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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.

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.

Radio Mirchi!

This glorious 3-day weekend I was thinking of going to Bangalore, but I stayed back in Hyderabad so I could see my visiting American friend and do a Consular Outreach on a local radio show. Although I was a bit nervous about doing a radio show, there were three compelling reasons to do it. 1)The radio station is called Radio Mirchi, which translates to Radio Chili Pepper. 2)Their slogan, “idi chalaa hot guru,” translates to “this is very hot, guru.”  3) I used to watch youtube videos (like this)of the radio jockey, Hemanth, during Telugu training. In addition to his radio career, he does some work for TV and has even been in a few movies.

So with those three reasons as a draw, and only the slight risk of saying something stupid and getting fired, I agreed to go on the show. I don’t want to get into the nitty gritty details about my job duties, but suffice to say, I spoke about student visas. It’s a Telugu radio station, so I managed to use a little bit of my Telugu on air, but I reverted to English pretty readily when the questions got tough, maybe next time I’ll try to prepare everything in Telugu. It wasn’t such of an issue that I used English because students are generally expected to speak English to study in the USA. Never having been on a radio show before, it was interesting to see how it all works. You take the calls off-air while music is playing, then you can edit out pauses and ums to make it into a nice short sound byte which you play between the songs. The radio jockey also adds traffic updates and introductions to these segments while live on-air. We didn’t get too many callers, but we had enough to fill in the gaps between the songs in the three hour program. I figure most students are asleep on a Saturday at 8am. So how did I do? Not bad, I could definitely use more practice on-air though. Somehow I doubt my picture will make it onto their wall-of-fame that had every Tollywood actor I could recognize. Maybe next time.

 

Ramoji Film City!

Last Sunday I went with a few friends to Ramoji Film City, one of the largest film studio complex/amusement park hybrids in the world (out of how many, I don’t know). The place is basically one giant photo opportunity, so I got tons of pictures. To get an idea of what this place is like, think of something like Universal Studios, but without most of the rides, just lots of sets.

You start out in a bus (we opted for one with AC, totally worth it) that cruises around the campus. The bus makes a few stops at some of the larger set pieces, like the mock-airport and maharaja’s court, and then it lets you out into the amusement park area. It’s interesting to see some of the tricks that directors employ in their sets, like the houses where each side has a different facade so they can film a movie showing four different houses and actually only use one. We tried to recreate a few movie scenes at some of the spots, but unfortunately my knowledge of classic Tollywood scenes is a bit lacking. The movie sets included a church, airport, university, library, the Taj Mahal, the American Old West, a skyscraper (miniature version), and more. Apparently lots of movies are made there every year, including a couple of western movies. I wonder how many of those sets I have seen in other movies without realizing it.

Besides the movie sets, other activities of note include the wild west stuntman show, the haunted house, the hedge-elephants, and the carnival games. Probably my favorite thing there, which sadly I didn’t partake in, was the “rain dance”. In the small water-park area they have some sprinklers that shoot water up and they play dance music. People congregate there and just dance in the sprinklers. It was simple and awesome, I only got two poor pictures because I felt creepy taking pictures of kids in bathing suits dancing around. Water parks in the USA need to start adding dance floors to their list of attractions. Another pretty hilarious ride was the complete rip-off of “it’s a small world after all” which only lacked the singing.

At night there is a big dance performance on top of the pirate ship, which was entertaining, but had to compete with the cricket batting cage for my attention. Each of my Indian friends took a round in the batting cage, and unbelievably, I did the best. They swore it was because the machine was pitching slower to me, but the local employees swore that wasn’t the case. I did so well, I got another bonus round for free. I think my one-season coach of the Green Socks tee-ball team would be proud.

Check the photos! As is becoming my custom, check the slideshow here for the raw and sideways photos, or go to my flickr here for titles, comments, and higher quality.

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