Tuesday, September 28, 2004

There's no place like home

As a kid "Wizard of Oz" used to be one of my favorite movies. I remember watching the movie over and over again. Or at least that's what my parents tell me. The funny thing about memory is that you might remember things that never happened. In an experiment people swore that they remember shaking hands with Bugs Bunny in Disneyland, which is not possible because Bugs Bunny is a Warner Bros. character. They had been told so by their parents and they then formed false memories around it. Nevertheless, I think I used to love this movie.

So sitting in an American History class, only paying half attention to the Populist movement being discussed, I was suddenly jolted out of my reverie when the professor said that "Wizard Of Oz" is a political statement. She claimed that the yellow brick road symbolized gold, the strawman represented the farmers, the monkeys were the black people, and the Wizard was none other than the President. It really shocked me to find out that one my favorite childhood movie was so political. But then I realized that probably many of the cartoons that kids watch have political statements in them because the people creating them are adults.

Today I probably wouldn't enjoy the movie as much as anyways. I've become too cynical to enjoy the make believes. At dinner my friend was making fun of a Star Trek episode I remember seeing as a kid. I used to watch Star Trek all the time when I was kid. This memory is actually true since I have tapes my dad recorded for me. I don't watch Star Trek anymore. The whole premise seems so implausible and I tend to over analyze .

Not that I didn't think when I was small. But in my simplistic mind, I thought "Wizard Of Oz" had a straightforward message that home is the best place to be. I have realized that since I moved out. Obviously I didn't think so when I was living at home, and remember telling my mom that I wanted to go to college anywhere but in Delhi, so I won't have to stay at home. Now I can only wish that I had those ruby shoes which I could click three times and get home by uttering the magic words - "there's no place like home."

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

My first time

Today in the morning I had my first international meeting. I called a coworker in the London office, which usually means coming in really early, but this guy was cool and agreed for 9 am (PST). As it turned out he was British Indian-- gosh we’re everywhere-- and was extremely inquisitive about me personally.

He shared his desktop and started explaining the project I was going to take over from him. Throughout the call, we would be going along working, and suddenly he would pop an irrelevant question. This is how the conversation began--

Him: "You should ask the company to send you to London, especially since you'll be working a lot with people here."
Me: "I don't know. I've just started working here."
Him: "Oh, when did you start?"
Me: "It's just about a month now."
Him: "I've heard it's become really hard to enter the company. They have a lot of rounds of interviewing"
Me: "Tell me about it. I interviewed for 8 hours here. It was worth it though I guess"
Him: "Well, welcome to the company"

After completing the new employee talk I do with every coworker I meet, we start working.

Him (in the middle of explaining how the project is structured): "how's the Indian community in San Francisco."

Me (after a few minutes; it takes me sometime to switch gears): "there aren't that many Indians in the city, but a lot in the Bay Area."

Him: "okay"

Again we start working...

Him: "do you guys there dance Bhangra?"
Me (doesn't take me long this time): "I go to desi parties where later in the night they play Bhangra."
Him: "I don't dance it well."
Him: "Do you watch Hindi movies?"
Me: "I love Hindi movies and watch almost all of them."
Him: "What are some good movies?"

I'm going through the database in my mind of all the good Hindi movies I've seen, but before I reply ...

Him: "I've only seen one Indian movie - Sholay. I've seen it so many times"
Me (halting the search): "Oh okay."

So we get back to work and then out of the blue -

Him: "What do you eat?"
I start laughing.
Him: "Is that a silly question?"
Me: "Oh no, I was just caught off guard. I don't cook so I usually eat out."
Him: "Like American meals -- pizza and sandwiches."
Me: "Umm, yeah that too. Also chinese, thai, pasta, indian."
Him: "I like Chinese, Thai too. We have a lot of good Indian restaurants here. Mostly North Indian."
Me: "We have both North and South Indian. I like South Indian too."
Him: "I don't like South Indian; can't handle the coconut curry."
Me: "Well how do you like Thai then?"
Him: "Hmm... never thought about that."

And we get back to work. We have to wait for something to load so we continue our parallel conversation.

Him: "So do you live near work?"
Me: "Yeah, it's a 20 min commute by bus."
Him: "Do you have family around?"
Me: "Not my parents, but my siblings and uncles/aunts."
Him: "You're all scattered then."
Me: "Yeah."
Him: "I see my mom every morning. I live 5 mins from her."
Me: "You're so lucky!"
Me: "You know I have lived in England 6 years. It was the first 6 years of my life though, so I don't remember much. The last time I was in London was in 2001; I was visiting my dad. He took me around places I loved when I was a kid, like the London zoo"
Him: "That's nice. So you're dad lives here?"
Me: "No, he lives in Delhi, but goes to England once a year. He's a neurosurgeon so they invite him for consultation for a couple of weeks."
Him: "Wow, you must be really brainy then."
Me: "Umm... so have you been to San Francisco?"
Him: "No, I went to New York and we just did the week of shopping."
Me (with a smile): "Yeah, I went to New York for just a few days last year. I loved it. Didn't do any of the touristy stuff though."
Him: "That's probably the best way."

We get done with our work.

Me: "It was nice talking to you."
Him: "Yes, cheers, cheers, cheers, bye."

Naturally I was curious about the person I spent the past 2 hours talking to. He was very modest and asked me to make whatever changes I felt necessary to his code (developers can be very touchy about these things). I pictured him as single, in his late twenties, maybe a fairly recent hire too. I couldn't have been more wrong. Another coworker who had made a recent business trip to London told me that he was in his 40s, married with kids. But she agreed that he was extremely modest and people make fun of him for saying "cheers" ten times before hanging up.

Khichdi (=Jambalaya)

Last night I saw a Hindi movie Dhoom. I had woken up really early in the morning so was not too keen on going for a movie I hadn’t even heard of, but my friends convinced me to go. They just said the magic words, "Abhishek Bacchan" and "not another love story"– and I was sold. I am a huge fan of Abhishek Bacchan, not because of his acting skills, but his looks and demeanor. I saw him a couple of years back when I had gone to see his first movie. He had come to promote his movie I guess. He was a bit tired, I think because he had come directly from the airport or something. But he looked so endearing, and he had such a soft disposition while talking. I even remember what he was wearing – jeans and a brown corduroy jacket.

Besides it was like rooting for the underdog because Hrithik Roshan was becoming so popular and poor Abhishek Bacchan wasn’t faring well at all. The only thing against him (besides his acting skills, but those matter when one has such good looks) is that he’s related to movie person and isn’t self made. Actually if you start searching, those are far and between. Even Aamir Khan, who is another favorite and who actually is a good actor, is related to someone in the industry. The only self-made "star" as a Bollywood movie buff told me is Shah Rukh Khan (who is from my school, btw), but I don’t really like his movies. Watching a movie with SRK as the actor is like going to a chain restaurant. It gives you consistency and guarantees a certain level of quality, but it is extremely predictable and boring.

I was not disappointed after watching Dhoom. Abhishek Bacchan looked great, as usual, and the movie was a good medley of scenes lifted off other movies. The movie reminded me of Fast and Furious, Ocean’s Eleven, and Matrix Reloaded (in particular of Morpheus’ fight sequence on top of the truck) I love all of these movies so I had to like Dhoom except that after 2 hours, I was hoping it would end and not drag on. Isha Deol looked really uncomfortable in her role; she did not come out as the “item” as they were trying to portray. I had liked her in Yuva though. There was a lot of skin showing in the movie, which all of us (both men and women) enjoyed.

Particularly amusing were the subtitles of the movie. I tend to get distracted by subtitles irrespective of my knowledge of the language being spoken. I always have fun reading the subtitles for Hindi songs, but in this movie even the regular dialogues were translated quite badly. I think the guy got over zealous. It had the regular bad interpretation like the translation for “chashma mat utaro” was “don’t peel your glasses off”, and “kya” was “how” (pardon my skills of writing Hindi in English, I suck at it; I can do a better job of writing Hindi in Hindi). But “gajar ka halwa” was converted to carrot soufflé; I spent a long time trying to fathom how halwa can be translated to soufflé, but failed, which inspired the title.

I was wondering that it must be an altogether different experience for people there who didn’t understand Hindi. At work I was asking my Indian American coworker if he was interested in Bollywood movies, but he said that he didn’t understand Hindi. I was going to tell him that all movies have subtitles so it doesn’t matter, but I’m glad I refrained. The subtitles are too bad to be relied on. And I couldn’t counter any of the reasons he gave me of not watching Bollywood movies. I don’t care for any the regular reasons people give for not watching Bollywood movies. They are all valid, but I just love watching them; more so since I moved to the US. I watch almost every Hindi movie; I recently saw Girlfriend, Julie, Rakht, Fida, and Mujhse Shaadi Karogi – all of which were quite bad, amongst which Girlfriend was the worst. Some good movies I have seen are Dev, which reminded me of the book Riots by Shashi Tharoor; Yuva, which made me feel all patriotic; and Lakhshya. I wanted to watch the movie dealing with AIDS, which is supposed to be like Philadelphia (another movie I like), but couldn’t convince any friend to go with me. Actually I’m not sure if I should be using the term “Bollywood” to refer to our mainstream Hindi movies. I was listening to a program on NPR which said that the term “Bollywood” has a negative connotation; or at least it used to.

In fact, I also wonder how people living in Bombay must enjoy these movies more, just because they would recognize the names of the places being mentioned. I remember me and my coworkers/friends(I watched the movie with both) getting really excited when we noticed that Trinity in Matrix Reloaded was riding her bike against traffic on 101, a freeway we commute on everyday.

All in all, I enjoyed the movie-going experience, except that I somehow pulled a muscle while going to the theatre. I took the BART and it was really crowded so I had to stand. While standing I started reading, which in hindsight was not such a good idea because my body ended up in a really awkward position with one hand holding the book and the other trying to prevent me from falling. When I got to the theatre complex I bought 3 books – War and Peace (about time I tackled it), Best American Essays and Writing imaginatively. I have been refraining from working out and pleasure reading because I need to concentrate on work and studies. Consequently, I have stopped going to the gym, bookstores and libraries. I decided to indulge myself yesterday, the book store was right there and I had time to kill. Promise to self - I will save the reading for trains and buses only, ignoring the fact that I can both work and study on the train too.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

I'm famous

Well, not really, but my name was in the paper today. I went in the kitchen to get some ice in the morning when a coworker, who sits near my desk, said - "hey, is it you in the paper today?" My first reaction was "huh? what is he talking about? maybe the company website where they introduce new employees" But he goes and shows me a copy of SF chronicle. By then my heart is in my mouth and I'm cursing myself, remembering that I had given an interview to someone on tuesday. After I had talked to her, she asked my full name and the company I worked for. I was initially relectant to divulge this information. I prefer anonymity, as you can tell from this blog (some of the American paranoia has caught on to me I guess). But it was a direct question so I was unable to refuse.

After this flashback, my next reaction was "Oh s***, what exactly did I say at that interview?" I did not expect it to appear in the paper; there were hundreds of people at that event, so I figured that the chances were quite slim. I told myself that it can't be that bad and browsed the article to find my name and quote, and was pleased to see that it was only one line and nothing that would jeapordize my job. In fact, a couple of coworkers I hadn't met, came and introduced themselves to me today. Suddenly I got all excited and told everyone in my group that I was in the SF chronicle, and emailed my friends and family. It was quite exciting. Later in the afternoon I got another email from a coworker, who I had only talked to on the phone, asking me if I knew that I was in the paper and complimenting me on my quote (I'm still not sure if he meant it or was being sarcastic).

In the evening, I met my friends for dinner at Bumbuddha lounge -- a nice place which turned into a club later. Surprisingly they were playing old Hindi songs at dinner, remixed ofcourse. My friends, as expected, made fun of my comment in the paper. Something feels wrong when my coworkers seem happier that I am in the paper than my friends do. I have been quite disappointed with my friends lately. Firstly, they don't seem to be happy enough that I'm in the paper. Secondly, some of them refuse to help me move. Okay, I agree that I move too many times. I get bored with one place, job, boyfriend too easily. And my friends know this and dont miss a chance to make a wisecrack about it. A week after I started my new job, a friend asked me - "so are you bored at work already or it'll be a couple more weeks?" Something is wrong with me, but I digress from the topic of my wayward friends. Thirdly, after hearing/reading a lot of fuss about gmail I asked my friends what they thought and found out that almost all of them have gmail accounts already and they never invited me. When I asked them why, they all said they thought I wouldn't want one and they never use theirs. So I got my gmail through a coworker too instead of a friend. Now that I'm famous, I'll get myself some new friends, ha.

[Edited after somewhat sobering up in the morning. Still pissed at friends so badmouthed them some more (in person and in the blog)]

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Is comfort boring?

One day, not long after returning to the US after a long vacation in India, I was chatting with a friend in India. She asked me how it felt being back. In response I told her that I want to move to another city. I've been in SF/BayArea for 5 years and it has become too comfortable, which for me equates to boredom. She said that it was scary that I found comfort boring. It got me thinking about the changes I had made in my life because I felt bored, or too comfortable.

I used to rent an awesome three bedroom house in SF with 2 friends as roommates. I had the best time living with them. On weekdays after work we would go out for dinner and try out new places in the city. Or on days we got home early, we would cook and clean together. I had some complaints living with them, like they played video games all the time and that frustrated me sometimes. They also had stupid rules like when there are conflicting views on what to watch on TV, the first priority would always be given to live sports. But those were the only 2 gripes I had and they were dwarfed by the positive things I got by having male roommates. They never nit picked about small things, took great care of my parents when they were visiting, took my siblings out and fed them when I was too lazy (or busy) to do so myself. They were basically like family and made me want to get to home after work, besides the house was great. We had a lot of space, a basement with a Jacuzzi in it and we held many parties at that place. Despite all the luxuries I enjoyed, I decided to move out after about a year. At that time I felt like I had to change something. Now all three of us live in our own small apartments with 3 different leases, and we are all within a couple of blocks of our old place. What a waste!

Another drastic change I made had to do with my last job. I worked 50-60 hrs a week and thoroughly enjoyed it. I had the best coworkers ever. I was highly valued at work and worked on important projects. I made some good friends at work. The best part- that I didn't value then, but miss now - was the flexible hours. I got to work late (around 11 am) and worked late and nobody cared as long as I met my deadlines. I also got to do classes along with work during working hours and finish my work later or on weekends. So it was all perfect. But as soon as I passed the one year mark, I started complaining to people that I'm bored and need something different. Obviously my VP could not move me to another group immediately, but he gave me some challenging projects in addition to what I was doing. However, the feeling remained that I need to change. So now I have a new job with new kind of work that I wanted before. I also get to work in the city. It's all good, but I find myself missing my previous job sometimes. The people are nice at this company too, but it just isn't the same. I'm so lost at work and totally out of my comfort zone. I guess one should be careful what one wishes for.
Lastly, I had a great boyfriend. He took great care of me, listened to my problems and took care of them as his own. I could go on and on about how great he was, but again as you can guess now, after a year I decided to break up with him for no good reason. I spent last weekend with him and we had a great time. We went apartment hunting for me and found a great one bedroom place. We went out for a couple of drinks and talked for hours, mainly reminiscing about our times together. I had a good time with him and wondered why I broke up with him in the first place.

Well, it is now too late for me to reverse any of these changes I decided to make because I was too comfortable. I have to wonder if there is something seriously wrong with me. Comfort is good, not boring. It is what people seek and I should learn to cherish it, not chuck it.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Back to the grind

I accepted an offer and started work for a big financial company a week ago. I wanted this kind of work for the longest time and I finally got an offer to work on the server/database. I am really happy about it; I was bored with doing the same kind of work on the client. There is a lot to learn though; I am unfamiliar with most of the financial instruments. My manager seems to be the kind of person who enjoys teaching. He explains things in great detail, assuming the other person does not know anything, which is the best way. Reasons I accepted this offer as opposed to others were work (server-side), location in the city (I always wanted to live and work in the city), big company (stability), different industry (nice change from working for software companies) and pay (can't believe they are paying me this much).

I enjoyed my vacation, but it feels good to be working again. However, waking up early in the morning is no fun. I am definitely not a morning person and used to get to work around 11 am at my previous job. At this new job everyone reaches work by 9 am. I hated it the first week, but I've grown used to it now. I get to work early so I leave work around 6 pm and have so much time left in the evening for myself. I workout, cook (yeah me cook; I'm so proud of myself), study, watch some TV. All this is good, especially the cooking. I have cooked 2 times in 2 weeks. The food was no good the first time and my friend told me honestly that the food was bad (why do I have to have honest friends?) So second time I invited the same friend and got complimented (truthfully I can safely assume).

A problem with working in the city is parking. Parking is outrageously expensive so I take local transport. This is the first time I ever traveled by means other than my car and it feels good. I get to observe people, really see what's going on around me. When you are traveling by car, you miss everything that you would otherwise notice on foot. Although walking can be hazardous if you are not wearing the proper shoes. I fell flat on my face walking today. I was wearing recently bought shoes that looked good, but apparently weren't very practical. All in all, I feel a sense of achievement about waking up early, getting something other than work done on weekdays, and taking local transport (conserving gas). I get so much more done when I'm working rather than when I'm unemployed. I guess inertia tends to do that to you.

There are some things I don't like about working. It is a pain in the butt, literally. My butt really hurt from sitting all day; especially the first few days. It makes working out all the more necessary since I sit all day in front of the computer. There are some differences in the culture when you're working for a big company versus a small company. Apparently I can't use yahoo messenger, which is a bummer. All my friends contact me through messenger. I tend to eat more when I'm working and consequently gain weight easily. I seem to be the only single person around and probably the youngest. This had always been the case at my previous companies except the very last one. There was a younger girl, but she was married. So I have no lunch partner and end up eating alone most times - which I don't mind as much since I like exploring the area on foot. It is quite happening around lunch time with the awesome weather we're seeing in SF lately, the hustle-bustle of people walking back/to lunch and the music playing on the street. A new guy is joining in our group soon; I hope he's single or a young married guy who doesn't get his lunch from home so I can go to lunch with him.

Another con is that I have to dress up for work. I can't wear my jeans, shorts, tank tops to work. I dress up in pants and skirts. I was looking out the window while running in the gym and noticed that everyone wears only 4 colors - black, gray, blue and tan. And I realized I was doing the same so the next day I wore a sweater with pink, purple, orange and brown in it. It looked good.

I am proud to travel by bus but there is one disadvantage to that too. I do not get to listen to NPR in my car anymore. It was my favorite thing about driving. I hardly listen to the radio at work or home unless it's science Friday when I would tune in at work. Today when taking a ride from a friend's place I heard a program about Tihar jail on NPR. It was nice listening to hindi being spoken and hindi songs on NPR. I tend to get excited about such things and call all my friends asking them to tune in; especially if it's something about cricket. Most of my guy friends and some women too are cricket fanatics.

I pride myself on being a quick learner and have started contributing in the team already. However the ramp up is harder here because I don't have the domain knowledge. Sometimes after a hard day I wonder if I should have just accepted the offer at my previous job. It would have been comfortable. But then the only way to progress is to put oneself in a slightly uncomfortable, yet challenging position. So my professional life seems to be in good shape; time to start working on my non-existent love life.

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