Thursday, January 29, 2004

Can anyone explain to me why the light goes off sys-te-ma-ti-ca-lly at midnight on the Singapore campus, then comes back on at 5 past?
Italian Democracy: You have two cows. The mama takes care of them and you give milk to the mafia in exchange for their protection. You declare only one cow, and with the money you save on taxes you can buy the milk off the Mafia.
Someone asked me about how much change the MBA participants can bring to the school, how much initiative there is.
I will be honest.

Change is difficult. A rushed one-year program, complicated by campus exchanges does not give much time for change.
There are clubs and many activities. Anyone with energy will certainly find enough to occupy its already full weekly schedule. But what about new initiatives, new ideas?

In P1 - you discover INSEAD. You are timid about getting involved, or you don't know what the rules of the game are.
In P2 - you have one more course, you have a better idea about how you can manage your time and where you stand in the program but you are already thinking about spending P3 in Singapore
In P3 - you are in Singapore, roaming around the city like a Chinese Fish in an English pond
In P4 - you really wanted to go to Wharton so you have hoped over to the States
In P5 - you just realized that you will be graduating in 2 months and you are thinking that sending a couple of resumes would be appropriate
You are gone. Bye bye quaint Fontainebleau. Bye Bye perfectly oiled Singapore. Bye Bye Philly.

This is over simplifying but it is rare for anyone to reap the benefits of change. Therefore, change agents must be desirous of bringing change for the school, for other participants, or simply for the sake of the achievement. Finally, any change that requires a sustained effort for any length of time, or a strong buy in in the student population will heavily suffer from half promotions fleeing campus every half year, and from the geographical moves. It is difficult to campaign and build coalitions. It is difficult to keep a core team in place for more than two months.

This is not to say that there is no change, no new idea and no new club. The average MBA participant dreams up more initiatives and crazy schemes that could be implemented in a lifetime. Some of the changes are informal, less durable. Traditions exist (the National Weeks are a good example) and participants do get involved in campus life.

Pick your change and make sure you are clear about your motivation!
Organize a National Week and you get to know very well

- the student government's strings
- a new campus
- maintenance, multimedia, catering and operations staff
- accounting
- your compatriots' late night habits
- the city you reside in (handy places to get stuff done)
- the embassy
- the faculty and school staff

You have very short nights as you need to
- coordinate everybody's schedule
- invite faculty members to participate in events
- try out loads of restaurants, bars and clubs
- imagine activities, presentations, stories, load up pictures, music
- negotiate deals
- secure funding
- give feedback to lots of people
- handle 220 national week-related e-mails a day
- organize companies' presentation, discuss topics, find ideas about officials' speeches
- be creative about decorations
- select loads of luxury stuff, talk about shows
- do loads of shopping, decorations, meetings
- make tons of phone calls around the world
- learn about timezones
- drink loads of coffee
- think about the opportunity cost of not selling umbrellas down the street as you sadly notice the pouring rain

All this in the vapors of wine, junk food and dim neon lights
All this in addition to your normal INSEAD load

But hey! How much more fun this could get, I wonder...
Heard in class and faithfully reported

- "it all depends on who's on top" - Prof in Self Assessment Class

- "when the world left the Gold Standard, bright young people like you - at that time, I must say mainly men - saw opportunities. They saw great new ways to lose the depositor's money" IPA professor

- "if anyone thinks that arab finance ministers would willingly write checks for millions of $$ to non islamic developing countries, they should have their head examined" - IPA professor

- "whenever something's popular, you should be skeptical" - IPA professor

" The US secretaries use the Roman Catholic Church as their CIA agents. No other organization has people deployed everywhere in the world and actively engaged with the population. It is the most efficient way to know about people's moods and direct impact of your foreign policies" - IPA professor

"- if you want to influence the world, become a rock star" - IPA professor

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Heard in class and faithfully reported:

- There is this Nortel building in Asia that was built to host the regional headquarters. The day the new management moved it, they realized that the top 5 floors were already occupied by the Triads (mob). They can still use the lower floors for their business of course. - Asia Pacific professor

later in the class

- You talked about the influence of the Triads in the Taiwanese business environment. So what can you do to avoid having to deal with them? - student asking
- Avoid the top 5 floors - student responding

Chinese Dragon Dance: I think that this is supposed to bring prosperity to everyone during Chinese New Year. We had some percussions and a Dragon Dance on campus the other day, as part of the Chinese New Year celebrations. It is a lot of fun! Must dash off, I have a zillion things to finish off before the end of my day and I have just realized that it is already 9pm. Among this zillion things, getting dinner would not be such a bad idea.
US Ambassador to Singapore is coming to our IPA class on Friday for an open discussion. This is going to be one of my favorite classes this week.

Everyone, before you get too emotional, please bear in mind that ambassadors are messengers. They do not voice their own personal opinions but reflect the official line of the government that they are representing. Be analytical, be critical but in a respectful and constructive manner.
American Democracy: the government promise to give you two cows if you vote for it. The president must rely on a mathematically challenged counting system to win the election. Unfortunately, shortly after, he is impeached for speculating in cow futures and must work on a diversion by getting Hollywood actors elected.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Someone just filled up a gap in my knowledge through responding to one of my questions about INSEAD's mascot.

Remember that I said that for the first two years of its short existence, INSEAD took quarters in the beautiful chateau of Fontainebleau. Well, I am told that the Salamander was the insignia of the French King Francois I and is all over the walls of the palace. INSEAD then adopted it as its logo.

So not only did I learn that INSEAD logo is of royal origin but also that the school is somewhat associated with one of the most prestigious Kings of its host country (INSEAD has no country of its own), symbol of its artistic Renaissance movement.

Thank you very much for your help!

Monday, January 26, 2004

Anyone out there working in IT? I am trying to understand whether the fact that we have a slow network connection on the Singapore campus is a design problem, a load balancing issue or a mind artefact after too much sake. The problem is made worse when the Fonty folks get on their terminals and access the net. Is the Singapore campus slave in any way to the Fonty servers?

Imagine that in-between two e-mails you get an Outlook message telling that you must wait for the next half year while it is retrieving some data from some server somewhere. You type a mail message which you have to re-type again because some remote procedure call failed. As job search activity will start to intensify, or as my "projects" near completion date, my e-mail load increases and this little network discomfort is taking larger than desired proportions.
Surely, there must be a solution. Only thing that's left for "someone" to do, is go out and find it. And having to get up at 5am to get all your emails done before your classes and Fonty start of day can only be a temporary workaround.
Called a taxi the other day from a campus landline:

Before I could say a word I hear:
"For English, press 1, for Mandarin press 2...
"you are located at 1 Ayer Rajah Road, INSEAD campus. You will be picked up in...2 minutes from the main entrance. Your taxi number is 3654. The taxi will be blue. If you wish to listen to this message again, press * otherwise thank you for calling taxi company xyz"
Taxi turned up 1 minute later.

Impressive...Second time I am using this system, first time from a landline...Supplemental charge for a taxi on-call is S$3 or a little less than 1.5 euros.

I have never booked a taxi in Fontainebleau but I can imagine a conversation
"Allooooooo? Les taxis so and so bonjuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuur?"
"Hello, I'd like to book a taxi please"
"a taxi?"
"quel taxi?"
"Can I book a taxi please?"
"Reserver un taxi?"
"Ooooooooooouuuuuuuuuiiiiiiiii? A quelle adresse?"
"INSEAD campus"
"pour aller ou?"
"la destination?"
"The train station"
"la gare, les trains?"
"a quelle heure est votre train?"
"Sorry? you want to know the time?"
"anyway, could you come and pick me up now?"
"a quelle heure voulez-vous le taxi?"
"pardon me? vous puvez repeitez please?"
"quelle heure? wat taime?"
"ok. C'est a quel nom? wat is ze naim?"
"my name? oh yes..."

FT has published 2004 MBA rankings: One of the only sources that has a common listing for US and non-US programs.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

I found myself thinking about the previous posts...

Interesting that some participants have found some cumbersome administrative weight. The people that I mainly had to deal with on the administrative front:
- Campus Switch, Exam Procedures, various certificates, Pascale, etc.. have always presented a smiley face, asked no questions and delivered more than adequate swift service. so experiences vary greatly from one participant to the next.

- number-loaded courses: it is important to note that diversity is key in an MBA. People with no math background are as much needed to the course as number crunchers. It is true in general that P1 and P2, with the highest percentage of core courses are m ore difficult than the rest of the year. The workload is still big but since people have selected their courses, it seems easier. Courses are pitched in such a way that people can develop the intuition for the subject, then practice with problems and tutorials. Students also help each other greatly. Whether marketing should be in P1 or in P2 is not a subject that I can answer. It is also probably hard to say whether the fact taht one is thrown into a new enviromnent, must learn to manage his or her time in a different way, must put up with all sorts of new people AND learn all these new aspects does not alter the psychological reaction of most students. Even the engineers and the bankers have loads of work to do in P1. There is plenty of learning for everyone, INSEAD sure keeps you busy. Then, there are so many other factors which can affect someone's learning experience: do you live 5 min or 45 min away from campus? Are you involved in one club or in three? How fast do you read in English? Do you have a family with you or not? It sounds much more complicated than what the students in that class made it sound.

In a well-balanced group (and INSEAD does balance working groups), and from my own experience, it sounds like a balance INSEAD MBA participant can certainly enjoy the experience. P1 and P2 are certainly the periods which are more difficult to get through. They are also the periods of innocence...when one does not think yet too hard about the harsh realities of the life to come, feels comfortable about all this time of fun, learning and sharing with other INSEADers for three more periods!
INSEAD has put a diary up online. You can read more information at

There are also video presentations about the program. Sit back and enjoy!
In one of our classes, we were asked to give positive and negative images of INSEAD - as well as come up with associations of images. For instance, if INSEAD were an animal, a day of the week, a sports, etc...

The results were interesting. Applicants, this might well be of help to you during your application process. See if you can identify with these values, challenge them, talk to alumni, talk to the administration, find out for yourself. And test them against your priorities and personal quest. Note that these are opinions voiced by a very small number of participants and by no means represent the consensus on campus, nor the official view of INSEAD.

Top Three Good Points:
- Diversity and International Mix: INSEAD was the most exotic campus anyone had ever spent time on, although culture clashes did not occur as expected. One reason could be that most MBA participants have chosen INSEAD to be with like-minded people when it come to cross-cultural issues and tolerance matters. Definitely for all a source of endless surprises and enlightment.
- Entrepreneur: INSEAD is widely recognized as one of if not the most innovative B-School. Not only does it have a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship in its curriculum, it also displays a pioneer spirit. Especially here in Singapore.
- Quality: not only of the participants, but also of the faculty.

Top Three Improvement Points:
- Bureaucracy and Administrative professionalism: accumulated weight over the years might have rendered certain administrative processes less efficient than they could be.
- Advertising: INSEAD has sharply decreased its ratio of Europeans in the program. No single nationality exceed 10% as a rule in general, but since Europe has so many countries, and since France, the UK and Germany are well represented, the overall proportion of European students is among the highest on campus. In fact, the concentration of French people is higher in Singapore - not surprisingly. However, it could beef up representation of the African continent (minority at INSEAD, although represented)
I do not know the exact stats but they are available on the school website.
One thought was that INSEAD was not advertising itself as effectively among these business communities as in other environments.
Another example of brand management was about cases: INSEAD, after Harvard Business School, is one of the business schools that writes the highest number of cases. In fact, apparently, it has received awards of excellence for this achievement. Most of these cases are quite unique as they will present a cross cultural environment, another national sensitivity, in addition to the standard MBA course content. We would love to see more of them used in class here.

Another interesting comment was made about the school sometimes being shy: participants noted that INSEAD keeps growing and has achieved fantastic results in over 30 years matching the best programs, that have been around for over 100 years, in creating a name for itself and in pursuing its vision of a global village. INSEAD brings the world at your doorstep. It has a clear vision and a strong track records. Some of us felt that it was too shy about claiming what its values, its accomplishments were, too shy to unleash its full potential. Maybe it is just a North American view - because INSEAD is such a unique place, what is excessive to one might sounds too little to others.

Apparently INSEAD's mascot is a Salamander: how did this happen?

Examples of Associations and their rationale given in class:
- Seasons: Spring because of a Renaissance in your life: Fall because as soon as you start to like the shades of colors around you, it will fade as you graduate.
- Plant or Tree: Sequoia, because you live in your little sphere up there, detached from the rest of the world. Sunflower because it follows the sun throughout the day, wakes up at the beginning of the program and some of it dies at the end. Jungle because it is wild, there is competition for light, survival matters but also because it is extremely rich and diverse
- Car: 2CV because it is one of the most durable cars (since 1948!!!), small and fun, original and at the time a very advanced design!; BMW: not a jaguar but has a great deal of class
- Musical Instrument: bagpipes because the bloody assignments never seem to end! Piano because you must synchronize many different activities and keep one finger on different notes; a symphonic orchestra because of the need to bring together in harmony so many individual sounds
- Feeling: rush, enthusiasm, hope
Representative Democracy: you have two cows. Your neighbors pick someone to tell you who get the milk.
Heard in class and faithfully reported:
- "When you go to China, always assume that the Chinese are out there to get you. Nothing personal, they want to screw everybody" - Strategy for Asia Pacific Professor

- "Italy has the lowest mobility rate in Europe with 0.6%" - Professor in Macro Economics
-"that's because when you move, you have to take la mama and all the kitchen props with you!" - Italian student

In our IT Management class - about IT Investment Decisions:
Student showing two pictures of two beautiful Asian women on the screen:
-"do you find them attractive?"
(everyone says yes)
-"which one do you prefer?"
(everyone indicates their preferences)
-"well, indeed she is beautiful and HE is handsome. Bottom line: when you make IT investment decision, take your TIME. Don't jump to conclusions"
In macro, we had a very interesting discussion around the various labor markets in the world. We listed some of the differences between Europe and the US: high labor rates, high firing and hiring costs, low mobility across sectors and countries despite free flow of labor, stronger inside power with trade union - who represent the interest of the employed - higher unemployment benefits (3 years in Europe vs days in the US), incentives for early retirement (larger percentage of people over 55 have left the workforce in Europe, which combined with pay-as-you-go pension systems add a tax burden on the active population), regulation of the number of hours worked, etc...etc...

The whole class seemed to try to understand how the French could get away with so little work during their lifetime...
Work is back. I get up at 7am and go to bed at 2am. I had a lot of preparation work to do for most of my classes (and not just readings...) and I am getting started on the various papers and project work.
There is also this National Week and various official events that I am helping out with.
So I missed out on Chinese New Year celebrations last night, although I could very clearly hear fireworks from my room.
I am working late tonight too since I am away for the weekend. Catching a flight at some ungodly hour in the morning, only to return two hours before classes start on Monday.

I am going to Yogyakarta on the Island of Java. I am visiting temples: Borabadur and Prabanam if I remember correctly. There is also an active volcano. Saturday night we will hike all the way to the top (leaving the town at around 10pm). We should be reaching the top in time to see the sunrise. I have taken readings and macroeconomics practice problems with me, to kill time at the hotel. Should be a lot of fun. This will be my last trip before long as assignments are piling up. I will be content with the proximity of the pool for some rare expression of leisure. I will be planning a trip during the P3 and P4 break though.

gong xi fa cai
I had coffee today with a professor at INSEAD. We talked about whether the way the courses are laid out at the school makes sense from a student perspective. That is the order in which the core courses are proposed. It certainly makes sense from a logical progression on the ladder of knowledge.
The question that we debated was whether it was good for the student from a psychological perspective. Now, this is one of these discussions in which people can do and redo the world, lacking all the data that they would need to really make up your mind.

The debate centered around P1. The P1 courses are more math-oriented on average than P2's or P3's classes. The participants with no math background must find P1 very difficult. Bankers and engineers must find P1 very easy. Apart from OB, all of the courses are fairly number loaded.
The great majority of group work is finance-related. Bankers have it easy but others might struggle. It is plausible to assme that the people struggling in finance might be the same people in need to dedicate more time to the other courses.

Actually, I very well remember some "poets" as INSEAD nicknames them tell me that P1 was definitely hard on them.

The first period is key to anyone's impression of the course. Although one could argue that the whole MBA program is a very intense year and that everyone should expect to work like crazy, it is possible to make an argument for a swap between core courses in P1 and P2. Perhaps bring some Marketing or something similar.

INSEAD does provide math courses before the start of the course for anyone who wishes to brush up their skills. There were also numerous tutorials available. They do take time but they certainly ensure that participants can pass the exams.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Probably popular before exams - I received an e-mail about meditation sessions offered on campus:

Please note the details for the meditation sessions scheduled as follows:

#1- Tue, 20 Jan - 1200 to 1300, amphi R
Finding the balance between doing and being - making yourself more effective by learning how to quiet the mind and organize your consciousness.

#2- Tue, 10 Feb - 1200 to 1300, amphi R
How to use personal power and the development of appropriate boundaries in our mind and actions, both with ourself and others.

#3 - Mon, 16 Feb - 1400 to 1500, amphi R
Self-love and the development and balancing of the inner child / inner parent within self.

#4- Wed, 25 Feb - 1200 to 1300, amphi R
Overcoming inner enemies - learning to deal with negative emotions and feelings.

Each of these classes will present the themes based around specific practical exercises that you can then start to apply into our daily life. After the class there will be a follow up email giving a synopsis of what has have covered, detailing how we can continue to integrate what we have learned into our life.
Pffff. It just rained in the past hour as much as it has in Fontainebleau for the past month or so! What a deluge!

And what a weekend. I could not resist the call from the Sea and I spent quite a bit of time on a little boat, sailing away on turquoise tropical waters. The water was so warm that one was tempted to capsize on purpose, just to freshen up. Readings for the first half of the week's classes started at the beach, and finished on the Sunday at school. I cannot decently work on such a heavenly island so I headed back on day earlier and stuffed my Sunday with readings, homework problems and group assignements, which I took me well into the night. Today I am studying all day.

Bintan is a lovely place, sort of Club Med resort. Nice sandy beach, coconut and palm trees, packed with tanned windsurfers, beach volleyball players and whitish newcomers who leave reddish. It is only 45 min away by ferry from Singapore and offers full-fledged hosting capabilities. The only downside is that for the price of two full meals in a local Singaporean food court, you get half a bottle of water in a Mana Mana beach restaurant.

But no, MBA is not about Mostly Beach Activities. Let us be clear. The program still has this intensity flavor to it, this whirlpool of events that quite completely absorb your time. There were quite a few of us going to Bintan, mostly P3s.

This week I must
- hand in my IT Management final group assignment
- hand in my OB class homework
- get a good grip on my OB class 25-page initial paper
- finalize my Ob project
- Get started on Power and Politics assignment
- organize National Week
- organize entrepreneurship workshop and a professional speaker event for my club
- become a member of the local sailing club and enquire about local license requirements
- finish all my readings for the week and do homework problems in Macro Economics
- figure out where I can move my furniture back home since one of my "hosts" is moving some place else
- find out where the library is
Heard in class and faithfully reported

- The French produce just as much as the American in one hour, if not more, when they work. They just don't work! -Macroeconomics Prof
- Macroeconomics is a Chicken and Eggs science - Macroeconomics prof

- Xin Nian Hau - Happy (Chinese) New Year in Mandarin. - Strategies for Asia-Pacific (prof speaks fluent Mandarin and often interjects some original Chinese phrases in the class)

Friday, January 16, 2004

Well - it is weekend time. Grades have been published and although I went through many ups and downs in P2 - I was pleasantly surprised at my performance, which was in all honesty, quite unexpected. My highest grades are in Strategies for Latin America and Strategy. My lowest grade is in Finance - unsurprisingly...

As I have said before, all this belongs to the past and one must look ahead.

My objective this weekend is multipolar. And very noble at that.
- fantastic time at the Beach (Bintan, Indonesia)
- organize my job search (Bintan, Indonesia)
- get going on the set up of some official club event this term (Bintan, Indonesia, the other club members are going to the same beach)
- do my readings for next week (Bintan, Indonesia)
- prepare my IT and Macro group assignment (Heritage View Residence Pool and BBQ tables)

Going out for drinks tonight at some bizarrely named bar and we are planning a play/theater evening next week sometime. Work has started though...I must also start up my 25-page narrative for the OB class, due mid-term...

Local travel agents and tourist resorts send out emails to the whole campus every Monday to advertise the special offers of the following weekend: my inbox was full of Golfers! Great Fares in Bintan; Bali, Island of your dream for a SPECIAL WEEKEND FARE; DIVERS RUSH and other superfluous items...

Life's tough. Viva la Vida.
Our IPA class is absolutely fabulous. The prof is my second INSEAD God after M. Brimm.

Heard in class and faithfully reported
- A cow in the EU makes more money than way over 2m people in the developing world. - Professor on inequalities worldwide and what was described as shameful agricultural policies of the Western world.

- I'd have to go and invade you, Mr A., to open this market - Professor to student on the difficulty of establishing free trade
- Excuse me? I sure don't like the idea to be "invaded" - student responded

- I have a tip for your business people: if you want to succeed in the US, make sure you can persuade Congress that your stuff is linked somehow to National Security. Intel did that and got shitload of money. No way anyone else on Earth can compete with them. - Professor on lobbying tactics

- Globalization is reversible. In fact, it has been reversed. The world was much more global at the end of the 19th Century when Britain played such a large role in protecting the maritime ways, with the Royal Navy, in providing efficient credit to the rest of the world through its London financial center.

- Post-war planning for WW II started in 1939 in the US, as soon as Germany invaded Poland. It was quite clear already to Congress that the fascist wouldn't win and they thought that they could get a massive advantage over the true ennemy: communism. - professor on the beginning of the Cold War
Our Asia-Pac class was a lot of fun today!

Instead of the prof giving a boring lecture on the Asian region, we all had to read up on the countries and come to class armed with memorized political, economic, geographic and historical data. We formed 9 groups and competed in rounds of Jeopardy Around Asia. The prof had actually programmed Excel to play the game for us.
We had several categories
- China
- Japan
- Korea
- NIEs (Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan)
- ASEAN (Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia)
And we could pick "answers" worth anything between 100 to 500 points.

It was SO much fun! My group didn't make it to the final round and I usually knew the questions to the answers when it wasn't our group's turn to play...Typical...

The prof also recommended the following reading:
- Gordon, The Modern History of Japan
- Spence, The Search for Modern China
- Fairbank, China
- Eckert et al., Korea Old and New
- Douglas Webber's cases on Indonesia (INSEAD)
- Rodan et al., The Political Economy of South-East Asia

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Last night BBQ's party at Dover ended up in the pool and in heavy rain. Whether it be from a purifying deluge from the sky, or chlorinated waters from the pool, everyone ended up completely drenched. Clothes do not dry easily. Beware.
Huh ho. Just realized that tomorrow is P2 grade distribution and publication of the first Dean's List for our promotion.
Academic Democracy: you have two cows. Your neighbors decide who get the milk.
A studious day in Singapore with morning classes.

6.45am: wake up call. I reach out for the alarm clock.
7.00am: second wake up call. I finally get up. The sun blaze is waging war with my sleep. The city is roaring, a few hundred meters below my feet. I distractedly open one eye to face an unidentified bug on my wall. I discover another insect specie in the shower. Maybe I should take photos and send samples to National Geographic.
7.30am: I wish I could dip into the pool but I must wait for my torn muscle to heal. So I just leisurely stroll to school, wave good morning at the guards as I walk by the security house.
7.40am: I pick up the Financial Times and a coffee, before I set about reading what happened in the world while I was sleeping. Sometimes I wonder how I could sleep through so many important events, and not even realize that they were taking place. The Internet certainly has increased my ubiquity potential but not quite solved my fundamental desire to be in more than one place at a time.
8.10am: check e-mails from the rest of the world and various news websites.
8.30am – 1.30pm: classes for the day, small coffee breaks. I salute the sun and the heat with dismay. I find tropical weather too humid. Classes are challenging, surprising and entertaining.
1.35pm: I have 25 minutes for lunch. We are sharing stories of some Zouk and Velvet adventures, over a bowl of rice, by the fishpond. The sun is at its zenith and burns our eyes with over-exposed rays.
2pm – 2.20pm: time I allow for administrative matters today, such as paying bills, faxing my Singaporean bank details for the third time to my French bank so that they finally get going with transfer of funds. I also booked ferry tickets for a beach trip to Malaysia this weekend. Quite a few of us are going.
2.20pm – 3.30pm: I must do some work for the club that I am heading here in Singapore. E-mails mainly at this stage, and organize our first gathering. I have a meeting tomorrow with the faculty about the organization of a day workshop on entrepreneurship.
3.30pm – 5pm: I have some more work to do around some National Week organization to which I am lending my support. We have just signed up a major supermarket. These activities get interrupted as friends are passing by. Little stories and questions are flying over the cubes, hands are waving. I still see smiles everywhere.
5pm – 7pm: I am getting ready for next day’s work and future assignments. I must write up a case on the fall of the Lehman Brothers Investment Bank; fill in a personality questionnaire and write two pages about myself; prepare my Macro Economics group assignment on Brazil and read up on Asia for tomorrow’s jeopardy. From time to time, I take a few minutes for a drink with fellow students.
7pm: I meet up with E., my Estonian co-consultant for my OB class. I am sadly thinking that I could be jogging, were it not for a slight but constant pain on my side. Sigh…Muscles take forever to get back into working order.
We cross over to the local food court for a working dinner. Everywhere around us people are reaching home, or waiting nervously around the various counters for their turn. The tables fill up and the place grows increasingly noisy. People eat without looking up. Their eyes stare at their plate as if their life depended on the continuity of the noodle that they are holding up to their mouth. Food courts look like pockets of India, parcels of China implanted in an industrialized city, smuggling in islands of authenticity.
We start talking about our project but soon digress. We are now touching upon spiritual and professional matters. The fact that more INSEAD students are joining us for beers does not help. Working dinners are not part of their repertoire and we finally retreat to campus.
8.15pm: I head back to the school for my evening work. I will post something on this blog. I will start my OB paper and get organized for a job search.
1am: the concept of time is the strangest one I have come across in my short existence. Some days just never seem to have an end. Some days traverse your life like a flash of lighting and leave you with the memory of an instant. I wake to the reality of having worked for hours without realizing it. Enough for the day. I will be heading home, wave good night to the guard, look with envy at the last swimmers, royally ignore the quadrupeds in the elevator and open the door of my suite with majesty, before collapsing onto my bed for a brainless sets of awkward dreams. It is 1.30am. I forgot to buy milk.
A warm welcome to a new INSEAD diarist at Thank you for giving us the French side of the story and congratulations on a very detailed and very funny journal!
I already got an insight into the local yacht racing circle. As soon as I get over this torn muscle, remains of some stupid car loading exercise over the Christmas break, I am on the water. It is the monsoon season right now and the wind situation looks very promising.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Singaporean Democracy: You have two cows. The government fines you for keeping two unlicensed farm animals in an apartment.
We had our first Strategies for Asia Pacific class with a German expert, widely considered one of the best teachers at INSEAD.
The most surprising thing is that we talked about everything but Asia during this first session. Friday’s class will be jeopardy on general Asian knowledge. Need to read up on the subject before making a fool of myself.

Looks like my professor panel this term is formed of the following nationalities: American (living in France), Bulgarian (living in France), Indian (living in Singapore), French (educated in the US and having lived in Japan) and German (educated in the US at Stanford and Harvard, fluent in Mandarin and Japanese...).
Heard in Class and Faithfully reported:

- “This guy obviously work a la L.B. Johnson. He uses a kiss and kill strategy.” – student in Power and Politics class

Since we discussed that the international system was an anarchical system, one proposed the need for alliances to seek protection.
"- but what is the problem with C. protecting you?" - International Political Analysis professor
-"He is French. He won't go to war" - student responding

"- I am just wondering how representative you lots are, of the public opinions in the world" - IPA professor
"- we are the elite of the future economy - what we think matters more than what the public thinks" - student responding

"-this is bullshit" - student arguing in IPA class

The IPA professor apologized profusely in class, indicating that he very rarely pushes his ideas forward.
"- I have little time for people who use discourse to divide us, to make us violent. I don't care who does it but I find it despicable"
We have handed in our first group assignment.

I was told that I had one of the most brilliant students at INSEAD in my new working group. GPA nearing 4.0, entered university at age 13, graduated with a Ph.D. at age 20, worked as VP for a bank in China. Well connected with the government, financial or private sector in Asia. He is currently doing his MBA, at age 23…He works a bit like a tornado in our group, storming into the meeting with astonishing remarks, miles above our normal reflection level.

My group (there are double nationalities, and beside me) would be a mix of German, French, British, Canadian, Thai, Indian, Chinese.
A little different from my P1/P2 buddies.

In terms of backgrounds (and in addition to mine), we now have a strategy consultant, banker, project manager, manager of small companies in emerging economies, genius.

I love my new group and the easygoing atmosphere that we have already created. 15 min for our Macro Economics assignments, which we all had previously prepared, goes down as a record in my INSEAD history book.
I love our International Political Analysis class. The professor is awesome. He is American and specialist in the field of international economic relations, author or editor of eleven books and many articles for professional and policy journals, and he is a frequent contributor to the International Herald Tribune. He has held positions at Harvard University, the Council of Foreign Relations, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. He also served in the US Navy where he held the rank of Commander. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Guests will be coming to lectures, such as the US Ambassador to Singapore and the Singaporean Minister of Foreign Affairs. Bound to be interesting. The professor realizes that we don't have enough time for debates in class, so he has opened lunch/coffee sessions to talk about world affairs.

This class is likely to be my big time favorite for this term. Needless to say that it is particularly lively in an INSEAD atmosphere.

The professor started off his first lecture with the following question to the class: “President Chirac in his New Year’s address to his country stated that the world had become multi-polar. Do you agree?”
After the whole class clashed in its various opinions, he went on. “Do you think that it is a desirable thing for the world to be multi-polar?”

Over to you.

Monday, January 12, 2004

We have had a few classes by now
- Managing Information Technology with an Indian professor
- Macroeconomics with a Bulgarian professor
- Power and Politics with a French professor, which I am thinking of replacing with another elective

I am really longing for International Political Analysis.

I would like to quote Irving Kristol (part of our readings for today) to see whether it arises thoughts in any of you. This was published in The National Interest of summer 1989, as a response to an article by Francis Fukuyama.
"The only way I know to liberate oneself from the Hegelian sensibility and mode of thought is to go back to Aristotle, and to his understanding that all forms of government - democracy, oligarchy, aristocracy, monarchy, tyranny- are inherently unstable, that all political regimes are inherently transitional, that the stability of all regimes is corrupted by the corrosive power of time. It is no accident-and here Aristotelian rhetoric is in accord with Hegelian- that the 20th century has witnessed a whole series of rebellions against secular-liberal-capitalist democracy. These rebellions have failed, but the sources of such rebellions remain. Which is to say that our American democracy, though seemingly triumphant, is at risk, and it is at risk, precisely because it is the kind of democracy it is, with all the problematics - as distinct from mere problems - that fester within such a democracy. Among such problematics are the longing for community, for spirituality, a growing distrust of technology, the confusion of liberty with license, and many others besides. We may have won the Cold War, which is nice -it's more than nice, it's wonderful. But this means that now the enemy is us, not them."

At the time of the article, Mr Kristol was publisher of the National Interest, and a distinguished fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Russian Communism: you have two cows. you have to take care of them but the government take all the milk.
I think that I digressed a little bit, talking about restaurants and other local creatures. So much that I forgot the most basic sense of politeness. I forgot to warmly and sincerely greet the new promotion. WELCOME TO INSEAD!

Friday, January 09, 2004

I was taken to a restaurant near Chinatown. Some Ginger Something Restaurant or something like that. Very nice and a little bit of a mix. Some Thai/Malay type mix.
My dessert featured some very smelly fruit of unknown chemical composition. Some delicious sweet paste and blurry soup. The most incredible part of the experience was around -I am not kidding- flashy green noodles. Same colors as these cookie decorations for kids. Fluorescent. They looked liked some big, artificial, tortuous and glutinous worm. Never seen anything like that before. Beats the live larvae of Ecuadorian jungle.
They were quite inoffensive in that I am struggling to remember any taste.
Just postponed Bali trip. Busy this weekend and busy Chinese Near Year weekend so I have decided to take it easy in-between. Might go to Malaysia for one day, as there is no need to fly out for that.
Sing Dog Day

I took the elevator to climb up to the 18th floor from which I largely dominate the city of singapore. As the doors were about to close around their precious cargo, a noisy quadrupede followed me into the elevator. As the doors were about to close around their cargo, the value of which is now unknown, the owner of the dog followed with a broken leash.
A few minutes later, I took the elevator to climb down from the ethearal heights of my 18th floor suite with panoramic view over the country of Singapore. On the 14th floor, a couple of people entered the elevator cage, with two little barking boxes. Surprised to find such behavior in otherwise peaceful looking objects, I ventured a look. I found myself face to face with two hairy quadrupedes.
As I exited the building to meet a few buddies at a local club, I noticed on my left-hand side, a sign marked "Dog Poo Pouch". Next time, I will take this sign with me into the elevator cage.
Came back to my apartment the other day. Something was not quite right. In fact, it looked like a typhoon had just visited the whole place, sat on the sofa, bamboozed into the kitchen, swept the table, washed away my room.
Everything was clean. Not one piece of dust, not one piece of paper out of place.

The cleaning lady had come for her weekly round.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Academic communism: you have two cows. Your neighbours help you to take care of them and you all share the milk.
Trip to Yogyakarta, Indonesia booked for the long weekend that we are granted to celebrate Chinese New Year. After that, it will become quite impossible to travel. Whoever chooses to go to Singapore for constant weekend travels is in for a bit of a disappointment. Similarly, do not go to Fontainebleau thinking that you will be going out in Paris every night.
MBA = Mostly Busy with Academics.
But then again, you can do the travelling or the clubbing for much much cheaper if this is where your interest lies.
Paris limits the number of its urban taxis, thereby creating a shortage of supply and driving all the prices up and the customers nuts. Not surprinsingly, all taxi drivers zip around in Mercedes. During the day, the Metro competes harshly with the 4-wheeled official cartel but if you are wandering in the streets of the City of Lights after 1am, you are on your own in a jungle of scarce drivers who will refuse to take you on if you are not going far enough for them to make the ride worthwhile!

Singapore has a free and open system. The longest I ever waited for a taxi was 4 minutes. Rides are cheap, drivers are courteous and knowledgeable. They drive well, ask you to buckle up, respect their load allowance and give way to pedestrians. And some of them also drive a Mercedes. In a city where owning a car must set you back a gzillion $$.
For an extra 1.5 euros, you can call ahead and reserve in advance. The central reservation system has a positioning system, based on the signal transmitted by your satellite mobile phone and a synthesized voice whispers to your ear: "You are located at 43 Holland Drive - you will be picked up in 2 minutes".
Bali - two weeks' time for a weekend escape with friends. Getting some travelling done before work hits too hard.
Opened a bank account today. It took exactly 7 min and I already have a working ATM card. It tooks ten days to obtain a credit card in France. The clerk also took the initative to print out all the details needed for an international transfer. I must quote the person who helped me with the operation:
"- I am sorry, I ask you to take a few minutes on your own to think about a 6-digit pincode for your ATM card? I really need to go to the bathroom. We have been so busy all morning that I never managed to escape for more than 2 seconds."

It is the first time that I am on the right side of an exchange rate since the beginning of my studies. Previously I was holding dollars and requested to settle bills in Euros. Now I hold Euros and I am paying in Sing$. There is a justice.
Other differences -

Fonty: all students live in different houses, usually reachable by car, through a picturesque ride through the forest. Most students will not have dinner together on a regular basis and lose sight of their classmates for the day, if nothing is planned for the evening.
Singy: 80% of the students live in two condominium complexes, right next to each other, with a pool (or pools) around which most students informally gather for talks. All students tend to shop at the same places, go to the same bars, eat out at the same restaurant or food courts.

Fonty: flying out anywhere is tricky as airport access it tricky. Driving anywhere is tricky as it takes a long time. Parking in Paris is a nightmare.
Singy: flying out from Singapore is trivial. Airport access is 10 euros away, that can be split between 4 students. There are cheap and regular shuttles to Kuala Lumpur, boats to Indonesia on a regular basis and cheap flights to more remote destinations. Local activities such as diving, sailing, farniente in the sun, tennis, jogging in the parks are very easy and at your doorsteps.

Fonty: very crowded
Singy: very informal, very flexible

Fonty: parties are organized at someone's place. DJ's are hired. A theme is proposed, most of them are costumed. They start around 10.30pm, finish in the early hour in the morning. National Weeks are big and varied.
Singy: informal parties are organized around the pool barbecue tables, then move into a bar or club downtown. It is not as intimate, have no theme, have no costume. We get to a club around 11.30pm and leave in the early hours of the morning.
Frequency of parties is similar. Attendance similar. And no, we do not party every day. And yes, there is a rotation in terms of attendance.

The library at Fontainebleau is large and offers a quiet working environment.
The library in Singapore is much smaller but there are many more closed and quiet working rooms.

Workload at Fonty and Singy is similar.
Based on my initial impressions of class interventions and private conversations, students here are just as bright, diverse and interesting.

Phone calls across campuses are considered internal calls and are free. There is a video link between the two campuses, which I have seen used - although at times switched on and sitting idle.

Still, the campus in Singapore is fairly new and some inconsistencies arise.

However, someone must explain to me how a school that is global, that has campuses across two continents completely integrated, that operates in the era of the Internet and seamless connections has to delete students' e-mailboxes on one campus in order to open an account on another campus. On top of that, WE are given a class on IT Management and how to align information technology with business strategy.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

My team building day was in the middle of the Fontainebleau forest for a pale imitation of The Visitors, and the wildest animal that we came across was a colony of ants.
The Singapore P1 students go to a local tropical island for a friendly remake of The Beach.

Coffee's free in Fontainebleau, at a charge in Singapore.
Quality of meals in Singapore campus cafeteria higher than in Fontainebleau cafeteria for a lower price.

There was only a couple of storeys to handle in Fontainebleau. In Singapore, there are 6 floors. 3 for MBA students' day to day activities (typical space management in town). My locker is on the 3rd floor and most of my classes take place in the groundfloor amphis. If I forget 1 pen, I lose 30 grams.

To illustrate the kindness of the local staff at INSEAD: my fork fell from my tray over lunch. Before I had time to realize it, one of the cashiers had left her post and was bending down to pick it up for me. She handed it over to me with the most fantastic smile.
There is no Pascale in Singapore.

I used to cycle for 25 min to reach campus. I now walk for 6 min.
Driving for 20 min would only take me from INSEAD to Samois Sur Seine. Here, a 20 min drive takes me to Malaysia.

Fontainebleau's closest link to the outside world in the Orly airport, 20 min away without traffic. Triple this time during peak hours.
Singapore's the busiest hub in South East Asia.

Tried the Sound Bar. Super cool.
I have not tried a cool bar in Fontainebleau.

Fortunately, Carrefour is available in both cities and IKEA's a 20min taxi ride away. All is well. I am not lost.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Work is slowly starting to develop but I still have time for trivia.

The air conditioning on the Asian campus was the object of a debate of the utmost importance: what temperature should be set in all rooms?

Outside temperature varies from 28 to 35 degrees Celsius during the year.

Professors wanted a low temperature as they gesticulate a lot more than students.
Participants wanted a higher temperature as they typically sit still for the entire duration of a class.

An international summit was immediately created to deal with matter at hand. A ferocious negotiation took place with mediators of the two bodies. Both sides stood their grounds. Long conversations establishing the various arguments ensued.

A temperature of 23 degrees Celsius was agreed upon.

I find it too cold for my 30 degree outfit. I bet that most professors still find it too hot. The beauty of compromise leaves no one truly satisfied with the actual result but content with the discussion and the idea that a common ground could be identified.
Heard in class and faithfully reported:

Power and Politics Class
The class was asked to come up with various sources of personal power:
Under "emotional and physical ability", do you include sex? I mean, as a way to get things done? - student commenting on a previous proposal

"Do not abuse me. You can do this once or twice, but not every week." Power and Politics teacher
Epiphany Day. The three Kings bring present to the Holy Child.

In France, families and friends gather around the Galette Des Rois, some almond based pie. A seed is hidden inside. The youngest of all goes under the table. The host picks each share and asks the youngest to determine who will get it. The person who has the seed in his or her share is crowned king of the day. Each king picks a queen and vice versa.

In Provence, they call it the Couronne Des Rois apparently (I tried both types). It is a crown-shape Brioche, with loads of fruits, sugar coating and other various fillings. It has a micro earthenware santon hidden inside, to help children construct their micro crib. The ritual is completely identical.
Functional, clean...and picky.

This morning, I was very politely told off by a guard because I was not walking on the little yellow footsteps, carefully painted on the sidewalk. This is to keep pedestrians out of the way and protect them from cars. It was 7.30am, there was not one car in sight.

The other day, I asked a taxi driver to stop in front of the store that I needed to go to. He said that he would not stop because he had to stop on the white lines, in front of the taxi stand. That was 800m further down.

On the other hand, taxis are a great way to get around the city/country. They are cheap, fast and numerous. You can just hail them, or reserve them ahead of time and pay an extra S$3, about 1.5 bucks.

I had to undergo a medical check for the student visa, including a lung X-Ray for SARS prevention. This was down in about 10 minutes, with a 5 minute wait time by a charming lady doctor. I booked the appointment yesterday. I will receive the results within two days, ready to be taken to the immigration office. That is what I call efficiency.

Monday, January 05, 2004

To be honest, if I did not know that Singapore was located in South East Asia, I could not tell.

The entrance of my residence with flowery fountains, a royal bridge over the various pools, decorated palm trees and clean alleys remind me of a Las Vegas hotel.
The large avenues with a grassy strip and a cement sidewalk reminds me of California.
The downtown area with loads of shopping malls plagued with overused air conditioning, large tropical looking parks and a wide hotel populated beachfront reminds me of Florida.
Traffic lights and little islands remind me of England. The circulation system reminds me of England.
The high percentage of Indian and Asian looking people reminds me of the West coast of the US with little islands of Asian life.
The high tech metro system reminds me of Japan.

Obviously, all this would be transposed a few degrees above the Equator and suffer from high levels of humidit and a 12-hour days all yaer round.
My wish list for this period's classes.

- Strategies for Asia Pacific
- Power and Politics
- Information Systems and Management
- International Political Analysis
- Macroeconomics in the Global Economy
- Self Assessment and Career Dynamics
- Strategic Alliances, Mergers and Acquisitions
- New Business Ventures
- Applied Corporation Finance
- Negotiation Analysis

I had to pick 5 of them...
Christmas in France. I was asked to post a typical Christmas menu. I was told that there was no such thing as each region of France will have a culinary specificity for the occasion. In fact, the reason why France has no national dish is because each region has a whole different set of recipes and picking one among all would be in conflict with one of the three governing principle of the Republic: Equality.

Nimes' dish was the Brandade de Morue, in Alsace, the "Saur kraut" French style is a typical dish, in Marseille, the Bouillabaisse, in Toulouse, the Cassoulet, in Brittany, the crepes, in Montelimar, the nougat, in the Bethmale Valley in Ariege, you can try a Croustade, in Savoie: tartiflette, cheese fondue or raclette, in Burgundy, meat fondue, in Grenoble, a Gratin Dauphinois, in the Gers, foie gras...Even wines, spirits and cheeses are specific to regions. Roquefort comes from the town of Roquefort, Champagne from the champagne region, Cognac from the town of cognac, Munster from the town of Munster, etc...etc...

However, it looks like there is some common factors to a Provencal Christmas meal. I can certainly talk about what I was served on that day.

The aperitif would be served with some pastis, muscat or port wine. At times, a kir.
There would be toasts with tapenade (salty olive paste); others with butter and anchovies, some olives with herbs and cheese cubes. Grilled sardines in the fireplace could complete the picture.

The starter would be served with a white wine from the North: Pouilly Fouisse. In our case, it consisted of a humongous tray of seafood, fished earlier during the day. Sea urchins, oysters, "violets" - whatever that is, prawns, and other various shells. Served with lemon and buttered bread.

We then continued onto the Foie Gras distribution, with another type of bread and no butter and a glass of Sauternes.

Courageously moving onto the main course: lamb with rissolees chestnuts, warm apple compote and green beans with herbs. Wine is now a red northen wine, from Burgundy. A Pommard for instance or a Gigondas.

The Cheese tray is served with lettuce and contains a least a dozen of different types of cheeses. Wine is a red Bordeaux, a Saint Julien.

I heard about the Buche Glacee as a typical mix between cake and ice cream for Christmas but in Provence, there were 13 desserts.
Dried fruits (figs, dates, prunes), fresh fruits: Christmas white grapes, two types of nougat (white and black with caramel), oranges, almonds, hazel nuts...
Among these 13 desserts was the typical Provencal cake, sold only on Christmas day: The Pompe. Ours had a slight taste of anisede.
Wine is champagne.

Quite a feast. Bon Appetit.
Aix-en-Provence is a lovely little city near the Mount Sainte Victoire, painted for eternity by a painter of colors: Paul Cezanne. In fact, what struck me in Provence was the incredible intensity and palette of colors. The sky seems to have a unique blue color, the hues are everything but timid and the acute contrasts hurt the novice eye. It is not surprising to me that Vincent Van Gogh was attracted by the beauty of the region.
The markets full of fruits and vegetables push out shades of yellows and reds over to everyone's basket, the sunburt faces of the fishermen of Marseille cut through the palor of the fresh fish lying in front of them. The eyes of the farmers and their arms open wide in front of their apron seem to invite everyone to the most delicious meal.

The region offers a splendid rocky coast, as if carved by the hand of God. The sea is so blue with deep turquoise patches and the cliffs are so powerfully colorful.
Food is fantastic too: go for a Bouillabaisse in the Panier quarter in Marseille, enjoy a pastis on the Canebiere, fill your memories with the most stunning view over the Bay from Notre Dame De La Garde, discover the castle in which the Iron Mask and the Count of Monte Cristo were imprisoned on the island of the Chateau d'If. Get a taste of the succulent Calissons d'Aix...

Take your meal to the beachfront. Sit in the sun and watch it die behind the horizon line.

In a word. Enjoy.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Outside temperature today is 28 degrees Celsius with 79% humidity, scattered clouds and a nice breeze. I live at the very top of a tower with a stunning view over the Singapore skyline, pools and fountains, lazy parks, a barbecue area, a karaoke center, a Home Theater room and a gym. I am sharing with a German January student and an American student on an exchange program. Quite a change from a vast old house in the woods.

Everything is clean. Everything is modern. Everything if functional. Everybody is polite. In fact, even the security guards seems to be there only to wave graciously at us and bid us a good evening.

INSEAD campus is smaller than the Fonty one, although you can easily recognize it as it's got the same couple of cranes and construction work.

I heard that chewing gum is a crime here and that the police don't like kidding around with the law. So we all are avoiding crossing outside of zebra crossings, when the light is green, walking on grassy patches...I smile at our ignorance but there is always a question in the back of our mind: is this allowed?
The city feels very safe. Crime rates are among the lowest in the world.

Most of the residence is full of INSEAD students. Everyone was reading tomorrow's case at the pool. We are all meeting for a barbecue party tonight. Professors teach in shorts.

Food is fantastic - and cheap. Mc Donald's is on the upper hand of the price range.

I feel like I have booked myself on some Club Med package. The reality of school has not hit hard yet and the whole place looks like a dream.
I will write more about holiday in Southern France but I must also begin to report about my Singaporean experience.

After eating nice perlardon cheese, with a local Pain de Campagne, accompanied by a lovely local wine; loosely dressed in T-shirt; facing the immensity of the Mediterranean sea and the surreal landscape of Marseille bay; cosily warmed up by a gentle winter sun, I threw myself into the harshness of a cold, misty and snowy Paris for one evening before taking off to Singapore.

I had mentioned that my original flight got cancelled. I was re-routed on a Singapore Airline direct flight from Paris. I spent my last evening in France eating out with a friend. Asian food for a pre-viewing of what awaits me. I will be arriving shortly before the Chinese New Year celebrations.

I had never flown Singapore Airlines but if my flight is anything to go by, I'd happily recommend it to anyone. The place was elegantly decorated for the holiday, the flight attendance wore delicate and colorful Asian dresses and were extremely helpful. The food was plentiful and nice - that is by airline standards. There was a choice of 29 movies, non stop for the entire duration of the flight (compared to an average of 6 with United...) and they were all on demand: one can pause, rewind, fast forward at any time. Blockbusters, favorites, showcase and international were the four movie categories. Music choices were extremely good and varied as well.

I got to Singapore at 7.30am, Singapore time. I would have to stay up for another long day.

It is time for a deep comment.
Fontainebleau was cold and cloudy when I left. Singapore is hot and sunny. Both places were humid.
I mentioned earlier on the automatic system for speed control in France, which systematically checks every single vehicle on the road, measures quite accurately its speed and mails you a fine within 48hrs, asking you to pay within 3 days.

The system locates your address using the registration number of your car.

According to national news, a farmer in central France received a fine for speeding (150km/h - the limitation on the highway is 130km/hr) and linked to his tractor!!!! I know that John Deere does wonders but I certainly had not heard of this model!
I talked to some locals in France, and pending any misunderstanding on my part, since the conversation took place in the language of Moliere, I can report about what Southern France's specimen nicknamed the "Luberonisation". While most economists agree on the benefits of trade liberalization, open frontiers and globalization, it is worth noting its impact on a certain class of people.

The Luberon is a lovely region, in the back country of Southern France, with gentle slopes, green woods, picturesque stone villages, engaging bell towers. All in all, a pleasant countryside. Most of its characters stems from the dominant agricultural activity. Most of its charms comes from the climate and the laid back way of life that characterizes this region.

This was not to go unnoticed. Most of the wealthier German, English and Dutch nomenclatura had heard of the beauty of the place, the peace of the hills and the happiness of its peasants. In search of tranquility, of authenticity, or of memories, these people bought out old houses, renovated them, turned them into mansions. They now spend a lot of vacation time in the region, and some of them are planning to retire there.

This had other consequences. Prices of houses sky rocketed, driving out all of the locals who could not afford them. It also drove out the peasants, small "artisans" and all the people who largely contributed to the cultural specificity of the place.

The Luberon now almost completely lacks professional activity as most of the houses belong to people that are either retired or come there for vacation. Its growth propescts are slim since prices are very high and drive out most businesses. The fun part is also gone as it has become a dull place to live in. The smiles on the local faces went away with their bearer.

The Southern coast of France, which I once visited many many years ago was very wild, colorful and noble. As the French Riviera got overbuilt, construction companies extended their reach to the entire coastline. I came back to hotels, resorts, and loads loads loads of villas, not always well designed, not always lost in vegetation. In many cases, they cut access to the sea, although all beaches are meant to be accessible and public, as the first 6m beyond the sea is what is called "Le Chemin Des Douaniers", the path of the custom officers. Tourism and residence building has become a major industry in the region, driving out locals from Aix en Provence and Montpellier. The TGV allows people to work in Lyon and even Paris and live in the South of France. A country with two development speeds? A nature in trouble? A great opportunity for highly paid Parisian bankers? Good news for the French tourism industry?

Sad reality or necessity of our time? I welcome your comments.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

There is this thing about the French and food...The French always seem to have some sort of wine or food celebration going on. Recently it was the Beaujolais nouveau, then Christmas comes with its shares of gargantua-like meals, then the New Year with rivers of champagne flooding dining room floors, followed by the Epiphany with its gateau des Roix, the Chandeleur with a crepes only evening and much much more to come, I am sure...
My globe trotter habits led me to Nimes, nicknamed the French Rome because of the presence of 7 hills around the gaullic city founded some 3000 years A.D.

Nîmes most prestigious history dates from the time when it was a colony under Latin law. The Emporer Octavius, who later became Augustus, defeated Cleopatra and Marc-Anthony at Actium in 30 BC. He ordered a special coin to be minted representing his victories in Egypt and the accession of the emperor to the colony of Nemausus.
The crocodile and palm tree became the symbol of the Roman town of Nîmes at this time as they represented this victory and the battle fought on African land at Actium.
He took the name of Augustus and became Emperor. Instead of marching into Rome through a newly erected gate like all his predecessors, he entered Nimes through the Augustus' Gate - still up in the city, close to the Eglise des Carmes. This caused a bit of a stir in Rome, and a big scandal at the Senate and Augustus only used Nimes as his main gaullic residence, which in turn upset everyone with an official title in Laugdanum (Lyon), the Roman capital of France at the time. There is another statue of a Roman Emperor in Nimes, which if my memory does not betray me is Constantin.

The status of colony under Latin law, gave the town its own authority. Ramparts were constructed and from the 1st century AD, prestigious monuments were built :
the Maison Carré (main temple on the forum, still visited today and host of many exhibitions), the theatre, the Temple of Diane, an aqueduct for channelling water from the Eure spring near Uzes (Pont du Gard).

At the end of the first century, the amphitheatre (Coliseum) was built, asserting the regional importance of the Roman colony. This Coliseum is still in use today for many concerts and bullfights as Nimes now has a hispanic character and offers Ferias with abrivados, bullfights, bodegas, etc...

The city is full of Roman remains (in fact whenever something new is built, all construction work is blocked for a good year to allow ample time to study ruins below the city) and artefacts and definitely offers an impressive palette of monuments. Every stone seems to have a story.

In addition to this, the Jardins de La Fontaine, large Renaissance gardens, designed by Le Notre, the same architect as the one drawing the map of the Versailles castle park, and its surrounding hills gives the traveler a glimpse of Tuscan Italy. The cathedral is carved out of a wonderful Roman style. In general, as one wanders in the street, one is bound to bump into some architectural wonder, a beautiful garden, a splendid church, a small and engaging latin-looking street.

This region was largely protestant and became a prime spot for the Sun King's army: The Dragons, sent out to exterminate the "Huguenots" after the revocation of the Edit de Nantes (previously signed by Henry IV who converted from protestantism to catholicism when crowned King of France, as the French Law only wanted catholic king). A famous protestant family from the region (Cevennes) who emigrated to the United States roundabout that time is the Roquefeuille family. The Anglo Saxons could not pronounce this name properly and deformed it into Rockefeller.

What Nimes seems to lack is the strong presence of a future-looking industry, which some people argue is beneficial as it prevented exponential growth which would have destroyed this spirit of small town. The city shares its universities and schools/lycees with neighbouring Montpellier which is demographically and economically exploding.

A stop that I can recommend to anyone in love with old stones impregnated with stories.