Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Grad ramblings

Graduate life has started and time is scarce. So you see people asking for 48 hours in a day or 120 minutes in an hour! Ah the common mistake. I always believed in higher efficiency. Thus, I wish I could read two text books at the same time or write two assignments at the same time. I gotta ask Rajnikant about the latter! I guess I exaggerate when I say I am very busy. Else how would you explain me finding time to go rock climbing, or attend student group meetings, or go for tennis classes, or meet a published author (Adam Shepard) or play ultimate Frisbee or go jogging on the beautiful stone arch bridge or write blogs and the list goes on. So grad life hasn’t reached top gear yet. I am hoping it doesn’t anytime soon!

So what else has been happening? Oh, I met this guy at a student group CFACT meeting who was interested in Indian culture. On knowing I was from India he asked me if I would volunteer to teach him Hindi!! I puffed my chest and said why not!! I guess I was the best Hindi speaker in the radius of a few feet. Yeah there are Indians all over the place here. But then I am the only one who delivered the epic dialogue 'jai aur veeru bhag gaye, magar kaise?' So the man was in safe hands when it came to learning Hindi. So being Indian helped me make a new friend.

But being Indian has its downside too. I become really conscious of my accent while speaking to the foreigners. Oops sorry, I mean natives. I am so used to calling Americans foreigners! Coming to my accent, it really stands out. It’s like I over pronounce every word. I used to think that Raj's accent in Big Bang Theory was exaggerated. But now I see the reality. I guess I’ll get used to it as time passes. Not that I feel inferior in any sense. The only time I feel bested by someone is when I walk in front of a mirror! I have installed bullet proof glass mirrors in my apartment cause of my mirror cracking looks! \m/

Many people have asked me whether I felt a culture shock after coming to the US. I guess it wasn’t much because in the US we have only 110 volts as compared to 220 volts in India. An American coming to India will feel a bigger shock! Hilarious jokes aside, one thing that has really caught my eyes, or attention rather, is the low waist fashion here! Guys here have taken low waist to all new levels. Low waist pants would baffle even Newton with their gravity defying lowness. I really want to know how they keep their pants from falling!

Free food is big here in the US. Every event is advertised by free food or pizza. Student group meetings, prayer meetings, gen events and even academic events pull crowds through free food. For instance I have taken a seminar course for 1 credit in the nano science department for the sole reason of free food. They serve amazing cookies, cake and coffee before the seminar. It is eat and then go and relax in the comfy hall!

Anything that’s pissing me off here? Yeah the obscenely high cost of labour. The bike repair shop asked me $6 to install new brake pads! Thank you Rahul for installing them for free! A hair cut costs at least $20. And you can’t get second hand haircuts. So for the first time I see something positive in my hair loss. I guess once I start earning big time(wonder when!), I ‘ll ask himesh where he got his hair weaving done.

Thank you guys for showing 'Fultoo attitude' in reading this fully faltoo post. I wind up, thanking himesh in anticipation for his next block buster, char buster and mind buster movie Radio! One last thing, Radiation is my favourite course. Guess why??

This post is dedicated to Sivram (bloodrayne) who recently questioned my ability in generating crap posts like dis! :D

Picture credits
Awesome Himesh: http://www.indiahits.com/media/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/himesh_reshammiya_radio_rj.jpg

Hindi Pic: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_zlMnQS-6Xw0/SqTIgEcQwwI/AAAAAAAAAHI/ei60f4Q2VVc/s400/hindi-day-special.jpg

Monday, September 14, 2009

The day I saw the President!

I saw Barrack Obama speak for the first time sometime in February 07, when he launched his presidential campaign at Springfield. I was captivated by his oratory skills and watched many of his subsequent speeches on TV or YouTube since then. His aura and energy is spell binding even while reading his book. Back in India, I had no realistic chance of ever seeing him live. Now that I am in the US, I thought maybe, just maybe, I might get lucky. Turned out that Minneapolis is one of the smaller cities in the US. And so I gave up hope of seeing him anytime soon. I guess I had forgotten the audacity of hope.

So the other day, a few weeks into my stay here, there was an article in the local newspaper about Obama’s visit to Minneapolis. I couldn’t believe it. Obama was coming to Minneapolis within a month of my arrival. What luck! I browsed the net for more info about the event. He was gonna talk about his planned healthcare reforms. The venue was just 2 miles from my home and entry was free. I wanted to be sure that non US citizens would be allowed. So I shot of a few emails and made a few calls and yippee, everyone was allowed on first come first serve basis.

The day arrived and my friend and I reached the venue just after 8am. We informed that there was line stretching about half a mile. This when the gates were due to open at 9:30am! We walked past groups of people playing cards, chatting and listening to music. Finally we reached the end of the line. My friend Pradeep went to grab a bite. I had no idea what exactly Obama was gonna talk about. So I asked a group near me. They seemed quite pro Obama and vehemently supported his ideas. The line began moving slowly. Despite the crowd, there was no pushing and shoving like in India. But on the down side, there weren’t any hawkers selling food or drink. Once in a while when someone did come, the cost was exorbitant. Luckily I was well prepared. I had had a huge breakfast and had brought a bottle of water with me.

Finally we reached the security check at about 10:00am. After an airport style security check, we were in. We joined a line for seats then. After another nervous wait we were finally seated! Now for the long wait for the arrival of the man himself. There was an energetic buzz in the stadium. Mexican waves and ‘Obama, yes we can’ chants went on from time to time. I got bored after a while. Again, I was prepared. I had carried a book with me. I peacefully read until they showed live footage of Obama arriving at the city airport. A loud cheer went up! It was the sign of things to come.

Finally the event started at 12:30pm. First the stage was graced by some other dignitaries and the anthem sung. Then it was time. ‘Ladies and gentle men, the president of the United States” came the announcement. Obama entered, literally running. A few handshakes and high fives with the people near the stage. He skipped up the stairs and was ready to speak. I liked the energy in his entry. The people cheered wildly. Check the video I uploaded. He first got the crowd going by talking about the football game at the university that evening and by calling the crowd ‘a lot more fun than the congress’. He then spoke about his main agenda, the healthcare reforms. He is an amazing orator. Even though I had little interest in or background knowledge about the issue, I was suddenly concerned about the American healthcare system and willed him on with his ideas. The crowd cheered wildly after almost every point he made.

The best statement was, I will paraphrase it, “I know many presidents in the past tried to reform the healthcare system, but I know I will be the last to try it because I am gonna be successful!” The speech lasted about half an hour and he ended it with a short anecdote of his election campaign. By the end of the speech everyone was ‘fired up’ and ‘ready to go’. The program ended and I headed out with the rest of the crowd, overjoyed to have heard a live speech from one of the greatest orators of our time!

So that’s one of my wishes granted, seeing Obama live! Now I have to see the Niagara, go to Vegas, ‘touch’ the statue of liberty, meet an astronaut, ... , ... , ... and oh yeah get a masters degree!

Friday, September 11, 2009

America - My days so far and a few more stray observations.

And the days fly by. The honeymoon period of grad life is over and classes have begun. Luckily no assignments have been given. So I still have time to blog! First I will write about what I was up to in the past couple of weeks.

I moved into my apartment on September 1. It was unfurnished. So I scouted around for free furniture around the neighbourhood and cheap furniture at garage sales. Yeah, I actually picked up decent tables and chairs left behind by the original owners. I also got some great stuff for rock bottom prices at garage sales. Thus I managed to furnish my apartment without much expenditure. But then you can’t or won’t want to get things like food stuff, consumables, utensils, cosmetics etc. second handed. So we went on a mega shopping spree. We spent $132 at Cub foods for eatables, $312 and $115 at Target and Wal-Mart respectively for household items and $140 at the Indian food store. The above bills are shared between Rahul and me. Oh and one more thing, don’t try to convert it into Rupees but if you do want an estimate, then use $1=Rs12 as the conversion factor. I got that number from my general intuition and the PPP concept.

Then there were cooking classes through youtube. Rahul is a great cook and so there isn’t much need for him to learn recipes through youtube. Except when he wanted to know how to boil pasta. And we found an 8min video on that! You should definitely watch this video and see the amount of detail. I tried my hand at making sooji halwa from this video but it didn’t turn out quite well the first time. The second attempt was a success due to my modifications to the original recipe. Besides cooking I biked around the place a bit. I mainly biked along the River Mississippi and was treated to some stunning scenery.

I also attended a pre inauguration event at the new football stadium here. Not many people turned up as the match wasn’t played at the stadium but was screened live from New York. I went for it as all the tickets for the home games have been sold out and this would be my only chance to see the stadium. The initial enthu died out immediately as none of us followed the rules of the game. We cheered loudly whenever the American spectators got excited. I decided to try to get hold of tickets for college basketball games as that’s the only American sport I can follow. Oh and btw NBA tickets go for only $5 on some nights. I must definitely check that out!


We also went to lake cedar on a Sunday. Beautiful place. The walk through forested trails in a city was quite amazing. The lake is quite scenic and it has a small beach too! I, coming from Goa, didn’t think too highly of their beach. But the people there were making good use of it. Some were sunbathing, others splashing around in the water and some kids were making sand castles. I also visited the Mall of America, reportedly to be the biggest mall in the US. Lots of shops, restaurants and amusement rides.

Oh yeah, I started with my classes this week. My first class was a course in the Geology department. I sat on the 2nd bench and the 2nd last bench. So can you tell me how many benches were there in the class? :D The student behaviour was extremely causal by our standards. Guys were drinking coke or coffee during the class, some had caps on, some including me had come in shorts, one guy was sitting with his knees folded at his chin! And sometimes students just got up and walked out in the middle of the lecture! My other two classes went on similar lines. We had to hit the ground running as far as teaching was concerned. I already have reading to do. Thankfully no homework yet! So then, here’s to fun filled months of slogging ahead!! Cheers! :D

And to sum up, a few more stray observations of the Americans. Time is kept right down to a minute. Buses are supposed to arrive at times like 11:03 or 8:57. During our orientation, the profs were interrupted the minute they crossed their time limit. Coming late to appointments is considered to be an insult to the other party. Another point, buses and trucks have lady drivers here. Back in India, I thought Shaggy was adding spice to his ‘it wasn’t me’ video by having a lady drive a big truck. The buses here are quite disabled friendly. Passengers in wheelchairs are lifted into the bus through a mechanism and the wheelchairs are secured at designated spots in the bus. Pretty neat!

All in all I am having a good time so far. And the dream will continue....

Monday, September 07, 2009

America on a high

Last night my roommate Rahul suddenly asked me if I would like to go to a pub. Well, I am not a big fan of pubs given the fact that I have gone to a pub only once in my 22 years of existence. Why not, I thought to myself. It would be a nice way to ‘drink’ in the American youth culture. Besides I could drown my graduate life sorrows in anticipation. Count me in, I declared enthusiastically.

The five of us met outside a pub called Burrito Loco in Dinkytown. I entered cautiously thinking what the norms and rates would be. After a quick look at our passports to verify our age, we were given a stamp of approval on our wrists! And we were in. I soaked in the atmosphere which was pleasantly smoke free. Lots of youngsters making their way around a noisy crowded space. There were some LCDs around. Some guys playing beer pong on a couple of tables. I found the idea of throwing a ball that has rolled all over the pub floor into a glass of beer quite disgusting. There was the counter at one end where everyone was waiting patiently in lines for their elixir of life. And last but not the least lots of hot gals around, unfortunately arm in arm with mean looking hefty guys. I decided to join the gym from the next day!

It was time for some drinks. And that involved standing in the long queue. I looked around and remembered how we had a peek at American college life through movies and sitcoms. It was almost the same except they wasn’t any PDA around and everyone seemed sober. Rahul got us the first round. We found a table and sipped in the brew. Akhil and I went to get the next round. We didn’t know which beer to order as Kingfisher and Fosters wasn’t on the list. I wanted Budweiser as I didn’t have an advisor. We asked some guys which one to order. They suggested Guinness. I had decided to pay for the round. But there was some offer where in if you call correctly in a coin toss, the drink was free. And unbelievably Akhil called correctly all four times! Yay, free drinks! Unfortunately luck turned around on its head for the next round and I ended up paying for all the four drinks!

We sat at our table sipping our drinks and munching on free popcorn. Yeah, we all like free stuff! Dry jokes are much funnier with drinks around and people laugh at anything. I can’t remember any besides when one guy said you suck and the reply was ‘U of M’ (That’s short for university of Minnesota) Ha ha ha! Then we had some serious discussions like who guided the first Phd student? As all PhD students are guided by a PhD guy. It was like what came first, egg or the kitchen? (not chicken, slip of the tongue due to the smooth beer) After a while we had had enough and decided to leave.

We met a small group of friendly Americans outside. And guess what, guys all over the world discuss the same stuff, gals, booze and adventure. It was time for goodbyes and we decided to call it a night. Cheers to AMERICA!