Thursday, March 31, 2005

Day 34 - Life, if I can call it that !

The sky above and the earth below look so much like home, the people around me look so much like the ones back home, my hectic days here are so much like back home...what is it then that makes this place so different? Why is it that this place is supposed to be so advanced? What is it that makes life so easy (or tough) here?

Well, I don't have the answers to any of these questions and I wonder whether I will ever have. But then, there is a very clear reason for me to turn slightly philosophical today. Today's been one of those days...that everyone keeps having at times. But it's not just today that has got me into this state of mind, but every single day of the last five weeks...

I came down here with super-high expectations of the place, the people and everything, in general. I am not saying that I am disappointed now, but neither am I claiming the opposite.

Dunno where to start, so lemme just start with the place. NYC is a nice place, very much like Mumbai, so not everyone's cup of tea. But it's the kind of place that I like to be in. A stark opposite to my previous city of Bangalore and a place which they say, has 'life'. But it does come with its own set of problems. As they say, there is always a flip side to a coin.

All my life, I have grown up listening to people going on and on about how efficient things are here, and so on and so forth. And guess wot, things out here are exactly the same back home !

Let me start off with the supreme infrastructure here. Of course, the stuff out here is light years ahead of any Indian city, but still there is the subway system (considered the lifeline of the city, just like the Mumbai suburban trains) which has breakdowns thrice a week. For the record's sake, just in the past two weeks, I have had four days, in which train services were curtailed or restricted because of power outages !! C'mon, give me at least some good reason. Power outages !! Now, if that happened in the suburban services of Mumbai so frequently, well, people would have stoned the stations and made sure there is no service permanently.

But it happens here. In probably the most lively city on the planet, it happens ! And frequently too, at that. The systems here are about 200 years ahead of India, but then some of them are on the verge of breakdown. And that is a cause for concern. If one of the most advanced countries in the world has this problem, what would happen to the rest?

Well, enough of the infrastructure, let me come to the people. Almost every other guy you bump into, will wish you a good day, and ask you to take care and be happy. It feels so good when perfect strangers smile at you and wish for your well-being. But at times, though, you end up wondering whether they really mean it. Or is this just like the lives of the people on the Page 3 circuit ? Are these smiles artificial, are these nice courtesies extended just for the heck of it?

Some questions are probably never going to be answered and at times, the reason for me to get into having such weird thoughts could be just that I am missing people back home. And pretty badly too at that. And after the initial round of pleasantries and how-are-you mails and phone calls, it's just that you tend to slip out of people's minds. Dunno how much true is that saying - Out of sight is out of mind - but it never seemed to have worked for me. And I always hope that it doesn't work for my near and dear ones. There are so many days when I get to office and simply hope that someone out there must have written a couple of lines to me, but then, most of the times, I end up reading only official announcements from my company.

You never know whether it's true or not, but on a real bad day, it helps when someone gives you a beaming smile - at times, magical too- and makes up your day. Well, even perfect strangers can make you feel for the friends, it's so much easier...just dropping in a line once in a while...and your job is done.

Well, this is a real nice place, but somehow this is not the life I would ever ask for. The place rocks, the people rock, and the life too...maybe, I would appreciate my days here and the time I spent here...but I guess that's going to happen only when I walk down the memory lane. :)

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Day 30 - Washington DC Trip

Well, been some time since I blogged something and blame it all on my hectic schedule. Made the most of my long weekend, though.

Had been to Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC over the past couple of days. Philly seems to be more of a place associated with history than anything else. Baltimore has a wonderful natural harbour (I loved the place) and Washington DC...well, this place seems so much like Bangalore 10 years back !

Roads lined with cherry trees, hardly any tall buildings, and lots of open, typical structures of Government buildings...well, you could have mistaken the place for the Bangalore of the early nineties. The monuments in DC are the more famous lot, but the best attractions out there were the amazing museums. Had just enough time to see the Museum of Natural History and The Air and Space museum, and was completely floored by both of them...the latter in particular being one of the best museums I have ever been in. And the best part is, the museums here are FREE ! Well, impressive stuff, to say the least.

Though the monuments weren't really spectacular...White House, in particular wasn't a Raj Bhavan, neither the Capitol a Sansad Bhavan, but considering the ppl they housed, it was indeed worth a watch.

Something that I probably missed out on this trip was the dolphin show at Baltimore's Inner Harbour. Well, lack of time forced me to give it a miss. Also, didn't go to the Maritime Museum here. Well, just for the sake of trivia, I would like to point out that a couple of years back, I had been on the only other maritime museum in the world - INS Vikrant. So, gotta see this one too sometime to complete the list. :) The only good thing that I did at Baltimore was to get to the top of the World Trade Center there (it's 27 floors) and take snaps of all around, in the rain. :)

Have got around 250 snaps of the whole trip, will upload some of them soon. :)

Went down to the Empire State Building today on 34th Street. Well, there was a long queue outside the building (maybe, the Sunday effect or just plain routine tourists thronging the tallest skyscraper in the city). Surprisingly, the ESB didn't look that tall when viewed from its base. Or probably, my expectations were a bit too high. :)

After that, went down to Times Square...and though it was the second time that I had been there in a month, was still amazed by the place. This place is simply extraordinary, it is probably the only place on the planet that gives you an idea of how a digital world would be !

Well, spring finally seems to have set in, coz it hasn't snowed here for a week now. So, it's time to explore NY now. Keep watching this space. :)

Till the next time, ciao !

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Day 16 - Life gets really tough

Another week went by and life's just feeling tougher. Thought that I'd settle down in the city by now and that has happened. But then, the work's increased so much that I hardly have had any time for myself. Twice this week, I have come home way after midnight and it's been a pretty tiresome week, to say the least.

So, not much of sight-seeing this week. Though I still saw plenty of new stuff to post here. :)

On Monday, went to the Social Security office to file an application for a SSN. The SSN office is about a mile away from NYSE, still I and Amit decided to walk down instead of taking the subway, coz for the first time since I landed here, it was a very bright and sunny day. The weather was really beautiful and well, we had to take a stroll. :)

Temperature was close to 4 degree Celcius, and it was so much more comfortable than the negative temperatures that had been there all the time. Walked all the way to Federal Plaza. The Social Security office was on the 31st floor and this was the highest in a building that I had ever been. :) The accelerating elevators though, make you feel a bit queasy.

Anywayz, on the way back, watched City Hall and also, the traffic jam in front of Brooklyn Bridge. :) The Brooklyn Bridge is one place which presents a lot of memorable photo-ops. Apparently, a walk across the bridge on an evening in spring is a very beautiful experience. You will all know about it when I do that, coz it's going to be featured on this blog. :)

On Tuesday afternoon, it suddenly started snowing. And snowing badly at that, too. In the evening, was stuck in a snowstorm with winds blowing over 40-45 miles an hour and a temperature that felt like -15 degree Celcius. Because of the sunny weather yesterday, I had kept my sweater at home and didn't even have my thermals on. With just a jacket on, this was easily one of my most horrifying experiences. At one point, I and Amit felt like this was going to be it; there seemed to be such a thin line between life and death.

We had some work at Canal Street and had been there after office. But, as we came out of the subway station, realized that things were much worse than we had anticipated. There was a thin layer of ice everywhere and the reality of the phrase 'walking on thin ice' dawned on me. Plus, it was so windy that at times, it really pushed you to one side. So, we were almost skidding on the ice.

Well, all is well that ends well. And once I reached home, it felt that I was living another life altogether. :)

Yesterday, indulged in some big-time shopping to stock our house and also, to get it in order. In fact, this whole weekend was spent in shopping for groceries and utensils. Yesterday, went to the Flushing library and got five Hindi DVDs. Watched only one of them completely and it was a real whacko movie. This movie had Akshay Kumar and Kareina Kapoor and was titled Talaash. An absolute hogwash of a movie, but then I and Amit had a considerable amount of fun watching it. Highly recommended for anyone who likes to watch classic movies like Elaan, Insaan or Lakeer-Forbidden Lines. :)

Had a very lazy Sunday today, most of which was spent reading a NYC guide. This place seems to have a very interesting history, and it's all about immigrants. :)

Well, another week begins tomorrow and it's time to get ready for the routine grind. Will try to squeeze in time for a mid-week update. But then, with the amount of work that I have been having of late, I doubt whether that would be possible. As I go to bed on another late Sunday night, it's once again time to wonder whether I would be able to get up early tomorrow and still feel refreshed right through the week.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Day 9 - My first week in NYC

It's been a tough week here, what with lots of work and the unrelenting cold. OnTuesday, had my first experience of snowing too. It was fun, to say the least and on the way back from office, I indulged in some snowball throwing too at my colleague, BK. :)

Was surprised to see that it wasn't very cold when it was snowing. But the days after Tuesday were downright chilly. With winds of upto 30 miles per hour blowing and the land fully covered with snow, you could feel the chill right till your bone marrow. Spring generally starts setting in at this time of the year, but for some reason, tempeatures have been 5 to 10 degrees below normal. At least, I got to see some snow because of that. So, it's fun that way.

I seem to have a lot of work at office. Right in the first week, there have been days I had to work till nine in the night. So, me thinx blogging might just be a once-in-a-week affair now.

There's one major advantage of working at the NYSE, though. You get to be in the heart of The Financial District of New York. On Thursday, I pestered BK so much that he took me to see the WTC site (just a couple of blocks away) and also, the Battery Park (again, just a block away).

Saw dozens of people clicking away photographs relentlessly at the WTC site. For some reason though, felt sad at being there. So many people out there were looking at the list of heroes of that fateful day in September 2001 , probably searching for someone they knew, someone they cared for, someone they are missing today. Makes you wonder what motivates man to carry out such horrendous attacks as that happened on this site. What had those 3,500 people done for deserving this fate?

Well, this place sure gets a lump in your throat. But then, life moves on and NYC has carried on, just like Mumbai in March 1993. For that matter, NYC is so very much like Mumbai. Can't just stop thinking about the similarities of the two cities. Both so cosmopolitan, with multitudes of people from varying cultures; both economic hubs of their respective countries; both...well, I can go on and on about this for ages. Have been here just for about a week, but already this seems so very much like Mumbai. NYC is a city which has life, a feature which is missing in so many other cities of the world.

Anywayz, went down to Battery Park too that Thursday and that reminded of this Hindi flick, Kal Ho Naa Ho, which had so many scenes here. This park has a wonderful history, there is this small castle too out here - Castle Clinton. These days, they sell tickets here to go to Liberty Island. Around 300 years back, the Dutch used this fort to protect this island from attackers in the sea.

Saw the Statue of Liberty in the middle of Hudson river, should go down there some time when things get warmer here. These days, it's been so chilly and windy that in just 5 minutes at Battery Park, I almost started shivering. :)

There was this huge metal globe at the entrance plaza of the Twin Towers. On that fateful day, it was badly damaged, but they have kept it at Battery Park as a remembrance of all the heroes that lost their lives.

Walking down the Broadway back to my office at New York Stock Exchange, saw the famous bull. :) Dunno why people have the impression that this is on Wall Street. Well, this is right there on Broadway in front of Bowling Green and is again a favorite spot for tourists to take snaps. :)

BTW, Bowling Green is a very small park the likes of which you find all across Koramangala in Bangalore :) In fact, you will find such parks everywhere in Bangalore, between two small by-lanes and the like. The only difference between all these parks and Bowling Green is, that this is a historic tourist attraction of NYC. It is the oldest existing public park in NYC and was the epicenter of activity in the city right from the 17th century. The most popular trivia associated with this place is that in 1733, the local government laid out a bowling green at this place and offered it for rent to three local residents for a nominal rent of one peppercorn a year. And this, at a place where real estate is probably, one of the costliest in the world !!

In fact, in 1626, the island of Manhattan was brought by the Dutch from the local Indians for 24 dollars worth of trinkets. This is considered to the greatest real estate deal in history ! :)

There are lots to see within walking distance of NYSE, just that I don't seem to have much time in the weekdays. Will keep this blog updated about everything I get to see. :)

After a real hectic week, had a load of clothes to wash yesterday. Went to the launderette at the basement of the building and well, even washing clothes was an experience here!! :)

A host of coin-operated washing machines and dryers fills most of the basement. The medium-load washing machines need 6 quarters whereas the slightly larger ones need 8 quarters to operate. You have four options to choose from, the type of wash you want - hot, warm, cold or perm-press. Dunno what the latter means, but the others differ in the type of water that is used. At the top right of the machine, there is a tray with eight slots for you to put in the 8 quarters. Once you have put in all the quarters, you need to push the tray - for the machine to gobble up the quarters and start the wash cycle. You can then put in liquid detergent at a slot at the top of the machine. Now, the wash cycles take upto half an hour, so you can go back to your apartment. For those who want to stay around, there is a television out there too. Plus, one can how Pepsi cans or chocolates from automatic vending machines.

Once the washing is done, the clothes have to be removed and put into one of the dryers. The dryers run for 8 minutes if you put in a quarter. Four quarters means, the dryers will run for 32 minutes and at the end of it, you get warm dry clothes which can be folded and kept in your cupboard.

So the whole process is easy and very very convenient. Finally, found something which is so much more convenient than what we have to do in India. Washing clothes here is a very easy task. In fact, it has hardly any hassles. So, you can do it any time. And still, right across the street from my apartment, there is a Laundromat shop which does very good business. :) Speaks volumes about the time that people have here for themselves.

Well, I and Amit shifted into our apartment today and it was a very tiresome job. The fact that our previous apartment was in the adjacent building lessened our work considerably. Still, we were quite tired at the end of it all. Seems, we will need to do some shopping too. That probably, can happen only next weekend.

So long, then. It's a very tired me signing off for now. :)