Saturday, July 5, 2008

Happy 4th of July

Happy 4th of July to everyone. It feels great to celebrate this holiday on US soil.

This is one of my favorite patriotic pictures. It is of 6 US Marines raising the flag at the Battle of Iwo Jima during WWII. And, of the 6 Marines who were raising the flag, 3 died in the battle:

Today, America is a great place to live. Yes, we have our work cut out for us to fix healthcare, the credit crunch, education, raise the value of the dollar, to secure victory in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a host of other issues - but despite these issues, this is still a country where anything is possible and these problems are solvable.

I was particularly proud to be a Californian and an American when I was on my way home from the SFO airport on July 1. On July 1, a new law went into effect banning talking on cell phones while driving. And sure enough, the law was being enforced as police officers were pulling over many offending drivers and ticketing them. This is a great and much-needed law and I am happy to see it being enforced. Not only that, Californians overwhelmingly support this law and they are willing to abide by it. This is the greatness of America: just laws are passed, they are firmly yet fairly enforced, and people follow these laws.

I spent 4th of July hanging out at home as I was still recovering from my jet lag and a small sickness. I watched an inspirational historical documentary of Revolutionary War and how we grew from a small band of rag-tag patriots into a professional army to win our independence in 1783. Then, my aunt and uncle came over and we discussed life in India, life in the US, and what the US needs to do to address its problems. It was a low key 4th of July but a good one nonetheless.

I'd like to leave you with a nice patriotic song, God Bless the USA: Happy 4th of July!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

40+ Hours in Transit to the US

Well, folks, at long last I am home. Let me give you the highlights of my journey:

  • My flight path was Delhi - Mumbai (on the lovely Kingfisher with her lovely staff) - Singapore (on the stately Jet Airways and her numerous video games) - Taipei (on EVA but no Deluxe seats on this flight) - San Francisco (on EVA but this time with Deluxe seats). Whew.
  • My first Delhi - Mumbai flight was cancelled because there were not enough passengers. So, I got on the next Kingfisher flight without any problems.
  • As we were landing in Mumbai, I looked at the rain soaked ground and saw many 'lakes' which had appeared due to the monsoon. I reiterate, do not go to Mumbai in monsoon season.
  • I met two pre-med students from the University of Toronto in the international terminal at Mumbai airport. They had spent 2 weeks volunteering for Unite for Sight in Orissa. They had a good experience. I told them about HealthCare Volunteer and its numerous advantages: coverage of all areas of healthcare not just the eyes, no required fundraising to volunteer. Unite for Sight requires its volunteers to raise money for their travel AND to raise money for the hospital for which they are volunteering at. I explained that this was against the policy of HealthCare Volunteer. We believe that if you are volunteering your time, you should not be asked to give more than that.
  • I have noticed some anti-NRI sentiments after seeing numerous Bollywood (and 1 Lollywood movies). These movies include: Dhan Dhandhana Gol, Bhoothnath, Kudha ke liye (lollywood), and Aaja Nachle. In Bhoothnath, Amitabh Bachhan's characters tells his son, "I sent you there to study, not to settle!" In Aaja Nachle, Madhuri Dixit's character is ostracized for 'abandoning' her hometown in India to pursue a better life in the US. Gol is decidedly anti-British and shows how the main character eventually 'embraces' his Indian roots. I am staunchly opposed to the anti-NRI propaganda that India (and apparently Pakistan too) is feeding out and I will write a separate blog to address this point.
  • On my flight from Mumbai to Singapore, I had an intellectual discussion with my neighbor, who heads Strategic Planning for P&G India. We discussed life in the US vs. life in India (this person did his Masters in Mechanical Engineering from Maryland). For every strength he noted in India, I pointed out how an excess of this strength was also a weakness for India (i.e. too much warmth leads to a lack of personal space, a conservative society has a low divorce rate but at the same time there are many unhappy marriages, people follow a set path in life which guarantees a successful life but it also takes the fun out of living if you can't make your own mistakes, etc.). We also discussed the upcoming US elections and I noted that there are many problems the US needs to fix right now. A separate blog on this later.
  • The Singapore airport is still good, but it has now been overtaken by the Dubai airport and Stockholm airport in terms of style and facilities. At least all the international terminals offer free Internet! Actually, Stockholm's airport doesn't offer free Internet...
  • I watched a couple of interesting National Geographic programs on the Singapore - Taipei leg on 'geniuses'. One program was on how geniuses were accidentally made (i.e. autistic people, people with head trauma who become like autistic people, etc.) . The other one was about how geniuses were made through training (i.e. how Susan Polgar and her 2 sisters become Chess International or Grand Masters through their father's training). These programs made me believe that you can rewire your brain to become a 'genius', but often at the cost of other faculties. So, it may not be worth it in the end.
  • Lastly, I met an interesting fellow at the Taipei airport who was on my flight to San Francisco. He has a BS in Biology but also spent 2 years teaching English in Taiwan as part of his missionary work that is required for Mormons. He became fluent in Taiwanese and then spent 3 more years in Taiwan. When I met him, he was going back to the US for good since he had decided that he was 'done with international living' and wanted to be in the US for some time. I really admired his dedication to learning Taiwanese (which he has really mastered) and I wish I had taken some actual Hindi lessons in India. Maybe I will when I return.

So that's about it. It was a long and tiring journey home and right now I'm jet lagged. This journey really made me think about several topics which will probably turn into blog articles. Look out for them later!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Monsoons of Mumbai

I was in Mumbai from June 3 - June 8 to attend the SAP Summit and later to visit my relatives. It was raining hard throughout my visit as this was monsoon season. The US Travel Bureau has issued a travel advisory advising against travelling to Mumbai during the monsoon season. I think it's a good idea to heed this warning if you can.

This was my group's first experience at the Summit and it went pretty well. At one point, though, the heavy rain and winds knocked down a large AC and forced us to relocate our group's booth to the main area.

After the Summit, I went to Malad West to spend some time with my relatives who I hadn't seen since September 07 when I arrived in India. I also met Raju, my cousin Sanju's childhood friend. Raju also lives in the building. Lastly, I had lunch at Sampath Uncle's house and met my cousin Divya who is getting married in September in Chennai. I'll be attending that wedding on September 14. I was fortunate to see all of these people on the company's dollar / rupee. Thank you SAP!

Later, I went to the main EVA airways office in Mumbai to get my ticket to go home to the US in July. This was an unpleasant adventure because of the monsoons and a train trip that should have taken us 1.5 hours ended up taking us 3 hours because of the flooding at Mumbai Central. But, all's well that ends well and I got my tickets to go home.

But, I had one more task to accomplish before I returned to Gurgaon. On my first visit to Mumbai I didn't have time to look for the hospital where I was born. This time, I did. First we saw the hospital where Pallavi was born, one Suchak hospital. This was the hospital where my dad got (sub-par) treatment on one of his recent trips to India. Later, we found Shimpoli Road, the road where my hospital was supposed to be.

However, once we got into the area, we struggled to find the hospital. Instead, Sampath Uncle spotted the old flat where my parents used to live. We went up to their flat and met their old neighbor, Geeta Hule, who was still living in the same flat. She instantly recognized us and invited us in for juice. She told us about how Pallavi's old playmate, Hemali, was now married and had become a doctor in Mumbai. Geeta also described my mom as a 'fighter' and my dad as 'very quiet'. That description sounds about right.

We asked Geeta where the hospital was and she said it was right around the corner. That made sense because my Mom couldn't have walked far to deliver me. Soon, we found the hospital. Under pouring rain, I got my picture and we were off.

Mission accomplished.