Back From India

Got into the United States on Thursday afternoon by way of Singapore and Tokyo, just in time to start my second year of MBA studies at UCLA Anderson on Friday morning. I’m looking forward to this quarter, the finance and operations classes are sure to be riveting. I’m sure that sounds like sarcasm but it’s not – it’s going to be a great quarter of class content.

The rest of the trip in Hyderabad was great – the finance class was enlightening. In particular given the 100mph pace of the US banking world in the last two weeks (the Fed buys Freddie/Fannie for $5T – the largest deal in the history of money, B of A buys Merrill, Lehman fails and Nomura eats most of it, AIG gets $85M from the Fed, WAMU fails… is that it?) … what a great time to be in a class studying derivatives, what credit default swaps are, different hedging strategies to mitigate interest rate risk or exchange rate risk, forwards, futures, swaps, and options.

On my way to Seattle for a wedding of a great friend and college roommate, thinking about India, here are the things that stand out in reflection as highlights of the trip:

- Trying to capture the experience of driving down the street in a tuk-tuk with my camera and realizing it’s futility… India is a place which needs viewed in 3D and with five senses.

- Getting a chance to eat a halal fast-breaking meal with a Muslim on Ramadan. I’m starting to think halal is a set of Muslim food preparation instructions not a particular dish, but basically it was a specialty lamb and cheese paste we ate that was imported delicacy from UAE.

- Visiting the largest mosque in South India where 15,000 people visit daily to pray during Ramadan

- Visiting a Hindu temple and drinking holy water before later that night talking about the Bhagavad Gita and generally Hinduism with a Hindu Indian classmate

- Seeing a camel being rode down the street as what appeared to be this guy’s daily driver

- Seeing a Bollywood movie filming in progress at Golconda Fort

- Under great protest, lip synching “Baby Got Back” while wearing a kurta payama at a Hindi karaoke session

- Dying laughing as the 67 year old professor had an epiphany and suddenly understood the Indian head nod (the Indian head nod is a cultural thing… Indians wobble their head in an ear-to-shoulder direction at certain times which usually means ‘maybe’ or ‘okay that sounds good’ or ‘yes I think so’)

- And possibly the best part… making three new friends from the UCLA FEMBA program

I haven't made it back to San Francisco yet, but when I do I'll pull some pictures off my camera and post.

Hyderabad, India - Day Two

Having a great time at ISB. Finally adjusting to the schedule and staying awake in class. Was very useful when one of my classmates pointed out there was a switch to turn on the hot water in the bathroom - I was on day three of cold showers and just thinking to myself, "dang, they got cars and the Internet but can't heat up water?" Took a trip to the Laad Bazar after class, it's an open air market that has been an active market for 400 years. There's literally probably 100 stores selling the Indian bracelets called bangles. There are over 14,000 shops in this market. I drank a glass of sugar cane juice the vendor was pulling out of raw cane stalks by sending them through a mechanical press, which cost 3 INR (about 7 cents). Saw the Charminar which is a historical edifice in Hyderabad which was constructed hundreds of years ago to lure the population of Hyderabad away from Golconda Fort and basically relocate the downtown urban area. Saw the Mecca Masjid the largest and oldest mosque in Southern India, where 10,000 - 20,000 people visit daily to pray (particularly during Ramadan which it is now). Ate true Southern India food at dinner, which cost ~$6. Having amazing laughs with classmates who are also visiting from UCLA - cool guys Chris, Rosco and Mike. The course material we've covered is about options pricing and derivatives and hedge strategies and risk metrics. A little technical but pretty interesting stuff.


Delhi and Agra

A crazy schedule. I met up with two other UCLA students from another program on Friday for a day trip to Delhi. We left from Hyderabad at 4:30am, flew two hours to Northern India to the capital Delhi, got in a hired car who drove us five hours South to Agra where the Taj Mahal lives. It was raining as it's monsoon season here now, and the Taj Mahal isn't open to walk through on Fridays... but it was still magnificent from across the river we got a very good look. The guy who built it for his favorite of his three wives (the "romantic" story about the building of the Taj Mahal is somehow slightly less romantic when you learn he built it for one of three wives), was imprisoned in this fort across the river when his son launched mutiny and overthrew his father the king. The fort has a great view of of the Taj and we viewed it from there. Some of the same marble inlay is used in the constrution of the fort and I have some beautiful pictures on my camera when I get home to unload them. THEN we drove back another five hours by car to the Delhi airport to fly back to Hyderabad for the start of school the next day. Well, the traffic in Delhi is unpredictable - between the cows wandering around in the road, the camels pulling loads of brick and wood and other building materials, the monkeys crossing the road, the people riding motorcycles three at a time and also cramming six people into little two person tuk-tuks... we ended up missing our flight back to Hyderabad. So we napped at the airport and flew back in the morning just in time for class. IndiGo is a local discount airline that looks and feels nearly exactly like JetBlue. In fact their websites looks similiar and their color schemes are the same and it's clearly an intentional mimicry. More to blog about later but off to class for now.


Hyderabad, India - Day One

Wow, sensory overload. I am not nearly as well traveled as I would like to be, but I've visited other developing countries in the past... yet this is like nothing I've ever experienced.

Hyderabad battles Bangalore for the tech capital of India. There's an area basically where I'm staying informally called "tech city" housing all the tech company offices. Informally they call Hyderabad - Cyberabad. And by informally I mean this is what the stamp in your passport says. The juxtaposition of large buildings from many large companies (CapGemeni, UBS, PwC, Polaris, nVidia, InfoSys, Microsoft, Tata, etc.) against the backdrop of extreme poverty is mind-boggling.

By extreme poverty I'm talking about people standing around with nowhere to go, tent-cities of hundreds of lean-to's made of sticks and tarps & rugs for rain shelter, cows and camels and dogs and chickens and goats walking around in the road... yes, cows walking around in the road. I know the Hindu's revere the cow but I saw some hungry people today and all I could think of when I saw those cows was, "What part does the T-Bone come from?"

The taxi's are mostly these rickshaw type things with either two stroke or diesel motors (picture), they fit up to four passenger somehow.. but only of those people are under 100lbs. All the ones I saw had over 50,000 km on them. The operators are also mechanics in many cases, the engine cover has two quick hand fasteners to access it - so you know they are getting in there often. As I set out for the day the taxi was supposed to cost 110 Indian Rupees (INR), but the time we got to the gate of schol the driver was negotiating up. Since he spoke no English and I speak neither Hindi or Urdu - he brokered a message through the security guard I was now paying 150 INR for the trip. 150 INR is about $3 USD so I figured c'est la vie. Then when the taxi I was in broke down while I was riding in it, two others stopped within about ten seconds ready to steal the passenger (me) away for the fare. I ended up hiring another taxi for the rest of the day since his rig seemed pretty reliable and I was pretty sure after a couple hours cajoling he was going to cave and let me drive for a little. It worked! Seven hours driving me around and also showing me how to drive his taxi cost a whole $10 USD. Traffic is crazy, the air is polluted, cars and taxis and people riding three-up on motorcycles, lanes don't exist and you're literally inches from the next vehicle (or pedestrian) at all times.
Invariably words fall woefully short of capturing this experience. You really need 3D and five senses to even capture the images. I put my camera away half way through the day there's really just no point. I saw a fort built in the early 1500's to house the Qutb Shah kingdom and the kings 360 wifes (and their eunich security guards), the tombs of Persian royalty from around 1700 (picture). A mosque built of white marble offers the best views of the city but allows no pictures. I saw a giant statue of Buddah sitting in the middle of a giant lake.

Taking a plane tomorrow to Northern India to Agra where the Taj Mahal sits.


Hyderabad, India - Day Zero

Just got into Hyderabad, India. IATA: HYD is a brand new state of the art airport. Glass and metal and modern construction. There was an egress security checkpoint to pass your bags through a scanner and walk through a metal detector. Funny, 50% of the people (me included) were setting off the metal detector, nobody took computers out of their bag, and they just waved us through. Maybe just because it's late at night and they didn't care? Funny anyway that's a lot of hullabaloo if you're simply going to ignore the detector results.

Indian School of Business (ISB) is ~40km from HYD. It was dark and 11:30PM here but there were TONS of people out in the streets and along the streets for the whole drive. Even it appeared street construction happening. Maybe you just work when the weather isn't hot or raining. It's monsoon season in Southeast India now. Motorcycles were all 10 year old 150cc bikes and scooters and outnumbered cars 2:1. ISB has a giant campus right across the street from Infosys headquarters campus and right next door to Microsoft's Asia headquarters. Off to sleep now...


I had a layover in Singapore of sufficient time to take the light rail into the downtown and tall building area and walk around for a few hours. Things I must confess in my ignorance didn't know about Singapore before visiting here briefly today:

* Singapore is one of the worlds three remaining city-states in the sense it's a city entirely self-governed (along with Monaco and Vatican City)

* Singapore is the sixth wealthiest nation in GDP/capita

* When I think of English-speaking places I seldom thing of Singapore but really should... Today walking around I overheard Mandarin, English, Malay... and I guess there's an additional national language called Tamil that I don't know by hearing it - but probably heard English most

* White people are a certain minority, it's extremely diverse. As many Indians as Silicon Valley and as many Asians as Seattle (or more). Still a little European in vibe and lots of British English spoken by people of all skin color

* Singapore has only been an independent state in it's current form since 1965

* Though a democracy or close to it, speech is not free and remarks against the government are punishable. In 2005 three bloggers were convicted for racist blog posts

* Singapore is set to host a Formula 1 race for the first time in about a week from now and the whole city is a buzz for this. Seems every advertisement on posters and walls and all promotions in stores currently are based around this race. It will be the first night race added to the Formula 1 circuit. Grandstands are set up in the downtown area and barriers are already in place along sidewalks.


Headed To India

Been a crazy last week trying to get (a) ready for Anderson to start back up in a week, and (b) get ready for a quick trip to India to take a finance elective at India's ISB. Financial risk management: like how certain finance instruments like hedges and other asset classes can offset risk of holding certain kinds of capital or minimize currency transaction risk for international companies or studying how returns can be optimized with different portfolio composition to maintain risk but maximize returns. At least that's what I think it's going to be about. Let's see how much they can cram in my head in just a quick week. I'm actually most intersted in looking at how much if any of this applies or can be applied to IT risk management in the data security sense. I doubt directly the formulas, but I hope to see some cross over. Or at least eat some good Indian food. Yeah, I would settle for that. I do have a quick side trip before classes start to Delhi to see the Taj Mahal.

Tracking a Ducati

Amazing day at Thunderhill Raceway today in Willows, California. Went with my primary riding buddy Brad, two guys I met at a previous track day Don and Ben who helped me get my bike working again after an off two months ago, Matt who races AFM and sometimes AMA and is friend of Brad, and Steve who rides on Sundays with us. Quick and fun group to ride with. The highlight of the day was getting one-on-one coaching for two sessions from Matt who's the fastest guy I know personally. He is a tech-guy by day who's been racing for the last 10 years and when his company was acquired recently took a sabbatical to race. Some of his races are televised, he races on a national level - so very very fast. What a tremendous opportunity it was to have Matt follow me around the track and give me personal feedback on my five or six weakest areas of the track and how to improve. Prior to today my best timed laps at Thunderhill were 2:18, today I clocked a couple at 2:13, several at 2:14 and averaged 2:15 for a couple sessions at the end of the day. I'm graduating myself as of today to the fast group of riders which gives me a great sense of accomplishment - this was my 8th track day and I can see the improvement in all areas - but still have a big list of things to work on for my next few track days. Outstanding day at the track!