Consuming and commenting on 4 big global brands!

How would you feel if you were strolling in the port town of a Greek island, going down a quaint street full of tiny shops with artefacts & hand-made scarves and cute little cafes serving Greek coffee, and then…. you spotted a Starbucks?

I still don’t know if I felt “Yay, this town has Starbucks!” or “Oh no, why do they have Starbucks here?”

Do you know what I mean? I want to share my experiences with 4 massive global brands and how I feel about them. For me brands are about recognition and perception, and that’s what takes me back to them. Or not.

Starbucks:

Ok, I decided. I was not happy to see Starbucks in Heraklion, Crete. I did not travel to go into a new place and get Starbucks coffee and sit there with the same ambience which makes me feel like I am working in my home city. But yes, please I would any day have my Greek coffee!

While I am not a crazy fan of Starbucks coffee, I do have my favourites: the winter special Toffee Nut Latte and the Americano. Have you seen the number of Starbucks cafe thrown in the face at every corner in Hong Kong? So it’s a factor of availability and convenience. And it goes back to how I use this product and what it makes me feel. The environment is great for me when I need to sit and crunch some work.  However, there are tons of cafes in Hong Kong which have much better coffee and even better ambience, so I have explored and keep changing my working spot.

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Photo Credits: Google Images

With a market cap of $87 billion and strong global presence, Starbucks does have a strong brand presence in my opinion. And I still have a decent feeling towards it, maybe not love but affection to some extent.

Apple:

My first Apple product was the iPod, which my uncle in the US had gifted me. You know when India had no foreign brands and only family members in the “US” were the source of such “prestigious” products? Haha. Well, I adored the iPod. For a music freak, this was heaven. But I do remember having syncing nightmares where I had to sync with iTunes to put the songs on the iPod and the software version was never the latest and this process took HOURS. Also, as recently as 2011, Apple’s customer service in India SUCKED. My mom and I were frustrated beyond measure to get a problem fixed in the iPod, which eventually never got resolved, after we tried everything. That’s when the charm whatever it was faded for me. I never bought the iPhone for this reason, maybe.

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Photo Credits: Google Images

But when in China, this brand is the Apple of everyone’s eyes! As my Samsung S3 breathed its last, the time came for me to pick a new phone. Three months in Hong Kong and the Mainland, I had an overdose of Apple products all around me. Yes, I decided to buy an iPhone. I had to book an appointment for the 6s, I couldn’t just walk into the store. I tried twice and since it was full, gave up and bought the 6. I am not that person who’d wait in line to buy an Apple product. Haha.

I even have a photo of me selling out, my Apple-disapproving brother was not happy.

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Sell-out?

Last year, my Dell laptop also gave up on me and I posted on Facebook asking friends’ opinion for recommendations because tech decisions and I have a turbulent history. Well, it was a hands-down win for the Macbook. I went for it.

So, how do I feel about these products? Upfront, I am not a tech geek and maybe I am not even aware of more than half the features. But the use of the products has been smooth, seamless and easy. The biggest thing for me has been battery life! Also, multi-tasking and interface has been great. Ok, I have dropped and crashed my phone some 3 times – the glass is fragile or I have butter fingers. I also did not invest in a sturdy cover. So I don’t know who to blame here?

With a massive ~$700 billion market capitalisation, Apple’s brand dominance is real. The craze to upgrade to the latest version – while I heard about it in India, I saw it in Hong Kong. Out of my MBA class of 50 people from 16 countries, 35 had Macbooks. But I am not sure, is it marketing or really the best product out there? Is it worth the price? Is it a me-too wave? What really are the features you should really buy Apple for? I am not too sure, but I can say I am a happy consumer 🙂

Uber: 

Convenience! That’s the word. This has been a fallback, ease and boon for the traveller. While I am all for figuring out local transport and getting the real feel of a city, Uber has been phenomenal. Stuck somewhere? Don’t know how to reach a place? Don’t want to think? Just a short ride? Just Uber it. The cashless angle is so hassle-free for a traveller in a new city. Also, usually, the Uber drivers are chatty and willing to give recommendations around the city. Even within the city, for example in my hometown, Delhi, people have started using Uber regularly to work. It’s just more convenient than driving your own car in the mad traffic.

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Photo Credits: Google Images

I Ubered my way in London, Manchester, Prague, Delhi and my experience till date has been positive. I like how Uber has become a verb and how relatable this is. My best experience was in Manchester, when we went pub hopping at night. I ended up chatting with almost all the drivers, who were very helpful and mostly belonged to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. It was super interesting to talk to them and no we didn’t have any frictions.

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The Manchester Crew

But when I am using this brand, the issues surrounding the brand globally are definitely on my mind. Safety, capital burning, horrifying remarks from the CEO, reports of a misogynistic workplace and in general new scandals propping up regularly. Does it make me change my preferences as a consumer? Yes, it does. One can choose to be indifferent or one can choose to be careful. I do appreciate the fantastic idea behind Uber but don’t know where the company’s future is headed, if such is the culture and thought process of the company. At the same time, the company has been valued at ~$70 Billion and is gearing up for its IPO, I believe. But I do not have any comments on its valuation. I mean $70 B?

Airbnb:

I’d say Comfort! What a concept!

Fantastic homes in superb locations, with reasonable prices and a local friend! I mean I really love Airbnb. But I preferred to use it when travelling in groups. I am not much of a solo traveller, and if I am then I prefer a crowded hostel or hotel for sure. My favourite Airbnb experience was with my family in Prague. It was a wonderful two bedroom house and the four of us fit right in. It was introducing the concept to my parents and it was awesome how they analysed different aspects and compared their experience with their usual hotel stay.

The brand has a great global reach. Also, I am loving their partnerships in the travel space and beyond, especially the most recent one with Sofar Sounds. Despite incidents of the platform not being used in line with the policies, I like this company. Recently valued at ~$31 Billion, this tech start-up is profitable! I am excited to follow Airbnb and see where it goes.

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The living room of our accommodation! Photo Credits: Airbnb

So that’s a wrap! Some Prague photos, because I mean just look how beautiful it is:

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Note: All figures in USD and are provided for rough estimation only. Sourced from publicly available databases.  This blog post is not for informational purpose, it is purely based on my very biased opinion 😀

3 things I missed as an Indian student in Hong Kong

I lived in Beijing, Hong Kong and London during the MBA journey. I spent the maximum time in Hong Kong – 8 months – my first living abroad experience. Here are the top three things I missed as a student. Of course, being Indian added other interesting elements.

1.FOOD: Price and Variety
As an Indian, the first and constant thing I missed was the food. Firstly, food is expensive for a student in Hong Kong. Secondly, there is a major lack of street food options, which we Indians thrive on.
I will admit though that when I just moved, because of the language barrier, I did not explore the very local Chinese places, where one can find tasty food at reasonable prices.

Another thing I and most of the Indians found difficult to digest (pun intended) was the concept of salads as meals. We do not eat salads. Period. Well, we start with a sumptuous breakfast, then a tiny snack before lunch, followed by a hearty lunch. After that it’s time for tea time snacks, munching on random stuff before dinner and finally dinner around 9 pm. Where is the need for salads? But I developed a mentality for having salads as a meal. I think it was because the vegetables are much fresher and there is greater variety in the components and dressing. And it was legitimately filling.
Definitely, there were Indian food options too, but it would usually get heavy and also lacked the original taste to a great extent. If something could get me to cook, it was the desire to eat Indian. And to fulfil this, Apoorva was my saviour! Thankfully she knew how to cook and I happily assumed the role of a helper. We cooked chicken curry and jeera aloo (Potato dish) on few occasions when the workload was bearable.  We cribbed about food together and got excited about the prospect of going home for holidays only because of the food! I was so motivated that I learnt the recipe of Shorshe maach (Fish in Mustard curry, typical Bengali cuisine) from my thaku ma (grandmother) and cooked it in Hong Kong 3-4 times! Me!?


In hindsight, as a student- on a budget-in a fast-paced 1 year MBA program- it isn’t easy to discover/look for the best food options. So I winged it more or less. And adaptability is a good policy! I explored new cuisines, understood what a satisfying meal feels like, discovered my preferences and realised how important it is to eat properly. I think I have adapted to a variety of flavours by now. I really like the very local Cha siu bao (Cantonese pork bun), will happily eat at Cafe de Coral (yes, my friends here can go ahead and give me a disbelieving look), love sushi now, explored Vietnamese, Korean and Singaporean fast food options, among many others. Also for the Indian touch, I was recently introduced to an awesome Nepali place which has the best momos and chai (tea) in town. So food discovery is a constant process and one which I embrace happily.


2. TRANSPORT: Well-connected and efficient yet where is my autorickshaw?  

Let’s just say there is a lot of walking involved, which we don’t do at all in India. The Metro (MTR) is very well organized but some stations have SO much walking involved inside to reach certain exits, it’s like a mini trek. I was definitely not used to that. Also, within the Hong Kong Island, one can usually walk to most places. There is a culture of walking to reach your destination. In Delhi, for one you cannot walk as there is no place to. Footpaths exist but they are for hawkers or they are not well-connected to reach anywhere. Further, there is limited respect for a pedestrian, so it is highly likely it will be a frustrating experience to navigate your way.


What did I miss the most? Autorickshaws! Some locations can be very far from the MTR exit. So when you get out of the exit, you still have to walk 10 minutes to reach your destination. In Delhi, when you get out on the exit, there is a line of autorickshaws, so you don’t even have to walk two seconds. Finally, I missed my car. In Delhi, besides the Metro, the public transport is not well developed so the first option is always one’s car. That luxury was definitely lost as a student and that too in Hong Kong.
In all, due to my walking adventures in Hong Kong, I broke two pairs of sandals which just wore out! 

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Miss you laa!

But yes, I appreciate the organisation and connectivity that this city offers. Hong Kong has a very efficient and affordable public transport system- buses, trams, ferry and MTR- you can get to anywhere in good time. And if need be, even the taxi is a feasible option. A special mention to my favourite mode of transport in HK- the tram. It’s cheap ass, has a well connected network and is really convenient on the Island!

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The tram!! Photo by Musheer Ahmed

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Taxi Mesh. Photo by Musheer Ahmed

Photo credits: Musheer Ahmed. Check out the Facebook Page here!
3. HOUSE SIZE: Life in a room 
I am going to sound pompous, but oh well~

Most of us back home have decent sized houses, which accommodate joint families and usually have a garden/backyard/basement/terrace included. We also have separate rooms such as TV room/ guest room/own room/parents’ room/dining/kitchen. And then you move to Hong Kong to live in a room which is smaller than half of any of the above rooms :D.

The double whammy is the ridiculously inflated property market in Hong Kong and that one is a student! Icing on the cake is of course, that Hong Kong features in top 2 most expensive cities in the world in different studies: Knight Frank Report and Economist Intelligence Unit Report.

So one misses the expanse and comfort of SPACE. At the same time, I realized the value of it. I know I am damn lazy when it comes to cleaning my room but if I didn’t, I would not have any area left to put my foot in! My room is never in a photo worthy state, so no pictures here :/
I push and pull, adapt and change, accept and enjoy. Whatever I don’t like, it means it’s time to change the situation. Settled and found solutions (although no replacements) to each of the above mentioned misses!

Life’s about the people, no?

It’s always about the people. The people who matter and who don’t.

The zealous ones who became my mentors. They invest in you, believe in you and provide their time, resources, experience and advice. These are the people who listen to you then tell you you can achieve much more! Everything I valued so much and without which I would not be where I am today.

The unexpected ones who became my angels, lifting me up during dark times. Just when you thought that not even one ray of light would shine on you, they came out of nowhere to be the whole sun with all its warmth. I thank them with all my heart and wonder how they were placed to enter my life when they did.

The strangers who stoked the flames and then washed out my fire. They are strangers because it’s like I never knew them. I am surprised at how their negative energy sapped my essence, but probably I have become a bit wiser and stronger with the multiple lessons I learnt.

The genuine ones who became incredible friends. You hang with them and like their company and you are delightfully pleased when they are there for you. I discovered them a bit more, shared my joy and laughed a lot. I felt warm around them and valued their presence around me.

The family and friends whom I came back to. My very foundation, my strength and support. Time may pass and distance may grow, but our connection magnifies every single time. They know me in and out and they make me who I am today. These are my people.

The random people who brought a smile to my face and made me feel good inside. A passing smile, a caring gesture, a good conversation, a good morning greeting – just a hint of humanity through people I met in various parts of the world.

Maybe people are not black or white. Neither are they grey. No, people are five times all the colours in the rainbow. Which colour you experience is what they want to show you. So be prepared to decipher the right hue and assess whether it matches with yours. Ultimately, it’s all about the people we meet, give our time to, observe, look up to, help, cry and laugh with.

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Photo Credits (for both images): Ronald Kwok 

How living abroad has made me reflect on my Hindi

Disclaimers:

*** This is an introspective post. What I am writing is a result of my experiences and opinions***

*** This is not a politically inclined post***

Let’s go?

When you go through a new experience – is it really a brand new experience or just changes your perspective about an old experience? Multiple encounters and situations have made me reflect on what this post is about.

Greetings:

I visited a couple of countries recently and lived in four in the past 1.5 year. The most striking thing was how people of each country greet “hello” and “thank you” in their local language. It’s easy for people if you use just these two words – it makes people happy and open to help you. I realized that back home, we have stopped using the Hindi for Hello and Thank You –Namaste and Dhanyavad all together. Namaste is used to only greet elders to show respect and way too formal in our culture. With parents, friends and anyone new we use Hi, Hello, What’s up. As for Dhanyavad, it is happily replaced with Thank You as everyone does understand Thank You. Last time I went back home, I tried using Namaste and Dhanyavad and see how it felt. I said Namaste to the immigration officer and Dhanyavad generally to my friends, grocery guy, auto-walah. I just felt good, as if I am doing something right. When I used Namaste and Dhanyavad with my friends they just said who uses that. I mean if context be explained, it is really uncommon to use our own language greetings and if I think about it, it is purely strange.

Teaching Hindi:

While I was in Yangon, I became good friends with Ling. I met her at a walking tour and we hit it off, given our cultural exchange. I had learnt Mandarin and she was trying to learn Hindi! So we got talking and eventually she asked me to teach her basic Hindi. I had three months in Yangon and I thought if someone wants to learn my language, I should be helpful! So we started off with some basic lessons. Two things which were difficult to really explain were the importance given to respect i.e. how verbs change depending on whom you are talking to and of course the change of verbs based on the gender of the noun. One day Ling messaged me in Hindi on Whatsapp as practice, she found the word “Arrey Wah” quite fun to use. I realised I did not have the Hindi keyboard enabled on my phone. I or the circle of people I know do not use Hindi text at all. This was a realization. Yes, we talk in Hindi on text but we write it in English itself. I still can’t figure a reason for this.

Digging deeper:

Since childhood, I learnt both Hindi and English together at home. More importantly, the medium of instruction for education was English. This is a key differentiator when compared to generally people from other countries where they learn English as a separate language while other subjects are taught in local language. So I learnt Hindi as a second language. Also, speaking in Hindi and learning Hindi at school were two very different aspects. We just don’t speak the way we write it or are expected to express ourselves for exams. Over time, our colloquial speech has become Hinglish, where we mix and mash Hindi and English words as we please. If you asked me to speak 5 sentences in pure Hindi, I’d probably struggle with that.

Another aspect was that the Hindi teachers at school were plain uninspiring. I am not disregarding their knowledge but their presentation, delivery and approach to teaching the language was so dry and not something we looked forward to. I can only remember two authors whom I enjoyed reading: Kabir ke dohe (couplets by the poet Kabir) and Premchand’s stories. Out of school curriculum, I read Chacha Chaudhary (Hindi comics), which was super engaging and a fun experience. I don’t think school focused on anything beyond the curriculum, which in my opinion is a recipe for disaster.

My mother used to teach me Hindi and I remember how frustrated she was with me. Her Hindi is super and she was sad to see me 1) not enjoying learning the language 2) not making much effort except to get those marks in exams. I eventually dropped the language in Class 8th and chose French instead.

Position of English:

English has been one of the most useful legacies of the British era. India is united by English, given its multiple languages in different regions. Our adaptability to English has enabled created plethora of jobs and taken Indians further in life and the world. Today, if the Chinese could master English, Indians would really have causes to worry.

With all its merits, English also brought a significant class division in society. It is perceived often (at least where I have grown up in Delhi) that if you don’t know English, you are not educated. It is sad and improper, but it has been quite blatant.

When I reflected on why I am not closer to my mother tongue, I found an answer. My thought process is in English. My urge to express -when I feel something compelling be it in doses of love or bouts of anger or this blog post- is in English. But then, some forms of expression are just possible in Hindi: for instance certain songs have such nuances which only Hindi can bring out or sometimes you want to abuse in a way only Hindi abuses would suffice haha.

So what now?

I think we adapted to certain things through which we saw progress and a way to a better life. But for me, it should not be about leaving those things behind which define you or are your identity. Personally, I need to make an extra effort to ensure that I am satisfied with my Hindi. I look at Amitabh Bachchan as an inspiration. He is someone who can express beautifully in both Hindi and English- his articulation is impeccable. When he hosted the super popular game show, Kaun Banega Crorepati, his use of Hindi was so perfect that one was intrigued to understand or learn words which were unfamiliar. This year, I plan to read some Hindi literature – to touch base, to revive, to be better at the language which is mine.

Ending note:

Unrelated to this post, but I composed a few lines in Hindi randomly. I was chatting with my friend and just wanted to be a bit dramatic given how life is at times. It took me just a minute to write in the flow of the conversation. I’ll share that as an ending note:

“कहते है कि अपनी मंज़िल खुद तह कर सकते है। कहते है और हम मानते भी है। लेकिन अब तो  ऐसा लगता है कि सब लिखा हुआ है और हम तो बस कठपुतली है।”

(They say that you can decide your own destiny. They say and we agree. But now it seems everything is already written and we are just puppets in the hands of destiny)

Welcome to my world :)

Smile. Breathe. Giggle

The sun is glowing, welcoming a bright day

It’s freedom and liberation

I want to face the day with my head held high and hair flying in all directions

 

Swing. Sway. Live

The beat is pumping, drawing me in

I twirl and twist, lost in the rhythm

I want to be in this moment and never let go

 

Strum. Thrash. Headbang

The double bass is building up

It’s almost time for the solo

I want to immerse in the music and feel the madness of it all

 

Speak. Listen. Share

Words are flowing and stories are linking

I connect, laugh, hear, argue

I want to talk in awe and animation

 

Trust. Expect. Hold on.

People come and people go

It’s easy to nurture the relationships which matter

I want to believe people and hope that they mean what they say

 

Always embracing, born vivacious, and forever untameable.

 

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The little joys which brighten me.  Photo credits: Tanmay Shah

 

 

 

 

5 experiences that I loved in Yangon

Blog post #3 on my Myanmar expedition!

I would love to share 5 things that I found very interesting in Yangon.

  1. Buzzy Mornings:

I was living in Yaw Min Ghi area, an expat-friendly area. The street was full of restaurants and cafes- ranging from from local tea shops to Japanese sushi places. But mornings were a party of their own. I would walk up to a point to get a taxi for work and this walk was the best part of my day. Both sides of the street were lined with pop-up carts- selling different kind of local breakfast items- hot pancakes, eggs, and other fried things. There were also carts of fruits, vegetables and fresh flowers. I was greeted with smiles and chitter-chatter. The people were in full swing for the morning and their energy was infectious.

Another feature of Yangon mornings was the Buddhist monks’ alms round. Every morning the monks leave their monastery and walk barefooted with the alms bowl to accept food donation. People prepare the food and wait outside their houses. As the monks arrive, they offer the food. The Buddha’s teachings suggest that giving and receiving alms creates a spiritual connection between the monks and the common people. So my mornings were calm yet energetic and truly uplifting!

 

 

 

2. Crossing the road:

When you are from India, how much worse can crossing a road be? Well, it can. In Yangon, the roads are underdeveloped and there is no concept of a pedestrian traffic signal. So your best bet is just to cross the road, as you please. I have seen people walk into full-on traffic, show their hand and cross the road like a boss. The big difference here is that vehicles actually stop when you do that. You can’t carry that off in India- you will get hit for sure.

So given my knowledge of traffic in India and my infamous accident in Hong Kong, I was petrified to cross the road in Yangon. I have waited for 10 minutes for cars to thin down so I could find the right time to cross. Eventually, I lost my patience, and tried the local way. It worked!

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Ahlon-Bago intersection

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Just a pretty road, during off-peak hours 

 

3. Being confused for a local:

Indians account for around 2% of Myanmar’s population at present. Most ancestors emigrated to Burma during the British rule and played an important role in Burma’s history as civil servants, engineers, soldiers and traders. History suggests ethnic Indians had a somewhat turbulent time in Burma, but I am not going to delve into that for now.

I observed that the ethnic Indians see themselves belonging to Myanmar as they have lived there for over 5 generations. Yangon and Mandalay have the majority of the Indian population. So when I was in Yangon, I was often confused for a local. People would just start speaking to me in Myanmar, without any doubts. In fact, at a famous tourist attraction, Kandwagyi lake, I almost got the lower entrance fee for locals instead of paying the charge for foreigners. It’s just that I didn’t understand what they were saying, that they realised I am not local. Haha! I finally learnt how to say “I don’t speak Myanmar language” in Myanmar language.

But I did embrace everything local I could. I thoroughly enjoyed the food, which in my opinion, is a blend of Oriental and Indian cuisine with a unique Burmese flavour. I also enjoyed wearing the Longyi, which really suited me and confirmed my local look! Also, I made many local friends, who had origins from Nepal, India and China. They showed me around their city with a lot of pride and care. A big shoutout to Jessica, Tinzar, Medha, Yu Yu and Geeta for being so lovely!

 

4. Teaching Bollywood dance:

The private equity fund I was interning at has made 9 investments in Myanmar, one of which is a gym. It was conveniently located on the second floor of the office building, so I decided to join it. The attractive thing for me was the various dance classes- Zumba and Body jam- and the flexibility of attending any class at any time. The instructors were superb and infused amazing energy! I absolutely loved the dance classes. I attended the gym regularly for two months- which is something for me- since I find gym boring as a concept.

It was my mother who suggested that I could try taking my own classes. She is always the one with the ideas, inspiring me and everyone around her. I suggested Bollywood classes and we did a trial class. It was so well-received! The locals absolutely loved it- reactions I received were “it felt like we were in a Bollywood movie” and “we have seen the dances on TV but didn’t think we could do it“. It was a wonderful feeling to share my love for dance! The first song I put in my routine was recommended by a good friend, Musheer and was very apt- Mere piya gaye Rangoon- a classic Bollywood song about a lover going off to Rangoon and calling on the phone from there.

I found a fan in Rommie- a fifth generation Indian- who thoroughly enjoyed my class. I also met Medha – Myanmar-Nepali- a fabulous dancer herself! And my dear friend Joana attended my classes as well. Surprisingly, some men also attended the class and had a delightful time! It was joy, hip rolls, energy, smiles and 1 hour of intense workout! Link to a sneak peak of the class: https://www.facebook.com/kritika.kumar7/videos/10157705395685008/?l=1039638281381106422

 

5. Representing a reputed company:

I thrive on being an active member of the community I live and work in. Thus, it was my endeavour to understand the investment community in Yangon and also increase my knowledge of what people were doing in Yangon. It was a great feeling to represent my company, which has built its reputation since it started three years ago. Having made 9 investments in startups and small-scale local businesses, it has achieved a respectable position in the community. The co-founders – having extensive experience in private equity across Asia- are committed to provide their expertise to nurture local talent and businesses. I could see the impact – creation of jobs, investment in human capital and increasing knowledge of how to run a successful business.

The future is bright and beckons the right people! Lots to do and more to achieve.

The three best bloopers during my MBA

You’ve lived at home all your life. You’ve travelled around a lot on vacations. But you haven’t lived away from home. Ever. Then you go for your MBA – one year programme, three cities and as intensive as it can get.

Combine that with me. I’m that person who friends call up to find out, “now what happened with you?” . In hindsight, I think my stories are quite funny. But when shit happens, it’s a roller coaster ride. Allow me to share three of the many bloopers I had during the MBA.

  1. Mild: Losing my spectacles- in style-to the ocean

The classic HK junk boat party. A perfect way for MBAs to celebrate anything. Take the boat, fill it with goodies, arrange good music and set sail. It was two months into the MBA and this was just the beginning of many things I misplaced during my exciting year out. I was sitting by the edge of the boat when a dear friend pushed me into the water. I was taken by surprise and when I emerged out, I pushed my spectacles up to clean my eyes. In a fraction of a second, the spectacles fell from my head and drowned in the water. :X

It did hurt that they were an expensive pair. And also that I wasn’t drunk to blame it on that. I did try to blame the dear friend, but other friends said it really wasn’t his fault 😛

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Farewell.

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The HKU MBA crew

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~Fun times~

2. Milder: Missing a flight –wait for it– to Ibiza

Well, I still don’t know how it happened. I had been involved in all the planning, booked accommodation for everyone and was super excited about making this a fantastic holiday.

We managed to take out only 3 days when everyone could make it. So to maximize my time, I took a Friday morning flight say costing 3X the normal price.

My flight was at 8:40 am and I woke up at 9:30 to realize that I had MISSED my flight. How did this happen? I slept around 4 am, expecting to wake up at 6:30 am. Recipe for disaster. I could not sleep the previous night, maybe out of excitement. Again, I wasn’t drunk! As I scrambled to realize just what had happened, I rushed to the airport- hoping that maybe I can be accommodated somehow. Never a more annoying city than London with its goddamn 5 airports. These airports are spread over the city – almost 2-3 hours away from each other.

It was a frenzy. Obviously the flight did not accommodate me in any which way. I contemplated booking another flight which was 5 hours later from the airport at the opposite end of the city. My friends who had already reached Ibiza helped me with a cost-benefit analysis and convinced me to just take that and come. So I paid 2X the normal price and booked the ticket. I barely made it for this flight because the bus took forever to reach the other airport! When I was finally in the plane, I could hardly believe it. Interestingly, the flight was full of 4 bachelor and 4 bachelorette party groups. The pilot announced that he wouldn’t take off till the people calmed down and stopped talking. It was so hilarious. The only moment of comic relief in my entire day.

Anyway, I am glad that I went for the trip despite shelling out 5X eventually. It was worth everything and we had a time to remember!

 

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A beautiful beach

3. Mildest: Getting hit by a taxi –not in India but– in Hong Kong

This is the most ridiculous thing to have happened. Also quite painful- physically and emotionally. I was just crossing the road in front of my hostel – there is no traffic light there- and I miscalculated the traffic. There was a slow vehicle so I thought I could cross but a taxi came from behind that car and hit me. I was hurled to the side and had some swelling and bleeding. It was quite horrific. Passers-by were super helpful and immediately called for an ambulance. Thankfully, it was nothing serious. Both my legs were hurt and I had to wait in emergency for 2 hours before I was treated. I got some stitches near my ankle and a massive wound under my knee. It knocked me out as I could hardly walk. I am really thankful to my friends who came immediately to the hospital in the hour of need and stayed with me till it was treated. I couldn’t have coped without them around me.

It sounds so stupid to be hit in Hong Kong rather than in India- where the probability is much higher. But so is life. It was a depressing time, with daily dressing changes and inability to walk around much. I seriously missed home for the first time so much. It took about a month to fully recover, but thankfully it was nothing serious.

Good to have the HKID – considerably subsidised cost of treatment. The support of my friends was the most healing factor. Everyone’s so busy in their packed MBA lives, so it is hard to take out time. Again, I wasn’t drunk at the time of crossing the road- although my mother did not believe that :/

Till date, I am scared to cross ANY road. Learnt my lesson, nice and well 😛 I do have a photo of me on the wheelchair at the hospital, grinning away. I think it’s a bit disturbing, so I’ll let it be.

Well, in times of distress and chaos, you find the people who descend as angels to support you. These experiences taught me that sometimes there are mistakes to make and losses to take, but everything resets to normal with a new sense of understanding.

So go ahead, give me a call. And I’ll share what happened with me. Just yesterday!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Localise with Alcohol

The perfect kick: trying the local alcohol of a new country/region!

So when I got my travel boots on last year, I made a dash for all the local booze. And obviously, it makes perfect sense to have the right crazy people to get inebriated with! Thought I’d share my experience with each, listing the place I visited and then the drinks I tried!

1. China (Beijing)

Baijiu (Rice wine), Tsingtao (Beer)

Sooo, my MBA journey at HKU-LBS started with Beijing. One of the most memorable experiences, a big part of which was Baijiu and the things it did to us. Haha for 4 RMB, you get a tiny bottle of explosive shit. With 40-60% ABV and a taste very much like vomit IMO, Baijiu was my classmates’ weapon for destruction, EVERY NIGHT. Okay, not every night, but they went crazeballs with it. At first, we were mixing soft drinks but eventually it was just straight off the bottle. And the stories it created! #notsayinganymore. Glad to have the crazy MBA classmates to experience this one! Gānbēi!

I liked Tsingtao – favourite choice on campus! Yes, we were on a campus in Beijing, learning Mandarin and drinking beer. That’s the thing with China, the alcohol was so cheap, there was no reason, not to!

2. Indonesia (Bali)

Bintang (Beer), Bintang Radler (I’d call it lemon juice)

Brought in the new year 2016 in Bali with my craziest friends from school. I honestly don’t remember the particular taste of Bintang but I am sure I liked it 😛 We stocked up our villa with a lot of Bintang, but there was a lot of other booze happening as well.

Bintang Radler is this light lemon beer? I am not sure but it was our substitute for water. Who goes on a vacation and has water, right? It was only 2% ABV but hey wake up and let’s start drinking Radler.

3. Japan (Tokyo, Atami, Kyoto, Osaka)

Asahi (Beer), Yamazaki (Whiskey), Sake (Rice Wine), Umeshu (Kind of like Plum wine)

Kanpai! Japan, how do I even start? My classmate, Kou san organized the most epic trip ever. I absolutely fell in love with the country and its hospitality. The best part was the visit to the Suntory Yamazaki distillery. Yamazaki was named the best whiskey in the world. The tasting experience was fantastic- tried 4 different whiskeys (one of which was a reserve) and I believe got drunk with just that. Could feel the smoothness or not of the various types – quite revealing! 

I discovered that I love Sake- the perfect accompaniment with sushi. Well, it is quite potent for me and I enjoy it cold. One surprising thing was how much I liked Umeshu -fruit based liqueur. I usually dislike sweet alcohol but this was yummers!

4. UK (Manchester, London)

Craft beer

On a road trip from London to Manchester, the crazy MBAs chanced upon this countryside pub. Decided to just stop over and see the place. It was a pub with a farm behind- such amazing views. Locally brewed beer is the best in the UK. I don’t have perfect knowledge about the different brews, but there was such crazy variety! Excellent beer and superb location. I loved how each brew had its unique flavour. 

img_4730img_4717Let's localize with alcohol :DLet's localize with alcohol :D

5. Czech Repulic (Prague, Cesky Krumlov)

Pilsner Urquell, Budweiser-Budvar, Kozel

Czech Republic- the beer capital of the world – calling beer “liquid bread” and consuming the highest 161 litres per capita, this country knows how to drink! They are brewing since 993 AD it seems. I went on a family vacation and it was lovely for the four of us to bond over beer. My dad went for the Kozel black and oh my- it was this smoky brew- I simply loved it. The Pilsner Urquell is a pale lager beer at its finest. Interesting fact about Budweiser- the original Budweiser was founded in the city of Budweis in 1785. The US company Anheuser-Busch borrowed the name for its famous Budweiser. So there are two Buds- the Czech and the American. 

6. Singapore

Singapore Sling (Gin-based cocktail)

On the career trek to Singapore, I tried the famous Singapore Sling. I didn’t like it though, too sweet for me. The partying in Singapore was cray though. Sleeping at 3 am and dashing for a company visit at 8 am, not the best memory 😛

5. India (Delhi)

Bira 91 (Beer)

You can’t not be jumping with joy when such a fantastic wheat beer is locally crafted in your country by a kickass beer start-up? Whattt! Although the first batch was produced in Belgium, they are now shifting production to India. It became so popular in India, it sold out! Thankfully, back now. I LOVED the Bira White. Just perfection. And so proud. Obviously with besties, it just tastes the best too.

bira

6. Myanmar (Yangon, Bali)

Myanmar beer, Palm wine

I really liked Myanmar beer- perfect taste! As for the palm wine (made out of sap of the palm tree), it was like rice wine – again only if one wants to get smashed up.

dbe9e-img_7255

7. Spain (Ibiza)

I had some excellent red wine sangria. I understand I should have more knowledge than just that, but hey we were in Ibiza. Haha

ibiza

8. Hong Kong

Haven’t figured what’s local here? Lived for 8 months during the MBA- had an alcohol overload, but I guess it would be rice wine. Back to point 1, not going there again!

9. South Korea

Soju (Kind of like rice wine)

I haven’t visited South Korea, but I tried Soju in a Korean bar in Hong Kong. One of my Korean classmates, Gemma took us to this lovely Korean bar! The Koreans love their soju. I was scared to try (given Baijiu’s experience), but it wasn’t like that at all. A tad bit sweet and can be potent (up to 45% ABV), taken neat. I liked it, although no affinity, yet.

Many more regions and cities to explore and more drinks to come with the wildest of company. Cheers to life! 

Spellbound in Bagan

When you push out the black clouds, there’s only sunshine and clarity. We tend to get stuck on what could have been but we only have today. Live now, focus on today, embrace every moment and you’ll see the future unfold as you hoped it would, eventually.

Pristine. The meaning of this word wasn’t known to me till I visited Bagan. Clean and fresh, as if new; spotless. Yes, that’s how I would describe what I experienced. Two factors contributing to a perfect weekend trip were the beauty of the place and the hospitality of our tour guide.
Bagan is an ancient city and from 9th to 13th centuries, it was the capital of Kingdom of Pagan. As our guide, Min Thant informed us, 11th to 13th centuries was the height of the Kingdom and during this time some 10,000 temples were constructed. As you view the surroundings, there is vast green space spotted with temples all over. I was challenged to count the number of temples by Min but I laughed off the challenge. Some googling reveals there are about 2,200 temples now remaining. The experience of walking around the open space and visiting tiny and big temples was quite interesting. You can even climb the pagodas (Buddhist temples) and sit on the roof and enjoy the view!
Ling’s exceptional photography skills!

The view!!

What I enjoyed most was sitting on top, looking out at the clear sky and wonderful landscape. It was so peaceful, I could feel the spirituality. No drama around rituals, rules and endless queues. It was what you make of it.

I am so glad my friend Ling asked me to join her on this trip!

Watching the sun set from the boat on the Irrawaddy river was another lovely experience. Thankfully the weather was perfect!

For lunch, we had a sumptuous meal at a very reasonable price. The best part for me were the veggies- brinjal and ladyfinger- made in Indian style! Really made me super happy.

We also visited a cute roadside shack on way to Mount Popa. This shack had utilized the palm tree to the maximum possible- thatched with leaves from the tree with all furniture made from the leaves and trunk. They were making palm sugar and palm wine (toddy or htan ye) in this settlement. I got super excited watching the distillation right in front of me. We took shots of the toddy- it tasted like baijiu (Chinese rice wine). Not at all happy about the taste but the potency was great! There was also a lighter version which they called palm “beer” but that wasn’t as fun as the palm wine 😀

Majestic Pagoda and I!

We really enjoyed the view at Taung Kalat- a volcanic plug near Mount Popa (extinct volcano). I have learnt that a volcanic plug is a lava neck which is created when lava from an existing volcano hardens and the surrounding sediment is eroded away. Interesting to see a Buddhist monastery at the top of Taung Kalat. The walk up to the monastery was fun- couple of stairs and a lot of monkeys! There were volunteers cleaning the stairs and honestly it was very well maintained.

A good deal of China immersion for me- Ling, Cheung Long and Damon were a fun bunch of people! It was great that I have a Chinese name (可) and very basic Mandarin skills. I thoroughly enjoyed their company with some pineapple pen jokes, perfect photo sessions and nice drinking games.     
                                                        
Time for selfie on top of the Pagoda
Welcome to Bagan 🙂

The rawness of the place cannot be explained in words. It is truly untouched and non-commercialised at this stage. But till when it will remain like this, one cannot say. Also, Min shared with us that his village does not have electricity (84% of households in rural Myanmar have no electricity access), but they have mobile phones. They travel 20 minutes to go charge their phones. Very very interesting. This is where lies Myanmar’s opportunity. I advised him to use his knowledge and skills as a guide to keep track of the changing tourist market and grab bigger opportunities to grow. Not in these words though but I became an immediate consultant evaluating his client emails 😀 The business person in me saw a lot of potential. 

Loved my visit and hope to come back to the famous hot air balloon ride over the town!
 
Riverside views
Say hello to Min

 

The palm trees
Freshly distilled palm alcohol
We all in the cute shack made out of various parts of the palm tree

 

Mount Popa
The gang at the Monastery- note the traditional attire! (Longyis)

 

Minglabar Myanmar!


Minglabar is hello in Myanmar.  I have found travelling very fascinating: learnt hello and thank you in 8 new languages last year! The power of local language brings smiles on people’s faces and makes everything easier. 
I am in Yangon for a month now. In my view, this city is raw, crowded, congested yet calm, friendly and still mellow at night. Everything is rising, waking up, finding a direction and taking shape. 

My first step:

The airport is a cute one. By that I mean, it is small and just about basic. As I stepped out of the airport, I saw my cab driver holding my name card and waving out to me. He gave me a huge smile and immediately offered to take my luggage. Ah, back to Asia! I noticed that all cab drivers were wearing the traditional lungyi and chewing betel leaf. Add to that some humidity. This totally reminded me of Kolkata. Although in Kolkata, lungyi’s are worn at home so this was a bit surprising! 

Why am I here?

My work experience at Moody’s led me to analyze Indian state government finances which highlighted the deficit in public expenditure on capital assets. I believe that a partnership with the private sector can lead to sustainable development outcomes. Thus, here I am interning at a private equity fund in a frontier market, working to build sustainable businesses in Myanmar. I am excited to be here at a time when the economy is opening up and embracing changes in almost every sphere.

The first week:

I immersed myself in understanding the workings of my firm and what was expected from me. The set up is very international, with colleagues from different nationalities such as Myanmar, British, Singaporean, Canadian, Dutch and Portuguese. A talented and welcoming set of people! I find the work environment very hands-on with a strong ownership of work. 
The dynamics on the roads are interesting: roads are flanked by hawker stalls on both sides and pedestrians cross them while traffic is full-on. Cars actually do stop for you (unlike in India) but it takes some guts and practice to carry this out! 
Mobile internet penetration has reached 80% in just two years! This is a spectacular development in Myanmar with two foreign players ramping up the telecommunications infrastructure to support 3G from no internet two years ago. Analysts predict many sectors would see a similar trajectory and thus this country offers many exciting opportunities! So yes I have my internet, which became my lifeline in this last year of travelling around. 
I attended two events in my first week: A women’s networking event and a start-up pitching competition. I admired the enthusiasm of both the organizers and attendees. Foreign organizations are hosting these events with local partners and bringing in ideas and expertise. You can see how nascent everything is and yet to fill a room with 60 people is commendable. 





I have been welcomed very warmly by my local friends. They are mostly those returned from an education abroad. They have chosen to come back because “things are happening here” and they want to contribute to that. Smart and bright people, they could be the ones to put Myanmar on the world map!  


Officially, one more month to go. Unofficially, we shall see. Lots more to explore!