Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas time in the city.

Season's greetings to the readers of my blog. I hope you had a holy and joyous Christmas. This was my first Christmas away from home. I missed my family and my village. But thanks to the Altmans who had me over for Christmas, I didn't really feel alone. I had a chance to celebrate Christmas the American way.

The preparations and fun start weeks before Christmas day. The church marks the four Sunday's before Christmas as Advent Sundays. Advent is time when we prepare ourselves spiritually for Christmas. I went to Ben's house on the Saturday preceding the third Sunday of Advent. They had the lighting of the candles on the Advent wreath followed by prayers and dinner.

Then there is the tradition of carol singing. I joined the Newman Center Young Adults group for a night of caroling. And what a contrast it was to carol singing in Goa. Here we went to people's home in cars rather than on foot as a group. People gave us cookies and other treats and even beer as compared to money back home. The homes were informed well in advance about our arrival in contrast to caroling in Goa where kids sing loudly in front of homes till someone shows up. But the spirit is the same, to spread the joy of Christmas. And I am sure our visit meant a lot to senior citizens living alone. One gentleman said he didn't feel it was Christmas until we came caroling to his house. For one 98 year old lady it was the 1st time someone had come to sing carols at her home. It refreshed memories for the old people. I love Christmas carols. All the carols that talk about snow and winter stuff make so much sense here! You should definitely listen to O' Come All Ye Faithful performed by Celtic Woman

I like the festive look that comes with Christmas. The homes, shops and streets are decorated and well lit. You hear Carols in shops and on radio stations. Stores are stacked with Christmas gifts and decorations. I think Christmas has become so commercialized, loud and bright that some people have forgotten that Christ was born in a quiet humble manger. So it was good to be out of the city for Christmas.

Soon it was Christmas eve. I was at Ben's house. We decorated the tree and put some lights. We had a delicious traditional Christmas eve dinner prepared by Ben's mom. The table was lit by the Christmas candle. And it was snowing outside. It was truly amazing! We went for a midnight service at a church in Chaska. We celebrated the birth of Jesus one more time. Joy to the world, the Lord has come!

Christmas day was spent at Mrs. Altman's parent's house. It was a traditional Christmas celebration with a family get together for lunch, opening of gifts and games. The wonderful day was capped by a wonderful movie, 'It's a Wonderful Life'. Its a classic movie and a must watch around Christmas time.

'Something about Christmas time, makes me wish it was Christmas everyday' goes the song by Bryan Adams. Looking forward to the next Christmas. 362 days to go...

Happy new year 2010!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The tale of two cities, the capital and the big apple

After more than three months in the beautiful and quiet Minneapolis, it was time to visit arguably two of the most famous cities of the US, Washington DC and New York City. A couple of days in each city was more than enough to get a feel of life in the two cities. So here is the tale of two cities.

I arrived in Washington on a cold Thursday morning. I stepped out of the bus and was greeted by, well, no one. The streets were deserted and eerily quiet. For a moment, we thought there was a curfew for some reason. There was no one around to even ask where our hotel was located. We entered a subway station and the platforms were completely deserted. I guess this was Thanksgiving afternoon effect.

We visited the capitol, only to be told that it was closed. There were few other tourists there, mostly Indians who I guess,like us, don't celebrate Thanksgiving. We walked around the main streets. This was the Capital! Of the world literally! The Washington Monument and the War Memorials are quite spectacular at night. So is the Lincoln monument. I like Lincoln's style. Really overflows with attitude. I must emulate him. There are tons of museums around. We only visited the Air and Space Museum. It is a must visit for aero enthusiasts. You can also see the White house from a distance. It would have been great if Manmohan Singh at invited us for dinner. Not a mistake. He was there that night at Obama's Thanksgiving dinner. I didn't have the audacity of hope to get an invite from Obama.

The next day we visited the Capitol. We got a free guided tour of inside the building for free despite being non US citizens. Isn't that awesome? It was great to walk the corridors of power surrounded by walls richly decorated with carvings and frescoes. The opulence around was slightly overwhelming. It is a place steeped in history and abounding with legends and tales. We also spent sometime in Georgetown. Its a lovely part of town that still retains the Old European feel. Cobblestone sidewalks, small stone facade buildings and dining places serving cuisines of virtually every European country.

Next up was the Big Apple, NYC! I had seen NYC only on the small screen of my laptop. Two of my favorite sitcoms, Friends and HIMYM are set in NYC. Finally it was NYC in person! You can see the glitz and glamor all around. Brightly lit shops and buildings, limousines and overdressed people paint a glamorous picture. The sidewalks are filled with motley crowd of people from every corner of the world. And new york reminded me a lot of India. You have street food, road side vendors selling everything from 'Rolex watches' to books to gum, cycle rickshaws (yes, I swear!), insane cab drivers jumping lanes and honking away to glory. You can cross the streets anywhere anytime. You have street entertainers. And on one occasion, there was a band playing inside a store! And to top it all, people are generally rude. All this is a far cry from Minneapolis, where everyone is nice and everything is orderly.

So whats there in New york besides a Starbucks on every street? You have times square which is just an intersection of two streets surrounded by bright billboards and filled with loads of tourists taking pictures. Then there is the empire state building which was once the worlds tallest building. The view of the city from the top is worth the 1 hour wait and $20 fee. Then there is the iconic statue of liberty. It was the symbol of the free world for the politically and financially oppressed Europeans of the early 1900s. You should also visit the museum on the nearby Ellis island. About 40% of the American population trace their ancestors to Ellis island immigration office.

Any trip to NYC will not be complete without a bit of shopping. I had the chance to shop in the world's biggest store. It covers an entire block and is 8 stories high! You have a mind boggling number of options of any thing. And when you are in a store this big, it can be a nightmare. But then most of it is covered with stuff for the ladies. I don't know why they need so many clothes when they strive to wear little. Anyways every shopaholic should refrain from entering these stores with their credit/debit cards. I mean you don't let loose a drunkard in a wine cellar. Besides Macy's I also shopped at the Apple store. Yup, an Apple from the Big Apple. Okay I got the cheapest item available. And I guess I was the only guy who goes for black Friday shopping and buys the one thing in the entire store that doesn't have any discount!

So that was the Tale of two cities. It was a hectic vacation. I needed a few days in Minneapolis to rejuvenate me. Thank you Vaibhav for being the guide for the entire trip!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

In pursuit of The Way, The Truth and The Life.

It is a general perception among non-believers that religious people have 'loose screws' somewhere and are wasting their lives by leading boring lives. I beg to differ. The Catholic group at the University is an amazing fun filled group. I see the true joy in their lives. It is a joy which feeds on the eternal source, Jesus. I pursued material things to keep me happy. I went on trips, I hung out with friends, I wanted to be cool.[:D] But I knew something was missing. Not that these things are bad, but at the end of any event I would feel low and look forward to the next dose of entertainment to give me that high. I was restless. But now I am at peace. I am happy to have found true eternal happiness in God. I wanna learn more about God, how amazing He is, about the awesome things He has in store for those who love Him.

So what do I know about Him? God is love. Plain and simple. God loves us and we must love him. Through love we have a living relationship with God. Sadly, this relationship is broken by sin. But Jesus Christ has died for our sins and saved us. We have to believe in this, repent for our past sins and lead a new life with Christ at the center. All three are important. The first is about faith. We have to believe that Christ is our savior. He has bridged the chasm that separated God from humanity.

The second step is repentance. Repentance begins by acknowledgment of sins. We are human, we are weak, we are fallible. But we have to accept our mistakes and be sorry for our failures. We have to express our sincere regrets for our misdeeds and vow to do our best to lead better lives. We must ask God for forgiveness and he will definitely forgive us because we are his children. This sequence is beautifully pictured in the parable The Prodigal Son.

And the third part is leading the new life. We have to trust God with our lives and our future. God is our father. He loves us and wants us to live a full and happy life. He has good things in store for us. To quote from the scripture, Jesus says, (Matthew 7:11) "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" And when we believe in God, it’s not about us anymore. It’s about others. Greed for power and wealth, the root causes of the world’s miseries, will vanish.But leading a new life will be tough. We can’t fight temptations by ourselves. We need God’s grace and all we need to do to get it is to ask God. And we can be sure God will never test us beyond our limits. And when we are doing this because we love God, Christian life is no longer a set of rules and regulations. I am sure we are ready to do anything for the people we truly love. And that makes Christian life so easy!

I thank SPO, especially Jimmy for taking me to the Fan Into Flame retreat. The focus of the retreat was to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and to fan into flame the embers of our faith. People think being religious is an inborn thing. It isn’t. We have to cultivate our relationship with God. He is knocking on the door and we need to open it. He extends his hand to us, we have to accept it.

I ask you then, what good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:36) It is your life, what are you going to do it?

Ref: Fan into Flame Retreat booklet and the Bible!
Picture credits:

Monday, November 02, 2009

Some blah-blah and bling-bling about nothing in particular!

A few stray thoughts about graduate life. So what is the aim of graduate life? One of my courses makes me feel quite useless. The more I sit in that class, the stronger the urge to jump of a bridge gets. The prof speaks in English, yet it sounds like Greek. Maybe that’s because he uses so many Greek alphabets in his material. The home works are burdensome. But they teach us to think individually as a group or collectively as individuals. Sometimes the solutions to problems are so mathematically involved that you forget what the question was in the first place. A math joke to lighten the mood. Did you know that 3 out of 4 Indians make up 75% of the Indian population?

Grad life teaches you time management. But I could have taken T.I.M.E. classes in India itself instead of coming so far. Grad life teaches you to appreciate the carefree undergrad life, when we had all the time in the world to do nothing. Now when we have one extra hour due to the daylight saving practice, all of us get excited. Grad life teaches you to go to places with free food. Free food implies monetary and time savings. I have also rediscovered the convenience of writing with a pencil. I can’t remember when was the last time I used pencils so extensively. I am so glad I rediscovered the pencil. Makes my assignments much neater.

Yet another stray thought about the importance of the Law of Diminishing Returns. It is best explained through a graph. It is clearly seen that you will get about 75-80% of the desired output within the first 50% of the total effort. And the remaining 20% of output is obtained from the remaining 50% of required effort. Clearly the second 50% is a waste. I have applied this rule to two things. First, to my homework assignments. Attempting and formulating the problem fetches you most of the points. While spending hours over complex algebra hardly gets you any additional points. So it’s best to stop when you feel you will get a certain minimum number of points. The same goes with fitness. I see people slogging it out in the gym for that perfect physique. I feel that 50% of the effort would be sufficient for a decent physique and you would be spared the mental and physical agony of the remaining 50%. Talking about the gym, my exercise sessions have been a serious blow to my ego, which by the way is as big as the entire outdoors! Girls run faster and longer than me! There was time when I used to look down at people less fit than me. How dramatically the tables turn! I don’t fare any better with strength training either. I am the only guy who goes anywhere close to the light weight dumbbells! I console myself thinking that others are fools to be working so hard on their physique when my level of fitness should be fine for all. Yeah I have that ‘I know best’ attitude!

What else have I been up to? Well, I experienced my first American holiday, Halloween. The pumpkin carving experience was cool. But the costume party was even better. But first, the costume shopping experience. When I went shopping, I was shocked by the prices and variety. I couldn’t understand how people could spend $100 and above for Halloween costumes. I tried to find the cheapest one and it took me 30min to find it in the enormous store. Thus, I saw all the other accessories and make up kits that go with the costumes. It was overwhelming. Coming to the party, it was a lot of fun. The assortment of characters in one room was a feast to the eyes. There were star wars’ characters, queens, Elvis, old ladies etc etc. The costumes, accessories and make up were complimented by some talented acting. It was an amazing experience.

Then there was the homecoming parade. Another American tradition I guess. Luckily I got to be part of it through CFACT. It is quite a feeling to wave to crowds lining the streets through the sun roof of a SUV. I felt like a celebrity. The whole thing was over within minutes. But I had had my 15 minutes of fame by then. Yay! Then there was Oktoberfest in the Mech Dept. Free beer and free food attracted many students and profs. The HOD was the center of attraction in his traditional German costume. It was time of merriment. We could talk to profs about stuff besides research. Talking about booze, I went for a religious meeting in a pub here. Not that Christianity encourages drinking, it is just that drinking is not considered bad as long as it is well within limits. Sadly many college students don’t know what the limits are.

And I have had my first haircut. A novel and expensive affair. Back home in India, my barber knew exactly what I wanted and I merely had to sit on the chair and he would get to work. Here the hairdresser first measured my hair length in inches at various places on my head and then asked me how much do I want to cut. I gave a vague answer like short at the sides and back and a little longer on the top. She didn’t seem satisfied and asked me again. I replied by telling her to do whatever she felt was best. Then she asked me something which I didn’t follow. I again told her to do what she felt was best. In the end I was quite happy with what ‘she thought was best’.

Congratulations if you managed to reach this far in reading my blah blah. You are now a certified fan of blah blah. I hope to come up with more blah blah in the near future. Till then its goodbye from my side.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Snow is falling, all around me!

This past weekend I experienced my first snow fall. Yeah it’s early, even for the ice box state of the US. Most of the residents were annoyed because ‘bad weather’ had come so early this year. Well, I being a newbie here was overjoyed to see the white powdery stuff all around. This was the first time I had seen snow! It was amazing. This post is for all the readers who have never seen snow. I hope I can give a good description so can experience it vicariously.

First of all, it’s beautiful beyond words. Everything except for the streets is white. It is even better when the sun comes out. And since the leaves haven’t yet fallen off, a lot more snow collects on them which makes the scene prettier. The fall colors and snow make an awesome combination. The snow is like a fine powder that falls slowly through the air. You can dust it off yourself and I like to shake myself like a dog while doing so! :D It’s is soft and quiet. Calming and relaxing, unlike rain which can be noisy and forceful. Supposedly snow absorbs other sound too and makes for a more peaceful setting.

The snow is soft and falls slowly because the terminal velocity of snowflakes is low. But you can compress it in your hands to make snow balls and throw at each other. Or you could make a snowman or build a snow fort. The lazier people can make snow angels! Well I didn’t do much of the above things as the snow was a little slushy cause of the high temperatures of 1-2 degrees Celsius. I have a long to-do list for the winter. Besides the snowman, fort and angels, I wanna try my hand, or legs rather, at skiing, skating, snow shoeing, and broomball. My friends have promised to take me out to indulge in all the winter fun I want. I hope I can bear the brutal cold though, which brings me to the winter clothing.

I have purchased headgear, mufflers, scarves, a coat, woolen pullovers, gloves, woolen socks etc. Thank you Ben, for taking me winter shopping! It’s a bit of a pain to wear all these things before going outside. I guess I will get used to it. Growing up in Goa hasn’t really prepared me for this, but I know I am going to have a great time! I can’t wait for Christmas, to see a snowy Christmas, to see what we sing in carols and print on cards. I have to look up for Santa’s email id and ask him for a white Christmas!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Superior Hike

This has to be one of my best treks of all time. It was fun, it was beautiful and it was awesome! I was looking forward to the trip from weeks before. I must thank Pranav for telling me about the COA at UMN and its wonderful trips. The group was as diverse at it could get. We had Norwegians, Danes, an Austrian, a German, Indians, a Canadian and yes one American. We set off on a cold damp Saturday morning for a 3hr drive north to Duluth.

Duluth is a beautiful port town in north Minnesota. We had a stunning view of the harbour and Lake Superior as we drove in. We stopped for Lunch at Pizza Luce where Kim and Kristian tried to do the ‘humanely impossible’ thing of eating a 16 inch pizza each! We drove further north to Two Harbors for dinner and breakfast supplies. We then proceeded to our first hiking trail, Gooseberry Falls. Luckily the weather was holding well and we could trek comfortably. We were treated with amazing sights of streams and waterfalls and the fall colours in all their glory. The forest was bright despite the overcast conditions. This is my first experience with fall colors and so I was really excited. The trees, bushes and ferns were in varying shades of green, yellow, red and orange. It was a riot of colors. Thank God for digital cameras. I clicked tons of pictures. We walked along a stream most of the time. None of us wanted to get into the freezing water. So we hung around the edge and tried to skip stones along the water surface. I really enjoyed being in the wild on the grassy trail surrounded by colourful bushes and an assortment of trees. Minneapolis is green and clean, but all you see is well manicured lawns and gardens. It gets monotonous after a while. The air was clean and the forest was quiet. It was a truly relaxing experience.

We headed back when it began getting dark. We drove to Finland state forest campsite for the night. First we had to set up tents. The tents had been folded down to the size of small backpacks. I had no idea how to set up the tent. Luckily all the others in the group had a lot of camping experience and showed me how easy it was to set up a tent. The tents were really cool and I remembered scouts camp in school when we had those rickety unwieldy tents. And that was the only time I had stayed in a tent.

Next it was time for food! Dinner was a lovely time. The boisterous group had so much to talk. There was lot of talk about culture, as we were from so many different countries. That automatically led to bit of friendly country bashing. The large population of engineering students led to some tech talk which irked the rest of the crowd. The adventurous guys had some amazing camping and hiking stories to share. Non veg jokes spiced up the chatter. The food was great. I guess a hungry stomach and the camping atmosphere makes any food taste good. After a few burritos, it was cookies time! The cookies were not round in any sense and looked like scrambled eggs, but still had the amazing chocolate cookie taste! And then it was time for the piece de resistance. I’ll call it the automated popcorn. It was like a small covered plate which had to be heated over the stove. And the top keeps rising until you can hear the popcorn inside. Then it blows open and pop corn is ready! American stuff rocks!

We all headed to the boys tent for games. We played telephone Pictionary and it was hilarious! It was fun to see how the result ended so far from the start. I started with ‘I can’t read your poker face’ and got ‘the pope is praying over the grave’ in the end! It was time to turn in. We were advised not to have any cosmetics or eatables in the tent as it might attract bears. OMG! I slipped into my sleeping bag, my first time in a sleeping bag, and thought about how awesome it was to be sleeping somewhere in the wild under the sky, a few inches off the soggy ground and yet so warm and comfy, next to a gurgling stream which reminded me of Famous Five adventures.... ZZZZZZZ

Next morning after a long struggle, I finally got out of my warm sleeping bag. It was an effort to get cold water into the mouth to brush teeth. Breakfast consisted of hot chocolate and delicious pan cakes which I used to warm my hands and fill my tummy! It was time to pack up. And since COA follows ‘leave no trace’ rule, we cleared the campsite thoroughly. We didn’t even wash our dishes there. It’s great to know that campers try to preserve the place for others. I enjoyed the camp as we had the best of both worlds. We had our tent and sleeping bags and cooking out in the open experience on one hand. And we had our luggage in the van nearby on the other hand.

It was time for day 2 of hiking. We drove to Tettegouche state park. The weather was perfect for the outdoors. It was cold and bright.The trail was very comfortable and we were treated to sparkling waterfalls and colourful forests. We reached the rocky shores of Lake Superior after a while. It was beautiful beyond words. But that also marked the end of the hike. We walked back to the van. On the way back we spotted some deer in the forest.

It was time for the long drive back. We stopped at Two Harbors for a quick lunch. The drive was gorgeous. We had the sparkling Lake Superior on the left and colourful forests on the right. Miles and miles of unending beauty! How I wished the trip would never end. Soon we were back in Minneapolis. A wonderful trip had come to an end. I wanna thank all the group members for the making this trip so amazing. The COA volunteers, George (from Canada) and Annie (from USA) and the rest of the group which included Lars, Kristian, Kim,(all from Norway), Astrid, Julia,(both from Denmark), Maria (from Austria), Ecem (from Germany) and Smita (from India).

Check out so more pictures on facebook and orkut!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Grad ramblings

Graduate life has started and time is scarce. So you see people asking for 48 hours in a day or 120 minutes in an hour! Ah the common mistake. I always believed in higher efficiency. Thus, I wish I could read two text books at the same time or write two assignments at the same time. I gotta ask Rajnikant about the latter! I guess I exaggerate when I say I am very busy. Else how would you explain me finding time to go rock climbing, or attend student group meetings, or go for tennis classes, or meet a published author (Adam Shepard) or play ultimate Frisbee or go jogging on the beautiful stone arch bridge or write blogs and the list goes on. So grad life hasn’t reached top gear yet. I am hoping it doesn’t anytime soon!

So what else has been happening? Oh, I met this guy at a student group CFACT meeting who was interested in Indian culture. On knowing I was from India he asked me if I would volunteer to teach him Hindi!! I puffed my chest and said why not!! I guess I was the best Hindi speaker in the radius of a few feet. Yeah there are Indians all over the place here. But then I am the only one who delivered the epic dialogue 'jai aur veeru bhag gaye, magar kaise?' So the man was in safe hands when it came to learning Hindi. So being Indian helped me make a new friend.

But being Indian has its downside too. I become really conscious of my accent while speaking to the foreigners. Oops sorry, I mean natives. I am so used to calling Americans foreigners! Coming to my accent, it really stands out. It’s like I over pronounce every word. I used to think that Raj's accent in Big Bang Theory was exaggerated. But now I see the reality. I guess I’ll get used to it as time passes. Not that I feel inferior in any sense. The only time I feel bested by someone is when I walk in front of a mirror! I have installed bullet proof glass mirrors in my apartment cause of my mirror cracking looks! \m/

Many people have asked me whether I felt a culture shock after coming to the US. I guess it wasn’t much because in the US we have only 110 volts as compared to 220 volts in India. An American coming to India will feel a bigger shock! Hilarious jokes aside, one thing that has really caught my eyes, or attention rather, is the low waist fashion here! Guys here have taken low waist to all new levels. Low waist pants would baffle even Newton with their gravity defying lowness. I really want to know how they keep their pants from falling!

Free food is big here in the US. Every event is advertised by free food or pizza. Student group meetings, prayer meetings, gen events and even academic events pull crowds through free food. For instance I have taken a seminar course for 1 credit in the nano science department for the sole reason of free food. They serve amazing cookies, cake and coffee before the seminar. It is eat and then go and relax in the comfy hall!

Anything that’s pissing me off here? Yeah the obscenely high cost of labour. The bike repair shop asked me $6 to install new brake pads! Thank you Rahul for installing them for free! A hair cut costs at least $20. And you can’t get second hand haircuts. So for the first time I see something positive in my hair loss. I guess once I start earning big time(wonder when!), I ‘ll ask himesh where he got his hair weaving done.

Thank you guys for showing 'Fultoo attitude' in reading this fully faltoo post. I wind up, thanking himesh in anticipation for his next block buster, char buster and mind buster movie Radio! One last thing, Radiation is my favourite course. Guess why??

This post is dedicated to Sivram (bloodrayne) who recently questioned my ability in generating crap posts like dis! :D

Picture credits
Awesome Himesh:

Hindi Pic:

Monday, September 14, 2009

The day I saw the President!

I saw Barrack Obama speak for the first time sometime in February 07, when he launched his presidential campaign at Springfield. I was captivated by his oratory skills and watched many of his subsequent speeches on TV or YouTube since then. His aura and energy is spell binding even while reading his book. Back in India, I had no realistic chance of ever seeing him live. Now that I am in the US, I thought maybe, just maybe, I might get lucky. Turned out that Minneapolis is one of the smaller cities in the US. And so I gave up hope of seeing him anytime soon. I guess I had forgotten the audacity of hope.

So the other day, a few weeks into my stay here, there was an article in the local newspaper about Obama’s visit to Minneapolis. I couldn’t believe it. Obama was coming to Minneapolis within a month of my arrival. What luck! I browsed the net for more info about the event. He was gonna talk about his planned healthcare reforms. The venue was just 2 miles from my home and entry was free. I wanted to be sure that non US citizens would be allowed. So I shot of a few emails and made a few calls and yippee, everyone was allowed on first come first serve basis.

The day arrived and my friend and I reached the venue just after 8am. We informed that there was line stretching about half a mile. This when the gates were due to open at 9:30am! We walked past groups of people playing cards, chatting and listening to music. Finally we reached the end of the line. My friend Pradeep went to grab a bite. I had no idea what exactly Obama was gonna talk about. So I asked a group near me. They seemed quite pro Obama and vehemently supported his ideas. The line began moving slowly. Despite the crowd, there was no pushing and shoving like in India. But on the down side, there weren’t any hawkers selling food or drink. Once in a while when someone did come, the cost was exorbitant. Luckily I was well prepared. I had had a huge breakfast and had brought a bottle of water with me.

Finally we reached the security check at about 10:00am. After an airport style security check, we were in. We joined a line for seats then. After another nervous wait we were finally seated! Now for the long wait for the arrival of the man himself. There was an energetic buzz in the stadium. Mexican waves and ‘Obama, yes we can’ chants went on from time to time. I got bored after a while. Again, I was prepared. I had carried a book with me. I peacefully read until they showed live footage of Obama arriving at the city airport. A loud cheer went up! It was the sign of things to come.

Finally the event started at 12:30pm. First the stage was graced by some other dignitaries and the anthem sung. Then it was time. ‘Ladies and gentle men, the president of the United States” came the announcement. Obama entered, literally running. A few handshakes and high fives with the people near the stage. He skipped up the stairs and was ready to speak. I liked the energy in his entry. The people cheered wildly. Check the video I uploaded. He first got the crowd going by talking about the football game at the university that evening and by calling the crowd ‘a lot more fun than the congress’. He then spoke about his main agenda, the healthcare reforms. He is an amazing orator. Even though I had little interest in or background knowledge about the issue, I was suddenly concerned about the American healthcare system and willed him on with his ideas. The crowd cheered wildly after almost every point he made.

The best statement was, I will paraphrase it, “I know many presidents in the past tried to reform the healthcare system, but I know I will be the last to try it because I am gonna be successful!” The speech lasted about half an hour and he ended it with a short anecdote of his election campaign. By the end of the speech everyone was ‘fired up’ and ‘ready to go’. The program ended and I headed out with the rest of the crowd, overjoyed to have heard a live speech from one of the greatest orators of our time!

So that’s one of my wishes granted, seeing Obama live! Now I have to see the Niagara, go to Vegas, ‘touch’ the statue of liberty, meet an astronaut, ... , ... , ... and oh yeah get a masters degree!

Friday, September 11, 2009

America - My days so far and a few more stray observations.

And the days fly by. The honeymoon period of grad life is over and classes have begun. Luckily no assignments have been given. So I still have time to blog! First I will write about what I was up to in the past couple of weeks.

I moved into my apartment on September 1. It was unfurnished. So I scouted around for free furniture around the neighbourhood and cheap furniture at garage sales. Yeah, I actually picked up decent tables and chairs left behind by the original owners. I also got some great stuff for rock bottom prices at garage sales. Thus I managed to furnish my apartment without much expenditure. But then you can’t or won’t want to get things like food stuff, consumables, utensils, cosmetics etc. second handed. So we went on a mega shopping spree. We spent $132 at Cub foods for eatables, $312 and $115 at Target and Wal-Mart respectively for household items and $140 at the Indian food store. The above bills are shared between Rahul and me. Oh and one more thing, don’t try to convert it into Rupees but if you do want an estimate, then use $1=Rs12 as the conversion factor. I got that number from my general intuition and the PPP concept.

Then there were cooking classes through youtube. Rahul is a great cook and so there isn’t much need for him to learn recipes through youtube. Except when he wanted to know how to boil pasta. And we found an 8min video on that! You should definitely watch this video and see the amount of detail. I tried my hand at making sooji halwa from this video but it didn’t turn out quite well the first time. The second attempt was a success due to my modifications to the original recipe. Besides cooking I biked around the place a bit. I mainly biked along the River Mississippi and was treated to some stunning scenery.

I also attended a pre inauguration event at the new football stadium here. Not many people turned up as the match wasn’t played at the stadium but was screened live from New York. I went for it as all the tickets for the home games have been sold out and this would be my only chance to see the stadium. The initial enthu died out immediately as none of us followed the rules of the game. We cheered loudly whenever the American spectators got excited. I decided to try to get hold of tickets for college basketball games as that’s the only American sport I can follow. Oh and btw NBA tickets go for only $5 on some nights. I must definitely check that out!

We also went to lake cedar on a Sunday. Beautiful place. The walk through forested trails in a city was quite amazing. The lake is quite scenic and it has a small beach too! I, coming from Goa, didn’t think too highly of their beach. But the people there were making good use of it. Some were sunbathing, others splashing around in the water and some kids were making sand castles. I also visited the Mall of America, reportedly to be the biggest mall in the US. Lots of shops, restaurants and amusement rides.

Oh yeah, I started with my classes this week. My first class was a course in the Geology department. I sat on the 2nd bench and the 2nd last bench. So can you tell me how many benches were there in the class? :D The student behaviour was extremely causal by our standards. Guys were drinking coke or coffee during the class, some had caps on, some including me had come in shorts, one guy was sitting with his knees folded at his chin! And sometimes students just got up and walked out in the middle of the lecture! My other two classes went on similar lines. We had to hit the ground running as far as teaching was concerned. I already have reading to do. Thankfully no homework yet! So then, here’s to fun filled months of slogging ahead!! Cheers! :D

And to sum up, a few more stray observations of the Americans. Time is kept right down to a minute. Buses are supposed to arrive at times like 11:03 or 8:57. During our orientation, the profs were interrupted the minute they crossed their time limit. Coming late to appointments is considered to be an insult to the other party. Another point, buses and trucks have lady drivers here. Back in India, I thought Shaggy was adding spice to his ‘it wasn’t me’ video by having a lady drive a big truck. The buses here are quite disabled friendly. Passengers in wheelchairs are lifted into the bus through a mechanism and the wheelchairs are secured at designated spots in the bus. Pretty neat!

All in all I am having a good time so far. And the dream will continue....

Monday, September 07, 2009

America on a high

Last night my roommate Rahul suddenly asked me if I would like to go to a pub. Well, I am not a big fan of pubs given the fact that I have gone to a pub only once in my 22 years of existence. Why not, I thought to myself. It would be a nice way to ‘drink’ in the American youth culture. Besides I could drown my graduate life sorrows in anticipation. Count me in, I declared enthusiastically.

The five of us met outside a pub called Burrito Loco in Dinkytown. I entered cautiously thinking what the norms and rates would be. After a quick look at our passports to verify our age, we were given a stamp of approval on our wrists! And we were in. I soaked in the atmosphere which was pleasantly smoke free. Lots of youngsters making their way around a noisy crowded space. There were some LCDs around. Some guys playing beer pong on a couple of tables. I found the idea of throwing a ball that has rolled all over the pub floor into a glass of beer quite disgusting. There was the counter at one end where everyone was waiting patiently in lines for their elixir of life. And last but not the least lots of hot gals around, unfortunately arm in arm with mean looking hefty guys. I decided to join the gym from the next day!

It was time for some drinks. And that involved standing in the long queue. I looked around and remembered how we had a peek at American college life through movies and sitcoms. It was almost the same except they wasn’t any PDA around and everyone seemed sober. Rahul got us the first round. We found a table and sipped in the brew. Akhil and I went to get the next round. We didn’t know which beer to order as Kingfisher and Fosters wasn’t on the list. I wanted Budweiser as I didn’t have an advisor. We asked some guys which one to order. They suggested Guinness. I had decided to pay for the round. But there was some offer where in if you call correctly in a coin toss, the drink was free. And unbelievably Akhil called correctly all four times! Yay, free drinks! Unfortunately luck turned around on its head for the next round and I ended up paying for all the four drinks!

We sat at our table sipping our drinks and munching on free popcorn. Yeah, we all like free stuff! Dry jokes are much funnier with drinks around and people laugh at anything. I can’t remember any besides when one guy said you suck and the reply was ‘U of M’ (That’s short for university of Minnesota) Ha ha ha! Then we had some serious discussions like who guided the first Phd student? As all PhD students are guided by a PhD guy. It was like what came first, egg or the kitchen? (not chicken, slip of the tongue due to the smooth beer) After a while we had had enough and decided to leave.

We met a small group of friendly Americans outside. And guess what, guys all over the world discuss the same stuff, gals, booze and adventure. It was time for goodbyes and we decided to call it a night. Cheers to AMERICA!