Saturday, December 31, 2011

Part II - Practice makes perfect

When we stepped out at 9am in the morning, the Pajero said the temperature was 14 degrees centrigrade; deserts are cooler than normal in winter but I don’t remember it being so cold 10 years back; global warming?

Practice

The business of SIP Abacus (Sociable Intelligible Progressive - an odd expansion) program for kids was certainly flourishing well in the Gulf. Hundreds turned up for the annual competition for different grades to determine who are the best students in math calculation (even though you had to pay extra for writing the test). They taught kids on solving math problems in the mind. Education certainly is very good business!

In the parking lot, at least 40% of the vehicles were the large ones – the large jeep type vehicles. It is a quite common sight in the US and even in India you tend to see more SUVs these days; the only problem is parking and maneuvering them in our side-lanes. Certain kids take competition too personal; after the results were announced, I saw a girl in tears because she didn’t win any certificate or medal. SIP actually gave plenty of medals; you had the champion trophy, then a runner up position, then a bunch of students for achievement awards and another bunch of students for something else – all these positions for each level of SIP. Her mom was consoling her saying you can practice for next time; “practice for a month and you will surely win.”

It seems last year there were more medals distributed - almost every kid who took the test was given a medal; that dilutes the value of winning. The daughter and mother reentered the school building with the mom wiping off the tears which poured intermittently.

Archipelago sinking?


We headed to Palm Jumeirah (the man made structure in the shape of a palm tree - this is called an archipelago). There have been complaints that this structure is sinking slowly but the developers have refuted the claim; whatever the case, the structure was still well above sea level. On reaching the end there was the beach – not really a beach; there was a fence and then you had plenty of large stones just before the sea. There were a few benches before the concrete fence and they were unoccupied as we headed towards the end of the beach. The sun was beating hard but you didn't feel the heat because of the cool breeze; temperature was in the low 20s. We ate our lunch and then jumped across the fence after seeing another guy who was sitting alone on a large stone; it seemed like he had just finished his lunch and was contemplating seriously on something. Nice place for reflections. I jumped from the fence, underestimating the height and strained my ankle with the drop. We spent a few minutes before heading back home.


A nice place for a picnic - beach with stone slabs instead of sand.

The tower stands tall

All of nature’s wonders bring about a feeling of awe and so do man-made wonders; the sight of the height of Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world) was fascinating even now. In the future this would probably be commonplace but for now it was only the Burj standing way above all other skyscrapers in the Dubai skyline. Shooting for the movie Mission Impossible from this tower would have been exciting – hanging from the 133th floor; wow.

We wind up the last edition for this year... am heading over to catch the crowd at Burj Khalifa for the new year... time to contemplate on the year; and makes you (or at least me) wonder, 'what did I do this year?'

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Part I - A new trip...

Well, we now have 3 threads running because I'm on travel right now... so here we go...

Since it was the morning 9am flight I didn’t have the problem of feeling sleepy; it helps to do online check-in from home – you can bypass a queue and you can also come an hour later. The Chennai system had changed; you no longer had a security screening for check-in baggage. “It is done in line,” the airport staff replied. There was a huge group of girls, of varying ages, in pink dress having the name of some Sri Lankan dancing academy.

Drawing noses

I had about two hours to kill; could have started later from home but I stuck to the conventional timing of  being in airport 3 hours prior to travel. After the security check, I waited in the departures area. The toilets, unfortunately, were still not maintained well enough. There were a lot of flights in the morning. While seated I overheard a conversation between a couple of middle aged employed women – I could figure out one worked in a bank but till the end couldn’t guess where the other was employed. I tried to follow the conversation that was interesting - Kuala Lumpur had made its name as being an unsafe city; apparently there were a lot of chain snatching cases where even a guy was robbed of his gold chain. I was also observing the eyes and nose of people around – for people who are beginners in cartooning one of the hardest things, at least for me, is drawing distinct noses and eyes. With so many people of many cultures around, it seemed to observe the differences. And having a note in hand, I tried sketching as well. For some reason, though there was Tata wireless internet in the airport, I wasn’t able to browse any pages even though I could connect.

Showtime

During the flight I happened to be seated near a New Zealand settled Indian editor of a fortnightly newspaper. He was on vacation with his family in Chennai for 2 weeks and heading for a week to Dubai. The Asian vegetarian meal was surprisingly pretty good – they had potatoes, a couple of pooris and okra (ladies finger) stuffed with potato in gravy. The family near me had a Jain meal – quite a lot of choices available. The entertainment system was good in terms of audio – but I still didn’t like the thought of keeping the volume so loud blasting into my ears and opted for “closed caption” movies – it’s basically subtitles available as an option for those who want it. Wiki says it is called ‘closed’ because it doesn’t appear to everyone by default (unlike the subtitles we see in tv).

I watched the movie “Contagion” about the outbreak of a new disease that first appeared on contact with pigs. The movie was another reminder of how unexpected life can be – wife looked healthy and fine for a minute and the next minute she experiences fits and dies. A famous celeb lineup which probably wasn’t really required with Matt Damon leading the way. We started 10 minutes late but the flight arrived on time; an interesting camera option in the entertainment system was the front flight cam and downwards cam – looked good during takeoff. Before entering the flight I picked up an Arabic newspaper along with the English newspaper to refresh my memory of Arabic letters and I realized that I had forgotten many of the letters!

Smart!

After exiting the flight, as I neared the immigration area I was directed to the eye-scan counter. This was something that had changed from last time; last time when I arrived I went up to the immigration officer before being sent for eye-scan. I headed to the restroom and was surprised to see two Indian-style toilets! The queue at the eye-scan counter had become bigger during my toilet-break as more flights were arriving in the morning. Standing in queue I realized the advantage of a smartphone; in such moments of boredom it can keep you busy. The airport also had free wifi which I used to send a message to my bro-in-law saying that it would get late. 90 minutes I stood in that queue – it was only then that the airport staff tried to divide the groups and open up more counters. Even the line for “ladies only” was overflowing.

After the eye-scan, immigration was a snap – took hardly 5 minutes and baggage collection was another 5 minutes. I paused a moment to absorb the grandeur of the airport before heading out.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Part 25 - Weekend trip to DC



Sometimes when you are in a slump you don’t even realize how time flies; you think time is at a standstill during a slump but it flies just as quick. Well, anyway, back we are...
Saw a movie recently and it seems the director has some fascination for Apple products - it featured a MacBook pro for the villain’s boss in China, an iMac (the desktop computer) for the Indian villain and an iPhone for a Chinese hitman villain. I felt the movie had plenty of loose ends that could have been tied up better. I wonder whether a director can again retake scenes after they have put together the entire movie - do a preview show for select critics audience and then based on the feedback modify the movie.

Government shutdown?

Rewinding, we go to the day I decided to see the famed Cherry Blossoms - this was the last weekend and if I delayed the trip by another week there would be no cherry blossoms to see. The plan was to head out from Boston on Friday by the late night Amtrak train. My colleague didn’t join in this adventure - a few people in office suggested that I just put him in the car and drive away. I checked one last time if he wanted to come; tickets were still available.

When you do these trips, just in the station you suddenly begin to wonder, “Do I have the ticket? Is the date right” and so on; especially when you are traveling alone. The iPad 2 ads were there all over the place dropping down from the ceiling. I first had to collect the ticket using the online booking printout. Amtrak had automated machines where you just needed to show the barcode on the printout. The machine would project a spider web, scan the code and print the ticket.

Next I tried calling my Baltimore friend to tell him that I was starting. This was another bad experience with coinbox phones on this trip - I lost one dollar and the call never went through. Out of curiosity I tried a collect call - it went through and my friend accepted it. In this case, my friend would get charged on his credit card and I didn’t need to put any coins. There was a risk in my trip - depending on what the US Senate decided, there could be a Government shutdown tomorrow; basically they were debating on the Government funding or something of the sort - so if that didn’t go through then government offices would close tomorrow - that includes all national museums, memorial areas etc. They had 3 hours to approve and it was already late in the night. 

I was curious to know whether Amtrak used the same tracks used by the Boston metro and asked an Amtrak employee, “Where does the train come?”
And she quickly replied, “It sure doesn’t come from up there,” raising her hand pointing at the ceiling. It took a lot of seconds for me to understand that she was joking!

Union Station, Washington DC

The train left exactly on time, or perhaps a minute early. The first coach was called a “quiet coach”. Seats were comfortable and there was a nice table like in flights. It will be cool to work on a laptop since there was a plug point as well. It wasn’t express fast, just a little faster than our Indian trains - but it was certainly better maintained. The ticket checker came on rounds, he checked the ticket and put a slip above the seat I was in - probably just to indicate that he’d checked the seat. I started writing a letter to a friend and dozed away.
Morning 7am as I picked my backpack, a Japanese asked me, “Is this Washington?” and I confidently replied. I had heard the announcement just a couple of minutes earlier. It was cold, really cold even with my leather jacket on. I went up the steps to enter Union Station. It was a nostalgic feeling walking in the station which had a grand structure. I bought my return tickets and headed to the restrooms which were a lot better compared to the Boston station. Most of the shops were closed but some of the tour and travel counters had little pamphlet trays in the open. On close inspection I found a couple of good maps in these free pamphlets. And I also caught a headline somewhere that said the Government shutdown had been avoided.


I searched for the metro to get to Tidal Basin - the place of Cherry Blossoms. Over the last 3 years the metro had become a little dirty; the automated ticketing system was still pretty much the same. You can pick your destination point and print the ticket. Cherry blossoms here I come...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Part 24 - The famous Wall Street

WTC memories


We were back in New Brunswick station in the morning; it looked a lot different during the day; a lot more comfortable! We headed back to New York and walked to Battery Park. If you want to see the Statue of Liberty then you surely have to make an online booking. There is no way you can go and get the ticket at the counter. The queue was huge and tickets for the day were sold out. It was the same on my prior trip as well; things had certainly not changed with regard to the Statue! After seeing the Statue from a distance we headed towards Wall Street. 


On the way, we crossed the World Trade Center area. I still remember the sight of the twin towers and still remember the elevator ride we took on an earlier trip to the observatory. That was the first time that I had gone up a 100 floor skyscraper. And now there stood nothing in Ground Zero except for some construction work that was happening.

It was already afternoon and we were quite hungry. The first eatery we saw was Dunkin Donuts, to my friend’s delight. There was no second thought - we jumped into Dunkin. The employee there was a friendly Pakistani youngster. He was cheerful and energetic. We placed our order while we chit chatted. He talked about his South Indian roommate who was a very strict vegetarian and he thought all South Indians were strict veggies. As a bonus he gave us a couple of extra donuts.
“It seems there is something written on our face. He guessed we’re from South India immediately,” my friend said as we took a window side seat.
World's most famous street


The financial district was pretty crowded even though today was a holiday; plenty of tourists. On the way, there was an old church that looked grand and an urban park with benches and a huge abstract structure in the middle (I say urban park because there was no greenery). I later learnt that the church is Trinity church built in the 19th century. And the park I guess is a tribute to Harry Hemsley - a billionaire who grew up in New York and created a real estate company that was one of the biggest property holders in the US. He is said to have made a lot of contributions to New York city. (The pic to the left is Trinity Church)
We crossed a couple of bank buildings before hitting the New York Stock Exchange. There was a barricade preventing people from going close to the entrance. Beside the NYSE was the J.P Morgan building (also called "The Corner" because it is in a corner!) J.P Morgan is credited with having reduced the impact of the “Panic of 1907” which could have ruined a number of US banks which were in need of funds and had lost credibility - it’s a situation that can arise even today if every one of us went to our banks and withdrew all our money... But it’s an event that is very rare and should ideally never happen. The Wall Street bombing that happened in 1920 caused damage to this building and even today you can see some of the scars of that blast on the building. (The pic above is not the best of picks to show the JP Morgan building but you can see how small it is when compared to the skyscrapers surrounding it; The Corner is the first building).

You kind of have goosebumps when you reflect on the amount of history associated with this street. The other place in US where I had this feeling was in Washington. After every couple of blocks or so you would find a few marble benches. We took a break in one such area where a youngster was practicing skate-boarding; we saw him skate, jump on to a bench and then continue skating as he jumped off the bench. (Pic to the right shows the NYSE which is at the beginning of Wall Street; I kind of like the way they display street signs on each corner).


The frantic rush


We sipped water and were planning on what next. We had a lot of time on hand but since there was nothing else on my friend's list I suggested, “We can take the bus back to Boston.”
“You think we’ll have time to catch it?”
Checking the watch we made a dash. I grabbed the map and headed towards Chinatown. We went in and out of a metro station - the metro wouldn’t get us too close and we’d anyway have to walk as well. As we crossed each street, I cross checked the street name on the map. My general feeling in New York, and maybe it’s the same in other places in US as well, is that most people walk really fast - and it is quite a challenge to keep up with their pace. Not the tourist who are ambling at leisure but the people who are working there. But today we were faster than most of them.
I had become quite comfortable with the streets and raced away cutting diagonals to reach our destination quickly. When we came close to the bridge we knew we were almost there but according to the bus schedule, we should have missed the bus. We still pushed along and were delighted to see a bus near their office. On enquiring we found that this was the next bus and the guy said it was full and that we need to come at least 30 minutes before departure. The next bus was in another 40 minutes or so  (it seems like they ran extra trips on weekends because we never remember seeing these extra two trips on their website).
“You ran like you were possessed,” my friend commented as we entered the office to buy tickets.
This was an interesting New York trip because we spent most of our time walking and the best way to soak in the culture of a city is by walking!

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Part 23 - Night in New Jersey...



We were there upto almost closing time; we wound up after visiting the dinos section. We had a good walk across Central park. My friend bought a large Pretzel (it’s like a crispy salty biscuit in tubular shape) from a roadside vendor and he didn’t like it - many of the vendors seemed to be of Indian origin.

In the middle of the park, in an open space, there were 3 guys doing a public performance - a few small stunts along with some situational comedy. They were so well rehearsed that all 3 of them spoke the same words at exactly the same time; it sounded good to hear. At the end of the performance they came around collecting money and I’ll have to admit that they were pretty aggressive in money collection - fair enough because they did put up a good show (pic on right).
Times Square


The next stop on our list was Times Square (pic below). It was dark by the time we reached there and it was getting a little chilly. I still had my large leather jacket on but the problem was with my hands that were unprotected. Times Square at night is always filled with people and lights. We took snaps and had dinner at a Subways restaurant.
My friend ordered a foot long sandwich and I followed suit - a footlong is quite a heavy meal; as the name suggests it is a one foot long bun with veggies and sauce stuffed in.

“We are running short of quarters.”
“Yeah. Let’s ask the guy at the counter.”

Quarters (25 cents coins) are needed to make phone calls from public telephone booths. Back home it would be very hard to get change from shopkeepers unless you bought something from them. We weren’t sure of the protocol here but having bought sandwiches and a couple of drinks we were confident of getting quarters. The guy at the counter happened to be an Indian and he said, “If you want you can use my phone,” and pulled out his mobile.
We told him that we’ll need to make a call after an hour in New Jersey. He gave us quarters for two dollars.
“When you ask for quarters, everyone knows what you want it for!”
Night at the platform!
It was past 8 and we were on our way to take the train to New Jersey. We passed by Broadway and I remembered the show “Phantom of the Opera” that I saw a few years back - quite memorable it was; I lost my friend’s mobile in that show!




We took a PATH (Port Authority of New York and New Jersey) train to New Brunswick after checking with my friend's friend on phone for direction. It was a long ride and we kept a close watch on the series of stops. It was late night when we reached New Brunswick - we took the steps down from the platform. Most of the people who got down with us were picked up by someone or the other. We were the only ones left - we saw a public telephone booth. The call got connected on the first try itself but the line wasn’t clear. We tried a few more times with no luck; we lost a few precious quarters! We hoped that he’d come soon. The place was deserted and we headed back up to the platform bench. There was a single guy loitering around who came over and asked for quarters. He said he wanted to call his girlfriend or something of the sort - I said I didn’t have any quarters. Then he went to the next bench where my friend was and tried his luck there. Whether he was genuine or not, I don’t know. On the opposite side of the platform, a young lady waiting for the train was dressed in a skirt. I was feeling pretty chill and there she was in a skirt with no signs of feeling cold!

After waiting for a long time my friend suggested, “Maybe he’s come to the front - I don’t think he’ll know we are up in the platform.”
“Let’s go and see.”
We went down the stairs and walked through a narrow tunnel to the front. This was facing what seemed like the main road. There were a couple of lights here and there was a door that appeared to lead into the station office. Maybe we could wait inside. But there was a lady trying to open it and found it locked - the office was closed; only the platform was open. We tried a public booth here but that wasn’t working as well. At 11 in the night in an unknown place, with very few people around it was a little scary. Fortunately my friend’s friend suddenly turned up at the main entrance.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Part 22 - The Big Apple...


For the trip to New York, I left the planning to my friend. I left the choice of places to visit to him and he arranged for stay on Saturday night in one of his ex-colleague’s place in New Jersey.

We had cornflakes and bread before starting out early morning on Saturday. My friend was fairly convinced that we wouldn't catch the first bus. And he also tends to be worried in the car that I’m not keeping an eye on the right side of the car. He’d remind me often, “Hey, you are too close to the white line.” He didn’t feel comfortable with someone else driving; he believed that paranoid was the new normal in the world and so he was paranoid in trusting me with his life :-) But there was not much he could do; I was more than happy to give him a few jitters!
Chinese bus

We were in time at the Boston station to catch the 7:30am Chinese bus to New York. It cost only $15 for one person, one-way. It was kind of similar to our Government buses; for the cost it was pretty decent. They even had free wifi within the bus. The ride was a little over 3 hours and today happened to be the cricket world cup final - India Vs Sri Lanka and one of India’s best chances to win. I logged on to the net and followed the score online. You don’t have much legroom in these seats and I hopped over to the seat in front since both seats were empty; our bus was just half full. There was a halt in between at a junk food restaurant. Sri Lanka was doing decent batting first but without making a massive score I didn’t believe they had a chance. India’s strength was batting and on home soil almost every batsman could score big. 

The Chinese bus, quite aptly, drops you off in Chinatown in New York. This part of the city appeared quite congested. Just beside our drop off point there was a baseball ground. Venturing out, we walked on the street towards the Manhattan bridge which is parallel to the famous Brooklyn bridge. New York is a city of 5 boroughs (a borough is a division with the city) and these bridges connect Manhattan and Brooklyn. Near the bridge there were Chinese roadside vegetable hawkers and there was a bicycle trail on the bridge. We walked on the pedestrian trail to the other side - my friend was impressed by the graffiti on the bridge; people had drawn graffitis in places where we couldn’t even imagine how they reached. There are subway tracks that go below the bridge. Walking to the other side I was nostalgic because it reminded me of short duration I spent here (you can read my old travelogue for it!)
It had been quite a while since we heard honking and on one traffic junction there were at least 3 cars honking. New York was better in honking but still nothing compared to back home!

Tibetan medicine

After going up and down the bridge we took the metro to the American Museum of Natural History. The museum is on the border of Central Park, one of the largest parks in New York. We were hungry and roamed about in search of a restaurant; my friend wished for a Dunkin Donut but there was none. We finally ended up in a sandwich shop - in hunger I gobbled the sandwich while he felt nauseating - something about the mayonnaise he didn’t like. We drank some coke and entered the museum.  My friend has a fascination for natural history museums. But I didn’t like the part where they had dummy plants and animals and every museum of natural history has that. There was a huge crowd but we had a corporate offer for free tickets. There were plenty of artifacts from different civilizations all over the world - even Aladdin’s lamp! There was a rock from the Moon and explanation about earthquakes and a live monitor showing earthquakes that were about to happen across the world.
A special exhibition on Tibetan Medical paintings was being hosted in the museum. I found this quite interesting - about diagnosis and treatment done in the olden days. Fascinating was the concept of diagnosis using urine, pulse and the tongue. I have noticed that from the color of the tongue you can confirm if you have fever or just a cold - the tongue tends to have a white coating in the case of a fever; not sure if it applies to everyone but I have verified it in a few people.

For treatment, they focussed on dietary and lifestyle changes - without the aid of equipment, it was interesting to learn how they diagnosed problems based on observation.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Part 21 - Rewind to first two weeks...


We now switch time zone to go back to the first couple of weeks in the US...
Pulled up by a cop

We used to take the cab to office initially since I wanted to get used to the traffic before I started driving. One chilly night, it got late in office - pretty much everyone had left by 6pm. Over here in case you wanted to work longer people tended to go home and work rather than sitting up late in office. Our cabbie was going through a different route and I had no clue where we were; even my friend who is pretty attentive to the routes being taken found it hard to follow. At one point on the highway, we slowed down and switched to lane 2 from lane 1 (the leftmost lane). And all of a sudden I saw flashing lights behind us - it was a cop car and the cab pulled over to the right side of the street.

I had heard people saying that you are not supposed to step out of your car when a cop pulls you over. The cop came to the driver’s side window and gestured him to step out of the car. My viewpoint was similar to that in a movie - I couldn’t see the cop’s face but could only see up to his shoulder via the window. It appeared like the cabbie was let off with just a warning.

Once he returned, he apologized to us for the delay. And as he drove, he poured to us his life story. About his girlfriend and how she was on medication that would sometimes drive her nuts - she called the cops one night while all he was trying to do was help her by restraining her; the cops came and initially thought that it was a fight; on learning the truth they said they had to arrest someone and he volunteered. My friend and I were cautious with our replies - with strangers you never know how they might react to what you say; safe bet is to just listen and not make any judgements or comments. 

Speed signs are a little odd on the highways; though it says 60 miles per hour as the limit our cabbie was going beyond that and other cars were going faster than us as well. Our cabbie was pulled up because he slowed down on lane 1, the fastest lane. You are supposed to use lane 1 to overtake others.
Cooking is an art!

For dinner I would come home and do the cooking; my friend wasn’t very interested in cooking related work but I did enjoy it - I liked to try different things with the limited resources we had. I learnt how to make sambar from a colleague online - one of the key ingredients is tamarind; and the tamarind we had didn’t have any smell or taste. The first time I tried making sambar, it didn’t have any taste either and I wondered if it was because of the tamarind - that was when I realized that a little salt can make a world of difference; it suddenly tasted pretty good. 

My friend loved noodles but he had it plain - boil water, dump the noodles, throw in the masala (chicken masala!) and that was it. I liked to add boil vegetables, stir fry onions, toss them all into the boiling water along with the noodles and even add ketchup - I didn't like using the masala provided.
Morning breakfast was cornflakes and bread - we tried different varieties - plain, brown bread, multi grain, brown bread multi grain but it was the plain one which tasted the best! Milk and eggs were great and so were mushrooms. Mushrooms were juicy and the first time I cooked the mushrooms there was quite a lot of gravy that collected in the pan - and the gravy tasted great with plain rice. We had a disaster trying dosas - it was the first time we tried to buy something from an Indian store that was nearby; some dosa mix that was ready to pour and eat. It seemed very old to me but we were keen to try dosas and bought it. It was a total disaster - I managed to pour one after a lot of struggle with the pan and my friend ate it; the dosa mix had a very pungent smell and there was no use of adding milk and water. That was the first and last time that we bought anything from the Indian store - vegetables, rice and even dhal (lentils) we bought from Market Basket (an American supermarket chain).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Part 20 - Research on perfumes


A challenge

There was this advertisement on television that I found amusing - you had a couple of women who were really fair appear on screen. One applied the cream on one arm and leg and got an instantaneous light brownish skin color - from being fully fair to partially fair! She showed both her hands, one hand on which she applied the cream and the other which was her natural color - the contrast was unbelievable; the cream had produced a uniform color that made the skin appear flawless; at least that’s how it seemed on TV; I wonder how it looked closeup - a lot of times makeup is great when viewed from a distance but up-close you can see the difference. The other lady applied it on her face and had a similar effect.
A friend of mine, who was online chatting with me, messaged that people back home want to get as fair as possible. The concept of ‘fair’ is relative. Even people who are fair want to become even more fair back home because they feel that they aren’t fair enough. And over here it seemed to be the reverse - they wanted to reduce a bit of the fairness and get some tan along with a smooth texture. She also challenged me that guys aren’t good when it comes to buying cosmetic items for women. And since guys love challenges, I decided to give it a shot. I began researching about the world of cosmetics whenever I found some time - first item on my research list was perfumes; something I hardly ever used.
Perfume mania

Perfumes are classified based on their strength - I had heard of the toilet water (the eau de toilette); ok, it’s not really toilet water - it’s just what I call it; toilette in French also means clothing and not toilet. On looking online I found that Eau de Toilette had a medium amount of perfume concentration. The stronger one was Eau de Parfum and the milder one was Eau de Cologne. I thought each perfume would have just one fragrance but no - there are three - the top note (the one you smell initially when you apply the perfume), the middle note (the smell you get after the top note dies - this is what you would smell majority of the time) and the base note (just at the end).

My Baltimore friend, who is good at this told me when I was in his home, “The essence is that the perfume fragrance spreads because of body heat. So you shouldn’t spray perfumes on dress.”
“Oh, but many do.”
“That’s the wrong way to apply it - you should apply it in parts like above the wrists and back of the neck or just behind the ears.”
“Interesting.”
"And perfume can even stain your dress."

He had a range of bottles stacked near his bed on the window sill.

“And branded ones are good?”
“No, needn’t be. Just that they are standard. Try the Calvin Klein on one hand and the other one on your other hand.”

The other one was light and didn’t sting your senses. Perfumes were quite expensive - a small bottle could cost anywhere from $20 onwards; on an average the branded ones were about $40 or so.

“Small bottles will last for a long time since each time you will only use a few sprays. So you don't need to buy a big bottle. And it might be a good idea to buy two small bottles of different fragrances rather than one big bottle.”
There were different fragrances - like the fruity ones, floral ones, mix of fruity and floral etc. You pick a fragrance depending on the type of person. And there were plenty of brands from which to select as well; other than Calvin Klein and Dior I had never heard of any other brand. Now I heard about Elizabeth Arden, Chanel, Burberry, Gucci etc. Phew - what a competition!

Monday, September 05, 2011

Part 19 - Your proposal shall be accepted!


My return flight was at 6am in the morning. Had to sleep early but that wasn’t what I planned to do for a while. We returned the rental car at around 10pm; again I had to drive my friend’s car while he drove ahead of me in the rental car. I tried to guess the route but if I were stranded I would surely struggle to find my way back without the GPS. My friend learnt a lesson with rental cars - if you opt to take a rented car with a full tank (they charge you for it) then ensure you return it with the tank almost empty (if not fully empty!) because they will not pay back for unused petrol when you return the car.
Back home I played the Wii for a while till I got bored of it - your hand starts to ache after a while with it.

Your proposal shall be accepted...

I watched a Blu-ray movie - my friend's room was ideal; small and cosy - you could snuggle into bed and put on a movie on the Sony flat screen which was connected to Bose speakers by your side; with the wireless light dimmer control in hand, you didn’t need to get up from bed! ‘Leap year’ was the movie - it was about a girl who goes to Ireland where they had the tradition that on Feb 29th a girl can propose the guy. Well a girl can propose on any day but their tradition says that a guy has to accept the proposal received on 29th Feb. A storm forces the plane to land elsewhere and she gets another guy to drive her up to make her proposal in time. She and the cab guy develop a friendship that starts in you know what - it starts with a fight and during the course of the trip they become buddies. There are some nice comedy scenes in between and in the end she decides that it is the cab guy who is the right guy for her - as expected. Not a great movie but my friend got this because it was filmed in Ireland - a beautiful country that he had visited once.
I wonder if there was some tradition like that were the girl has to accept a guy’s proposal! Would be interesting and amusing I guess :-) It was midnight and my friend was sound asleep in the neighboring room. I brushed and jumped into bed. A perfect weekend.
Flight back to Boston

We reached the airport early in the morning - it was my friend who woke me up. My eyes were groggy as I stepped into the airport and I picked my seat on the machine which printed my boarding pass. As I headed towards the departure gate I noticed a huge queue waiting for security check. With the time ticking down I wondered if I should’ve started earlier. I looked around to see if there were other people from my flight - I scanned boarding passes and felt a little comfortable when I found a person behind me with the same type of printout.
It took almost 15 minutes for my turn; this was a full body scanner that they had - I peered at the device after having crossed it. When you stepped through the machine there was some indicator on the screen that flashed - it wasn’t a full body xray but probably something like a full size metal detector.
A lot of people waiting in the departure gate for this return flight were people I had seen 3 days back in the flight to Baltimore; all of them spending the long weekend here. The flight was on time; the scene from the flight was beautiful - the sun rising over the city. Back in Boston I had to wait in the airport for almost 45 minutes for my bus. My office laptop had a little charge left and I logged in using the free wifi. My Monday was just starting out but my colleagues back in India were winding up their day - I chatted for a while via the instant messenger before I ran out of charge.
Took the bus, then took my car to home and then got ready quickly and drove back to office - I was quite comfortable with driving in the US now. I rushed into office with just 10 minutes to go for my presentation - phew, what a start to the week.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Part 18 - the Baltimore weekend goes on...



I had covered one half of the garden; my friend and I wandered to the right half of the garden via the Peirce-duPont House. The story goes that this arboretum (collection of trees) was about to be sold for lumber when Pierre du Pont bought the property in 1906. He kept adding to the collection of specimens and used this as his private estate - must’ve been grand living in a place like this. He established a foundation to manage the garden and today it is more than 1000 acres in size.
On the right half was the tulip garden - plenty more tulips out here and it was a photographer’s delight. My friend was tired with the walking. I finally found a drinking water fountain basin near the tulips - it was good that we didn’t throw the water bottle we bought in the restaurant. Water fountains are different in the US - you push the button below the basin and water will fire upwards from the tap. The other way would have been to have the tap in the conventional way, like we have in water filters back in India - the problem is you need to use a cup or your hands to drink from them; here you don’t need any of that - hold the button and catch the water spray in your mouth. This also wasn’t ideal - you can’t drink like you drink normally; you catch a few sips. But if you had a water bottle you could fill it up partially and drink. Anyway, it was a simple mechanism that didn’t require cups.
I went around to the other side which was an even longer walk - this side had more trees and less flowers; it was like a well maintained forest with plenty of tall trees. There was a bird house - a wooden hut at a height made completely of wood. Further down was another set of fountains and further north was a walk through the meadows. Plenty of grass and some water in between - the meadow route was huge; you could walk around the border; it was quiet because not many came this far. Beside the meadows was another tree house - this one slightly bigger. Next to the tree house was a forest trail - this was completely deserted; along the trail you had tree stumps where you could sit. There were points where the board would ask you to listen to nature’s sounds. I saw only one elderly couple on this forest trail. It was a bit spooky with the light going down and you hearing only some weird noises. Who knows what might pop up at any moment!
I took some unexplored route back to the tulip area. I was tired; it was 4pm and time to wind up. My friend was taking snaps of a squirrel.
“Anything of interest on the other side?”
“Plenty of trees - you should come back to this place after a few months.”
On our return we stopped at a burger king restaurant but it was locked. So we went to the supermarket next to it and bought some drinks and salted peanuts. I fiddled around with my friend's camera, learning how to use it - he had a pro type digital camera that was bulky and has many options with extra lens fittings.


Dinner was in Friendlys restaurant in Baltimore - a sumptuous meal for $10 with ice cream! It began raining heavily with thunder and lightning. Finally the 100% prediction of rain had come true!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Part 17 - Longwood Gardens...



Off we headed towards Longwood Gardens (again in Philadelphia - about an hour’s drive from Amish village). There were a couple of mistakes we did - we didn’t carry snacks with us (comes in very handy when you are traveling) and we didn’t have lunch before entering the Garden. The parking lot was huge and by the size of that we knew we’d have to do plenty of walking inside.
Just outside the entrance there was a beautiful set of tulips and my friend started clicking again.
“People usually take snaps from above but it looks good when you take it from below.”
“Oh; the subject should be above our eye level then.”
We would have spent more than 5 minutes in that area. The trailer sure did look impressive!
There was a decent crowd; we picked our tickets and strolled inside. Going by the map we headed first to the Terrace restaurant. The Easter buffet was sold out - a little expensive buffet, held once a year; my friend was keen on trying it out but it was all sold out online itself. So the second mistake we did was not having lunch outside - pretty much always, the food in tourist spots are a lot expensive than outside. We could even have brought food from outside and had it here. 
The concept of audio tours is very popular in the US - either it is a kit you can borrow (like in Eastern State Penitentiary) or some app that you need to download to your smartphone before visiting the place. From the restaurant we entered the New East Conservatory block and the place was very beautiful - a glass house with plenty of plants and flowers in a pleasing arrangement. You could simply sit there and admire them for hours.

It was  a rectangular hall with symmetry in the sense that what was on the left side was repeated on the right with a pool of water in the center. And on the right there was a lady playing on a harp - the slow music with intermittent high tempo tunes sounded good. Many kids stood looking at her in awe and so did we. Plants, trees, flowers, water and music was a great combo to soothe the mind.
There were numerous flowers we had never ever seen or even heard of - some names I still remember are the bell flower, slipper orchid etc; flowers in different colors and different shapes and sizes - some even appearing like beetles and insects. There were the standard ones like daffodils and roses as well (different colors of roses - red, white and what not). There was a children’s area where children are encouraged to get themselves wet playing in the water that shoots across from fountains in different areas. We took quite a lot of time to finish the conservatory area itself and this was just one portion of the garden!
My friend was tired when we stepped out of the Conservatory building and the sun was beating down on us; not too strong but still pretty hot - and the weather forecast said rain! The water bottle we bought was almost over.
“I’ll sit here,” my friend said and took a seat on the balcony that was facing the open air theatre - a grand theatre down below.
“I’ll check out the area on this side behind the theatre and come.”

There were a couple of things on this side - the Idea garden and the eye of the water. The Idea Garden had a few patches of tulips - tulips in multiple colors - pink, white, yellow, red, orange. Further down on an uphill was something called the Chimes Tower. I was tired with walking but still continued - having come so far, might as well finish the round and return. At the base of the hill was a waterfall and beside it was an old tower. The Chimes Tower housed carillon - a set of bells at the top of the tower that are used to play music - these aren’t small bells but large bronze ones. It plays every half an hour and sounded grand. Climbing to the top you reach the “eye of the water” - that’s kind of like the starting point for the waterfall down below. The entire place was filled with greenery and flowers; even the walk up the hill.