Les Petits Contes

About life's little observations, which matter. About hilarious situations, which illuminate. About stories which offer immense possibilities, open endings, different interpretations and perspectives.

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Location: Singapore

A nature lover; sun-worshipper, manic book-collector, dessert-devourer and a magnet for hazards

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A Very Different Barcelona

The telecom show of the industry - the largest and most prestigious - 3GSM Congress, is held in the heart of Barcelona, at La Fira convention centre.

The hotel I have been booked and am staying in, is in another little town, located inside an industrial park, by the highway, in a no-man’s land, 20 km from the event venue.

To get there, one has to walk more than 10 minutes to the train station, (which is tucked inconspicuously in a deserted car park), via a tour of the quiet little village of Sant Andreu de la Barca, and then take a 30 minute train ride.

I discovered this on my arrival on Sunday and tried in vain to change hotel. No luck. The entire Barcelona has been booked out. My secretary had booked my hotel since last October (read – it was not last minute) – but she had a bizarre sense of ‘’reality’’, plus she had overly trusted the company’s useless travel agent … and since I do not micro-manage her and had also overly trusted her….

And so I spent this morning crossing over huge treacherous roads at a huge roundabout which had early morning peak traffic of on-coming traffic whooshing past from all four corners of the roundabout. It was worse than crossing the roads of Vietnam. At least in Vietnam you it was only two way streets and I could still close my eyes, stick out a hesitant foot and then begin to cross. (And when you open your eyes, you would have ended at the other end of the road.)

Not to mention I had to untangle myself from the maze of industrial buildings spouting smoke from giant chimneys and trucks spouting fumes before I found an exit to the main road.

The scene is not far from that of Gemenos – I used to stay at the cosy little Kyriad hotel just opposite the industrial park at Gemenos, facing my Gemplus office and factory in the South of France. I used to get hopelessly lost in ‘’my’’ own humongous industrial park and could not find the entrance to ‘’my’’ own office too, and had to get the security guards to bail me out, at the same time trying to understand their Southern accent. Who says working for a French company is all Paris and glamour?!

So, this morning, conscious of the fact that I was going to be late for my meeting at the trade show, I reminded myself to be unruffled and to keep calm while searching for the train station.

‘’Remember to be graceful and classy at all times – money can buy you a lot of things but not grace and class,’’ I chanted the mantra to myself as I marched confidently in my high heel boots. Yes, don’t I look elegant in my boots and long warm navy blue coat, despite the cold, I told myself. I used to hate this huge ‘’clumsy’’ coat and did not want to wear it despite the cold in Perugia… all because I had thought that it made me – well, huge.

Yet now, it seems to give me an air of elegance and confidence. Picture a lone, well-dressed woman click-clocking briskly in her heels in a deserted industrial park trying to cross the roads… no wonder I received curious stares from the workers there. Oh well, I am used to it. I used to receive such stares and whistles in Gemenos too – more intense stares and even louder whistles than other visitors – all because I am an oriental in a macho Southern French land.

The more challenging it was to cross the wide busy roads, the more I had to wait… the more resolved I was to remain unruffled and stonily calm. So calm, so distant, so polished, so unperturbed, so cold-blooded, so untouchable.

What a completely different image my French colleagues have of me. The minute I made it to our exhibition booth, they shouted ‘’hey, bonjour, hola’’ and hugged and bisou-ed me. Franck stopped his phone conversation mid-air to greet me and said excitedly into the phone, ‘’attend, Janet est la…’’

My boss Remi and I chatted for a bit and he said something which I did not ‘’expect’’ to hear. We were staring at all the people at the trade show and he commented, almost apologetically to me, ‘’it’s such a male dominated industry, it must be boring for you.’’ I gave him a quizzical look (a subtle raised eyebrow - the Parisian way) and he continued, ‘’look – it’s all men here, there should be more women to add some colour.’’

Funny, I had never realised the men outnumbered the women! Either I am blind, or I view them as ‘’sexless’’. I mean – whether you are a man or a woman, it is not important, as long as you can do the job.

But very soon I began to ‘’feel’’ Remi’s comments. The show was getting really crowded and it was a big challenge moving within the exhibition halls. An impossible wall of dark colours (men in dark jackets) blocked me wherever I went. When I tried to move forward, ‘’whack’’ I got smacked on the left shoulder by a huge man. ‘’Thwack’’ I got another hit on my right shoulder. And I thought I am tall and strong! These huge ang mohs really towered over me and hurt my shoulders.

Still, I managed to survey the exhibition booths put up by other telco companies. Gosh – I have been in the telecom industry for more than 10 years, and they are still talking about the same old things today – convergence, ARPU, interoperability.

Sure, some things have changed. I remember the telco operators used to encourage voice calls and discourage (rather, they did not promote it, though the technology was available then) sms – all because they wanted to earn the higher revenue that voice calls generated. Now, they promote sms aggressively and it has become a way of life and has drastically changed the social and even working scenes.

I am not sure if the sms phenomenon is a good thing. Robert and I have our endless debates about its evils and virtues. He is more positive – sms allows shy people to say loving messages that they would otherwise not express face to face or over a call, he said. Ya, right, I would counter - it also allows cowards to say nasty things, yell and relay bad news over the sms! Heck – in Indonesia, one could even divorce one’s spouse via sms!

As for convergence, we had to explain and do a demo to Damien, a Singapore journalist. Poor guy. He simply could not understand the heavy French accent of my colleague Jean-Marc and kept turning to me each time he encountered a ‘’strange’’ sentence. I became a ‘’translator’’ – not French to English, but more like, ‘’French-accent English’’ to ‘’Singapore-accent English’’. I felt like a parrot, repeating what Jean-Marc had to explain.

Jean Marc went on and on very fast – ‘’generate temporary security key over-the-air, or-pare-ha-teur can have control, don-load bah-sic applet…’’

Damien had to look at me – the ‘’transla-teur’’. I tried to explain, ‘’its: operator can have control, download basic applet…’’

With all the tech jargons swimming in my head, the non-stop music of our demo video playing (‘’it’s engraved in my DNA’’, Franck grumbled), and my back aching from full day of standing at the booth, I still managed to go for a long tedious meeting on the branding of my new ‘’soon-to be merged’’ company with my boss and ‘’the other company’’.

And there is more to come. More journalist meetings at our demo and booth, and one more meeting on the new branding on my last day here, just before my departure.

And after that, I will have a very, very different memory of Barcelona!


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