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.”
"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!