Jun 26

Taking a year off for $80,000

I found this article the other day and thought it was great…

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/13/nyregion/13bigcity.html?_r=3&ref=todayspaper

I love this article and what this company is doing. I like the creative thinking and the way they are taking the bad economy and creating opportunities for employees. The people taking the year off are probably not the type of people who would up and quit there jobs so they could travel the world or finish their PHD’s, nor sit around the house and watch TV. If it wasn’t for this opportunity these people might be pushing off their dreams until retirement.

In case the link doesn’t work here is the text of the article:

This year may be a disastrous one for the global economy, but it’s shaping up to be one of the best that Heather Eisenlord has enjoyed in a good long while. Granted, that might not be saying much: For the past five years, Ms. Eisenlord has been an associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, a notably grueling place for a lawyer to work.

But even by more stringent standards of fun, the coming year looks pretty good. Ms. Eisenlord, 36, who works in Skadden’s banking group, will be buying a plane ticket that will take her around the world for a year, and she’s been stocking her apartment in Brooklyn with Lonely Planet travel guides.

Although she’s not yet sure exactly what she’ll be doing on her trip, she has some ideas. She would like to teach English to monks in Sri Lanka and possibly help bring solar power to remote parts of the Himalayas. She’ll probably hit 10 to 15 destinations around the world, most likely practicing not-for-profit law wherever she can be helpful.

The best part of all: Skadden is paying her about $80,000 to do it.

For a sixth-year associate at a New York law firm, $80,000 isn’t exactly competitive pay. But for someone cruising around the world, doing good wherever she sees fit and, let’s face it, probably hitting a beach or two, the pay is excellent.

Only in a financial world turned upside down would an arrangement like this one make sense. Looking to cut costs like everyone else, but not prepared to lay off associates, Skadden has chosen instead to offer all of its associates — about 1,300 worldwide — the option of accepting a third of their base pay to not show up for work for a year. (So far, the partners have no equivalent arrangement.)

The company is helping associates find pro bono work, and is encouraging them to do so. But the lawyers could also spend the year catching up on every episode of “Top Chef” that they missed during the boom years, or traveling around the world, “all of which is O.K. by us,” said Matthew Mallow, a partner at the firm. Other firms have adopted similar strategies, but Skadden’s program is unusual in that it has no pro bono requirements.

As of Friday, about 125 associates had expressed interest. “I think it’s fair to say that the numbers are in excess of our expectations,” Mr. Mallow said.

Only at a corporate law firm would the managers underestimate employees’ interest in taking a year off from the grind for what most of America would consider a small fortune.

Not everyone could cover monthly living expenses on a third of one’s pay, and naturally some skeptical lawyers grilled the partners about job security. If there are layoffs in a year, they wondered, is it really possible that the lawyers who’d been defending trees in British Columbia wouldn’t be disadvantaged, compared with the lawyers who’d been slaving away on contracts in Midtown?

Not only were the lawyers assured that their time away wouldn’t hurt them; in some ways it would be protective: If there are layoffs while they are away, they will be immune.

So far, the majority of the lawyers are looking for worthwhile legal work, Skadden says, to keep them as competitive as possible; but yes, some will take the year off to spend time with their children or look after a sick relative. Someone’s planning to wrap up his Ph.D., someone else is looking into legal work for a news organization, and another associate will be joining Ms. Eisenlord on her round-the-world adventure.

Ms. Eisenlord says she fully intends to go back to Skadden after her trip, and will be eager to return to the work she loves and the co-workers she admires. It’s possible that after a year teaching monks English, installing solar panels in the Himalayas and working on human rights in developing nations, she will come to the conclusion that there is no more fulfilling life than the one she has spent in corporate law.

But maybe she will have some kind of revelation. If there is any silver lining to this financial catastrophe, it’s that business as usual has come to a grinding halt. Sometimes it takes getting thrown out of the office to notice there is a life outside.

Already, Ms. Eisenlord seems to be making some sort of transition. Has she been getting any work done lately as she anticipates this thrilling new trip?

“No comment,” she said.

Spoken like a lawyer — but a lawyer on the verge.

E-mail: susan.dominus@nytimes.com

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 15, 2009
The Big City column on Monday, about an arrangement at the Manhattan law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in which associates can take a year off at one-third pay, referred imprecisely to the firm’s efforts to cut costs. Although it is not planning to lay off any associates, it has in fact laid off some employees — including secretaries, support staffers and staff lawyers.

Jun 24

Money Belt

The money belt…

What is it, what do you use it for and how do you use it?

A money belt is a small pouch like fabric thing that is worn underneath your clothes to hold money. Here is a link to typical money belt. There are so other styles, like this one by eagle creek or ones that can be worn on your leg. This is not a fanny pack or a bum bag.

Money belts are used to carry extra money and other valuables like: Passport, back up credit card or atm card. I have in the past also carried the address for my hotels and my full memory cards. Do not carry larger things like your camera.

The money belt is to be worn under your clothes and should be hidden during the day – basically no one should know you’re wearing it. It should contain stuff that you will only need in an emergency. If you know you’re going to need your passport during the day then don’t put it in here (or if you do have a plan to take it out privately). If you do need to access your money belt try to go to a bathroom or another private place. The purpose is to protect your stuff from theives and when you go inside your money belt in public you announce to others that you have it.

On my first trip I wore my money belt religiously, it helped though that my jeans hid it well. On future trips I didn’t wear it nearly as much, only when I was in areas where I thought I was at a higher risk of getting pickpocketed – Moscow, Egyptian markets – places like that.

All too often you see someone who is wearing a money belt and is constantly going in it during the day. I understand that sometimes plans change and you have to go in it, it’s happened to me. The best you can do is do it privately or discretely. But if you’re constantly going in yours then you might be better off skipping it all together since they aren’t terribly comfortable to wear.

Jun 22

Pearl Harbor and the last day in Hawaii

This was the last day of Tara and I’s cruise as well as the day we were visiting Pearl Harbor and flying home.

We were up at 6:15 to get all of our stuff together and make sure nothing was getting left behind. Despite not liking the Aloha Cafe we decided to go back, but we had a plan. We were going to grab a table and then take turns getting food. This worked out OK and we were done with breakfast with plenty of time to get to the Hollywood Theatre, which was our tour meeting place. Departure was fine, though one of the escalators was broken which slowed things down.


We boarded our bus and our driver was good, he explained that we would not be able to go to the cemetery, which was closed for the Memorial Day weekend for only family of military. We were dropped off at 9:15 and had a 10:45 tour of the Arizona Memorial. We decided to first go to the area with the rockets by the Bowfin. I got some pictures of the rockets and there was an area with little monuments for all the ships lost at sea with their story and a list of the lives lost, it was really nice. Next we walked back over to the main museum.

For a $5 donation you can get the audio tour. I recommend this for 2 reasons – first, you hear good info about the museum and the events surrounding December 7, but even better is that you are making a donation to the museum. The museum did seem a bit crowded at times and in different spots, but they are building a new one which should be ready next year. There are a lot of good displays and I enjoyed the tour. On the tour for the Arizona you first see a movie, which was very good, and got me a bit misty eyed. You are reminded to be quiet on the tour which now takes a boat to the site of the Arizona and the Memorial there. I was surprised at how quiet people actually are. I’ve been to a lot of places where you should be quiet and peoples ability to do that varies greatly, until the end when we were boarding our boat back everyone was very quiet. The memorial was really nice. From the sides you can see parts of the Arizona that are near the surface. In the middle there are diagrams of the ship as it sits today. In the middle there is a cut out where you can see the oil that is seeping out of the Arizona. In the back is a wall with a list of the names of all those lost, and a list of those who survived but were later buried at the Arizona. I really liked it and the experience.


Next we took a shuttle over to the Missouri Battleship, where the armistice was signed. This was pretty good too, though not nearly as good as the Arizona Memorial. If you’re not into looking at military ships then this might not be the best use of time, but it’s still interesting. Tara seemed to find this a form of torture, and it was quite hot and it’s not really something I’m that interested in, so we did a more abbreviated tour. It would have been nice to do a tour just to hear about the armistice, but as for looking at the mock ups of what crew areas looked like, not so much. But then, I have seen several military boats in the past so I know some of what would be said. On the Missouri they do have the US and Japanese copies of the armistice, which was really neat to see. After we looked around the ship we had lunch, shopped, and then waited to leave. I felt like we had a little more time here then we needed, but that’s better then not enough time.

After the Missouri we did a little tour of Honolulu. We visited the downtown area with the Palace and the oldest church in Hawaii, which Tara and I had already seen. We also took a ride through China Town which apparently isn’t a safe place to visit after dark. Since we couldn’t go to the cemetery we made a stop at Nuuanu Pali Park which had more beautiful scenery.

We were dropped off at the airport a little after 4 and had to kill 4 hours before out flights back home.

Jun 19

Experimental dining on a cruise

One of the nice things about a cruise is that your food is included. This helps when you want to be daring with food. I’m not the most daring but knowing that I can get a good quality something and that I don’t have to pay for it is a nice thing. I once tried escargot on a cruise, which I don’t imagine I would have done in many other places. I didn’t like it and didn’t have to finish it, but I tried it. Actually, I’ll admit it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t good. On this past cruise I tried a couple things at the French restaurant – Frois Gras and Scallops. I didn’t like the Scallops at all, but the Frois Gras was good enough that I ate two whole pieces of it. But I wouldn’t go to a restaurant and order it. I also tried edamame, again, not bad but not good either. I had a chance to try this at home a few weeks before the cruise and wouldn’t do it, but I tried it on the cruise. There is a power in the safety of a cruise and its dining options that you get in few other places. It allows you to experiment in safe way and may you’ll learn you like something you didn’t think you liked or never would have tried.

Jun 17

Katia and Kyliemac Podcast

Update 11/2012 – the podcast has been discontinued, but there is still some great episodes out there.

I thought I would review one of my favorite podcasts, the Katia and Kyliemac Podcast. Katia and Kyliemac are ex-pats living in France and their podcast is about their experience in France, they also throw in some tidbits about travel – general stuff about places they visit. Katia is originally from Australia and moved to France several years ago when she married a Frenchman. Kyliemac is a graduate student in France, she hails from the United States. K&K bring the French culture to me with a lighthearted, and irreverent approach. They don’t just talk about the “crazy” things the French do, but talk about their experience with the french and compare them to their own experiences from home and other parts of the world. It’s a more subtle and fun approach that they take. They also talk about their own travels, around France, and wherever else they might go. Mostly though the podcast is about French culture.

K&K also do two other podcasts. The first is a french language podcast, it’s for people who already know at least a little french. They cover french terms and their meanings. An example of something they might cover if it was an English language podcast is the saying “were you raised in a barn,” or “drop a dime,”

The final podcast is french tourist tips, tips for people visiting France. This is a short podcast, typically under 10 minutes, and covers a variety of topics. It’s designed to help you get the most out of your visit and ways to avoid pitfalls. This was the first one I listened to of K&K and is a good introduction if you don’t want to spend 30 minutes on the original podcast to get a feel for the girls.

Jun 15

Los Angeles: The Fake City

One of my first vacations as an adult was in 2000 to Los Angeles. I was there for 6 days and staying with a friend. My friend was working a couple days that I was out there so I rented a car and tried my best to get around and see the city.

 I went to Beverly Hills, some mansion that a Beverly Hills cop suggested since a lot of movies had been filmed there, Hollywood and the Hollywood walk of fame, and the area around UCLA. With my friend I did a tour of the Warner Brother Studio, Santa Monica, and Rodeo Drive. We were going to go to Venice Beach but I had to beg my friend to go there and then when we finally did the weather sucked and the parking was worse so we left before we even parked the car. I did get to go there on another trip when I was passing through LA, and it was worth the visit. The city, or at least the areas that a tourist would visit, are beautiful, and there’s a lot of life there, it was good.

After 4 days though the city felt as fake as a bad boob job. like all the pretty tress and wide roads and flowers and plants are all there to mask a city full of backstabbing people. I don’t regret my time in LA, it was actually great and I suggest it for other people interested in seeing the city – it is LA. But if I went back there I would probably just go to the Disney or Universal Parks and do stuff like that, at least I know that what I’m getting there is supposed to be fake.

Jun 12

Waikiki Marriott

When I was in Honolulu Tara and I had a free night before the cruise and I chose the Waikiki Marriott. When I was choosing the hotel I wanted something nice and with a view of the beach. I figured for only 1 night that we both wanted something nice and didn’t worry about the price too much. The Marriott is on Waikiki beach and with the name Marriott I knew it would be good. There were also several Hiltons and Sheratons I considered, but the prices were more and I wasn’t convinced there was much more behind the cost. The biggest downside was that it was at the far end of Waikiki beach which added to the cost of our taxi to and from the hotel.

Things started out very well, when I checked in we were given a complementary upgrade to junior suite with an ocean view. Our room had a huge bathroom, tons of closet space, two beds, a couch, flat screen tv and 2 balconies. I’m sorry we didn’t have more time here! We both enjoyed the one balcony which had a fantastic view of the ocean, I enjoyed watching the surfers in the morning. The beds were also really comfortable. We did not eat at any of the restaurants here since we actually weren’t hungry the night we arrived. The next morning we opted against spending $15 a person for breakfast and went to Burger King for food but ate it on the beach. We found that to be a good way to save a couple dollars while still enjoying the environment. It’s not like the locals go to $15 buffet breakfasts either.

In the evening and in the morning we took a walk around Waikiki and I thought it was a nice beach area. Different spots of the water had a different set up to allow for different water conditions. There was a variety of shops within our hotel and if you can’t find it there you can probably find it in within a block or two’s walk. Overall the Waikiki Marriott and it’s location met our expectations and with the upgrade we were both really happy with the hotel. Actually, my experience with hotels is fairly limited (i.e. I’m not an expert), but this was probably the nicest I’ve been to and would definitely consider staying here in the future.

Jun 11

Yankee Stadium vs Citi Field

I’ve recently been able to go to baseball games at the new stadiums here in NY. Citi Field is the new home of the Mets and the Yankees have moved to the new Yankee Stadium. I’m not much of a baseball fan but do lean toward the Mets, I have fond memories of the Mets winning the World Series in 1986. Although I prefer the Mets I’m not a Yankee hater either and jumped at the chance to go to a Yankee game when free tickets were offered to me. I’ve been to Shea Stadium several times, but I hadn’t been to the old Yankee Stadium in years. My only other reference was PNC Park in Pittsburgh, which is a great stadium.

CitiField

My seats at Citi Field when I went were Mezzanine level at 3rd base and my seats at Yankee Stadium were field level at first base. I like Citi Field better then Yankee Stadium overall, but both have some neat things. Overall as a stadium I liked Citi better because it felt cozier. The way the stadium is designed it is fairly closed in, Shea really opened up out as you went up, but Citi stays tighter into the field. This made it more intimate. Yankee Stadium also seems to open up wider then Citi does, though this could have to do with the difference in the location of my seats, but even just looking at the stadium I think this holds true no matter where you are seated.

Citi Field is family friendlier, there are some childrens activities there – wiffle ball and a dunk tank. My 10 year old nephew wanted to do both, but we only let him do the dunk tank. Citi Field is also cheaper to get tickets at, which is family friendly.

Yankee Stadium

Food at Citi Field is also more convenient. Each of the levels (except maybe the 500 level seats) has its own private club for dining. The club on the Mezzanine level has all the regular foods which you wait on line for, but there are lots of tables and TV screens so it’s a nice place to eat. In the walkways around the stadium there is also the typical food stations. Behind the outfield is a large eating area, I thought this area was overrated, there were a few tables where you would stand at, but no seating. It was quite crowded throughout the game too, but there is a large selection of beers here. But I liked that the option was here, and that you can watch the game on a jumbo tron.

I was in some pretty nice seats at Yankee Stadium, they were really well padded and a bit wider. The seats were the first row of the second section at field level, sweet! Here they would bring your food to you. Well you ordered it from your seats and it was brought to your seats, you just paid a 20% gratuity. Unfortunately, the menu wasn’t that great so we didn’t partake in this. The section in front of us had a better menu and got free bags of M&M’s. So this is more convenient then anything that I saw at Citi Field but it’s lack of selection made it not as useful. The atmosphere at Yankee Stadium was a little more serious and the environment was a little more hard core about baseball. And well there is something to be said for the Yankees players, they’re all big names and with the right field being very generous to home runs games can be more exciting.

So if you’re just looking for a fun baseball game then seeing the Mets and Citi Field will be fun, and you’ll save a bit of money. If seeing the best players is your thing, then head to Yankee Stadium. But both stadiums will deliver a fun experience. Play ball…

Jun 06

Freestyle Dining on the Pride of America

This was my first experience with Freestyle dining and it has some pros and some cons. I enjoyed being able to dine whenever I wanted, within the dining times offered and only once waited for a table, that was good. We did hear others complain about waiting and poor food quality. Overall dining was a good experience but there are some issues, though from what I have heard from past cruisers things are better then they were.

The Pride of America has 2 traditional dining rooms: The Liberty Dining room, the more formal of the two (jeans are not permitted), and the Skyline Dining room where shorts are permitted. Not to be the dining nazi, but shorts at dinner seemed strange to me. The Aloha Cafe is the pool deck level buffet that is informal for all meals. There are also specialty restaurants. The Cadillac Diner is a 50’sish diner serving traditional diner types of foods – burgers, meatloaf, shakes. It’s informal and is open 22 hours a day. We ate mostly lunches here. East Meets West is a group of Asian restaurants – Sushi, Teppanaki, Asian Fusion. Jefferson’s Bistro is a formal french restaurant, Lazy J’s is a steak house and Little Italy serves Italian food. East Meets West, Lazy J’s, Little Italy, and Jefferson’s Bistro all charge an additional fee to eat there. I’m not sure if this is to cover the cost of the better food offered or to limit the number of people eating at them.

Liberty Dining Room

We had breakfast in the Aloha Cafe 3 times and each time was awful. The buffet areas were over crowded, there were never tables available and there wasn’t enough staff to clear the tables. I never figured out what was going on in the juice area, was that even juice they had? I didn’t see trays the whole week so I assume they didn’t have them, which made it difficult to get food and a drink. After 2 breakfasts we didn’t return to the Aloha Cafe again until the last morning. Breakfast in the dining room was significantly more enjoyable! The meals we had at the Liberty and Skyline restaurants were much better then the Aloha Cafe, the food was just average but the staff was good.

Skyline

We did take time to enjoy several of the specialty restaurants. We ate in Jefferson’s Bistro and had George as a waiter who made the experience really enjoyable. While the food here wasn’t fantastic we enjoyed the opportunity to try new foods and have this nice dining experience. However, neither of us felt the need to return here as the menu didn’t appeal to us for a second visit or to pay the $15 cover charge again. We enjoyed our dinner at Lazy J’s, and found the steak here to be far superior to the steak I had in the dining room. The experience and the food was just enough to justify the $25 additional charge. If the cover charge had been a little lower we might have returned to this restaurant, but at $25 felt that it was only worthy of visiting once. At Little Italy we found the food to be average Italian food, nothing special and barely worth the $10 cover charge. We also ate at Teppanyaki which I thought was a rip off at $25 a person. I recently ate at a Teppanyaki type restaurant at home, ordered the same thing and got more food for less money. The chef wasn’t anything special, which was highlighted by the other chef being much more entertaining with his table.

One thing we did enjoy about Teppanyaki was sitting with other people. While we didn’t “click” with the couple next to us we did meet two sisters who we became friendly with. This emphasized one of the problems I had with freestyle dining as it existed on the Pride of America, it was anti-social. When I cruised with Royal Caribbean several years ago at lunch and breakfast they had open dining, you would come any time they were open and they would seat you at a large table with other cruisers. This provided an opportunity to get to know other cruisers and hear about other peoples experiences during the cruise. I expected a similar situation at the main dining rooms on the Pride of America, but it was not the case. Although I noticed a note about it on the back of the Freestyle Daily that you could request to sit with others I never actually saw anyone do it, and since most of the tables are set up for 2-4 people (and the tables for 6 always seemed empty) I don’t think the dining room setting was well suited for this anyway. On past cruises I felt like I got to know a lot more people on the ship then I did on this cruise which took away from the overall experience.

If you’re one of those people who doesn’t like to dress up, but still likes to have a sit down meal at a dining room, then NCL might be the line for you. However, if you want really good quality food then you’ll end up having to fork up some money so that you can eat at the specialty restaurants. As for me, NCL wont be my first choice next time but I’ll still consider it.

Jun 05

NCL’s Pride of America

So my cruise was on NCL America’s Pride of America. I had heard quite a few complaints about the ship before I went, most either weren’t true or were exaggerated. In this post I’m just going to talk about the ship, I’ll talk about dining in another post. I think one of the problems that NCL America had was that at one time they had 3 ships operating in Hawaii, they only have 1 now. I suspect they grew too fast in Hawaii and the staff was spread thin. By moving two ships out of Hawaii they may have been able to get rid of the poor members of the staff and consolidate crews and made a better experience for cruisers.

First, our Embarkation went ok. The terminal isn’t set up well. You have to haul your luggage to the end of the terminal to drop it off, then walk back the way you just came to start the boarding process. This wouldn’t have been so bad but the signage was lacking. But after this everything went smoothly and we were on the ship relatively quickly.


The ship wasn’t as grand as some of the other ships I’ve been on, but it was still nice and had all the amenities you needed. Other then having an American theme there was nothing special about this ship.

We had a balcony cabin on the Starboard side of the ship on the 9th floor – cabin 9100. I had heard the cabins were small, and they are, though they didn’t seem much smaller then other lines. But they were poorly designed. You walk in the cabin and the bathroom is on one side with a closet on the other side. Then there are the beds and near the balcony is the sitting area. The problem was that the placement of the beds made it nearly impossible to get around the room, especially at night if you had to go to the bathroom. And if you had to get your luggage around you had to pick it up and lift it over the beds to get around.

Our cabin met its purpose, as did the ship and considering how much time is spent in port I think the ship is well suited. I do think a balcony is a great advantage for this cruise. Although the view at the ports wasn’t all that great we did sail the Na Pali coast one afternoon and also sailed by the volcano another night and it’s really nice to have a balcony for those things.