It’s a long cold winter for Iceland

I’m fascinated by the implosion that is Iceland.

I’m sure everybody knows that the economy is not great here in the US and every country is now paying for the subprime trouble that started last year. With the US economy tanking, major markets around the world has been feeling spillover effects – Europe’s economy is already in recession, Asia is anticipating a drastic slowdown, South America’s suffering from the double whammy of lower commodity and fuel prices and even Russia has lost much of its petroarrogance.

In short, America’s problem is really everybody’s problem.

But Iceland really epitomizes the dark side of globalization. The country is bankrupt and has nationalized all three of its banks. The country is reaching out to Russia and scandinavian countries for help. Inflation is at 16% while its currency has dropped close to 100% in value.

Okie, the icelanders are probably not smiling like this now and it is truly  scary to see how things can change so fast for a country.

New York Times’ Thomas Friedman described the surreality of Iceland’s situation well with this line:

“Who knew? Who knew that Iceland was just a hedge fund with glaciers? Who knew?


Africa dreaming

Lazy lazy day of staying in bed and reading the books I have been wanting to read.

It’s inevitable that I pick up a book connected with traveling, international relations, global economics… it is the cheapest way of going somewhere else without even leaving the room.

So I’m almost done with John Ghazvinian’s “Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s oil” and it’s a fascinating read.

I have always wondered about Africa’s abysmal spiral of disaster – dysfunctional economies, high mortality rates, seemingly crazy dictators, high HIV rates… the list is long. But Africa is a continent rich in natural resources, whatever you want you can get in one of the African countries.

And now, West Africa is touted as on the largest oil reserve regions after Middle East. So why can’t this continent get itself together?

Ghazvinian’s book lays out the difficult scenarios facing the 5 oil rich countries – Angola, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principle, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea – and explains why natural resources can be more of a curse than a blessing.

There countries have what is commonly referred as “The Dutch disease” where a country is economically ruined as local industries collapse when a natural resource  (usually oil for modern times) is discovered in these undeveloped countries.

What happens is that the discovery of a natural resource creates a sudden influx of money and provides the unprepared population and government with money they are ill prepared for. In most cases, they spend the money on consumer products (cars, TVs, imported food etc) and send the money into foreign countries that produce such luxuries.

In no time, local industries collapse as money bleeds out of the country and the once independent country has to rely on foreign countries for basic necessities. Sadly, natural resources never last (look at Middle East’s manic pace of non-oil related development) and such countries find themselves crippled once their wealth tap runs out.

It’s a sad sad situation from what the book is saying.

Rich foreign companies get rich, poor helpless Africans get shafted.

Of course, the Africans are not entirely blameless. Perhaps that’s the saddest part about Africa – many of its troubles have been created or at least extended by Africans themselves.

Look at what’s happening in Zimbabwe and President Mugabe and you can’t help feeling frustrated with the Africans. The economy is so bad that inflation is running at 11.2 million percent.

The amount of cash the man is carrying can only pay for some eggs since 3 eggs cost 100 billion zimbabwean dollars now.

Ghazvinian did list 2 countries that seem relatively normal – Sao Tome & Gabon – and actually somewhat idyllic. Both are colonies and seemed to have retained european charm isolated from the African craziness of their neighbors.

In fact, Sao Tome’s chocolates are the best in the world since they grow on volanic ash and chocolate conneisseurs rave about them.

Hmmm… reason enough to venture into the heart of darkness for my next vacation?


幻覺就算變成錯覺 也算是體驗過一遍


The pastry fiend is happy

I have been waiting for this moment for so long!

My first first canelle!

I keep hearing about the bakery Canto 6’s wonderful canelles but everytime I go there, they are gone. Doesn’t matter if I go at 10am, 1pm or 3pm (okie, so the last two timings are not the best)…. they are always sold out.

So anyways, on my way to the movie “Towelhead”, I decided to swing by Clear Flour, supposedly the best bakery in Boston to pick up some bread. Lo and behold, they had canelles!

So what if Clear Flour is not known for its pastries, it makes damn good bread so its pastries can’t be bad… can it?

Oh I’m going to walk on the wild side, I swooped down and carried away all 4 canelles before some pastry cop bust me for taking too many.

So now I have my canelles in front of me.

Okie, one canelle.

I ate one on the way to the cinema, I couldn’t wait. Another I ate along with my new housemate whom I gave one as well.

So I’m left with the last canelle.

My little morsel of pastry heaven.

Running on empty

So I have this older gentleman friend…

Okie, he’s not really a gentleman and it’s not that kind of blog post. But he is much older and has been doing well for the past few years.

But anyways, he’s a higher level executive at a software company and he has been posted to the US for the past 2 years. Unlike most expats, he’s extremely frugal and have been diligently putting away money from his allowance and salary into his big biscuit tin.

Suffice to say, his allowance here is pretty ridiculous and he has managed to accumulate a big honey pot of cash after two years.

We started talking about what he has gained by his posting and beyond the wonderful cultural and travel opportunities, he revealed he has amassed close to 200K in cash just by being here!


It would take me years to save that kind of money.

Of course it’s not an apples to apples comparison but it still made me wonder about work in general. A mental image bubbled up:

Working = always running on the same spot.

Maybe I’ll stay in bed today.

It’s only sexy when you’re not working it

“Oh you’re in advertising? Isn’t that so much fun?”

Not if you’re actually in advertising.

Usual images of advertising agencies emphasize the sexy and glamorous – the martini lunches, the creative television advertisements, the dressy advertising executives.

But reality is seldom that and I rarely find books/movies/tv shows that really capture the pathos of advertising.

AMC’s “Mad Men” captures that desperation pretty well but that sense of ennui is detached from the advertising trade. Don Draper, the lead character in the show, is desperate… but not because he’s in advertising.

Afterall, it’s the 60s where everything goes. Meaning they still have long martini lunches, come up with snazzy catch phrases and have a swinging good time. Though it’s depressing to see how screwed up their lives are, they still seem to have alot of fun.

The people in Joshua Ferris’ “Then we came to the end” however are modern advertising people. Meaning they are desperate… desperate cool ironic hipsters but still desperate nevertheless. And unlike “Mad Men”, they are desperate because of the soulless work they do day in day out but can’t bring themselves to leave.

“Yet for all the depression no one ever quit. When someone quit, we couldn’t believe it. ‘I’m becoming a rafting instructor on the Colorado River,’ they said. ‘I’m touring college towns with my garage band.’ We were dumbfounded. It was like they lived on a different planet. Where had they found the derring-do? What would they do about car payments? We got together for going-away drinks on their final day and tried to hide our envy while reminding ourselves that we stil had the freedom and luxury to shop indicriminately.”

Hmmm… sounds like modern advertising to me.

Okie maybe it’s a bit cynical but it’s still pretty accurate to me.

Whoever asks me if advertising is as fun as they think should really read this book.

It will set them straight.