Thursday, December 20, 2012

Why Not

試みる (kokoromiru) - To try or attempt

Last night, my dad took me to a Michigan basketball game. Michigan's basketball team has been pretty terrible for a long time and I can't remember the last time I watched them live, but they're doing really well this year so I thought I'd check it out. They were playing Eastern Michigan so it was pretty much guaranteed to be a blowout, but I thought it might be interesting all the same.

The tickets originally belonged to one of my dad's good friends, who had season tickets but couldn't make it to this particular game. They were for ok seats, nothing up in the nosebleed section, but not great.

Knowing that this wouldn't be a popular game, he figured there would be lots of empty seats closer to the action and decided we should try to snag some. I was a little reluctant to go sit in someone else's seat but agreed to take the chance, so we just walked in and sat down in a couple random seats in the 6th or 7th row. Anytime someone showed up with tickets for the spots we were in, we would just shift a couple seats down. This happened a couple of times, but we ultimately ended up around row 10, rather than row 33 which our tickets were for.

My dad has always had a very strong "why not?" approach to life - if it seems like a decent idea or doesn't have a significant downside, why not at least give it a try? Sure it was a bit of a hassle and a little uncomfortable at times, but we ended up with way better seats, seats which would have sat empty anyway. It was a great reminder that there are often benefits out there that can be yours if you're just willing to take them. Many of us, myself included, can be too timid and feel a little awkward or embarrassed stepping beyond the clear cut rules, but there is lots to be gained by trying. Value gets left on the table unclaimed all the time, simply because no one is willing to reach out and grab it. Nobody is going to just give it to you but all you have to do is ask, so why not?

As expected, Michigan dominated the game. But, even though it wasn't much of a contest, there was still some great action, much of which happened at our end of the court. It probably still would have been a good time back in our original seats, but it was definitely a better experience closer up. I'm glad my dad convinced me to give it a shot.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Phase One

繋がり (tsunagari) - Connections, ties

Wednesday was my last exam of the semester, meaning I am official on winter break. Given that, it seems like as good a time as any to reflect back on my time at Haas this far.

The way I see it, the four semesters of an MBA correspond with four phases of the MBA experience:
Phase 1: Get to know people
Phase 2: Get a summer internship
Phase 3: Get a full time job
Phase 4: Go out with a bang

I am currently at the end of Phase 1, which I would consider an absolute success. I've honestly gotten to know the majority of my classmates pretty well and shared some awesome experiences with them. Perhaps more importantly, I've been fortunate enough to have a few of them become truly great friends.

Every time a new stage of life begins, there is an opportunity to build incredibly strong relations with the people around you. I'm very much a few-close-friends kind of guy and life has been good about putting a few really awesome people in the same place as me wherever I go. Haas is maintaining that pattern quite nicely.

I recently had a dinner party with some of my favorite people here and it was glorious. We ate delicious food, we drank food wine, we talked and laughed for hours. It was the kind of night that makes you thankful for having such great friends. It was a reminder of how good life can be.

Next up is five weeks of winter break,. The first half will be spent with friends and family, reconnecting with my Midwest roots. From there, I set off to explore Central America with a bunch of my classmates. I fully expect it to be a magnificent adventure full of incredible stories to tell.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanks for the Food

感謝 (kansha) - Thanks, gratitude

Last Thursday was the first time in five years that I was in America for Thanksgiving. To be honest, Thanksgiving has never been that big of a deal for me. My mom is an awesome cook and puts together big family dinners pretty frequently, so the whole giant turkey dinner thing never really got me particularly excited.

Still, I felt like I should do something for the holiday given how long it had been since my last proper Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, my poor student budget didn't have room for a trip back home, especially considering I'll be going back for Christmas in less than a month. So, on my own here in Berkeley, I decided to take a shot at making my own Thanksgiving dinner.

I invited over a couple of my international classmates for there first Thanksgiving and we had a good time and good conversation, all over far too much food. I'd never cooked any of the turkey day staples myself before, so I was a little anxious to see how everything would turn out. In the end, the pumpkin pie was phenomenal, the mashed potatoes were great, the gravy was solid. and the turkey was a little overcooked. Given that pretty much aligns with my values for what's most important in a Thanksgiving meal, I'm going to go ahead and say that all in all dinner was a success.

As a bonus, it was a fairly aesthetically pleasing feast, which means I can leave you with these shots of the food:
Pumpkin Pie Pumpkin Pie Mashed Potatoes Roast Turkey Thanksgiving dinner

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Full Commitment

寄付 (kifu) - Contribution, donation

Just before moving to California, I told my sister I was thinking about growing out my hair. Her response: "Homie, just because you quit your job doesn't mean you can just let yourself go."

Well, baby sister, I'm afraid you were wrong.

In fact, I'm being encouraged to do so. Today marks the first day of No Shave November. You may have heard of Movember, where people grow out a mustache for the month. That's mere child's play. We go bigger here at Haas - we don't shave at all. As such, from today until November 28th, no razor will touch my face.

What would compel us to such madness? Has business school driven us crazy? Have we gotten to comfortable in our California lifestyle? No no, my friends, there is a good reason behind this. We're doing it for the children. More specifically, for the kids who participate in Special Olympics.  
At the end of No Shave November, we will be auctioning off the right to shave body parts. The top bidder gets to shave said body part however want (apparently people get pretty creative with this stuff) and it will remain that way for the last two days of the month. The guys are completely at the mercy of the winner.

There is a second part to all this, which is were you come in, my dear friends and family. I need your donations to help me fight on through this journey of hairiness. It will be a long and scruffy four weeks, but if your commitment and mine unite great things can happen. 
I've never gone even a week without shaving before, so I can't promise things won't get ugly, but I'm in this for the long haul and need your help. I plan to post daily pictures on facebook and flickr, documenting the growth of this beast for better or worse. You'll be able to follow the brutal blow-by-blow from start to finish.

But wait, there's more!

To keep things interesting and up the stakes, I'm taking it one step further. Not only am I auctioning off my face, I'll be offering up the bear rug on my chest as well. Everything from my waist to my neck, to the highest bidder. Think a tall, lean Austin Powers. There's a lot to work with and I'm hoping someone will do impressive things with this giant canvas.

Haas has a long history of supporting the Special Olympics and we want to keep that tradition going strong. As ridiculous as this event might sound, it really is for a good cause and your dollars will go to help kids who could use a little light in their lives. I've volunteered as Special Olympic events before and the kids area always so happy to be there. Even if you don't think it is worth donating just to watch me make a fool of myself for the next month, do it for them.

And with that, I leave you at the starting line of this epic undertaking: the picture of Day One:

Day One

Monday, October 1, 2012


明らかにする (akiraka ni suru) - To make clear, illuminate

I've learned a lot about who I am and what I want in life over the last few days.
Personally, professionally, academically.

There's still lots more that I need to sort out with myself, but I'm feeling a little less lost in the world. I'm nowhere near where I want to be, but I'm confident that I will get there eventually.

This is just the beginning of a long long walk, but I feel like I'm at least pointed in the right direction now. Maybe I'll write more about this someday when I have more time. But for now, onward we go.

Monday, September 24, 2012


待てず (matezu) - Unable to wait

I've been eyeing the newest iPhone since before I had even left Japan. Rumors at the time suggested it would be released in the summer and I figured it would be worth the wait. Since I was moving back in mid-June, I needed something to tide me over and so bought a Virgin Mobile prepaid phone. It has got to be one of the worst pieces of electronics I've owned in my life, but somehow I managed to get by.

Fast forward three months and Apple formally announces the iPhone 5. I put my preorder in less than 12 hours after it became available, but was somehow still late to the party. Apparently preorders were even crazier than in the past and demand massively outstripped supply to the point where Apple was pushing back their expected shipping dates within an hour of taking orders. I was expecting a bit of a wait, which would have been ok, until Sept 19th when I got an email from AT&T saying it would take 14-21 business days for my phone to ship.

Waiting another month was not on my list of acceptable outcomes, so I started looking at backup plans. Since I don't have classes on Fridays, I thought it might be worth taking a shot at lining up at one of the stores on launch day to try and snag a phone. I wasn't willing to camp out overnight or anything like that, but a quick conversation with a sales guy at the AT&T store left me thinking I could have a pretty good shot if I showed up two or three hours before the stores opened up. It just so happened that my prepaid month on my old phone expired the day before the iPhone launch, so I decided to try my luck.

To give myself the best odds possible, I decided to avoid the Apple crazy student masses in Berkeley and head up to the AT&T in Richmond instead. Between BART and my bike, I figured I could get there in about 30 min, which sounded pretty reasonable. I cut my Thursday evening at Bar of the Week early and went to bed around midnight so I could get up early the next day. I woke up a little earlier than planned and was out of the house by 5:15am.


It was still dark out and I had the streets to myself, so I made it to the store simple enough. I rolled up at about 5:45 and was pleased to see only a dozen or so people waiting in line already. I figured my odds were looking pretty good.


It was pretty chilly out but I was wearing plenty of layers. I hunkered down in line, knocked out some homework, worked on my resume, and waited. I kept busy and the time passed fairly quickly. Finally, just as the sun broke over the Berkeley Hills to the East, store employees came out and started taking orders.


As it happened, I nabbed their last 16gb model in black, so I guess I timed everything pretty perfectly. I have to say, it is one good looking phone. This is my first smartphone so I'm still getting used to it, but it is head and shoulders above everything else I've ever owned. Did I mention it's gorgeous?

IMG_7199 IMG_7201 IMG_7204

I have no idea how it stacks up against the 4s, so I'm not much of a reference for people who were on the fence, but I absolutely love it. I'm still getting used to it myself and have almost certainly only scratched the surface of what it can do, but I can see a long and happy relationship ahead.

September has been a phenomenal month in tech for me. My new Lenovo ultrabook arrived a few weeks ago and now the iPhone. AT&T was running a special on Jawbone Jamboxes for 35% off and I convinced them to toss in another 10% off, offsetting sales tax, so I picked one up too. Then, at a Haas event Friday night, I won one of Amazon's new Kindles in a raffle. I think a tablet is pretty much the only thing left that I could realistically upgrade at this point (going full frame on the camera isn't in my poor student budget, sadly). For a guy who loves tech stuff as much as I do, this is about as good as it gets!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Room at the Haastel

住宅 (juutaku) - Residence

I've been out here for roughly two months already and my parents keep bugging me for pictures, so here we go.

I'm living in a house with five other first year Haas MBA students. The MBAs who had been living here before it dubbed it the Haastel, a name which we have decided to keep. My room is the only one on the first floor and clearly used to be a dining room (hence the awesome chandelier).
A room at the Haastel I love how big it is. I love how it is full of windows that let in tons of light. I love that it has no closets, so I don't feel bad about having two clothes racks, two shoe racks, and a set of shelves to hold my clothes. I love that there is enough wall space to hang the bits of art I collected while travelling around Asia. I love how I can stash my bike in here. I love that it's the only bedroom on the first floor, which means that the bathroom down here is (usually) all mine.

I don't love how cold at gets at night (lots of windows means little insulation). I don't love that it's right next to the stairs that my five roommates tromp down. I don't love that it's right next to the front door, so you everyone come and go. I don't love that it is right next to the living room, so you can hear it whenever people watch TV. I don't love the huge rent bill.
A room at the Haastel A room at the Haastel
I've filled the room with an assortment of Ikea furniture. It was my first time living in an unfurnished place, but I think I did a pretty good job with it. I'd like a better desk, but it doesn't fit my poor grad student budget. There's currently a black leather couch residing in here as we wait for our living room to get cleaned that I'd love to keep permanently, but such things will have to wait until I start getting paid again.

I wasn't sure what I thought of the space when I first moved in, but I've grown quite fond of it. It's starting to feel a little homey.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

On Hold

がっかり (gakkari) - Disappointment

I've been thinking about my next laptop ever since my old one died back in April. There are tons of cool new options out there, so I felt a bit like a kid in a candy store. Hell, I even considered getting an Apple (it took about 30 seconds helping a friend with Excel on a MBP to talk me out of that one). But at long last I found the one: the Lenovo X1 Carbon.

They had only provided initial product specs at the time and would only say it would be available "Summer 2012". It didn't matter, it had to be mine. So sleek, so sexy, so light. There could only be one choice.

And so I waited. I borrowed my girlfriend's Sony, an awful tiny little bastard, for my last two months in Japan. Since getting back state-side, I've been surviving with my Dad's old Samsung netbook, another under-powered computer that is hard pressed to run much more than a web browser. For a guy who spends large amounts of his free time at a computer, it has been a trying four months. Not only is my regular computer use repressed, it also demotivated me from using my camera. Without a proper computer to run Lightroom, I have no way of processing my pictures. I've got boat loads of pictures from China and Thailand just sitting there, waiting for some lovin'. Cali is gorgeous and screaming for me to run around shooting. But all of that is on hold until I get a little more computing muscle.

With that in mind, you can imagine who pumped I was when Lenovo launched the product earlier this month. I put in my order, sat back, and day dreamed about the wonderful package that would be at my door shortly.

The day after putting in the order, I realized I had a one time 10% off coupon that I'd forgotten to use. 10% off of a $1,400 price tag is no small change, so I called up Lenovo's customer service to see if I could get it applied retroactively. That is when the trouble started.

First, I was told that my order had been cancelled. Apparently Lenovo has a policy where they won't process credit card orders where the shipping address and billing address are different unless both addresses are registered with the credit card company. Why they decided to just cancel the order without contacting me first, I don't know. Fortunately, the customer service person I was talking to was a good guy and quickly replaced the order for me with the coupon applied and I was back on track. I called up my credit card company, added my Cali address, and resumed day dreaming.

When I made the order, they had given me an estimated shipping time of one week, with an expected delivery date of Monday August 27th. As that date drew closer, I pulled up the shipment tracking site to check and was given a rather rude shock. The delivery date now said September 26th, almost a full month later.

I was sure there must have been some sort of administrative mistake. Maybe something strange happened when my order was resubmitted. I called up customer support again to sort it out and, after waiting forever and a day to get connected, finally got through. I was informed that they were having a supply shortage and there was nothing they could do. In no uncertain terms, I made it clear that this was absolutely unacceptable, but that only earned me an apology and the promise of a $60 discount. I continued to push and was put on hold while he spoke with people on the supply chain side. He told me that they were scheduled to get more parts next Monday, so my status might be updated as a result but that he couldn't guarantee anything. He promised to ask them to prioritize my order but, again, couldn't guarantee anything.

And so I am left waiting, praying that it doesn't actually take an entire month to get the damn thing. I'm committed to this computer and don't want to settle for something different, but this is definitely a disappointing experience. I've used Lenovo computers in the past and they make great machines, so it's a real pity that they can't get their shit together on the business side. You'd better believe that I will be back on the phone with customer service first thing next week, breathing down their necks if that shipping date hasn't come much much closer. I will not sit silently and tolerate this kind of nonsense...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Risk Taking

解放する (kaihou suru) - To release or let out

Today was the first class for our communications course. At the beginning of the class, the professor really pushed home the idea that he wanted us to challenge ourselves and take risks in the class. We had also all been asked to prepare a 2-3 minute speach on "Who I Am" and encouraged to go beyond just the standard introduction. I'd written something simple about the path that lead me to Japan, but it was hardly putting myself out there. Normally I'm a pretty risk averse guy but, as I sat there listening to the professor speak, an idea for a much more personal topic started to form in my head. I couldn't decide what to do.

We split into smaller groups and started giving our speeches, some of which were pretty touching. When it came to my turn, I got up and told the GSI about the two options I was weighing: the prepared but conservative speech or the personal but unscripted one in my head. He told me to go with the riskier choice. I ripped up my note card for the speech I'd written, took a minute to gather my thoughts, and just had a go at the new idea. I spoke with total honesty about personal weaknesses that I wanted to change during my two years at Haas, things I had never told anyone else. The speech itself was hardly a masterclass in public speaking, but I thought it went quite well. More importantly, it felt liberating, even a little cathartic.

I won't go into detail about what I said, but one of my goals I talked about is to become more outgoing. It's something I've struggled with for a long time and am truly desperate to change. Since moving out here, I've been making a conscious effort to improve at it and have done alright, but it certainly hasn't been easy. Today has me wondering if taking a little more risk and putting myself further out there might help in that regard.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Off to the Races

始まる (hajimaru) - To begin or start

Tomorrow is my first day of classes at Berkeley. It's been a long time since I've been in a classroom and, in all honesty, I'm not sure if I'm mentally ready for it. I've never really enjoyed studying all that much and it's already feeling hard to motivate myself to take care of business these days. For nearly two months now, I haven't really had to do anything. No job, no responsibilities, no nothing. The laid back attitude that accompanies such a lifestyle is definitely not going to fly back in school. Between orientation last week and all the little things getting thrown at us, it's already started becoming a bit of a whirlwind. I know I'll get up to speed quickly enough, but the first few weeks could be a bit of a rough ride. Step one is surviving the first-day-of-class stats quiz tomorrow...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Self Investment

投資 (toushi) - Investment

When I was in high school, I would tell my friends that I would own a Porsche by the time I was 50. Though it may be laughable now, it seemed like significant achievement at the time. To be fair, Ann Arbor isn't exactly the biggest city in the world and a Porsche was a pretty rare sight when I was a kid. Honestly, all I knew was that they were fast fancy rich people cars and didn't have the slightest clue what one actually cost. Regardless, that was the dream.

Fast forward ten years or so. At the ripe age of 26, my bank account is fat enough that I could walk into a Porsche dealership and pay for a 911 Carrera in cash. Or rather, I could have until I payed tuition for the fall semester earlier today, a hefty $26k plus change. Over the next two years, this MBA will continue to rock the bejeezus out of my finances and leave me with tens of thousands of dollars of debt instead. I've made my peace with this and just have to look at it as an investment in myself.

Those who know me know that I am conservative with my money. It's that attitude that has let me save up as much as I have, despite not having a particularly high paying job. I've gotten better in recent years about being willing to bust out the wallet in pursuit of a good time, but the next two years will be a real test. I've never owed money to anyone and, quite honestly, the idea does not sit well with me at all. But if I let the debt get the best of me and don't make the most of these two years, it will have all been pointless. So my personal goal for the near future is to find that balance: have the time of my life here at Berkeley while still being responsible with my finances. I'm confident that I can make this work.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Life Conspires

たからむ (takaramu) - To plot or scheme

I originally set up my old blog to write about my experience living in Tokyo. Unfortunately, it really isn't relevant any more given that I am no longer in Japan, so I've decided to make a fresh start. Life is a tough thing to predict. I'm only 26 and yet I can't even count the number of twists and turns my life has taken already. It could be a lack of focus or clear goals on my part, but every time I think I know what I want out of life something changes that shifts the equation.

Four years ago, I got a job offer to work in Japan. At the time, that was the dream and I took it. For all I knew, I might never have another opportunity like that in my life and I couldn't say no. I'm not sure what I expected going into it, or if I even had any expectations at all, but it was one helluva an experience. In all honesty, I'm still not sure I was ready for it to end, but my career got in the way.

I had a very respectable job, one that very few foreigners ever get a shot at in Japan. It had it's good moments but, as time passed, I grew more and more discontent with the work. Though it had opened the door to Japan for me, it wasn't what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and knowing that became a heavier and heavier burden. While there were a number of factors that played into the decision to take a new direction, there were two quotes I heard that stuck in my head.

I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. - Steve Jobs

For what it's worth: it's never too late ... to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. And if you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again. -The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

There was a lot to like about my life in Japan, but it had me on a long term trajectory that I didn't want. After taking stock of my options, I ultimately settled on returning to the US to get an MBA. I have an idea of where I want to be in the short- to mid-term, but I'm still working on figuring out what should come after that. Then again, deciding now might not even really be that important in the end.

I've named this blog "Life Conspires" because, from what I've seen, no matter how much you plan and map out your future, life usually seems to have a different idea all together. When I decided to leave the US four years ago, I never would have pictured myself where I am today. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see life throw me another curve ball in the next few years as well. I just hope it makes for a good adventure along the way.