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


Wednesday, April 28, 2004  

It's amazing how completely disaffected many people in Bangkok are to events that don't occur in their immediate line of sight or sphere of influence. No media uproar, no protests in the streets, nothing. Just a police state and a soundbyte on the 6 o'clock news. I think the current administration has handled the Muslim discontent as it has the Avian Flu crisis, war on drugs, EGAT privatization, and pretty much anything it touches: with bull-in-the-china-shop brute force and callous insensitivity, cutting a huge swathe of chaos and destruction wherever it goes. That our tourist industry (and the economy) hasn't collapsed from sheer governmental incompetence is beyond me.

96 killed in Thailand attacks
Wednesday, April 28, 2004 Posted: 0735 GMT (1535 HKT)

BANGKOK, Thailand -- At least 96 people have been killed in co-ordinated attacks on security posts in Thailand in the deadliest fighting this year in the country's predominantly Muslim south.

Black-clad bandits attacked 15 police stations in three southern provinces -- Yala, Pattani and Songkhla -- killing three policemen and one army officer.

More than 150 people have died since unrest began in early January in Thailand's restive Muslim-dominated southern provinces, but Wednesday's violence is the worst single incident to date.

"In Yala alone the insurgents attacked six targets and at least 45 of them were killed. We lost two police officers and seven were injured," Yala governor Boonyasit Suwanarat it told a news conference.

The largely Muslim province of Yala is 1,300 kilometers (780 miles) south of the capital, Bangkok.

Local television showed pictures of police and troops taking up positions in rural areas, as well as scenes of wounded border troops being unloaded from trucks onto stretchers.

At least one dead soldier was shown lying in the wreckage of a destroyed building. It is not known yet whether the attackers are Muslim separatists.

Bangkok has so far blamed the trouble on local gangsters exploiting disaffected local Malay-speaking Muslim youths who feel few emotional ties to the predominantly Buddhist country.

Last week 50 government buildings were torched in a single night and fears are growing that Thai citizens may soon become increasingly drawn into the violence.

The government is also facing criticism for its handling of the violence amid fears that outside terrorist forces could be stirring the trouble.

posted by someone bearing a striking resemblance to Paul | 2:46 PM |


Tuesday, April 27, 2004  

Liar Liar, Pants on Fire

Ok, I’m a big fat liar.

I said I’d blog soon, and a month later, still nothing. Well, here I am.

Where have I been, you ask? In my own private little hell. Work has been hell. Life has been hell. On top of that, I have a big hole in the crotch of my most comfortable-fitting work slacks. Pants are hell.

Fourth Most Populous Nation in the World

Let’s start with my Indonesia trip, which was actually very nice. It was my first time in Indonesia, and a long-awaited return to a live M&A (mergers & acquisitions, for you non-dorky types) deal. The flights were painless enough. Had to change planes in Singapore, but Singapore’s airport is one of the best in the world (up there with Hong Kong’s), and flying business class is relatively tolerable if not pleasant.

I’ve lived in Asia long enough that I shouldn’t harbour notions that developing countries are the same as third world countries. I did that with Sinagpore, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, and Hong Kong, and each time was amazed at how super modern and efficient many of these cities are, even more so than several large American and European cities. But given all the news of street violence in Jakarta during the Asian Crisis and the terrorist bombing of the JW Marriott last year, I fell back into the same pattern, and once again came away surprised. Jakarta is very much the thriving metropolis, and saw the same sights I’ve seen in most Asian capitals: the latest Japanese sedans and European luxury cars, billboards touting goods from Sony and Louis Vuitton, mega malls with your fast food joints (a lot of A&W restaurants, more than most places I’ve seen), Starbucks at every intersection, etc etc. For the largest Muslim country in the world, the capital city seemed relatively secular.

The best part of business travel on live deals is not only the b-class flights, but being able to stay in more upscale hotels. I’ve done the hostel/packpacker thing in Europe, the Middle East, and the States, and actually enjoy it, but when I’m working my ass off on the job, I wanna be pampered. I want nice room service, I want cigar bars, I want monstrous fitness centers, I want bell captains and concierges waiting on me hand and foot. So no complaints here that the Shangri-La was conveniently located to the deal site. Stark reminder of the JW Marriott bombing were the security measures taken at the major hotels and office buildings. At the entrance to the hotel, armed guards checked the trunk and underneath the cab, and ran a metal detector over my computer bag. The roadway up to and down from the hotel was either full of twists and turns, or had huge barriers that required some maneuvering, pretty much to prevent a high-speed get-away. As an additional measure, I had to pass through a metal detector at the hotel entrance and had my bags searched by armed guards. It’s sad that the world had come to this, but admittedly, I was relieved knowing the Shangri-La took safety very seriously.

It was non-stop work for several days afterwards, spent either at a data room (where data on an acquisition target is kept for potential buyers to review) situated at the client’s law office (which had similar security measures as the hotel), or in my room plugging away on a financial model. My last night in town, I had a chance to relax, and met up with Victor and Lauren for dinner. Victor is a classmate of mine from Kellogg, and Lauren was a colleague from Salomon Smith Barney. After dinner, we met up with many of their mutual friends at Blowfish, which is supposedly the hotspot for young, wealthy Indonesian Chinese in Jakarta (so more a upscale scene for locals rather than the expats). The place had terrific ambiance and a spectacular view of the city. Chatted it up with a merry-go-round of people, including the bar’s owner (very nice fellow indeed). By the time we decided to move onto the next bar, I had already had 2 beers and 4 vodka tonics. Damned if I was going to do any work that night.

Instead of heading to a bar, we wound up going to the house of one of Lauren’s co-workers (I think her name was Linda, but there is a 90% chance I’m not even close). What was truly amazing about this particular female was that not only was there a foozball table at her house, but she bought it, as she is a foozball fanatic. She was damned good, too. Outside of Monica from Friends, I would say that is a definite rarity.

Boys and Their Toys

It was high time to replace my PDA. I loved my Palm M515, but the battery was on the fritz, and besides, I like upgrading my equipment every 2 to 3 years. I had been eyeing the Sony Clie’s and HP Ipaq’s for a while, but I love Palm, and have grown accustomed to its interface. The airport in Singapore has some great electronic stuff in their duty free stores, and having check out their prices on my way to Jakarta and some price comparisons on line, I decided to pick up this sweet baby on my way back: the Tungsten T3. Around $320, and they even threw in a free Zire (which I gave to Nicha’s brother). I was a happy happy camper. After such a tiring ordeal (and even more tiring night of drinking) in Jakarta, I was looking forward to playing with my new toy on the Singapore-Bangkok leg of my flight.

The plane completed its ascent and leveled off, and the instant the seatbelt light blinked off, I was out of my seat, opening the overhead bin, and clawing my way through the box like a kid first thing Christmas morning. It took me a minute of concerned, then perturbed, and then finally frantic searching before realizing that my new Palm, my new baby, my preciousssssss, was nowhere to be found. It hit me: not only was I sold the display model, but the shit-for-brains cashier forgot to pack it in the fucking box. It was an infuriating, pissy ride all the way home.

Since I was returning on a Saturday night (yes, I was working on a Saturday. Urgh), I had to try and track down the electronics chain in Singapore that ran the kiosk in the airport I bought my Palm from on a Sunday. Not easy at all. Took me about an hour, which did not improve my mood. The store staff was very apologetic, and made every effort to assure me that it would be shipped out first thing. I even got a follow-up e-mail from several higher-ups in the company apologizing profusely. All was right with the world again…until I called them up mid-week to enquire about my Palm only to discover that the buggers hadn’t even shipped the damn thing yet. WTF?!? No problem sir, you should be getting it sometime in the middle of next week. OK. I’m pissed again.

Fast forward a week. The delivery guy is in the lobby of my office. He has my Palm. He has a bill of lading that says I’m supposed to pay $80 in customs duties if I want my toy. WTMF?!? (“M” stands for “mother”, in case you were wondering). So I’m back on the phone to the ass wipes in Singapore, who are completely perplexed that Thailand would actually assess a customs duty on a brand spanking new electronic device. Duh, dumbass. You bastards are supposed to eat the cost, not wait for the shipping company to dump it into my lap. Not to worry, sir, we’ll call the company and have it sorted out by next week. Uh uh, no way, you toad spunk, you’re making those calls now! I want that guy back in this office with my digital bling bling by the end of the frickin’ day!!

Fast forward a few more hours, and I’m playing with my brand new Palm. It fucking rocks. I love it. I’m a total gadget dork-wad.

Investment Banking Idiot

During the brouhaha with my Palm, I was struggling to complete a cash flow valuation model of the target company my colleagues and I were scrutinizing in Jakarta. And when I say struggling, I mean that in a stressed-out-of-my-mind, fecal-matter-hits-the-fan kind of way. It took me a long longer than I anticipated to make progress on the model, and I had trouble reconciling the financial statements. It got so bad that my more senior teammate hijacked my modeling duties and created a new one from scratch. He expressed his concerns about my financial modeling capabilities to our boss, who then expresses his concerns to me, calling into question my capabilities as a financier. Fucking craptastic! At Salomon, I’d be a vice president by now. Here, my modeling capabilities are being scrutinized by my boss (who admitted that he not only hadn’t looked at any of my work, but hadn’t a strong background in spreadsheet modeling himself) and my colleague who own model was not only less sophisticated and less user-friendly than mine, but ran into the same reconciliation issues than I did. How did he overcome these issues? By ignoring them and not calling attention to them. He’s the all-conquering hero, and I’m the village idiot. Smack me, I’m stupid.

In addition to being 2 heartbeats away from Pink Slip City, I was bumped from the client presentation team in New Delhi. I had a minor chance to redeem myself by putting together the PowerPoint slides, which I did a reasonable good job (whoop-dee-fucking-doo! Let’s put that on the résumé!), but didn’t get the hob nob with the big guns paying our fees. Yup, I was in the proverbial doghouse. I was definitely at one of the low points in my finance career.

So there I am, scrambling to redeem my sorry ass, and a few opportunities do happen to come my way. In addition to the client presentation, I was given the chance to put together the valuation model for our client’s other potential target, this one being in Malaysia. This would be a more difficult task, since the Malaysian target is significantly larger than the Indonesian one, and is composed of 3 distinct operations, meaning that this model would actually by the consolidation of 3 smaller financial models. Even though the formal due diligence hadn’t (and to this day, still hasn’t) kicked off, my teammate was constantly haranguing me as if we had a hard deadline at the week’s end. Of course, the end of the week comes and goes, and still no model. I know he’s getting worried, and it comes as no surprise that I’m getting a flurry of calls and e-mails from him and our boss over the week and weekend. So after a weekend of intense spreadsheet modeling, I complete what I immodestly have to say is a kick-ass piece of work. After that, no complaints from anyone. I'm back on track.

Man Without a Past

Making all my recent work all the more difficult is that my Sony Vaio suffers a complete breakdown. We’re talking actual physical damage to my hard drive, and an inability to even boot up the damn thing. I think the fan mechanism broke down, and the heat warped my system. That in itself isn’t a big deal, since I’ve been wanting to get a new laptop anyways. What is the real clusterfuck is that I had just gotten a 40 Gb external hard drive, but had not yet backed up most of my data. My entire life got wiped out in a heartbeat. All my college and business school files and papers, all my work files dating back as far as 1994, and all the photos I had taken in 2003 (I was fortunate enough to at least have backed up all the pictures taken before then, including Nicha and my honeymoon photos). With all the punishment life had been dishing out to that point, I couldn’t muster the strength to fly off the handle. All I could do was sigh and sulk in profound disappointment.

I went out that very day to Pantip Plaza, Bangkok’s IT mega-mall (and any geek’s paradise, including this one), and after about 2 hours of scouring the stores, doing some quick test driving and a lot of price comparisons, I plunked down $1,375 on a Compaq Presario V1037. I’ve never been a big fan of Compaq, but I need a highly functional but relatively cheap computer ASAP. The Compaq is equipped with a 1.2 Ghz Celeron processor, 256 Mb of RAM, and a 60 Gb hard drive, plus all the typical features of a laptop. Admittedly, now that I’ve had a chance to play with this laptop these past 2 weeks, I’ve grown quite fond of it. Still wish I didn’t have to lose all my data to come to this realization, though. Amusingly enough, I came across the rather funny, highly relevant piece in The Onion a few days after getting the new laptop.

To Be Continued…

Ok, that pretty much gets you caught up until about last week. A lot of negativity and cuss words, I know. But not nearly as much of either that I was facing for most of April. I’ll post Part 2 soon enough, which isn’t nearly as miserable (or as long!).

posted by someone bearing a striking resemblance to Paul | 6:15 PM |


Thursday, April 01, 2004  

Indonesia was tiring, but fun. Gotta prepare a presentation for a trip to New Delhi next week, so no time to write about it now. Perhaps over the weekend, so don't wander too far, ok?

Oh, yeah, before I forget, this piece on CNN.com was pretty amusing (photo courtesy of the Straits Times):

McDonald's hires daughter of Thai PM
Tuesday, March 30, 2004 Posted: 6:21 PM EST (2321 GMT)

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) -- If Paetongtarn Shinawatra thought she could keep a low profile Monday on her first day working at McDonald's, her hopes were dashed when her father, Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, dropped by for a takeaway.

Thaksin, who became one of Thailand's richest men by investing in telecommunications, let the phalanx of reporters trailing him know that even in the family of a billionaire, the younger generation must learn the value of money and hard work.

"Thai kids, when they finish school, they don't know how to work," said Thaksin, as his giggly daughter stood by. Paetongtarn, 17, will be earning 23.75 baht (US$0.60) per hour in her part-time job.

"I just want her to have the experience and to know about life, because she is the youngest child and when she was born her parents already had status," he said. "Money isn't the main issue. We want her to find experience."

Thaksin didn't say how long he expected his daughter to work at the fast-food restaurant.

Paetongtarn's older sister and brother are among the country's richest shareholders, thanks to a law forcing Cabinet ministers and their wives to give up their shares in most public companies. Thaksin transferred his holdings to his two oldest children in exchange for token payments.

But Paetongtarn will have the satisfaction of knowing she is following in her parents' footsteps.

When Thaksin studied for his undergraduate degree in criminal justice at Eastern Kentucky University in the United States, he worked at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant.

And when he pursued a doctorate at Sam Houston State University in Texas in the late 1970s, his wife Potjaman helped pay the bills with a job at Burger King.

posted by someone bearing a striking resemblance to Paul | 12:39 AM |
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