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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Empire State Building & Madame Tussauds

I and Gautham started off from Candlewood suites at 6AM in the morning in my Chevrolet Impala to Lindsley Alms to pick up Ben & Edna to start our exploratory trip to Manhattan, NY. After breakfast, we set out on our trip at 6:45 AM. Ben had done some research on parking spaces and he was driving since my license(IDP) did not allow me to drive in the state of NY.

The traffic was light, and without major hiccups, we reached our designated parking at 8:15 AM and was heartbroken to see that the parking would cost us $38 different from the $12 that was mentioned in the website. Whatever; the more we start looking out, we might end up with not getting a parking at all. So we subscribed to the same parking lot and started our exploration with a hand held GPS & a black berry. We walked on to the nearest intersection and started our search for the Empire State building. While the GPS was downloading information, I read out the name of the building right in front of us and it read - "Empire State Building" - Now, Isn't that amazing? But again, this is the problem if all the buildings are sky scrapers, cant make out which one is the tallest from our frame of reference.

We bought tickets for the 86th floor deck & the 102nd floor observatory to have a view of downtown Manhattan. There was an express lift available to the 80th floor and then another to the 86th one and yet another one to the 102nd observatory. It was a very nice view from the top, though it was foggy, later during the day, the vision cleared - We could see the Liberty Statue, Ground zero (Where the twin towers stood before the terrorists brought it down), The neighbouring islands, ferry, dock and stuff like that. After about spending 3 hours there and clicking pictures, we decided to continue our expedition; but obviously after taking a bite at the nearby McDonald's.

We decided to go to the Times Square next. Times Square is a major intersection in Manhattan, at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue and stretching from West 42nd to West 47th Streets. Times Square has achieved the status of an iconic world landmark and has become a symbol of its home city. Times Square is principally defined by its animated, digital advertisements. We took a Taxi to Times Square and realized that noon was a wrong time to be at Times Square, though we hit a jackpot there. Somebody was distributing $10 discount cards to go to the Madame Tussuad's wax museum which was pretty close. And I must say that the best deal of the day was the this wax museum; though we were a bit disappointed to see that our own AB, SRK & Aish are in the London museum & not in the NY museum.

After taking entry ticket in to the museum where we had Paris Hilton & the Shrek (wax statues) to welcome us at the entrance. The statues looked so real and at many places (where I dint
know the real celebrity), I mistook them for real people. There was a self portrait that Madame Tussauds(1761-1850) had personally modelled in 1842 when she was 82. All I could say is that it is just amazing! Who ever plans to visit Manhattan should not miss this. It is definitely worth it! We went ahead clicking pictures with each and every celebrity and the most recent one was Johny Depp in the last version of the Pirates of Caribbean - At worlds end. We spent time until 3:30 there and the finally decided that we should cover the Central Park too before we start back to Morris town. After a few minutes of effort to find out out way through blackberry & GPS, we figured out that the best way to go to Central park is to take another taxi. And that took us there.

There was a group of street dancers whop had put up a show there and we were kind of relaxing there. Then thundershowers started playing spoiled sport then and we just saw the south entrance of the central park and decided to stay away from adventure since we had costly electronic equipment with us and more importantly due to other factors of Ben's family. We decided to go back. Another taxi to the parking lot where the taxi driver was a paki. We found that most of the Cabbies in New York are either Pakistanis or Indians and some others.

We were much relaxed to see that the parking had cost us only $14 unlike the anticipated $38 because of some early bird offer; and the website was true! And the travel back to Morris town started amidst the rain, and we figured out that it was bright sunlight in New Jersey... And back home by 6 PM.

And all through the trip, I missed my dear daughter Amiya & Kannu. I wish they are with me...

Friday, June 08, 2007

Boris & a few Indian Techies

I was contemplating on whether to write this post or not; later decided that I should. Because, this shows how badly some of us behave and take things for granted. This is an incident that happened on Thursday, the 7th June 2007 at the hotel where I stay in Morrisplains, NJ - Candlewood suites.

Though Candlewood is an American hotel, there is nothing American about it except the names. All the employees who work there are either Mexicans or Eastern Europeans; more than 80 pct of people who stay in this hotel are Indians of which 70 pct belong to the category "Techies". As I climb-up or lift-up to my 3rd level room, the fragrance of sambar, rasam, indian masala and maggi welcomes me and makes me feel home.

And who is Boris?
Boris is the midde-aged Mexican cabbie... rather the driver of the complimentary shuttle (station-wagon) that plies from the hotel to pre-defined destinations every week day. His day starts with dropping people from the hotel to the railway-station and the Pfizer office at 7:30 AM, comes back to pick the people to Honeywell at 8AM, and then another trip to some other offices at 9AM. He has a similar routine in the evenings - A very nice chap; has an opinion about anything and everything in the world (if not anything; atleast f*** them) and more than anything, speaks his mind regardless of the place or situation.

As a quick pre-curser to the story, we got late to office on wednesday coz one Indian Techie (hereby referred as IT) who had to take the 7:30 AM shuttle to Pfizer missed it and demanded that he should taken to the Pfizer Office at 7:50 AM when Boris came back to pick the Honeywell crowd. He oblidged and we got late. Pfizer is actually walkable from the hotel, just half a mile on the same side of the road, but driving takes around 10 minutes.

And here is what happened on that fateful thursday.

Boris (BO) comes in at 7:55 AM; we all get in. And the IT tries to getin.

BO: Maaan.. u no gonna get in now. I have a schedule; I gonna meet my schedule.

IT: Why? You dropped me yesterday naa?

BO: I did a favor maaan... d'you know that? I did a favor... you gonna better catch the 7:30 time... I gotta schedule to meet.. (to us) u'no guys... i drop this jerk yesterday and he just say thank you and walk off... these guys just come over and....(sound fades)

IT: I think you can drop us today also... onnly one more day naa...

BO: You better close that door maann... I gotta guys waiting here and I gonna meet my schedule... you guys just gonna come over and d'maand things... maan.... do you know that i did a favor? now you close the door.. i gotta go...

IT: Yes, I know you did a favor, do a favor today also naa...

BO: maan... just close the door... u d'maand a favor... i gotta schedule to meet... u guys just come oer and have no idea what the **** (showing a finger) is going on here... close the door maan...

The door closes... Boris looks into the mirror and finds Mak (Adaikappan Meiyyappan from Honeywell) in the van and then to him...

BO: Mak, my dear frriend... I'll drrop you anny time... coz, u r my frriend

Mak: Thank You Boris

BO: Those jerks...(sound fades..)

Boris puts on the radio and then after a second, shows his desperation and switches to the tape where he has his favourite songs...

"Habeebee... Habeebee... " - reminded me of the song with Mohanlal & Sreenivasan in the film "Chandralekha - Maanathae Chandiranothoru..." the very same one...

And we raced to the Honeywell Corporate Headquarters on Columbia Road.

Note: Information technology workers a.k.a computer programmers are generally referred to as "Techies"

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

My New Jersey Diary - A travel log #1

I have been transferred to our New Jersey Office for a period of 1 year starting 4th June 2007. Unlike my earlier travel this is for a quite a long time, and I thought I would write a travel log... though I am not sure how long it would be before I call it quits to writing... even though... as long as it goes... let it go.

This is my travel log...

On the night of 2nd July, I stepped out of `Swapnakoodu` with a heavy luggage and a much heavier mind. I am going to be away from my family for a month until they joins me in New Jersey. I did my check in at 10 PM for my 2AM flight to New Jersey via Frankfurt. After the check in & prior to immigration, there is an area in Bangalore Airport where you can meet the people who have come to say farewell to you across a steel fence. Amiya, my princess wanted to come to me across the fence and was nagging for that. My heavy mind started becoming heavier with the guilt of leaving her & her mom; even though it is for a month. The security check was OK; I declared my camera at the customs so that I wouldn't have an issue while coming back, though the customs officer told me that there is no need to declare anything. The long wait for the flight started then. I realized that 10PM was too early to check in for a 2 AM flight...

Before the boarding for my flight started, there was a Singapore airlines to Singapore, Thai airways to Bangkok, Air India to Singapore and Air France to Paris (this was simultaneous to our Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt)... around 1200 people crowded in a hall of size of a mini auditorium... very hot, sweating and people inching for space. I managed to get a seat because I chose to check in earlier and my plans to call home before I boarded the flight was shot down by seeing the queue on the ONLY available telephone booth there and the serpentine queues...

At around 1 AM, the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt taxied straight into the only terminal gate and it was this huge Boeing 747 aircraft (also known as jumbo jet in local parlance) the large double-decker flight. The configuration for economy class was not as good as British Airways one that I took last time... the simple reason is that it does not have the personal entertainment system - A TV (a couple of them at strategic locations) mounted at the top like the ones in Kallada travels. The seats seemed to me more congested by the 3+4+3 configuration... YES 10 seats in a row!! And all of them were full. Jam packed on a weekend... I guess the whole IT crowd travels on a weekend!

After the other formalities, the flight started taxiing to the runway on time... 1:55 AM... taxied to the Marathahalli end of the runway and started racing towards the west... The running continued on and on and on and did not take off... and I started wondering whether it would run against the embassy golf links offices. Finally at the end of the runway, the huge metal bird slowly lifted and I could see the ring road very close...very very close... very slowly & steadily it gained height and by the time it reached the required altitude, almost 45 minutes had gone past.

I was very sleepy and wanted to catch up some sleep... but then they started serving dinner! Dinner at around 3 AM... I think they referred to the dinner in Germany because it would have been 11PM there then. They asked me for a choice and I said chicken and the food was better than vegetarian food that was some kind of steamed food made of corn (I peeped into my neighbor’s box). I had the food and that was just filling... not more; not less and then slowly got into a decent sleep... waking up occasionally and eyes red with headache.

After a long 7 hours, the captain announced the landing at the Frankfurt airport, it was 6:50 AM local time... the flight landed very smoothly and I dint even know that the flight landed until the brakes were applied... It was so smooth and I think Boeing 747 is a great flight...

The horrendous waiting at the Frankfurt airport started then. There was high vigil at the US terminals especially after few people were arrested plotting to do something at JFK airport, New York the previous day. My next flight to Newark was at 11:45 AM which got pushed to 1PM. It was really horrible waiting there... there is very little space in Frankfurt airport and people were like sitting and sleeping on the floor. The high security has added into the existing space constraints. I saw many people from Honeywell, at least 6-7 of them on their way back to India. I met my friend Rajesh in the airport on his way back to India and he gave me good company until his flight was announced.

During the waiting period, I felt very thirsty and wanted to buy a bottle of water, but the US security will keep it away and will not let me take it with me... so i was in a dilemma whether to spend euros on water or not. I finally decided to have a cappuccino. That fellow charged me 3 euros for a cup of kaapi.. pandaarakaalan.

After the long waiting period, 12 PM arrived and they let me into the terminal to check in. The view from the terminal was really gorgeous. The all glass pane could see most of the airplanes lined up and I took a chair that was facing right into the taxiway. The flight had not yet come then. After a few minutes; I saw my next flight, another Boeing 747 jumbo jet taxiing near to the gate which was on to my right side. It was being pulled by a special vehicle (looked like a cross breed of a truck & tractor) and it took a quick turn near the gate and started advancing towards me. That is a very special view... It came intriguingly closer and at one point I felt it is going to crash into the terminal. And it stopped a few meters away.

This flight was full of students from central Europe & Israel who were traveling to US for their higher studies. And it was not crowded. I was disappointed to see that I have to sit next to a couple; both of them triple my size and I dreaded about the next 7 hours of flying... It was then the airhostess came over and asked me whether I would like to shift to another seat in the middle row... Though I initially hesitated; later when I saw the row of seats, I could not refuse the offer... the whole row was empty... 4 seats and me. After take off, I can keep the hand rests upright and can lie down... And I took them. After take off; they served lunch at around 2PM and I had a good lunch along with scotch and caught up with some more sleep.

It was uneventful & boring through the whole 7 hours except for the last 30 mins. The captain announced that we are nearing Newark and they are expecting thunderstorms in the evening and the weather is cloudy. While flying above somewhere near Boston, the aircraft got into an air-pocket. It was a terrifying experience. For around 5 seconds, the plane did a free fall... The kids in the aircraft started screaming & howling and I saw an Indian aunty (who must be going to visit her children) saying her prayers... eyes closed and quickly chanting something... People become really funny when they see uncertainty in front of them; especially when it comes to your life

A few minutes more and we landed at the Liberty International Airport in Newark, NJ 15 mins ahead of schedule (despite starting 1 hr late) the immigration took another 40 mins and finally I was out in the lobby at 3:30 PM local time. I was looking for my friends Jobin & Susha since they had promised to come & pick me up. And I couldn't find him there initially. Lucky that I carried some loose change with me, I could call him. I tried a couple of times and I couldn't reach him and I exhausted my coins. Then I decided to find my own way and took a taxi to Candlewood suites in Morris plains. The taxi guy was an Indian and was really helpful though he had to rely on the GPS since he himself did not know the route.

After I checked into the hotel, I called Jobin and found out that he was caught in a huge traffic pile up and by the time he reached the hotel, I had left and he still was at the airport then looking for me. They came over to my hotel and we went out to do some basic shopping for the day to day survival - bread; milk; cereals and fruits. We had our dinner at the Mexican restaurant near to my hotel and finally I came back to catch some sleep by 9:30 PM.

And interestingly, the sunset here is now around 9PM and it would be bright day light until then...More to go in the following editions...