Sunday, August 30, 2009


It’s been a week since I have come to this great country. For those who think that I have become patriotic to the US already, by ‘great’ I meant big! I thank God for giving me an opportunity to experience international education in true sense. Well for a week now I have seen a bit of Minneapolis and thus a bit of the US. So what were the first impressions?

I think the things that really catches your attention first up are the roads and the traffic. Especially for someone like me who has lived in Bangalore, the smooth orderly traffic is strange. I think they need autos here to induce some turbulence in this smooth flow. Another thing that took some getting used to, was the act of drivers stopping for pedestrians to cross the street (those that don’t have signals). Many a times I wait for the driver to cross and he/she waits for me. A pretty comical situation I must say. But on the flip side when you are in a hurry to cross a major street, you can’t just cross weaving between traffic. You have to wait for the green signal which can be annoying at times. Another thing that catches the eye is the number of cars, most of which are big. What a waste of fuel. You rarely see more than one person in the car. No wonder the US is so far ahead in carbon emissions. But then I guess driving must be a real pleasure here. The roads are smooth, broad and straight. The freeways are really free! It’s nice to watch cars, bikes and trucks zooming by.

Moving on, the residential areas are clean and green. The houses look pretty made of brick or wood. All houses and apartments have lawns (waste of water?) and trees in the front yards. There are sidewalks for pedestrians and joggers. The university is a combination of old and new buildings lay out over a large area. I heard the places looks really awesome in autumn when all the leaves turn yellow, red and brown. Looking forward to that! There is the Mississippi flowing through the campus, which reminded me of BPGC a bit.

I haven’t seen much of Minneapolis yet. The downtown is a neat place. Not too crowded. And one amazing thing is that most of the buildings are connected by covered walkways two floors above the streets. They are the lifelines for the Minnesotan winters. I also came across a beautiful wooded trail along the Mississippi, a stone throw away from downtown. It was incredible to find such a quite forested are so close to a city centre. I also visted a lake, Lake Calhoun. After seeing urban lakes like ulsoor it was a big surprise to see such a clean water body in a city

Coming to the people, they all appear and sound really friendly. I’ll take that at face value for the time being. It’s a pity I have a tough time following their language. Okay you might say I’ll get used to it. But I have to get used to tens of accents. Chinese, Korean, European, Hispanic, etc etc. It is truly a melting pot of cultures here. And thus, I, in a hurry to find fellow Indians, have mistaken Bangladeshis and Malaysians to be Indians. And it’s nice to compare cultures. For eg. An Indian’s doubt about buses, “can I stop a bus in between bus stops?” or a Chinese senior explaining his initial anxieties, “I was worried whatever I said in class or outside could have been held against me at a later date.” But one thing cuts across all cultures and that is the use of the ‘weather question’ to make small talk. Looks like even if people don’t share an iota of similarity, at least we share the same blue sky above us. So talking about the wet day or Minnesota winters is the best for making conversation.

Among other things jogging on the streets is a pleasurable experience. There are tons of super fit people jogging around. So you are not like a mad man running around. But besides these fit people there are so obese people too. I guess that can be attributed to all the cheese and mayonnaise that goes with all the ubiquitous deep fried foods. Shopping can be an overwhelming experience. The shops are huge. There are numerous brands for the same product. And there are countless different products. Walmart had guns being sold over the counter. There are stores dedicated to pet food. America is an epitome of consumerism.

Then there are other things like a 10 percent tip at restaurants. That’s steep ain’t it? Drinking water directly from the tap. OMG!! Google maps is amazing for travel directions. It even tells you the directions from your home to the bus stop and what time the bus will come. Everyone loves free stuff. Here people leave furniture and appliances on the pavement to pick up for free or sometimes for dirt cheap prices through garage sales.

Some typical American stuff. Dumb warnings like ‘do not iron clothes while wearing’ on an electric iron. All automated stuff like vending machines, machines for bus passes etc. Everything is inverted like driving on the right side, the right brake lever is the back brake, the fridge door handle is to the right etc. A little confusing I must say, specially the driving on the rights side now that I have bought a bike.

So there, my first impression of the Land of Opportunity. Stay tuned for first impressions of the education system. Gotta go and hunt for furniture now!

Here I am - this is me
There's nowhere else on earth I'd rather be
Here I am – at the U
The place where i'll make my dreams come true.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Daniel takes his first flight

19th August, 1am. The hour had come. I was sitting near the departure gate admiring the 5-star ambience, a far cry from all the grimy and smelly railway stations I had been to so far. I wondered what was in store for me in the flight. I was all set even though I hadn’t used Set Wet.

The door was opened and I walked through the tunnel to the flight. This was the first time I stepped into a plane. It was awesome. Good air hostesses –check. I found my seat by the aisle and stowed my baggage. So who was the lucky person to get a seat next to mine? All of us dream of sitting next to a ‘hot chick’ on a flight. I waited with bated breath and began flipping through a magazine.

Then a girl’s voice, “Excuse me.” I look up, “yes..” “ That’s my seat.” Yay a blonde! My mind began the evaluation. Face 3/5, figure 3/5. Not bad for beginners luck. Now for the personality marks on 10. She seemed to be in a grumpy mood and was mumbling something and jabbing the buttons of the entertainment system. I waited. When to break the ice? She seemed cold like an Antarctic ice sheet. I waited a while. Then I tried to make some conversation. “Hi, I am Daniel and you are?” She mumbles something and continued jabbing buttons. Huh! I gave her 0/10 and also reduced her other scores! The grapes are sour.

I decided not to let that episode dampen my enthusiasm. I was flying for the first time and I was going to the US! I was so excited! Hell, I might have even danced in the aisle. But the pilot asked the passengers to fasten their seat belts. Loser! The dancing would have to wait. The engines revved up and the plane began taxiing down the run way. And take off. Mumbai and India were left far below. I thought of what an awesome machine an air plane was! Something so heavy and bulky took off and flew so smoothly. Mech rules and so does all engineering and technology.

Once the steep ascent was over I looked at the entertainment system in front of me. A screen, something like a stereo and two nobs. The passengers in front had switched on their screens and were watching movies. I also followed suit and found a set of head phones. But where do I plug them in? I looked around at the others but couldn’t figure out. I fervently hoped the female next to me would plug her headphones. But she just sat in her seat, muttering. Hmm, now even though a 10 feet concrete mental and communication wall existed between us, I didn’t want to appear dumb to her. So I decided to act intellectual and began reading a book. But I couldn’t concentrate. How could it be so difficult to find the head phones’ socket? Should I ask the air hostess discretely? Nah, leave it.

Then food was served. Ah, some diversion. Food was great. And it was cool to realise that I was having my dinner at an altitude of 36k feet. I had a little trouble with the cutlery and I yearned for a sleeper class railway compartment where anything would go. Here everything was so formal. I managed to get the food from the tray into mouth without any accident.

Time for a nap. I wanted to recline my seat. Oh dear, how do I do that? The only reclining seats I had used were those Volvo bus seats which had a lever at the side. Where was the damn lever? After fidgeting for a while I gave up. Maybe I could ask the air hostess discreetly. So I acted as if the seat was jammed and asked her to help me. She deftly pressed a button on the arm rest and it was done. How the hell I didn’t see that? And there I found the socket for the head phones too! Talk about killing two birds with one stone. Finally I was settled.

It was past 4 am and I wasn’t sleepy. Jet lag before flying itself? I guess it was all the adrenaline from the excitement. I checked the movies and decided to watch Ghajini. By the time Aamir finished off all the villains, my tummy was growling. What now? The plane was quiet and dark. Everyone was asleep. How do I call an air hostess? I walked up and down the aisle but couldn’t spot them. Suddenly someone switched on a yellow light and from nowhere an airhostess turned up. I rushed back to my seat and used the same light. When she arrived, I politely apologized for disturbing her and asked for some food. After a second dinner it was time to sleep.

It was good to wake up to the sweet voice and smiling face of a pretty lady (the air hostess and not the lousy dame next to me!). I should change my alarm tone to something similar! After breakfast it was time to land. Meanwhile ice queen next to me had melted a bit. We made some light conversation and then the bombshell. I had asked her the purpose of her visit. And she said she was visiting family in Baroda! An Indian putting on airs just because she had dyed her hair!

The PA announced that the Brussels airport had low visibility and had the flight would be diverted to the nearby Liege airport as the fuel was running out. The first hitch of my trip. I thought to myself if everything goes smoothly, that trip is not remembered. Little did I know what lay ahead for me. A rapid descent and my ears popped in celebration. The green Belgian countryside came into view. A slight jerk and the plane taxied to a halt. The pilot announced that we would have to wait on the tarmac till we got a green signal from Brussels. So I opened my book and wrote my blog! :D

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The dream begins - with a slightly nightmarish start!

'Welcome to JFK airport' announced the PA system. Yay!! I was elated not only because I had finally reached the US, but also because the long journey was nearing its end. I was right about the former (ob the PA wont say JFK if we were in Africa) but was quite wrong about the latter.

I disembarked and walked cheerfully along long corridors, up and down escalators and reached immigration. Whoa! What a long line! I was one of the many people wanting to live the dream. And there were people of all colours and language. I waited patiently. No wonder SRK was pissed. I guess he isnt used to waiting in India, where celebs are treated like demi gods. Finally about an hour later it was my turn. For some reason i was nervous. Maybe because the SRK episode and the Kambaqt Ishq scene played in my mind. I mumbled with my answers and fumbled with my papers. The officer was polite and tried to calm my nerves and waved me through quickly.

Next up, baggage claim. I located my well marked suitcases and looked around for a trolley. I had to shell out $5 for a trolley. Hmm a porter at the railways station wouldn't charge more than Rs 100! I passed through customs and wheeled my luggage to American Airlines and checked it in for my next flight. Now i had some free time. I called home and took some rest. I bought a bottle of water for $3! I guess i would have to stop thinking in rupees if i wanted to stay sane!

I had to walk a long way to the departure gate for my next flight. I had a thorough check, in which i even had to take of my shoes. Now things started to go wrong. When i reached the gate, i was told my flight was cancelled! Eh? what do i do now! They said they would book me on some other flight. But i would have to collect my luggage and go to some other terminal to catch the flight. It took me 5 minutes to understand these set of instructions cause of their stupid accent, my nervousness and my fatigue!

So i walked all the way back, for at least a mile. Collected my baggage and had to take a $5 trolley again. I suddenly remembered that i had an extra piece of bagge and wondered if my new flight (NWA) would honour Jet-AA offer. So will all my bags (5 in total) i went around searching for Jet Airways. No luck. AA personel had no idea. Hmm i guessed i would have to deal with it.

Next I had to figure out how to use an air train to get to
the next terminal. After lots of questions to random people i reached the designated terminal. I got a boarding pass issued and checked in my luggage. I had a two hour wait. I was feeling drowsy but did my best to fight it off as there was no one to wake me up! No alarm also! I decided to eat something. Ah, the familiar MacD sign. No veg stuff though. So i settled for a milk shake.

I walked to the departure gate (again a long distance and again the security check!) I was informed the flight was delayed due to bad weather. By now i was half a sleep while walking around! Finally 2 hours later I boarded the flight. By that time i was at JFK for around 9 hours. I fell asleep the moment i was seated and woke up only when i felt the familiar poping in my ears as the plane descended. Welcome to the twin cities of Minneapolis St. Paul. Ah finally. Alls well that ends well! Maybe if this was the end.

I went for baggae claim. And hey presto, fate had one last trick up its sleeve! My baggage wasnt there. Hmm by now it was like okay, what else? I filed for lost baggage and walked out of the airport. Well atleast one thing would go right. The volunteer was there to pick me up. Thanks Bharath Group and Vamshi for giving my trip a happy ending!

I went to sleep asap cause i had to begin the dream, literally! :D

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

You’re listening to RJ Danny!

The other day, on a quiet afternoon, I was wondering how to pass time. I wasn’t feeling like reading, it was too hot to go out and too odd an hour to call anyone. Suddenly I remembered that I used to listen to the radio back in Bangalore and had totally lost that habit here in Goa. I plugged in my headphones and began searching for stations. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a good signal for any of the radio stations. Even though I hadn’t listened to radio for over two months, I felt I was missing something.

In Bangalore, I normally listened to the radio while cooking or while travelling by bus, neither of which I do in Goa. Radio Indigo was one of my favourite stations as it was fully in English. The RJs sounded sophisticated and cool! And the other station I used to listen to was Radio One. They played Hindi songs all day long. But the RJs spoke Kannada. But then their Kannada was more like English interspersed with the word ‘maadi’ at regular interval. Some of their RJs like Anjaan were cool, but this female called Pallavi was a pain in the neck! She used to talk endlessly in her high pitched voice.

There are various things that make up a radio show. Most of the time is taken up by songs. Then they have games which one way or the other revolved around asking some GK questions. And in this age of Google, I am not quite sure what the aim of this exercise is. Then there is the part wherein people ask for certain songs to be played. Now if you want to listen to some song why not play it yourself on your cell or PC? And when asked to ‘dedicate’ the song, people usually say ‘you’ as in to the RJ, and sometimes end up dedicating love songs to siblings and grandparents too!

Then there are commercials which sometimes can be quite creative as the whole idea has to be conveyed without visuals. My favourite ad was the tata indicom one which goes like one mother asks her son sound of dog, and he promptly replies bow wow, then cat and he says meow meow. Then she says mouse, and he replies click click. Then the narrator used to say something in Kannada which I guess meant that with tata indicom, all kids will be computer saavy. There were also some sad jokes which acted as fillers. My personal favourite was the one with Rajni Kanth travelling in a boat. Once Rajni Kanth was travelling in a boat and suddenly people noticed water was entering into the boat through a hole in the bottom. Everyone panicked and asked Rajni to do something. So Rajni made another hole in the bottom and wrote ‘in’ near the first hole and ‘out’ near the second one! Another type of filler consisted of various celebrities saying this is so and so and you are listening to radio so and so. Once they had Robin Uttappa say that. Who the hell recognises Robin Uttappa’s voice? Unless Himesh comes and says ooooooonn hoooozzoooor, it could be anyone from the street! And why should they tell me that I am listening to so and so radio station?

All said and done, the radio is a great tool to get the feel of the city. You get information on everything right from the weather to latest events, offers and even updates on traffic jams. So then, go ahead and tune in to your favourite radio station! This is RJ Danny signing off, catch me same place, same time, next week! Bbye..