Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The games people play

In honour of St. Valentine's, yesterday was promotion-wide Traffic Light Day. The idea was to wear clothing that would communicate your relationship (non)-status to the community-at-large: green if you're ready to play, yellow if you're not quite sure but are willing to consider what's on offer, red if you're in a committed relationship. A nifty if rather in-your-face idea for introducing some clarity into the social hotpot that is b-school, where breakups-and-hookups are par for the course.

Interestingly, the most common colour worn was red. Probably an accurate indicator of official status, but I suspect that the social / emotional status of many of these would veer towards yellow in all its vulnerable glory. The true greens were mostly in hiding, while the rest of us simply didn't play along. Even in technicolour, it's difficult to wear your heart on your sleeve.

Which is what makes flirting such an alluring and potentially dangerous game. Especially at parties, where a combination of alcohol and limited physical space makes it easier to expand your normal social boundaries. The most extreme example I have seen of this is a girl whose dancing indiscretion is matched only by her indiscrimination towards dancing partners. The fact that few people would have raised an eyebrow at her red outfit yesterday suggests either that there need not be any correlation between your actual and perceived degree of availability, or that she didn't read the memo.

The flip side of this is the difficulty of knowing when flirting has been taken to the next level. Which is the null hypothesis? Our statistics professor might suggest that the worse error would be to wrongly assume that somebody is merely being friendly. But what if you assume the reverse? Depending on your own inclination, either you back off and miss out on some good harmless fun, or you reciprocate to your own peril.

Throw game theory into the mix, and everything gets kicked up a notch. What should you assume the other party assumes, and how should you react to motivate the desired response? Short of economic and statistical modelling, Traffic Light Day might just about be the next best but wholly inadequate guide to social interactions.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Oh my god! They killed Kenny! Those bastards!

Got my first ding from a consulting company yesterday. Blah-blah-your-qualifications-are-very-impressive-too-bad-they're-not-good-enough-for-us-to-even-bother-speaking-to-you-in-person-blah-blah-why-don't-you-come-back-at-the-end-of-the-year-blah-blah-you-suck.


Sunday, February 05, 2006

Green Suede Shoes

How's this for a tale of two sandwiches? Had a very fruitful trip to Paris yesterday, bookended by lunch at Paul's and dinner at Quick, the French McD's. S and I managed to get an early start by staying over at VLS (the boys' place near the train station) after Picard and cheesy movie night (a classic for the books: "Man, there are a million fine girls in the world, but not all of them bring you lasagna at work. Most of them just cheat on you.") We hit Etam, Benetton, Printemps and Galeries Lafayette in quick succession, where I managed to put my newly acquired carte bleu through rigourous interval training.

French sales are the real deal. Storewide discounts of 30% and over, with further reductions during the last few weeks. My lack of proclivity for designer fare means I don't get the greatest benefit from these sales, but I still did pretty well this time. Pretty well to the tune of €180. My fave purchase? A gorgeous pair of Benetton dark green suede knee-high boots with little tassles just below the top - an absolute steal at €50 after a 70% discount!

Laden with (my) shopping bags, S and I moseyed over to an ex-colleague's place for a small Chinese New Year gathering. Unexpectedly, I thus stumbled into a social situation which would force me to parle the most francais since arriving in France. It started as a joke - bemused by my pronunciation of the French word for green, vert, a Frenchman in attendance tried to teach me the proper way to spit it out. This soon expanded into an experiential lesson on French grammar and the pronunciation of other words such as euro, which I managed to thoroughly enjoy despite my obvious embarrassment. I don't know when I'll get my next opportunity to practice French in such a non-threatening atmosphere, but in the meantime, S - you've been warned!

One Quick cheeseburger and train ride later, our day ended with VLS' inaugural party. The highlights for me were the opportunity to tinker around with P's DJ software and rocking music collection, and the chance to go a little crazy in the company of trusted friends. Still a far cry from the get-stone-drunk-and-happy experience I think I'd like to have at least once in my life, but good fun nevertheless.

What's the forecast for the week ahead? I'm not entirely sure at the moment, but I see a pair of chaussures vertes de suède in my immediate future. Hope I said that right!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Guess who's coming to dinner?

Dinner parties are an integral part of the social calendar here, where village life offers little in the way of affordable, casual places that encourage lingering. It seems almost easier to invite random virtual strangers into your home than to ask them to meet you at the pizzeria downtown.

Over the last two nights, I've had the opportunity to co-host two thoroughly enjoyable but vastly different dinner parties. The first, which I like to think of as the Picard Party, was an impromptu bash for my groupmate's birthday. On the verge of panic at the prospect of having to feed a dozen people at short notice, I shelved my pride and raided the Picard store across the street. (Picard is a store filled with freezer upon freezer of pre-cooked food, pastries and confections.) Without my planning it, I had stumbled upon the French equivalent of my convenience food mecca, Marks' and Sparks'. Party foods of different national complexions, from mini croque monsieurs and blinis topped with smoked fish, to xiao long baos and tandoori drumlets; from quarte formaggi pizzas and provencal quiches, to tiramisus and creme brulees. Confining myself to the sale selection, I managed to pull together a meal totaling all of €20, including outstanding goat cheese puffs which I fully intend to reacquaint myself with within the next week.

The Picard Party was the first time S and I have had such a diverse group of people over to our house - 2 Singaporeans, 1 Indian, 1 Portuguese, 1 Greek, 1 Trinidad and Tobagan, 1 Italian, 1 French, 1 New Zealander, 1 Australian and 1 Brit. Conversation flowed quickly and easily, flitting around random topics like national foods and career aspirations. The night ended with a game of darts (I lost) in a bar downtown, and I woke up today feeling like I had finally started to chip through my social shell.

Tonight's dinner was held at the boys' place in Veneux-les-Sablons, with the usual gang sans S gathering for a three-course dinner prepared by an overly ambitious lecoqsportif. I cleverly decided to make a shopping list this time, which I promptly left in the car before putting a somewhat bedraggled L through an hour-long grocery run in Champion. Between being confounded by French labels and distracted by French chocolates, supermarket trips are still mini-adventures to me. Against all expectations, dinner was ready by the time friends started streaming in after 8.30 p.m.. On the menu tonight: cream of mushroom soup, made from scratch with a recipe I have kept from the FridaySaturdaySunday restaurant in Philadelphia; roast shoulder of lamb with tian of potato, tomato and aubergine; molten chocolate cakes with vanilla ice-cream ala Jean-Georges Vongerichten; and a discussion on the merits of Kevin Smith and Mel Brooks films. The Vongerichten recipe (at the end of this post) is a definite keeper - restaurant-quality chocolate fondants with minimal fuss and a comfortable margin for error.

And what happened to S tonight? She had dinner with a random bunch of students, courtesy of her Israeli sectionmate, and came back flushed with conversations on international politics, sports and relationship philosophies. The stuff of late-night sharing sessions over wine and cheese, and if you're lucky, break-time chats by the free coffee machines in school.

With a little more practice and determination, I may just about become a better cook and a more versatile conversationalist by the end of the year. How's that for a €43,500 education?

Warm, soft chocolate cakes by Jean-Georges Vongerichten

1/2 cup unsalted butter, plus more to butter the molds
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons flour, plus more for dusting

1. In the top of a double boiler set over simmering water, heat the butter and chocolate together until the chocolate is almost completely melted. While that's heating, beat together the eggs, yolks, and sugar with a whisk or electric beater until light and thick.

2. Beat together the melted chocolate and butter. Pour in the egg mixture, then quickly beat in the flour, until just combined.

3. Butter and lightly flour four 4-ounce molds, custard cups, or ramekins. Tap out the excess flour, then butter and flour them again. D ivide the batter among the molds. (At this point you can refrigerate the desserts until you are ready to eat, for up to several hours; bring them back to room temperature before baking.)

4. Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Bake the molds on a tray for 6 to 7 minutes; the center will still be quite soft, but the sides will be set.

5. Invert each mold onto a plate and let sit for about 10 seconds. Unmold by lifting up one corner of the mold; the cake will fall out onto the plate. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


'cos we'll all need more drinks to be this stupid.

The Usual Suspects

Singaporeans, Southern style:
F, K, L, JJ