Andy from New York City

Andy lives somewhere in the middle of north-east central New Jersey, which he says is way too far from home.  He was born and raised in the mean streets of the Bronx borough of New York City. He went to an “extremely strict,” but diverse Catholic school  run by mean nuns who  kept him out of trouble by  teaching him the value of “self-discipline.”  On the weekends, he used to take the subway to  Brooklyn to attend  Hebrew school, just so he could give  Rabbi Rosenstein a hard time.

hebrew

When Andy was 14 years old, Rabbi Rosenstein challenged Andy to join the chess club at the local JCC community center.  At the club, Andy met a kid named Mike.  At first they didn’t get along.  They got into a fight over whose time expired first on their chess clocks.  Despite their common Jewish roots, they were from very different worlds.  Mike was from an upper-middle class family, and he lived in an affluent neighborhood in Long Island. Andy was a latch-key kid from a dysfunctional, yet diverse family who lived in a housing project in the Bronx.  Andy always considered himself to be “Jewtalrican,” since his family is a mix of Jewish, Italian, and Puerto Rican. Mike’s older sister went to an elite college on the east coast. Andy’s older sister turned out to be a high school drop-out. Mike was already thinking about what kind of car he was going to drive when he turns 16 years old. Andy was always thinking if he had enough money  for the subway to make it to the JCC. Mike’s family vacationed in luxurious resorts in Europe and Latin America.  For Andy, vacation was a trip to the Jersey Shore or Coney Island.  Mike’s parents went to college and had jobs on Wall Street. Andy’s mom was always looking for a job that she could never find.

Nevertheless, somehow, they became best friends. At first, they both enjoyed playing quick chess. It’s not that they wanted to win, they just wanted to see who could move the chess  pieces faster. Andy knew it was always Mike, but he never told him because all their games came down to the wire. While they liked to play quick chess, they discovered that they had other things in common.  They both loved baseball and Christina Aguilera.

christinaChristina Aguilera

Soon, they both started going to the JCC on other days just so they could hang out with each other. The only times  they ever got into a fight again was over who was going to be the next shortstop after Derek Jeter retires, and  who was going to marry Christina Aguilera. More importantly, they were friends since they could both trust each other and tell  each other everything that was going on in their lives. One time,  Andy told Mike that he was interested in investing in the stock-market. Mike recommended he should read the Gorilla Game, which was the first book that Andy read about investing. gorrila gameMike wasn’t fake like everybody else. That’s why Mike wasn’t just Andy’s  best friend or a “bro.” For Andy, Mike was more real than any brother he could ever have. In a way, he wanted to “be like Mike.” While they both played baseball and chess, they quickly found out who was good at what. Andy wasn’t good at either, but Mike was good at baseball. When it came time for college, Mike got a baseball scholarship to attend Vanderbilt University. For a while they stayed in touch through e-mail. At some  point, they both realized that their friendship was pointless, and they had both moved on to the next chapter of their lives. As the years went by, Andy thought about getting back in touch with Mike, but he never did.  He was  scared that Mike had changed, and  he would no longer accept Andy as a friend. He was afraid that he was going to laugh at him, ignore him, taunt him, or just make him feel miserable.

From time to time, Andy wonders if he really achieved anything in his life like Mike did. He also feels a sense of betrayal that Mike never talked to him ever again. Now, Andy watches his friend play Major League Baseball on TV. He is really happy for him, and hopes Mike is happy with his life. Even though Mike doesn’t play for the Yankees, Andy knows that New York is where his heart lies and knows that Mike will take a pay-cut just to play for the home team.  Andy has often wondered  if true friendship and trust really exists. In a way, Andy just never wanted to “grow up” and  accept the brutal reality that anyone he has ever talked to, including his “so-called friends” either needed or wanted something from him. For Andy, Mike was always different for some reason he could never understand. As Andy moved on with his life, he met other friends, acquaintances, and associates. However, he had never met anyone like Mike. Andy’s childhood ended a few years after college when he realized that he and Mike, were both, just like everybody else.

friendship

Unlike Mike, Andy took a different course in life. He was not offered a single scholarship to any college. He did get accepted to St. John’s University in Brooklyn, where he went  on to major in business  administration.  Despite graduating with a 3.7 GPA, Andy had a very difficult time finding a job or even landing an interview.  Since he couldn’t get a job, Andy went ahead and got a Master’s degree in Accounting. At first, even the Master’s degree didn’t help since he still couldn’t find a job. For a while, Andy felt like the whole city knew him and hated him since he applied for so many jobs without getting a single offer.  Sometimes, he even felt like people discriminated against him and didn’t hire him because of his background.  He thought that was the real reason why he couldn’t find a good job. According to Andy, the Jews and Italians didn’t want him because they thought of him as Puerto Rican, and the Puerto Ricans didn’t want to hire him because they thought he was Jewish or Italian. Everyone else didn’t want to hire him because they couldn’t figure out who he was, but he wasn’t like them.  According to Andy, people would put whatever label they wanted on him without even wondering what lies underneath.  After all, he lived in New York. They could never accept him for being a diverse mix of different backgrounds.

Eventually,  an Italian guy named  Lou took Andy in and gave him a break.  For the first time in his life, Andy wore a suit  for something besides an interview. He joined the firm as a part-time temporary associate on a contract basis, which was up for renewal annually.  Still, it was a window of  opportunity that Andy was very grateful for.  At first, Andy really liked the job and the people he was working with.  He even liked preparing a line of never ending inter-company elimination entries for transactions that never stopped.   However, soon, he realized that he wanted more out of life. On some days, he even felt like he  was Tom Hanks in “Joe Versus  the Volcano,” except there was no Meg Ryan. Only after a few months on the job, Andy decided to quit in order to get his career on the “fast track.” He took on “a lot of debt” to go back to St. John’s University to earn a law  degree. After several  unsuccessful attempts, he eventually passed the bar exam.  Now, he works for a bankruptcy law firm in Jersey, so he can help people “get back on their feet’ and “get out of debt.”  Andy believes that it’s always a good time to invest in the stock market, real estate, and become “deft free.” According to him if you are one those poor schmucks who lost money in the stock market, you should first get a cup of coffee, talk about it, and then forget about it. debt relief

Every weekend, Andy likes to go back to his old stomping grounds in the Bronx. He gets together with his cousins Tony and Jimmy, and they go to an Italian restaurant called “My Cousin Vinny’s.” Due to his roots, Andy loves Italian, Jewish, and Puerto Rican music. He also loves to sing. When he is not singing, Andy talks about his  two favorite topics at the dinner table: money and women. He attributes his misfortunes with women to his lack of money and poor investment decisions.  By poor investment decisions, Andy refers to his lost time he spent watching movies, playing chess, and trying to talk to women without having any money. All his life, Andy was very proud, but at the same time he never did anything to deserve that pride.  Now, that he is talking about stocks,  Andy feels finally things are going to change in the right direction. Moreover, he finally feels like he has something to be proud of.

NYC-1New York City

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Andreas from Munich

Andreas has never left his hometown, Munich, Germany.  For some reason, he thinks he looks just like Ludwig Otto Friedrich Wilhelm or Ludwig II. Ludwig II was the king of the German Kingdom of Bavaria in the late 1800s. Andreas has an explanations for this uncanny resemblance. He is confident that one of his great, great, grandparents was an illegitimate child of Ludwig II. So far, he doesn’t have any evidence.  Nevertheless, Andreas is positive that it’s only a matter of time until the “truth comes out.”  As soon as it does, Andreas will be the heir to the throne of Bavaria and the recipient of all of Ludwig’s titles: Count Palatine of the Rhine, Duke of Bavaria, Duke of Franconia, and Duke of Swabia. king ludwig Out of Ludwig II’s numerous titles, he is best known for being the Swan King or the Fairy Tale King because of his love  for classical music, patronage of the arts, and his costly habit of  building beautiful castles.  His most famous castle was Neuschwanstein Castle in the village of Hohenschwangau, Bavaria. The castle looks like it’s straight out of a fairytale or a Disney Movie like “Sleeping Beauty” or “Snow White.” Ludwig’s penchant for spending the state’s funds on fairy tale castles eventually drained Bavaria’s budget and led to Ludwig II’s own demise. Andreas says he will never make that mistake because of his “mad math skills.”   Andreas works as a Hybrid Equity Derivatives Pricing Analyst or “Quant” for an international investment bank headquartered in Germany.  Everybody believes that whatever Andreas does is really important, but they don’t  understand what it actually is.  Andreas has a whiteboard in his office with a bunch of math formulas that he says he is constantly trying to make “less complicated.”  Andreas sometimes  goes out of his way to be indirect since he doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.  He often gets bored talking to people after only a few minutes. Instead of asking them to leave his office because he is bored,  he starts talking about the math formulas on the whiteboard. When that doesn’t work, Andreas changes the topic to his lieben (dear) German classical or schlager music. That always helps.  Andreas believes that half of his life is math, and the other half is music. Like Ludwig II, Andreas loves German classical music.  However, he prefers Johann Strauss over Richard Wagner.   At the same time, Andreas likes modern music. He loves to listen to anything by Peter Wackel,  Anna Maria Zimmermann, Francine Jordi, or Helmut Lotti.   He knows many of the song lyrics by heart, and he is a regular at Karaoke nacht (night)  in downtown  Munich.  All his life, Andreas has been singing Karaoke.  He hopes to soon qualify and win Deutschland sucht den Superstar (German version of American Idol). By that time, he is confident that he will finally date a schlager celebrity like  Diana Sorbello, Franziska Kettel, or Vanessa Mai.  His friends regard Andreas as  either a hopeless romantic  or romantically hopeless.  His parents told him that has an unhealthy fascination with female beauty.  Even the bartender at Andreas’ favorite karaoke bar told Andreas that he can’t sing. Andreas thinks they are  all crazy.

Andreas dreams about changing places with Peter Wackel.

One year ago, Andreas returned from a vacation to Mallorca, Spain. He was a regular at the Ballerman beach bar, where he listened to schlagers and partied with his fellow German tourists. Wanting to take a break from the schlager hits at Ballerman, Andreas decided to take a trip to the other side of town to visit an authentic Spanish restaurant with live flamenco music.  When he was making the trip, he had no idea that his life would change forever.  He fell passionately fell in love with a beautiful Spanish waitress named Sandra.  Andreas is a firm-believer in “love at first sight” and he is sure that he  made a “real connection” when he looked into Sandra’s eyes.

Diana

Sandra

After seeing Sandra once and her eyes twice, he went back to the same restaurant just to talk to her.  He really believed that they shared “something special” after Sandra smiled at him, kissed him on the cheek, and gave him a hug. The day before he left for Munich, Andreas bought the most expensive engagement ring he could afford. The day before his return flight to Munich, he went back to the restaurant hoping to see Sandra.  She was the there.  When she asked him if he wanted to order anything, he got down on his knees and told Sandra that he wanted to order a wedding and proposed to her.

guide-purchase-engagement-ring1To his astonishment, Sandra rejected his hand in marriage. She asked why he wanted to marry her. Choking back tears in his eyes,  Andreas  told her that she was the most beautiful girl in the world.  He even said that he wanted to have a gorgeous family together, and he would worship and adore her forever her with all of his herz (heart). Sandra laughed at him and walked away from his table without even taking his order.  Andreas was hurt, devastated, and heart-broken.  He was surprised that Sandra didn’t have the same feelings for him.  It took him a very long time to recover and move on after that traumatic experience.  Andreas is now learning how to speak Spanish and play the flamenco guitar.  He also writes poems in Spanish in his free time about love, loneliness, and hope. Someday, he plans to return to Spain to find another beautiful Spanish girl.  When he does, he will play a flamenco  song he wrote for her.  He hopes that she will realize that his herz vestecht (heart understands) Spanisch, and they will live in one of Ludwig’s fairytale castles happily ever after.

castle ludwig IINeuschswanstein Castle

Andoryu-san from Tokyo

Andoryu-san was born in Tokyo, but he was raised in the town of Koriyama in the Fukushima Prefacture of northeastern Japan.  Despite being Japanese, Andoryu-san thinks that most Japanese people ere fake, superficial, and pretentious.  They do something or love somebody not because they want to, but because they think they have to since everyone else expects them to do it.

japanAndoryu-san also resents that Japanese society is still sharply divided into social classes and castes. When he was eight years old, he had a friend named Masai-kun.  Masai-kun lived with his mother and sister on “the other side  of the railroad tracks.”   Somehow, they survived with no electricity and warm water. A lot of times they didn’t have anything to eat. Andoryu-san’s parents owned a chain of supermarkets in Japan. To help Masai out, Andoryu-san would bring food to him and his family.  Eventually, he got caught and his parents forbade him from ever talking to Masai. The reason wasn’t the food, but who it was given to.  Masai belonged to the Burakumin group or the “village people,” who were considered to be “impure.”

burakuminAndoryu’s family take great pride in their history, and they know it very well. They can go back over 20 generations to their ancestors who were fierce samurai warriors who rode horses, fought with swords, practiced Bushido(art of the warrior), and every once in a while committed harakiri (suicide with a sword). Over the generations, his family has grown into many people. They all keep in touch and get together for large family reunions in very expensive restaurants where they like to mingle with other “elites.” Today, Andoryu’s brothers and cousins work in the Japanese government, industry(Nissan), finance  (Nomura  Securities) and even the media(NHK).  Andoryu-san would spend summer vacation with different members of his family.  He would visit their mansions and gardens in downtown Tokyo, Fukushima, Koriayama, or Aizu-Wakamtsu.

aizu castleAizu Wakamatsu Castle

However, his favorite childhood memories are of him staying in his uncle’s Takeo’s home in a village called  Miyo.  The village is not far from Lake  Inawashiro, where Andoryu-san  would fish, swim, and hike in the mountains with his childhood friends Nobuhiro-kun and Norio-kun. Afterwards, they would clean themselves in the local “onsen” (bathhouse), and play samurai with their kendo swords.

kendoDespite his “fairy-tale childhood” and family’s connections, Andoryu-san has always hated nepotism and vowed to “make it” on his own. He had good grades, and was admitted to the best school in Japan – the University of Tokyo. After many years, he graduated with a PhD in economics. His main research area of interest was behavioral economics.  He is fascinated by the effects of social, psychological, cognitive, and emotional factors on how people make decisions.  Especially, he is interested in how these factors impact decisions relating to money. Specifically,  he is interested in market prices, returns, and resource allocation.  Due to his hatred for nepotism, stubborn ways and bad temper, he had alienated and lost touch with most of his family, including his aunt Haruko and his older brothers Takushi and Toshiuki. After his father died, he now talks to them mostly through the family lawyer, Mr. Ichikawa-san.

Even after graduating with  his PhD in economics, he even had trouble landing a job. Eventually, he was able to become a senior research fellow at Fukushima University, where he continued writing research papers on behavioral economics.  However, after the Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, things changed. Andoryu- san decided to move back to Tokyo.  It was a tough decision.  Everyone told him it was  safe to stay where he was at, but he felt that “something just didn’t seem right.”  He had to take a pay-cut in order to become a junior research fellow at Keio University in Tokyo to be further away from the radiation.

radiation map of jpanaRadiation Map of Fukushima Dai-ichi Disaster

Andoryu-san says he speaks “very good In-ga-ri-shu.”  He fell in with America ever since he visited Tokyo Disneyland when he was five years old. Deep-down, Andoryu dislikes it whenever Americans come to Japan and act like “they own the place.”  That’s why, he loves to start his sentences with the words “In Japan” or “We Japanese”  whenever he talks to his international guests.  Andoryu-san loves traditional Japanese cuisine.  His favorite food of all time is zaru-soba noodles.  Even though he still likes to read Japanese manga (comics) and listen to J-pop, he also enjoys more traditional forms of entertainment.  He enjoys reading about Bushido, listening to Enka music, and watching re-runs of Abarenbo shogun.

abarenbo-poster

Abarenbo Shogun