The House of Random Crap
A clearinghouse for my crazed, deviant, trivial, irreverant & occasionally reflective thoughts.


Saturday, December 21, 2002  

It’s been quite a long while from my last blog; things have just been so busy, and the time has really flown by. It’s amazing how hectic my day seems now that I’m employed and productive again, and now that I don’t have to go back to an empty apartment.

The new job is working out well. I’m still trying to get settled in, and get myself sufficiently organized to the point where I can not only handle more than one project, but to also start thinking about sourcing my own deals. I do like to think that I’m starting to have an impact. My current deal is to advise a client on a potential high-tech venture capital investment, and I think the client found my team’s analysis and advice useful. In fact, we are in the process of advising this client on several projects, and have reached a tentative agreement to manage some of the client's investment funds, which is bringing Tonson Capital’s business model one step closer to reality. At the pace we are going, it looks like we will likely make it past the start-up stage and evolve into a viable merchant bank.

I’ve also looked for ways to exert some influence and add some value internally as well. I’ve added input frequently during our staff training sessions, which have been covering primarily finance topics, and am planning out a series of training sessions of my own. I’m tackling other internal administrative issues as well, such as developing our knowledge database, compiling a deal pipeline/tracking sheet, and working with one of our other principals to create a standard interviewing process, which is becoming increasingly important as we look to expand the ranks of our analysts.

I’m starting to truly appreciate the high caliber of analysts we’ve managed to attract thus far. They aren’t the smartest kids out there, but they are hungry, ambitious, eager to learn, highly entrepreneurial, and very thick-skinned. While these are generally great qualities to have in any junior analyst anywhere, these are especially rare qualities in young Thai people. I for one have always favored street smarts over book smarts, though most large banks and consultancies would rather see a high GPA over a healthy dose of common sense and creativity. My experience has shown me that an ability to get things done is far more valuable than cerebral fire power. In Thailand, I think most young people would rather take a stable job with a clear if somewhat measured career path. They prefer to take a narrow range of clearly defined responsibilities with a good deal of supervision. In my line of business, we always look for the opposite, so it impresses me to work with young Thai college graduates who are willing to take a chance on a start-up, who are eager to set themselves apart from the crowd, and who can take the abuse (and even push back) from some type-A personalities. If we can find a few more junior people like that, I think Tonson has a fighting chance.

This week marked the end of my 30-day tourist visa on my U.S. passport, which meant I had to jump out of the country on a visa run. However, because Tonson’s quota on work visas has been filled, I needed to come back into the country and reside here using my Thai passport. I still haven’t sorted out all the legal implications, and will likely have to speak to an attorney, but considering that I lived in Thailand from 1994-96 using my Thai passport, I don’t anticipate too many problems. Instead of jumping back to Hong Kong, I opted to go to Singapore, which I haven’t visited in about 2 years, and made for a cheaper tour package than HK. I went on a three day, two night trip from Wednesday to Friday, all for just a few hundred bucks. As cheap as the ticket and hotel package is, they still flew me out on Cathay Pacific, which was great, since I’m still building up my miles on that airline (nearing 215k!). Because of my miles in Cathay’s Marco Polo club, I occasionally get bumped up to business class on full flights. In this case, however, I got bumped right up to first class, which was simply awesome. I had never sat in first class on any airline, so that alone was a thrill, but Cathay’s first class is supposedly especially nice, which really completed the experience. The amount of space is incredible, and the seat fully reclines into a completely horizontal position. Each seat is completely private, and you can raise the barriers to fully close yourself off from your neighbors. Likewise, the barriers between the 2 middle seats can be lowered to create a nice little love seat, or the equivalent of a queen-sized bed, nice if your traveling with your honey on a long-haul flight, though it doesn’t offer enough privacy to get down & dirty! The window seats have some counter space and plenty of slots to hold magazines, books, music players, etc. The dining tray is relatively large, with enough space for a laptop and a pile of work materials. The food and service were very posh. It would be a drag to slum with the economy class fellows on the trip back.

In contrast to my plane ride, the hotel was a total rat hole. It was in downtown Singapore and conveniently located, but the room was small, a bit dingy, and I think someone had taken a shower in my bathroom no more than 20-30 minutes before I checked in (there was water and hair on the floor). The hall smelled of cigarette smoke. I was in too good a mood to bitch about it, and spent the rest of the afternoon walking around and visiting old haunts. I started with Raffles City, which is a decent-sized mall attached to the Westin Hotel. During my first few visits to Singapore back in 1996, my company would put me up in the Westin, so I grew quite familiar with the immediate area, and frequented the mall and nearby theater and restaurants once I moved there. From there, I walked over to Suntec City, a huge shopping and 5-tower office complex that now houses many of the island’s prestigious investment banks, consulting companies, and tech firms. When I moved out of Singapore in mid-1997, Suntec was just recently completed and was only starting to sign up its first few tenants. Today, the hugely expansive mall is packed with stores and visitors. Just as impressive was the long underground tunnel connecting Suntec City with Raffles City; filled with many shops and restaurants along the way, the connecting corridor was a fair-sized mall in its own right.

That night, I met up with Karen, an analyst who previously worked in our Hong Kong office and a good friend. We met up at a really French-Vietnamese restaurant across the river from Boat Quay. Being in that area brought back a lot of memories, since my old office was just a stone’s throw away, and I spent many working dinners or Friday night drinking sessions at Boat Quay, one of Singapore’s more well-known social venues. We ate and chatted for about 3 hours, and then I met up with Naresh, an old friend and former colleague at Deutsche Bank. He too recently joined up a start-up private equity fund (like many of my acquaintances), and we briefly discussed some potential collaborations while we downed several glasses of vodka. I’m glad he’s back in Asia (he worked in London before Morgan Stanley laid him off, just a few weeks before I got the boot at Salomon); he is certainly one of the better friends I made in my time in Singapore, and I would enjoy working with him again.

I had lunch with Naresh on Thursday, along with another old colleague of ours, Tameem. With his beard and middle eastern looks, he could pass for some Afghani warrior, but he is certainly one of the brightest bankers I’ve ever known. He left the banking industry not too long ago, and decided to start his own consulting firm. We ate at the California Pizza Kitchen, which I didn’t much care for the first time I ate there (Pete and Don took me there back when I was still in college), but I really liked it this time around. The spinach-artichoke dip is awesome, and I really enjoyed the Tandoori chicken pizza that Naresh insisted we order. I spent the rest of the afternoon shopping in Suntec City (more on that a little later), and then met up with 2 of my former secretaries, Irene and Lindia, the latter with her 7-week son Nicholas in tow. The kid was utterly adorable, more so because he is about the same age as Jessica, and therefore a proxy for all my uncle-like affection. He was an amazingly calm kid, especially when held by strangers, and even when he cried out of hunger, he was freakishly quiet. After a tasty dim sum dinner, we met up for coffee with Lindsay, a former Deutsche analyst I met once about 3 and a half years ago who is currently an agent for a modeling agent and hopeful MBA student. It was really pleasant evening. I was supposed to meet up with Naresh again for drinks, but he pussied out, and so I relaxed for the rest of the night and headed out to the airport in the late morning for an uneventful flight back to Bangkok.

Today is a particularly special day. Today is Nicha’s 29th birthday, though if you want to get on her good side, wish her a happy 24th birthday. She does seem slightly (though not obsessively) preoccupied with her age. For the life of me, I cannot see what is so scary about the 3-0 mark. It’s not an appearance thing; given her girlish figure and youthful face, everyone seems to think her several years younger than she is. It isn’t a biological clock thing; she has a husband, and we both will be ready to have kids in the next year or two. And it certainly isn’t a professional thing; she is the second youngest person in the history of her bank to have achieved that rank of assistant vice president. I imagine it’s purely psychological. I too found myself slightly off-center when my 30th came and went, only to realize that it’s no big deal.

It has been a low key birthday, but a very pleasant one. I spent a few hours in the office yesterday after getting back from Singapore, but raced home in the early evening, as Nicha and I were hosting a small potluck in honor of her birthday. We had 3 junior staffers from Nicha’s department, and Nicha’s best friend Gain. It made for a crowded kitchen, but the food was excellent, especially dessert, which consisted of Gain’s first and highly successful attempt at bread pudding. Being the gracious host that I am, I did absolutely no cooking, though I felt it only fair that I at least clean up. During and after dinner, our guests gave Nicha her birthday presents. Gain bought her a hand bag, which Nicha loves (she and Gain share a highly similar taste in clothing and accessories), while the 3 girls from the bank chipped in for a throw pillow in the shape of the head of Pucca, a highly popular “Hello Kitty”-type character who is basically a boy-crazy Chinese girl with her hair in two big Chinese-style buns. I actually like this character a lot, and sent my niece a plush Pucca doll which is actually bigger than her! I told Pete that I wanted to build Jess’ self-esteem by making sure she had at least one toy/doll of an Asian girl.The funny/cool thing about the pillow is that it can be unzipped and transformed into a small blanket, which is useful because Nicha occasionally takes naps on the sofa during our lazy weekends.

Another cartoon character that we are familiar with is this tiny, spherical baby goose that goes by the name Piyo Piyo, and we keep several versions of her in various forms scattered about our apartment and her parents' house. While I was browsing through Suntec City, I came across a store entirely devoted to Piyo Piyo-emblazoned products called, aptly enough, the Piyo Piyo Store. It was mostly infant-oriented toys and products, but I found one that was a plush honeypot with a smiling bee sitting on the rim. Inside the honeypot is this tiny little Piyo Piyo doll, but when you pull her out, you see another one in there, and yet again another. I knew Nicha would find this immensely cute, so it became the first part of my birthday gift for Nicha. Then, I went scouring all the jewelry stores in the mall for a nice pair of earrings. When I first met Nicha, she never really wore earrings; as a trader, she spent a lot of time on the phones, and therefore, having earrings on was physically uncomfortable. Lately, she has started wearing them again. I don’t know if she has switched to a phone headset or spends less time on the phone as junior management, but it does give me a chance to buy earrings for her as gifts. Anyways, I found a pair in the shape of dolphins balancing a ball on its nose. The dolphins are in a matted yellow gold, while the balls and eyes are diamonds. I stuck the earrings at the bottom of the honeypot so that after she pulled out the 3 Piyo Piyos, she would find the earrings. I think I enjoyed her opening the gift just as much if not more than she did.

Nicha is much more of a morning person than I am, so she got up early today to do some housework while I slept in a bit longer. We lounged around for most of the morning (and managed to squeeze in some birthday nookie =), and then went to have lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant at a local mall. The food was delicious, and Vietnamese is fast becoming a regular part of our palate. We also took a look at a fish store, and are seriously thinking about getting a medium sized aquarium for our apartment. As part of a holiday sale, the store said they would craft for us a wooden cabinet in a style of our choosing, fit a 2-3 gallon tank, and throw in the rocks, plants, decorations (including a tiny sunken ship I had my eye on), water, and 1 to 2 dozen fish, all for about $250. We are pretty excited about it, and may place an order this week. It will make a nice addition to what has become a really charming and homey apartment.

We spent the remainder of the day at her parent’s place, which was largely uneventful except for the bird’s nest that her father discovered among his low-hanging plants. Inside were 2 recently hatched birds, and whenever he shook the branch, the 2 tiny heads would pop up and they would tweet incessantly; he video taped them, and they looked as though they were crying for food. I’ve never seen such young birds up close like that, and it was pretty fascinating.

Well, I think that more or less catches me up with my entries, and hopefully, I won’t have to crank out anything this lengthy again in the near future. Have a Merry X-mas and Happy New Year!

posted by someone bearing a striking resemblance to Paul | 11:21 PM |


Monday, December 02, 2002  

I tried posting this up last night without luck, so here we go again...

For the greater part of the year, my life moved at a crawl, and now, I can barely catch my breath. Finding time to even type this blog is a rare luxury! But the upshot is, I have a NEW JOB and a NEW APARTMENT! Huzzah!

I am now the newest principal and head of corporate finance at Tonson Capital. I went in Thursday to sit down for a full-fledged interview with Ami, the remaining principal I had just met last Sunday. It started out with more casual chit-chat, but then he broke out into a full-fledged case study. I was a bit nervous as I started into the case, but after a few minutes, it became less of an interview and more of a strategy session as we both debated ideas of how Ami could approach his current project. I have to say that I had a good deal of fun. As we started to wrap up the interview, Ami informed me that at my lunch with the firm’s founder we would likely discuss terms, and he warned me that given the fact that Tonson is a start-up, the compensation would be “shockingly low.” I hinted that I would appreciate some clarification, since shockingly low is a relative term, especially since I made a good deal of money at my last job. As it turned out, “shocking low” was an understatement. Earlier that morning, I ran a set of calculations involving a fairly wide set of possible salary expectations, and the number Ami threw out was significantly lower than my lowest end.

When I met the founder, we discussed possible arrangements, since they wanted me on board, and I wanted to come on board. It was a tough position, since the 2 founding principals weren’t even drawing a salary, and Ami was making only slightly more than I was offered. Though the equity portion of my (or any of our) compensation has yet to be finalized, I figured 3 sharp guys like these principals wouldn’t forgo 6-figure salaries on a pipedream. Given the great learning opportunity that this job presents, I decided (after talking with Nicha beforehand, of course!) that I can swallow the risks in the hope that, after a few years of hard work, my equity will be the payoff at the end of the rainbow.

The truly mind-blowing thing about the new job is the speed with which things are happening. As the founder and I finished our lunch and agreed on terms I can live with (I will be paid at a similar level with Ami, with a sign-on kicker to help me cover my student loan payments over the next few months), he asked me if I was busy for the rest of the afternoon. When I said I was free, he asked me if I wanted to join him at a client meeting, where we met the rest of the team and pitched a client for the next 2 hours. When we got back to the office, I was pulled into a brainstorming session regarding the same project that I was interviewed on just 7 hours earlier. And the topper of the day: they had me interview a potential analyst to work under me. What a whirlwind of a day!

I am extremely excited, not only to have a job again, but at the possibility of taking charge of something and building a company. Admittedly, I may be a bit out of my depth here. After all, I am supposed to be Tonson’s head of corporate finance; the buck (actually, the baht) stops here. They didn’t hire a director or even a VP, but a senior associate. Most of my experience is in mergers & acquisitions, not capital markets, capital budgeting, or capital structures. I expect I will be spending the first few months working as though there’s a fire under my ass, hoping that they never figure out how truly clueless I am =).

Nicha and I are also pretty excited about having a new place, our first together. We just yesterday moved into a 3-bedroom, 1100 square foot apartment on the outskirts of and overlooking the central business district. It’s fully furnished, with a lot of new and beautiful pieces from Europe. I failed to appreciate what a big deal this is for Nicha and her family. I’ve moved around about 2 dozen times since I left home for college, but beyond the temporary study exchange, Nicha has never had a place of her own. Her folks put in a ton of effort getting this place cleaned up and blessing our abode, Buddhist-style. It’s a pretty kick-ass place, and the apartment grounds are gorgeous. The workout facilities suck, but the complex does boast the largest private garden of all of Bangkok’s apartments, and the 2 pools are gorgeous. The place also has several basketball courts, an ATM machine, a dry cleaning place, a mini-mart, and a decent restaurant/coffee shop. The complex is within a few minutes drive from the expressway, 3 malls & superstores, and numerous restaurants. Best of all, it’s just a 15 minute commute for Nicha, cutting her travel time by at least a half hour each way. My commute is a bit more convoluted, but not all that inconvenient, involving catching the apartment shuttle bus to the mass transit station, riding the Sky Train 2 stops to the shopping district, and a five minute walk to my building.

The nice part about the weekend is that Nicha got Friday, Monday, and Tuesday off (and I negotiated a Wednesday start date) so we could get settled in and enjoy some time together. Over the next two days, I still have to do some preliminary reading and analysis so I can start work fully up to speed, but Nicha and I will have some time to buy some furniture pieces for the apartment, and even catch a showing of the new Harry Potter film.

posted by someone bearing a striking resemblance to Paul | 11:15 PM |
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