
A number of people were given darts and dart board and asked to play. Some people stood too close to the dartboard and hit the center almost every time and they got bored soon. Some people stood too far and missed most of the times and they got bored soon too. Now some people stood at a distance where it was difficult to hit the dart. So they had almost half hits and half misses. This is the group who was interested in the game for the longest duration.
Now what is the significance of this? Well I have always tried to challenge myself to keep me “Not bored”. That is why I love consulting and say that I am consultant at heart. I want a new challenging role every six months. In all my projects, I started thinking of getting out of the project (if I could) after six months as the work became too easy and boring. At Infosys, I asked to be moved out of my project after eight months. At E*Trade, I asked to get out of Project after six months. At CPS, six-month mark was when I started planning my next step. That is why I am here - to challenge myself. That is why I did my MBA - to reinvent myself. That is why I came to Chicago from Bay Area; I got bored of Bay Area. I had my friends and my life had become routine. I wanted out of the routine and came to Chicago - a place I didn’t know a single person.
Change is always difficult. It's correct that I had problems initially. My productive has dropped as I take longer to do things, but it is an experience for me. This is an experience that will surely enrich my life and reinvigorate me. These small problems that I will solve in due course will keep me interested in my life. Because of my problems with train system here, I guided a group of 10 exchange students back to campus in time.
Travelling Tip for Future GSB exchange students: The last train leaves Massy Plaiseau at 11:18 on weekends so you have to take at least 10:45 RER B trains from Paris.
When I talk about experience, I mean the people I meet on the street, I have made friend with some of them. The HEC students as well as the exchange students; the students from France, India, US, South Africa, Spain, Mexico, Canada, Korea, Japan, China, Swaziland, Vietnam, Argentina and a lot of other countries. I have and will form friendships with many of them. The experiences that I have had till now have been great and I expect more such in the next two months.
Thursday, January 13, 2005
Jouy en Josas is a small city or I should say village. There is only one superstore and you have to go to Paris for everything. The problem is I don’t have student card and didn’t know the way to Jouy superstore - ATAC. Also, first week was very busy with all the required sessions as well as classes.
Jouy has one Pizza shop, One barber, one pub, two pharmacies…You get the idea. In fact, the students organize the dance parties at the Campus.
To add to the problems, we were still on the Chicago Time zone sleeping at 4-5 in the morning and getting up at 11 in the morning. In fact, we had a mandatory session “Cultural Integration and…” on Friday morning the first week. There was a New Year Party with the theme of Playmates (School dress in case you thought something else;) the night before on 6th. I went to my room at 2:00AM. Others were there right till end at 4:00AM. The next day only one student showed up – a guy from South Africa who didn’t go to the party. We got a pink slip in all our pigeon holes the next day saying ……
There was another thursday night party, but I came early again as I had to go to Paris to search for apartment in Paris. As many of you know, I plan to experience both the Campus life as well as the Paris while in France
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
I told before that the weekends are totally dead at Campus as everyone leaves the Campus. The first Friday night, we planned an outing in Paris. There were 11 of us from the exchange program in the group. I forgot to take my camera and so pictures will follow later during my next visit. We had classes till evening and so just went to The Notre Dame Chapel. Later we searched for some place to eat.
Dinner Tip: As I said try to go to an authentic French place. You might have problem talking to people as the may not know French, but the experience is worth it. We had a girl from Spain who knew a little French and so we were fine. Also, you can choose menu option have a good meal with choices for Salad/Soup, Entrée and Desert without wine for less than 20E. Then all of us came back by the last train. My prior experience with RER C helped us get back safely.
Sunday, the exchange students had a planned a outing to Eiffel Tower and skating that afternoon. I planned to go to movie with a group of French friends. Because of my Chicago body clock, I was late and ended up seeing “Alexandre” (That’s how it is spelled here) in English with French subtitle alone. Later I had a lunch at a café. My desert was … You guessed it Chocolate Crepe :) It tasted better than Chocolate Pancakes as there was more chocolate than Crepe.
I bought a SIM and other important stuff and headed back home.
Sunday, January 09, 2005
Now that I am at HEC, I am fine. Every student speaks English and I won’t feel like “Lost in Translation”. Well the problem is that the administrators and Chef and most non MBA staffs don’t speak English. So, you have similar problems at the Campus.
As I just plan to stay in Campus for one month and spend the second month in Paris, I can’t stay in Residential. Now I have to talk to a guy whose English is as bad as or worse then my French. My communication with him will make a good French comedy and is worst than you can imagine. I call 14 (my room number) dix quatre instead of quatroze and he has similar English issues.
I am allotted to a building that is the worst undergrad building in the campus, as this was the only one left. I don’t even have a vending machine in my building and have to walk about 75 meters to other building. Each room has a bed (smaller than full size in US) a table two chairs and normal shelves and armoire. There is free High Speed Internet in all rooms. The HEC MBA building has WiFi.
Residential apartments were like Hotel rooms, bigger and much more luxurious. We have common toilets. I share my shower with the person staying next to me. It’s like shower is between two rooms.
The courses at HEC are totally different from typical MBA courses at any US MBA School. Just look at my final list.
· Business opportunities in Crises economy: It’s a course taught by Dean of an Argentina Business School. A guy was in the Argentina government during the Argentina debt crises, devaluation of Peso, hyper-inflation (200% in a month means the prices doubled in a month) and was involved in initial negotiations with the bondholders.
· Indispensable Asia: a course about all the Asian countries North & east of India. A guy who heads the Asian studies at The Eurasia Institute in France teaches this course. He has traveled extensively in Asia and speaks many languages. He admits that they don’t focus on India because the economy has yet to open up and has asked me to present a 5-page report on behaviors or Young Urban Indians.
· Geopolitics & Developing Markets: A course taught by the ex Indian Ambassador to Franch. She doesn’t like George Bush and her husband loves him. There we have almost the US voters representation in their house :) I told her “ I told her that you must have great dinner time conversations now a days:)”
· Expert Views on Marketing: Taught by real experts in the field.
· International Negotiations: Yet to start
· International Perspectives in Executive Power & Negotiations: Yet to start
We are supposed to take five courses including French and I am taking total seven as I like the courses and don’t want to miss them:)
Don’t get me wrong. Chicago has a number of great Industry Professors. We have Nobel Prize winners offering courses. I also took a course offered by Eric Gleacher who was the best guy on the Wall Street and was involved in the biggest LBO ever – the 1987 RJR Nabisco transaction. In fact, his role was also there in the movie or book on that transaction “Barbarians at the Gate”. But, the courses here are non traditional. They are focused on world rather than just one country.
I think that is due to the student body here. The class that joined this Jan has a total of 64 students from 27 countries!!! The September intake had 105 students from 48 countries (approx). 80% of the students are international compared to approx 30% in most US schools.
The campus is different from Chicago. In fact, it is closer to IIT Bombay campus with a lot of trees and buildings in between. The lawns are perfect. The campus has an unstructured look compared to the clean, manicured or sleek look in Chicago.
The student body is very small about 170 every year compared to 450 at Chicago. Thus most students know each other and students in adjacent batches too. As most students stay in the same building, they have a better community than Chicago. In fact, student body is pretty active. Students organize party with 1 E wine, beer or 50 cents for coke at a piano bar at Residential Expensial every Wednesday and Saturday. Also, there is a bigger party organized by the HEC (there are other programs apart from MBA) with light and DJ every Thursday night. They have normal clubs and other activities.
The sports club is pretty good. They have rowing, soccer, rock climbing and a whole lot of sports and aerobic classes. Most classes are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons – the days I have classes. I am planning to join some evening classes.
The MBA is pretty unstructured with the same course classes held is different rooms every week. I think this is because they don’t have the right infrastructure. France is socialist country and Alumni here don’t have a concept of giving back to the School. The attitude is I paid for my education. The School is recognized in Paris because it is one of various Grand Ecoles (Higher Learning) centers created by the French for each department of study.
The food is very French and not it’s not French you have in America. In fact, I liked French food in America and didn’t like the food served in Dining place at Campus. I craved for a pizza till such a place opened the second week here. In Paris, you have much wider choice of French food and this is not a problem.
Over all they have done the best with the resources they have. One important thing - the campus is almost dead on the weekends.
Friday, January 07, 2005
I hate stereotypes. May be because, I like everybody else has faced it during my stay in foreign country.
I talked about breaking a stereotype about French Red Tape. I got my Visa in 15 minutes compared to most other consulates where you have to go back in the evening to collect it.
Here is the second stereotype that I want to attack. “French people are rude.” You might have heard and read this at a number of places. I never believed in this. In fact, I truly believe what I wrote in my MBA essays about my learning from living and visiting multiple countries – “People do behave differently, because of the culture and environment that they are brought up in. They have different slang and way of doing things. But, at the core people are same all over the world. They have same ambitions, aspirations and goals.” In fact, you find same kind of people in all the country – shy humans (I am politically correct), extrovert humans, ambitious humans, rude humans, flirt humans, family focused humans, and career focused humans. Now a flirty guy in Italy (now that’s another stereotype right) will behave differently from one in France or US or India. I also believe that if you respect a human being and his background, he will respect you.
I have yet to have a bad experience in France. When I have to speak to anyone, I try to use my French. It also helps me improve my French and then I revert to English when I am stuck. In normal shopping experiences, I just have to use a couple of English words. But, in asking directions, after a couple of sentences, I have to ask if the person speaks English.
I had a couple of experiences. This is during the RER C journey while going to HEC. I was going the other way and I asked a girl sitting next to me about the way to Jouy en Josas. I am sure she was busy with looking into her cell phone, but she jumped out of her seat, took my map and started reading the stations the train will stop on the Quai (Platform) through the train window. Now who takes so much effort to find out the way for a stranger even more a non-French.
Also when I reached the Saint Michel (Pronounced Mishel) Notre Dame, I way again stuck as there were C trains going both ways to Jouy en Josas. I asked a guy who was reading his novel next to the monitor on the Quai. He took the metro map from me. Looked in it then just ran in some direction. Stopped. Handed me the map and again ran somewhere. When he handed me the map, I thought “I thin I have met my first rude French.” Well I went back to monitor trying to find the next person I can ask. He had actually run a whole 50 meters to find the directions for me. He came back and explained me the whole way of Taking RER B to Massy Plaiseau and then RER C to Jouy en Josas.
I have met a couple of people who don’t know English and we get stuck, I just say Thanks You and move on. All of them feel genuinely sorry that they can’t help me. Some even try to help me in their very limited English. In these situations they think that they can help me, but their English is as bad as my French and we can’t communicate. A couple of times I have to say Thank you for your time as I realize that we can’t communicate with each other!!! So, my new stereotype is that “French are helpful.” Just be courteous and respectful. Take this with you next time you visit France.
If you meet a rude Frenchmen, think of a rude person you encountered in your own country and don’t box every Frenchmen into it. This is true to all the stereotypes including “Italian men are a great flirt :)”
Tuesday, January 04, 2005
Okay, traveling in Metro was easy. I finally leave for HEC campus at around 2:00 pm. I had heard that it takes about 1 hour and 15 mins to the campus. I thought that I had enough time to be at Campus before 6:00 pm.
What I didn’t realize was that HEC was in Jouy en Josas, a quiet little suburb of Paris that no one knew about. Even worse, it was on the C line the most complex RER line. There are 7 or 8 different C routes and one routes makes a full circle, so if you choose the wrong direction, you have just doubled your travel time. Well everything that could go wrong did – wrong train wrong direction.
After asking lots of questions to five different people ( two of whom didn’ know English) finally I reached the station Massy Plaiseau. Moved from the RER B to RER C station and there was a train on the station. I went inside and asked the guy.
“ Est-ce-que cette train va a Jouy en Josas”.
He said “Oui”.
I asked him “Parle Vous Anglais”.
He said “Yes”.
He looked like coming directly from Airport and so I asked him.
“Are you going to HEC.”
He said “Yes”.
“ Great now 3 more stops and I reach my destination by 4:45.” I thought. We started chatting and the train started after 20 mins delay because of some suspect baggage.
You guys are expecting another twist in tale and there is :)The train starts and we keep talking after a couple of stations, I realize that the stations don’t match the names I had seen on the train map. I ask him and surely we are going on the opposite direction. This was the last thing that could go wrong. Okay we get down at the next station and I am ready to pay a Taxi driver (Cabs are called Taxi in the rest of the world) to take me to the Jouy en Josas. But, the other guy informs me that this is a suburb and so there are no Taxis easily available. And that baggage delay has delayed all the trains going in our direction. Anyway we board the next train and this time I confirm myself that the train is going to Jouy en Josas. I call up the Residential Expensial ( HEC MBA residential building) coordinator and inform her that I will be late and she asks me to give me a call if I can reach by 6:30pm. I reach Jouy en Josas by 6:15 and call her. She waits 20 mins extra to give me the keys. Else, I would either have to stay at the Campus Holiday inn paying 160 E for a night or go back to Paris and find a cheap hotel for 50-60 E.
This is the second time the bed looks like heaven and I crash in the same clothes. Later I get up at 10:00 pm and couldn’t sleep till late in the night. This schedule goes on for the entire week.
Monday, January 03, 2005
Paris is like a sensory overload. I am not saying this just because the café and pastry shops have a lot of different deserts and I love anything with chocolate. Well that is true. It is a beautiful city. You don’t have to see a touristy place to find the beauty of Paris. Just take a hike in any part of Paris. On 2nd I first went to “Basilique du Sacre Coeur”
You can see it in my photoblog site or web page in my profile on the right frame.
Sacre Coeur is a Church built in the 1875 (I think). It has a beautiful strained glasswork inside. It was so calm and quiet inside. I get this feeling inside any religious place. When I got to a Temple or when I use to go to a Masjid with my grandmother. I find the experience very calming.
I couldn’t take any inside pictures, as the photography was not allowed inside the Church. I found some tourist taking photos inside anyway. In my view that is the worst thing you can do. When you go to somebody’s home, you should follow the rules there. That’s your responsibility as a guest. Anyway. I have added the view of the Paris from the outside. And I was there pics too J. Though they didn’t come out very well.
This is one of the disadvantages of going alone. You are dependent of people who don’t understand your camera to take a picture 0f you. The rest of the day I spent walking through the city. Every building is a photo opportunity. I have uploaded some pictures of norma buildings – buildings which are not on any tourist map. These are banks, hotels and residential apartments and even they look beautiful. I think people here don’t like straight bland buildings. This is the sensory overload I was talking about. I found people taking picture of metal work in the building. I found an old lady trying the copy a leaf pattern on the curtain in the ground floor (first floor in US) apartment window.
Eating Tip: Eat at the non-touristy places. You get good food. Authentic food. Cheaper food. As an added bonus you get to meet local people. I had my lunch for about 5-6 E the similar stuff would have cost me 8-9 E at a tourist spot.
I also bought a Sim card and other necessary things today. Finally at 2 pm I left for the HEC Campus
Sunday, January 02, 2005
Pop Quiz for you. When you go to Paris what do you see first? Eiffel Tower . So with a bottle of water and a shoulder bag with camera, lens and power cord, I left for Eiffel Tower. Please see pictures at my photoblog at zoto.
Traveling Tip: Paris Metro each ride is 1.40 E. You can buy a 10 pack (for 10.50 E) or a day pass (5.30 E). If you think that you would not be hopping on and off the train for the next stop, 10 pack works great.
Eiffel Tower needs no introduction. When I got out of the train station and looked at this huge structure, it didn’t look very awe-inspiring. In fact, to tell you the truth, I felt disappointed, as it didn’t seem to justify everything that I had read about it. It was only when I went under the tower that I got the idea of how huge it is. Eiffel Tower as many of you know is situated right on the river “La Seine”. It was usual tourist scene with eating and souvenir shops as well as hawkers. The line for the cable car as well as walking tours up the tower was looooonnnng so I postponed that for some other time. Instead I went to “Palais de Chaillot”. It houses a number of museums (four I think) and it was a free day. Outside the Palais de Chaillot you can idle away your time seeing the impromtu show by skaters, skate boaders and bicycles. There are some good Crepe cafes for your Brunch/Lunch
Musee Tip: All Musee (Museums) have a free entrance on the first Sunday of the month, so plan your trip accordingly.
I had to find an apartment. So, I started searching for apartment in the nearby area. Paris, in fact Europe, is a leisure city. People want the life-work (Please note the life comes first) balance and I didn’t find a single rental agency open on Sunday. I walked through the area extensively and the only places that I found open were the cafes. I gave up on trying to find a SIM card on Sunday and just walked around to see the beautiful city of Paris. More about this later.
I had walk a lot and worked an appetite. So, wanted to head back home. I was in front of the “H Tel de Invalides” and thought that I would be near the invalides station. I spent next 20 seconds to contruct a French statement using my limited vocabulary. “Excusez Moi Monseur, Ou a la Gare des invalides?” and he replied sorry I don’t know French and showed me the Map to find out. That is when I realized that a lot of people you meet near a tourist spot are tourists in France. The city of France is not a grid of Avenue and streets like any US city and you find so many tourists with their face dug in their maps trying to find their way around.
Next: The beautiful city of Paris
I didn’t catch up on my sleep in the plane and was sort of lost and robbed during my first two hours. Now with the thief nowhere in sight I return back to the train station. Now comes the real problem. Je parle a peu Francaise. Tres tres tres peu. How do I find a small hotel in this city with very very very little French skills?
I finally find a girl at a counter who knows little English. I ask for the road Rue Rodier an she starts looking for something. “Wow! she at-least understood me and is looking for it”. She finally directs me to the road. I marked it with bold pen in my MAP J I am too tired to buy the tickets and luckily the metro trains run free on New Years day. I catch a RER B and get down at Gare du Nord. Rest of the journey was uneventful. Though “Taxi” was not interested in taking me to the place from Gare du Nord and I had to trek to the Hotel. The Hotel bed seemed especially comfy that night and I settle down to my first sleep in 36 hours.
Late at night I get up, ask a girl in the lobby if I can visit some place at 11 in the night. She tells me the way to “Moulin Rouge” The New Years eve tickets are 500 euro and I am in no mood to spend that kind of money on a student budget.
Next: Eiffel Tower and Roaming the City
Saturday, January 01, 2005
Air France flight arrived an hour earlier. We get down at the tarmac and go to the terminus by bus. After that it took just 2 mins to get out of the customs. I am impressed. First, I get my Visa in 20 mins and now clear customs in 2 mins. I have yet to see the French bureaucracy. The airport doesn’t dazzle much.
People at the airport know English. For the rest I use my limited vocabulary to form sentences. I have to go to my hotel and don’t know how. I am kicking myself for not finding the directions while in US. I get a Map of Paris, but don’t know which part of Paris to look for. Unlike Chicago, the city of Paris is not a grid of Avenues and Streets. I get the first feeling of being lost. The road Rue Rodier is a small road and nobody ( not even Taxi drivers) knows where it is. I unsuccessfully try to find a map with road index.
Finally, I decide to go to City Center and find the place from there. May be I can find a power outlet and get the number from my laptop. Finally, I have just paid 10% and can give up on that place and stay somewhere else.
Robbed at the Airport:
While looking down for the train station, I feel someone behind me….I turn back and there is nobody. Don’t know why, but I check my things and find my travel portfolio missing. There is not much money in it, but it has my Passport and all the important documents. I can see a man about 10 m from my Cart walking away. May be I have kept it inside the check-in bag.
No, I do remember keeping it outside. EXCUSEZ MOI MONSIEUR - I shout loudly. He turns back and I see my portfolio coming out from under his Jacket. I thank God. Ask him to wait while I check the things – Everything looks fine. I come back to my cart and take out the camera. He hides behind a pillar and then takes a horizontal escalator. I run after him with camera and cart in hand as fast as I can, but he escapes. Anyway at least I got my stuff back.
Moral: Plan ahead and always keep your luggage in sight.
New Year in Paris:
I have always reached the airport at the last minute. I just find ways to be late. In a trip to SFO in the middle of Dec 2005, I boarded the wrong train - blue to O'Hare rather than orange to Midway:) Anyway for the first time in my life, I reached the airport well in advance. I took my boarding pass 2.5 hours before the flight departure. Gave my Check- in baggage to the screeners. Everything was going on as expected. "I am going to be in Paris for New Year - Yahoo".
No!! That is not meant to be. There was some problem with my mom's ticket; she was traveling to India 3 hours after me. So, I had to cancel my ticket and change it to next day. Finally, my mom ticket issue is resolved and she leaves on her flight and I am left behind.
No New Year in Paris L. I saw a couple of movies and became a couch potato (bum) for one night. Finally caught the flight next day. My New Year was spent on Air France flight 221 somewhere over Atlantic. In fact, as there is no island and hence no timezone in Atlantic. In effect, I didn't have a New Year.
Friday, December 24, 2004
By the way, my first experience with the French government bureaucracy was very good. It started off bad with the guy sending me back to make copies of some documents. But, I got my VISA stamped in 15 minutes of submitting all the papers. When he asked me to wait, I had a hunch that I will get it now. That’s the fastest turnaround time compared to any other consulate.