2011 in review , don’t get too excited, this post was 99% auto generated by WordPress.

Expect a few more blog posts in the coming months. A big thanks to all of the people who encouraged me to keep this going and made comments.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,900 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Araku Valley and Vizag

My friend Evan Kubitschek was finishing up his teaching job in South Korea, so he decided to pay me a visit in India as part of his massive trip before heading back to the USA. Evan’s visit coincided with a nice long weekend that I had thanks to a few holidays, so we seized the opportunity to go on a trip. Steve Kaplan, aka Microsoft Steve joined in too. I was craving some outdoor beauty, so I asked a bunch of my coworkers what would be a nice destination. Mostly hailing from Andhra Pradesh themselves, they recommended a place called Araku Valley. I googled it and saw some images that were as lush as the island in Jurassic Park and a few that were so green I thought they were photoshopped. To get there, we had to go to Vizag (aka Vishakapatnam), the second largest city in the state, and then take a 4 hour train ride up to the valley. I booked most of the trip through the Andhra Pradesh tourism development corporation, the state funded tourism promotion agency, and we set off once the weekend began.
After landing in Vizag, we had a day to kill before our train the next morning, so we hired a driver for the day who promised to show us all of the tourist attractions in Vizag. We had a day’s worth of activities, but they weren’t exactly the most entertaining nor well-maintained tourist attractions. First we drove 30 minutes or so out to a beach, which our lonely planet guide assured us was a beautiful scene where you could bask in the “solitude.” I’m not sure who was doing that writing because when we stepped out of the car, we wished this planet was a bit lonelier because we were immediately swarmed by beggar children. We pushed our way through the throng to the beach and found only a dirty beach with nobody in the water, and a set of dilapidated mermaid statues that had lost an assortment of limbs to erosion. We quickly abandoned that beach and drove to another nearby beach, but aside from a few fully clothed people swimming in the water, there wasn’t much of an improvement. We threw in the (unused) towel, and decided to head back to the city proper, but along the way we stopped at the small Vizag version of Ramoji Film City (remember my old post about that place?) which made the origional Ramoji film city look like disneyland by comparison. Sorry, no pictures from these events, but you’re not missing too much.
The next day we boarded the train to Araku Valley. The train was one of the highlights of the trip. As the train went over vast valleys and into tunnels, there were tons of scenic vistas outside the windows. Surprisingly, when the food was served in the train, the guy next to me asked me if I could open the window a crack, and when I obliged, he threw his entire tray out the window! I couldn’t believe he would so brazenly litter like that, especially when we were in one of the prettiest landscapes I had seen yet in India. I asked him why he would do that, and he sheepishly shrugged. I have a few pictures from this leg of the trip, so feast your eyes.

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It was nice to see the mountains again, as I don’t think I have seen any since leaving Asheville. Araku Valley was basically just a nice environment, there wasn’t much to do except go see the “waterfall” which if you could please look below, i’d appreciate if anyone could tell me how that qualifies as a waterfall or if there is a minimum fall distance to qualify, because this one was cutting it close.
So after enjoying the greenery, we returned to our ‘resort’ room and watched a bunch of awesome tv action movies including predator, something with stone cold steve austin, and pitch black with vin diesel. Solid day. The next day we were headed to the Tribal Museum, but the bus was stopped at a traffic jam when the village’s local communist party held a rally in the street. I always hear that the communists have a stronger foothold out in the villages, but this wasn’t what I was expecting. They blocked the road and set up a burning man. Check it out. Oh, and Steve took the opportunity to buy some tiny bananas.
Once we arrived at the museum, the highlight was the archery range outside. Its strange to walk through a tribal museum with tribal scenes set up with mannequins, when actual tribal scenes are visible to anyone who looks out the bus window. Just before leaving, we got to watch a group of tribal women do a traditional dance. I recorded a video –>
Along the way back, we stopped at the Borra Caves, which were a lot better than we expected. It was a pretty massive cavern that was illuminated by one big hole in the ceiling that as the story goes, was how the cave was found when a cow fell through that hole (and met a grisly fate). Check out some info about it here http://www.lakshyaworld.com/burra.htm
Overall, I had a great time. Check out this gallery of all of the photos I took.

Bangalore!

I came. I saw. I conquered.

Apologies for not writing more recently, one of my colleagues in Chennai was under fire for some public statements she made, which caused me to re-assess what I should be writing about. This post should be pretty tame.

Last week, my boss unexpectedly asked me if I would like to go with a group from Consulate Chennai down to Bangalore for a couple of days to tour some of the larger tech companies based there. Having never been to Bangalore before, I readily accepted the invitation. My friend Asha is from this city, and she constantly tells me that its a fun place to live. Jeremy had also briefed me on the highlights from his visit a month ago, so I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to see, namely, the Taco Bell. Bangalore is the only place in India where there are taco bells and I was badly craving some Mexican (if Tbell can be called that) food after nearly 9 months without any. After two days and a night of programmed activities, I ended my brief trip with an evening visit to Mantri Mall, the home of the first Taco Bell in India. The menu was mostly similar to the US menu, minus the beef, and it was delicious. I ordered so much that I put the leftovers in my carry-on and had them for lunch in Hyderabad the next day. Before you go on scorning me about visiting Bangalore and only seeing the Taco Bell, let me say that in my defense, Bangalore doesn’t really have much in the way of tourist attractions. With the rise of the IT industry, the city only relatively recently took its place as one of the prominent Indian cities. The city seems to have been chosen as the next IT hotspot more for its great location rather than its historical or cultural significance (like Silicon Valley). Somehow, Bangalore has one of the most temperate climates in India, all year long. The people seem very metropolitan and westernized, similar to the people in Mumbai. The city is also famous for having a strong restaurant culture with a wide variety of top-notch restaurants. Despite not being a tourist-minded city, I haven’t ruled out a return trip with some local friends should they want to show me some of the local eateries (aside from Taco Bell).

One thing that isn’t so great about Bangalore, the traffic. It seems like the roads are a little bit too narrow, and that the city (to an extent greater than the other large cities in India) was not meant to hold so many people. The amount of time you spend stuck in traffic on even the most routine trip is unbearable. It didn’t help that our bus’s AC died and the toilet went on strike. Thankfully I had met most of the folks from Chennai on my previous temporary duty trip and they knew me already, because sweating on the bus stuck in traffic doesn’t make for the best first impressions. Sadly, I didn’t bring my camera so there are no pictures of Bangalore to post up, not that I saw anything too photo-worthy.

One last thing that I thought was funny, at the dinner that AmCham hosted for us and the business community, I picked up on a negative vibe from the businessmen whenever I said I came from Hyderabad. As it turns out, I think Bangalore and Hyderabad were the two finalists when the State Department was considering where to build a new consulate in India. Hyderabad won, which left the Bangalorians with a bit of a sour taste in their mouths. If only Taco Bell thought along similar lines as the State Department did…

Expect a couple more posts this week, as I just finished my week long vacation and have a fresh stock of experiences to write about.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Whew, just getting this post in before the month mark hit on my last post.

A lot has been happening lately, yet somehow nothing that I really felt like writing about. I sold my car (98 Land Rover) and bought another used car (06 Ford Ikon). Along with a new car, it seems I will be needing a new driver. Today my driver just told me that the job he recently acquired at the consulate doesn’t allow him to work for two employers, so he fired me, ouch. I have long overdue plans to hire a maid that may come to fruition this weekend, fingers crossed. I hosted a couple of shindigs the last few weeks that have left my place in particularly dire straits, so a maid at this point will have a chance to really prove herself (and that’s the real reason I let things get so dirty…).

Work is about to get a little bit crazier because two of my co-workers are going on extended leave, one to see his first child getting born, and the other to take his hard-earned R&R trip for a month in the American Southwest. I’m pretty jealous of both of them. With their absence, interview numbers drop slightly, but the rest of us have to pick up a lot of the slack. To stay sane, I’ve been keeping up my twice a week tennis matches. Jeremy has had a chain of visitors dropping in to keep him company. I’m not sure how he markets this place better than I am, but it seems to work.

Yesterday, bizarrely, a young American lady came into the consulate to get some extra passport pages, and it turns out that she was not only from North Carolina, but she went to UNC Chapel Hill, studied at the business school at the same time I was there, and studied abroad in Hong Kong the exact same summer that I was there. We even have some mutual friends. It was a totally unexpected dose of home that was really enjoyable. Speaking of home, my father tells me that Hyderabad’s temperature right now is actually cooler than Asheville’s. There probably aren’t too many months in the year where that holds true, so I have been enjoying the 70 degree temperatures as much as I can.

I’ve recently been enjoying killing time listening to random videos and doing math problems at KhanAcademy.org which I recommend you check out. Game mechanics like achievements and badges coupled with educational materials is totally the way of the future.

I’m mainly posting to let everyone know I’m still alive. I DO have some travel plans for the end of this month, so definitely tune in for a post around that time.

 

 

Celebrity status, one page four newspaper photo at a time.

Apparently after the July 4th party, the reporter for the Times of India newspaper thought that myself and fellow coworker Kevin would look good in print! Here is the evidence.

Damn. We look gooood.

In other news, today I played cricket with the consulate team. We went out at 8:30 am to the cricket grounds dressed in our “whites” (for me that was a pair of skinny jeans) and prepared for a grueling match. Unfortunately, cricket requires about as much athletic ability as professional sun-tanning, and many of the skills you need for the game must be honed over a long time. If it sounds like im throwing out excuses for why I played poorly… you’re probably right. My at-bat was mercifully short and (strangely similar to baseball) I was out after 3 bowls (0 hits). At least I fielded about as well as anyone. This was my first time playing with the official cricket ball, and lord o mercy, that ball is hard! Its like designed to injure people. British must have a mean streak in their blood because I have no idea why a ball would be designed to be that dangerous (as Benny pointed out, the British are the same people who came up with Rugby). Seriously, trying to catch that ball barehanded (gloves are a nicht nicht) is an exercise in masochism. We ended up losing in a somewhat close match. They were on track to score a lot more points than we were, but we were doing pretty well about getting wickets, of which we had 7 when they caught up to our score. Benny, my coworker with previous baseball experience, was the other American on the team, and thankfully he helps dispel any misconceptions they may have about American athletic abilities that are formed after watching me play.

Here are the photos from the match.

Chennai

Happy Independence Day! While I didn’t grill anything today, I just finished watching “Independence Day” the movie, and let me tell you, there is nothing quite like watching Will Smith kick alien ass to fire me up about my nation’s birth. Today was a nice relaxed day of tennis (anyone see the Wimbledon final last night?), swimming, video game playing, and movie watching, but I did celebrate in the more traditional sense on Friday, when I helped to put on the 4th of July event for the Consulate. It went well, with distinguished guests, wine, and even fireworks!

As I mentioned earlier, I recently spent a week in Chennai. I wanted to briefly post up some thoughts on my trip.

I liked Chennai, but after a week there, I have to admit that I like Hyderabad better. Somehow, Chennai finds a way to be even hotter than Hyderabad. The roads are a bit wider, and have lots of vegetation on the sides, but the drawback is that I think there are more bicycles there. They also seem to have a lot more one-way roads than Hyderabad does, which can make it seem like you’re driving in circles when you’re trying to get somewhere.

Chennai, like Hyderabad, is a very conservative place. However, Chennai has some strange rules about alcohol. The only places you can serve drinks are in hotels with more than 40 beds. This means that there aren’t really that many places to get a drink, and furthermore, the ones there are close down at 10:30! Plus, these hotels can be pretty nice, and that means the bars and clubs inside are pretentious and exclusive. Saturday night, I tried to go to one club with some friends and they refused admittance because our guy to girl ratio of 1:3 (in our group of 4) was not sufficient. It was infuriating. On the flip side, they seem to have a lot more ex-pats there and I went to a house-party hosted by a French guy that was a lot of fun. Apart from Microsoft Steve, I don’t know too many expats here in Hyderabad.

I’m an idiot and I forgot to bring my camera on my trip, so I don’t have any pictures to share. Most of the trip was spent in the Consulate anyway.

As for their consulate team, its totally different that the one we have in Hyderabad. Roughly 2x as big as we are, It feels like nearly every one of them is married with children. Going to a consulate event there is like going to a day-care. That’s a dynamic that we don’t really have in Hyderabad. Though I don’t want to sound like I’m bashing them, they are really nice folks and have excellent cook-outs! Its just I hadn’t spent that much time around children in a while. It helped that my batch-mate Maureen’s child Noah turned 2 years old and was absolutely adorable.

I also hear they have some good restaurants (including a nice korean place?) but I only manged to make it to a nice Thai restaurant during my trip, so I can’t give too many recommendations.

So I apologize that this post wasn’t terribly inspired, but that pretty much sums up what I saw in Chennai. All in all, it has a lot of similarities to Hyderabad which didn’t make too much stand out. I think I’m planning a big trip at the end of August somewhere up North, so stay tuned for those updates.

 

 

Pondicherry

These past few weeks at work we have had a few temporary duty workers shipped in from the Consulate in Chennai. We enjoy these exchanges because we get to make new friends and they get to see how things work at other consulates and hopefully share and adopt some best practices. Recently, Jeremy and I were selected to go do temporary duty assignments in Chennai.

Jeremy had been sent down to Chennai the week before, and I was there last week, so for our overlapping weekend we decided to head down to Pondicherry. We also had a co-worker stationed in Chennai who said that she still hadn’t been to Pondicherry yet, so she and her husband and adorable 2 year old son gave me a ride to the old French colonial village located about an hour south of Chennai.

Pondicherry is unlike any other Indian town I have ever been to. You can actually walk on most of the streets without any fear. The roads are wide and mostly free of traffic. Tourists and locals alike ride bicycles along the coastline. The French influence can be seen in more than just the road names and the local Alliance Francois, the town also has bakeries and even a nice public park (if a little dilapidated). It’s a sleepy town that doesn’t have a raging night life, but still has a charm to it. I succeeded in checking off one of my chief tasks whilst in India – getting a blessing from an elephant.

While you can vaguely see the corners of my grin, the picture doesn’t quite display the jubilation that I experienced from receiving this blessing. Located just outside of the local temple, the elephant takes money out of your hand with its trunk and then bonks you gently on the head. The elephant can even take coins! Its amazing how much control they have over their trunks. After the elephant (Lakshmi) collected a sufficient amount of money, it deftly deposited its payload into the awaiting hands of its trainer. It was also pretty entertaining to watch the reactions of other Indians there. Probably tourists as well, lots of people wanted the blessing but feared the beast so much that they screamed when its trunk came near. Even better was the non-reactions of some of the locals, elderly women doing their grocery stopping walked right by the elephant without batting an eye, only to turn around and yell at the elephant when they noticed that its trunk was snooping around in their shopping bags when they walked by.

To give our trip to Pondicherry a storybook finish, I should note that we also ran into a group of three french girls at a bar called “le Club” . The waiter was doing his best to get me and Jeremy to take a smaller table or leave entirely, so we decided to ask this table of three beauties if they minded sharing. A few drinks later, we had discovered that they were aimless, having recently quit their volunteer jobs at an orphanage in a nearby podunk village. To show them the nicer side of India, we invited them to the hotel pool the next day and encouraged them to take a rest stop in Hyderabad. Both invitations were accepted.

The weekend in Pondicherry was both laid back and exciting at the same time because of how different it was from my usual environs. I recommend any tourist who is milling around South India to spend a day there, but trust me when I say you can skip the museum. Pondicherry was just the first few days of my week-long visit to Chennai, and more blog-posts are forthcoming about my time in Chennai itself. Stay tuned for more updates.