26 February, 2010

You know I'm fat, I'm fat, you know it

I've been to see the première of the opera Falstaff by Verdi at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées on Wednesday.

It was a great production: lively, precise in the details of the singing ensembles and some beautiful voices. Lots of character too from the actors. Now Falstaff is clearly somebody who is fat, proud of it, and still orders more food and drink to keep in shape.

The most surprising came at the very end. As soon as the curtain came down and the audience started clapping, the orchestra left without waiting. I thought that was rather inappropriate not to wait at least for the conductor to get a curtain call.

After the curtain call of the on-stage cast, the curtain came down and when it went back up, the whole Orchestre National de France was on stage for a bow! Applause and acclaim from the crowd. It was the first time I saw this done and thought it was well deserved to recognise the contribution of the musicians to the show.

Kudos to the stage manager for allowing the orchestra to get a surprising curtain call.

"Weird Al" Yankovic, The food album, Zomba

24 February, 2010

A Paris quand le jour se lève

I’ve moved to Paris!

After four years in Bangkok, I'll be posted in Paris for a few years.

I've joined the Centre for Studies and Strategy of the French Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries as an Economic Analyst. The French civil service has a tradition of duty of confidentiality about its work. My supervisors have requested me to abide to this duty of confidentiality on my blog. Thus, work-related topics will disappear from this blog during my tenure here.

To read some of my work that is available to the public, search through the publications of the Statistics, Evaluation and Strategy Division of the Ministry.

A Paris dans chaque faubourg
Yves Montand, Ses plus grands succès, Strategic Marketing

18 February, 2010

Cream Sh-boogie bop

Just a short note:

Jak Cholvijarn, one of my Thai singing friends, emailed this to me before I left Bangkok. I just thought it would fit well on this blog linking food and music.

We'll miss your creamy tenor voice!

I'm flattered. Here's a Youtube video of the second act of La Bohême by Puccini, courtesy of Bangkok Opera. It's total chaos on stage but at some point, my "creamy tenor voice" will shout out in Italian: "Plums from Tours!"

Prince, The very best of Prince, VIR

09 February, 2010

I cried a river over you

Last night I was invited by some of my colleagues for a farewell dinner. The event was hosted by the Filipino group and the Microbankers.

In true Filipino style, we went to an open stage karaoke place. Tess R.-A. had rented out the whole karaoke bar for the 16 of us at de-river-re (Karaoke), Royal River Hotel.

After dinner, we started the main singing game cooked up by Dick Bayaua: each one of the guests sang a song for me, and I had to reply to each one of them with another song.

So I started a long evening of singing. While all the others sang one or two songs, I had to sing at least 20. However, I must say I had a really good time choosing the songs for those who had just sung for me, and also singing requests from my friends and colleagues.

Lots of tears were shed during the emotional singing, dancing, community prayer and blessing. All overwhelmingly friendly and good-hearted. The Filipinos sure know how to throw a good party.

One side lesson I have learned: do not eat spicy hot food if you are expected to sing immediately afterwards. I ate a lot of the fried rice in chili fish paste and thought that the fresh vegetables that went with it would soothe the spice. It didn't. My throat was all constricted and so the first hour of my singing was rather subdued because my throat would just refuse to open up.

I had already had that experience at Bangkok Opera productions where the cast is fed a delicious meal prepared by Somtow's cook; it's usually fiery hot and delicious. However, we get another one or two hours to dress, make up, and rest our throats before we go on stage to sing.

From now on, if I know I have to sing immediately after eating, I will avoid the chili. Hot chili also makes you cry. To get over all these emotions, I had a cup of hot honey lemon when I got back to my hotel.

Cry me a river
Julie London, Cry me a river, Musical Digital

05 February, 2010

All I want to do is see you

In a previous post, I've shared my analysis of the feedback from participants at the Regional Agro-industries Forum for Asia and the Pacific (RAIF-AP), which I helped organize in November of last year.

I wish to follow up with another analysis of the feedback from the organizers of the meeting this time.

In total, at least 127 people have been involved at some stage or another in the organization of this regional meeting, with colleagues based in Europe, the Pacific and all countries in Asia. Among the collaborators, the majority were general service clerks who were involved in organizing the travel of the 115 participants. My immediate colleagues in the organization committee were fellow officers in the four host organizations: FAO, IFAD, the People's Government of Shaanxi Province (China) and UNIDO. We all reported to our respective Directors. The preparation of the technical programme started at least seven months before the meeting and there was a boost of activity in the two months leading to the forum in order to organize the travel of all funded participants.

As coordinator of the organization committee, given the geographical spread of colleagues involved, and the relatively short timeline for preparations, I had chosen email as the main mode of communication for the preparations, with widespread cc of most officers involved to get their inputs; a few meetings and one teleconference was held. I wrote monthly reports to the Directors.

After the event, I asked all colleagues involved to respond to a surveymonkey of organizers. I got 30 responses. Below is my analysis of the results, focusing on the main mode of communication chosen.

1) Amount of information circulated by email
Overall, it seems like the majority of colleagues involved in the organization were satisfied with the amount of information circulated to allow them to take their decision or action.

2) Use of cc: function
A majority of respondents felt the use of cc: on emails was just right. However, there was a strong minority thinking there was too much cc:

When cross-tabulating this response with the type of colleague, it appears that general service clerks and directors were satisfied by the amount of cc:. On the other hand, many officers who had received my lengthy reports thought there was too much cc:.
One officer colleague even told me he had created a RAIF-AP folder in his mailbox where he automatically sent all emails that contained that acronym in their title. I was putting "RAIF-AP" at the beginning of all email titles so that interested colleagues could spot them more easily among all the other messages they got. It seems like not-so-interested colleagues prefered to file all the emails automatically rather than asking me to take them out of the mailing list.

3) Preparatory meetings or teleconferences
There was an equal share of contented and discontented colleagues on the choice of using email as opposed to meetings to handle the organization of the meeting. Nine respondents thought it was just right, but eight found that the number of meetings, videoconferences or teleconferences were really not enough or not enough.

By cross-tabulating this response with the position of my colleagues, I found out that it was officers and directors who mainly felt that there could be more meetings, thus challenging the use of email as the main mode of communication and decision making.

In a response to a separate question, I also found out that six colleagues who responded to the survey had felt sidelined at some point or another of the preparations.

Lessons I have learned:
Overall, email seems to work fine to organize the logistics of travel for international meetings.

On the other hand, when organizing a large event with peers, it seems that email is not always the best tool for communication and especially decision making among colleagues. From a previous experience with googledocs, which allow several people to edit a document simultaneously (for example, a draft technical programme), this tool requires strong active commitment from all colleagues involved or lots of very pushy reminders by the coordinator to request colleagues to visit the googledoc and make changes.

By doing most of the work with my close colleagues and reporting to others for comments, I may have "passified" my colleagues who felt they could have played a more active role in the organization of the meeting, rather than reading reports of decisions that seemed to be already taken.

So in future I will try out a regular fortnightly one-hour video- or teleconference with all involved who can show up, targeted to officer- and director-level colleagues. I hope this will give them as good a chance as email copies to be informed about the preparations for a meeting while giving them the impression of making a more active contribution to the organization through their oral feedback.

All graphs produced by the analysis tool of Surveymonkey.

See you
Depeche Mode, The singles 81-85, Mute Records

03 February, 2010

Silence is golden

I'm on holiday, staying with my Uncle Tom Teo and Aunty Betty Teo in Perth, Western Australia. It's summer down here and I've been told I'm very lucky because the day temperature is very comfortable now at around 30°C; it was 10° hotter last week and scorching.
Uncle Tom's house has a view over the Canning River; it is very soothing. I spend most of my time here reading and cooking. Australia has delicious fresh produce and ingredients to be used in home cooking. Restaurants also offer sumptious food, but servings are so huge that I usually struggle to enjoy and finish the food I'm being served. So I prefer to buy my own ingredients and cook at home. Uncle Tom, Aunty Betty and the friends they invite home for meals always feel somewhat sorry for me that I'm being enslaved during my vacation time cooking for them. But it's actually something I enjoy doing while on holiday. (When I go home to my parents' place for holiday, my mother usually gets a break from the kitchen as I claim that room for my culinary experiments.)

The point I wish to make in this post is how blissful it is to listen to silence. For all of us living in a busy and noisy urban environment (and Bangkok is very bad in that sense), Perth suburbs are so peaceful one can hear the wind blow in the trees, the birds singing; no honking, no aircon fans, no constant TV or radio. Unlike in other parts of Australia documented by Grant Vinning, 7.00am noisy leaf blowers do not rule the streets here. It's nearly as good as being in a country house. I slept ten hours on my first two nights here; I guess I needed them. My body now feels great and ready to enjoy the beach, riverside walks and jogs, and also lazing in the house with a book.

Lesson I have learned: give my body a break from noise from time to time and listen to the sound of silence. But keep feeding myself with healthy food - no ascetic retreat for me, thank you!

Silence is golden
The Tremoloes, Silence is golden: the best of the Tremoloes, Platinum

The sound of silence
Simon and Garfunkel, Sounds of silence, Strategic Marketing