2009-03-28

Taiwan!

I passed my 30th year mark somewhere over China en route to Taiwan. Actually, our KLM flight stopped in Amsterdam and Bangkok before arriving in Taipei but, unfortunately, there was no time to get out and explore either of those locations.

Our time it Taiwan was really excellent, albeit very rushed as we were only there for 48 hours. We arrived in the evening and launched immediately into meetings. First up was a group of women looking to bring Poken to the Taiwanese market. They have good ideas and I wish them the best success. Next we met with our manufacturing partners, who took us out for karaoke.

Karaoke was an amazing experience in and of itself. We were in a private room, waited on hand and foot, and singing slightly modified versions of late 80s soft rock--at least at first. With some help from the girl next to me (name pronounced like "Go-Go"), we managed to find the song lists for Michael Jackson and George Michaels--then it was on! Stephane and I belted out tunes (Fortunately the girls knew how to turn the background music up to drown out our singing!) until the music selection turned to the Backstreet Boys.

At one point in the evening a cake arrived and Happy Birthday was sung. Considering that I was far away from family and friends on my birthday, this was a great way to ring in the new year. I am also very, very, very appreciative of all the calls, cards, emails, and facebook messages people sent. Thank you very much for reaching out even from far away!

Our next day was filled with meetings, discussing new product versions and our ability to scale up production to address Poken's worldwide stock-out. We have far outpaced our original growth projections so modifications must be made to increase our manufacturing capacity. The meetings went well and I am very impressed with the professionalism of our Taiwanese partner.

Tuesday night we went out for Japanese food and then walked around local night markets. We also wandered around the outside of Taipei 101 but it was already closed so we couldn't go up. Stephane and I "turned in" relatively early (before 1 AM) but then stayed up for hours answering email backlogs. Our body clocks hadn't adjusted yet and we were energized. We shared a room (Yay, startup life!) but this time we had come prepared enough not to have to wear our underwear inside out!

Wednesday's meetings were more of the same (Korean BBQ for lunch!) and, again, went very well. Then it was back to the airport, through Bangkok and Amsterdam, and finally back in Switzerland. It was a real whirlwind but a great experience for my birthday and first time in Asia. Now I can't wait to go back, learn the local languages better, and spend more time soaking up the culture.

2009-03-26

Rice + Baylor == Yay!

Other than the split infinitive, I am very pleased to see the following:

March 26, 2009


To the faculties, staffs and students of Baylor College of Medicine and Rice University:

We are pleased to announce that the governing boards of Rice and BCM this week approved the signing of a memorandum of understanding that lays out a broad framework for formal negotiations about a possible merger of our two institutions.

While no decision on a merger has yet been made and many issues remain to be resolved, our boards have concluded that a closer affiliation has abundant potential benefits for both institutions, as well as for our home city of Houston. Months of informal discussions have confirmed that the missions and aspirations of our two institutions are in fact closely aligned, that both institutions would benefit in many ways from a merger and that, together, Rice and BCM could be one of the world's leading research universities.

The MOU framework will allow us to systematically and thoroughly move ahead with the next stage of discussions. Over the next few months, we will seek to address issues and concerns that have surfaced from those discussions, and we will continue to solicit input from members of our respective communities. The success of a merger, or any closer affiliation, will also depend significantly on how effectively we plan for and manage its implementation.

Baylor College of Medicine and Rice University are institutions of distinction that bring great achievements and greater potential to such a merger. Each is known throughout the world for contributions to important areas of human knowledge and service. Both are entering this conversation closely attentive to the importance of sustaining that which is great, inspired by the possibilities of expanded distinction and contribution, respectful of our values and traditions, and committed to our responsibilities to Houston and the broader society.

Thank you for the suggestions and insights that have helped shape our discussions so far. We continue to welcome your ideas going forward.


William T. Butler, M.D.
Interim President
Baylor College of Medicine

David W. Leebron
President
Rice University

2009-03-22

Coming and Going

I just dropped my week-long house guest off at the train station (where IMD Professor Dominiq Thurpin was also taking the train to Geneve-Aeroport) for a tearful goodbye. It was a wonderful week with her in town and it felt so, so, so good to cook again--really for the first time in my 15 months in Lausanne. She also helped me outfit the apartment so it finally is really liveable.

We capped off the week with a birthday dinner last night at La Suite, where I have long eyed the 95-point Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino 2003 on their wine list. For the second time in a week our restaurant turned out only to have one bottle remaining so we were clearly destined to drink it. I would describe it as good-not-great. To be fair, it was too young and should have had a few more years in the bottle. It definitely opened up after a couple of hours but, even still, it didn't bowl me over. There were good red currant flavors up front and a gorgeous, satiny texture. The tannin profile was one of the best, most gentle I have tasted and the finish went on and on. Perhaps these are clues that James Suckling uses to predict that this wine will be 95 points in the future, when it is ready to drink. I readily admit that I don't have enough experience drinking top-quality Brunello to have an exceptional feel for its aging trajectory. To quote Braveheart, well that's something we shall have to remedy, now isn't it?

The rest of the dinner was delicious, as I have come to expect from La Suite: crottin de chevre and lentil soupe to start, bone-in lamb and sea bass after, followed by molten chocolate cake that paired excellently with the last dregs of our Brunello. Of course nothing could beat the company as we plotted out ways to change the world and juggle international careers. It was a fantastic ending to a fantastic pre-birthday week.

Now it is time to return 100% of my focus to Poken. I have been taking on too many things in my three months here and, as a consequence, not doing any of them exceptionally. It's my fault for letting myself get sucked into working in the business instead of on it, which is always an easy temptation in a startup where everything is urgent. It is not too late to rectify, however, and I'm on the case, working feverishly to crank out some deliverables before I hop on a plane to Taipei this afternoon.

2009-03-18

Poken is encroaching on US soil!

One of my coworkers attended SXSW in Austin last week and inadvertently made a big splash for Poken. We found ourselves on the front page of techcrunch, on many US blog sites, and . . . on NPR!!! Our site traffic has doubled since then and we have completely sold out on every continent (Last week we launched the product in Japan and it sold out in hours!). Not to worry, though, manufacturing has ramped up and we will be restocked soon. This is very exciting!

In other news, I went for my first run along the lake of 2009 Monday evening with my favorite running partner. The skies were clear and the red sunset reflected pink off the snowy mountains. The weather was warm enough to wear shorts (although still with long sleeves) and the birds chirping + trees budding harkened the spring to come. The lake was as smooth as glass, so all of the above was reflected beautifully during a long, slow jog.

While she has been here we have been cooking every night. Potato leek soup, wild mushroom risotto, mmmmmm. It feels so good to have a real kitchen again!

Yesterday I flew up to London for the first all-hands meeting of our Sales & Marketing (S&M!) team. It took 10 hours of travel for < 5 hours of discussion but it was good to have our personnel from the US, Netherlands, UK, and Switzerland all together in the same place. Next week I may find myself in Taiwan. Welcome to the world of the mobile work force!

2009-03-15

Another Weekend in Paris

I woke up early Saturday morning to take the TGV up to Paris, where I met my special lady friend, who was flying in from Houston. After some initial confusion about hotel rooms, we finally got settled just outside of the Gare de Lyon and struck out to enjoy the day. Instead of an aggressive schedule of museum visits and sight seeing, though, our entire plan consisted of a run in the Jardin des Plantes, a a nap, and an early dinner.

Dinner was, however, a spectacular affaire in and of itself. Based on a recommendation from Wine Spectator we had reservations at La Truffiere. At 7 PM we were clearly the first customers of the night and, accordingly, we were waited on hand and foot by the entire staff. It was a good way to start off the evening being "bon soir"ed by no less than seven employees on the short walk to our table. Another indication that we were in for a good evening came when the wine list arrived : a tome so extensive that it came with its own pedestal to support its weight.

It was difficult to choose among the thousands of possibilities but the sommelier was helpful and we eventually settled on Ch√Ęteau Leoville Barton Saint-Julien 1999. It was rich with tart red fruit and gentle, carressing tannins up front, followed by dark, warm spice on a long finish—just what the doctor ordered! It turned out to be the last such bottle in the house, a good omen. The sommelier got extra points for fantastic presentation. Sure, he broke the first tasting glass (before there was wine in it, fortunately!) but we’ll just write that off as a warm up. J

Choosing what to eat was much easier. As the name of the restaurant indicates, their specialty is dark truffles. Accordingly, that was the focus of our courses. Before any food arrived at our table, the maitre d’ presented us with a bowl of fresh truffles, which were incredibly fragrant. I had always thought of truffles as being very earthy but this was the first time that I came to appreciate how fruity and nutty their pungent aromas could be as well. We selected our truffle for the evening (one that was oddly shaped and therefore would surely be full of mysteries!). It was weighed, priced (costing more than our wine!!!), and then hand shaved (by a black-gloved hand) in front of our table—again, points for presentation!

The truffle shavings then became an integral part of our meal for the rest of the evening. We began with toasted bread, olive oil, fleur de sel, and truffle shavings—so simple and so delicious! It helped that the truffles went magnificently with our wine. And of course a dinner in Paris w/o snails would be somehow . . . unfulfilling. So we also ordered the escargot. It came in three different varieties: sauteed with white asparagus on phyllo, emulsified with parsley and garlic and served in the shell, and suspended in an emulsification of garlic and bone marrow. So good!

Next round: Salmon with green tea mousse and parmentier of foie gras—again with truffle shavings galore. About this time it was clear that our noble Saint-Julien would need reinforcements. Our sommelier recommended a Chateau de la Negly La Porte du Ciel 2003 Rhone blend from Languedoc-Rousillon, claiming that it was like nothing that we had ever tasted from that region. It had been opened in the morning and was in a perfect state for consumption. He was right on both accounts. It was an oppulent, fruity wine—more purple and less red—and definitely stood up to our hearty meal.

Before dessert arrived, it was mandated that we cleanse our palettes with cheese. The rolling cheese cart was more of a fortress, containing and displaying at least 20 cheeses from around the world and varying in age from 1 – 5 years. Oh well, since it was mandated, we had to partake. I can’t even remember what we had, except that most of it was strong and stinky—like me!

Dessert then took the truffle experience to the next level. We had a moka chocolate tort and a dark truffle souffle, which was amazing. The both paired fantastically with a glass of muscat and that was it. By the time we finished dessert, 3.5 hours had passed (We received little palette cleansers between each course.), 17 grams of truffle shavings had been consumed, and we could have rolled all the way home.

When the bill arrived, it was, not surprisingly, the most I have ever paid for dinner for two. While I don’t plan on making such extravagent expenses a habit, it was certainly worth it to do once on this special occasion. 

This morning we woke up late, had a leisurely brunch, and hopped the train back to Lausanne. The evening featured fine dining (frozen pizza, now that I actually have a kitchen with an oven!) and catching up on the current season of 30 Rock. With every episode I watch, I continue to love Alec Baldwin's character (Jack Donaghy) more and more. "We all have our ways of coping; for me, it was sex and awesomeness." It was a lazy, wonderful weekend in Paris and I am looking forward to the coming week with my guest in town!

2009-03-07

Carmina Burana

Thursday night several of us from the IMD MBA class of 2008 attended the Choire Lausanne's performance of Carmina Burana. Although it wasn't an amazingly executed performance, the music was, of course, great. Even better was the chance to catch up with my classmates before the show and afterward over beers at Les Brasseurs.

Friday then was an Indian day for me. I ate my first Swiss-Indian cuisine for lunch and then stayed in all evening to do yoga and watch the new episode of The Office. Although I don't love Ashtanga Yoga (I can't listen to audio books while I'm doing it!), there is no question that my flexibility is increasing so hooray for that!

The sun is shining now and the temperature is above 42 F. If this keeps up tomorrow I'll go for my first run along the lake of 2009!

2009-03-02

Weekend in Paris Part Deux

Paris was 24 hours of awesome. My favorite wingman met me at Gare de Lyon, we dropped off my stuff--which all fit in my laptop bag--and kicked off the day with lunch in an outdoor cafe near the Louvre. The sun was shining, the people-watching was great, and we won our first battle against grapes, duck livers, and snails. After a lazy lunch, though, what to do, what to do?
I pulled up Google Maps on my phone and searched for Museums around us; it didn't let me down. The National Picasso Museum, while not exactly close, looked the most interesting and digestable in an afternoon. So we walked over to the East side of Paris, enjoying the glorious weather.
Picasso's works weren't exactly what I was expecting--which was a pleasant surprise. They were presented chronologically, which my readers know I love (a la my musical explorations), so it was apparent how his style evolved over time. It was interesting to see that he had dabbled in classical and impressionist (like his good friend Henri Matisse) styles before really finding the cubist and other styles for which he is--in my mind--famous. I also didn't realize that he had done so much sculpting, so it was interesting to see his later-life sculptural interpretations of his earlier-life paintings. Cool.
We then ambled all the way back to Paris's west side to visit Lavinia, a wine store that had been recommended to us as the "Spec's of Paris." Spec's (the largest wine/spirits store in the world, just a few blocks from my house in Houston) it was not, but it was definitely cool and had an awesome selection of French wines, which was exactly what we were seeking. We spent 90 minutes inspecting every bottle and debating the pros and cons to kill time before dinner. We walked across the Seine, stopped for a quick cafe, and then finally arrived at Aux Charpentiers, my favorite little restaurant in Paris.
Joel, the general manager is always extremely gracious and this time was no exception. We started off with some champagne to nourish us while we poured over the menu. At long last we decided on three courses and got down to work. First up: foie gras paired with a sauternes and, naturally, escargot. Hassin and Cox: 2, Duck livers and snails: 0.
Next course: roast duck in a dark sauce (the contents of which escape me) and sardine fillets marinated in citrus. The piece de resistance here, though, was the 2002 Chateau Lynch-Bages Pauillac. 2002 wasn't a stellar year in Bordeaux but Lynch-Bages has never let us down and we figured that the 2002 might be more approachable now than a blockbuster like 2003 or 2005. We were right! It was drinking beautifully and, although it would have paired better with one of the beef entrees, it still went smashingly. Well structured, layers of currant and peppery spice with a long finish. Delicious!
We ended with a poached pear drowned in a cassis wine reduction and something very chocolatey with raspberry sauce. Perhaps the sweetest treat of all, though, was our bill, which was 1/2 what we paid for lunch. I love Aux Charpentiers!
Having won another victory over grapes, duck livers, snails, AND the recession, we had no choice but to celebrate. We decided that the rest of the night would be devoted to Guinness. We wound our way to the Latin Quarter, resolving to stop at every bar we encountered that advertised Guinness. The fact that we didn't know exactly where the Latin Quarter was (In fact, looking at a map now, we may have actually already been in the Latin Quarter when we embarked!) only supported our Guinnessification.
Our meandering took us into places ranging from dodgy pubs to swank cocktail lounges. In one of the latter establishments we saw advertised a Cocktail du Jour. We asked the bartender, who must have been 8' tall, what it was and she didn't know; we were the first to inquire about it all day. Naturally, we had to have it and it turned out to be a foaming, glowing punch bowl of sorts with lots of straws. So much for our Guinness-only night but we figured that a diverse porfolio never hurt anyone.
Finally we arrived at a bar that was playing great rock music. Plus we met some law students from La Sorbonne who were cool so we decided to stay. A couple of Guinnesses turned into a few, flaming shots were ordered, and here the details start to become hazy. The pictures indicate that we had an awesome time and I would expect no less!
Our bar eventually shut down and the girls invited us to come with them to an after-hours location. We headed off toward this mystery destination but one of the girls got very upset when I jokingly tried to sell her to her friend for 10 euros. This meant one of two things: either this girl was a total drama queen or I had had enough to drink that things I found funny weren't quite as amusing to others. In either case, we figured it was time to call it a night.
Sunday morning came too early and I had over 100 new emails to sift through on the train back to Lausanne. Oh well, what a great time and I'll be back there next weekend!