Thursday, June 30, 2011

BCG: Week Four

In which it is noted that:
  • Terminal B was always my least favorite terminal at Houston Intercontinental. But then I found out it has a Shipley Do-Nuts, and everything changed.
  • Tunnels save lives.
  • Dulles International Airport, much like the federal government whose seat it serves, seems (dare I say it?) oversized, highly centralized, moderately efficient, and unnecessarily complicated.
  • Listener-funded Houston public radio KUHA Classical 91.7 is quite possibly my new favorite radio station.
  • But there's still nothing quite like blasting country while zooming into the sunset on I-10 W after a long day at work.

Listening to: Brad Paisley - "Mud on the Tires"

"Country music is three chords and the truth." - Harlan Howard

Monday, June 27, 2011

Chevron FTW

Creating an itinerary for the upcoming long weekend (roommates are visiting!) kind of makes me feel like a travel agent catering to eligible bachelors. Awesome new business idea anyone?

Incidentally (a), I've been thinking this week about the relationship between repression and refinement across various cultures. Haven't fully fleshed out my thoughts yet, but maybe I'll write a relevant posting in the near future...

Incidentally (b), there's a decent chance that the chocolate samosas at Kiran's will change your life.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Backstreet's Back

BSB/NKOTB concert at the Toyota Center

Let it be known that on the night of June 25, 2011, my inner fourth grader died of 90s boy band overload-induced happiness.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Third Coast

Just in time for my flight back home, here's another great article by Forbes contributor Joel Kotkin on "The Rise of the Third Coast: The Gulf Region's Ascendancy in U.S." Kotkin cites four primary reasons for the vibrant economic growth of the Gulf Coast region: international trade, the energy industry, demographics, and political will. Some excerpts:
For most of the nation’s history, the Atlantic region—primarily New York City—has dominated the nation’s trade. In the last few decades of the 20th Century, the Pacific, led by Los Angeles and Long Beach, gained prominence. Now we may be about to see the ascendancy of a third coast: the Gulf, led primarily by Houston but including New Orleans and a host of smaller ports across the regions.

This reflects a long-term shift of money, power and jobs away from both the North Atlantic and the Pacific to the cities of the Gulf. The Port of Houston, for example, enjoyed a 28.1% jump in foreign trade this year, and trade at Louisiana’s main ports also reached records levels.

This growth stems from a host of factors ranging from politics, demographics and energy to emerging trade patterns and new technologies. One potential game-changer is the scheduled 2014 $5.25 billion widening of the Panama Canal, which will allow the passage to accommodate ships carrying twice as much cargo as they are able to carry currently. This will open the Gulf to megaships from Pacific Basin ports such as Singapore, Shanghai, Busan and Kaohsiung, which have mostly sent their cargos to West Coast ports such as Los Angeles and Long Beach. Some analysts predict that more than 25% of this traffic could shift to Gulf and South Atlantic ports.
As Greater Houston Partnership CEO Jeff Moseley noted this week, this is a "game changer" for the Port of Houston, which sits "at the geographic epicenter of the change." Back to Kotkin:
At the same time, demographic trends suggest these areas will continue to become more attractive to international commerce. Despite a legacy of hurricanes and floods, Houston, with over 5 million people, has emerged as among the fastest-growing large metropolitan regions in the country. The region’s population is expected to double in the next 20 years. Most of the economies its port serves—Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin—also have experienced rapid growth. Recoveries are in place in many other hurricane-devastated areas, including greater New Orleans.

Overall the Gulf is expected to be home to 61.4 million people by 2025, a nearly 50% increase from its 1995 base. This expanding domestic market—along with the possibilities posed by the canal—have already persuaded two larger retailers, Wal-Mart and Home Depot, to establish modern new distribution centers in Houston.
Finally there is the matter of political will. Both the Northeast and the Pacific regions are increasingly dominated by environmental, labor, urban land and other interests often hostile to wide-ranging industrial expansion. A legacy of labor unrest, most notably a big strike of West Coast ports in 2002, convinced some shippers to diversify their operations elsewhere. Growing regulation in California, suggests economist John Husing, a leading expert on port-related issues, makes the prospects for growing warehouse, logistics and manufacturing jobs increasingly “impossible” there.

East Coast ports, subject to some of the same pressures, may be slow to make the “intense capital improvements” required to capture expanding trade. In contrast, the Gulf’s leaders in both parties support broad based economic growth. New Orleans’ Democratic Mayor Mitch Landrieu is no less friendly to industrial and port expansion than Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal. Houston Democratic mayors like Annise Parker, Bill White and Bob Lanier have been as strongly in favor of critical business and infrastructure investment as their Republican counterparts.
Kotkin's piece reminds me of the recent Wall Street Journal article "The Lone Star Jobs Surge," which notes that a remarkable 37% of all net new American jobs since the recovery began were created in Texas.
Texas added 265,300 net jobs, out of the 722,200 nationwide, and by far outpaced every other state. New York was second with 98,200, Pennsylvania added 93,000, and it falls off from there. Nine states created fewer than 10,000 jobs, while Maine, Hawaii, Delaware and Wyoming created fewer than 1,000. Eighteen states have lost jobs since the recovery began.

The data are even more notable because they're calculated on a "sum of states" basis, which the BLS does not use because they can have sampling errors. Using straight nonfarm payroll employment, Texas accounts for 45% of net U.S. job creation.
The article cites two usual suspects—the state's free market and business-friendly climate—as the primary factors behind the robust job growth:
Texas stands out for its free market and business-friendly climate. Capital—both human and investment—is highly mobile, and it migrates all the time to the places where the opportunities are larger and the burdens are lower. Texas has no state income tax. Its regulatory conditions are contained and flexible. It is fiscally responsible and government is small. Its right-to-work law doesn't impose unions on businesses or employees. It is open to global trade and competition: Houston, San Antonio and El Paso are entrepôts for commerce, especially in the wake of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
But another interesting reason cited in the WSJ, and one much less frequently covered in recent articles about Texas's economic recovery, is the state's legal system:
Based on his conversations with CEOs and other business leaders, Mr. Fisher says one of Texas's huge competitive advantages is its ongoing reform of the tort system, which has driven litigation costs to record lows. He also cited a rule in place since 1998 in the backwash of the S&L debacle that limits mortgage borrowing to 80% of the appraised value of a home. Like a minimum down payment, this reduces overleveraging and means Texas wasn't hurt as badly by the housing crash as other states.
Kotkin's analysis ends with an admonition for other regions of the country:
Such differences in attitude have driven power shifts throughout American economic history. In the 19th century New York through a combination of ruthless ambition and greater vision overcame aristocratic Boston and more established Philadelphia. Icy Chicago performed a similar coup over its then far more established and temperate rival, St. Louis, in the mid- and late 1800s.

In the last century, unfashionable Los Angeles, without a great natural port, overcame the grand Pacific dowager San Francisco, blessed by one of the world’s great natural harbors, as the economic center of the West Coast. Los Angeles built a vast new modern and largely artificial port to make up for what nature failed to provide, and also nurtured a host of industries from aerospace, oil and entertainment to garments.

Now history is about to repeat itself as Texas, Louisiana and other Gulf Cities seek to reorder the nation’s economic balance of power. Unless California and the Northeast awaken to the challenge, they will be increasingly supplanted by a region that seems more determined to expand their economic dominion.

Friday, June 17, 2011

BCG: Week Two

In which it is noted that:
  • It is possible to learn 16 new acronyms in one CTM.
  • Excel can be both incredible and incredibly unforgiving.
  • Dallas has some nice hotels (but Houston still has a better skyline).
  • Expense accounts are kind of cool.
  • Ironing is cheap therapy.

Pictures from the daily commute:

I-10 entrance
700 Louisiana Street
Hines's new pipe wrench-esque MainPlace tower
(featured on the cover of last fall's Business Sphere)
More of MainPlace and the 75-story JPMorgan Chase Tower
The Houston Ballet's new Center for Dance
The granite façade "frames daytime and illuminated nighttime views of dancers
rehearsing within, so that the building becomes an animated billboard for dance."
Stainless steel skybridge to the Wortham Theater Center
The granite façade "frames daytime and illuminated nighttime views of dancers
rehearsing within, so that the building becomes an animated billboard for dance."
My favorite sculpture downtown: David Adickes's Cellist

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Canto Porque É Preciso

"Canto em Qualquer Canto" por Mônica Salmaso

Deve ser por canções como esta que diz-se que a música preenche o infinito entre duas almas.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Whataburger 265

"Toda buena noche y todo don perfecto termina con el Whataburger."
- Santa Queunahamburguesa 1:17

Friday, June 10, 2011

BCG: Week One

In which it is noted that client confidentiality and full workdays make for uninteresting blog posts.

Downtown Houston skyline
View from my office

Sunday, June 5, 2011

That Summer Feeling

It's probably not healthy to be reading Nietzsche's most personal, poetry-ridden work, but here's some summer playlist music to balance out his Gott-ist-tot-Theologie.

"That Summer Feeling" - Jonathan Richman

"Das Geheimnis, um die größte Fruchtbarkeit und den größten Genuss vom Dasein einzuernten, heißt: gefährlich leben."
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Die fröliche Wissenschaft

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Portuguese Loanwords

While on the topic of Portuguese, I thought I'd share a linguistic link that kind of blew my mind when I made the connection last year.

Despite the relatively small territory and population of Portugal, the grandes navegações of the 15th and 16th centuries paved the way for an outsized influence on its colonies, trading partners and beyond, including the adoption of Portuguese loanwords. This influence extended from Brazil to East Asia, where the Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach the shores of Korea and Japan. Portuguese traders and Jesuit priests established new trade links, introduced Western science and began to spread Christianity throughout the region.

Portuguese loanwords that entered the Japanese language during this period include kompeito (a Japanese candy, from the Portuguese confeito), furasuko (flask, from frasco), kurusu (cross, from cruz, until it was replaced by the English-based kurosu), tabako (take a wild guess) and pan (bread, from pão).

The Portuguese word for bread is a loanword in Korean as well: ppang (빵), which actually sounds incredibly similar to the original pão. (This is also the reason that São Paulo is usually transcribed as 상파울루, but that's a story for another day.)

More interesting than the Korean word for bread, in my opinion (despite my love-hate affair with carbs), is the expression 따봉 (ttabong). If you're like me, you're probably thinking there's no way that 따봉—a phrase roughly equivalent to "thumbs up" and most commonly used among young children—is a foreign loanword. But believe it or not, it's derived from the Portuguese expression "tá bom," a common abbreviation for "está bom," meaning "it's fine" or "all right." The connection finally hit me one afternoon in Portuguese class last year when Marta asked me, "Tá bom, Paulo?" and I, in a moment of unconscious linguistic substitution, replied, "네, ttabong," and the lesson proceeded without anyone else noticing my confusion. (After class, I rushed back to the library and confirmed on Google that I had just made the 11th greatest discovery of my life.)

How ttabong became such a widely used phrase in Korean I'm not sure, but something about the thought of Seoul schoolchildren running around using a common Portuguese expression warms my globalization-loving, God-fearing gyopo heart.

(For non-Korean speakers who couldn't care less about the etymology of ttabong yet are still reading for some reason, check out this surprisingly long list of English terms of Portuguese origin, which includes words ranging from caste to mandarin.)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Tudo isto é fado

A random ajeossi I met at a bar in Seoul last summer tried to convince me that the only non-Koreans who truly understand han as a cultural concept are the Irish and Portuguese. Listening to fado, I'm starting to think he may have been on to something.

What is fado, you ask? For starters, it's number six on my list of reasons to learn Portuguese. More descriptively, "Tudo isto é fado (All this is fado)," at least according to Amália Rodrigues:
Perguntaste-me outro dia se eu sabia o que era o fado.
You asked me once if I knew what fado was.
Eu disse que não sabia, tu ficaste admirado,
I told you I did not know, you were surprised,
Sem saber o que dizia. Eu menti naquela hora,
Not knowing what I said. I lied at the time,
Disse-te que não sabia, mas vou-te dizer agora:
I told you I did not know, but I am going to tell you now:

Almas vencidas, noites perdidas, sombras bizarras,
Defeated souls, lost nights, bizarre shadows,
Na Mouraria canta um rufia, choram guitarras,
In Mouraria (neighborhood in Lisbon) a rascal sings, guitars weep,
Amor, ciúme, cinzas e lume, dor e pecado,
Love, jealousy, ashes and flame, pain and sin,
Tudo isto existe, tudo isto é triste, tudo isto é fado.
All this exists, all this is sad, all this is fado.

Se queres ser o meu senhor e teres-me sempre a teu lado,
If you want to be my husband and have me always by your side,
Não me fales só de amor, fala-me também do fado.
Do not speak only of love, speak to me also of fado.
E o fado é o meu castigo, só nasceu pr'a me perder.
Fado is my punishment, only born to make me lost.
O fado é tudo o que digo, mais o que eu não sei dizer.
Fado is everything I say, and everything I do not know how to say.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

50 이유

From CNN's new Seoul Travel page: 50 reasons why Seoul is the world's greatest city

Below are the ones I found most accurate/amusing/thought-provoking or, alternately, the ones that most make me miss last summer:

49. More side dishes than main dishes
A typical Korean meal comes with seven or eight separate side dishes. And free refills. There’s more color on a Korean table than at Lotte World on Children’s Day.

47. Best airport in the world
For five years running, Incheon International Airport, which services Seoul and other nearby Korean cities, has been ranked the best airport in the world by Airports Council International. The sprawling, über-efficient facility is equipped with a golf course, skating rink, Museum of Korean Culture, casino, high-end spa and restaurants serving just about any kind of pre-flight meal you’d want.

44. Booking
Financiers and consultants fly to Seoul from all over Asia on weekends for the booking experience at Seoul nightclubs. A unique form of speed dating in which waiters escort girls into rooms rented by groups of guys, booking can be both awkward, ego crushing and ruthlessly efficient. If the girl doesn’t like what she sees, she leaves with minimal singing, drinking or fake-number-exchanging involved.

36. Groupon is so yesterday
With the massive popularity of Coupang and Ticketmonster, social commerce sites are springing up in Seoul at the rate of one per day.

31. Smart homes
Smart phones and robot vacuum cleaners—yawn. Apartments in Seoul can now be controlled from cell phones and central keypads. Samsung Electronics reps say that facial-recognition will soon be introduced as an addition to bio-recognition security systems.

28. Excellence in flight
After flying Korean or Asiana Air, it’s a rude shock (literally, visually) to fly any other airline. Sorry, P.C. disciples, but the epic hotness of KAL flight attendants sets the modern standard in the sky. R.I.P. Singapore Girl.

25. Most art openings per square mile
Earning the attention of art aficionados worldwide, internationally renowned artists fly into Seoul almost every week for new exhibitions or collaborations. Local artists are also rising to acclaim with increasingly strange and arresting multimedia works. In Cheongdam-dong, a single building called Nature Poem—itself a work of art—houses 18 galleries.

19. No question left unanswered
Need to know the best transgender club in Itaewon? The number of the closest fried chicken shop for delivery? Which public transportation to use from the airport to the nearest sauna? Perky operators at the 120 Dasan Center provide answers to any question you might have for free, 24 hours a day, in Korean, English, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Mongolian. Call 02-120 from a cell phone or 120 from a landline.

5. Bright happy jjimjilbangs of fun
Korean saunas (jjimjilbangs) draw on an age-old tradition of thermotherapy to help you sweat out stress. The best jjimjilbangs—like famed Dragon Hill Spa—feature multi-stories of whirlpool baths, mineral rooms, massage parlors, nail salons, TV rooms, manga cafés and restaurants where you can relax before and after soaking, scrubbing and steaming your way to rejuvenation.