Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

This was my second trip to Australia. Last time it was Gold Coast, the golden beach. This time it is Canberra, the National Capital of Australia.

This trip was again an official one. Don't know when we (Amit and self) would go around for leisure ! Anyway, this time it was a very short trip. Monday to Monday. Since the time this request came in, there were hurdles to welcome. There was congestion with dates, then official mail loops, then visa, then tickets and oh.. hotel too !! There was not even a single vacant room in the whole of this town !! Forget a starred one even a roof over the head was not available ! Why? Parliament was sitting in Canberra. So everything was booked up. Not sure if this would be the same during parliament sessions in New Delhi. In fact I remember of staying in Hyatt even when Mr. Bush was visiting India !!!

Finally, things fell in place and I flew Qantas from Mumbai to Sydney. The closest international airport to Canberra. Yes.. believe me.. the national capital of a continent country does not fly international flights !! People fly into Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and then connect to Canberra. This is because the business is concentrated around these cities and not Canberra. The Canberra airport is just the size that of Pune's!! I just cannot dream of New Delhi airport of that size !

There is a peculiar thing about Canberra roads. Each road turns almost every 200 meters except for the state highways. Every road is circular. Someone with a poor direction sense like me cannot drive in this city! In fact on our way to the hotel on the first day, we just went around the same road thrice! Having said that there were no hotels available in Canberra, the local team found a room for me at around an hour's drive from office and that too in another state. Never mind, there was at least some place to put the bags and sleep off. Second day we managed to grab one room in a city hotel. This was in the city center. As in most of Australia, most things here close by 5.30-6.00pm except the hotels which close down by 10pm.

When I went around the city, one thing that was not in the air was the soul. Everything is beautiful, but artificial not with a character to the city. Nothing that peculiarly describes the city. Something that can occupy your thoughts. It is crisp as a new shirt not worn ever ! There is not historical stuff like in India, no kings and queens as Bangkok, no ancient harbors and canal of Amsterdam.. everything is new .. not even a century old ! People tell me that this is an artificial city. A city that was built. No no... not because storm destroyed or fire burnt it down. Not even because some one destroyed it in any war. It was built just because they could not decide if their capital should be Sydney or Melbourne. So decided to form a state "Australian Capital Territory" between Sydney and Melbourne and built a Parliament house in Canberra. "Commonwealth Australian Federal Capital Competition" was organized to get the best design for this city. Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Griffin won the contest and the city is much to how they had sketched and water-painted. A lake in the middle of the city (Lake Burley Griffin named after the city's creator), small, self contained residential areas, and circular roads. When we look down from the sky, this city is like small pocket of buildings, then a big dry mountains (rather plateaus) and land and all circular roads.

Today this city has a population of about 320000, 80% of that are government servants (Information Courtesy : my taxi driver !!). You see most of the working class in formals wearing tie and coats. This is a scene not-so-familiar to Indians. An Indian government employee does not go to office this way. One thing that is strikingly different from the rest of the cities in the world is the dwarfness of the city. In this age, when every city dreams of sky-scrappers, Canberra has a restriction on how tall a building can be. There is hardly any building that is six stored high! The highest monument is the mobile tower known as Telstra tower. This tower has a deck to see Canberra from top and a revolving cafe. What fasinated me was that even the flag post on the parliament was built such that it was not tall but noticable. When I talked to locals about this, they told me that Burley Griffin, while constructing this city, had this philosophy in mind that nothing is taller than humans and their well-being. And fortunately the constructors and developers in Canberra honor this philosophy to date. People are opposing the idea of constructing a tall building.

This city has a lot of Kangaroos around and it seems kinda difficult to control them. People say kangaroos move around offices and houses as though it is their habitat. We see a lot (actually a lot) of them lying dead by the highway. This is because, fences by the highway cannot contain the Kangaroos and they jump over those to get on the highway and are hit by the speedy cars. These accidents happen generally during the evenings / nights (since this is the time Kangaroos are active.) My colleague took me to Golf course.. not the play golf but to see Kangaroos !! They are just everywhere in Canberra and come down to the residential areas. That is the place where people have lawns and they get grass for Australia is experiencing worst drought in the century this time. It hasnt rained for quiet sometime here. Government is working on recycling water to supply to the farms and houses.

This is a very good season in Canberra. It is Spring with flowers blooming up, spreading a mild fragrance around. The flowers actually fall out in the parks as we see in the post cards. The trees and roads are much like those captured in the film "Mohabatein" (ya ya .. that same.. with Amitabh, Shahrukh and Aishwarya! .. oh I forgot .. the movie we also call Mount baten!!). It is quite dry though and air has quite high pollen content. So asthma patients keep away from Canberra in these days. The weather is very pleasant for Indian folks with temperature ranging from 8 deg C to 30 deg C. The parks are full with red leaved trees and flowers... but alas.. there is hardly anyone in the park. Friday night I was the lone soul out there. Guess the whole of the Australian continent is alone... standing alone in the sea ...


Monday, October 16, 2006

Thai and I

I had start off for my Bangkok assignment. With the Stewardess and flight attendant giving the instructions about in-flight safety and introduction to Thai culture, I was busy figuring out similarities in the language if any. To my surprise, there were some though not many (rather a few in what I could understand.)

The first one to strike me was 'Suvarnabhoomi ', pronounced a little differently but meaning the same as in Sanskrit / Marathi / Hindi .."the golden land". This is the name Thais have selected for the new airport being built in Bangkok. This was followed by "Rama". All I could figure out at that moment was it related to their king. I was puzzled when I saw 'Rama ' followed by "I", "II",..."IX". My colleague solved this,"Kund Prajakta, this is a family of kings in Thailand. Another one is 'Asoka '. The statue in front of your hotel is that of Rama IV and hence the road is known as RAMA IV Road. The present king is a decendent of this family and is the ninth generation so Rama IX. " Oh! this is quite similar to our very own "Ram" which is in a way synonymous to a king!

Well well well.. so that word did catch your attention... you guessed it right. It is an adjective of respect to anyone and everyone used by Thais.... it is irrespective of the gender / age /caste / creed / Thai / anyone else. Thais speak and write this and it is considered disrespectful to address anyone without being prefixed by 'kund '.

First few hours in Bangkok were enough for me to realise that this is not a place with people knowing a common language to interact with. Most know only Thai.... some understand English... and some can talk English... and a few have fluent English. The same evening was my first test / exam !! My team asked me if it was Ok for me to get back to the hotel without an escort since everyone lived in a different direction. Ahhh !! I had no option but to accept it. To make me more nervous, they told me that the safest mode to get back was the subway train!! I instantly remembered the local train of our own Mumbai. The striking similarity between the local train in Mumbai and the subway / sky train in Bangkok is that train is a very common mode of transport and is crowded at anytime of the day. With the station names written down for me, I came up.. rather down to the station. The ticket vending machine is not difficult to operate as long as you have the station name to reach and the direction. Yes yes... there are not ticket counters... it is a machine. You drop the coins / notes and select the station you want to get off at, the machine gives you the ticket (circular disk for subway and a card for sky train.), and the change, if any. Fortunately, the directions were mentioned in English and I could find the correct direction. Oh yes... I must tell you this. The trains here mostly travel only in two directions. There are stations to change the train to go in a different direction. There is nothing like Western line local / Dadar local / eastern line local... Things are quite simple there (as of now !!) . As I got in the train, I was worried about a new thing now. How will I know if I've reached the hotel? The subway train is the underground one so cant see and locate the place!! Just then I heard a sweet voice saying, " Sathani papay Sathani Lumphini ..... Next Station Lumphini ". Of the train has this announcement system which announces the next station once the train moves on. Fortunately it also translates in English. What surprised me the most was a sentence which I cant really remember.. but it translated to "Interchange station". This sentence was so long that I thought it was some special instruction regarding things on the coming station. All it meant was that the coming station was a joint station for subway and sky train.

A weekend came as a surprise to me... when I saw a gang of women folk in sarees & salwar kameez and kids screaming, " A Aai.. he bagh na... he kasa namaskar kartat. Haat jodun. ani chappal pan baher kadhtat mandirat jatana." or "O Baba.. tya guide la vichara na he sonyacha aahe" or " Aare Avi.. ithe massage changla kartat... Babanna karun ghaycha ka? tyanchya gudhgyala fayda hou shakel nahi?"

O my goodness... marathi people are on the move. It was a pleasant surprise to see so many of them in Bangkok. What astonished me was that our ladies didnot forget to bargain in the shops to get the things at almost half the price !!

Having had all the fun with the communication and of course doing some work, it was time for me to leave back home. After knowing the fact that the common man in Bangkok may not understand English, I requested a colleague of mine to fetch me a taxi. Bidding bye to all in the office, the taxt left and I was on the track to the Airport. In a while, it skipped off my mind that the taxi driver cannot understand English, I asked, "How long does it take to reach the Airport?". He looked back puzzled.
"Can we reach by 4.30 ... i.e. in an hour from now?", I asked again
"No English.... Thai........................You flight.. 4.30 ?.........ok", He said and.................... off rose the speedometer to go beyond 120 km speed!!
God what is this??? He just could not understand my words asking him to slow down! And in another 20 mins I was at the Airport, Terminal One. Oops !!! I've five more hours for the flight !

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Over to Amsterdam

My first trip into the continent of Europe... This time it is only Amsterdam .... hopefully I will be back someday to be to other places as well...with my beloved.

It was indeed a pleasant journey... though half way. The reason... I travelled in Business class (though I'm entitled to economy class) from Chennai to Paris in Delta Airlines. This airlines cannot be compared to Singapore Airlines.. but business class made things better. It was a window seat with only 2 seats and hell lot of legroom (economy class has 3 seats together with much lesser legroom). I could almost flaten the seat and sleep as though in bed. Well... this comfort did not really make me sleep... but it was good with a well-focussed lamp and special attendant to serve drinks (I mean juices !! They would have served Champagne had I asked for !!) and food & tea/coffee. To add to my comfort ... the person supposed to be sitting besides me found his friend and the seat besides him was empty .. so he ended up sitting there and I was alone comfortable... Spent almost the whole 10 hrs journey reading the newspaper and the novel. Reached Paris at around 9.30am local time and went off for immigration. Well... in my case since Paris was the port of entry into European Union, immigration happened there and not at Amsterdam. Immigration was a little problem. Reason... I wasnt prepared for it. Thinking of it later in the hotel room, I realised that I wasnt prepared (mentally) for this trip at all. So didnt bother to see if I had carried everything along! Fortunately I had my laptop to show the immigration officer my hotel confirmation & stuff... but I was wondering.. what situation I would have landed up in had I not carried the laptop !!! There are some more things that I've forgotten to carry .. one of them being camera... so unfortunately no photos of this trip...

I'm feeling particularly sad of not having a camera ... since this country is really beautiful. When we are about to land... we see a cluster of buildings and what follows is a farm... it looks awesome from the sky... The roads are cool... houses are different in architecture... kinda olden European one... not so sure about it though.

The hotel I'm staying is a 4 star one [not a 5-start this time :-( ] It is much like our guesthouse in Gurgaon. The surroundings are too good..... quite peaceful.... outside the city... on the highway.. so nothing to shop around... kind of living in the country side of Amsterdam !! No means of transport available except for the hotel shuttle to the airport. There's a lake at 5 mins walk from the hotel ... went there yesterday... but was full with sun-bathers & boozers.. hope a weekday would be better... though this is just a hope... for the sun nearly doesnt set here !!! Yes yes yes... nothing to be surprised about.... it was as hot as an afternoon in India here at 8pm!! I just didnt realise it was half past 11 when I finally went off to bed after waiting long for the sun to set which it didnt until that time... Guess it set around half past midnight or so.. dont know exactly when... but was dark at 3 am and I was wake up to see the sun already up in the sky when my alarm rang at 6.15 am !!!!

Food is a little problem for me here..bcoz I'm a veggie.... though not a major one ... there's just one shop on the whole road which has bread & butter... learning from my previous experience... I am carrying some food items like ready-to-eat meals, maggi, instant soups packets, etc. Hope to survive on that. Fruit juices are pretty cheap .....around 2-2.5 Euros ...hey.. no conversions to Indian currency please... I can never eat anything if I do that !!!

Credit cards arent a popular thing here... so you got to have some cash in your pocket !! Amsterdam airport does have a counter to exchange currency and ther fortunately take visa & mastercards... no american express cards please! Hotels do have the facility of conversion but not from Indian currency (moreover it foolish to carry so much Indian currency along which will fetch very little Euros... currency rate will confirm this statement of mine!!) and they charge around 9% commission.

Having read some amount on Amsterdam, we land with an impression that Amsterdam is all about it world-famous RedLight District... it's pickpocketing, free gay society and stuff. Well... much of it is true...If you are good at sensing people's intentions... you will find pick-pocketers right on the airport.. So ought to be careful there and same is for the streets. Redlight district id the major attraction of Amsterdam but if known majorly due to the tourists. You can hardly find Dutch people visiting there (Bachelors excluded from this statement !). Drugs are sold in the coffee shops ... I was a couple asking for marijuana in the shop I mentioned earlier near my hotel... The hotel receptionist warned me about not moving around the lake far too long for Gay people just pop-up from bushes... "They wouldnt farm you... but why take risk...". Having learnt this, I had a talk with the local team in my office here... and what I found was that this is not something a Dutch person is proud about. This is not a kinda reputation they want there capital city to have. But they also dont deny the fact that these are the chief attractions of the city !

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

She is back

She is finally back... after her stunt for a year and a half. I'm not using the word "stunt" in its true meaning .. but her stay & work did attract a lot of attention (though unwanted!). She went there for good... with lots of hope to shape her career. By no way, this means that her career lost its track but it could have been in a fast moving mode (I feel so).

So it came up around two years back. I remember how happy she was to get through into this ocean of practical knowledge and work after years of formal education. What had added to she happiness was that her best buddies were with her to jump along! She was so delighted with the thought of earning her own bread (quite literally), taking the responsibility of her life & decisions, chilling out & enjoying life without much parental eye around with her friends. What sweetened this was her graduation result that placed her third in the university in her branch. Her buddies were in the toppers list too.

Then began her preparations of moving ahead. There were new clothes (formals needed for office!), cell phone(to stay in touch), other office accessories, kitchen & cook ware bought for her new venture. The buddies had loads of discussions and chats about making the arrangements. And came the day when she left home with tearful eyes to step into this big world.

Settling in that new town wasn't as easy as she thought. Numerous differences cropped between the friends (I took those as teething problems but she denies that till date.). The town was much smaller than hers, people, culture .. many things & aspects were different. Her home-sickness used to be reduced with her / her buddies parents' frequent visits.

Office was a different culture altogether.. something that she had never imagined. Working with people who were much more experienced but much less educated (formally) was a tough task. Not being appreciated for even the big (!!) achievements used to put her down (I say she's a pampered kid).

Days were passing with some satisfaction and some dissatisfaction, latter growing with each passing day! The work that she was doing was not what interested her & something that interested her was not coming her way. This was the same situation for her roomies (see the change... buddies to roomies) too (though not exactly). And finally, one of them decided to move ahead to another location. In the course of time the other one left too. And came the time for her to think of getting back home.

This was the thing that she took the most time to decide on. With all the pros & cons laid before her, she looked so confused and incapable to handle it (At times I felt like taking a decision and imposing it on her !!). After huge amount of bucks flowing away in the phone calls, all I was receiving was her frustrated voice and words.

Finally one day, things began to get on the roll... and she was firm on getting back home but... there was still a lot in store for her. Her workplace wasnt keen on letting her go and everyday arose with a new hurdle to clear. And to my surprise, she was determined to face it all and she did ! (though one more flood had already hit me with the phone bill !!).

At this moment, she is all at home relaxing with her parents and preparing for her future endeavour. I am sure these moments will give her immense strength to go far ahead and reach the heights she is aiming at.

Wish you all the luck! Be rest assured to see me with you much before the need for me to be around arises !

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The psycho effect

It was an unusual night yesterday... waking up every hr or so to see what time it is? Why? I had missed my aerobics class yesterday as I slept even after the alarm screamed aloud! I was determined not to miss out on it today for any reason. So these wake ups. My determination was strong enough to make me work out rigorously today but it failed in the later part of the day to resist closing my eyes at work!!

This was at 10am.. a very odd time for anyone to close the eyes and indulge in (supposedly) deep thoughts. It was then that I decided to take a break... Not just any break ... but a coffee break! Why coffee? Nothing special.. I'm a tea-fan so thought of having a change.

Ah! What a surprise!! the sweet sleep in my eyes started to disappear with the very thought of coffee! Amazing!! I was wondering if I will skip my sleeps for another couple of days if I have this drink!! Let me check that... but the day is definite to go fine and awake ;-)

Monday, May 08, 2006

Out Pune - In Bangalore

It has been long that I wrote anything. My friend asked to read his blogs and write. It is today that my thoughts are clear enough to flow out easily and the afternoon is lazy to refrain me from preparing for the upcoming workshop.

Days have changed since I've come to this city. There came one day in my life which changed my status bringing loads of responsibilities and work (though it was not unplanned or sudden but the whole lot of preparation seemed to be in vain when this actually happened!).

This day also put me on move and changed my "location" to Bangalore. The fun in all this is that Bangalore is going no near to being our permanent residence ! It is just a place to touchbase with my hubby ! Asking me why?? Well... That's because this "one day" changed my work profile putting me literally on my toes. I move around the world (currently restricting my world to India !! ) wandering with my backpack. The most unfortunate thing here is I and my hubby have missed the timings ! He got into this relationship to keep his bags down and sit back .... not knowing that I would be so quick to pick those and get going !! I say we missed the timings as we weren't into a relationship to walk around the globe together.

So we now catch up with each other at Bangalore for a few cups of tea and a couple of dinners. Our dining table has witnessed our arguments over shifting this base to Pune and is waiting for a decision !!

Dont know how soon this decision will come or will it ever come. But our discussions and arguments will continue ... at least till we find something else to argue on !

Let me prepare myself for my next date with these arguments... I say Bangalore is similar to Pune in many ways and we neednt worry about moving out of this "City of Gardens". (This by no way means I would not like to be back in Pune but being the "Home Minister" I need to be practical.. hence this effort to get my husband agree to my point !) So here I go...

Both these cities are known for pleasant weathers. It is neither too hot nor too cold. It does not rain heavily at either places. (Please ignore last year's heavy rains ... this happens once in a while .. not always!!)

Infrastructurally, both are racing ahead. The state of roads is same in both cities. Pune doesnt have roads.. Bangalore has good main roads but equally pathetic connecting roads. The traffic is over-sized and mannerless in driving in both the cities. Property rates are at the same level now. Airports are smaller than needed and still take much heavier loads in both the cities. Commuting is a common thread again. Both municipal corporations race for the "Silicon Valley of India" title !

Kannadigas are as helpful as Punekars and same is observed with Bangaloreans and Puneites. Friends are closer in both Pune & Bangalore and in equal loads!

Huh... hope this suffices for dinner tonight... many more can be thought till the next meeting !!