Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Review of the SAP Gym

I don't know how popular Saturday Night Live is here in India. But it's a show that airs every Saturday night in the US. One of my favorite skits has 2 German body builders (with heavy German accents) who work at a local gym: "This is Hanz. And this is Franz. And we are here to pump (clap) you up!" Well, you have to watch the skit. It's one of SNL's funnier ones.

SAP's new gym at floor -1 has plenty of Hanz and Franz trainers. I recently bid farewell to my old Gym (Gymnazio next to Paras hospital in Sushant Lok Phase I) to give the new SAP gym a try. Here's my opinion of the gym, 2 weeks into the experience:

Price: The gym is not cheap. You can get a good deal though if you sign up with a member of the opposite sex and if you take a longer package (multiple months). Score: 2 / 5.

Machines: Cardio - 3 treadmils, 2 ellipticals, 2 bikes. Weights - bench press (and incline bench press), shoulder machine, chest press machine, lateral pull down, leg extension, leg curl, multi-purpose machine, free weights. The machines are all brand new and are in excellent condition. The treadmills, ellipticals, and bikes all have TVs. Missing: Seated rowing machine (for back). Pull-up / Chin-up / Dip machine. Ab-roller. Decline chest press (where your head is lower your body and you work the lower chest). Score: 4 / 5.

Locker Room: 3 showers, steam room, sauna, about 20 lockers with keys, massage room. The lockers are nice but the showers are not well designed (no towel racks,water is not warm, water doesn't drain properly). Sauna and steam room are good. Lots of towels. Score: 3 / 5 (would have been higher if the showers were better).

Trainers: 3 or 4 trainers, depending on the time of the day. The main trainers know their stuff, but can be a little overbearing. But there will always be someone to spot you on the weights, especially the assistant trainers. Score: 4 / 5.

Music: Good in the evenings, not so good in the morning. Excellent sound system. They played what I thought was Nancy Ajram yesterday night - she is an amazing (and beautiful) Lebanese singer. Extra brownie points for that. Score: 4 / 5.

Miscellaneous: Temparature is kept cool. No mat on the floor. Hot and cold drinking water. Gym is not crowded in the morning, getting crowded in the evening. The gym is still heavily male dominated, unlike the US gyms which have equal numbers of men and women (and in many cases, more women). Score: 3 / 5.

All in all, this is a luxury gym that is pretty well designed. It does leave some things to be desired, however: better showers, more space, more machines, etc. Price is the main barrier but the convenience somewhat offsets this. On the other hand, the gym at the Palo Alto office is free - but that gym doesn't have any trainers. Still, it's a pleasurable experience to work out at this gym because of the newness of the machines. We'll have to see if it becomes too crowded - that might decrease the score.

Overall score: 4 / 5.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The "Apocalypse"

The month of May in Gurgaon was characterized by some incredible storms, the likes of which I have never seen in the US. These 'apocalyptic' storms come as quickly as they go:

  • First, the temparature in normally sweltering Gurgaon drops 10 - 20 degrees.
  • The wind then picks up to what feels like 50 km.
  • This wind whips up an incredible amount of dust blinding everyone who is unlucky enough to be outside and blocking out the sun. This picture was taken at around 10am from the office.
  • Next come the intense rains and sometimes the hail.
  • Finally, the T-storms hit. This is when the storm is the most ferocious.
  • After about 10 minutes, it's all over.

The storm is much cooler and scarier when I'm in my apartment in Maple Heights. The first thing I hear is shaking as the wind howls through our complex. Then I look outside and I see random objects flying through the air and my poor F-tower guard running for cover. It gets noisier and noisier as apartment and car window glass begins to break. Of course the power goes out and the rains come pounding down. Heavy rains lead to flooding in my apartment since my walls are weak. Finally, loud thunder claps complete the apocalypic experience.

After the storm, it's time to clean up the storm-dust that creeped into my apartment only to have my apartment re-dirtied by next week's storm.

The Road to Work

Normally the office cab comes to Maple Heights at 8:45 am to pick up Shweta, Jasmine, Deepika, and I. But sometimes 8:45 am is just too early for me. When I'm too lazy to wake up on time and take the office cab to work, I take a cycle rickshaw to work. The cycle rickshaw used to cost me 60 - 70 Rs, when I first came to India, because I had no idea what the right price should be. Now, however, I've gotten it down to a stable 40 Rs and a few times I have even paid less (depending on market conditions). The guy in the pictures is a good rickshaw driver - pleasant and hard-working. I've used him 3-4 times now. Though he's little (he's probably a teenager) he's still able to power the cycle rickshaw through the intense Gurgaon winds to the office. Actually, I've always been surprised that cycle rickshaw drivers are such small people.

The ride only takes about 20 minutes. After leaving the complex, we cycle 5 minutes to the main road next to Paras Hospital and my old gym. We turn left there and cycle along the main road for 10 minutes. On the left we see the small shack community which services the lower class workers who are either maids, construction workers, rickshaw drivers, etc. This shack community (for lack of the proper term) is where I once got a straight razor shave (and worried afterwards about possible diseases).

Nowadays, I regularly pass it on the way to work. In fact, this community doesn't seem odd or scare me any more, it's become a part of my life. Sometimes I look forward to the cycle rickshaw ride because I get to pass by the shacks. I see very interesting businesses like the STD / ISP shop where you can make local and long-distance calls, the guy who makes roadside omelets, the barber of course, a bicycle repair man, etc. Of course my favorite thing about this community is that it has 2 sugar cane vendors. On a hot day, I ask the cycle rickshaw wallah to stop while I pay 5 Rs for a glass and 2 Rs for a cup. Last Saturday when I came back from the gym (using the shared auto for one leg and a cycle rickshaw for the other leg), I got 2 glasses of sumptuous sugar cane juice.

After passing the shanty town and turning right at the signal-of-death (where people have died trying to navigate this crazy intersection), we continue down Golf Course Road to the office. This road has modern buildings on both sides. Finally, 20 minutes from when I boarded the cycle rickshaw, I'm at the office. 40 Rs is a small price to pay for 1 extra hour of sleep and an interesting journey!



















Sunday, May 18, 2008

IST

When it is 9am in Palo Alto, what time is it Delhi? 9:30pm. That's Indian Standard Time. All cities in India are on the same time zone. Because India does not observe day light savings time, Indians never have to move their clocks forward or backward.


Now, when you are supposed to meet friends at 9pm, and they show up at 9:45pm, that's also IST - Indian Stretchable Time. Indian Stretchable Time is the phenomenon of Indians viewing a meeting time as an approximate time instead of an actual time. IST is a manifestation of the general philosophy of indirect communication - "I don't mean what I say - but based upon what I said and how I said it, you should infer what I really mean". It's also a manifestation of the philosophy that if something comes up, then I have to deal with it and push other things back, including my meeting with you. Of course, if I aplogize about being late, then all is forgiven, right?

Different cultures view punctuality differently. In Western countries (US, UK, Canada, etc.) a small amount of lateness (up to 15 minutes is tolerated in social situations, 5 minutes in a business setting) is tolerated. In countries like Switzerland and Japan, no amount of lateness is tolerated. In many South American and African countries, meeting times are viewed as approximate.

Growing up in a Western country but being part of a large Indian community, I have witnessed both the Western and the Indian methods of time treatment. My American friends would generally come on time and my Indian friends generally would not. I was also involved in both Western and Indian music. When going to Western music concert, there would be pin drop silence in the concert hall and the concert would start exactly at the stated time. If you were even 1 minute late, you would not be allowed inside the concert hall until the first piece was completed (perhaps 20 minutes later). Contrast that with the my experience at an Indian concert, which started 15 - 30 minutes late and which had late arrivers trickling in up to an hour later.

For the first part of my life, I fell more into the Indian category in that I treated meeting times as approximate. But a few years after college, I began to make a concerted effort to be on time.

The system of approximate times is just too complex to be pratical. If a party, add 30 minutes - 1 hour to the stated time for your arrival time, if meeting for dinner add 15 minutes - 30 minutes to the stated time for your arrival time, etc. Now what happens if the organizer has a different time philosophy than you do? Then he might be thinking that you'll come 5 minutes late while you are thinking that 30 minutes is acceptable. Why engage in this game when you can just mean the time that you said and try hard to be on time?

IST (the stretchable kind) is one aspect of Indian culture that I reject completely. I don't believe in taking liberties with friends and family. Your time is valuable, so don't you think your friends' and family's time is valuable too? You wouldn't want your time wasted so why waste someone else's time? The key to punctuality is discipline. If you are chronically late, here are some steps you can take to be on time:

1) Take your time before you suggest a meeting time. The difference between being on time and being late is often how realistic the meeting time was. Can you really make the 4pm time you suggested? Think backwards about all the things you need to do and how long each thing will take - then add some extra time as a buffer - then suggest your meeting time.

2) If there is just too much variablity in your schedule, then suggest a range for the meeting time. Instead of saying "I'll be there at 6pm" say "I'll be there between 6 and 6:30pm, probably more towards 6:30pm because I have xyz to do first." The other person will be grateful and plan his / her time appropriately so he / she doesn't waste the time between 6pm and 6:20pm (if you arrived at 6:20pm).

3) If you are going to be late due to circumstances beyond your control, then let everyone know as soon as possible. Also, provide an accurate, revised meeting time (i.e. not "I'll be there in 5 minutes" when in fact you are still 15 kms away).

4) Related to the previous point, once you have become very late, the other person / party has the right to reschedule, adapt the plan, or cancel completely. If the person decides to do any of the above, don't take it personally.

Being punctual is a sign of respect that you are showing to the person / people you are meeting with. Besides, whether a business meeting or a movie, you'll enjoy the whole experience more if you're on time and not rushing or apologizing for being late.

If you'd like to read more about this subject, check out the links below:

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Dharamshala

My furiously paced back-to-back-to-back weekend trips culminated with a trip to Dharamshala with Manoj Kumar of Face India and Vignesh, my trusty travel sidekick. The purpose of this trip was to meet Manoj's contact with the Himalyan Nature Society and with him visit some hospitals in Dharamshala: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dharamsala

We left Delhi on Friday night via a chartered bus to the Himalayan hill station of Dharamshala. This bus was a comfortable overnight bus with seats that reclined about 60 degrees. We arrived in Dharamshala the next morning somewhat rested but still needing some more sleep.

In Dharamshala we met Aarvind Sharama of HNS who took us to our beautiful house where we would stay for the next few days. During our time in Dharamshala we met a doctor who ran a dispensary (30 minute trek from the volunteer house), the chief of an Ayurvedic hospital, and a Red Cross representative. While Dharamshala is much better off from a health standpoint than most other cities in India, it still needs medical volunteers. As a hill station, villagers often have to make difficult, arduous treks to the dispensary to receive treatment and medications. Also, the dispensary has very little equipment and furniture (i.e. table, chair, stretcher, etc.) and barely resembles a clinic.

In addition, Dharamshala will provide volunteers with an opportunity to do health volunteering in a picturesque and serene setting. After all, in hindi, Dharamshala means "Rest House". Volunteers can visit the town of McLeod Gunge while they are working in Dharamshala. McLeod Ganj is a major attraction for tourists since it is the home of the Tibetan government in exile and the Dalai Lama. We had a great time in McLeod Ganj eating super healthy and super tasty Tibetan food. We also partied very hard on Saturday night at a foreigner bar (the best kind of bar I might add) where met Austrians, Britons, Tibetans, Kashmiris, and many more travellers. Now, we have to start recruiting volunteers to come to Dharamshala.


Manoj, me, and Vignesh.









Protestors









More protestors








Vignesh with 2 Tibetan kids. They loved his iPhone.






This is a St. Bernard dog. It's huge but very friendly.

If you spin these cylinders, it will bring you good luck.







Sunday, May 11, 2008

Chennai & Cuddalore

Graced with yet another 3-day weekend following my Caclutta trip, I decided to make a trip to Cuddalore that was long overdue. I went to Chennai with my battle-hardened travel friends Vignesh and his cousin Shankar. All three of us were really missing South Indian food. So down South we went!



I stayed at Vignesh's house for the first few days of the trip. I was thoroughly impressed with the beautiful house and the great hospitality I received. We also went to Shankar's (long haired guy in the picture) house for lunch the next day. By the way, Shankar is a great artist. Afterwards, we visited Marina beach and the beach-side Ashtalakshmi temple. In this temple, visitors can climb spiral staircases and peer inside various ashrams.


After a few days in Chennai, I took a comfortable, AC bus down to Cuddalore. When I arrived in Cuddalore, I went to my dad's cousin's (Dr. N.K.S's) house. This was the same house that I visited in 1990 when I was last in India. In particular, I remembered the swing in the back part of the house and the flower pot I broke while swinging which the maid servant covered up for me. She got in trouble for that. I still feel bad that she took the blame for me. I was going to apologize to her in this visit, but she is now married off. After she got married, her cousin became the maid servant but she got married, and her sister is now the maid (see left, she is very shy and doesn't like her picture taken - but we tricked her into it). Now, according to Sujatha, there are no more girls from that family to serve in NKS's house. They will have to look elsewhere for help when the latest girl gets married. I also especially liked the ground floor of the house because it has the clinic (NKS is a doctor) and various portraits of people in our family. It was also really cool to see that one of my ancestors was a police commissioner (but I don't remember in which city - can anyone remind me?). I also got to see a few houses in Cuddalore that are relevant to my family (where my parents were born, for example), and my grandmother's school (see left). You can also see that finally, and slowly, development is coming to the sleepy town of Cuddalore. However, I would really like to see the city and its residents put more money into cleaning up the Cuddalore beach. I was disappointed by the litter I saw on the ground. Family: should we do something about this - donate some money or something?

A few hours after arriving, we went down to the Cuddalore beach. While there, I had my favorite sugar cane juice. I had almost forgotten how good this tasted, especially with lemon, mint, and ginger. Now, I'm addicted to sugar cane juice and I have it whenever I take the cycle rickshaw to work (5 Rs per glass, 2 Rs per pastic cup). Ganne ka Ras Jannat hain. I also got to spend some time with my cousin Vikram who has just graduated from college with a degree in Bioinformatics. He is also an award winning badminton player and martial artist!

I spent the next day relaxing at NKS's house. I had plans of going to Kumbakonam (my grandmother's village) but it was just too hot and getting to the village would have been too difficult. Instead, I sat in the AC master bedroom and watched a weird, psychological Tamil movie called 'Anniyan': http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anniyan.

Now I do have to mention one thing about my stay in NKS's house. They have a dog who they found and adopted (my relatives love pets) who they call 'Cutie'. Now, I didn't see much of Cutie's cute side when I was there. Rather, Cutie hated me from the very moment she saw me. Actually, Cutie hates all newcomers to the house. But by the end of my stay, Cutie had come to sort-of tolerate me.

After a few days of rest & relaxation in Cuddalore, I headed back to Chennai via Pondicherry. Unfortunately I wasn't able to book a nice AC bus for this journey so I fought my way to a seat on a local bus in hot TN weather that I took to Pondicherry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pondicherry). I didn't spend too long in Pondicherry because it was very hot and because I had to get back to Chennai by the evening to catch my flight back to Delhi. In Pondicherry I only had time to visit Anand Asharm. Then, it was back to Chennai on a non-AC bus. By the time I arrived in Chennai, I had become slightly sunburned. After a couple more hours at Vignesh's house, it was back to the airport and back home to Delhi. It was a fantastic trip!


























(Vignesh - shooting balloons on the beach)
(Sharavanan, right hand man to Vignesh's family)



Friday, May 9, 2008

I have a new blog

Since I needed an outlet for all my thoughts on international relations, politics, and economics, I created a new blog called Shuttle Diplomacy. Check it out here: http://shuttlediplomacy.blogspot.com. But don't worry, the Rickety Rickshaw will keep on rolling!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Calcutta

The week after Dubai, it was on to Calcutta. Jasvir was heading to Canada soon, so this was the best time for me to go to Calcutta to visit him and his parents. Calcutta was also my first foray to the East of India.

In Calcutta, I saw:
  • St. Xavier's (where my dad did his 12th)
  • Indian Museum
  • Victoria Memorial
  • Bengal Engineering College - Shibpur
  • Kali Temple
  • Botanical Gardens
  • National Library
  • Saturday Club
  • Howrah Bridge

I liked Calcutta for its greenery (there is none in Gurgaon and Delhi's greenery is sickly and dying). I also liked Calcutta for its slower pace of life and friendly people. It was nice to be able to walk around and not be 1) accosted by rude people or 2) cheated out of money, somehow.


It was also nice to see places of significance to my family. My dad spent 12 years in Calcutta. I can now relate more to his experiences having seen his high school and his college.

Victoria Memorial was the highlight of Calcutta because it gives visitors a detailed history of Calcutta and the British influence on this city. It really makes you believe that the British came to India simply to do business, and they found a country that just couldn't run itself and in the vacuum they easily took over.

The low point of the sights was Kali temple. It was dirty and crowded. I paid 100 Rs to a kid to show me around the temple, when in fact nothing was required. Inside the temple, some crazy quack Brahmin tried to read my palm and charge me 500 Rs for the fortune it told. I told him to get lost and I gave him 50 Rs. Then, as I was leaving, I saw something interesting. There is a daily ritual at the Kali temple where goats sacrificed to Mother Kali. This happens in the morning and evening. It just so happened that I was there in time for the evening slaughter, I mean "sacrifice".

But first, worshipers needed to pray to the stumps where the execution would happen. They actually put their heads between the two sticks where the goat's head goes. Their conviction was amazing, but crazy, to me, nonetheless. Then, the goats were brought in. Manjal was then applied to the heads of the goats - 3 in all. Two big ones, and 1 small one. Then the 'Brahmin' preist came in to the deed. First, though, I had to move. I was standing in front of the idol for Mother Kali. I won't go into the details of the sacrifice because it's not really pleasant.

At first I thought how barbaric this whole ritual was. Then, however, I realized that these goats were going to die and become mutton anyways. So, the slaughter was just made public and was done in honor of a goddess. Still, it was a sight I'll never forget.

I will need to make another visit Calcutta because I would like to go to the Sunderbans. The Sunderbans are about 6 hours away. It's hard to see tigers there, but still the forest atmosphere is nice, from what I've heard.