Thursday, December 27, 2012

Un-inventing yourself

If there is any activity that encapsulates the concept of "getting started", it is cooking.  It is a daunting task, it is both science and art, it can carry heavy connotations, and no matter what you do it will never be perfect.  These are among the many reasons I have avoided cooking for the majority of my life.  A few others to add to the list: it makes me feel like a housewife, there are a million steps involved and thus a million opportunities to screw up the entire thing, and I failed the measurement conversion section of Home Ec in high school.  Seriously, I did.

In spite of all of this, I figured that I'm in Hong Kong, I am trying a lot of new things, why not add cooking to the list.  It's the perfect example of something that you can sit around all day worrying that it won't be perfect, but all you need to do is take the first step.  Plus maybe it will be fun.  It's like an art project, but you get to eat it at the end.  That's not so bad, right?

Well, actually, it kind of is that bad.  Let me tell you the reasons why:

  1.  Though I am one of the lucky few in Hong Kong who actually has an oven in the apartment, I am not quite lucky enough to have a fully functioning one.  My oven has only two options, or only two options that I could figure out: broil, and lukewarm.  After hours of inhaling way too much gas and sticking my head in the oven multiple times, I went with broil.  
  2. That failed measurement conversion quiz really came back to bite me in the ass.  I can just picture Ms. Ioli nodding and saying I told ya so, Ms. Baum.  Not only do recipes require conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit  but they don't sell regular measuring cups here.  I was working with 3 options: 100mL, 15mL and 5mL.  There are 250mL in 1 cup, but that's a dry cup not a liquid cup, blah blah blah.  Considering the recipe called for 6+ cups of certain ingredients, this added significant amounts of time to the process. (Yes, I went to Harvard.)
  3. Apparently, they don't sell brown sugar in Hong Kong.  Note that if it looks like brown sugar, smells like brown sugar, and feels like brown sugar it is NOT brown sugar.  Apparently it is called red sugar.  This resulted in me going to 3 different grocery stores and purchasing 3 other brown sugar imposters before I finally figured  it out.
  4. No food processors, or mixing tools.  This meant whipping eggs and grating 6 cups of carrots by hand.  Luckily, it also means that this little project doubled as a workout.

The advantage of being historically outspoken about avoiding cooking like the plague is that when you actually do get around to making something for someone you love, they know you must really love them.  To put it simply in the context of my relationship, if you cook for him then he will know how much torture you're willing to go through to make him happy.  Yes, that's absurd and passive-aggressive and immature, but I did think about it that way.

Unfortunately, my plan of holding my boyfriend emotionally hostage for my voluntary sacrifice to the kitchen gods backfired when, in spite of all the reasons above, I actually enjoyed this ridiculous farce of a process.  It really was like an art project, and I love art projects.  There were so many reasons whatever I cooked would probably suck that I was forced to let go.  I could actually enjoy the moment and relish in the excitement of improvisation.

The fact that this was actually fun was mildly disturbing, and ultimately led me to wonder -- why had I so openly hated on cooking in the past?  Sure, I am impatient, and I am a perfectionist, thus it makes sense that I might not like it.  However, it was much more about what cooking represented and not what I actually thought it would be like.  I had taken "hates cooking" and incorporated it into my identity.  I joked about it, I talked about it, and purposely never did it.  It made me different.  Cooking is a stereotype.  Cooking is something that society expects from women.  I refuse to be defined by society or stereotypes, thus it followed that I must never cook.

The beauty of moving to a new place is you have an excuse to reinvent yourself.  Or, in my case, un-invent yourself.  Reinventing myself would mean declaring that now I am a master chef, putting pictures of food I've cooked on my Facebook profile, changing my favorite hobbies to "Baking", and buying myself an apron that says #1 Housewife on it.  Un-inventing myself means forgetting all of that and just being me.  I am realizing that I don't have to be "Allison that hates/loves to cook" or "Allison who does/doesn't let a man tell her what to do".  In the past, I've allowed these qualifiers to define who I am, what I like to do and what I don't like to do.  Whether or not they all fit into a stereotype, they have still defined me and that's precisely what I have been saying I hate.

So, yes, even though it was a comical nightmare, I enjoyed making dinner the other night.  I did it because I wanted to, not because I had to prove how much I love my boyfriend, not because I wanted to make him feel like he owed me something.  I might not always enjoy it, and I am pretty sure I will never do it every night.  But maybe I will, and that would be okay.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Things are happening...

One of my biggest fears in life is that I am 'all talk'.  This may seem strange to some people since every job description I have ever had is execution oriented, I am a list person, and generally have a 'can do' attitude.  However, what most people don't know is that there is a statistically significant percentage of things on my lists that never get accomplished.  I will even secretly delete these things from my lists so that I don't feel like a failure every time I look at my To Do's.

The thing is, getting things done is simple when they are finite tasks.  If I already know what it takes and there are tangible tasks to be completed, then no problem.  It's when there is larger, strategic thinking to be done that it gets hairy.  You see, I have this mildly ridiculous notion that I want to change the world.  By putting myself up to such a gigantic and nebulous task, I am no doubt setting myself up for failure.  And in the interest of not being a failure, it is easy to get sidetracked on a simple path -- climbing the ladder to get to the top so you don't have to look around you and see the magnificent and terrifying canyon that surrounds you.  So, sometimes, if I get a glimpse of this Grand Canyon, I put something on the list that will take me in a different, promising, but unknown direction.

These lofty ideas are often the byproduct of the high of a great brainstorming session, or a random moment of inspiration.  They are also often fueled by alcohol and other uncontrolled substances.  A few things I have aimed to do and haven't done:

  • Plan a worldwide PR campaign for micro-lending
  • Start a promotional educational food truck
  • Move to Kenya to work with one of the most inspiring women I know 
  • Surprise friends in various cities by flying in one random weekend
  • Build a curriculum for teaching the kids in Ghana how to write business plans (yes, I'm going to hell)
  • Various sentimental photo album concepts
  • Birthday gifts
  • Christmas gifts
  • You get the picture

I can easily rationalize away these unaccomplished goals by saying 'Oh, I have to prioritize' and 'Don't be so hard on yourself, Allison, you can't do everything' and 'Who do you think you are, you can't possibly get that done!'  But do I really believe that?  If I really cared, wouldn't I just do it?  Or am I just afraid of failing?

Now, I don't mean to sell myself short here.  Even if there is a twinge of surprise, some of these larger things do get accomplished.  I did write a business proposal for bringing GA to Hong Kong.  I did e-mail the Head of the Securities Division at Goldman Sachs (multiple times) because I wanted an internship.  I did make my brother a kick-ass custom cookbook for his birthday one year.  But I feel I'm at a strange inflection point where I am entering such uncharted territory that every time something big gets accomplished, I surprise myself a little bit.  But maybe that's a good thing -- nobody likes those pompous assholes who think they're the shit and walk around promising the world to anyone and everyone.

I came out here aiming to bring GA classes and workshops to Hong Kong.  I basically started selling the dream of being an entrepreneur, of empowering oneself through education from Day One.  It's easy to do that, but now I actually have to follow through.  Tomorrow night is the first GA event in Hong Kong.  It is sold out with a long wait list, and the calendar for January and February classes is filling up quickly.  I'm finding instructors, the webpages are going up, and we are selling tickets.  It's happening.  Now I just have to follow through on my promises.  I have to make it an inspiring and amazing experience -- or at least a seamless one -- for everyone involved.  Could this really work?  I think I can do it, I do.  But I still won't believe it until I see it.  Is that a bad thing?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The gifting debate

Let me share my thought process around the holidays, because there is no denying 'tis the season in Hong Kong.  Given that 85% of the city is actually a shopping mall, there is no shortage of reminders of your holiday duties -- namely that you must buy gifts for your loved ones.  You should not neglect this duty, because no matter your race, religion, whatever, not giving presents makes you an asshole.  

I know this is a very pessimistic way of looking at it, and of course I know and appreciate all the other meaningful and spiritual aspects of the holidays.  Which leads me to the other way I know what time of year it is -- my inner romantic and my inner cynic begin to make a lot of noise as they become deeply embroiled in a raging annual debate.  

The conversation goes something like this:
  • I am so excited!  I am going to find each person the most creative, most unique, most thoughtful Christmas present possible so I can let them know how much they mean to me.
  • Great, you should probably get started shopping then.
  • But where should I go?  Where do they sell said perfect gifts?  I don't have time to walk around the city stopping in every shop to look for special knick knacks and chotchkes (spelling?).  
  • You could find time, but you just don't want to because you're an asshole.
  • Fine, I should just compromise and get them a candle or an ornament or something.  It's the thought that counts right?
  • No, it is not the thought that counts.  That's stupid, Allison, nobody wants another personalized shiny ball to throw on the tree that they'll only see for 4% of the year.  
  • Okay, well, what about …. a shirt?  
  • Good luck figuring out their size.  You go too small, you make them feel bad about themselves.  Too large, you're an asshole for thinking they're that big.
  • Hmm... Some music?  I could put together a mix!
  • Seriously? How cliche, Allison, I expected better from you.  What makes you think you have better taste in music than anyone else?
At this point, the gift has gone from an opportunity to express love and appreciation to an opportunity for disappointment and shame.   A misstep could make you the butt of the annual family holiday joke, resulting in a waste of money and hurt feelings since you don't know your loved ones well enough to get them something perfect and fabulous.  By now, I have probably procrastinated so long that it's almost Christmas and it would probably be better not to get them anything at all than have something pathetic arriving late.  That would be hurtful, not to mention an expensive mistake.  
  • So maybe I should just send a card?  I could just use my words to tell them how much I care!
  • Now you're just taking the easy road, you're being totally lazy and selfish! 
  • Repeat the above from "I am going to find each person …." 

So this year, in the theme of getting started, I decided there would be no bullshit.  I am going to send something to my family because I miss them and even if it's a silly gift, well... at least they can get a small glimpse of how much I love them and wish I could be there.  Living far away makes me realize that you can't wait for the perfect gift, or the perfect moment to call someone in order to catch up.  If you do, it will never come, and you won't call.  And then, your presence in their life will wane and wane until you're barely there at all anymore.  Partially because you become irrelevant (in the true sense of the word), and partially because they really do forget about you.  But ultimately, on some level, I think it is because they know that if you really cared, you would just do it.  You would send a text, you would let them know you're thinking of them (if and when you are, that is, otherwise we're back to the bullshitting problem).  Otherwise, to quote a wise band that loves body paint, you just become 'somebody that they used to know.'  That scares me more than anything...

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Genuinely faking it

I'm finding that one of the biggest opportunity costs of moving to Hong Kong is good concerts.  I wasn't at shows every weekend in New York City or anything like that, but I certainly took for granted the quality, variety, and frequency of talented musicians.  There were always big names rolling through - Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen - as well as your smaller, indie, more intimate experiences - Passion Pit, Deathcab, Temper Trap, whatever.  From what I can tell, this does not happen in Hong Kong.  Perhaps this is why I got a calendar request from my boyfriend several weeks ago inviting me to see Elton John at 7pm on a Tuesday.

The entire experience was incredibly ... orderly.  Because this is the only show I've ever seen in Hong Kong, I admit that this could be just the nature of the crowd at Elton John, but it's worth reporting nonetheless.

  • Intoxication is not only discouraged, it's pretty much impossible.  There is no alcohol served in the general vicinity of the concert hall.  The only bar is literally multiple escalator rides away and you cannot bring any drinks inside with you.  
  • Finding your seat is a highly curated process which requires you only walking a few steps at a time before there is another uniformed person checking your ticket and guiding you in the right direction.
  • There are cloth covers on all of the chairs, on the back of which is a very clear message, "Do not stand on chairs."  I guess people take this very seriously.
  • Not only does nobody stand on chairs, nobody stands at all.  Everyone is politely seated observing the musical act, only a few quite visible rebels had the audacity to clap and wave their hands in the air. 
I guess it's a question of the chicken or the egg, but the lack of energy in the crowd seemed to be reflected on stage.  Hearing 'Tiny Dancer' and 'Your Song' was still pretty magical, but my mind still wandered and I wondered what Elton John was thinking up there.  He must have sung these songs millions and millions of times, but he still appears pretty into it as he leans his head back, squeezes his eyes closed behind those little blue spectacles, and belts it out.  But there's something missing... it feels a little stale. Does he really want that tiny dancer to hold him closer? Is life really that wonderful now that I'm in the world?

It doesn't seem realistic to expect him to keep his feelings on call, to experience true pain, joy, or anguish every single time he performs. Would it really possible for him to convey the same level of genuine emotion every time he sings the song?  Maybe it would be, maybe he goes back to where he was when he first wrote it and relives the experience every time he's on stage.  But it's not likely.  So then, is he faking it?  

This is something I think about often.  Unfortunately, it tends to be when I'm in the middle of conversations and I am hearing myself tell a story I've told many times before.  I can observe the regular inflections in my voice, I hear how I get excited at certain parts, how I try to authentically convey my desired message even though I've said it before and generally understand what type of reaction it will elicit.  In a way, I do relive it every time I tell it, but I can't help but think, am I faking it?  This is particularly relevant when you're starting a company --- you have to explain what it is your business does, why it matters, and why people need it.  And you have to be convincing.  But even if it's the millionth time you've explained it, you can still really believe what you're saying.  So then, are you faking it?  Is it only possible to be truly genuine if you are being spontaneous?  Am I sabotaging my own authenticity by even contemplating this?

I hope not.  I really do believe that General Assembly belongs in Hong Kong, and that entrepreneurship is liberating, and that education is empowerment.  I know, I know it sounds like a bunch of lines.  And I guess it is, because I've talked about it in infinite permutations.  But I hope that doesn't make it any less true, or make me fake.  I want to believe that authentic thoughts and emotions don't have expiration dates.  Tiny Dancer is still a really great song, no matter how many times it has been sung before, right?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Possession Regression

If materialism is a disease, I've had a relapse.  In the process of moving to a new apartment, hosting our first visitor in Hong Kong, and partying in Lan Kwai Fong for the first time, I have lost years of emotional maturity and quite possibly actual years of my life given the amount of second hand smoke I inhaled in clubs this weekend.  In my best effort of self diagnosis, I can trace this regression back to the official 'Moving Day' when we were finally relocating to the new apartment in Sheung Wan.

By now, the concept of moving to a place that I will be calling "home" seems quite foreign.  Though I moved out of the house I grew up in when I was eighteen, I still considered it my real "home" and permanent address until this August, when my parents decided to sell it and move on.  When I lived in New York, I moved apartments pretty much every year.  I avoided the hassle of finding, furnishing, and decorating a place of my own by finding friends who had another roommate moving out and were looking for a new one.  As a result, I never needed to do much outside of organize my bedroom, and I didn't really own or have a say in any other part of the places I lived.  This was fine by me, as I didn't have an urge to settle into one place and had resigned myself to a state of perpetual transition.  Maybe part of me knew that l was just a visitor in the lifestyle that a job in finance afforded me - the great views, boutique shopping, frequent weekend trips, and deliciously expensive dinners.  I don't mean to say I was above it all -- I enjoyed every second of it -- but no part of my life in New York ever felt like it was really mine, if that makes sense.

So, as you may or may not be able to imagine, sorting through all this emotional shit surrounding moving is a much more daunting task than packing and unpacking my actual belongings.  On one hand, I feel eager to embrace a new home as this is where I will be staying for the foreseeable future, and the first place that I will actually endeavor to make my own.  I will be able to choose which drawers contain what utensils, the centerpiece for the kitchen table, and the color of the walls.  On the other hand, moving in with a significant other means pretty much giving up the concept of mine and converting it to the concept of ours.  Literally and figuratively, you must submit to sharing everything:  space, belongings, money, food, habits, schedules, secrets.  This concept is both very romantic and very terrifying, and in a last moment of resistance it sent me clamoring for something, anything, to be only mine.  I felt myself regressing, and I was compelled to scramble for the best drawer and closet space.  I felt irrationally competitive, violated, irritated, sad, and suffocated.  Tears and minor hyperventilation ensued.

After recovering from this initial shock, I have mostly come to terms with the idea of sharing these things with my boyfriend.  However, I know that I am lingering in this regressed emotional state as I have now found myself obsessing over our things.  I want the apartment to look, to smell, to be perfect.    As you can imagine, this is a lot of pressure.  The trip to IKEA was not just a casual Saturday activity.  No, these are serious decisions that must be made with care.  We need to have beautiful, yet simple plates, silverware, and tupperware.  Selecting the right hand towels is not a task to be taken lightly.  I feel obsessed with optimal organization, and I have a disturbing desire to decorate.  Yes, a nice orchid plant would look phenomenal right there.  Oh, I have a great idea, how about I put this candle in this bowl and I fill it with potpourri!  Oh wouldn't that be just lovely?!

WHO AM I?!  When will I snap out of this?  Intellectually, I know that this apartment does not dictate who I am or how good I am.  Yes, it is my "home", but it is also just a place where I happen to sleep.  And shower, and eat.  If it is messy, that doesn't mean I am a slob.  Well, it could mean that, but it doesn't automatically mean that.  So then why do I have the compulsive desire to clean it?  I feel ashamed of and disappointed by my relapse into materialism and perfectionism.  I have so many other exciting and meaningful things to be focusing on.  Hopefully, I will recover from this soon.  It just isn't comfortable when your head and your heart aren't in the same place.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Opposite of Bored

I feel like I'm on a scavenger hunt.  Since I arrived here, I've been reaching out to people throughout Hong Kong that are involved in the entrepreneurial scene in one or way or another.  One of the reasons why I am slowly falling in love with this city is that all of these people have e-mailed me back.  What is that?!  In New York, maybe I'm just particularly annoying but I have found that cold e-mails get <50% response rate, even if they are flattering to the recipient.

Once I'm over the shock of actually receiving a response, I arrange to meet with them, whether it be for a quick coffee, lunch, or just plain old conversation.  When this process begins, I glance at my empty calendar to suggest a time and carefully concoct a way of not sounding too pathetic with my lack of plans.  Then, before I know it, someone else e-mails back.  I arrange a meeting, spending less time on not sounding pathetic since now I actually have something else on my calendar.  Rinse, repeat until calendar is completely full.  Since I am a) not making money and b) still learning the map of Hong Kong, this has several implications:
  1.  I do not know what I am getting myself into when I eagerly respond, "I can meet you wherever is convenient for you!"
  2. # meetings per day * 15 minutes = minimum amount of time I am lost per day
  3. The MTR (Hong Kong's take on the subway) and I have gotten to be good friends.  The trains are frequent, punctual, and clean.  HK > NY in this equation.
  4. # of meetings per day * 25 minutes = minimum amount of time I spend walking within the MTR train stations.  They are sprawling and go unimaginably deep underground, often involving multiple, extremely long and steep flights of stairs.  NY definitely > HK in this equation.  Small subway stations have their advantages.
In spite of the above, it has been great because every morning I wake up and my iCal is like a treasure map.  I don't know where I will find treasure, but I know where to look (kind of).  Yesterday, I headed down the escalator to Central to meet a local enterpreneur.  Then back up to Soho for coffee with a woman running an association for digital marketing.  Then back down to the MTR to take me to Quarry Bay for lunch with a financial professional interested in startups and angel investing.  Then over to Jordan to see a friend of a friend who is a reporter for a local newspaper and runs a photography business.  Then to Wan Chai to stop by our partner space for classes.  Then over to Sheung Wan to pick something up at the new apartment.... you get the picture.

Before I know it, it's dinner time and I am finally back home to examine the gems I've picked up over the course of the day.  No, I don't mean business cards.  I mean the pearls of wisdom, new friends, sometimes painful learning experiences, great coffee spots, and exciting tidbits of potential for building something great here.  I've realized if there is one way to really bring out people's true colors, it is by talking to them about ideas and by asking their opinion.  Conveniently, this is also the best way to learn things.  These things may or may not be true, but such is life.

Clearly you're catching me on an up day :) 

Monday, November 26, 2012

fn(life) = sin(everything)

When I first started at Goldman, people always told me that the trading floor was the King of highs and lows.  From day one of my first internship, the quintessential words of wisdom were, When you have a great day, you're on top of the world, but when things go bad you'll never want to come back again.  By day two, I was saying it too.  Two thousand days later, I realize I should have been saying, No shit, Sherlock.  It's called life.

Staring into the deep, dark abyss of building a life in a different country, my first foray into cohabitation, and setting up a new business, the trading floor looks less like the King and more like the Court Jester of highs and lows.  I mean, we're entering uncharted territory with the scale and dimension of the ups and downs of life these days.

I kind of like this list thing, so instead of blabbing on and on about what's been going on, here are a few of the highs from the weekend:

  • Brainstorming how to make our first General Assembly events and classes in Hong Kong happen.  The possibilities are endless and seeing other people get as excited about this as I have been for months is thrilling, validating, inspiring, all at once.
  • TEDx Hong Kong - I went with a few new friends here, saw awesome ass speakers from the second row, met a lot of incredible people, and had great conversations on how social media can spur spontaneous acts of social good.  It renewed my faith in people's inherent positivity and desire to connect with each other.
  • Selling donated Christmas gifts and housewares at a volunteer holiday bazaar and seeing how hard people will work to help others.  Also, totally arbitrarily pulling prices out of my ass, and getting to be on the other side of bargaining with Chinese people.  
  • Stopping by an awesome (and amazingly tiny) speakeasy type bar in Sheung Wan on Saturday night where an intimate and appropriately buzzing crowd is huddled around candles, bottles of red wine, and a small group of musicians jamming on some Johnny Cash.
  • Finally getting a phone and a permanent number!  Add me on Whatsapp and Viber pleaaase.
Quickly followed by some deep lows:
  • Realizing my boyfriend is probably really sick of hanging out with me, but I don't really have anyone else to call to hang out on Saturday night.
  • Facing how incredibly lame I am because I am so fucking tired by 11pm on Saturday night that I don't know if I would even want to call anyone else to hang out.
  • Trying to figure out how I am going to spend my time every day, and realizing that I have no structure whatsoever but a million things to do and it's all up to me which is great but hugely intimidating and sometime results in complete paralysis.
  • Living together is scary and means you can't hide any of those silly little things you used to do on your own that nobody could judge you for.  Like reading Perez Hilton, or staying in your PJ's all day, or just staring at the ceiling for an inappropriately but oddly satisfying long time.
  • No matter how hard I try, I just don't understand how to use hashtags -- and why the fuck can't I watch Hulu here!?!

At the end of the day, I know it's all good stuff.  Yes, I know how lucky I am.  And yes, I do love life.  But sometimes it still feels like everything sucks, I'm never going to figure all of this out, and I am a fool for trying.  And the worst part is that talking about it really doesn't seem to make any of it better, because all anyone can say is, That's how life is.  To which I would still like to reply, No shit, Sherlock.  But who can blame them - I guess I don't know what else to say or do about it either.  I just have to embrace it and buckle up for a particularly bumpy ride for a little while.   

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Hong Kong Thanksgiving

When you celebrate Thanksgiving in a foreign country (and yes I've lived in Asia for all of 3 weeks now so I'm going to speak in generalities), it sneaks up on you pretty quickly.  There's no day, or even half day, off work.  No cornucopias in the grocery stores.  No food drives for the less fortunate.  No Pachelbel's canon. No parades. Nobody even notices or brings it up.  I guess who can blame them, it's not even Thanksgiving in the U.S. for most of the day here due to the 13-16 hour time difference.  Most locals don't understand what it is and I found it embarrassingly difficult to explain.
Yes, we all binge eat meat and carbs to celebrate that a long time ago when we were starving and the Indians saved us by sharing their crops with us.  No, not from India. I meant to say American Indians... er... um, Native Americans -- well yes, I am originally from America but this is different.  Anyway this was a long time ago before the U.S. existed.  Right, it's a national holiday, not a religious one.  But in order to establish our nation, we ended up displacing and murdering most of the people we shared this meal with.  But we do stuff a turkey and then ourselves every single year as a way of saying thank you so... we just call it even.
As a quick side note -- Hong Kong does understand Christmas quite well.  Given 75% of the city is shopping malls, this should be an obvious statement.   Every single one of those malls is teeming with all of the holiday's decorational glory, my favorite of which was 2 giant white sparkly reindeers with abnormally large interlocking antlers that rose toward the sky like a skeleton Christmas tree.  These super-sized and slightly frightening displays plus the fact that the weather still 80 degrees and humid are going to make for a very interesting holiday season.

Okay back to what's relevant.  The American community, or really the entire expat community, in Hong Kong does manage to celebrate in style.   Since turkeys aren't as plentiful in Asia as they are in the U.S. this means it ends up being quite an expensive holiday, with a decent sized bird costing upwards of $100 USD.  All of this money apparently flows directly into the pockets of the Mandarin Oriental hotel which, for a low cost of approx. $300 USD a pop, supplies all of Hong Kong with a diligently prepared turkey and all the corresponding fixings.  Admittedly, this is the best turkey I have ever tasted in my entire life (sorry, Mom and Dad).  Moist, thick, flavorful, deliciously briny... you won't even need that seventy-five-dollar cranberry sauce.

So yes, this year's celebration had a completely different flavor (pun intended) than any other year, but amidst all this change I wouldn't expect anything but an unusual start to the holiday season.  Most importantly, it did make me stop and think about what I'm grateful for --

Here are the top ten, in no particular order:

  1. The fact that it took me several minutes to figure out what an MD from Goldman was talking about last night when he was telling a story about the "orange Lambo he bought after bonus season in 2006.  And omigod guys, it was, like, sooooo orange."  
  2. All of my friends in NYC who took the time to make me feel loved and appreciated before I left.  It was a tough time and it helped to feel like there were people that noticed I'd be gone.
  3. My blockmates from college who are all amazing and inspiring women who just get it.  I'm also grateful that they have put up with years of my incessant whining about what I should be doing with my life.  (Sorry guys, but it's not stopping anytime soon).
  4. The doorman with white gloves at the China Resources Building who walked me 2 blocks to the MTR when I couldn't figure out the directions he was giving me.
  5. The privilege of traveling to all these different parts of the world and getting a chance to see what life is like outside of my bubble.
  6. Everyone I work with at General Assembly who helped me realize that this is a world of infinite opportunity and possibility.  But especially those that got me chocolate soymilk and that amazing vegan cake on my last day in NY.
  7. Ellie Goulding's cover of Your Song which I am listening to right now.
  8. My family, who truly have an infinite amount of love for each other, even though they might not always know it.
  9. My newfound appreciation for social media, which really does make you feel less alone when you share a random silly thought and you know someone, anyone, is reading it. 
  10. The opportunity to bring General Assembly to Hong Kong.  And everyone that is even half as excited about it as I am (follow GA_HongKong on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter if you haven't already!)

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.  If you're not from America, congratulations for being able to enjoy your dinner without the blood of millions of Native Americans on your hands.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I moved here, but now where do I put all of my stuff?

So now that my "real life" here is supposed to start, the first task at hand (at least on my personal agenda) is finding an apartment.  Needless to say, not knowing anything too in depth about Hong Kong, its neighborhoods, or the local apartment hunting process, I was extremely intimidated by this major life project.  Not to mention the fact that Hong Kong is renowned for its absurdly expensive real estate, even by New York City standards which is really saying something.  However challenging this hunt seemed, in a way I was grateful for a project to address considering I returned from my trip facing the stark reality that I have exactly zero friends here.

In terms of getting started, my theory for these types of projects is that you do a little bit of easy groundwork way way in advance.  This serves several purposes: 
  1. It eases the anxiety of needing to accomplish something but not being able to check it off your list for weeks or months to come.
  2. You typically forget that you've already done some work on it, which results in a pleasant surprise when you actually go to check it off the list because you've already given yourself a general context for the problem and resolution is mostly a matter of simple execution.  
  3. It allows you to give off the sly impression that you're completely relaxed about the whole thing and totally not one of those crazy people that makes lists just to check things off of them or anything like that.  Yeah... definitely not one of them, I swear.
Following this sneakily type-A strategy (or maybe it's blatantly type-A but whatever), I set up time during my interim week here to go along with a real estate broker to see a few places and get a sense of what was out there before we needed to actually find a place.  By "broker" I mean a person with a couple keys who is apparently paid to walk next to you while talking on the phone the whole time. Some initial discoveries from this exploratory trip:
  • When looking at 1 or 2 BR apartments, "bedroom" is a loose term sometimes used to describe a medium sized closet.
  • The words "kitchen" and "bathroom" are also loose terms typically used to describe a small closet with pipes somewhere within it.
  • Most apartments are actually pre-furnished with really tacky pieces that do not follow any type of coherent theme but are somehow supposed to be a selling point for the space.  This results in an intense negotiation where you are actually willing to pay more for an apartment WITHOUT any of that ugly shit in it.
  • These places all have an odor vaguely reminiscent of my childhood violin teacher's house - a unique blend of mothballs, microwavable meals, and old books.
  • All the apartments are empty.  In NYC most apartments a broker would take you to were fully inhabited and you were forced to negotiate with the previous tenants in order to find a day around the end of the month that would allow you to hire movers at reasonable rates.  In HK, my guess is that people buy the real estate as investments and are less concerned about renting them out and more concerned about just sitting on them as they appreciate (theoretically) in value.  
  • Some landlords/ladies are offended when you try to take pictures.  Seems counterintuitive to me, no?  What do they think you're going to do, spoil the surprise for anyone else that might be interested?
  • Most new buildings have gyms and pools but apparently you are not allowed to see them before you rent an apartment, even though they seem from a distance to be quite nice.  There is also a distinct possibility that this was an excuse from the real-estate broker who didn't want to get off the phone to ask for access.
Anyway, my first day back - Monday - I saw 6 apartments and the 6th was… absolutely perfect.  Great location in a neighborhood I can only describe as the HK equivalent of the West Village, safely within our budget, just big enough that we can be in the same room but not on top of each other, a few extra square inches in the bathroom (that I am desperately dreading to share with a boy), decent light so it doesn't feel like you're living in a dungeon, a kickass dining table that doesn't match anything else in the apartment but is still awesome, and enough built in closets that our shit won't be everywhere cluttering up the precious square feet we are able to squeeze out of the rest of the space.

My boyfriend went to see it later that night, we did a bit of negotiating this morning and BOOM we have ourselves our very own humble abode.  We also have an ugly couch and a desk that doesn't match - both of which would have cost a pretty penny to NOT leave in the apartment - but you can't always get what you want.  I know that I shouldn't get used to major tasks being this easy, but I do feel quite lucky to check this one off the list pretty damn quickly (on Day 2, thank you very much).  Move-in is in exactly 10 days, which will be the 4th time I have moved in 5 months.  That doesn't make it any easier, but at least I have already thrown away most of my superfluous belongings. 

So now, lucky for me, I can spend the next ten days focusing on other items on my list, er, I mean… things.  Like how to hide a couch in the middle of a room.  Or how to procure a phone number and source of funds for all the coffees, lunches, and drinks I'm setting up in order to convert my number of friends into a positive integer.  Then again, maybe the math analogies are hurting my game.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Tidbits from the road

After spending 16+ days travelling, I just got "back" to Hong Kong last night.  I would have really loved to update with my random thoughts from the road but neither Myanmar nor Bhutan had regular (or any) internet access.  I suppose this is a good thing considering it allowed me to remain completely free from distraction and get a real sense of what life is like outside of this little bubble we somehow believe is "normal".  I was also able to properly acknowledge any temporary discomforts as 'First World Problems'.

I'd really love to craft some sort of meaningful post here where I can draw some deep conclusions about the state of the world and the pettiness of our political squabbles compared to the plight of those whose basic rights have been oppressed for decades.  And that is true, which I may or may not elaborate on later since I was in Myanmar during the US election.  However, as I have mentioned before - if I wait for that kind of inspiration this blog would be over before it started.  So instead, I'll just get started.

Here are Ten Tidbits that I found interesting and thought might be worth sharing:

1.  Is it Myanmar or Burma?  

There are ~8 main ethnic groups that make up the country of Myanmar, which is its official name right now.  Burmese people make up 65-80% of the population (depending on who you ask).  The name "Myanmar" is supposed to capture all of the groups while "Burma" is representative of the large majority of culture there.  As a result I'd think Myanmar is more politically correct, but Aung San Suu Kyi said in an interview that she prefers Burma since the name was changed without consulting the people.  That brings me to #2.

2. Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced Awng Sahn Soo Chee) is kind of a big deal.  

Have you heard of her?  Well, she is a badass and all of Myanmar is obsessed with her and after spending 8 days there, I kind of am too.  I will attempt to give you a brief background (somewhat akin to that drunk history youtube video given my level of accuracy so please forgive me).  In short, Burma was a British colony until 1947 when her father General Aung San helped get the Burmese people on their feet, founded the army, and attempted to bring democracy to the newly independent nation.  Some real assholes murdered him almost immediately after he took office and the government that ensued was brutally oppressive and violent for years to come.   His daughter Aung San Suu Kyi moved abroad, studied in the US/UK, married a British guy, had 2 kids and was going along her merry way when she returned to Burma in the late 80's after her mom died.  Upon her return, she was lauded as the next great leader by a population starved for a hero (should I say heroine or is that too cruel of a pun?) and ended up founding the National League for Democracy.  The government didn't like that she was encouraging freedom and put her on house arrest for the better part of the next 20 years -- which, by default makes her awesome because how the hell do you survive and keep your faith in life and your country while you're confined to your house?  I can't even survive 1 day.  Anyway her picture is everywhere, people affectionately call her 'The Lady' and she seems to be a generally awesome role model.  And she's really pretty to boot -- Michelle Yeoh played her in a recent biopic called 'The Lady' and the resemblance is striking.

3.  Everyone knows about U.S. politics and everyone loves Obama.

We were staying in a small town near Inle Lake in Myanmar when the US presidential election happened.  We didn't have any access to the internet or news in our hotel so we were resigned to not knowing who won for a few days.  So we went on with our vacation and rode bikes 30-45 minutes away from the already tiny town to a remote village where there was a monastery and a small private school.  The village popped up around 2 years ago after a reknowned monk moved to a cave there.  Seriously.  This guy's thing is he lives in a cave and never comes out.  He has a loyal following that came with him and set up shop nearby when he decided to switch up his cave.  He's got a couple other monks that bring him food and receive visitors and stuff so we went up to the cave and we were visiting with one of his sub-monks.  First off, the guy lights up a cigarette.  Ummm okay, noted.  Then, two ladies scurry by as we enter the cave to sit down and shyly ask where we are from.  Naturally, we say the U.S. and they say 'Go Obama!  So glad he won!'  And that is how we found out who won the US presidential election.

4.  Buddha is a pretty big deal, or something.  

That was sarcasm - he's a huge fucking deal (and so are his corresponding donation boxes).  Throughout this entire trip, Buddha was everywhere. and it became quite apparent that Buddhism is pervasive in this part of the world.  There are good and bad parts of this and I don't really feel like offering an opinion on all of this because it's kind of inappropriate and I'm not sure what I think yet anyway.  The point is that there are THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of Buddha images all over Myanmar and Bhutan.  It's incredible, there are gold and jewel-encrusted Buddha statues towering over desperately poor villages filled with starving children.  It's very confusing, but the people there apparently would not have it any other way.  One of our guides estimated that there are more Buddha images than people in Myanmar.  Bagan, an old capital city in Myanmar, alone had 3,000 stupas (little cone-like structures that have a Buddha image inside).  Another cave had 8,000+ gold-covered Buddha statues inside of it (see this picture).  There weren't a ton of Americans so I enjoyed being regarded as both tall and a celebrity of sorts.

5.  Being a Buddhist monk is not what you think.

All men in Myanmar are required to enter a monastery as a monk at least twice in their lives.  They can stay as long as they want but have to at least give it a go.  There used to be a 'Monk Tax' in Bhutan which required families to send at least one son to a monastery.  Everyone does it at some point, and a lot of these monks look so young -- see picture above by Sir Michael Sloyer... I love the look in this guy's eye.  He's like "Yeah, what up I'm a monk.  What do you care?"  Others smoke cigs (see #3 above), others chew tobacco, and others can be found sponsoring girls at 'Live Musical Shows' which are a strange Bhutanese mix between a karaoke bar, strip club, and nunnery.

6.  Bhutan has an interesting history.  

Our 6 days in Bhutan were filled with interesting folklore.  Let me share an example, which is a story used to explain why there are artistic renderings of penises everywhere throughout the country.  Wooden penises, metal penises, fresco penises, you name it.  The story is about 'The Divine Madman' who was a religious master who used to wander Bhutan a few centuries ago.  He taught in a very different way, a method that typically involved sexual exploits of some sort.  He was also really good at archery (the national sport there) and so he wound up his arrow one day and asked, 'Mr. Arrow, please land where I will be offered delicious local wine and I will find me some super fine ladies'.  He went to the town where it landed and started doing his thang (think tantric).  Finally the townspeople were like whoa dude, are you sure you're a religious master if you're into all this sex stuff?  He said 'Yea, wanna bet?' and they're like 'Yeah, we do - show us something magical.'  The Madman said 'Sure, now bring me a cow and a goat.'  They obliged and he proceeded to eat the flesh of both of these animals and throw their bones in a pile.  He said some stuff that sounded magical and official and the bones rose to form a hybrid animal called the Takin which to this day is the national animal.

Please imagine trying to keep a straight face while your guide tells you this story in complete seriousness.  To be fair, the animals do look like a mix between a goat and a cow.  Here I am offering it some weeds (which are not to be confused with the actual marijuana plants that grow in abundance alongside every road and in every field in Bhutan).

7.  Puppies aren't that cute.

Controversial statement I know, but most countries in Southeast Asia have a major problem with dogs.  They aren't revered as pets in the same way as they are in the US and consequently are allowed to run (and mate) in the wild.  This means there are unkempt, untamed, and un-vaccinated puppies everywhere.  This is a picture of what appears to be two cute puppies, and then you realize they're gnawing on a raw chunk of red meat.  Then they come to you for a kiss.  No thanks Pup.

7.  You thought kids in New York City grow up too fast?  Check out this little rascal.

8.  Apparently I like feeding animals.  Really, I just wanted to reward this lil' guy because he is manually making peanut butter which is one of my favorite things ever.  I thought he deserved a little reward for what he is adding to the world.

9.  I spent two weeks covering up my legs and shoulders and taking my shoes off every ten seconds.  Obviously, that makes for a very sexy vacation with your boyfriend who you haven't seen in several months.  I think this picture is worth including because it makes conservative clothing and shoe tying look hilariously dramatic.  I am also wearing red socks, which is silly, and since I look awful in every single other picture, figure it's worth a little glamour shot?

10.  This picture has not been edited or altered in any way.  All natural beauty, baby.

Okay I think that's enough for now, for anyone who's still reading :)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Checking Out

After a whirlwind of a first week in Hong Kong, I'm officially going off the grid for the next 16 days.  I will be spending a week in Myanmar/Burma and then onto Bhutan where I'm hoping to absorb some extra happiness through osmosis (lame joke, but they are allegedly the happiest people in the world).

I'm really not exaggerating when I say that less than a year ago, I had never heard of either of these countries.  I should be embarrassed by this but it also kind of makes me proud in that I'm expanding my horizons and bit by bit chipping away at my ignorance of the world beyond my immediate surroundings.

There's apparently not even internet in these places, which will be both refreshing and frightening as technology withdrawal can manifest itself in very real ways.  I will be sure to return with many significant revelations, obtuse metaphors, and other random musings to share.

Signing off for now!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Step by Step... Literally

For anyone not familiar with Hong Kong, it is geographically situated somewhat similarly to New York City.  There is a body of water, Victoria Harbor, that separates two main parts of the city: Kowloon, which I would liken to Brooklyn because it is much bigger and less expensive, and Hong Kong Island, which is similar to Manhattan in that it is where the financial district and more expensive shops, restaurants, and homes are located.  There's even a really pretty park in the Central district.

However, one major difference between the two cities is that Hong Kong Island is situated on a huge slope that eventually leads to Victoria Peak at the top (They must have really liked this Vicky character).  Great set up, right?  This means there is no shortage of gorgeous views, plenty of challenging hiking trails, and lots of other exciting perks of living on a hill.  It also means it's a bitch to get from the bottom (area called Central, name is pretty self explanatory) to the Mid-levels where I am staying at the moment.

Lucky for me, and lucky for you whenever you come to visit, is that they built a GIANT escalator that goes up the entire length of the incline.  This saves you time, energy, and also presents plenty of thrilling opportunities to get shoved around by a crowd on a moving walkway.  Now, in the theme of a path of destruction following me wherever I go (Hurricane Sandy, T10) of course the most relevant section of the escalator has been broken since I arrived.  Consequently, every time I venture out of Mid-levels, I have to climb hundreds of stairs.  On the upside, it's good exercise since I can't join a gym yet, but it's also quite exhausting and my legs are painfully sore after only 2 days here.

Climbing these steps is extremely painful and exhausting in both anticipation and in reality.  If you're standing at the bottom of the hill looking up and you know those 5 flights of stairs between you and your destination are going to make you really tired and sore, that doesn't change the fact that once you start climbing they will actually make you really tired and sore.

In the interest of extending the metaphor, the first few days here have left me exhausted in every other sense as well.  It's much more difficult than I thought it would be, or at least it feels that way. In order to get even the simplest task accomplished, I have to take it step by step - and patience is not a virtue I possess.

I think I had a decent grasp of the various challenges of moving to China.  Perhaps it is my ego or just plain old arrogance but I really thought I could take it in stride (maybe I would be if the damn escalator was working).  I'm not sure how you would define "taking it in stride" but let me list some of the things that have lead me (step by step) to exactly two panic attacks in three days:

  • Trying to set up my phone
  • Figuring out what to eat for lunch
  • Not being able to call and chat with your parents or friends while you're walking somewhere during the day because they're sleeping
  • Not being able to call anyone at all since you incorrectly set up your phone
  • Getting lost in the endless maze of shopping malls
  • The metal bars that prevent you from crossing the street where you need to and instead having to walk an extra 5 minutes to get to another set of steps to climb that take you to an elevated walkway that changes directions halfway across the street and leaves an another 5 minutes down the road from where you wanted to be in the first place
  • The only coffee shop you remember from your last visit being closed 

Once I catch my breath and feel my feet on the ground again, I keep telling myself it's okay that I am panicking at these moments.  The typical comforting declaration would be "This is normal" but that's not really what it's about.  I don't mind being overly emotional, nor am I afraid of being abnormal (good thing, right?!)  However, I am afraid of not being able to keep moving. I do mind staring up at those steps and not being able to take the first one.

I still haven't quite figured it out, but so far my solution has just been... continue sobbing but just keep climbing the steps at the same time. That way, at least I'll get to where I'm going eventually right?  And on the upside, the sense of sheer panic will distract me from how fucking sore my quads are!  Not sure how that metaphor translates, but nothing's perfect so I'm going to cut it there.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

An Accelerated Exit

The process of moving, in brief:

Step 1: Commit -- check.
Step 2: Get ready to go -- check.
Step 3: OK, go -- oh, I actually am doing this?

Now, imagine that you were moving halfway across the world.  To China.  You were in the midst of leaving your first non-finance job (the first job you've ever loved), saying goodbye to great friends both new and old.  Your entire family put aside their own personal sagas to fly to New York City to say goodbye.

This move represents a wide variety of new beginnings: a new career, a new phase of a relationship, a new location, a new way of life.  You have 24 hours left.  What would you do with it?  How would you spend those last 24 hours in a city you've grown to love, a city where you've built a life over the last 4 years?

Now take those plans, and throw them down the garbage chute.  An apocalyptic hurricane is headed straight for New York City and you have to drop everything and leave 24 hours early to avoid the storm.  Accelerate all those goodbyes, pack up all your shit, wipe off the tears, and get the hell out of there.

Yep, that's what happened.  It seems even more ridiculous to see in writing.  I mean, there was also this little T11 typhoon that came along last time I was visiting in Hong Kong this summer -- the worst the city has seen in 14 years.  Maybe I should start fancying myself akin to Halle Berry in X-Men and add "conjuring apocalyptic weather" to my CV.

I'm not sure I can even sift through the emotions I felt having to give up my last 24 hours in NYC, but it definitely was a sense of loss.  Since this move popped up on my radar months ago, I didn't think much of looking backwards and missing where I was coming from.  Somewhat surprisingly, I didn't question the decision.  I was mostly just excited for what was to come.  But in that moment, where I had to truly detach from all my plans, all my pre-determined motions for saying goodbye, that hurt.  Now I was actually going to have to experience these last moments for real, with no predescribed schedule of motions and feelings to go through.  I was forced to be truly present in my exit.  And let me tell you, that's pretty fucking hard.

It's just as hard to be present in my arrival.  Though it has played it many times in my head, there really is no montage of memories playing in the background as I lean my head against the window and watch the ground draw closer and the wheels of the plane touch the ground.  Upbeat inspiring music doesn't turn on as I step out of the taxi from the airport and gaze up at the endless skyscrapers in this new and foreign city.  Life doesn't shift into slow motion, nor does the soundtrack turn epically romantic as I am reunited with my love after months of being apart.  My hair does not blow perfectly in the wind as I laugh and he picks me up and twirls me around and kisses me desperately, telling me how I am even more beautiful than he remembered.  Damn, I was thinking some Mumford would fit in quite nicely right there... "I Will Wait" seems appropriate, no?

But it felt nearly as good to feel a genuine smile creep over my face as relief takes over and I look up see him waiting beyond the exit of the train station.  I'm not alone, a big hug is only a few feet away, and he can help me with all these damn suitcases I brought.  After multiple attempts to jam the luggage cart through the exit, I finally got to him and the moment became reality.  Being present for that was fantastic, too, but I'm not sure that I will ever stop half expecting the music to kick in.  Are those remnants of expectation a bad thing if they don't necessarily translate into disappointment?  Or, could the moment actually genuinely be that beautiful and epic on its own if the expectations didn't even exist?

You say goodbye, I say hello

In order for a blog to be somewhat relevant, I think it needs an introduction.  I also function under the belief that it needs a theme.  Otherwise, it's just a public diary.  And while I admit that I have dozens of started and forgotten diaries littered throughout my childhood memories (perhaps some choice entries will be posted here at some point, purely out of my altruistic desire to share the hilarity of my imagined suburban teenage angst), I want this to be more than that.

That said, this blog is about figuring shit out.  It's about calling bullshit on all the excuses you use for not doing what you want, and just doing it -- whether or not you are "ready".  It's about getting started - no matter what that means to you.  So, I had to stop waiting for the perfect theme to hit me in the face and just start writing.  As a result I'll have to ask that you bear with me while I try to figure out a theme that is unique, entertaining, appropriate and informative.  Suggestions welcome.  I must also warn you that I both write and speak like a sailor.  I must stay true to my filthy vocabulary, or else this blog would not be truly genuine and we all know that's what I think is most important.

Quick summary for those not interested in the longer version:  

When I was young, I thought I was boring.  Then I went to Harvard, got a job (and a hot boyfriend) at Goldman Sachs, and for a brief moment I thought that made me interesting.  Then I woke up and I got started.  I left finance for an incredible place in the epicenter of the start up world called General Assembly, and my whole life opened up.  I discovered more about myself and the world around me.  I recognized and embraced that I was actually quite in love with aforementioned hot boyfriend, who happened to be moving to Hong Kong.  He moved, I experienced the pain of celibacy for 6 months, and threw myself into pitching a General Assembly in Hong Kong.  Now, I am here.  And.... I'm getting started.

The longer version (with pictures):

Now, I'll attempt to fill in the back story to my recent move to Hong Kong.  It has certainly been a journey, but nothing like what is to come.  Anyway, I was born in Chicago to 2 very loving parents.  Though I spent years desperately trying to escape the fact that my upbringing was nothing but fantastically normal, I have now come to truly appreciate it (except for the accent).  My parents raised a true millennial by providing me with all the opportunities I could ever ask for and telling me I was truly capable of doing anything I wanted.

It's funny, because I was in the middle of writing that I was basically blind to myself in middle school, completely unaware of how my actions were perceived by others.  I didn't even mean to bring it up, but really goes to show you how we are raised to only understand ourselves through the eyes of others.  I'm still trying to figure it out, but I want to get back to this pre-high school era where I was not governed by others' reactions to me, free to just experience the world through my own two eyes.

But so it goes and our identity is soon formed by how people view you.  That process has never failed to make me miserable.  Consequently, I pretty much hated everything about high school.  Somehow I miraculously ended up completely out of my element at an Ivy League school where I had a fucking blast.  Met some incredible people, learned a ton, and truly rebelled against the anal, hard-working, disciplined person I was in high school.  This also happened to result in a lot of bad decisions, very drunken evenings, and a love affair with Camel Lights.

Corporate Allison
In pursuit of my desire to overcome my "boring" upbringing and become an interesting person, I set out to find a job that would allow me to travel the world.  Not worth fully delving into here, but long story short, a childhood passion for Japanese led me to a spring break internship in sales and trading at Goldman Sachs.  The excitement of the trading floor, the potential of early financial independence, and (nerd moment) the intellectual challenge of learning derivatives all led me to come back internship after internship.  Okay fine it was also a little bit alluring and self satisfying to be asked to join the ranks of so many smart, good looking, and successful people.  Would that make me all of those things too? I would have never said this at the time, but I secretly (and sadly) hoped so.

3 years later, I was desperately unhappy.  I was at the doctor almost every other week with some new type of stress induced illness.  I woke up every morning wondering why I was so miserable, desperately wanting to just be grateful for what I had achieved and enjoy all the things that came along with it.  I thought I was so lucky to be invited into this exclusive club of the New York City financial elite.  I really did believe that the fact that so many people wanted this job made me both better than everyone else, and also quite special to be chosen for it.

Lucky for me (and perhaps not so lucky for my closest friends), I know how to tell people I'm unhappy.  Or at least I know how to make sure it shows on my face enough that you'll notice.  This serves an interesting purpose because it forces me to change even when I might not yet intellectually know how to.  My waning interest in my sales & trading position and my desire to move on pushed me to pursue more meaningful extracurricular activities.  I was lucky enough to get involved in producing a film.  I started to learn about the world of microlending.  One day I even ended up at a dinner with an ex-investment banker turned monk.  All of this soon encroached upon my commitment to succeed at work, and also led me to grow increasingly disillusioned with all things related to Goldman Sachs.  This fact, coupled with huge dark circles under my eyes and a sarcastic, snappy, attitude at work quickly changed others' perception of me and I soon had to confront that it was time to make a change.

For nearly 5 years, I had imagined myself climbing the ranks of Equity Derivatives at Goldman.  I saw myself wearing all the Theory suits my little heart desired, being one of the few badass ladies who could command the respect of any douchy dude.  I would fly to GS offices across the world, getting to settle right into those luxurious First Class seats as I jetted to my next destination.  While this might sound silly to you, it was exciting to me at one time.  Someone had offered to me and I naively said 'hell yeah'.

Post-Corporate Allison
In April, I finally said "Thanks but no thanks" and left to produce Education Programs at an amazing and inspiring place called General Assembly.  Unfortunately this was concurrent with my boyfriend being transferred to Hong Kong.  Luckily him being gone allowed me to really dedicate myself to GA. I fell in love with everything about GA - the people and the place. I relished once again being immersed in a world of creativity, possibility, and positivity.  I haven't visited a doctor since I left Goldman, and I wake up everyday (almost) excited to get out of bed and motivated to my best at every piece of what I do.  I didn't even know it was a possibility to feel this way.  I was (and still am) overwhelmed by my desire to share that with everyone I can.  From desire grew determination and I spent every spare second I had developing an undeniable case for opening a GA in Hong Kong.

I soon admitted (to myself and to my boss) that I had to follow my heart to Hong Kong.  The timing gods smiled upon me and in the days before my departure, General Assembly decided to expand to Hong Kong.  So, here I am.  A recovering financiere and materialist.  A somewhat reluctant romantic transplant.  An aspiring creator and entrepreneur.  Standing on the precipice of it all.  So, there's nothing to do but just get started.