Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Roads To Everywhere!

What a memorable month this has been. Everything is new and fascinating. Peggy took me  to a driving school for registration. But before enrolling, I had to pass a interview. An old lady named Karen took my interview. I had to give some tests like, connecting the English alphabets and to recognise different colours etc. This was conducted to test my knowledge of English language and to check how fast I could grasp things.

These tests were followed by some physical exercises. There were about 4-5 funny exercises for which I was judged. I wondered if it was necessary for driving. But Karen had all the good reasons to justify each and every test.

“This is for testing your concentration. And this one’s to test your judgment capability”.

The result of this rigorous test was that I had to practice on some of the exercises but could start my classes.

My boss decided to take me out for lunch one day to get to know me. He choose the restaurant named 3 margaritas. Though there are very few choices for a vegetarian, I liked the Veg burrito a lot. It was good to know that my boss, Alan too enjoyed writing. May it be Peggy, Mike or Alan, all preferred science fictions. This was common thing I noticed in most of the Americans I had met till then, they liked sci-fi and fantasy stories. On the other hand, I enjoyed more of reality. I was sure to get influenced.

Almost every evening I would take a walk around the Cotton wood creek park that was very close to my house. I enjoyed the sight of the Rocky Mountains changing colors with the setting sun.

Everything excited me here, everything was new and good. Firstly I enjoyed living in America. I realised that it is “The place” for lazy people like me. Everything is made easy and automatic to live. I did not have to struggle for any kind of work at home or outside. I truly appreciate this level of Convenience and comfort provided in America. In Bangalore I would be so tired to clean the house or wash my clothes but here, it was just a matter of pressing a switch. If you are bored of cutting vegetables, get a pack of already cut ones. If you want to have chocolates or food anywhere, it's just a matter of dropping few coins into a wending machine.

Apart from comfort side of America I was also impressed by the culture.One nature I liked the most is that people mind their own business. They respect others privacy and independence is a key word in their culture. Punctuality is another good behavior in them. Everybody respects time. I remembered how disrespectful I was to time and now it was time to change and change, I did.

But there are somethings that i found weird. Like for example when people had gathered for a meeting or training, they would actually sit there eating or drinking and would place their legs on the next chair and walk in and out as they wish. This act in India would be considered disrespectful.

But if we look at the root cause of every debatable issue like this, all of them end at one answer- Population. More the people, more the question of manners and formalities. More the people, less punctual they are and so on.

Like everybody else, I too was flattered by the US roads. I greatly appreciate the thought and planning put into development of interstate roads and traffic rules. While watching some of the Hollywood films, I always liked to see the speeding cars, especially the quick lane changes that they made and now it was a delight to watch them happen right in front of me.

So coming back to the driving class. After that interview I was scheduled for all the theory classes. My first class room session was on a Sunday, during the same month. I was the only 24 year old guy sitting in the room. I was surprised to see that all the other students were kids of about 14-17 years old. My first classroom session was terribly boring. It did not take me long enough to notice that these sessions were designed mainly for kids of age 15. That is the normal age when kids start to learn driving. But I have to appreciate the amount of knowledge they had about driving at such a young age. It was evident that being an observer in the car, since childhood, they have had enough exposure to driving skills. After that long day, I had to give my permit test. I passed the test and I was told that I could get my permit from the DMV (Department of motor vehicles). At the end of the class, there was a reason to feel happy for.

I met Subbaiaha one evening and we dinned at a Chinese restaurant called Asian empire buffet. It was nice talking to him.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Sister's Visit

On August 14th, my sister Anu, my brother-in-law Nagaraj and my sweet little one and half year old niece Varsha arrived to COS from LA. It was good to see them after almost more than two years. Anu had prepared  and carried with her lots of Indian dishes. For me, it was a treat to taste the good Indian food after almost a week.

The same evening we went to downtown Colorado Springs. Both my sister and my Brother-in-law noticed how small a city this was as compared to LA. But for me, this was the perfect place to be in; People, neither less enough to call it isolated, nor more to call it a crowd. We walked around the downtown for a while and stopped by Starbucks for some coffee. By now my niece Varsha was getting to know me a little better who was earlier too shy and hid behind her mother.

Next day, we drove up the Pikes peak, one of the tallest mountains in COS and the most beautiful i had witnessed thus far, so closely. I was overwhelmed with joy when i heard we could drive up this 14100 ft high mountain.

It was a 20 miles drive to the peak. It was extremely cold and windy up there making it difficult to stay there for long. Californians and an Indian who had never stayed close to mountains had forgotten their jacket back home. But the view superseded that coldness. It was breath taking.

On top of the pikes peak, I remember thinking how insignificant I am in between the mighty nature. I always felt that while i sat by the beach in my hometown and now I was on top of a might mountain and the feeling remained the same. The vastness of nature always easily conquered me and my thoughts.

Garden of Gods  is another park int he city. Its a beautiful place with sand stones. We had our packed lunch at the park. People seemed to admire the balancing rock and other almond colored rock formations but having seen many such sights from where i come from, it was not much of a surprise for me.

Later that day, we drove to Denver, which is around one hour drive from Springs. Denver is relatively a larger city than springs with then about half a million population. 16th street at Denver downtown is very beautiful and on this day it seemed very quite and picturesque. 

We tried looking for some Indian grocery store. We did not find the one we had looked up on the net but instead found a newly opened store. We bought some spices and then drove to hotel Woodlands in Aurora. While my sister and BIL enjoyed the food, i had a hard time with it. My sister told me that i could not expect the taste like in India and overtime would begin to love this. I did not doubt her on that.

On Monday the 16th, my sister left back to LA. I assured her that I shall be flying soon to her place. It was a great weekend and thanks to my sister for  giving me a home like experience in this new land.

Friday, August 13, 2004

New Friends! New Culture!

This was like starting a life afresh! Nobody knew me here and I knew no one. Life had given me a second chance to start over and reshape myself. I felt good but a certain amount of anxiety remained about the unknown.

Next morning, on the 7th, Peggy and her husband Mike picked me up from home. Mike is well built tall man with a very friendly attitude. He had a very wise smile. Peggy, a very sweet lady and he made great pair. I was so glad that the first couple i had met in this country were childhood sweethearts. I also met Brett, a young man, not much older than me, who lived with them.
On our way to Denver, Mike briefed me some History of the place and gave me a guided tour. At the amusement park called six flag, I met other employees of my company. Dipen Shah, was another intern from the same college as that of Aditi. Debra, Aditi's classmate and friend. I got briefly introduced to other colleagues. But I was glad to meet my boss Alan and his family. But my jet lag kept me a little dull all day.
At the park, while others enjoyed the rides, Mike and I just walked around. He told me how the park was actually moved form a old location. He seemed to be very knowledgeable about history. We discussed our interests and discovered that we had one common one – Writing.
The only ride I took that day was a roller coaster ride. Horrible! That was my first experience in a amusement park and nothing about it actually amused me like the others. I was extremely tired and over that there was a queue of one hour to get to the roller coaster and when I was about to take this ride and the guard noticed that i had not pushed the magnetic lock far enough to engage. He gave me a “oh that was close” kinda smile. The first roller coaster experience was ruined with a thought of what if the belt had come loose while i was in air. I felt like i was being dragged with high speed without mercy. I din't like even a bit but by the end of it, I was happy because i was trying something different and new for the first time in my life.
By the time i returned home that evening, I was exhausted. Next day (Sunday the 8th), Peggy picked me up at 2:00 PM and we went shopping. We went to Albertson and I was shocked to see a supermarket that big. Everything there surprised me – several varieties of Tomato, potato, onion, bread and probably multiple options for everything.
The next week that followed went slow. I met my new colleagues at office. My manger Alan, a gentleman, welcomed me to the team and introduced to all the engineers in the office. Out of all I was quick to befriend Ernest, who i hear has 6 gieco's as pets. A pet of that kind obviously sounded weird to someone like me who comes from a country where any kind of lizard can never be an invitee to home. But at the same time, I was noticing this total different perspective towards same subjects and that was very interesting. He told me that there were two types of Gieco. One that came out during the night and the other during day. He had the night types! Ernest helped me that week by teaching me a CAD tool that i was new to.
Everybody who lives in the US has to have a social security number which becomes your unique identity that shall be used for all future references. So, one afternoon, Peggy and I drove to the office to get that done. Unlike India, the Government formalities happened in a systematic manner through tokens and most importantly it finished quickly.
We had lunch outisde that afternoon and since I was a vegetarian, Peggy choose Super salad. I found that place very strange. Raw vegetables with some dressing was all that was available here. This was very weird but what else can a vegetarian expect in a foreign land in the first few days unless he explores the vegetarian cuisine in that country. But surprisingly, I enjoyed the food. It felt fresh and healthy. Brett and another friend of Peggy also joined for lunch.
Every morning, Peggy would pick me at around 8:00 AM and then we would drive to Aditi's house and pick her up. I did not have an Indian license, so I could not drive and i was yet to enroll to a driving class here. Till then, Peggy was my care taker. Considering this, she had chosen this apartment that was very close to her house.
I was also delighted to see a good number of Indians in office. There were about seven of them. Sajil and Shivanand where Kannadigas. Suman was a bengali and Priya and Prasad from Andrapradesh. And of course there is Dipen- Gujarati and Aditi – Punjabi from Gujarat. At our manufacturing setup, is another Kannadiga who has worked previously in our company in Bangalore. I was asked to contact him, Subbaiaha through a common friend.
One evening, Peggy invited Aditi and me for dinner. She told, that we would drive directly from office to her place at around 5:30 PM. That sounded a little wierd to me as that was too early for me to dine. In india that time would be somewhere around 9:00 PM if you had guests, if not even later. I was enlightened of the fact that Americans dinned early and then also had supper later in the night.
Mike and Brett had cooked Lasagna (An italian delicacy) and potato salad. I had no clue what the dish was. (I did not like it much as I had never tried it until then But today Lasagna is one of my favorites.) That evening there was a hail storm. Another first time thing!
At home, I did feel lonely at times as there was nothing much to do, Sometimes i went for a walk to a near by store or walked to the cottonwood creek park just opposite our apartment. The days during summer are long. It does not get dark until 9:00 PM.
Another interesting culture I noticed int he US was that everyone greeted one another. Strangers would say “Hi”, “How are you doing” or at least smile at you. This friendly gesture among Americans made me feel good and welcomed in their country. I could not help quickly relating to Indian situation. With a population such as ours, smiling and greeting every stranger would be a strenuous job by itself. And I wondered if bigger cities in the US had similar culture. To find that out, I obviously had to wait.
Most of the time, I was the only person using the footpath. As I carried back few plastic bags of groceery from a nearby store, people driving by would stare at me. In springs, almost everyone had a car and even a quarter mile trip to a store needed a car. Public transportation is not very popular here as in other big cities.
Though Peggy would insist on driving me to the grocery store, I did not want to trouble her always and sometimes took a walk to the kingsooper or Albertson. Sometimes I would shop more than I can carry back and that made it hard to walk back with loads of grocery.
With great eagerness, I looked forward for the weekend to arrive. My sister Anu was coming from LA and I was all excited. I could not wait!

Friday, August 06, 2004

Breaking The Barrier!

Covering 9711 miles / 15628.34 km; from Bangalore to Colorado Springs!

I had a habit since my childhood. I took a walk for an hour or so in my front yard, especially during the night. In a small town of Surathkal, in costal Karnataka, Power cut during the nights was a common scene. Everything submerged in the darkness and that made a perfect atmosphere for me to think. Nature and man seemed to be in harmony in that one hour or so of blackness. Under the star filled sky, as I walked, several dreams and ideas started forming shapes; one of which was to travel the world. It’s only on the 6th of August 2004 that I realized that dreams are not just a momentary pleasure but being submerged in deep corner of mind, they shall bounce back one day, as reality.

The company I work for was sending me to the United States of America, for a yearlong assignment.

It was a time filled with several “firsts” for me; first time out of country in 24 years; first experience in an aeroplane, a first long journey in air; first time this far alone; first time interaction with non-Indians. That list can go on and they were all good reasons to be excited. This was an opportunity for me to explore a different country with a different culture than that of mine but most importantly, I would be able to explore myself.

At the airport, my parents, my uncle and aunt bid me farewell. It was around midnight. After the bags had been checked in, I waited in a long queue for security check. I had to pass time and one of things I love doing in public area is observe the events surrounding me. A NRI mother was wildly shouting at her kid that created an awful scene. I chatted with a man traveling to Singapore. 

The Lufthansa flight I was traveling in took off at around 2:00 AM. The first thing I noticed was the city all sparkling in the night. Bangalore looked splendid. After the plane had reached a certain height above ground, nothing was visible. So nothing to look out at, I took a nap. 

When I woke up, I was dazzled by the view outside. It was bright and as I looked down, I saw white cloud like cotton candy spread all over. It was obvious but not normal to look down at the clouds. 

While the plane was descending near Frankfurt, I saw beautiful heart shaped lakes. It was a beautiful sight from top. That was the moment that I realized that deep within me, I always wanted to explore the world and it occurred to me that the journey in that direction had just started.

It was approximately 9.5 hours of journey and I had 6 hours of layover at Frankfurt airport before I take another flight to Denver which had almost the same journey time. I was feeling a little uneasy by this long journey so I tried to sleep but could not. So I continued observing people. I saw a Tamil superstar accompanied by a famous actress and her daughter. Some Indians went to talk to him or smile at him but he did not care to return any. With a grim face, he walked into a liquor store.

In my next flight, I was sitting next to a father and son. The man smiled a lot but we hardly spoke. I enjoyed watching Shrek-2 on flight. That film changed my perspective on animated films, which I assumed to be for only kids. I was also made to fill the immigration forms and I94 card.

So after, aproximately19 hours of flight time, 6 hours of layover at Frankfurt airport adding up to 25 hours in total, I finally landed at Denver, USA at around 3:00 PM.

I had a very funny and embarrassing experience at the Denver airport.  The cart wheels refused to roll freely. I suspected it to be my two heavy check-in bags but now I think it could have been that the wheels were not unlocked completely. So I would guide it in one direction and it would move in a different. As a result, I almost hit the desk were an airport security guard was waiting to collect custom approval receipt.  I think I scared him a little as he wondered what was happening.

My journey was not yet complete. I had only landed in the US but not yet reached my destination. I had another flight to take; to Colorado springs. If I knew then what I know now, I would have might as well taken a taxi. But I was the first to travel to this part of the US in our company so not many who arranged m travel had an idea. 

As I got down for security check, I was taken aback by the crowd. I was at the tip of a mile long queue. 

My next flight was scheduled at 6:20 PM. So after the check, I made my way to the terminal. I loved the airport and the trains that transported people across terminals. On my way, I tried to get some quarters out of a change machine so as to call my sister Anu in LA. But my lack of knowledge to operate the machine and the telephone made it a little difficult. People I asked help from where also new the states.  But one thing I noticed immediately was that there were enough instructions written for everything, if you can read. So hence my independent life began!

After leaving a message for my sister on her answering machine, I waited for my connecting flight. We boarded the flight on time but then there seemed to be some confusion and we were requested to go back to the lobby. The reason, which I learnt later, was that the flight attendant had not arrived. Everybody got wild at this reason as we waited more than an hour for her to come. Some even got their flight changed. I sat there watching all other passengers get restless as I seemed very experienced to these long waits in the long journey I had had thus far. Another hour did not matter to my already 30 hours of journey. But my worry was about my colleague Peggy who was waiting to receive me at Colorado Springs airport. 

Finally, our flight attendant arrived at 8:00 PM and explained how she was stuck in a very bad traffic jam on interstate. I did not know what an interstate was then, so I let me imagination run. A busy Indian street came to mind. 

It was a small plane and the seating was very uncomfortable. The flight time was only 20 minutes and it was the bumpiest ride I had ever had. The flight was flying relatively at a low height as compared to my previous ones. On the west, The Rocky Mountains looked magnificent. By 8:30 PM I was at Colorado Springs. 

My colleague Peggy and an Indian Intern named Aditi received me at the airport. They held a board with my name on it.  I was driven to the location where I was to spend one full year. Pine Bluffs apartment at the intersection of Dublin and Rangewood is a very impressive locality.  And my apartment was beautiful. It had a big living area, a open kitchen and three bedrooms. I obviously settled in the master bedroom. It was completely furnished and the smell of a brand new apartment filled the space.

Peggy left her cell phone with me just in case I needed to make urgent calls and told me that she would pick me up the next day at around 10:00 AM. There was a team outing arranged from the office at six flags, an amusement park in Denver. I called my sister Anu and informed of my safe arrival.

I was very impressed by the fact that with the help of Aditi, Peggy had filled my kitchen with some very basic food items like – Indian spices, Bread, Pulav Masala, and most important – Maggie. I remember thinking that it was very thoughtful of her to do them. The house had everything for a person to live in- Microwave, Oven, Vacuum Cleaner, Iron box, Dish cleaner, Washing machine, drier, refrigerator and television.

Probably because of a long journey, despite the jet lag stories that I had been warned of I had a good sleep. So this was my first day in America. A day that saw several new and interesting things, met good people and that only prompted towards a very exciting and interesting stay in this country that I had already begun to love!