Friday, December 24, 2004

Beginning to get settled in

A couple of weeks ago I managed to finally sign the lease for an apartment. It's a pretty huge apartment, some 2200 sqft, is in a pretty decent apartment complex and is pretty centrally located to most things that matter. Having been away for the past two weeks from Bangalore, I am now beginning to get into setting the place up. In contrast Pooja and Hemant seem to have made much more progress. I now have a maid who cleans the house and washes the clothes.

It still amazes me how much you can do by just sitting at home and making phone calls. In the morning, all we need to do is make a phone call to get someone to deliver some small groceries. I've managed to make all my travel reservations, open my bank account, get a phone service all without leaving my office or home. It is a different matter that sometimes you need to make 5 phone calls when things could have been taken care of in one.

It is difficult to not compare the Indian standards of customer service and cordiality to others', escpecially when you fly an Indian airlines. I recently flew Air India from Chicago to Bangalore. I flew business class for a change, and I must admit I felt pretty good with the service and food. Once I landed in Bangalore, my bags were missing and it has taken them some 2 days to locate the bags. If you ever fly international flights into Bangalore, you should know that besides one small baggage terminal and a foreign exchange counter, there is little else. Of course there are the customs folks ready to pry open your bags, but there are no airline counters or offices that you can approach readily. I had to file the complaint about the missing bags with an Air India person in the area -- everything was on paper, and I had little confidence in things actually being taken care of. Nevertheless, that was the best I could do, and it turns out things weren't that bad. The buggers are delivering the bags today. In hindsight, I would recommend Air India, if you can readily ignore their haphazard but decent service and poor video content on flight.

I used the long flight to Bangalore to catch up on some reading. Neelkanth -- whom I ran into in Singapore -- had recommended an author calle Dalrypmle, and his interesting insights into British times in India. I am reading White Mughals. I'm only one fourth the way through, and I like it a lot. The guy writes quite brilliantly. The octagenarian English lady next to me saw the book and asked me if it was the Maharanis. As it turns out she had read other books by this author. On one hand it impressed me that the old lady is keeping up with the times, and on the other I felt good that this book is getting a wider audience. It deserves to.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

"Snockling" on Pangkor Island...

It's been a while since I posted. Since the last time I talked about my car, I've already gotten tired of it, have a couple of dents thanks to Bangalore's amazingly overcrowded traffic and I am in the process of looking for a driver to get myself out of too much road rage. Drivers, thankfully, are quite affordable in a city like Bangalore (or elsewhere in India). Another thing I found out was that there is an agency or a broker for all these services -- drivers, apartments, maids and what not. It reminds me vaguely of things I read in Wodehouse novels ages ago.

Interestingly enough, it isn't just India where maids are affordable. I was in Singapore for a couple of days, and I learnt about the commonly available Philippino maids in the city. As my host and friend Reza explained to me, it is common to see couples with a maid in tow carrying their child. I forgot about it for a few days as we lazed on beaches in Malaysia and then got reminded of it in KL again when I mistook Reza's friend's maid to be his wife. Interesting, how varying economies of neighbouring nations or states help create a class system.

I am now in Seattle for a short business visit. Dark, gloomy, rainy, somewhat boring Seattle. Bought a pair of snowboarding pants to replace the torn ones from last season, and I am now hoping to catch some snow on the slopes on Whistler or Mt Baker before I leave back for the smog of Bangalore. On the way here, I stopped over in Singapore and Malaysia. Ah.. there are places in the world where it is difficult to imagine the pace, traffic and pollution of a city like Bangalore. Reza was my guide for the five days on the peninsula. After a day in the lion city we caught a shuttle flight to KL, from where we took a bus to Sitiawan (we actually wanted to get to Lumut, but there was no bus that could get there in time). From Sitiawan a cab driver delivered us to the ferry terminal and the ferry helped us arrive at the beautiful Pulau Pangkor. The cab driver was quite nice -- when we asked him for fare, he said "more or less 8 ringet." If he had said 50 we might have still paid him, given the rush we were in to get to the last ferry for the day. With a toothy grin and 30 year old Merc, he kindly deposited us right in front of the ferry with 10 minutes to spare.

Pangkor itself was amazingly beautiful. We rented a small scooter for a couple of days and I had a blast riding it up and down the small island. The roads occasionally have a 15-20% grade, with really sharp turns. We found some shops in Teluk Nipah advertising "snockling" at Giam Island. This was my first time snorkeling in these waters. Fish wasn't great but I found the coral off of Giam Island quite amazing. I am told there is even better stuff in Malaysia and my appetite for this stuff is now whetted. After all, it is just a 4-hours flight from Bangalore to Singapore. And from there another 4-6 hours to get to somewhere like Pangkor. Singapore on the way seems like the perfect place to spend some hard-earned money. I was almost drooling over the Nokia 6170, 6260 phones. Of course, there's more stuff too. :)

The other stuff I splurged on were the Korean, Japanese, Thai, Hong Kong and Singaporean movies. Bought some 15 VCDs. There's a shop in Singapore, "That CD Shop" that sells some pretty interesting trance/new age music. Unloaded more moolah there. Managed to stuff all these into my already full bags and landed in Seattle to find it cold and chilly.

It seems only Mt Baker and Whistler have enough snow to be open around here. Let's see if I can convince someone to join me on the slopes next weekend. There's no way I am heading back without a day on the snow. :)

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Elevator Man

I can't figure out for the life of me, why are elevators in India manned? Elevators are some of the few human inventions that work perfectly fine unattended. Why did we create one of the most unnecessary job, with what may be the worst possible view?

Talking of elevators reminds me: crowded elevators in India tend to be a challenge for anyone with half-decent olfactory senses. Try them to see (or smell) what I mean. India is, I think, a market dying for a de-odorant brand to make a killing. They can start by handing out free samples in crowded elevators.

I'll volunteer to hand some out myself.

It's a Lancer!

I came full circle with my shopping for cars. I finally ended up with a 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer 1.5 Petrol VXi.

For a long time I thought I would settle for a Fiat Palio. As it turns out, Fiat dealerships have been shutting down faster than you can say their name. There's only one left in Bangalore, and we couldn't find it where it was supposed to be. Hmmm. Besides, I've heard such hugely negative reviews from Palio owners that I just couldn't get myself to consider it seriously anymore.

I looked at Hyundai (oh, how the mighty have fallen!) Getz and Santro. Santro was just too sluggish for my taste. Getz felt a lot better, but the interiors looked like as though they were designed by some garbage can designers. For the price they charge, it is quite incredible how little they try to please the customer. And not to forget, Hyundai had this deal going for their Santro over Diwali, and all Hyundai dealerships looked like vegetable markets.

So, what's left? It was a toss up between Skoda, Lancer and Honda City. Honda because all the cars seemed to come with a high likelihood of problems further down the road. Hondas at least seemed to do better here elsewhere in the world. And then it turned out that Honda makes you wait several months before delivering the car to you. That's just outright stupid. Out with Honda.

Skoda... 15.7 lakhs was just a teeny bit too much. So I thought I'll actually test drive a Lancer. The dealer (Southern Motors) was a little green -- showed me the wrong car, wrong color, didn't know the prices etc. But what I found to my liking was that the car felt quite ok in terms of power and design. It's not a sports car by far. But it does come with a 3 year maintenance program. The price was much more attractive than a Skoda Octavia RS. Delivery is being promised to be quick. All of a sudden stars seemed to align well for Lancer, and I made the plunge.

Luckily they had a deal to reduce the price by some 40k and throw in a CD changer. Now I am waiting for the car to arrive in the next three days... Till then, I stay at the mercy of the auto drivers and the City Taxi wallahs. Just three more days.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Buying a car

Several eons ago, there was only one car to buy in India. Everywhere you looked, there was this car the size of a bar of soap taking the desi babu where no car had gone before. I knew that things had changed a bit. There were more choices. So, when I went out looking for a car, I was naturally expecting to shop around.

I wouldn't say that I was disappointed, but I did feel a bit let down by what the fancier looking cars had to offer for the price they charge. I am told it is the excise that hikes the price. In any case, I found invariably that the cars were underpowered, lacked finish and in general were tagged with a price much more than what they were worth.

Let me first be clear about what I wanted. I really want a sports convertible. :) But I would have settled for a good looking car with a spiffy engine under the hood, low maintenance and nice interior. And yes, above all, 5-speed manual transmission. No compromise there.

First I checked out the Mitsubishi. I had heard a bit about the Lancer. To my surprise, the 5-speed ones came with 87bhp! A bit low for the car that size and weight. Next, the Skoda. I had never head the name before I came here. I am told it is Czech brand, now bought by VW. The interiors were nice, the car had good stuff to offer, but at 15 lakhs (roughly USD34K) it was way overpriced. I suddenly missed the Audi I sold before I came here. :(

Then the Opel Corsa Sail. Underpowered, overpriced, modest looking. Thumbs down. I had looked at a used Opel Astra Club, and it didn't work out because of the problems with the car.

Looked at Mahindra's Scorpio. As I shut the door, there was a bunch of clanging noise as though every single nut and bolt in the door creaked. I was soon out.

Now I have my eyes on the Fiat Palio 1.6 GTX. Seems to just about fit the bill. But the showrooms here are closed on Sundays, and that means that I have to wait yet again. Oh well.

Friday, November 05, 2004

No timing, sir!

I had this interesting conversation with a security guard at Citibank. I was there to meet someone regarding my new bank account. The guard went in to check if he was there. He returned soon, and then the dialogue went something like...

"No sir."
"He's not there?"
"He's left outside."
"You mean he has left for the day?" (It was 4:30pm, reasonable likelihood.)
"No sir, he's left outside."
"Ok." I was about to leave when he stopped me.

"Sir, he's coming."
"You mean he is still here?"
"No sir, he's left outside. He's back."
"Uhh... He is out, but he is coming back?"
"Yes sir."
"No timing, sir."

Needless to say, I left.

Monday, November 01, 2004


So much has been said by people from everywhere landing here and finding the pecularities, that whatever I say will be a cliche. Nevertheless, there are many things about Bangalore that I love and there are many things about it that I hate.

Food's just great. It is easy to find a good restaurant, service is usually good and restaurants are usually open till late. It was easy to find a rock climbing wall and hook up with a rock climbing club. I love how somehow there's a lot to do, and there's a lot happening all the time.

I hate how most of the people have little value of time, especially others'. Everyone is on a cell phone all the time. We went to check out a car, and we ended up waiting for hours only to find out the service station is closed because of a holiday. No one shows up on time. Everyone has a kind of a very laid back attitude towards everything, which is nice in a way, I guess. I also hate how all these clubs have a snobbish attitude towards new members. The office people in most of the sports clubs seem to relish the fact there is little for them to do. One particular lady at Bangalore Golf Club, smiled as she told us how we had to get 6 different people to support our membership application and then we had to wait for 20 years to get in. Her desk was empty, and I bet we were probably the only people she had had to interact with the entire day. At Academey for adventure sports, we asked for membership forms, and there was a commotion in the entire office. We seemed to have added excitement to these peoples' lives by asking for membership forms.

Traffic is messy. And a lot of it too. But I still kind of liked driving around. I managed to find a pretty decent car for buying, potentially. Doesn't compare much to the Audi I sold in Seattle, but it'll do.

Besides the things I love and hate, there are all kind of things that are just intriguing. Whatever anyone says, they end it as though they are asking a question. I wonder why. Sports clubs and gyms are always more like resorts, with elaborate lounges, bars, restaurants and even rooms to stay overnight.

Well, that's what the first two weeks of Bangalore were about. I am beginning to read some Kannada, though I can't understand any of it. I can count to twenty though :).

Let's see what else is in store.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Chilling in Goa!

My first weekend in India happened to be a long weekend. Decided to take a break from work and head to the lovely beaches of Goa. Anand and Pari, who happen to be much crazier than me, jumped at the idea. Hemant decided to dump his fiance for the weekend and join in. So the four of us got into Anand's Palio and headed out Friday afternoon.

The drive was great. Stayed overnight in Hubli and reached Goa around noon on Saturday. Checked into a neat little beach resort, and were on the beach within half an hour. From then on for the next three days are kind of hazy in memory. I remember always having a drink in hand. In the process somewhere, got a henna tattoo -- though it didn't turn out as I wanted it to. Water scooter and Banana boat was good, if short, fun. Turns out Pari gets hysterical if she is in deep water, even if she has a life jacket on :). I learnt the hard way that even small waves can be pretty powerful. We were body surfing, and I ended getting turned upside down by these two feet waves. Managed to stay up once finally :).

What can I say... the stay in India is already beginning to look up.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Getting a green card stamp

In the last month, I got my green card approved, my passport renewed from the Indian consulate in SF, the INS office in Seattle decided to close down and take a break of 10 days, INS moved to a new appointment-based system for getting the green card stamped, I managed to get my green card stamped and I am flying overseas for 2 months tomorrow. There were so many variables in this whole equation and almost everything went wrong like clockwork.

The great Indian bureaucrats sent me my new passport after 3 weeks of sitting on it (I had to call to "expedite" the process), and before the sense of elation for having made it through another obscure government office, I noticed, with a sinking feeling in my tummy, that the photo staring back from my passport was not mine. I even looked at the mirror to confirm that this guy, though Indian looking, could not be mistaken as me, or even me some years back. Thankfully they at least expedited the new passport second time around without me asking them. My new passport with my photo came back a week later.

Next, the INS office. Dutifully, I would show up on time (ungodly 7am) for the INS office, take conference calls while I stood in the line and be told close to the time my turn would come that they've run out of tokens. And one fine day they closed down for good because they were moving buildings and the new one wouldn't open for another 10 days. So, what do I do? I was leaving in about a week, so either I cancel my tickets, or I find another way. In Yakima, a small American town, 150 miles east of Seattle, lay the answer to my problems.

Al kindly offered to fly me there in his 4 seater. He, in turn, told me the stories about flying in Jeff's plane. Needless to say, we all have something to look forward to. Al even let me fly, despite my very rusty flying skills. I couldn't keep track of the altimeter, but found once again that I enjoy this shit. I hear they have a flying club in Bangalore. Or outside of Bangalore. Jakkur it's called. Maybe it's time to dust off my pilot's license and fly again!

Anyway, it took an hour to fly there, 20 minutes to find a car, 5 minutes to get the green card stamped, and another hour to fly back. So much for overhead. At the end of it, my passport now shows a permanent residence stamp that allows me legal entry to the US. Thank you, gods of immigration.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Getting ready to move

All my bags are packed... I leave on a jet plane in four days. My car finally is someone else's today. Moving is a pain. Moving across countries even more so. I am selling things I never intended to, and whatever I am not selling I might end up paying customs duty for just to get them to India! Oh well.

My rock climbing gear, bike jackets and squash stuff gets there early. So the first plan of action is to find a climbing wall, a motorbike and a squash club. Let's see how easy they are to find. Squash club, from what I hear so far, seems to be a sport for the stinking rich. Clubs ask for Rs. 10 lakhs as one time membership fee!!! That's almost $25,000. What kind of clubs are these? The quest is to find an affordable one.. or maybe to afford one of these clubs :). In any case, I hear these clubs have a 20 year waiting list. I'm sure I'll be able to afford this much in the next 20 years.

On that note, a large part of my memories from India are about standing in long lines. Train tickets, School admissions, results, banks, ration, driver's license, immigration, post office.... But 20 years to wait for entering a club? I can imagine the feeling of elation at the end of those 20 years, the first day in the club after waiting for it 20 years. I felt something similar when I got my green card after waiting for 5 years. But the two don't even compare, do they? Or maybe they do... it's just another club, isn't it?

And yes, all said and done, Jackie Chan rocks. :)

Monday, October 04, 2004

I hope, not goodbye to Biking!

As I get ready to come to India, I am offloading one of my prized possessions -- a beautiful Honda CBR 600F4. Those who read it as a bunch of numbers probably won't understand why I would waste any time writing a blog about it. Those who read it to mean a spiffy pair of wheels on road will know how you can get to love a bike so much. I am selling it off. :( I seriously, seriously thought about shipping it over, paying customs etc. and riding it in India. Will it be worth it? I mean, seriously, will I ever feel like I am riding a mean machine? Will I ever get to shift into the fourth in the streets of Bangalore? third?

That doesn't mean however that I won't have a bike in India, now does it? It is probably more fuel efficient, easier to park, easier to navigate through the traffic and more fun that a car in Bangalore. Question arises, how and where to find a cool pair of wheels...? Honda Splendour-blender are too low key. Need something that screams... I'm sure there is some of it in Bangalore... I hope there is still more now that we have a hit Bollywood movie that glamorizes bikers...

Friday, September 17, 2004

Goodbye to Snowboarding

For the last 5 years, snowboarding has been a passion that surpassed everything else for me. People in Seattle cringe at the mention of winter. Winter brings months of gloomy weather, clouds that just won't go away, and rain that just about hangs over your head but never comes down. For me, winter meant snow on the slopes, the thrill of strapping my left boot into the binding as I got ready for my first ride up the hill, that feeling of being home again when my snowboard hits the snow for the first time off the lift and I start my ride down the mountain. My years in Seattle were always spent waiting for the winter to arrive. Summer had its own rewards, but there was something special about the cold days spent surrounded by white snow.

And now, after 5 snowboarding seasons (and one trip to south of the equator to catch some summer snowboarding) I shall leave Seattle. You might argue that I wouldn't leave if I loved it so much. I do love it this much, but it is time to do something new. I don't think I can ever get snowboarding out of my blood. It will always be there, clawing away at my tiring mind, beckoning me to the white mountains. But, as they say in Bangalore, what to do -- life's like that only.

Yes, I shall be heading back to my motherland (fatherland?) -- India. One would think I am going to the mecca of skiing, what with the tallest and the whitest of mountains spanning the entire breadth of the country. But alas, we Indians like to chill in the comfort of the quilts in our homes, with peanuts (maybe I should start calling them groundnuts?) and jaggery to keep ourselves busy. I have heard things have changed, and I have also heard that there are skiing resorts. Maybe it is time to explore the country I have been away from for several years. Bangalore being sufficiently away from the mountains in the north will pose a problem. But come winter, I know I will start itching to be on the snow, to once again put my snowboard on, race down the hill, feel the rush of cold air on my face, catch air and land on soft snow, adrenalin pumping in my veins... I know I will come back.