Pan Asia

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Time flies when you're in your 30s, so some weeks are a blur to me.

Work. I've settled down at English First, working out of the flagship People's Square office. It's nice to receive a stable paycheck again and not have to worry about funding or nonsense related to capital. I've been mentored by a Canadian guy Eric who is very easy-going and helpful. I found out recently he will be moving to Germany in a few weeks so essentially I will be the most senior product manager globally for the firm. I'm building a CRM system as my first project. My project pipeline has been slated to summer of 2009 so I know I'll be here at least through mid-next year. One of the perks of the job is travel so I hope to take advantage and visit one of our schools in other locations when I have time. I was tutoring two French kids for a while in my spare time, but it was too draining so I stopped. With poker, my monthly variable income is about 15 to 25% of my fixed income.

Extra-curricular Activities. Small group has been a stable part of my life on Wednesday nights at Corine's. We're in the midst of a 6-part DVD series on the character of Jesus. He is an unique guy, to put it mildly. It amazes me to think He cares about me when I am so flawed. For ball, I've added a three-point shot to my repertoire because one day I decided I would be more dangerous if I can shoot the long ball. Socially, I try to hang out with new people whenever possible. Recently I finally reconnected with Viviana, the TV host. She's extremely busy but I can see us becoming dance or golfing buddies. This week, I plan to hang out with Zoie for her birthday. After Elva finishes her thesis, I hope to show her around Shanghai more.

NBA Playoffs. This has been an interesting year in the Association. LeBron is proving he's for real. The west was wacky but the pretenders have been weeded out in the first round. I'm still predicting a Lakers-Celtics final but Pistons are looking strong too. I'm sad for my man Gilbert Agent Zero Arenas. With his injury troubles, he won't get a max contract this off-season.

Friday, March 07, 2008

With the thawing out of winter and the immiment onset of spring, I will pen a quick entry to capture recent memories.

Work. In late January my body broke down. I was battling a recurring cold and dealing with a startup's responsibilities exacerbated the breakdown. We had finished our revenue model and I started pitching angels and VCs for investment. To my dismay, KPCB turned us down. I had been somewhat antsy prior to this since development took eons and the developers weren't exactly social butterflies. The other annoyance was the firm was located in a remote part of Zhangjiang, far removed from my social circle. I sat down with the founder and discussed my frustrations. We parted amiably but it was still sad to realize my entreprenurial dreams flamed out so quickly. A couple days later after I left the venture, I was contacted by the same headhunter that had introduced me to English First. Turns out the position of senior product manager I had declined last fall was still open. I met with a few more directors and the president of Smart School over the ensuing weeks and quickly accepted their offer to join the team. I am completing my first week here managing the fastest growing product in their language training portfolio. I have been assigned 8 projects with the pipeline filled to November. My main colleague Eric is a friendly Canadian who is showing me the ropes. I'm slowly meeting the team and understanding the operation. Having taken a month-long break, it's good to be on the grind again. Bonus is I'm back downtown at People's Square.

Extracurricular Life. Wednesday night cell group has stabilized thanks largely to Corine's planning efforts. We now have a quarterly roadmap of what we are studying. We have also decided to shed our renegade status and officially join the Hengshan network of small groups. It's been good to have some new regulars join us like Joey, Zoie, Esther, and Katina. I'm still playing bball every Saturday afternoon at Shimao. I'm not a franchise player, but more of a glue guy (see Scottie Pippen, Andre Iguodala, et al.) After being uneven in my poker performances, I started analyzing my hands after each session to remediate my game. Last week I had a big win, which is comforting.

The weekend is almost here. I'll join a English First networking event after work today and then meet up with a few of the boys for dinner and pool at Xintiandi and try to forget that my tax bill to Uncle Sam is close to 5 figures.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

It's another slow Friday afternoon so here's an update of the last quarter.

Work. Three months ago I did not know what the future entailed as I had just quit from EBay China and was pondering a move back to Cali. The break was refreshing but I was also antsy to progress in my career. Within a week of moving back, I received two offers, almost simultaneously. The first was from English First, who was looking to recruit a product manager to create wireless versions of their online courseware. It was a compelling offer but I declined it for a start-up. I am employee number two for our firm and we are creating a stock option-related software service. I will manage product strategy, business development, and investor relations going forward. I had brought back a textbook on options that I read in the dawn hours during my first week back since I thought that would be a good refresher. Little did I know it would become immediately relevant. So far I have completed the product spec for our main service and our engineers have produced user accounts and a demo. A test site should be ready in two months and our first release in four months. My learning has been varied as I brushed up on US securities law (FAS 123 - share-based payment), accounting regulations on expensing stock options (fair value), and option pricing models (Black-Scholes, binomial). I even helped created some mock-ups in Dreamweaver and some pages in Netbean IDE. We have a preliminary revenue model and an investor presentation deck ready. We're about to approach VCs formally for funding. My first choice is the venerable Kleiner Perkins. It's a no-brainer as my childhood friend Chi-Hua is a partner there so I hope to close $1.5 million in a few months.

Personal Life. I moved apartments again before the new year mainly to get away from my old housemate. Alex was not a bad guy, but his libido is fierce and a definite disruption to my domestic life. I'm now in a two-bedroom pad near Babaiban with the newly opened metro line 6 stop outside my complex. I have the usual amenities of satellite TV (for my NBA fix), broadband, and onsite gym. I'm negotiating with another tenant in the same complex for a joint-ayi-sharing arrangement so hopefully I will have home-cooked meals again soon.

Friends. New folks in town include Arlene, Corine, and most recently Joey and Zoey. I hung out with Arlene a few times before finding out she has a boyfriend, at which point I made a mental note to distance myself. Corine gave me tickets to Tennis Master Cup championship but I only caught the second-half of the Federer dominating display over Ferrer. Her pad is awesome and centrally located in People's Square, complete with a foosball table so I'm glad we will be holding small group there now as opposed to Xujiahui. Joey came to my office first as we talked business and shared some industry knowledge. Zoey is Joey's cousin who is in Shanghai, changing gears from a pop-singing career in Taiwan. I also like to hang out with local friends like Haze and Ava as they are easy-going and down-to-earth gals.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

It has been a long while since I've journaled so let me do a quick update.

Work. Truth be told, ever since late spring I have been antsy to make a change. By summer most of the expats at eBay China have left for greener pastures. I was going through the motions of releasing the new site, which was unveiled in early July at Whether this proves to make a dent in the fortress that is Taobao remains to be seen, especially as Alibaba is set to go public in a few weeks. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have learned the nuances of Internet product management from a stalwart firm, but I resigned in early September to explore new opportunities.

Vacation. I took a 3-week break back home to LA last month. I wanted to find out whether this would be the appropriate time to re-integrate into US society. I talked to LegalZoom, a firm started by Bob Shapiro, based in Hollywood. The meeting was non-eventful, but afterwards I picked up a copy of "Hollywood Animal" by Joe Esterhas of Basic Instinct fame. He's been demonized by his liberal and controversial screenplays but wielded enormous clout in the industry. In the end he found God. I saw Suzy briefly. It was cool to hear about her plans to take acting lessons to adopt the Elmo role in theater productions of Sesame Street. I met Julie in LA at Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles. It was good to see her following her dreams in preparation for a career in international health and development. I hung out with Pat and Cherene a couple times at their Mosaic small group in Pasadena. I caught up with Tina near USC and heard about her plans to apply to CEIBS and possibly move to Shanghai. I saw Mike in Torrance, and noted how he is using eHarmony now to find his dates. I hung out with Allen twice at his Redondo Beach pad and met his fiance. We got into a deep discussion about faith and how we know God is real. His colleague was there defending his atheistic stance. I tried to point out the logical conclusion of his worldview, which is ultimately nihilistic. He admitted the prospect of death terrifies him. I went to Vegas with Jason, aka Spanx. The 39-hour escape was packed. Some highlights include eating at Alain Ducasse's joint and Picasso. We also watched Cirque's water show. The costumes and theatrics were extravagant. The rest of the break I hung out with my relatives and watched old NBA playoff games. God bless NBA TV. I also watched some episodes of a Chinese soap opera on Youtube in my down-time. The sap in me cannot be quenched. I lost $630 on one hand in poker when my pair of Kings was reamed by a straight on the river. I made $20K in the stock market when FMCN proved its compliance with federal regulators on accounting charges.

Books. I read 8 books when I was on break. Black Swan: There are outliers and cataclysmic events that cannot be foreseen. Gaussian bell-curves are mis-applied in many instances. Alwaleed: Saudi prince made his fortune with shrewd investments in Citigroup and hotel properties. Way of the Turtle: tale of technical trading program and the different results in application due to human foibles. End of Poverty: Jeff Sachs' macro account of development path taken by various countries. 1984 Draft: Inside scoop on the machinations that produced the seminal draft class with Jordan, Olajuwon, and Stockton. Shed light on why Sam Bowie was picked ahead of Mike. Making of an American Capitalist: biography of Warren Buffett. He had an aptitude for numbers at a young age and made good on that skill. The Last Tycoons: history of the Lazard Freres banking partnership with huge egos like Felix Rohatyn profiled in detail. 3:16: Max Lucado's exegesis of the most powerful verse in the Bible.

Next. The US seemed strangely foreign to me. Places were familiar and the lifestyle is very comfortable, but I felt eerily out of place. Since I had no gig there, I came back to Shanghai. Within a week of my return, I received two job offers. The first is with a huge English training firm who is planning to launch a wireless product line. The team is very international and the office environment is blended with classrooms and office space in the same location. The second is with one lady who is starting her own firm and looking for a business partner. She wants to build stock option software for Chinese firms. If I join her, I would help with product strategy, business development and likely investor relations. She sees a void here for China and I agree with her. It's the classic stability versus uncertainty question. Do I value safe slow growth or a risky volatile trajectory? It's difficult to project how much the upside is if we succeed with the startup, but the ride will definitely be interesting. I haven't made my final decision yet but I'm leaning towards the uncharted path.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The more things change, the more they stay the same, a.k.a. my life. Nevertheless, here are some highlights from the most recent six weeks.

Work. Work has become extremely tedious as of late with a major platform release deadline looming. Our code is riddled with bugs and migration of key user data has started. I dream of alternative scenarios where I can engage my talents like trading futures contracts or doing some independent consulting, but alas, I cannot be mad at the paycheck. Making money is both easy and difficult. Corporate life is a grind, with meetings and emails and conference calls with remote staff sapping whatever traces of enthusiasm remain. On the other hand, taking profits during a bull market is a cinch. The Shanghai composite index is in full bubble mode, with elderlies gambling their retirement funds on non-transparent A-shares. I participate in the other casino known as the Nasdaq. So far this year, I've cashed in my position in my former employer ADSK at nearly an aggregate 4X multiple and am creating a position in INFY. My stake in AAPL is up 40% in 4 months. I also have a sizeable stake in FMCN, up 15% in a month. Every few months I methodically transfer my hard-earned RMB into the US as I troll the technology markets for good value.

Play. Xiamen was a relaxing getaway during the May holidays. The best parts of the town are the beach areas and the mild weather was a welcome refresher. On day one we checked out the island called Gulangyu. On day two, we biked along the beach with the ocean breeze comforting us. We also tried out an outdoor hot-springs resort. There were many different flavored pools for us to dip in like coffee and oolong tea, with the most interesting one being a fish pond. Sherry, Betty, and I sat in tickled delight as the fishes bit at us from all angles. Earlier I had visited Beijing on business and saw a couple friends. James H has a family now so that was a trip seeing his son reciting Chinese Bible verses. I met up with Jennifer M at a BICF outreach event. It was cool to talk to her and see the formation of more ventures to connect people in the capital. Recently my boy Jason C visited Asia for the first time. We went out 6 of the 7 nights he was here. It was really cool to show him my world and hang with a few others during his visit like Josh, future diplomat with State, and Len. Another Jason C also relocated here so I'm sure I'll be seeing him around the city. After J left, I promptly fell sick. I played poker once in the last few weeks against some French guys. I doubled my buy-in of 100 kuai by coming in third in the tournament. Again, this attests to my previous assertion that making money is hard work. I still play ball every week. The last run against some new expat guys featured me showcasing an all-around game. Later I found out Jeff discussed my game with the other guys on the sideline when I was playing and they compared me to Tayshaun Prince due to my lanky frame. I prefer Scottie Pippen. I've restarted my work-out regimen (lift twice a week for strength, swim once or twice for conditioning, dance once for fun). I also just moved into a new apartment complex a few blocks away from my old pad. My housemate is a Swiss dude who publishes travel guides. We have a nearly full-time ayi so I eat many meals at home now. Two girls I met that I want to hang out with more are Annabelle and Lucky. I danced with Annabelle once and found out she's from Toronto with a British accent. Lucky is a college student at Fudan that I met through Matt L. She claims she's a baller. I'm going to scope out her game sometime. NBA playoffs were predictably boring as the Spurs dominated the field. LeBron is not Jordan, but he can hope to become the next Magic.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

It's the eve of another holiday break, so I'll take some time to record some thoughts.

Work. We will complete a major internal milestone today and release a pre-alpha version of our new platform. The process has been grueling at times with some features getting axed and others in mutated forms due to programmer time constraints. I've been given new responsibilities to define a seller ad and billing system. Wing joined the PM team from Tencent. Our team now consists of 6 female product managers besides myself. I've also conducted a few exploratory conversations with firms both in the US and here to plan my next steps after the public release. The funniest call was with a headhunter representing a firm in the online travel industry. They missed earnings forecast last quarter and just replaced their CEO. Their performance and reputation has been hammered. Since they are based in Beijing, I didn't want to relocate in addition to all the other risks. The more I disparaged the firm, the more the headhunter wanted to lure me to join. I'm just too comfortable right now in Shanghai to move for a shaky opportunity like that.

Play. The last couple of months have been relatively routine, meeting a few visitors and new friends to puncture the monotony. Annie celebrated her 30th birthday by buying a Wii. I knocked her out in the boxing game without mercy. Recently we attended a talk by the president of the Grameen Foundation. Microfinance has finally gone main-stream as more people and organizations are practicing it here. It's not often you have a decade-long friend that you can hang with on a regular basis, so I treasure our bond. I met Edward on his way through town. He's contemplating a stint in China after he completes his consulting gig. It's between Tudou, a video-sharing site in Shanghai or a glass manufacturer in Xiamen. I met Erica C at a mixer recently. She's an Olgilvy PR rep from Taiwan via New York. We share many similarities. I'm quite envious of her pad at Shimao Riviera. I met Jenny W at the first Caribbean Association dinner organized by Earl. I hope to hang out with her this week. I emceed Siao and Vivian's wedding reception a couple weekends ago with Ivan. I translated for Ivan on the fly, and handled his off-the-cuff jokes without a hitch. The most difficult part was reading off all the honorable guests' names without mangling them. I met some new expat guys who like to play ball so we've been organizing some runs. Among them is Colin Pine, Yao Ming's personal translator. He's about 5'9'', 165 lbs with a good jumpshot with range. In the full-court game, I played with him and fed him for a couple of assists. He returned the favor by giving me the rock when I hit the game-winner. In the half-court game, Jeff, Mike, and I swept all comers until Mike took a break and Colin heated up and nailed 4 treys on Jeff. I didn't want to embarrass Jeff by switching him out and guarding Colin myself. They told us some stories of when the Rockets visited China last year, they took T-Mac and other players out to KTV. T-Mac was bored and left after half an hour. The others, who shall remain nameless, had a good time. In poker, I'm up over 1200 RMB for the month playing low stakes including a tournament victory against 10 other guys. That's not bad considering a couple of bad beats I endured on big hands. I came in second in my fantasy basketball league. Note to self: stop trading players like stocks in '99. I'm getting better in salsa, although I'm still not smooth enough and the repertoire is not expansive enough to give girls a good time yet.

Random thoughts. I'm fascinated by the idea of the black swan, or the anomaly that is highly improbable but catastrophic when it occurs. The Russian default that caused the crash of Long Term Capital, 9/11, the Cho massacre are all examples. You can plan your life and live with such prudence and precision, but at any moment, your world and life may be altered irreparably by forces beyond your control. Be forewarned.

Next time: Holiday in Xiamen.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

It has been a while since I penned a journal entry, and since people are still languishing in the after effects of the Chinese New Year, it's a good time to archive my thoughts.

Work. The merger with Tom closed in late January so we started immediately to define requirements for the new platform. I worked on the buying flow, with a focus on a simple version of the highest trafficked page called View Item. Now I'm defining an onsite messaging product. The lump-sum payments from the buyout should hit at the end of the month so I will get a nice cash infusion. My product management group has been whittled down to 5 people as a few have left or transferred groups. The Tom programmers are highly activist in the design process, i.e. they question the validity of features that have long been staples of the eBay trading platform like reserve price. We spend a lot of time convincing them of the merits of the existing design. The plan is still to launch a new site by July.

Vacations. I like to travel to recharge whenever I have the opportunity to do so. After Christmas last year, I took off for Bangkok on a whim. It was refreshing to escape the frigid weather here and bask in the tropical climate there. I wasn't particularly aware of the political instability there when I went. I was about to go to an outdoor plaza for New Year's celebration until the bomb scare diverted me to a club. The celebration there consisted of singers on stage performing American west coast rap and Thai pop songs. I met Tun, a development finance professional at the United Nations for dinner one night. I also met Toon, a thin and lithe girl who had tattoos etched on several places of her body. I took a day trip to Pattaya. The beach was overrun by tourists so it wasn't that relaxing. For Chinese New Year, I ventured out to Tokyo for the first time. It was surreal. Besides the language barrier, I enjoyed the modern amenities of the world-class city and the courteous nature of the Japanese people. The cute and stylish girls everywhere also attracted my attention. I met up with Mariko for dinner one night. I hung out with Annie and Nicole another night. I spent a day at Roppongi Hills, the posh cultural and entertainment complex in Roppongi. The museum there featured an exhibition on laughter. I hit a club that night. The guy-girl ratio wasn't great, and the foreigners were very aggressive as usual. It was a good way to end my trip though before flying back to Shanghai.

People. I go out very rarely these days. My philosophy has become “let the people come to Mohammed.” In other words, I don't exert much effort to meet new folks but will gladly make friends with whoever I happen to run across in my daily life. I've met a few interesting girls in the last few months. Bernice is a reformed former party girl who I met during the Alpha course. We went to a couple concerts and shared a few dinners together. She moved to Hong Kong late last year. I wanted to rendezvous with her in Tokyo but we couldn't sync up. Carol is a leader of women and also has a sultry yet intimidating look if you don't know her. She's connected to Element in SF. We hung out a few times in group settings. She's trying to set up a small group for Bible study. I met Melina through Melody a month ago. She's Indonesian but spent some time in the US. We're supposed to hang out but haven't connected yet. Wai and Karlai visited from New York so we all kicked it with Sim for a couple nights. Sherry celebrated her birthday a few weeks ago so a small group of us enjoyed Yunnan cuisine before lounging at Aqua and Glamour Bar.

Competition. In bball, I'm still one of the regular players on the SMIC playground. Some of my peers who used to play have now retired. I play mainly with Jeff K. A couple weeks ago he got into a fight when a scrawny Chinese dude was up in his grill playing physical defense. I jumped in from the sideline and broke them apart, telling each party to relax. The crazy thing was the Chinese dude's friend was trying to get it on a la Stephen Jackson of Indiana Pacer fame. Jeff is usually a mild-mannered guy but I guess he took offense. I play a balanced game now, mixing in baseline drives with jump-shots and floaters in the lane when I shoot, and threaded passes to cutters when I pass. On defense I can lock up most guys around my size. In poker, I have been losing small amounts for a few sessions until the last two. I cashed 865 RMB on 100 RMB buy-in playing 50 jiao, 1 kuai blinds against Len and others at Godfrey's place. I cashed 215 against Rob and his pals on New Year's Eve. Luck definitely plays a role, but sometimes you have to make your own luck. In fantasy bball, after starting the season in last place, I've steadily climbed up the league rankings and currently hold first. My number 1 pick Wade dislocated his shoulder last week, so I dropped him dispassionately. I will find a way to be in contention down the stretch.