Sunday, June 29, 2008

GOA...

...was phenomenal. was amazing. was fantastic. was the best time I've had in a long time.

We had decided a few weeks ago that we absolutely couldn't miss seeing Goa, the beach and party capital of India, and last weekend 16 of us spent a lazy, sunstruck, beach-filled few days at Bogmalo Beach in North Goa. Let's start at the very beginning (a very good place to start . . . shout out to my friends in SC in the State Theater's Sound of Music last weekend!)

8 people took Friday off work and flew down to Goa on Friday afternoon. I, however, am budgeting very carefully after figuring out just how much I was spending (it's easy to spend a lot here because everything is SO cheap). So, I joined the other half of us in taking an overnight sleeper bus from Bangalore to Goa. After a panicky cab ride through Bangalore-- we had to get the ONE slow, safe driver in the ENTIRE city and were terrified that we would miss the bus-- we made it with minutes to spare. The bus was like any other bus, except instead of seats it had cramped, bunked beds. On either side of the aisle there were the equivalent of a set of twin bunk beds, with two people to a bunk. I settled down for the night with my friend Katya, so at least I didn't have to share with a stranger. The bus made bathroom stops every four hours during the night; however, it proved to be quite comfortable and easy to go right to sleep, waking up the next morning in Goa. Not such a bad way to travel, especially at 750 rupees rather than 3000 for a flight!

When we got off the bus in Goa at 11am on Saturday, we were immediately hit by the heat and humidity of the new state. We're definitely spoiled with Bangalore's high altitude and amazing climate. We boarded a cab and were at Manav's house by noon.

About Manav's house . . . it's absolutely beautiful. His parents have a 3-4 story house that's a ten-minute walk from Bogmalo Beach (you can see the Arabian Sea from the rooftop terrace). There were plenty of beds and couches to fit 16 people, and the house is only a few minutes from restaurants, resorts, and of course the beach. As soon as we dumped our stuff, we went to a little place called Claudi's that served Goan specialties in addition to standard Indian fare; Goan cuisine is defined by both its Portuguese heritage and its ready access to fresh seafood. And of course, everywhere there's Kingfisher-- no restaurant is complete without it here, especially in Goa since the guy who owns both the airline and the beer lives in North Goa.

Then to the beach. One of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen, with palm trees everywhere and beautiful hills and crashing surf. The water wasn't too safe to swim in because it was monsoon season, so of course we went in anyway (but didn't go out too far . . . don't worry, we were safe!) . The beach itself was pretty empty since it's not tourist season, but our presence drew out several of the locals and we were once again called upon for pictures. I have got to learn how to stick with a group, since it's only when I lag behind that people do that to me. Anyway, we lounged around the beach for a while, swimming and reading and sunning, and then back to the house to change for dinner. Most people walked, but I convinced my friend Amit to give me a ride on the back of the motorcycle he had rented for the weekend. That was probably one of the coolest things I did all weekend-- ride a motorcycle through the jungle, hurtling along a path through tall rainforest trees with not a house or another soul in sight.

We all cleaned up for dinner and then headed out in cabs to a small open-air restaurant across from Tito's, the hottest club in Goa. Apparently in peak season (December) you can't get within five blocks of the place with a car, it's so popular. After dinner (about 11pm) we headed to Tito's for dancing and having fun, and it did not disappoint-- its reputation is well-deserved :) The only trouble came when we tried to go walk on the beach . . .

So we went to walk on the beach, and a few people (not heeding the warnings from the rest of the group) decided to dip their toes in the water. Then the trouble started. We were approached by some local policemen and told that you can't be on the beach right now, it's not safe. Which is fine, so we called to the two people who had gone down to the water to come out. But too late, the corrupt and bored policemen had gotten the scent of rich foreign tourists and were not going to come out of it without a bribe in their pockets. As other people (native Indians I guess) streamed out onto the "unsafe" beach, the policemen ignored them and threatened to take us to the station etc etc. The conversation was all conducted in Hindi with me and the other non-Indians a good distance away, so I'm not quite sure what transpired. All I know is that it involved much apologizing, much restrained/disguised exasperation and even some fake crying on the part of the two guys trying to get us out of the whole situation. In the end, they managed to get us away without a bribe or anyone going down to the station, and insist that nothing could possibly have happened and that the guy was just a lowly constable with no power, but it was still a little scary (and makes a good story to tell).

We stayed at Tito's till 3am, then boarded the cabs for the 1.5 hour drive back to the house, where we crammed 16 people into five bedrooms, and slept until the sun woke us the next day at 11am. The next stop was Sunday lunch at Martin's Corner, Goa's most famous restaurant. The restaurant had definitely soaked up the attitude of Goa-- relaxed, laid-back and never in a hurry-- so we spent a good 3 hours enjoying dishes of vindaloo, xacuti, prawns balchao, paneer tikka, and the specialty of Goa, bebinca (a six layer flourless cake with ice cream). After we had digested enough to move again, we headed back to the house to pack and clean, enjoying one last cup of chai on the rooftop terrace before driving to the airport. Although I was sad to leave Goa, I was definitely excited to be back in Bangalore's cool climate and my own room and bed in the ECC. Back to work now, but I'm sure there will be more adventures to come!


The overnight bus


Typical Goa-- Martin's corner and Kingfisher

Ami and Yana, interns from Chennai <3

George and Tejas being bhai, or gangster.


Beautiful Bogmalo Beach

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

On a cappella, volleyball, and parentheses

So Monday was a very eventful day. I got to work in the late morning (I'm working about 10am-7:30 or 8 now, most of the time) to find my cubicle abuzz with talk about the big game that evening . . . apparently every few months, the PLES Department (Product Lifecycle and Engineering Solutions, my department here) has some kind of sports tournament between the production teams. By production team, I mean a group of about 5-20 people working for a single client, like the Boeing team, the Airbus team, etc. The guys in my cubicle work for Triumph, and although I'm not officially on a team (since I'm doing my own, independent project), they've kind of adopted me. The three guys in my cubicle--Arjun, Rohan, and Parampal) will take me out for coffee, send me funny email forwards, and tell me stories and give me advice on traveling and India in general. I've gotten to know the other members of the team (about 15 guys) a little as well, as our cubicle is sort of a hangout place and there are often 6 or 7 people crowded around Arjun's computer, next to mine. They're mostly between 20 and 30, I think, so it's pretty easy to joke around and hang out with them at work. They also give me samosas sometimes :)

Anyway, for the past week my team has been super intense about this volleyball tournament with practices and strategies and whatnot. They named their team the Incredi-ples, after the Pixar movie. But I thought I would share one of the more hilarious dialogues that went on a few days ago:

Arjun: Do you know how to play volleyball?
Me: Of course I do. In the States, you have to learn it in school, and you sometimes go to other people's houses and play during the summer.
Arjun: you do??? we learned how to play three days ago! (to Rohan, the team captain) Rohan, she knows how to play! She learned it in school!
Rohan (astonished): What? If I had known that I would have put you on our team! You get two extra points for having a girl!!!
Me: (tries really hard not to laugh)

Ah well, I guess engineering is pretty much the same, despite geographical boundaries. Anyway, I agreed to go to the volleyball game, take pictures, and cheer on the team. However, my student mentor Nidhi wanted me to attend another event that evening-- the Stanford a cappella group Raagapella was coming to give a performance, and she was deathly worried that none of the interns would come. Since she knew I was involved with a cappella at school, she made me promise to bring all the other interns.

So at 5:30 pm I dragged a bunch of other interns to the amphitheater (yes, we have one on campus) to hear this random South Asian a cappella group from Stanford, where we were pretty much used as marketing for Infosys (look at the InStep interns! look how young and enthusiastic and diverse they are!) but I didn't mind. The group wasn't bad-- they definitely had their moments-- but mostly it just made me really, really miss Katzenjammers (If any of you are reading this . . . get pumped, because fall is going to be awesome!).

After the concert, I hurried over to the volleyball match, where my team was playing best of three against another team. I caught the last part of the second game, which we won, and all of the third game. It was hard to believe that these guys had learned to play volleyball just three days before the game; from my completely unskilled point of view, they were quite good. I'll let you decide for yourself-- I've included a video below :) But after an intense, close match, they won the game! So they're advancing in the tournament, and I will continue to take pictures and maybe even play, to give them those extra points. hahaha.

The rest of this week has been pretty uneventful, although I am still constantly trying and experiencing new things. Yesterday was our first Bollywood dance workshop, run by the indefatigable Manav, and I'm planning on going to his classes twice a week (we're learning a dance from Naacho! whoa!). Yesterday I went out into the city with a few friends and shopped and bargained along Commercial Street, where I bought a salwaar kameez, altered to fit me exactly (I'm going to wear it to work in a few minutes and it is SO comfortable). We went to dinner at a place called Angeethi, famed for its mango lassi. Although I was unimpressed by the lassi, the food was AMAZING. North Indian food is definitely much better than South Indian food. My new favorite is Navratan Korma, a vegetable dish that means "Nine-jewel Korma" (korma = mild creamy sauce full of vegetables etc), since there are nine different kinds of fruits and vegetables (including pineapple sometimes!). I get really excited about food here (and everywhere, come to think of it).

I also think that I'm overusing parentheses. I'll have to work on that for next time.


Raagapella


My team, excited after the big win


Me and my team

video
A video of some of the game. My friend and cubicle-mate Arjun is making most of the hits, my other cubicle-mate Rohan is the team captain (the big guy in the front) and my last cubicle-mate, Parampal, is the one doing all the yelling :)

Monday, June 23, 2008

On a multiplicity of monuments -- Delhi/Agra

Last week in a nutshell:
Worked late every night due to limited software licensing and will continue to work till ~7:30 each night. bummerrrrrrr. Went out on Wednesday night to a club called Zero G, which is pretty popular (apparently sometimes visiting Bollywood stars come here when they're in Bangalore). Wednesday night is Bollywood/Punjabi music night so we were all trying to figure out how to dance that way . . . a challenge for me since I can't dance the regular way. right. BUT I am learning, and when I come back I will try out for Naacho (ha).

Also, I found a lizard in my room, caught him in a box, named him Ralph, and carried him outside.

On to the good stuff. This weekend's trip was to Delhi and Agra to do some virtually mandatory sightseeing, including the Taj Mahal. On Friday morning at 1:30am, about 30 interns set off on a bus to the airport (2 hours away) for a 5:45am flight to Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi. The flight was delayed by an hour, but we eventually arrived at 9:30 am in Delhi-- tired, grumpy, dirty and ready for a day of sightseeing (not). At the airport, 4 interns from Chennai and 1 intern from Pune joined us to board our 35-seater airconditioned bus, which would quickly become our home away from home (that is, home away from hotel away from Bangalore away from home). We picked up our tour guides, Ashish and Angelina (? I think that was her name but I can't remember), who were absolutely invaluable and stayed with us the entire weekend. Our first stop was the Akshardham Temple (right), built quite recently, which is apparently the largest comprehensive Hindu temple in the world (according to wikipedia). It was huge and quite beautiful-- and clean, a facet that I learned to appreciate as the weekend went on. They didn't allow cameras inside, so I had to be content with a postcard (of which I took a picture, in order to upload for your convenience).

The weather was quite hot, much hotter than Bangalore, so we were all grateful to be able to put on our shoes and head for the bus. Our next stop was a place called Qutub Minar, a giant minaret. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable about the history of each place we visited-- I'll spare you the details and let you read it on the wiki link if you want. But it was p cool-- there was also an iron obelisk in the middle that held some record that I forget. At the left, you can see my friend Steve with Qutub Minar, just to get a sense of the scale (it was enormous).

That was about all we had time for in Delhi that day, as we had to make the 6-hour drive to Agra that night. We stayed at the Howard Park Plaza in Agra, which was actually quite nice and more than I was expecting for the total price of the trip (we paid around 13000 Rupees for the entire tour, including airfare, accommodations, two meals, bus, and tour guide). Exhausted, we all collapsed for the night at around 11pm.

At 6am the next day we headed off for the Taj Mahal, the biggest site in Agra and pretty much the only reason people go there (there's not much else to see). However, we were rewarded for our early rising-- had we gone any later, the entire complex would have been closed due to a visit from the president of Syria (?!?!). It was beautiful; some of the marble work is absolutely exquisite. However, in the words of my friend Sasha: "you can't forget that there's a dead body in there." Too true :) We stayed at the Taj for about an hour and a half, took way too many pictures, and headed back to the hotel for breakfast at about 8:30. Our next stop was actually my favorite of the entire weekend-- we went to a marble factory, where they showed us how works like the Taj (but mostly smaller things like plates, vases, sculptures, and other artwork) are made. Each piece is hand-inlaid with semi-precious stones like lapis lazuli, turquoise, and garnet, and some of the pieces are absolutely beautiful. They didn't allow photography or else I would definitely have taken pictures. Only the lack of cash in my wallet prevented me from buying their entire stock; when I am rich and famous I will go back and do just that.

Our next stop was the Agra Fort, where Mogul emperors of India lived and quartered soldiers (picture at right is my friend Jon responding to the prompt: "make a fort face"). This was where the picture taking really got out of hand (by which I mean random Indians coming and asking to take pictures with me). It was bad at the Taj, but at the fort I seriously could not walk more than 15 feet without getting asked for a picture. Sometimes people even chased me down if I tried to walk away quickly. We also got videoed this time. What a weird feeling . . . maybe I shouldn't be rich and famous.

Last stop for the day was Fatehpur Sikri, a palace complex built by Akbar I think? It was basically old stone ruins with a great view of Agra, and also a pretty famous shrine absolutely covered with flies, stray dogs, and aggressive hawkers. Not my favorite site of the day, but maybe I was just tired. We drove back to the hotel at about 7pm, just in time to go out for NORTH indian food . . . which is SO much better than South Indian food. My new favorite: Navratan Korma. DELICIOUS.

The next day we were up early for the drive back to Delhi. We did some drive by sightseeing including the Lotus Temple and the Gateway to India, a big arch that looks like L'Arc de Triomphe in Paris (both are pictured at the end). We stopped at an open market for about an hour, which was crowded and crazy and awesome. Didn't buy anything but I'm determined to find one in Bangalore to test my bargaining skills.

We took a 7:30pm flight back to Bangalore and arrived at the ECC by 12:30am on Monday morning, where we all crashed and were up for work the next morning. I'll update again soon but I've got to run to work!



On being a tourist (attraction) -- Pondicherry


I am so behind on this blog it's not even funny. Seriously. So much has happened in the past week! Let's start with the end of last weekend . . .

We woke up early Sunday morning to take our bus to Pondicherry, stopping on the way at Mahabalipuran, an absolutely amazing collection of beautiful ancient temples and carvings (see left). There were hawkers absolutely everywhere, trying to sell us things but also willing to laugh and joke with us when we clearly weren't buying.


To the right is a bunch of interns holding up my current favorite stone formation: Krishna's Butter Ball. I kid you not. Krishna is definitely my favorite Hindu figure-- he plays the flute, fights snakes, and apparently loves butter. Not to mention he's blue, and therefore all-around awesome. Apparently the British tried to tip it over and couldn't, not even with seven elephants. Or nine, or ten, depending on which tour guide you talk to.

After Mahabalipuram, we went on to Pondicherry. Pondicherry is a former French colony, which is now officially named Puducherry. Which I think is hilarious, because it's role-reversal linguistic corruption (i.e. Bangalore is an English corruption of Bengaluru, the city's original name, whereas Puducherry is an Indian corruption of Pondicherry). Over the course of the day, I got my first real experience of being a human tourist attraction. Hundreds of Indian people (themselves tourists, coming to Pondicherry to enjoy its beaches and European flavor) stopped to stare at the parade of foreigners. Many stopped to take pictures; some were subtle, posing for pictures with us in the background, but others just walked up to us and asked to take pictures with us (some didn't even ask). It was probably the weirdest cultural disconnect I've had so far in India.

The beaches were pretty rocky and not good for swimming (see pic of Manav at left), but the promenade itself was nice. We decided to eat lunch at a little cafe that was outdoors-- no air conditioning, but great ambiance. Or so we thought.

We sat down and were looking at the French-influenced menu, which actually looked pretty good, when we looked into the courtyard and saw a couple of men scuffling with a teenage boy, who broke away and jumped over the fence while the men chased him with sticks. That's odd, we thought. And yet we didn't think to switch restaurants. We wait and wait and wait until finally someone goes to talk to the waiter, who explains rather grumpily in poor English that sorry, we were dealing with some trouble outside and could we please write down our orders. That's odd, we thought again, and were beginning to have some misgivings about our charming cafe. We wrote down the orders of about twelve people on a napkin and gave it to one of the grumpy waiters, noticing that at the moment we were the only patrons. That's odd, we thought, and seriously considered moving. HOWEVER, much to our (later) dismay, we remained at the cafe. We had to write down or order two more times, wait approximately seven months for our food to come, were told (after most people had gotten their food) that they did not have dishes x, y, and z; we were improperly billed, verbally abused by waiters, and remained free of any sort of service whatsoever. It was actually quite amusing in hindsight . . . at one point every male at the table went into the interior of the cafe to yell at the staff. Even Manav, the most even-tempered person I've ever met, was literally trembling with fury. You can see how Kersi and Steve felt about the cafe -->

After our wonderful cultural experience-- actually, exactly the opposite of any experience I've had here; usually people are extraordinarily warm and friendly--we walked around Pondicherry, bargained with hawkers, bought baguettes and cheese and fruit for dinner, and boarded the bus home. There's no national highway between Pondicherry and Bangalore, so we passed through many villages and back country areas on what was without a doubt the worst road I have EVER been on. Kind of like being on a roller coaster, actually. For seven hours. But we returned home safely, just in time to wake up for work the next day!

Oh, I also saw my first Bollywood movie(s) on the bus: Om Shanti Om, which is apparently really good (although it was so complicated and bizzare I needed an Indian to narrate the plot, despite having English subtitles), and a movie called Krrish, which is apparently really terrible even by Indian standards (although I quite enjoyed it, seeing as I fell asleep for an hour in the middle, woke up and realized the plot had moved nowhere and they were STILL SINGING AND DANCING and I hadn't missed anything).

Wow. Okay, there's tons more to write about but I've got to go grab some sleep before work tomorrow. I'll end this entry with pics of the beach and wedding in Chennai . . . enjoy!




Tuesday, June 17, 2008

InStep invades CHENNAI!

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I'm not exactly sure who reads this thing anyway. So yeah, after our adventures in Bangalore, the rest of the week passed pretty uneventfully. The InStep induction on Monday (InStep= the name of the internship program I'm doing) was probably the most notable thing . . . Narayana Murthy came, which is kind of a big deal. No, it actually is a big deal. He founded Infosys with about $250 back in 1981, and with his business model and values it's grown exponentially to be the multi-billion dollar corporation it is today. you can read about him here.

The induction was basically an introduction to Infosys as a company. I hadn't realized how big a global player Infosys really is-- although they're virtually unknown in the States, almost every major company outsources here. And when I say outsource, I don't just mean call centers and software. For instance, I work with a bunch of aerospace engineers who work indirectly for Boeing, Airbus, Lockheed Martin, etc.

Infosys is also a pretty cool company in other ways. For example, they're huge on sustainability. My keyring to my hostel room has a card on it that you need to turn on the lights in the room, so the lights are never left on. They use recycled water to do most of the landscaping, and try to conserve water and energy usage in general. Two of the interns are working on a project where Infosys is trying to build the most energy-efficient building in the world-- serious business. Infosys also does a lot through the Infosys Foundation, which does charity work throughout India.

So we had several hours of powerpoints on Infosys, India in general, cross-cultural sensitivity and anti-sexual harassment (gotta love corporate life), tea with the big guy (N. Murthy), and team building excercises (of course); then back to work. Work is kind of so-so right now; I'll post about it if there's anything interesting but for right now just assume that I'm either bored or indifferent.

The rest of the week passed uneventfully, and we decided to go to Chennai for the weekend since we were invited to the wedding of one of the other interns, Asif. I planned most of the trip, so it was pretty stressful to herd around 22 college students for the weekend. However, it was definitely a memorable trip! we started out on Friday evening (we had booked a minibus for the weekend WITH A/C) and drove to Chennai, a city about 6-7 hours east of Bangalore. We arrived at an Infosys-operated guesthouse in the city at about 1am after inexplicable delays, detours, and two Bollywood movies (my first ever). The next morning, we joined forces with the amazing Chennai interns (17 of us, 5 of them) to see a little bit of Chennai. We spent some time at India's oldest and largest shopping mall, more like an indoor bazaar, and the world's longest stretch of urban beach (but most definitely NOT the cleanest). One really interesting thing is that you basically become a tourist attraction at places like this; people come up to you and ask to take your picture, and they yell "HI!!!!" because it's one of the only phrases they know, and are genuinely delighted if you say hi back. There were tons of kids at the beach, and a lot of them would follow us and talk to us. We couldn't go out into the surf because it's monsoon season and the riptides are pretty strong.

In the afternoon we went back to the guesthouse to get ready for the wedding; we had all purchased formal Indian clothes on Thursday night in Bangalore, and we looked pretty fabulous. The girls arrived at the wedding at 5pm to prepare for the wedding, where Asif's family treated us like royalty. We all got mehndi (henna) on our hands and jasmine in our hair; they even gave us anklets with bells on them. After we rejoined the guys, I'm pretty sure we took more pictures of each other than an overzealous parent before senior prom.

The nikkah (ceremony) started at seven theoretically, but since we're on Indian Standard Time it was more like eight. The wedding itself was huge-- hundreds, perhaps a thousand people gathered into a hotel ballroom lavishly decorated with gold and pink fabric and flowers, with a stage at the front. There were even two video screens set up along the sides with roving cameramen panning the crowd and zooming in on key details of the ceremony (kind of like a Jumbotron). It was actually a double wedding, two sisters (Sharmila and Fawzia); not marrying two brothers sadly. The ceremony was interesting; I'd never been to a Muslim wedding before. The bride and groom sign the marriage contract in separate rooms and only then are brought together; all the male family members stand by the groom and all the female family members by the bride. I couldn't understand much though, because everything was in Urdu.

After the ceremony was the most delicious indian dinner I have ever had in my life. It was amazing. Highlights include: some kind of vegetable korma, some kind of paneer (I need to get better at remembering names) but the highlight was definitely the dessert, which was my favorite indian food: gulabjamen and vanilla ice cream. ahhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Okay the rest of the Chennai trip will have to be in a different entry because no one will read this one if it gets too long, plus I don't want to write any more today.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

On Driving

Advice on driving in India:

1. The driver sits on the right side. If you are riding, don't try to get into the cab on that side.
2. Drive on the left side of the road, at least most of the time.
3. Don't try to wear a seat belt. If you do, you will find that the belts themselves exist but they don't actually have buckles.
4. If a cow has decided to cross the road, there's nothing you can do about it.
5. If several cows have decided to cross the road, you should probably just turn off the car and wait.
6. If goats, stray dogs, or people have decided to cross the road, full steam ahead and hope that they get out of the way.
7. The lines on the road don't mean anything. Driving into oncoming traffic is totally permissible.
8. Even if it looks like you can't possibly squeeze the cab in between two other vehicles, just go for it and honk a lot, they will move.
9. Do not let your speedometer fall below 90 km/hr.
9. Honk loudly and enthusiastically. This translates to "Get out of my way, I'm coming." Especially useful for going around corners if you are going too fast to avoid unexpected obstacles.

----------------------------------------------------------

India is amazing. I had a few more adventures into the city, including the memorable FRRO registration . . . I'm not sure what it stands for, but apparently all foreigners with certain types of visas have to register within 14 days of arrival in India. So on Friday at 9:30am, ten or so interns squeezed into cabs and headed to a tiny, dusty government office in downtown Bangalore, where we each were supposed to hand in a thick sheaf of forms, photocopies of forms, pictures, photocopies of visas and passports, etc. Theoretically, we would then receive a stamp on our visas and be done. However, this proved to be easier said than done.

We stood in line for a cumulative total of eight hours, trying to get the paperwork done. However, the man behind the counter may have been the most unpleasant person I've ever had the disappointment of meeting. Each time we finished waiting through the line and approached the desk, he found another thing wrong with someone's form and made us fix it and go back to the end of the line. Often it was something like the photocopy having one word of text missing, necessitating new copies of everything. Or one person had forgotten to fill in one box, which was self evident anyway. Manav, who was familiar with Indian bureaucracy, took charge of the group and worked with the Infosys employee who had come with us to make sure that everything was done correctly. Finally, desk-guy got sick of us and yelled at the Infosys employee to just give him the forms. Eying Manav, he said "you can come too . . . but don't bring the foreigners." HILARIOUS. but definitely the worst day so far.

I spent most of the weekend in the city. Saturday morning, we went to the Bannerghatta Zoo. I don't know what I was expecting-- certainly not an American zoo-- but I was saddened by what I found. All of the animal enclosures were small and not well kept, and you could tell that the animals were unhappy. It was depressing. Normally I feel that the educational value of zoos outweighs the captivity of animals as long as they are treated well, but this was not an example of that. We did see several monkeys not in cages . . . they jumped on and robbed another zoogoer of a plastic bag full of stuff, only to discard it when no food was found (I'll try to figure out how to put up pictures soon! I promise!). There was also a lion and tiger safari.

We had lunch in the city and walked around Bangalore for a while, seeing various landmarks like the Parliament building and several memorial statues and gardens. As the group dwindled down to Ami, Sasha and I, we asked our cab driver Khan to take us to Lalbagh botanical gardens, famous for their beauty. Bangalore is known as the garden city of India.

Lalbagh was absolutely beautiful, but the best part was that Khan actually left his taxi and gave us a tour of the gardens, telling us stories for almost every landmark. He told us stories of Hindu mythology, ancient Sultans who fought tigers with their bare hands, and more. He then took us to a temple to Ganesh (who, among other things, is the god of wisdom), where rats were allowed to roam free through the temple as Ganesh's preferred mode of transportation. We went on to the Bull Temple, home to the largest bull in India carved from a single piece of granite. I'm not sure which god this temple was for . . . maybe Shiva? I think Shiva rides on bulls. Khan then helped us buy MANGOES from a street vendor, which we ate right then and there. Mangoes are probably the most delicious thing known to man.

In the evening, we met up with some other interns to see the Iskcon Temple (International Society for Krisha Consciousness), which was built in 2000 and is enormous. Thousands of people stood in line to worship golden statues of Krishna, one of the gods. As far as I can remember, Krishna is an incarnation of Vishnu, the Sustainer. He's most often depicted with blue skin, playing the flute. It was definitely an experience, but probably not one I care to repeat.

After the temple, we walked around the crowded city, grabbing pizza for dinner and sitting with coffee (Bangalore's equivalent of Starbucks is Cafe Coffee Day-- they're everywhere). It was a long, tiring day.

Today I went into the city again to shop, explore, and grab dinner with several friends at an Italian restaurant called Sunny's, a favorite of interns past. It was quite good, but pricey-- around ten dollars (I'm so spoiled-- an equivalent meal would cost about twenty dollars in the states!). The cabs took us back and we walked around Infosys campus for a little before calling it a night.

Sorry for the long post! I'm going to have to learn how to keep these short. Anyway, tomorrow is the big intern induction day-- interns from all over India have been flown to Bangalore for the ceremonies and to meet N. R. Narayana Murthy, who is the founder of Infosys and kind of a big deal. I'll take lots of pictures, and post them eventually!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

BANGALORE (kind of)

So here's my list of things that are different about Indian culture and attitudes. I'm sure it will grow as time goes on.

1) People here swerve to the LEFT when you're about to run into each other on bicycles.
2) Things are really, really, slow. Stuff doesn't get done very quickly.
3) People tend to value conversation and company more than work (i.e. let's get coffee, let's get breakfast, lunch, dinner, anything but work).
4) The food is dangerous. Seriously. I almost cried at lunch yesterday.
5) People are extraordinarily friendly and polite to a fault (i.e. hello, Indian Airlines? We have an intern that was supposed to have arrived yesterday and we don't know where he is. ...Yes? ... all right then. Okay, thanks! goodbye!).
6) They do a weird kind of head bobble thing-- it's in between nodding yes and shaking no. Just slightly bobble your head from side to side. It means "yes", "thank you", "maybe", "have a good day", or a whole host of other things.
7) ARRANGED MARRIAGES. they happen. and they're apparently often determined by astrology.

ahhhhhh there are so many others, but I forget them. I will remember and keep a running tally.

Anyway, Wednesday was marked by a complete lack of productivity. I didn't actually get to meet with my mentor until 10 . . . and then he told me to come back at 3. so I ran some errands, took some naps, got a phone (if you want the number and want to spend an obscene amount calling me, I'll give you the number because I can receive calls for free I think). Except, I met my mentor at 3 and it only took half an hour. Darn. bummed around some more and met all the other interns for coffee at 4, where we decided to spontaneously go into the city at 6. So we booked seven cabs for 30 interns-- tight fit for an hour's drive with no AC-- and off we went to a little bar called Legends of Rock, which is apparently famous for its live bands on wednesday night. ALL LIES. no live band. some people stayed for dinner, and eight of us went to a restaurant down the street that's apparently famous . . . two words and they both start with C, I'm so bad at Hindi/Kannada!

It was a total tourist trap (menus printed on silk, posters of Bollywood movie stars all over the walls and our placemats, beaded curtains and brightly colored cloth everywhere, waiters dressed in turbans) but the food was DELICIOUS! We just let Amit, Tejas, and Deepak order; the Hindi flew so fast that I couldn't understand it. Oh wait. I don't understand Hindi. Except I can count to 5 and I know the word for 'lentils'.

Anyway, it was a great time and I think we may make it a weekly tradition. The cab ride was arguably the most fun, especially riding back in my all-brown cab, where I got a 45-minute lesson in Indian culture.

Today was slightly calmer. I actually went to work and had a desk! finally! but I had to return to the ECC for a visa appointment that never happened due to the police chief having a heart attack . . . or something. whatever. Rest of the workday was uneventful; Manav, one of the other Princeton interns, arrived today and we all had dinner at La Terrace and played Mafia until we felt like sleeping :)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The longest day

So today was the longest day I've ever had, clocking in at 80 hours. I'm not kidding, I spent over 3 day with my longest nap being about 2 hours. Saturday: 6am WDS shift, 10am gig, P-rade, KJ 35th, packing ALL NIGHT. Sunday: more packing, 8 hour flight, 5 hour layover in Frankfurt, 9 hour flight to Bangalore, arriving at 1am local time on Tuesday (Monday took a vacation). Tuesday: 3 hours of customs, baggage claim, and cab ride to Infosys campus, unpacking, quick nap, and report to work at 9am. Full day of orientation, briefing, filling out forms, and wandering around campus trying to be productive. finally, bedtime at about 11 tonight.

. . . let's never do that again, please.

On to the good stuff. I slept on and off on the plane-- never too long or too comfortably, but enough to keep me awake all day today. I flew Lufthansa and the flight attendants were great, the food was good, but I was so happy to get off that plane. Anyway, my room is fantastic. It's very spacious and well equipped, and eco-friendly (lights turn off automatically if you leave and take your key with you, low-flow toilet, and conservation reminders everywhere). I have pretty much everything I need, including tons of closet space ;) Getting in was a whirlwind though, everyone's accent was so thick that I had trouble understanding and usually just said "Yes." in hindsight, probably a bad move.

In the morning, I was a little afraid-- I didn't know anyone, was really tired, had no idea what I was supposed to do or where to go, and oh yeah, in a foreign country. I didn't have breakfast, for fear that I wouldn't know anyone, and then tried to make my way to work. Since I couldn't read my map, I decided to go with whatever direction most of the people were going. In retrospect, a poor choice. However, after wandering around lost for a little bit, I got there on time. I met a bunch of interns, most of whom had already been there for a day (I was one of the last arrivals). The few of us who had gotten in this morning or late yesterday spent the morning with Nidhi filling out forms and going through the intern handbook, but there was plenty of time to talk to each other. We ate at La Terrace restaurant on the first floor of the ECC (Employee Care Center, the hostel where we're all staying). It was 180 rupees for a buffet lunch, or about $4.50. Not bad for delicious Indian food! and get this-- La Terrace is the most expensive place to eat on campus. There are multiple food courts where you can grab lunch for the equivalent of about 20 cents. I think we're going to try those tomorrow.

After lunch, we had to get even more passport-sized pictures taken, and then got a campus tour. This place is incredible-- not only in what it contains, but how beautiful and well-put-together everything is. The campus has many beautiful buildings and lawns that house food courts, shopping, a convenience store, a Microsoft store, a store to get a cheap cell phone (they gave me a SIM card), bookstore, library, gym, pool, sauna, multiple juice bars, many restaurants/food courts and even a hair salon.

In the afternoon I met with my student mentor, Dr. Rao, to discuss my project. (if you're not MAE, skip the rest of this paragraph). I'll be working on plate buckling under different displacement and boundary conditions, which is cool because I've only done column buckling before, in Mikko's class. I'll also be using finite-element-based software, but I haven't done anything with finite elements. Dr. Rao says it will be okay though, and I believe him.

After that, I went back to my room and unpacked most of my stuff, taking about 45 minutes to nap briefly. I then walked around trying to find an intern that know--no luck, so I just went to La Terrace for dinner (where lo and behold, 6 other interns were eating. The conversations are pretty interesting, and I'm looking forward to getting to know these people.

After dinner, I took a bike ride around campus with Ami, another intern. Infosys keeps bikes all over campus, so you can ride them wherever and whenever you want. Both of us were sad not to have brought money to buy delicious pastries at the bakery :)

anyway, thus concludes my 80-hour day. Sorry for the long post, consider it 3 days worth. I'll post pictures soon! and actually get this thing decently set up. I am SO excited for the next 10 weeks!!!!

-Margaret