Monday, March 1, 2010

Representing Asians Part 2: Jimmy Choo

Today was Jimmy Choo presentation day. For our presentation, we had to focus on the brand's co-branding strategy and retail strategy in Asia. Given that I'm Asian (the professor loves when an Asian speaks about Asia), I decided to tackle the Asian retail strategy portion.

We finished the presentation with time to spare. Unfortunately for us, the professor wanted to make the most of the class time, so he decides to pepper me with questions about Asia.

him: "What is your name"
me: "Teena" (professor looks disappointed I do not have a more Asian sounding name)
him: "Have you been to China?"
me: "To Shanghai once, and to Hong Kong several times" (another look of visible disappointment)
him: "Well, I'm sure you have Asian roots."
me (jokingly and incredulously): "enh, somewhat"

The professor starts big, asking me what my recommendations for Jimmy Choo would be in Asia. Given that this question was ridiculously open-ended I counter with a question. The professor then narrows it down and asks me to comment on the number of stores in Shanghai. At this point, I'm thoroughly confused as to what he wants and I ask: "Are you asking me what I think is the maximum number of stores Jimmy Choo could have in Shanghai? Are you asking me to comment on what Jimmy Choo should do operationally?"

"Yes, you can also ask your classmates to help you with this question."
So I respond: "I'd like to then open up this question to my fellow Chinese students. (Point to an Asian student) Bing, what do you think about this?"

For a fleeting second, I considered calling upon Yinka, my Nigerian friend, to help me answer this question since she likes to joke that she's part Japanese. She just wants to see the professor face when an African woman makes sweeping comments about the Asian market. Yinka is also worried (only slightly) about receiving class participation credit since we never talk about luxury brands in Africa.

Regardless of the odd Q&A session, the presentation was a home run. The professor really enjoyed our analysis and even remarked that he would have liked for us to present in front of Jimmy Choo's management team. Gold star? I think so.

Kellogg represent.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Mr. and Mrs. Sprat

"Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean
And so between them both, you see
They licked the platter clean."
- nursery rhyme

Anyone who has ever traveled with friends knows it isn't always everything it's cracked up to be. You may love someone, but find yourself on an overnight bus, or inadvertently withdraw enough Hungarian florints to buy the whole country and you may find your friendship on the outs. I actually just read an article about a couple that took a three month long honeymoon, which nearly ended in divorce. I, on the other hand, am living the above nursery rhyme.

Despite never having traveled together Teena and I are like Mr. Sprat and his wife: she likes dark meat, I like white; I bring the conditioner, Teena has the eye makeup remover; Teena tripadvisor plans all of our travels, I make dinner and find killer flight deals. We're even complimentary bloggers: She tells you all about the beauty and culture of our travels, and I share the side story adventures in which we find ourselves. We're two peas in a pod.

Note: Though I will not make any estimations about who's the Mr. and who's the Mrs. I will tell you that Teena went to the restroom marked "Caballeros" (translation: gentlemen) last night.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Representing Asians

I love that professor here are down-to-earth and very open to hearing people's thoughts on different issues. I'm taking two luxury marketing classes as well as a services marketing class, and all my professors seem to be quite interested in Asia, particularly China, Japan, and India. For luxury goods and luxury services (e.g., hotels), Asia represents a huge market. However, there is a certain comfort professors have with being politically incorrect and I wonder if this is abnormal, or if Americans are just too sensitive. For example:

  1. Asian students are constantly singled out to speak on behalf of their entire ethnic group: "So what do Chinese consumers think of this?"
  2. When making points about Armani in Asia, the professor stares at the Asian students
  3. The professor remarks "too bad there is no Japanese person in this group" when a group is about to present on Burberry's Asian expansion, particularly into Japan. Apparently, only Japanese people can credibly determine how Burberry is faring in Japan.
  4. One professor, who is trying to make a point about China, points to an Asian student and says "Let's hear what the Chinese students think." The student replies quietly "I'm Japanese." The professor continues. He points at 3 more students asking "Are you Chinese? Are you Chinese? Are you Chinese?" He gives up on the fourth try. I stay silent.
  5. For a group project, my teammate reaches out to the professor to find out if he has insider industry information (which he tends to have since he meets with executives often) on how successful Jimmy Choo is in Asia. He does not have any data. Instead, he suggests that we conduct a survey among the school's Chinese students to see if they are aware of Jimmy Choo, and to use awareness as a gauge for success. Hmm......... We are being asked to make conclusions about the Asian market based on brand awareness from a sample of ~30 Chinese students who decided to study at a school known for its luxury marketing program. Biased self-selected sample group? Statistically insignificant sample size? Sweeping conclusions about Asians using only an ethnic group? Mckeon would be proud of me.
My poor roommate fears that she is not getting any participation points in class because she isn't Asian. I, on the other hand, have decided to embrace my Chinese heritage and to take advantage of the enormous amount of credibility I have from just looking Asian. I will speak confidently about how all Chinese people love Louis Vuitton even though I've only been to China once (discounting Hong Kong). I will tell my classmates what Bottega's future is in Japan. I will make claims about what makes Jimmy Choo successful in Asia, without using any data to support my points. Personal stories should be enough.

At least my participation credit is skyrocketing here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Budapest & Prague - A Bit of History and Good Luck

We only had 1 day of classes this week because the other two days of classes were canceled due to a career fair at ESSEC. Thus, MC and I decided to jet off to Budapest and Prague for a few days.

Budapest, Hungary
Early morning on Tuesday, MC, Dana and I stumbled off our plane. We were exhausted from getting little to no sleep the night before, but we were all troopers and excited to explore Budapest. First things first, getting to an ATM to withdraw cash. Two hundred Hungarian Forints is approximately equal to one dollar. Easy enough. We calculated how many Forints to take out since we each wanted to withdraw $100 for our short 2 day stay. I withdrew my Forints from the ATM thinking "that's a lot of bills for just $100. Oh well." MC stepped up to withdraw money, punched in a few numbers and suddenly feels uneasy. We all re-calculated the conversion and at the exact same time, we realize that there was an extra 0. MC hit the cancel button furiously, but the Hungarian machine ignored her request, spitting out $1000 worth of Forints instead. We had a total of $2000 worth of Forints for 2 days. Tip #1: Get a good night's sleep before you approach an ATM.

The rest of the trip was thankfully uneventful. One of my favorite parts of Budapest was the House of Terror (see below), a museum dedicated to those whose lives were lost during the Nazi regime (1944-5) and the Communist regime (1949-89). It was a multimedia experience which challenged almost all my senses and it really gave me a sense of the tragedies Hungary has gone through in the last 100 years. Check out the "Terror" word filtering through at the top of the building.

Other things we did in Budapest were a walking tour, a tour of the opera house, and a visit to the Jewish Synagogue (see below). This beautiful synagogue is the largest in Europe and the 2nd largest in the world. In the gardens behind, there are also several memorials to those that were killed during the Nazi regime. It was sobering to think that these terrible things only took place a mere 70 years ago.

Overall, Budapest was much harder to navigate because few people spoke English. The letters were so foreign, we couldn't even pronounce the words we wanted to ask, so it was quite difficult to get around. It didn't help that I was slightly sick andn medication. I have to say though, a smiling face and a Thank You goes very far. Tip #2: Learn how to say Thank You in the local language.

Prague, Czech Republic
We began our Prague trip with a visit to Kutna Hora, a small town just 1 hour outside of the city. Wonderful and friendly elderly women helped us figure out how to take the local bus in the town since it was not a very tourist friendly time of the year. It helped that all three of us had strong charades skills.

The morbid side of me wanted to see this famous church, which is decorated with human bones, in Kutna Hora. These bones came from an estimated 40,000 people who died during the plague. Oddly, I wasn't as creeped out as I thought I would be. It was more artistic than I imagined. Dana and MC were thoroughly disturbed.

For the next two days in Prague, we wandered the cities, visiting the Prague castle, taking a boat cruise, and going on another walking tour. Prague is definitely one of the most gorgeous cities I've visited and words don't do it justice so I'll let my pictures do the talking.

Old Town Plaza - where we ate most of our lunches

The Charles Bridge at Night

A scupture by David Cerny, a controversial Czech sculpture. Here you see two statues peeing famous quotes into a pond. If you text a message to a number, the statues will stop and begin peeing your message into the pond. David Cerny has another art "piece" where you climb a ladder and stick your head in the sculpture’s arse to see a video of two Czech politicians feeding each other slop to a soundtrack of "We are the Champions." Gotta love him sense of humor.

Last but not least, I must comment on the luck factor. It seems that people in both Budapest and Prague are in need of a lot of luck. This isn't surprising given their similar history of Nazism and Communism. After visiting both cities, I've come across 6+ statues that you can rub to obtain good luck. This includes sculptures of a lady, the knees of a child, and the belly of a policeman (this will give you luck in the pregnancy department).

You can tell which parts of the statue you should rub since these areas are usually golden from being polished so often. I am befuddled though, by these two statues below and who exactly decided that it would be good luck to rub these body parts. Tip #3: Think before you rub.

Yes, she is holding the underside of the horse.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Marketing 101

After one and a half months in Paris I should probably be posting pictures of Parisian sites - Sacre Coeur, the Eiffel Tower, the shoe store by us where I covet nearly everything.  Instead, I thought I'd put my Kellogg marketing training to use and dissect a sign which has amused me the whole time we've been in Paris.

Ok, let's start with the circles in the center, which I've helpfully linked with a line for you.  
     - Left center circle: Union Jack on tongue
     - Right center circle: Wall Street reference
I guess the Wall Street Institute is so busy teaching English that they can't be bothered with geography.

Let's move down to the tiny circle in the center of the same ad.  That is a footnote.  Why does an ad need a footnote you may wonder.  Well, if you are trying to reach an audience that is looking to learn English, then perhaps running your ad in English is not the best idea.  Consequently, the Wall Street Institute has had to add a translation at the bottom of their ad...thus the footnote.

Now let's head right to the ad that has likely been distracting about 50% of you.  In this case the lingerie model is actually selling lingerie, but I understand if you're confused.  Here in France lingerie models are used to sell everything from diet pills to toilet cleaner.  (Note: If you are thinking that this happens in the US as well, I can assure you that it is much more egregious here in France.)  Heck, when you have grandparents making out on the Metro you have to do something to catch people's attention.  Actually, I guess all the loving going on in the Metro makes the placement of this lingerie ad pretty fabulous.

And finally, moving all the way to left to the lovely woman standing against the half wall.  She has absolutely nothing to do with either of these ads, but since she happened to be in my picture I thought I'd point out the Parisian uniform du jour:
     1.)  Black tights with boots
     2.)  Mini skirt (typically jean) / short shorts
     3.)  Intricately wrapped scarf
I'm certain that in that large purse she is carrying around the requisite pack of cigarettes.  Sadly though, if she's looking to learn English I'm guessing the sign in front of her is of no use.

Monday, February 8, 2010

La Vieux Belleville, a French Chanson Bar

Going to a French Chanson bar is probably a parisian activity that most people living in Paris will never do. The concept is simple: dinner and drinks at a small restaurant. Afterward, a French musician, with an accordion, lyric sheets, and eccentric glasses, leads the group in joint singing which becomes louder and louder as the night proceeds.

MC, Maria and I heard about "La Vieux Belleville" through a friend and decided that this would be be the perfect place to spend a Saturday evening. As we wait for our dinner to arrive, we read through a mini-postcard to get a sense for what to expect. It says:
- "Chansons (singers), accordeon (accordian), and orgue de barbarie (???)"

What is an orgue de babarie? My initial thought is - an organ of barbarism. But what type of musical instrument would that be?! After fits of giggling, we decide that my translation is NOT correct and proceed to use a dictionary to look up each word. On a side note, yes I brought a dictionary to the Chansons Bar. According to my dictionary:
- Orgue = Organ
- Barbarie = Barbarity

Was my translation really correct? But what in the world is a barbaric organ? Refusing to believe this, MC looked up the combined phrase instead of the individual words, turning up with the definition "a musical instrument that is part of the organ family." This definition make a lot more sense now. However, it's still beyond me why anyone would name a beautiful instrument "organ of barbarity."

Our night continued with some loud, off-tune singing to "La Vie En Rose" (Life in Rose) and "Emmenez Moi" (Take me). The lead singer frequently came by our table to ask us if we could understand since we were the only foreigners at the bar. Later in the night we sang an upbeat song about a man who was sent to work off his crime on a boat. When she asked us what we thought about the song, I replied "we liked it but it was rather sad. " With a huge grin on her face, she said "But it's gay!" before skipping off to the next table.

I spent a good portion of the night chatting with the old French man sitting next to me, who was there with his family. Grandpa seemed to enjoy drinking wine and felt the need to pour us glasses of wine when ours were empty. Maria declined, explaining that she was not drinking that night. Grandpa found this very difficult to comprehend. As the night wore on, Grandpa's French became difficult to understand and I realized that he was slurring his words. He also jokingly told us that his was "gentile" (friend) but his nephew, who was across from him, was "dangereux." I think this was our cue to leave and head home.

We headed home, full , happy and humming new songs. J'adore la France.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten...

I am still struggling with the concept of lines in France...or, more appropriately, the lack thereof.  I think I learned how lines worked in kindergarten.  One person got to be the "line leader" - this usually involved wearing a paper crown - and everyone in the class followed after them.  It is not a hard concept.

Last week, during one of our 30 minute class breaks - everyone needs time for "une smoke" - I ran over to grab a much needed cup of "cafe au lait."  Apparently, everyone else in school had also decided to grab a snack as I found myself further back in line than ever before.  But no matter, there is no such thing as being late to class here in France.  After waiting in line for a few minutes a group of students arrived and hopped into line with the people directly in front of me.  Now, if perhaps you have gotten the only professor here who cares about timeliness, and you desperately need a cup of coffee I am more than happy to let you step in, but when you act as if I'm too dumb to notice that you just appeared out of nowhere it simply insults my intelligence.  Wanting to avoid a fast-paced French altercation, I just stared at the people in front of me and hoped that they would get the message.  This did not work.  Eventually, one of the guys in front of me turned back and snootily said to us in French, "that is just how things are done here in Fr-ah-nce."  Tired of being the lone rule follower I walked past, joined a friend in front of him, turned around and in my most perfect French said, "well when in France..." 

I felt proud that I was finally learning parisian, until I realized that while I stood there feeling guilty - this is what happens to us rule followers - they simply couldn't have cared less.  Perhaps I'm going to start walking around with a paper crown.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

"Lousy French"

Ok, so our French isn't really that terrible. It is also not really that good. But we can get by even if at times it is a bit of a tag-team effort. One of our biggest challenges is that sometimes things in France just don't make sense to Americans. So while we may be in fact understanding something quite clearly, our American brains are telling us that this is not possible. Instead of assuming cultural differences we often assume that the misunderstanding is due to our lousy French.

For example, just last week Teena and I decided to walk through Montparnasse cemetery (don't judge - this is such a normal thing to do that the guard at the gate happily gives you a map as you enter). Not 5 minutes into our "sightseeing" we saw a sign on a badly neglected grave that we thought was saying that the grave was going to be repossessed.  I read it, Teena read it, I read it again...we looked at each other, pointed to the words, decided that this was not could a grave be repossessed? "Lousy French." Why didn't Berlitz teach us the verb "to repossess?" We read this sign on various unattended graves hoping for clarity, but we kept coming to the same conclusion: It is not saying that the graves are going to be repossessed, that's simply not possible.  We just aren't reading it correctly.

Stumbling upon a groundskeeper I decided to ask him what the sign said. With a cigarette dangling from his lip we had the following rapid-fire French conversation:

Me:  "I was hoping you could explain what the sign on those graves says?"

Groundskeeper: "There is a lot of room to bury people. Sometimes 12-15 people in one spot."  
  {{Repeatedly stacks one hand on top of the other to indicate that many bodies can fit into one grave}}
  "If you don't take care of it, well it is good business to re-sell...oui?"

Me: {{Internal thought}}, not do I ask this politely?
  "But, and I'm sorry if this is a dumb question, what do you do with the people that are already there?"

Groundskeeper: "Well it is very easy, we dig them up to make room for the new bodies....oui?""

Me: {{Internal thought}}, not oui...I think I'm misunderstanding this...
  "You take them out of the ground? The dead people? And you bury new people there?"

Groundskeeper: "Yes...but only if you have 25,000 Euros to buy the spot. You see it is good business....oui?"

Me: {{Giving up}} "Oui."

Note:  "reprise" = to take back; to repossess


How does this gravestone come to happen?!? 
"So honey, I know we may not both die at the same time, but I was thinking..."

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cheese Cheese Cheese

I feel like a cheese baby is forming in my stomach. Tonight, I went to a cheese tasting class where I proceeded to eat 13 types of cheese, along with bread and fruit. Top it off with some champagne, wine, and port...and you get a cheese baby.

I found a wonderful lady here called Gerri who teaches a cheese tasting class, complete with handouts, a powerpoint, and a tasting experience. So I organized a tasting class for my new exchange student friends. The 9 of us spent a night indulging in cheese heaven.

As with wine, we started out with lighter flavors (Fromage Blanc, goat cheese), then to soft cheeses (Camembert), hard cheeses (Comte), and then more pungent ones like Pont L'Eveque, Fourme d'Ambert (blue cheese), and Roquefort (blue cheese).

My observations:

- There's no good way to pair wine and cheese when you want to serve several types of cheese. What you should do, is to choose who you want the superstar to be. Superstar wine? Pick a cheese or two that compliments it. Superstar cheese? Pick a wine that goes well with it.

- I love Comte cheese. Comte Jeune (aged 12 months) was delicious and smooth. Comte "Fruite" (aged 4 years) was even more delicious with its amino acid crunches. Think of a cheese version of the Crunch candy bar.

- Camembert and Brie are very different in France. I prefer Camembert in France, and Brie in the U.S.

- I still don't like goat cheese. I keep trying it, hoping that one day I'll learn to enjoy it since everyone seems to love it so much. Today was not that day. My mind thought "You can do it!" but my mouth responded with "No, there's something that repulses me." Maybe next time...

- Pont L'Eveque smells like dirty wet socks. I tried not to let the smell interfere with my taste, but I couldn't help it. I even told myself that it was like Taiwanese stinky tofu which tastes better than it smells. Alas, nothing helped, and I decided that I do not like eating dirty wet socks. Even MC (who cleaned her plate) decided that she couldn't eat this cheese.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Marrakech, Morroco

According MC, if you are what you eat, MC and I are: "Tagine, Couscous, Brochette, and Mint Tea."

Niiko, MC, Johannah and I had a wonderful 5 day vacation in Marrakesh. What made it even better were the amazing accommodations at Le Meridien. Thank you Starwood points!

On Thursday, MC and I attended a private Moroccan cooking class at a local riad (hotel). Aida, a local Moroccan, was our head chef but since she did not speak english, we had a translator called Mohammed. Mohammed asked us "how did you find out about this class?" I replied "On" Mohammed then mentioned that he gave a ton of advice on tripadvisor to people traveling to Morocco and that his screenname was "TrueBeliever." When I heard this, I gave a little I just met a movie star. When I was planning this trip, I read tons of reviews on tripadvisor and "TrueBeliever" was THE Morocco expert. MC had to shush me so I didn't disturb the other guests at the hotel.

Other highlights of the trip include: bargaining for taxis. You must determine a price before you step into the taxi, otherwise you will be taken for a ride (figuratively). My french improved dramatically when I was negotiating. To get home one day, MC and I approached a taxi, determined to only pay 20 Dirhams, which was the going rate for a taxi to the Meridien hotel from that location. The taxi driver asked for 30 Dirhams, so in French, I proceed speak rapid-fire: "It's 20 dirhams I know this I left yesterday from the restaurant over there and it was 20 No It's 20 No, I'm only paying 20." The taxi driver agrees to take us to the hotel for 20 Dirhams.

MC and I decided to buy some 30 Dirham ($4) sunglasses since we forgot to bring any. MC tries to negotiate the price down...unsuccessfully. To my surprise, the shopkeeper starts to braid my hair, into what he calls a "Berber style." For those of you that know me, I have a personal aversion to people touching my hair. I was also disturbed that he was touching me, especially in a Muslim country where men are more respectful of women. Being the amazing negotiator that she was, MC asked the shopkeeper for a discount, for the rights to braid my hair. My roommate just pawned me off to get $1 off sunglasses.....I'm worth much more than that.

Throughout my time in Marrakesh, I was constantly referred to as "Japan" or "China." At first, I gave into this and introduced myself as "I am Japan" whenever people asked. At some point though, I decided that I needed to educate people about Taiwan. So I started to say "I am Taiwan, not China. We make cell phones." When a shopkeeper asked me if I was Taiwanese (without prompting), I was so excited I purchased overpriced items from him.

Other highlights of my trip include: a 2-day overnight desert trip, a camel ride, a guided tour of the souk markets, steam baths, a night out at a local club, and lots of meals on the roof terraces. Overall, Marrakesh gets two thumbs up. Wait, according to MC, in Arabic countries, giving someone a thumbs up means "GO **&^%*&" (translation: something highly offensive).

Overall, Marrakesh get 2 gold stars.

Photo: Camel Riding
Photo: Gorgeous plate store at the Souk markets

Photo: Morrocan men wear this traditional Jalaba which comes in all colors and sizes. Notice the pointy hood - it was a bit creepy when I first saw it.
By the way, I chased this man halfway around the Souks trying to secretly take a picture of him.