MBA Peregrinations

Charting the course of my travels through the MBA experience.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Ready, Set, Go!

Things have managed to work themselves out for classes. During the 1st round of DAS (drop/add/swap, there are 3 DAS rounds after the initial RBS round of adding classes), I dropped out of the two sections that I didn't want, and into the ones I did. And I got the money marketing professor in the process - sweet! Time to get cracking on my pre-work for class. That's right, for a couple of my courses, I have assignments BEFORE class begins.

I spent the day today just relaxing and running errands. After nearly 3 weeks of getting to campus for an 8 am session every morning, the day off was very welcome. The hour+ commute doesn't help the situation - 8 am session means leaving my place at 6:40 am. Although I was open to having early classes on 2 or 3 days, none of the classes I got start before 10am, miraculously enough. Now if I could motivate myself to get out of bed and go to the gym every morning, that would be the real miracle.

Classes officially start tomorrow, but I don't have any Thursday classes other than LEAD (which isn't being held this week). So I'm not going to campus. I'll just hit TNDC (Thursday Night Drinking Club) tomorrow night. Tough life, I know. But it'll get tough soon enough. I'm signed up for 4 classes this quarter, which I've heard is very difficult to handle during your first term. I'm all buckled in and ready for the ride.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Master of Bid-ness Administration

Bidding for classes was painful. I'm pretty poor at explaining the complexity of the bidding system, so I'll refer you to Mandar and PowerYogi for a better explanation. After hours of agonizing over which classes, which professors, all possible combinations of schedules, and the million-dollar question of how many points, I threw up my hands and just plain guessed. Yes, it was a guess based on historical data, limited knowledge of the current market and perceived value of the classes, but it was a guess nonetheless. It was my first experience in business school making an important decision based on imperfect, limited data. And that's what business is like - the data will be imperfect, the time to make the decision limited, and there is no pat answer or clear path. Business leaders are those that can make successful decisions despite these limitations. So what was the upshot of my bid-ness skills? I did manage to get all of my classes, but the jury is out on whether I picked the right ones. I won't really know until a few weeks into class.

Hiking in the Andes, Part V - The Ride Home

The day that we explored Machu Picchu was filled with a sense of accomplishment and awe. We had managed to survive the trek (some of us barely) to get there, and were rewarded with a stunning example of Incan ingenuity. Soon after we returned to Aguas Calientes for lunch, it started to pour rain. Note that not once did I mention a heavy rain throughout our hike, only a light drizzle on the 2nd night. We were extremely lucky with the weather and only encountered rain when it was no longer a big nuisance. On the trail (especially that cold first night), rain would have been very unwelcome. But shopping for souvenirs in the outdoor market on a rainy afternoon in Aguas Calientes - no problem. We donned our plastic ponchos and explored for a bit.

Later we took a train back to Cuzco. For some, the 4-hr train ride was a great excuse to nap. But they missed all of the action. Believe it or not, in the middle of the train ride, the attendants that had just served us drinks and a snack turned on some funky music and did a fashion show on the train. With ‘Vogue’ playing on the speaker system, the male and female attendant donned different outfits and catwalked down the aisle of the train. It was SURREAL.

That evening, we had a huge dinner in Cuzco, and partied it up. All of the drinking that we couldn’t do while on the trail, we made up for, and then some, that evening. After hitting multiple clubs, drinking copious amounts of liquor, and seeing a side of my fellow trailmates that I hadn’t previously witnessed, I felt that my Peruvian trip was truly complete.

The morning after, I found myself rushing to pack (the front desk forgot our wake-up call) with a vicious hangover. We flew to Lima and spent the day just hanging out, followed by dinner at an upscale restaurant on the beach. Soon afterwards, we left for the airport and headed home.

Despite all of the difficulties during the hike, I am so glad that I went to Peru and have no regrets. The scenery was magnificent and the company was stellar. The entire trip was an amazing journey - one that I feel lucky to have experienced. I also realize (a few weeks afterwards) how much this experience built a community among the Peru travelers. At nearly every school event (both academic and social) that I've attended, there has been at least one fellow Peru random walk classmate present. While I don't spend the entire time looking for familiar faces and try to meet new people, it helps to know someone there that I can converse with easily. In essence, there is a raised level of comfort and respect among the Peru folks, and a support system is in place among us. In the game of 'networking' and building relationships that is so integral to the business school experience, there is high value in having this support system.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Hiking in the Andes, Part IV - Machu Picchu

We spent about 5 hours exploring Machu Picchu, with JuanCa educating us about Incan life, culture, religion, and beliefs. In no way can I recall all of what he talked about, but here are some interesting tidbits:

- Machu Picchu literally translates to 'Old Mountain'. The real name of this Incan city is unknown.

- All ancient cities connected by the network of Inca trails were separated by about 30 km, a day's distance of travel for the Inca.

- Choquequirau (Cho-kay-kira-oo) is another city that is apparently just as impressive as Machu Picchu, but not nearly as popular a tourist attraction. The individual that discovered Machu Picchu (Hiram Bingham, anthropologist that studied South American history at Yale) was looking for a city that had been described as built of 'white rock'. Bingham first found Choquequirau, but was not satisfied that any of the edifices fit the description of the magnificent 'white rock' that he was pursuing. So he chose to explore further and stumbled upon Machu Picchu. Although the edifices at Machu Picchu are no more grand than those at Choquequirau, he decided that Machu Picchu possessed that impressive 'white rock' he was searching for and identified Machu Picchu as the last Incan stronghold. Perhaps he was convinced that Machu Picchu was it, perhaps he was just tired of hiking (it certainly is a haul). But had he gone to Machu Picchu first and then Choquequirau afterwards, Choquequirau could be known as 'The Lost City' instead of Machu Picchu.

- Incan society was polygamous - multiple women, one man. Catholicism from the Spanish conquerers was integrated into Incan religion because Incan women came to appreciate the one woman, one man practice.

- The Incans worshipped the sun, and were very advanced astrologists. The priests and noble classes used their knowledge of astrology to 'predict' the seasonal changes and harvest. To the peasant population, sun worship was their religion and they believed that the priests communed with God to bring harvest.

- Machu Picchu contains a sundial and a 'Temple of the Sun' that demonstrates Incan knowledge of astrology and identification of the winter solstice.

- The architecture at Machu Picchu is quite advanced, with earthquake-resistant structures and water drainage.

- The acoustics at Machu Picchu are also advanced. A clap from one end of the central area (believed to have been used for massive gatherings and ceremonies) can be heard at the other end with ease.

- Quechua is an onomatopoeic language. The word for 'door' or 'gate' is 'punku', the sound that the Incans ascribed to a shutting door or gate.

- We were unable to hike directly to Machu Picchu from our route because the bridge that the Incans built collapsed in a landslide.

There is so much more to Machu Picchu, and JuanCa was a very knowledgable guide. The magic of this place was worth the pain to get there, no doubt.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Hiking in the Andes, Part III - Peruvian Pachamanca

The 3rd and 4th day of hiking in Peru were much easier. The first couple of days, we had started our trek at Mollepata (where the truck dumped us off) and gone through Soraypampa and Colcapampa. The weather and elevation during these days was extreme. The temperatures had ranged from 70 F to below zero, and the elevation went from under 10,000 to over 15,000 feet. According to JuanCa (Juan Carlos, our fearless Peruvian guide), we took the path less traveled to Machu Picchu. Our trail was officially referred to as the 'Sun Trail', and most people take the 'Inca Trail' to Machu Picchu. Though JuanCa mentioned that he and Peruvians in general did not distinguish one trail from another and viewed the entire network of trails in the region as the 'Inca Trails'.

On the 3rd and 4th day, we were varying between about 6,000 and 10,000 feet in altitude, with warmer, temperate weather. Our 3rd day was a short one, with only a 4 or 5 mile hike from Colcapampa to just short of Miskabamba. We got to camp with plenty of daylight left and had a great evening. Some folks went down to the river, some played soccer, others just relaxed. We were witness to a traditional Pachamanca. In this Peruvian-style barbecue, potatoes and meat were thrown on top of heated rocks, covered with banana leaves, and then buried to retain the heat and cook. As JuanCa explained, the term 'Pachamanca' can be split into two terms: 'pacha' meaning 'earth' and 'manca' meaning 'pot'. Incans would look upon the Pachamanca as a way that Mother Earth would provide sustenance - they would give raw goods to Mother Earth, who would then cook them and provide food. After a satisfying meal, we said goodbye to most of our crew since it was our last night camping. I was particularly grateful to the horsemen, who were quite patient with me when I first learned to ride. The rest of the evening was spent talking, drinking Cusqueña, playing cards, and looking at the stars.

The 4th day of hiking Churubamba was a grueling one, with a steep climb of about 3000 feet in elevation, and then descent of another 3000 on tight switchbacks. We saw just a tiny sliver of Machu Picchu from the top of Churubamba through the haze, but were in good spirits nonetheless - it was our last day of hiking and we were so close to our destination!

My knees were ready to explode, and by the end of the day, I could barely amble decrepitly with my walking stick. But the views upon coming down were beautiful. We could see Rio Urubamba, the river that circles Machu Picchu, clearly upon our descent. At the end of the day's hike, we ate lunch and took the hour-long train ride to Aguas Calientes, a town downhill from Machu Picchu. That evening, I really enjoyed showering and washing 4 days of grime off. After a dinner of Alpaca steak with a few glasses of wine, I was ready to crash.

The next day we took the bus up to Machu Picchu. We reached there early in the morning, when the mist blanketing the city still gave it an eerie feel.

But it cleared out quickly and we could see Machu Picchu in its entirety - it was amazing...

Friday, September 09, 2005

Wisconsin - It Ain't All About the Cheese

A brief hiatus from posting about my trip to Peru is in order. I spent the last 3 days in Wisconsin with the GSB Class of 2007, and I am one tired individual. The event was the initial part of the leadership program (LEAD), with the moniker LOE (LEAD Outdoor Experience). What an experience it was. Plenty of physical activity and food for thought. There were multiple activities, most of which involved teamwork to solve mental or physical challenges. There was also a great deal of socializing, and I really enjoyed chatting with and getting to know my fellow classmates. I finally met the ubiquitous PowerYogi, and we shared some laughs over pizza and beer.

But there were points when I was sweating. One rather poignant one was from a combination of fatigue and fear while standing on a platform, strapped into a harness and about to fly down a zip line after a challenging run around the high ropes course. Here I am thinking that no one mentioned climbing rope walls and traversing swings at 40+ feet in the air during the admissions process... but it was voluntary, and I was seriously doubting my own judgement while up there, panicking at the thought of STEPPING OFF of the platform. The line could break, or I could slam into that tree on the other end of the line... It made me think about the last five years or so of my life, and how much I've changed.

Five years ago, I would never have considered doing anything that dangerous or challenging. My parents had always pushed me to exceed academically and socially, but were fearful of bruises and broken bones. As a consequence, my willingness to take physical risks was limited. The first time that I decided to break out of that pattern was when I learned how to ski. Pushing my fear and ego aside, I managed to gain a bit of confidence and a very sore behind along with my fellow beginners on the bunny slope (most of whom were about a third of my age). Five years later, I'm no expert, but I do feel a sense of accomplishment every time I'm able to make it down the hill. Since then, I've taken many more risks. I'm not always successful and I'm certainly not going to claim the best judgement. I can't swim, and I still went rafting in California, parasailing in Australia, snorkeling in Palau. Yes, I could've drowned in those escapades. I could've gotten hurt or worse on that platform (I have a lecture coming my way once I tell my parents about it). But then again, I wouldn't have been able to see life happening below me from that perspective, nor the chance to see a different side of my fellow GSBers up there, who helped me to get past that last swing or encouraged me to take that last step.

And that's the thing about taking risks - be they physical, mental, emotional. You do get a different view, and you tend to meet some pretty amazing and inspiring people along the way. You're also a bit more experienced and hopefully a bit wiser... once the sheer terror has worn off. So I propelled myself off of that platform. The line didn't break, I didn't hit the tree, and I'm just fine. Well, except for the sore hands from gripping onto that rope for dear life and the sore throat from screeching like a banshee while zipping down the line. But those will heal soon enough.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Hiking in the Andes, Part II - No Secrets

The thing about going on a trek and spending every waking moment with other people is that you get to know your companions pretty well. You learn so much more about them and their interests, what delights them or makes them tick. And then there is the undeniable fact that along with this opportunity to get to know people better, you get to know everything that goes on in their existence on the trip, and vice versa. Case in point: The 2nd day of hiking, I became very familiar with the two telltale signals that my body was giving me when at elevation. One, the headache that I had mentioned previously. Two, needing to relieve myself EVERY HOUR. Now, at sea level, I need to use the restroom once every 4 hours or so depending on the amount of liquid consumed. But over 10,000 feet, my body needed to expel so often that anyone hiking with me knew about it. I wasn't the only one. So-and-so has to go? Here, I have a roll of TP. So-and-so has diarrhea? I think I may have some pepto. It was rather ridiculous. But in such an environment, no one had cause to feel ashamed or self-concious. We all became very matter-of-fact. This is one of the reasons why I chose to go to Peru instead of one of the other chosen destinations. At 14,000 feet with no showers, toilets, alternative forms of amusement, or privacy, walls come down quickly and people get real.

On our 2nd day of hiking, we reached the highest point of our trip. Icy Cold Camp was located just short of the pass at 15,000 feet, which afforded us stunning views of Salkantay and the valley below. Salkantay, also referred to as Apu Salkantay by locals that speak Quechua (the language of the ancient Incans), stands at over 20,500 feet and is a beautiful glacier. Apu means 'God' in Quechua - the Incans believed that the mountain carried a spirit and worshipped Salkantay. We stopped at the top of the pass to admire the scenery and take pictures, and then headed down to the valley below. I had walked down for about an hour from the top of the pass when the nausea and headache became tough to handle. So I got back onto a horse, and rode down for the rest of the way.

By this point, I had become familiar enough with the horses to pick the most well-behaved specimen. Tame enough, in fact, so that I was able to guide him on my own using the reins instead of relying on the horseman to lead him. Instead of being frightened to death, I was now very much at ease on the horse and able to enjoy the scenery. This lovely animal's only flaw was the soundtrack that he provided to accompany the scenery - he was an amazingly prolific farter. Especially during the climbs, I believe that my gentle horse was capable of farting Beethoven's 5th Symphony. But considering that I was on top of him, I didn't really mind. And I was sure to warn my fellow hikers not to walk behind or downwind of him.

The change in scenery was quite impressive on the 2nd day. We started off on a dry, cold, craggy, and barren cliff that had little vegetation and mostly rocks. From here, we could see the snow-laden Salkantay. Hiking downhill, we went through a dusty trail in a dry forest. Across the valley, one could see another mountain covered in lush forest fed by the melting snow. We then transitioned to warm, grassy valleys fed by a river. Some of the valley was low enough to be muddy and marshy. After crossing a fast-flowing river ON THE HORSE (*gulp*, can't I just ride the horse across the suspension bridge??), we reached camp a short while later and settled in for the evening.

That evening's camp was a bit below 10,000 feet. Although it hadn't been a particularly bad day, my head was still throbbing from the altitude. So I decided to forego dinner that evening and retire early. The lack of sleep took precedence over the lack of food, and I needed to rest. One of the nicer memories that I have of that evening was when my tentmate came in after dinner, and it started to drizzle outside. We had a chat while I was lying in my sleeping bag, warm and cozy, and the rain was pitter-pattering on the tent. It was very peaceful and rejuvenating, and I knew I would sleep well that night...

Friday, September 02, 2005

Hiking in the Andes, Part I - Icy Cold Camp

A few days after returning from Peru, I've managed to recuperate enough to post about the trip. It was much more intense that I had expected, and there were many high and low points. As this is 'Part I', I'll discuss the first several days of the experience. It started out with many hours of flying, peppered with getting to know my fellow students during layovers (we had a particularly long one in Newark airport). The disparity in experiences is worth noting. There were some that had hiked a great deal, and others that had never hiked or camped before. We took 3 flights to get to Cuzco, and spent the day there touring about and getting acclimated to the altitude.

Cuzco is approximately 11,000 feet (3300 meters) above sea level. Altitude sickness is the biggest challenge associated with foreigners traveling to Machu Picchu. Upon arrival, I started to feel woozy and disoriented. Altitude sickness manifests itself in various ways, but the most common symptoms are headaches and dizziness. Spending the day in Cuzco was the best way to kick-start our bodies into adjusting to the altitude sickness.

The next morning, we packed out bags and headed out to start our hike. We were driven to the start of the trail in what may be best described as a humble and somewhat hazardous vehicle. The transportation was an open-air truck that had only some steel bars in the back for support. After our gear was loaded and secured in the truck, we were herded onto it like cattle. We stood in the back of the truck, clutching the steel bars during the ride to the trail. Any dips or bumps in the road meant holding onto the bars to maintain balance, while trying to avoid banging our heads into the bars (which, incidentally, were at temple level for most of us). Conversation was inevitable in the close quarters, but would often be interrupted with someone shouting 'TREE! TREE!' as a warning for all to duck and avoid being scratched or gored by low-hanging tree limbs as we drove by. Several of us did get slapped by tree limbs, or managed to bang our heads on the bars while trying to avoid the former.

After the eventful ride, we started our ascent. This was not a normal backpacking trip in any sense. We had a crew of about 12 Andean men and multiple horses helping us in our trek. The men were in charge of cooking, setting up and breaking down camp, providing water, and carrying our gear. So one would assume that with only a day pack, the trek would be relatively easy. Most of the ascent on the first day was not terribly steep, but the altitude sickness took its toll quickly enough. Everyone developed a headache and slowed down. After climbing above 10,000 feet, I found it difficult to walk and relied upon a horse to get me up the slope. Now, I have never before in my life been on a horse. But being short of breath and needing to move forward, I figured learning quickly was in order. Unfortunately, I got a finicky horse that only moved with some serious coaxing and rein-pulling from the horseman. The last thing I needed when riding a horse for the first time up a rocky cliff at 13,000 feet in cold, windy weather was for the HORSE TO BE MISBEHAVIN'. I kept thinking about the news article that would be printed in ChiBus about the incoming student that was tossed off an uncontrollable horse and plummeted to a rocky death in the Andes during the Peru Random Walk.

So after an eternally long ride up the cliff, I reached camp for the evening. That night was one of the most miserable nights I and most others in the group had ever experienced. At 14,200 feet, the temperature dropped to below zero and everyone was freezing. Also, altitude sickness was rampant. Everyone had a headache, and lying down was especially difficult. With the air being so thin at that elevation, its challenging for one's body to obtain the oxygen required when standing upright. Lying down, it becomes even more difficult. I recall feeling winded after struggling to get into my sleeping bag. I didn't sleep much, and neither did my poor tentmate. A few hours after getting into bed, I woke up dry-heaving and shaking uncontrollably. Apparently, a mild case of hypothermia had kicked in. Given my less-than-lucid state, I do recall protesting help for a few minutes before continuing to dry-heave and giving in to my tentmate's suggestion of consulting our Peruvian guide. A few minutes later, I felt much calmer and warmer as the guide administered oxygen through a mask. My (amazingly strong-willed and kind) tentmate watched over me that night, and gave me oxygen every time the shakes kicked in. By morning, we were exhausted and barely able to get out of our tents in preparation for another full day of hiking.

Physically, 'icy cold camp' as we like to call it was nearly the highest point of elevation that we reached during our trip. Figuratively, it was the lowest point that I had reached. I was very lucky to have a patient tentmate and a supportive group of individuals as my tripmates. I wasn't the only one experiencing problems, but I have to thank my lucky stars that I was in good company when the shit hit the fan. More to come soon...