Sunday, April 27, 2008

One last night of AZN (excellence)

I made a special trip to Los Angeles last week. It was both a reunion and an opportunity for me to say goodbye to an important period of my life.

It had been announced several months ago that AZN Television, my former employer, was going to be taken off the air. I had felt disappointment when I heard the news but admittedly knew that it was inevitable. We have never gotten traction in the advertising community and despite our best efforts the business model didn't make sense.

On Wednesday, the network's flagship program, the Asian Excellence Awards, was filmed at Royce Hall on the campus of UCLA. I had been part of the inaugural awards show two years ago and saw this as my chance to say goodbye to the network and to my ex-coworkers who would be traveling to Los Angeles for the event.

It was a great production filled with celebrities and great performances. (The program is airing on E! Television on May 1st and will also be available on-demand in Comcast systems). The after-party was terrific and I enjoyed the opportunity to rub elbows with some celebrities. Among the distinguished guests? Members of Jabbawockees and Kaba Modern from MTV's America's Best Dance Crew, Quentin Tarantino, Rob Schneider, and Kelly Hu. I have to admit I let out my inner groupie. Chances to get this close to "celebrity" don't happen very often for me so I took full advantage.

I had a nice conversation with Kelly Hu about her participation in the Obama campaign and got some photos with other celebs (to be added later). The best part of the evening? Catching up with my old clients and my coworkers. It felt so natural to be in that environment again, spending time with my IC/AZN family. It just reminded me of how much I missed them all.

Bill, Jeff, Karen, Mike, Shelly, Ruby and the rest of the crew... it was great to see all of you. I hope that we will be able to reunite again soon. AZN, I'm sorry that you didn't get real chance to change the market. Hopefully, our community will get another chance down the road.

Update: a photo with the talented and gracious ladies of Kaba Modern.
Kaba Modern Cindy Minowa and Jia Huang

Adjusting to Shanghai

(From the events of March 22-23, 2008)
Arriving in Shanghai didn't turn out to be too bad. As I left my seat the back of the airplane and proceeded though to the baggage claim, I was glad to be standing erect. Jet lag has always been hard on me and I was looking forward to getting to the hotel and trying to get some rest.

Upon collecting our bags some of our classmates started to partner up and look for cabs. Josh and I had discussed taking the Maglev train into Shanghai previous and deviated from the rest of the group. The Maglev is a train that runs at exceptional speeds (300 mph) using electromagnetic force. Although we knew we would have to grab cab after reaching the destination station we had to experience the Maglev for ourselves. The fare was 50 yuan or about 8 dollars and was a pretty awesome experience. The video below shows the Shanghai landscape fading away and cars that can't keep up with our pace.

At 50 yuan, only the richer expats and tourists can afford the Maglev. It was the first of many experiences in Shanghai that demonstrated the disparity between economic classes. In talking with a friend after my China trip I discovered that the length of the track was based on the minimum length needed to for the train to hit its top speed -- and it was built as "demonstration" of the trains capabilities in other markets (read: they didn't really need it but they thought it would be cool to have one in Shanghai).

After lugging our bags off of the Maglev and waiting in a short cue for a cab we made our way to the hotel. We arrived literally as our classmates who had taken cabs directly from the airport. Although they spent less (split cab fare among 5 per cab) we had already taken one item off our 'Shanghai to-do' list. Plus we got into the hotel first which meant that they had to wait behind us to check in. :)

The hotel was pretty nice at first view. Although it was pretty far from everything else, the check-in area and rooms were pretty decent. After dropping our bags and taking a short break the more adventurous segment of the group were off to the French Concession to find some dinner. We ended up at a Peking Duck restaurant and our experience was underway.

Ordering when no one speaks especially good Chinese can be quite frustrating. I was the only Mandarin speaker of the group and did my best to both collect orders and communicate them to the wait staff. (Mind you, restaurants are often over staffed with people who avoid making eye contact as they know they will have to provide customer service if they acknowledge your presence).

The food turned out to be good -- but I think most of the group got filled on Heineken. Better to stay with something reliable than to try something new right? (Note to self, only order beer after you've confirmed that it is a brand that they refrigerate) Dinner turned out to quite cheap with all of the beers that we had finished.

After we finished dinner we went for a walk and a search for some nightlife. We found a couple of bars that catered to an expatriate crowd, Sasha's and Zapata's. Because it was a Sunday night both places were pretty quiet.

We engaged some women from the UK at Sasha's that was entertaining for a short while but when they started to blame us U.S. foreign policy they began to wear out their welcome. After about an hour at Sasha's (which had some entree items that were over $60 US) we moved to Zapata's which had a vibrant dance floor. My classmates remarked that all of the Chinese women were dancing with 'non-Chinese' men. I wasn't particularly surprised as this was a club that targeted a non-Chinese crowd.

After a short stay we found our way back to the hotel. Although the best way to fight jet lag is to immediately sleep at the "normal" time for the destination time zone I had a hard time keeping my eyes open during dinner. I fell immediately to sleep when my head hit the pillow. The first night of our trip was over.

Think Gum and 'context based' memory

I came across something on the news that made me reflect back to this post about my creative flow. A former Cal student (and current Stanford grad student) has invented a product called "Think Gum," which promises to help boost the brain activity of those who chew it.

One important element of the way that the gum works is called "context-dependent memory". The following is quoted from the Think Gum website:
One principle this functional gum relies on is called, “context-dependent memory.” This is the idea that if you learn something in the presence of a certain stimuli then when you are in the presence of the same stimuli later, your memory of what you learned will be stoked. A good example of this phenomenon is the aroma of pumpkin pie. The smell makes people happy, relaxed and just plain gushy inside. However, smell doesn’t “do” anything to you. It simply elicits the good thanksgiving memories that are ever so closely linked with the scent of pumpkin pie.

I think this is an excellent explanation to why music and the rhythm in my head coincides with when I'm successfully writing or taking an exam. Because I often study with music I'm building a "memory track" for the studied material and the tunes. Cool, explanation, eh?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Paddle for Life

Some classmates and I are helping to support a local event that raises money for cancer research and support for cancer survivors. Please watch the following video to learn more about Paddle for Life. Show your support by making a contribution towards this great cause and by forwarding this to your friends!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Departing for Shanghai

(From the events of March 22, 2008)

Ok, I've clearly overpacked. It has been a couple of months since I've been on a plane and I've loss the packing skills that I honed while I lived in Los Angeles (where I was probably averaged two or three round trips a month).

For a seven day trip to Shanghai, I had clearly packed too much. Even though the Haas sponsored trips included formal corporate visits (and the requisite business suits) I think taking three business suits may have been too much. My overpacking nature is confirmed when I see my classmate Michael who has packed everything he needs for the week into two small carry on bags. Doh.

Although I like to think of myself as low-maintenance, I had a couple of luxuries that probably could have been left at home. My brand new USB bluetooth adapter and headset for Skype in China was only used once and my new Motorola Q9c was basically an overpriced brick in Shanghai (thanks, Sprint). Although being without a cell was liberating for a week -- it made coordinating and finding my peers (via SMS) much more challenging. Carrying my laptop for the lectures was necessary but still a cumbersome load.

The flight to Shanghai went relatively without incident. I picked the seat 59F from the chart at, a site that shows the best and worst seats on any particular commercial plane. My seat which was toward the back had some additional room between the seat and the window and is a favorite because it is in a row that only has two seats (one less person to get through on the way to the bathroom). The problem with this plane was that the movie monitors weren't mounted on the headrests but instead on the old-school projection system.

When you're stuck in the back corner it can be tough to get a good view. I was going to throw something at the woman who decided to stand up to watch the most suspenseful parts of No Country for Old Men. Unfortunately, she was no where to be found when Alvin and the Chipmunks were on.

The food on the flight wasn't bad -- we had an entree of chicken and rice, a 'cup of noodles' snack (oddly small with weird tofu stuff) and a hot turkey cheese sandwich (although some of the paper got stuck to the hard bread). My can of Sprite Zero that was bottled in Hong Kong inspired the soft drink from my Competitive Strategy class. It is always fun when you see instances of case work in real life.

Tips to remember for future flights:
  • If someone has their window open and the sun is at full intensity (no cloud cover), politely ask them to close their shade. Ignoring the sun by covering your face with a blanket should only be attempted when window shade is broken and all other seats are taken.
  • Bring disposable reading material - airport magazines are for suckers (unless you are Tommy Lasorda, in which case airport magazines are awesome)
  • Swollen feet don't slide easily into leather slip on shoes (especially when you are scrambling to get off a plane).
  • Noise reduction headphones are no good if you leave them at home.

Channeling some creative energy

So I'm behind on a couple of week's of blog posts. It appears that I haven't had a chance to recap my Spring Break trip to Shanghai, China nor the transformation of Cal Basketball. More on those subjects in future posts but I want to touch on my personal creativity tonight.

In a recent class we were asked to think about the times of the day where we are most productive or creative. Although getting up in the morning has never been my strong suit, I feel like I'm often most productive between the hours of 7-10 am. For some reason I always seem to 'charge it' (a Feliton saying) once my blood gets rushing. Whether it is knocking out errands on a weekend or getting my work to-do list-- I always feel like I've got the most energy in the morning.

I've never been particularly good at cramming or working deep into the night. I've been known to sleep soundly through allocated 'study' time. If I've got a deadline, I've got to have some hours in the morning to whip things together. There's nothing like a deadline and adrenaline to crack a bad case of writer's block, right?

Creativity for me is a different story -- I think that I often associate the hours following work as my "thinking" time. I think that most of my most creative thoughts come to me when I'm alone with my thoughts and that a lot of my solo time is spent commuting to work or heading to class. This quiet time gives me a chance to be with my thoughts, evaluate the day and plan or the future. I think my frustrating N Judah street car rides have probably hurt my creativity in the past year. My creative focus is probably wasted on staying upright on the ride home.

Just one more note on this subject. My productive and creative "flow" has always been enhanced by music. When I'm feeling particularly inspired I've found my leg or knee bouncing -- usually to a tune or song that is in my head. One explanation may be that my brain works well with rhythms and when my mind has that rhythm -- everything seems to flow naturally. On a related note, most of this blog was brought to you with some help from John Legend and his Once AgainCD.