Posts Tagged ‘experiences’

Welcome to Portland airport where our most important connection is you.

the cute airport announcement said. Free wifi and an artist singing and playing guitar selling his CDs in the waiting area. I was pretty sure I was going to like this place. I was just surprised by how much I did eventually.


The first thing I notice about the city is that its beautiful. It manages to look elegant in spite of the fast pace and its just really green. The interesting art on the street slows you down if you are watching.


The public transport system might seem intimidating for someone coming from California (because we don’t have much of a system here) but one ride and you will get the hang of it. A bus driver I ask for help tells me about the transfers I have to take, makes me recite the entire trip and drops me off on the side of the road next to the transfer station. Compare this with (some) drivers in SB who close the doors in spite of seeing people running in front of them to catch the bus. See what I mean by happy place?


The people are also very creative and amusing. Don’t miss out on the Saturday market (which I first mistook for a farmer’s market). The things local artists bring over to sell are pretty cool even if not always worth buying. This is also the perfect place to get all your hippie shopping done.

I see a ‘recycled’ skirt made out of an old worn out shirt in one of the stalls, with the collar and buttons still on, running across its length. I want to buy a dozen because they do look aged and cheap. But they cost around $70 due to their high hippiness quotient. Meanwhile, the food trucks sell ‘free range chicken’ meals for 8 dollars. The place definitely has a character.


The Conference bit

Meanwhile I find the best single serve coffee I have had in a while in the hotel I’m staying at. Peet’s coffee pods, straight from California. A money settling session with bunch of Europeans leaves me (intentionally) with quite a few euros, pounds and francs.

The Italian says

 I’m sure someone is losing money in this, I just don’t know who..


The magic in the hole

Not a big fan of donuts myself, I go to Voodoo donuts because that’s what you do when you visit Portland. The place looks worn out and intriguing. I see the longest line I have seen for donuts. I get donuts with names such as butterfingering and triple chocolate penetration, not bothered to read the flavors. They are actually quite nice (though arguably over-hyped), especially the ones filled with Bavarian cream.


City of roses

I get to visit the Portland rose parade which has been happening  for over 100 years now. I’m beginning to love parades because they are great for local people watching. The most excited people watching the show aren’t children or tourists. Old nostalgic people seem to be having the most fun.

The Washington Park is a great change from the fast pace of the city. I see my dream house. In the middle of a wonderful city but surrounded by woods. Then I see bigger and more lavish dream houses.

The Rose Garden in the park is a must see. There is also a small Japanese garden next to the rose garden but I resist my overachiever urge and stick to the roses. And they are so lovely, you can spend all day strolling and seeing all the variations.


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The park has a free bus service. The buses run every twenty minutes but that’s fine because the place is beautiful! I don’t mind waiting in the middle of tall firs and chirping birds. I hear the bus before I see it. I have to get this one or wait another twenty minutes. I envy the dandelion seeds taking their sweet time floating through the park.

Seen in Washington Park. Question: What are these mesh bags filled with wood chips doing on the side of the road?

Seen in Washington Park. Question: What are these mesh bags filled with wood chips doing on the side of the road?


The IKEA conundrum

I end up in IKEA accompanying my host. In the long wait at the home delivery station after the cash registers, I notice a bag of straws appear out of nowhere on the bench I’m sitting on. Already paid for, no one to claim. Should I leave it to IKEA to put it back for sale, let someone else have it, or take it myself? I really need straws. Not really, but I can figure it out. If you know me, you will know what I did.

stolen treasures

stolen treasures: lucky penny or shop lifting?

Then on the way back to the airport, I meet a half homeless full hippie woman on the MAX line who is telling me and anyone else who is listening about an iPad she found on the street which she isn’t planning to return. Some folks tell her about tracking systems on tablets which will link to her, trying to change her mind. But she won’t have it. And while I’m trying to take a picture of the street behind her, joking that I’m not taking her picture instead, she gets too paranoid and gets off early. Yeah, someone isn’t getting their forgotten iPad back. I feel a little better about my two dollar IKEA straws now.

Portland is a very pedestrian friendly place. Pedestrians don’t heed much to the road signs and cross roads whenever they feel like it. And just as I get used to this freedom its time to leave. Doing this in California will get you the most unfriendly stares.


I guess the only annoying thing about the place is the slow free way traffic. If you want to pull your hair out diving behind a Prius going at fifty miles per hour in low traffic in the fast lane, this is the perfect place for it. Second is the smoking! You are sitting in the park admiring the roses and breathing in the fresh air when you sense that familiar stink and see a perfectly fine looking person smoking here too. Not in McDonald’s though.



There are many more touristy things to do in the place. I found the Pittock Mansion quite interesting especially since I have been on this spree of visiting historic houses wherever I go. The Lan Su Chinese Garden is peaceful and cute. It complements the laid back pace of the city.  Usually an obsessive person, this city gently slowed me down and kept me curious at the same time. Every place I went to was great and the people just happy.

We land in SB on a cloudy day. I’m happy with the sense of familiarity I get when I come back home. Similar to the one I did walking in the brown tiled corridors of Sharav. SB is home.


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Lately I have noticed that I am drinking alcohol more often than usual after coming to California. I think its all the waitresses’ fault who, when you go to a restaurant, ask

So what would you like to drink today?

Of course, I can just as easily say “water please”. Instead, I have to order some wine, much more often than not. So I have decided to abstain from alcohol for a whole month. Now, now, I don’t really have to do this. Its not like I am addicted to alcohol or anything.

Alcoholics Anonymous cartoons

Well, surprise! I am not a drunken bum, in spite of the name of my blog and my recent resolution.

So this is more than anything, to just see if I can do it, not drink for a month. I know this is going to make me hate myself, especially on the weekends and all the other days in the week.

I know there are resolutions of more serious nature requiring lot of willpower and having much far-reaching consequences which people undertake. But if you know me, you will know this is not going to be easy!

davis in march

Davis in March

Meanwhile, let me end with a picture, admiring nature. Something sober people do. I suppose I have a lot of that in store for me this month. And coffee.

We will discuss my coffee addiction some other time.

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After 25 days of 10 hours flights, weird sleeping times and bunk beds, I’m finally back :-) Here is some blabber on the conferences, places and people, day by day. Place by place.

26 June, Chennai Airport

Thoughts in head: What if my passport falls into the escalator and gets shredded? What if I misplace alpha-beta thousand Rs? And have to go all the way back through customs to locate them? (this really happened).

28 June, Cardiff, Wales

Oh dear*. This is such a windy place.

* English phrase for damn.

The Welsh have a thing for threat signs. Here is one found on a bus, in Welsh and then in English. They also have restaurants with weird names.








30 June, Cardiff University

I expected Wales to be pretty. But I was surprised to find out that the most fun thing I have seen here is the conference!

1 July, Conference Day

For all the people who have heard professors rant about them sleeping in class, professors are worse. They work on their laptops in plenary lectures.

3 July, St Fagans

This is a must see place in Wales. Its the only major one I’m seeing anyway.

I am slightly bored of travelling alone. Travelling alone sucks and so does the delay shot feature on my camera. After a while, you are content with taking pictures of your feet. And its a good shot if you capture a pigeon while you are at it.

The good thing is you don’t have to share the window seat with your friends. You have either got it, or you haven’t.

4 July, Cambridge

Cambridge is beautiful. I could stay here forever. Cycling to nearby villages, buying ready meals from Tesco, working and sipping coffee in the beautiful garden of P’s house. When did I lose interest in travelling?

9 July, Heathrow

Travelex or Thomas Cook? Important lesson: Always convert currency in India (more insights in this regard would be appreciated). I see flights to San Francisco :D Soon, I will get used to this.

10 July, Rio de Janeiro

House is right. UK hardly has any badonkadonk. Especially after you see Rio. Oh, what beauty. These people do weight training in the sand!

And I have not seen more runners anywhere else.

They also have queer similarities with Indian languages. For example, pav is called pav in Portuguese too. And Potato is batata, which might I add, is Marathi for potatoes. A popular beer in Brazil is called Brahma, although it probably does not derive its name from Hindu mythology. Its the name of a place I hear.

11 July, Conference Lunch

I have just asked a Georgia Tech prof lunching next to me what her name is. Turns out she’s a plenary speaker :-| Thank god, she wasn’t talking today, because I missed the plenary after getting the wrong bus in this only-Portuguese speaking city.

12 July, Vidigal

I am staying in a Favela called Vidigal for the cheapest price you can get in Rio. It has an amazing view of the Oceano Atlantico, better than views from most 5 star hotel rooms (ok, I saw just three..) and this is how I have my breakfast, lost in the green sea.

This is the way to the Favela, along the beach from Copacabana.

13 July, Presentation Day

I am so proud of representing IIT Madras here. Usually I don’t fall for such emotional stuff. But today its different, maybe I’m a bit nervous and want to deflect from the true emotion. The presentation has gone really well. A keynote speaker called me up and told me he really liked the talk. A friend pointed out that I could have talked without swinging from side to side after each sentence.

20 July, Chennai Airport

Nalli’s cotton bags, flowers in hair and long skirts and kurtas. Its time for Chennai again. And Insti. One last time :)

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the learning curve

When I started writing for my first conference paper, I was confounded by many questions (funnily enough, none of them included my results, codes, derivations, figures, etc). They ranged from more trivial ones like ‘should I call myself P. Agharkar or P. H. Agharkar or something else’ to more technical ones related to the ‘art of scientific writing’. Like any other subject, I found books on this one too [1]. Since I had no appetite for reading whole books on the subject for the time being, I stopped at Whitesides’ paper on writing a paper. One of the technical questions I had, was whether I should write in Word or LaTex. Like most other things in life (not all, by the way) LaTex is better than Word but more difficult at the outset. Although difficult to learn, it is much easy to live with, once you get a hang of it. People dissuaded by the initial learning curve not only compromise on the overall quality of documents, but they also miss out on the convenience called LaTex. I gave laTex a shot and it took me just about 2 days to get a hang of it. Its doubtful if I will ever write a document in Word again, time will tell).

There are so many such things in life, which require a learning curve. Some of them good, some bad by the way. A friend was telling me how she’s learning to like the taste of alcohol. I said “Don’t. Try learning something else”.

We miss out on so many opportunities because we are wary of the initial learning curve. Perhaps we aren’t convinced of the rewards at the ends of curves, perhaps we don’t want them badly enough. Perhaps, the former reason leads to the later?

I have been using the term ‘learning curve’ with so much ease in the post, that I decided I better know what I’m talking about. Wiki came to the rescue, as usual.

Talking of learning curves, here is Calvin’s struggle with learning Maths [2]. A typical Calvin and Hobbes.

Click to enlarge

[1] I find very few inspirational and topical books impressive and/or convincing. Its me, not them. I am just too cynical I guess. Also, I don’t believe that there is only one way to do things and if there is, there is one person who knows it completely. Life is more complicated than that, right?

[2] Courtesy: GSD, for sharing cartoons and articles from Asian Age.

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super senior

I stop by the notice board, as has been my practice for the last three years. Extramural lectures, mess bills, etc etc. Routine. Events you promise to yourself you will find the time to attend, and lose track of somehow.

Then there were so many other notes scribbled in A4 sheets. Notices calling for volunteers for events , notices requesting you to attend the GBM. And I think, once upon a time, I used to write such notices, signing off as ‘AAS #111’ or ‘Coordinator # mobile number’. I used to list down my name for a Shaastra Volship or a Painting class in the Common Room.

Gone are those days. I don’t know when I came out of it and started looking at it in a detached way. That’s what fourth year does to you. Not knowing freshies’ names, not caring to find out. Stopping cribbing about the hopeless situation of the mess food. Writing funny things under notices concerning serious issues as if you know some greater truth.

‘Super Senior’. Yeah, I am a super senior.

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“Aauto ma”.
No response.
“No, we don’t…”
Again, “Auto? You want auto?”

This time coming in my way! Right in front of me, blocking the road ahead. I say, no, we don’t need an auto. He still persists. Maybe he doesn’t quite understand what I say. Girl next to me shouts “Free me chhod rahe ho kya?“. Unbelievably enough, he understands what this means and goes ahead giving a wry smile and pooh poohing his rick.

You wouldn’t really be able to recollect their faces if you had to. But then, when you think of the word, and a Chennai rick-wallah at that, a definitive character stands up in front of you. Some guy who has no ethics whatsoever, and yet counts on scaring us for not being kind enough to give him what he is asking for (I am talking about the fare), assuming that all of us believe in the there-is-a-god-up-there-who-is-watching-if-you-r-helping-the-less-fortunate story. And when you refuse to give more than what was decided before, ruling out the U-turn which he had to take reach the main gate as an valid reason for asking for more money, he says “I don’t want anything then”. Fine with me! I got a ride for free. And for the record, I have done this before. Twice.

I have dreams of those rickshaw-wallahs following me and running over me as an act of vengeance 8O

Another thing. Don’t believe them when they say they don’t have any change. They will take it out when they run out of time and patience to squeeze more cash out of you. Just wait and act like you can’t help it as much as them :P

And, I could go on and on and on. Now really, is there anyone out there who is interetsed in my rickshaw-wallah stories?! :-|

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It was the beginning of my second year in IITM. I had been allotted #110. But to my dismay, when i reached the door, with my five huge bags, filled mostly with clothes which i never wear, just carry them back and forth, between Mumbai and Insti for the just-in-case scenario wherein I might feel like wearing one of them out of the blue, i saw the door locked. With five heavy bags on your shoulder, and half of your stuff still waiting for you in your old room, the situation was the kinds that demand use of the f word to describe them. I went to the office, ran my fingers across the first page of the room list to find

#110 | Iliane Purdue | Foreign Exchange Student

Indignant at the office staff for having given my room to some one else, I waited for her to return. And then she came, with her sunshine smile, bright orange colored shirt, loose pajamas, kolhapuris and a dozen bangles dancing on her wrists. I explained to her that she had accidentally occupied my room. Since she had already laid out her stuff in her room, we decided that I occupy the next room which happened to be empty.

I was uncertain as to what would be the appropriate question to ask her. And i blurted out “Which country are you from?”

Then from all the formal inquiries to trying to cheer her up when she felt out of place to sharing study material and common interests, barging into each other’s room without knocking to discussing crushes and secret admirers, One year later and cultures half the world apart we came a long way!

I would marvel at her enthusiasm for going places. My usual reply would be: You are seeing more places in India in this one year than I have in twenty.

One the last day of my stay for the semester, I was cleaning up when Iliane knocked on the door and asked me for my email id. She was leaving in the evening, for Bangladesh, Nepal and then finally her home in France. As we stood there, her bright smile forcing me to smile back, knowing that this was probably (no, mostly) the last time we would be seeing each other, I tried not to notice the lump in my throat.

Some friendships are special. They may not be the ‘hughs and kisses. we share all our secrets’ kinds. But then they don’t carry the burden of expectaions and obligations with them. You are free to leave because you are not bound in the first place. The time that i spent with Iliane will always be one of the nicer things i will look back to in years to come.

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