Thursday, September 28, 2006

Scenes From A Memory

The following paragraphs are some of my random musings on life here and other memorable elements of the past 3 months...they will seem very unstructured and un-important I guess to some..but you gotta bear with it! :P

One notion that I had and that I will accept was wrong (something you will NOT see me doing often) is a certain mental picture I had of the people here. I don't know why, and maybe it was media-influenced but it was this notion about people here being kinda dumb and indifferent. OH NO...that is so wrong. Yea you do see certain Americans who may not be as brrrriiilliant as we Indians 'think' we are..but not everyone is! Far from it! I've seen so many extremely intelligent here that I'm very impressed. But more importantly, everyone is so nice to each other, something we can take a hint about. Like I said in my first post after reaching here, you do get to hear more ThankYou's and Excuse Me's and other general greetings here in an hour than you will in a day in India..why can't we be like that? I've always felt that we tend to use a "sorry" or a "thanks" as the greatest sacrifice we could do for a person. We have huge egos - we really do, and maybe we feel awkward and low doing it. But people usually tend to match their behaviour with others in the same environment. So when people greet you, say "Hi,How's it goin?" or "Good Day" you will gradually pick up and act the same way. It makes your day much better I tell you. Something I really think we Indians can be better at. Anywayz, what I wanted to say is, that is the most important thing I will remember about my stay here -the people. I've met so many nice people and have made some great friends too.

Ahhh..I zimbleee love eating..and trying out new stuff. So in a land where you find you get everything...the epicurean in me wanted to try everything! This led me on a mission to try out as many different cuisines as I could. Thankfully, some friends at office were huge food lovers too, and so they helped me out a lot cos they knew places here. Here's a list of the cuisines I've tried out -> Mexican - My favourite cuisine!!! Ohhh..I dig the enchiladas, the tacos..the burritos. Very spicy and extremely tasty I say! Authentic Chinese - very different from what the Chinese cuisine we have in India, that is actually "Indian-Chinese" I learnt. Thai - Similar to Chinese, but better - a lot of emphasis on pork! Korean - crazzy dishes..and very different too.I was shocked to find about 10 bowls of appetizers placed in front of me the first time I went..had no idea what to do! Beef bulgogi is everyone's favourite Korean dish. Phillipino - similar to Korean again..lots of dishes, lots of variety. Burmese (or Myanmarese?) - Very ethnic and spicy food - lots of meat again. Italian - Very saucy, and salsa-ish..the calzones and pasta are a must try! Spanish - again very classy like italian, but slightly different..bow down to the calamari. Japanese - I was very hesitant to try out stuff like 'raw fish' and 'raw octopus' at first..but boy! It's all in the mind I realized..sushi has become another favourite of mine..and using chopsticks is the most addictive and entertaining form of eating I say..I had to control myself to stop picking everything in sight with the chopsticks..cos the waiters started giving me dirty looks! :P

Well...television (atleast the 40 odd channels I had in my hotel) were pretty good, especially the Travel channel and the Food channel (awesome - makes me hungry all the time!) with the exception of a few channels...I mean..I had like 5 ESPN channels, and all showed only american football and baseball! When you don't get to watch, everything sucks! But something has changed. You see, I was never a talk-show lover..but after coming here...I've hardly missed NBC's Tonight Show (with Jay Leno) and the Late Night Show (with Conan O'Brien). SNL (Saturday Night Live) has become another favourite of mine. It's the best way to learn about everyday headlines (I don't get to read the papers here...rather no time!), you do get to see celebrities and beautiful women speak, you get to see the usual suspects made fun of (top priorities being Bush and P.Hilton). And some jokes can crack anyone up...get this one from SNL.."Demi Moore turned 42 today but she says she feels like a 26-year old inside." hee hee heeee.

Momentary Lapses of Reason
There have been some unforgettable incidents in the past 3 months...for instance, my two-day NYC trip..I honestly believe that New York has the highest percentage of "hot" females in the world..almost everyone I saw walking in the streets could have passed off for some Victoria Secret model man! Well..another unforgettable incident was my NYC subway incident. *sigh* We've had some really funny happenings too. During one of our (my projectmate and I) many dangerous experiments with cooking here, we burnt something up so bad that the smoke alarm in our room started blaring...and we had no idea what to do..after many attempts to stop the stupid thing from whining, my projectmate started hitting it and finally wrenched it out from its socket! (Gulp! I still have to checkout). My projectmate-the-destroyer left for India last week. Well, the next night after he left, I was sleeping soundly when I started hearin LOUD sirens in my sleep..I was startled out of my slumber - and then realized that the sirens were for real. So loud that my ears hurt. I looked at the time and it was 3:35am, and then it struck me what the sounds where -FIRE ALARMS. I got out of bed and stepped out of my room into the corridor, to see lights flashing everywhere.Many females from adjacent rooms were running out screaming. Other sleepy hotel guests like me were stepping out of their rooms too and getting out. I didn't feel like getting out into the cold, so I stood their waiting (what for dumbo!!?). Well, I had no idea cos I was inside, but within 10 minutes two fire engines arrived. Next thing I see is a group of men, heavily equipped and wearing yellow, walking towards me in the corridor. Here's the weird part, I had gone to sleep watching a show called Engine 54- about this firehouse that was involved in the 9/11 tragedy and how the firemen that day became heroes. And when I saw these men walking towards me, it was just as I had seen it on TV a few hours in slow-motion, and I almost had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't still alseep and dreaming. They then started shouting, "Sir, you have to get out please!" and so I snapped back to reality and ran out. All of us hotel guests stood out there in the blistering cold (Eminem lyrics? Stan?) for 15 minutes and then they came and informed us that it was only a false alarm. Bah!

It's been a nice 3 months.
I feel kinda sad leaving this nice place.
But nothing beats your home and your motherland, I can't wait to get back!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

DC Travel Logs-IV

Alright...this is the last post about my visits to DC's major tourist places...nothing much to say about it too. We next went to the 'most loved' American's house...yea..I am tellin ya, he is sooooo loved by his fellow Americans, it is untrue. Not a day goes by without me seeing a joke about him either on the net or on television...they have a public comic scapegoat, and they make sure they don't stop at anything while tryin to make an a** out of him...or they have to try THAT hard? cos I thought he does all the hard work himself :P've obviously understood whom I'm speakin about..the man - the machine - the President himself..Mr. Bush. Yup..that's were we went next - the White House. Wait a sec, I'd better rephrase that...we went near the White House..haha..not near also..a mile away!! Cos you only get to go as near it as its huge boundary steel fences will allow you..and that's pretty far..but the funny thing is...the place is crowded! There are like 100s of people standing out there like fools and squinting their eyes trying to spot him I guess..well, they day I went, he was away holidaying (how many vacations does he take!) at Camp David. Anywayz, the tourists just stand there and keep taking pictures, and what not. I think the view with your behind to the White House is better, cos you get a very good shot of the Monument.

Well..I spent like 10 minutes there, mostly trying to take good pics with my cam on its full 8x opt zoom..and then left. The Federal Triangle area nearby is very good also, you have the Spy Museum..the FBI headquarters, fountains, statues..and a lot of sesski buildings. Like I've said before..ahh-s0-classy these redskins. (All of them are RedSkin fans ofcourse). Ohh yeaah..I forgot to add, very classy equals very costly. Most of the eateries and restaurants in downtown DC are damn expensive. The shops are even more expensive. Well I guess one should expect that in cities like these too. I saw one snazzy restaurant having around 5 flags outside their building, and surprise..surprise..the Indian flag was there too! The DC Visitor Center is a few blocks away, and is so elegant and majestic..this is where they have concerts etc take place. It's weird, they have memorials and statues at almost every block. You keep wondering if you're in a modern city or an ancient historical site. I think its a nice mix of both really, which makes it one of those special cities that has a bit of everything..

Have to stop now...
more about life here tomorrow.

spot the house


8x better

view of the Capitol from within the city

The DC Vistor Centre

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

DC Travel Logs-III

Okay a quiz question first....

Think Hollywood...
Think long rows of white headstones...
Hear any bells ringing? ( I mean in your head, not in the church across the road!)

think........ think......... ok time's up!

The Arlington National Cemetery is the answer.

Now, the Arlington National Cemetery is the other place that I was looking forward to visiting (like the Capitol), and I'd been pestering my projectmates to come along with me ever since we got here. To which they replied, "What?! Are you crazy? you wanna go and visit a cemetery??!!" Now honestly, I didn't know much about it, but I'd heard about it ....from..I don't know where exactly....yeah maybe from watchin a lot of movies...! But anyways, just to atleast convince them to accompany me, I was like "C'mon guys...this is no ordinary cemetery...I've heard its special!...C'mon!!! please!!"

Truly speaking,
I had no idea how un-ordinary it was.
I had no idea how special it was.

Until we got there.

Techincally, the cemetery isn't actually in DC, its just opposite DC in Arlington County, Virginia, across the Potomac (the name of the river that runs along these areas, and the name of a good pizza outlet too :P). It's situated very near to the Pentagon and we went there on a hot sunny day, right after my excellent Pentagon photography lesson.

Now this place is steeped in history...I literally mean steeped..(cos major parts of it are atop a hill too). Well, it is an American military cemetery primarily, and it was established during the American Civil War. 260,000 people have been laid to rest here. It has graves of some of the most important people of the USA - Presidents, Chief Justices, but most importantly, the soldiers who served during the 1st World War, the 2nd World War, victims of the Iraq and Afghanistan US exploits, ranging all they way back to those slain in the American Revolution.

The place is huge, across many acres, and it is impossible for a person to walk and visit the cemetery's most important sites. Well, maybe not impossible, but very tough atleast. So there are plenty of bus tours that operate within the cemetery, and these take you to places..where..where a tourist would wanna go. And these tours are guide-accompanied, so you get to learn a lot too. Our guide was a cheery old guy called Mervin. We first went to well, the most important site of all - the grave of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Not just his, his wife Jacqueline's, and their son's and daughter's too. Fours graves aligned in a row. And adorned by the Eternal Flame, that has been lit at the head of the tomb. The Eternal Flame supposedly is never put off and burns brightly throught the year, 365*24*7. Mervin told us that reportedly, after JFK was shot dead, he was going to be buried at their home estate, but Jacqueline said that he "belonged to the people" and so, America's most loved president was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery. Just a few yards away is the tomb of his brother, Robert F Kennedy, that is symmetrically just across and below the Arlington House - the mansion of Robert E. Lee (who once owned this whole estate and used to live here before it was converted into a cemetery).

From the JFK site, we went to the site which perhaps, is so famous, many people use it as an alias for the cemetery's name, 'The Tomb of the Unknowns'. Formerly known as 'The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier', this site is what can be picturised by the "long rows of white headstones" image. It has the graves of unknown soldiers from both the World Wars and the Korean War. Mervin told us that it used to contain an unknown soldier from the Vietnam War, but they later identified the person, and the body was exhumed and moved to another location as per his family's wishes. We got to witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony which takes place every half-hour at the tomb memorial, cos there is a guard standing at the Tomb of the Unknowns at any time of the day. It was brilliant watching the solemn ceremony take place, as a new guard took his slot and replaced the guard who had been there. Reminded me of the beginning scenes of 'A Few Good Men'. Anyways, after that we went to the Lee Mansion, which has been made a tourist location, however with a lot of the furniture in the house (used by George Washington too) preserved and kept the exact same way it has been since ages. A short walk to the Memorial Amphitheater was next - amazing architecture again, as a lot of DC is. We then covered the rest of the cemetery, and other famous tombs of people were pointed out. The whole place is so serene and peaceful, and the authorities have made sure that tourists respect and honour the rules within the cemetery.

Here's a piece of trivia - contrary to what most people think, atleast what I used to think, Mervin told us that the cemetery is still very much an active cemetery - in the sense, on an average, atleast 25 people are buried there! And this rate the cemetery would get saturated in another 20 years, and then it would cease to be active.

We spent half-the-day there...and then went on to our next tourist location...random tourists in a foreign land.

However....those long rows of white headstones will remain etched in our memories forever.


JFK tomb

Changing of the Guard

The Amphitheater

View of DC and the Potomac - from the Lee tomb (in front of his mansion)

Monday, September 25, 2006

DC Travel Logs-II

The Smithsonians
The Smithsonian Museums are among the most famous in the world. They are situated at different locations around the National Mall, and are a total of seven in number...or eight? or maybe even more! hehe..I'm not sure actually...let me list them down --

1. National Museum of American History
2. National Museum of Natural History
3. National Gallery of Art
4. National Muesum of the American Indian
5. National Air and Space Museum
6. National Museum of African Art
7. National Portrait Gallery seems there a few more..(atleast wikipedia tells me so) but these are the main ones anyway. Well, the sad part is (gulp) I visited only one of these (boo hoo hoo). You see, I'd actually planned to visit atleast 3-4 musuems the day I first went to the National Mall, but I ended up spending the whole day (really!) in one of them, arguably the best of them - the National Air and Space Museum. It was so huge and so spellbounding that I didn't realise time flying by. Okay, the first thing - which I feel makes these museums extra special - all of them are open free to public - something that makes me really appreciate the Smithsonian Institution - I mean, they could make so much money if they had priced tickets or something, cos people would still throng here to see them, but they haven't and that's awesome.

Well, like many other places I've been to here, the Air and Space Museum was an experience in itself. It supposedly houses the largest collection of the world's aircraft and spacecraft. The place is SO huge, I tell ya, even one day is not enough if you wanna religiously go and learn about each exhibit. Along with loads of attractions like WWII planes and other aircraft, it has four prized posessions - the original Wright 1903 flyer, the Spirit of St.Louis - in which Charles Lindbergh made the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean (yea yea, this lazy guy did a lil bit of learning too), the Apollo 11 command module, and the "Rock from the Moon". The Museum also has a huge 3-storey store, restaurants, flight-simulator machines, etc etc. Ohh yeah, another thing I noticed while walking around was the number of Indians...crazzzzy! almost every 3rd person I saw was an Indian - I'm not kiddin! - I kinda had to remind myself constantly that I wasn't back in India.

Well, the two most exciting places for me in the Museum was the Albert Einstein Planetarium and the Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater. *sigh* We watched the 20-minute show called Infinity Express in the Planetarium, which was basically about the Universe - was so beautiful I tell ya, but wasn't totally new to me cos of having gone to the Planetarium in Trivandrum about 4-5 times. What totally - I repeat, to-ta-lly, blew me away was the IMAX experience. We saw "Magnificent Desolation", a 42 minute 3D-show about the trips to the moon - ( now get this) -written, produced and narrated by Tom Hanks. After getting out, I was so-much-still-in-disbelief-cos-of-whole-damn-thing that I just wanted to go in and experience it again. Well...I can't write about it...was that damn good! :P

No actually, its pretty late, and I have to stop now. More about DC tomorrow.

The Smithsonian Institution Castle

Aircraft here, there, everywhere

Wright Bros. Flyer

Original Buzz Aldrin spacesuit

Outside the theater

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Countdown...

has Begun.

My trip out here has come down to its last 7 days.
And so I've decided, as much as I can, to write a post everyday, describing and reflecting on my travels and experiences in this foreign land, until the day I take my flight. where do I start? Right here..Right now.

DC Travel Logs-I

Since I hadn't written anything on my local travels here in DC (except the post about the weird Pentagon incident), cos I'd decided on writing them all in sequence, I think I should start right there. My stay for the last 3 months has been in the sleepy town of Rockville - quiet, peaceful and amazingly scenic. It many ways it reminds me of the Shire..and looking at the vast stretches of green and the huge trees, I sometimes almost expect Merry and Pippin to rush out from behind the bushes, with bags of stolen carrots. Well, this place is just 15-20 minutes away from "proper" or rather downtown which I mean, the National Mall, the White House and all that jazz. Travelling is pretty easy also, cos the metro is such an easy and comfortable way of going places. Sitting on the metro and just studying the different people aboard is so satisfying (seriously!) in many ways. People reading books, kids furiously tapping away on their PSPs, couples sitting n giggling close together, and ALMOST everyone listening to their shuffles, nanos and iPods. It's amazing how one amazing company can amazingly change peoples lives with one amazing product. (More on that in a later post ;))

Hmmm..I digress too much at times, (who cares!) but I'll try and force myself to stick to what I feel I should write upon. So the first place I wanted to see when I got my first free weekend here (which surprisingly was almost a month after I'd landed here!) was to go see the, no..not the White House..not the Pentagon..but something else that had caught my fancy ever since I'd watched Independence Day in my 7th std. In the movie, it was literally pulverzied by a bluish greenish laser beam from the alien spaceship. If you remember, it was the US Capitol (Something I've noticed many people actually mistake for the White House). Now the US Capitol building (which can be likened to India's Parliament) is situated at one end of the National Mall - the one place in DC almost every tourist would first go to (something like our Brigade Road?) cos it's oh-so-famous and oh-so-beautiful. The long-stretch of green is one landmark you can head to and be confident of finding everything else you want to see, cos it has the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian Museums, a lot of Memorials, and the US-Capitol on its perimeter. It's pretty tiring to walk from one end to the other, cos its almost 2 miles in length! Anyway, in terms of metro-connectivity, the Metro Center and the Union Station are the best, and the former is where you would wanna get down if you wanted to reach the Mall fastest.

The Washington Monument is what would first catch your attention when you reach the National Mall cos its so huge and striking. You can see it from practically anywhere in downtown DC. The US Capitol is almost a mile away from the Monument but is still very majestic from even such a long distance. As you get closer to the US Capitol, you can't help but admire the architecture of the building, the greenery surrounding it, and the astounding symmetery of the Mall, making the whole experience breath-taking, and very photo-friendly. My friends and I made the long walk all around the Capitol, and behind it to the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court buildings, all the while gaping at how artistic each structure was. That is something that would differentiate downtown DC from other places here - class. Everything looks so classy and polished, I guess they want the Capital to hold its head high, worthy of its position in the US of A. And I'm not just speaking about these special buildings, even regular buildings and streets have this proudness about them that you don't see anywhere else.

Pics for now, more tomorrow.


The Monument - view from the Capitol

The US Capitol and the Reflecting Pool

Capitol - view from the right

View from the Capitol gardens

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Indian Sweatshops two-week long hiatus from blogging has been ended with this post I hope, if I get around to posting it.

You see, the time is well past 3:00am on a Friday night, and you can't be blamed if the question popped up in your mind, "Why break the silence in the dead of the night?" Well, I have my reasons. And quite a few of them too. First of all, I'm in a slightly foul mood - for the most vaguest of reasons you can well argue. And as the saying goes - "Don't go to bed mad. Stay up and fight", I've decided to stay up and fight out a mental battle, not against anyone in particular, not as much as to reach any logically satisfactory solution, but maybe just to let my thoughts out. Maybe I've surpressed them for some time now. Now, the reason for all this does not concern my personal life, so this mood is not emotionally-driven I add. But it does concern me in the exact same way it concerns you too, depending on what your profession and nationality is. If the answer to the first is "the IT industry" and the second is "Indian", you may fall into a similar scope, else you can be satisfied this does not concern you in anyway, close this page, and be on your way to more productive things.

Well, I'll add a disclaimer now - "This post in no way relates or refers to any specific company, or people, or person. If you feel this way, it may just be an unfortunate co-incidence, and I'm sorry about it, but not sorry enough to accept any blame."

Okay, the reason for my unrest is a well-used word, that the White man fears. The fear that there is some dark-skinned person out there who may take over his/her job tomorrow. OUTSOURCING.
Ahh..I could stop right now and be happy, but no, I'd like to be a bit more verbose and go on. Don't get me wrong, Outsourcing is very good for India and her economy. It also make us Indians proud, thinking "Aaahh...we're smarter than them, that's we are stealing their jobs." But think about it, why are we getting their jobs? Every businnes is profit-driven. What's one way to increase profits? Cut down your costs. And that's exactly where we come in, we actually "help" them in getting their costs reduced and thus boosting their businesses. There are smart people all over the world. But not all smart people are ready to work cheap. Sadly, we can't help it. That's the way our service industry has been structured. We are selling ourselves to any buyer who has the money to offer. In the end, ofcourse your company is helped too, their cash resgiters are ringing too, but what about you? Do you have the satisfaction that you need to have about the hours you've put in? Or don't you care as long as you get something in your account at the end of the month? If so, do you realise that what you just got is what someone else working in a different country in a similar job like yours made in less than a week? My friend just commented upon this a few hours back, when he said "This body-shop wages per hour work is non-sense. This attitude of taking all what the client assigns - makes us look that we are desperate for work and will do anything for $10 or more". Do we need to be like this? Unfortunately the whole Indian IT Industry is fiercely competitive, trying to bag offers (read better cash - not better work) from foreign clients, by saying "Pick us! Pick us!! We have more bench strength than Company-X, we 'supposedly' have more specialized people for your work than Company-Y, we are ready to work for 20$ lesser per hour than Company-Z!!" Ultimately we (the employees, not the employers) are just pawns used in a deal.

I have a lot more to say...but I have to stop now. However, I stress again - instead of being more of a cheap labour workforce, I hope we can soon reach a state that is the simplest of words, atleast different from what it is now.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

I feel pretty!

Thank God for the US-Open! I atleast have sumthing to watch on TV while the storm rages on outside.
This is my favourite ad on TV right now....It is "pretty" funny and Sharapova (as always) looks "pretty" pretty also.

Check it out!


Damn Ernesto.

Damn Ernesto.

Damn Ernesto.

Damn Ernesto.

Damn Ernesto.

Damn, Damn B.Becker~!