The Daily Khan


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Goodbyes and Good Lucks

Ever since graduation, it's been more or less meetings with colleagues and friends, celebrating the end of one adventure and the beginning of another. Most conversations follow a set pattern:

 

Great to see you buddy! Can't believe it's over!
So, what plans after graduation?
Are you staying or going back home or elsewhere?

To be honest, it is a great change to see everybody relaxed and happy, with a smug look of accomplishment on their faces. If there's anytime to be smug, it's this. But it is a bit odd to think that the people I spent the last 12 months pulling and pushing and fighting and supporting and leaning on and being carried by are all going off their separate ways, to bigger and better things.

In the midst of these pangs of melancholy, I am often hit with this statement:

 

Yes I'm actually starting work next week.

Dammit.

Suddenly all that melancholy gives way to insecurity, panic and just the tiniest bit of jealousy. What exactly have I been doing while my peers have already secured employment? What does this mean about my own abilities?

Actually, it means nothing. All it means that some people got there before I did, as is usual with several things in my life. This is just another thing to add to my list of getting there late.

A recent conversation I had with an alumni said that the hardest thing about trying to do something new or different with your career post graduation is that it takes time. While others in your class will be working and more, chances are you will still be trying to push things into place in the best way possible. But, of course, that is your choice, nobody is forcing you to act as such.

So, to my peers, colleagues and friends, the very best of luck in the future. I wish you the greatest success (you certainly deserve it). And should any of you be able to, do feel free to give The Daily Khan a leg up. It would certainly come in handy.

 

 

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Now what?

I've spent the major part of the past two days trawling through my news feed on Facebook, looking at all the pictures and comments and likes that people have been sharing ever since graduation on Saturday. For me, the end of the MBA has several implications; for one, I actually achieve a degree. Secondly, I have to move on to other things, like JOB and ADULT LIFE. Ugh.

Most importantly though, I'm facing a mini-crisis on stories and unique experiences. For a whole year I've been able to fall back on my entire student year to write about all kinds of things (including trips to Brazil and China). What am I supposed to write about now?

I've also realised a truth about myself; I'm more willing to do things just for the story if no other earthly or logical reason is available to me. I'm not sure when exactly this change happened, but it did and for the time being I'm sticking to it like glue. If it makes for a good story, screw logic. As long as nobody dies of course. At least not me.

It does feel good though. Ticking this off my bucket list. Knowing that I have actual friends and connections in all corners of the globe. If anything, I feel more sure than before that the stories will only get bigger and better. Everything seems to be lined up exactly for that to happen. Now all that's left, is for me to make it happen.

...but I think I deserve a nap first.

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Why home is home

It's been less than a week since I came back home and I already feel like I was never away. Shanghai was so different and such an assault on the senses, and suddenly back home I'm just...back home.

I was wondering if I would have any issues to drive. As soon as sat in the driver's seat, muscle memory took over; I wasn't even thinking about what I was doing, even though it was the first time in weeks since I was driving. I know exactly where stuff is in my house, and I know exactly what to do and where to go should I need anything. I know the exact route to campus, and I know where to park and which elevators to take...where people sit and whom to say hello to at what time of day.

Familiarity. It's amazing how certain things get stored in your sub-conscience when you do it often enough, without even trying to get used to it. While I was in Shanghai, I had gotten used to riding the metro and jostling with the crowds during rush hour. Now that I'm back home, I'm used to driving everywhere and being stuck in traffic during rush hour.

Certain things are so ingrained that I don't even feel like my brain is doing the controlling, it's just my muscles that seem to know what to do. It amazes and saddens me at the same time. Being outside my comfort zone, which a lot of this year was for me, actually had all my senses fully activated and optimised to make sure I consciously knew what I was doing. Nothing came naturally, I had to make it happen. Which made me feel like I was on the bleeding edge of my own self awareness and ability. Being comfortable, which to be honest, most people strive for, doesn't seem to have that level of adrenaline that I not only got used to, but a certain part of me feels addicted to. I blame the MBA for that. I blame Shanghai even more.

Home is home because it's comfortable, it's easy. Having met so many great people who have done so many great things over the last year, it seems almost insulting to fall back into that comfort. Where I end up and what I end up doing post graduation is still up in the air, but the more I think about it, the more I want to be uncomfortable. Not miserable or unhappy or completely lost. Just uncomfortable enough for me to take risks and do stupid things because my priority is to get things done, things I've never done before.

I think, at some level, we all feel that way. Now is just the beginning for lots of stupid things.  

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Shanghai - Day 37 to 41 - The End

There's been a bit of a change in my behavior off late. This last week has been slightly strange, considering that I moved into a hotel for the last three days just to feel like I was on a holiday. But the difference is that even at the hotel, six hours before I fly out of Shanghai, that feeling of newness has somehow evaporated. Suddenly those non-stop smiles and polite 'no's' that I would usually give to people on the street trying to sell me knock-off goods (amongst other things), have given way to more brusque and hurried brushing off. So while I sit here at 2 in the morning, eating some really good room service pizza, I realise that this city has become extremely familiar to me. Not that I've seen everything there is to see in this city. I've probably seen 10% of Shanghai, and less than 1% of China. But in my short time here, I've come to understand a little bit of this place, and things don't seem to surprise/shock me quite the way they would before.

I'm convinced that I will return to Shanghai and China. It's just that I haven't really had a chance to see and do a lot of the things I would've liked to have done while I was here. As with all things, I wish I had a little more time. I think that's my problem, I keep complaining about not having enough time all the time, yet I never seem to learn from my own scheduling.

I've met some really great people and had some really valuable conversations. One of these great people I met shared some really great advice with me; the story that I will keep telling people about my MBA will be my rotation story. My trip to China.

Shanghai is a city everybody should visit, at least once. It's unbelievable what 30 million people are doing here, making things work. It's a great city for many many reasons. But for me, this is a great city because of the brilliant people I met. And just how this city made me feel. Like an outsider, but a welcome outsider. Somebody who came in completely unprepared and left knowing a little bit more than when I came in. Maybe at some point in my life I will come to Shanghai to work and to live, who knows.

Hopefully by then my Chinese will be more than just two words. Thank you Shanghai, it's been fun. Here's to my next adventure.

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100%

I'm staring at my computer screen because I cannot believe what I've just done. Staring back at me are 20 slides of the purest strategic brand communication the world has ever seen. At least, I hope. As a single presentation, it's not really that great of an achievement, but this particular presentation holds special meaning for me personally; this is my very last assignment for my MBA.

Yes, difficult as it may be to believe, 7th August 2014 was my very last MBA class. Today, I completed my very last MBA assignment. And...that's it. No more.

No more deadlines. No more early morning class. No more late night team meetings. No more juggling schedules and projects and people's feelings. No more trying to have a life outside the MBA. No more required courses. No more electives. No more feedback sessions, arguing over grades or presentations. No more academics. No more MBA.

And suddenly, I feel a little empty. What pretty much took over my entire life over the last 12 months has rather abruptly come to an end. I mean, I always knew this was going to happen. I even know when it was going to happen. I had all the details and the timetable. And yet, I don't feel completely comfortable.

Part of this has to do with my future. I'm not sure what I'm going to do post graduation, or where I'm going to do it. Part of me is also exhausted. When they say 1 year MBA, they don't quite tell you what exactly that means. In fact, had I know just how much work and effort this was going to require, I may not have been quite so willing to jump into this head first all those months ago.

Mostly though, it's a mixture of relief and nostalgia. Relief because a huge personal goal has been ticked off my list. I don't really have to think about this again. Nostalgia because this means the end of my class. Soon we will all be in different parts of the world, doing our own things, achieving our dreams and raising our families. This one year of us sticking together and being students, for some of us, the very last time, will be something I will terribly miss.

In a few weeks I will (I hope) be walking up the much travelled road of the graduate, collecting my degree and moving on with my life. Lots of things to do, lots of places to see, and lots of people to meet. And of course, lots of relationships to maintain, and fall back on, every time I find things too difficult. A whole new adventure awaits. Question is, will it top the one we just completed?

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Shanghai - Day 27 to 36 - The Last Leg

It's been over a month of me in China, and the only regret I have is that I don't have more time. In a week's time, I will be leaving Shanghai and heading back home to Dubai, with some new friends and some special memories under my belt. In fact, all that I had come to Shanghai to achieve, all those credits and conversations, all that is...done. Yup. The last week was an all out assault of classes and I am happy to say I somehow survived.

On the very last day, I realised that I would never have to do the commute from residence to metro station to switching trains and walking up to school in a hurry in the morning ever again. Ever. In fact, if I needed to go to school from now on, it would be on my own time and for reasons that do have stakes quite as high as acquiring an MBA. It would be because I wanted to be there for my own personal reasons.

Pushing two electives together over 7 days is not only intense, it's also a bit crazy. In fact, for the first four days, when I was involved with Strategic Brand Management, I think I understood for the first time what it must be like to have a child. No me time, only it time. Four hours of sleep a night was a luxury, and gift, to thank a superior power for. I was sitting in school from 8:30am till 12:30am pretty much. And I got to go home late at night during the week for the first time.

This brought about something new in my self actualisation. Every day, those late night taxi rides home...I was not nervous. At some point over the last month, Shanghai went from a fascinating alien city to a familiar city I live in. It usually takes much longer for such things to kick in, but with Shanghai I was lucky enough to get that feeling within a month. It felt special. Were it another city, I would've had some fear for my personal safety, trouping around the city at that time of the night. But when you descend onto the streets of Shanghai at 1 in the morning, and realise that the whole world seems to be awake with you, it doesn't seem quite so scary at all.

The last week has been one of the most intensive of my MBA. Even though I was at the fag end of my degree, I still managed to pack in lots of new theory and skills that I hadn't learnt before. Even at this stage, when I can, in many ways, call myself an MBA, it's sobering to know just how much I still have to learn about everything.

In one of my classes, I met an alumni who was also attending class (for the knowledge, not the grade). A graduate from last year, she told me that once you leave school, the want/need to learn increases. So typically human. When I was working, I wanted to go back to school. Now that I'm here, I want to get back to work. I bet in a month's time it will switch all over again.

I've also begun to predict Shanghai's weather. As in, it rains during the weekends and bright sunshine accompanies the week. I'm sure there's a logical scientific explanation for this, but it still annoys me a bit. But I can't really complain about the rain. I love it.

So, in a week's time I should be heading back to Dubai. The Great Chinese Adventure will be over, and terribly lacking. I feel like the only thing I know for sure right now is that I have to come back to Shanghai, to China, to the East. It doesn't feel alien any more.

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Shanghai - Day 21 to 26 - Readings, Rain and Mr. Ma.

One of the annoying realities about travelling to new places while not on a holiday, is that at some point you have to put stuff away and get to work. Which has essentially been my regime for the past week or so, as I do my best at preparing myself for my last two classes in my MBA, and still managing to get my brain to function and myself to care. It's really difficult considering how much I really just want this to be over with. Not that I have anything against the MBA or Hult, but I'm ready for graduation now. Ready to get on with the rest of my life.

And while my travels around the city have been limited this past week, I have managed to enjoy a small variety of Shanghai's more cutting edge English print t-shirts and caps. Here is a selection of what I've seen people wearing on their clothes in public:

PERVERT (seen behind a boy's football jersey)

I LOVE KUSH (seen on a girls cap on the metro)

I sometimes wonder if they really know what they're wearing.

Another reality I have come to understand about Shanghai is that it doesn't rain here. It's either bright sunshine with blue skies or apocalyptic thundering rain and epilepsy inducing lightening. There doesn't seem to be a middle ground to the summer's in Shanghai. Though I am told that this is unusual for this city at this time of the year, it seems to be a weekly occurrence ever since I've been here.

But, sometimes, you do get to engage in really interesting cultural experiences that you couldn't even dream of. Take today for example. After having lunch with an old professor from Shanghai, I was lucky enough to encounter probably the most unique cultural experience of my life.

A little background is required though.

Yesterday, we were informed by two MBA students (one of whom is Italian), that today we were to be serenaded by Mr. Ma. Who is Mr. Ma? Well, turns out Mr. Ma works in security in the building in which Hult has its campus. And after a chance meeting with the these two students in the building, he invited them downstairs in the underground locker rooms to perform Italian opera for them.

So moved were these two (being sung to in a shady room with other naked Chinese men), that they set up a performance for Hult students today on campus. Good music, good wine and good people; what more could you possibly ask for?

Mr. Ma is a retired teacher who now works in security. He also sings Chinese opera, as he did two songs for us today. Much more unexpectedly, he also sings Italian opera, of which he performed two songs for us as well. Considering that he does not even speak the language, it was by far one of the most impressive things I have ever seen.

Mr. Ma didn't speak English, and we didn't speak his language. Most of us didn't even understand the language he was singing in, and neither did he. Yet for those 45 minutes, we were all connected in some indescribable way, respectful, engaged and appreciative that we managed to relate in, what for many of us, is an alien city, and for him, with an alien audience. It felt good, concrete, worthwhile. It was a small part of my entire Shanghai experience, but it is a memory I will take with me for the rest of my life.

Mr. Ma was gracious and kind, and incredibly talented. He was also warm and generous, willing to share his great talent with the rest of us, so that for one evening, for less than an hour, we could all forget about all that was happening around us and all that we needed to do, and just appreciate each other and enjoy each other's company.

The world needs more Mr. Ma's.

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Control

I read because I enjoy reading. Similarly, I write because I enjoy writing. There is no greater purpose to my indulging in either of these activities, I do it purely for the pleasure it brings me. Totally hedonistic tendencies when it comes to this.

But a recent group chat I am involved in elevated into a highly intellectual conversation (this pretty much never happens on Whatsapp) about how attractive and feasible is the idea of giving decision making abilities about the narrative of a story to the audience? It was a question raised by a friend of mine who also writes, and he asked if the rise of ebooks should allow authors the flexibility of providing multiple plot lines and endings, in the way that some video games currently do.

What followed was a good half hour of discussion, question and counter question and theorizing and hypothesizing about the merits and faults with such an endeavour. In my head, I kept going back to the only things I really remember from my undergrad, Roland Barthes's essay The Death of the Author. In it, he says many, many things, and I do not even pretend to understand most of it, but the underlying message that I grasped from it was that he believed that once a piece of literature was written, the author lost all control of it. It's entire understanding and interpretation is left up to the reader, which in essence meant the death of the author.

Now, if that's how he felt about standard, linear plot-driven narratives, how would he feel about writing which requires the reader to make decisions at every stage?

The argument amongst us was that such a decision-making driven narrative would make reading a more engaging experience, even allowing repeat readings to take a whole new dimension. And while I do agree with it, I cannot say I subscribe to it. For me, when I watch a TV show or a movie or read a book, I want to be completely hooked for the entire time I'm there. I'm there for the journey, engaging in an active fashion, but decision making about the narrative is not something I am looking to do. My relationship with the writer is based on trust. I'm trusting the writer and director of a movie to engage and entertain me for the next two hours. I'm trusting them and their decisions and I'm there to critique and judge their work. I'm not there to do their work for them.

But again, that's how I think. I recently read about how they are experimenting with movies that actively change according to the audience's mood in the cinema. So, if the audience is giving off vibes that it wants to see a happy ending, then the movie will deliver on that. If a different audience wants to see a depressing ending, then that is what will be served up. In a way, everybody watches the same movie but also doesn't, taking away something different from it.

But don't we already do that? Don't people already interpret movies like Gravity differently? This concept takes the idea of the test audience a step further, but it also opens up some very interesting and new avenues that did not exist previously.

For me, the narrative has to be continuous. Personally, I would be annoyed if I kept being interrupted by decision markers as I read a book or watched a movie. I'm giving this piece of literature my time because I have some trust with the writer, I want the writer to take these decisions for me. I keep thinking about the books and movies and TV shows I've loved. If I had to make decisions about how it turned out, I would've hated the constant demands and interruptions, and I am quite sure I would've taken several wrong decisions and not have loved them as much as I do now, having relinquished all artistic control.

In the end, how much control is too much control? I do believe that a niche will exist for such literature (I myself grew up reading R.L. Stine's Give Yourself Goosebumps series and enjoyed them, but they are far from the best books I've ever read), but I cannot see this becoming mainstream. People enjoy the escapist element of narrative art; human beings love a good story.

It's why we communicate. Why we read. And why we write.

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Shanghai - Day 18 to 20 - Dinners and Museums

One of the things I've been meaning to get around to while in Shanghai has been visiting some of their museums. In Dubai, museums are pretty much relegated to second-class citizen status, and the last time I went to a museum in Dubai I was still in school and I was taken there under the assumption that it would somehow enhance my learning experience and help me grow.

It didn't.

But, if anything, that has left me with an insatiable intellectual thirst for such places. I still remember when a few years ago I got lost at the British Museum in London. I've never been so happy to be lost before nor since.

But, before I embarked on my mission to broaden my cerebral horizons, I was pleasantly informed on Tuesday that I had (surprisingly) made it onto the Dean's List for the previous module, and was therefore invited to have dinner with the new Dean that night. First time it's ever happened, and the last time it will ever happen to me since the year is almost over now. But, turns out, according to previous dean's list awardees, that usual protocol is an email and a handshake. So I guess I got lucky, timing my academic performance in such a way that I was able to maximise a free meal out of the whole thing.

It was a rather odd cultural experience for me, something that I feel I'm in constant contact with every day here. Once again, I was the only Indian there, amongst a group of around 25 people. On top of which, I was situated between a Dutch and a Slovak friend, along with a few Frenchmen, and despite this rather United Colours of Benetton group, we all realised that for some strange reason all our parents behave in a similar way. Maybe as you grow older differences tend to strip away.

On top of this, I was also very aware of the fact that this was a French restaurant in China, and I was, of course, Indian. So many cultural bridges being crossed in a single night.

On my way to this restaurant, I was made aware, for the first time, that the taxis here have a little slideshow that goes on on their centre panel in the front. It shows the taxis in Shanghai from the 1920's till now (I'm guessing that's when the taxi company commenced operations). What I gathered from this short presentation, conveniently translated in English for us Mandarin-lacking folk, was that the taxis in Shanghai up till the 40's were fantastic. Lovely large cars with sweeping lines and sensuous curves. And then WWII took a toll on the whole system, reducing them to nothing more than a chassis with seats. And of course, from the 90's onward, the taxis look like those in any other large city.

The next day I decided to finally venture into one of Shanghai's museums, and made my way to the Urban Planning Exhibition. It's worth a look, if for nothing else but their 3rd floor model of the entire city of Shanghai. Unbelievably detailed and accurate, at least to my limited knowledge of the city, and it's the best indicator of just how big this city is. In fact, the entire exhibition is a great window into the history and future of this city, and it is surprisingly honest about how it explains that the city underwent stagnant development prior to the 90's, before opening up and pushing forward.

Now I come from Dubai, so I am familiar with landscape changing terraforming to a certain extent, and in many ways Dubai's story has been rapid and amazing. But Shanghai is on a completely different scale. What Dubai has done for 5 million people, Shanghai has done for 25 million. It's a fantastic story, and a story worth telling.

By the time I finally located the Shanghai Museum, it had already closed for the day, so my journey still requires me to make a second visit there, but yesterday I was lucky enough to have dinner with an old acquaintance of my extended family who happened to be in Shanghai. And while the challenging aspect of the whole night was me trying to find the restaurant I was supposed to be in when I only had the Chinese name with me, it did offer me a chance to travel the metro in a suit. Yes, last night, I was the most well dressed person on the metro.

It is a bit strange, but I haven't really seen anybody in a suit riding the metro here. I don't know if it's a difference in business attire (though I doubt it) or is it that people who wear suits are expected to have their own cars or take taxis, but for me, it was rather intriguing to see confused faces, wondering why a person who looks like he has money was riding the metro like all the common folk. If nothing else, I was somehow given a little more space on the metro than I usually get. Of course, they had no idea that I'm voluntarily unemployed.

The next few weeks will be rather intense, as I get through two electives, but that means that my countdown to the end of my MBA is gathering speed. It's been a great privilege to have it wrap up in Shanghai, but as with all things, there's still a lot of work left to be done.

Annoyingly.

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Shanghai - Day 14 to 17 - Crisis Weekend

Much as with everything else, Shanghai is throwing up new academic challenges just to mess with the already challenging language and lifestyle barrier that exists in this new city. Not that that's a bad thing. It's just one more thing.

My first ever four day elective and I'm wondering whether I want to work like this again. Sitting and doing work from 9am to 5pm across four days, particularly the weekend, is not only exhausting, it's also something I'm completely not used to.

But of course, this wasn't just any course, this was Crisis Management and Crisis Communication, taught by a crisis consultant. Of course, it helped that he is a Sandhurst graduate. And served for NATO in Bosnia. So I think, when it comes to crises, he would be the kind of person I would want in my corner to deal with things.

Four days of mixing crisis and communication science and theory with real life case study discussions and acting out scenarios. I think if anything, I either really want to go into crisis communication after graduation, or I never want to see it again. It's one of the two extremes, there's really no middle ground here.

For me, the best part of the course was the scenarios we had to deal with. Over the course of three hours on Saturday morning, our team was informed that our shipping company's ship had been hijacked by pirates, who were asking for $25 million as ransom for the crew of 15 and the cargo of palm oil worth $200 million. Deal with this.

Great. Thanks!

The problem we had was that before we could really react to anything, more information and developments kept occurring, which meant we had to keep changing strategy. But of course, by the time we were ready to implement our new strategy, something new would happen. And again. And again. And again...

Until about 2 hours into the simulation, we get information that CNN has broadcast live pictures of pirates throwing a dead body overboard which looks like our crew member.

My heart sank. I couldn't believe it. I looked around, everybody had stopped for a second. Faces were serious, upset. Somebody swore under their breath. We were dejected. Here we were, trying everything to get our crew and ship back safe, mitigating the damage, speaking to the pirates and the press and mercenaries, and it looked like we had lost one of our own in the most violent way. But this crisis was still ongoing, and we needed to see it till our press conference.

It's worth mentioning at this point that none of this actually happened. None of us work for a shipping company, nobody's ship was hijacked, and for sure, nobody died. But we were so caught up with everything that was happening that somewhere along the entire process, we forgot we were MBA's in a class. Instead, we were United Gulf Shipping, and we had lost an employee on live TV.

That night, through sheer luck, I was able to go out for dinner with a few friends. It was important that I did this because that day in class had been intense. As I ate what was genuinely spicy food (in China, when you say spicy, they really do spicy), I kept thinking about how relaxed we were, celebrating a birthday and each other's company. Just a few hours earlier, I was devastated at the violent loss of a fictional employee.

The next day, we were put into another scenario. A baby is sick in Saudi Arabia, after ingesting one of our baby food products. Deal with it.

Great. Thanks!

The only issue here was that unlike the previous day, where information was coming thick and fast, here we couldn't get any information. What was the product, what did the baby eat, what were the details, what was in our can of food, had it been tampered with, where was it manufactured, was this even really our product?

In the middle of all this non-information, we have the press asking questions, the Saudi Ministry of Health who has banned all our products, and...a dead baby.

Oh and guess what? Looks like there's been another incident in Shanghai.

Over seven hours, we wrapped our heads around what was an intense but slow moving situation, demanding answers, questioning tactics, critiquing strategies...it was probably the most stress I've had up till now in Shanghai.

But so totally worth it.

The whole course has been unbelievably eye-opening. I understand now just how wrong BP got their whole communication with Deepwater Horizon. I actually understand the need for scenario planning and a crisis team. These things happen very suddenly, and being informed of a situation that is involves you and your company, and you know you will be heavily invested in to resolve, creates this little pit of emptiness in your stomach. Even if it isn't real.

Shanghai has been an exceptional experience till now. I just hope that I don't have to use what I learnt to deal with any personal crisis while I'm here. I'd like to leave with happy memories. Of real human happiness and fake corporate crises.

Great. Thanks!

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