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. :)