Mes: febrero 2010

Shenzhen, bargain center

During last Chinese New Year holidays, apart from Lantau, I visited Shenzhen for a day. Shenzhen is a big Chinese city right next to the Hong Kong-China border and it is well known as a shopping center with no fixed prices. Apparently many Western brands have factories in the region, so there are many original items at discounted prices with some small defects, and others items not so original.  I’m not a fan of illegal items but there you can find them if you ask for them explicitly. Anyway, if you know how to bargain, then you can buy items really cheap.

I have to say that my expectations were exceeded and I enjoyed so much buying stuff and above all, bargaining! As per the people I went with, it seems that I have a talent for bargaining and I ended bargaining for my items, for my wife’s and for my friends’, etc.  In fact, I succeeded to lower the prices between 60 and 80% in average for each item bought. By instance, I bought my wife’s purse for about 150 HKD when the guy was asking for 800.

It is clear that those sellers make money even if the price is extremely low, and most of the cases they want to sell you the item no matters the price (I’m sure they have a enormous warehouse with hundreds of similar items), so they will always accept to sell it to you if they win at least one cent !.

The key is to seem not very interested (even if you desire to buy it so much) and never give you the first price (let them put the first price so you have an idea of the real value (60-80% less of that price, really).
Just try some of these when you are willing to buy an item using your best ‘poker face’:
“I don’t like it so much”
“uhm.. the quality is not that good as it seems” (signaling something)
“in my country this is much cheaper…”
“I’m going around for a walk to check other shops and I will be back later”
“sorry I’m definitely not buying it… bye bye ” (while you are leaving the shop…)

They will accept your price 99% of the time! I had a girl running behind me during 10 minutes offering me to sell me the item half of my last price (that she didn’t accept before and I decided to go).

Do not get frightened if the guy starts to become mad, rude, and start to speak Chinese with his/her friends. This is a usual behavior and its part of their technique. You should not care at all. They will be very happy 5 minutes later when your money is in their pockets (even if the price was 90% lower the starting one).

Anyway they will try to have the last word, so even if the first price was 1000, your last offer was 100, they will give a final offer of 110. Let them to be happy accepting it :).

The thing is do not think you are cheating them when you are able to lower the price a lot, because be sure that they are making money thanks to you :). Just only realize that the first price they propose is totally exorbitant.

I’m just wondering how much money they make when most of the people only bargain to lower prices 10-20%.

Lantau Island

Last week I visited Lantau Island for the first time, during the Chinese New Year holidays.

Lantau is the largest island of Hong Kong, and it has many major infrastructures, such as The Hong Kong International Airport, Hong Kong Disneyland and Ngong Ping 360.

Most of the island is steep and hilly, covered by a dense forest and with some wild beaches that seemed almost unexploited. However, the island is visited mainly because of its Giant Budha (world’s tallest, outdoor, seated bronze Budha) and the Po Lin monastery. Here you have a pic of the Budha I took that day.


If you ever plan to go there, you can get the MTR from Central and in about 30 min you will arrive at Tung Chung station. Usually everybody takes the Ngong Ping 360 cable car that takes you to the Budha, but if you are not willing to wait more than an hour line, you can buy the tickets beforehand (on Internet) or even forget about the cable car and take a bus in the surrounding bus station. I did the last and for much less price I arrived at the Budha feet quicker than if I would have waited the line.

In my opinion, the cable car is only worthy if the weather is very good (to enjoy the views) and if there is no much waiting line. Anyway, I’d recommend doing one of the ways on bus so you can see the island during the journey. By instance, I had the opportunity to see some beaches and small towns (I stopped at Tai O, amazing old town) that I would not have seen if I would have taken the cable car.

TOEFL: first step

There is only one month to go for my TOEFL exam and still much to improve.

I’m doing big efforts during last weeks in order to prepare the test. My goal is to get more than 100 and even more than 105. In any case, I will repeat it in summer if I don’t score at least 108.  It’s going to be hard to achieve that goal for the exam on March, but I’m doing my best.

Reading and Listening sections are quite simple and I get between 25 and 30 all the time. The goal is to make 28 in both, but there are always at least two questions that I do wrong. In order to improve these sections I do as follows. On the one hand, I read every day texts in English in forums, newspapers and blogs. Also, I used to read magazines such as The Economist or National Geographic (much harder) when I was in New York. On the other hand, the Listening is something I practice every day as there is a free TV channel here in Hong Kong called “Pearl”, which broadcasts in English many American TV Shows and a lot of movies. I like it a lot because before moving to HK I was afraid of not having any English speaking channels.

In the Writing section I always do quite well and I’m able to write good essays, although I need to improve it to get more than 25. In order to do that, I try to write as much as possible (blog, in forums or doing TOEFL tests).

The Speaking section is, without a doubt, the worst part. It is very difficult because many reasons. First of all, there is too short time to prepare the answers (about 15 seconds) and if you don’t find good ideas during that time then you are screwed up. Second, you have to start speaking right away and presenting the ideas with correct sentences, good pronunciation and grammar. My problem is that if I didn’t find good ideas during the preparation, then I have to find them while I’m speaking. As a result, I don’t pay much attention to the sentences I’m saying (thus bad grammar, bad pronunciation, etc.). And the worst scenario is when many times I get totally stuck in the middle of the speech, or when saying a sentence I suddenly realize that I don’t know how to say a word in English and then I don’t know how to continue.

Knowing that this section is my main weakness, I’m working hard to improve it. First, even if at work I speak a lot French, at home my wife is helping me and we speak in English as much as possible. Second, I try to read aloud some time every day. But this is not all, because I’ve found through Internet a web page offering 30 minutes English lessons for 9 euro. Yesterday I did a trial lesson with an American teacher and I was quite satisfied in how the guy helped me. I think I will get more lessons so he can help me with this TOEFL section.

“How to get into a Business School” marathon

Pursuing a MBA in a top business school has been my dream for a long time, and I’ve been working on achieving that goal for months.

You can never imagine how hard is to get accepted in a top school, at least I had no idea until I started wandering around the schools’ websites.

In short, you have to provide to AdComs (Admission Committee) the following:
– Transcript of all undergraduate/graduate academic institutions attended
– GMAT score
– TOEFL score
– Three recommendations letters.
– Four to six essays
– CV

To give you an idea, a good GMAT preparation takes weeks or even months. In a few words, GMAT is an exam that last about four hours, that measures verbal, mathematical and analytical skills. Difficult by nature, it becomes a real challenge when your English level is not perfect, which is my case. It is like running a marathon race with a broken leg.

First of all, almost half of the GMAT exam is about complex text reading comprehension, including inference questions or critical reasoning. Besides, you have to write two essays during the test. But this is not all, because your English can also undermine the Math section.  Just imagine you have to solve a complex math problem in less than two minutes, but you don’t understand completely the statement, which is often crucial to solve the problem. Then you are screwed up.
Well, I won’t bother you more about GMAT for the moment. I will have time to do it later in the future as I’m planning to take it in June or July.

Another required exam is the TOEFL, which evaluates the ability to use and understand English in an academic setting. Basically it is a 4 to 5 hours exam divided in four parts: reading, listening, speaking and writing. Once again, the importance of the score is capital as many schools require a minimum. By instance, Harvard “discourages candidates with less than 109 to apply”, score that is out of my possibilities right now. I will talk about TOEFL in the near future as I’m planning to take it on March 13.

On the other hand, you have to provide essays that are of vital importance on the future of your application. My thoughts are that transcripts, GMAT and TOEFL scores are a way to rule out candidates quickly. Once they have a shorter list, they start focusing in the candidate’s essays and recommendations, trying to choose the most interesting profiles and create the best class possible.

Finally, you need to provide recommendations and at least one must be from your current or recent supervisor. I have already two people in mind for my recommendations and they are already aware of my MBA plans.

As you can see, I have just started this marathon that hopefully will end with me being accepted in one of my dream business schools. I have in mind applying in round 1 to Chicago Booth, Wharton, LBS, MIT and Harvard, we’ll see if I have the time!

I love NYC

There is not much to say about New York that you don’t already know so I will be quick.

As said in previous post, I moved to New York after being hired by Société Générale in a mission VIE and I’ve spent a full year there. It was a huge opportunity and big change to me. First, it supposed the end of one important stage on my life after more than three years living in France. Second, I started working in a new industry which was much more interesting than the previous one. Finally, I was able to work and live in NYC!

My company’s office was located in the McGraw Hill Building, which is located just in the hearth of Midtown’s Manhattan, between Times Square and Rockefeller Center. This building is one of three that are commonly called XYZ (see picture) because their resemblance. On the other hand, I lived in York avenue with 90th, Upper East Side.

I have to say that all my expectations about New York were fulfilled and it was a wonderful year. I also took the opportunity to travel a lot. From East Coast (Miami, DC, Philly, Atlantic City, Boston) to West coast (LA, SF, Vegas, Grand Canyon, and many National Parks in Utah, Arizona and Colorado). I loved the country and the people there. Anyway, luckily I will be back soon for my MBA :).

French Rivera

Today I will go quickly through the time I lived in he PACA region (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur) in France, where I’ve spent 13 months.

In fact, during my last year at the ENSIMAG (2007), I was hired by Amadeus as a full time employee thus I moved to PACA right after graduating.

Amadeus is the worldwide leader provider of IT solutions for tourism and travel industry, and is running the biggest non-military datacenter in Europe   (>5000 transactions per second, 200,000 terminals connected, and 24/7 operation). It was founded by Air France, Iberia, Lufthansa and SAS airlines in 1987.

Amadeus systems are very complex, developed in C++. To give you an idea of the complexity, here you have an interesting quote extracted from an interview of Bjarne Stroustrup (C++ inventor) :

What is the most interesting program that you’ve seen written with C++?
I can’t pick one and I don’t usually think of a program as interesting. I look more at complete systems — of which parts are written in C++. Among such systems, NASA’s Mars Rovers’ autonomous driving subsystem, the Google search engine and Amadeus’ airline reservation system spring to mind.

So, it’s not difficult to imagine what kind of work I did there, isn’t it? Of course, I was part of a C++ development team and we coded parts of the internal system.

Although Amadeus has hubs in many countries around the world, its main locations are the headquarters in Madrid (Spain), datacenter in Earding (Germany) and the development center in Sophia Antipolis (Nice, France), with more than 4,000 engineers from the top European Universities.

Sophia Antipolis is a technology park created in the image of the America’s Silicon Valley, and it houses primarily companies in the fields of computing, electronics, pharmacology and biotechnology. Its location is great because it is in the middle of a regional park with beautiful landscapes, and next to the sea and the tourist French Rivera (10 Km from Cannes/Antibes/Juan Les Pines, 30 Km from Nice). Also, the South Alps are about 100 km distance. For that reasons, the life there is really attractive with a good mix of work opportunities and high life quality.

The best thing of Amadeus in Sophia is its offices/facilities, and the company culture. It reminds me of Google in California. There is an awesome restaurant with very good food, sport installations and it is next to tennis club which you can join almost for free.  Also, within the company you can enjoy from many courses from music to Chinese for example, there are clubs of sailing, climbing, ski, and others. In my opinion, they do their best to make the worker happy.

As you can imagine, apart from French people, there is a big international community at Amadeus in Sophia, and most of all a lot of Spaniards (90% from Madrid and Barcelona) and British. There are many parties organized in apartments and in Villas every weekend, and if not, you can always go to Antibes or Juan Les Pines to have a beer (or more) in pubs such as La Gaffe.

As I said above, the region provides many opportunities to have a high quality of life. You can enjoy the sea as much as you want during 6 months a year (or even more) because the weather is wonderful. Also, you can go to the Alps during the full year. The region is not as close as Grenoble from the Alps, but it is not too far. In a one hour driving you can be at the feet of 3,000 m height mountains, or only 30′ from pre-alps mountains chain where you can find many trails for hiking, climbing places, rivers, etc. Of course during winter there are several ski resorts nearby. Finally, the region is well situated for traveling. Italy is less than a one hour driving distance, and the North of the country is very accessible for even a weekend short trip (Milan, Torino, Genoa, Florence, Venice, etc.). Also, Monaco is right next to Nice (I assisted to the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix, it was awesome!).

Maybe you are wondering why I decided to leave that idyllic place? Well, first of all I wasn’t really motivated working at Amadeus because of the work I was doing (very technical one). Second, I always wanted to work in the US and I’ve found a good opportunity (mission VIE) within Société Générale Investment bank. Finally, I’m very interested about the Financial Industry (I’m the kind of guy that reads ‘The Economist’ or visits weekly economic websites), so that opportunity was one of the opportunities that come few times in a lifetime and that you cannot let it go.

See you next time.