Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rest In Peace Amanat, Damini, Nirbhaya...

So, "Amanat" died yesterday, December 28th after struggling for 13 days. I have started believing now that 13 is indeed a bad omen. The brave girl fought so hard and wanted to live. I hate to confess this but deep down I knew that she won't make it because the severity of her injuries. Also, at one point wished that the poor girl better leave this world and its brutality. She will be safer dead than being alive. But now that she is indeed gone, I still can't believe it. It's more than over 12 hours since read the news of her death in a Singapore hospital. I just wish she was alive. Right now my feelings are exactly same as this. She would have been very glad that entire India was praying for her and rallying behind her.

Read every possible news again and again through the night and still can't accept that she had to die because 6 monsters. But I guess it's more than just 6. We all failed her and couldn't protect her. And it's time for us to think what's gone wrong? Have we failed as human? As a nation? As a society? Why can't we respect women? It's needless to say our government has failed us. Our police force has failed or. But we too have failed ourselves!

At this point I just want to blame Man Mohan Singh and his govt. for everything. Right from day 1 they haven't done anything right - be it handling the protests, or communicating with people or closing metro stations. They failed every where. I wish they take her death more seriously and heed to the fact that why are they protesting. On a side note the media reports quoting her doctors even suggested that there was no need to shift her to Singapore medically. It was a pure political decision. Why?

Anyways, this isn't about a single rape. There are literally thousands of women, girls being raped every year in India and most go unnoticed. In fact, there have been headlines of at least 5 rape cases since her rape. Everyday someone becomes a victim of rape and/or sexual abuse. I just hope Amanat your sacrifice won't be in vain. If this doesn't awaken the sleepy nation and its politicians and its courts and its police and its citizens, then nothing will!


May you be the light that guides us and reminds us to respect women! Rest in peace sister!

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Rapes 24x7...

Today I'm so frustrated and angry that I've resorted to a blog post. I think this the first time in my life of 3 decades that I've experienced such frustration, anger and rage inside me. Never happened before. I'm so angry right now that I'm posting to an almost dead blog after almost 3 years. Writing as soon as I got up from bed. That's how bad it is!

And the reason being -  last Sunday, December 16th's rape on a young 23 year old girl in Delhi. Rapes happen all across India all the times. Most of them go unnoticed. Everybody talks about it for a few days and life goes on. That includes me and millions like me as well. But the rape of the girl, now called 'Amanat' (not real name) has become a special case because of the brutality of it. 

A wintry December Delhi evening. A girl and her male friend after watching a movie, waiting at a bus stop at night (around 9.30 pm), a bus with tinted windows arrives with 6, mostly in their 20s, lukkhas in it, all drunk and determined to do something bad. The unsuspecting couple board the bus not knowing what will happen to their lives after this ride. The lukkhas start taunting the couple for riding 'so late at night' alone. Male friend gets outraged, tries to defend and things take turn for the worse. Boy is hit with iron rod, faints and defends in vain. Meanwhile, the bastards rape the girl on a moving bus one after another. The bus is plying the roads of Delhi and nobody outside has any idea what's happening inside it. Both the victims are injured badly, assaulted and thrown off the moving bus in behoshi ki halat. Fortunately, a passerby sees the couple lying unconscious on a roadside. Calls the police and the police takes them to Hospital. Now, that was not a rape scene from a 1980's Hindi movie. Even though it looks like one, this is real.

The girl has been struggling for her life at Safdargunj Hospital for a week now. The doctors have performed I don't know how many surgeries on her in a week. But she has shown unbelievable resilience, a will to live, a desire to bring the culprits to justice and a fighting spirit. She wants to live! The doctors say they've never seen a case like this in their 30 year long careers - both physical injuries and traumatic as well. If it were someone else, they would have succumbed to the injuries by now. But the girl survives, and hopefully she will be able to walk soon. The male friend is also out of danger and safe.

Meanwhile, all the 6 culprits have been caught in a week's time. I think all of them have self-confessed their crime and they have realized they've done something really really bad and are shamed. But that doesn't matter. They've successfully ruined 2 young lives and scarred them for life.The rape has outraged India, with media playing a decisive part. Politicians making statements and all the usual rhetoric. Shut the Delhi bars at 1 am, shut down metro stations etc. People (yours truly included) blaming the system, system blaming the people and so on. Calls have been made for death penalty for rapists. Rightly so I guess! But I would rather have them suffer for life, imprison for life and remind them everyday why they are in jail. Once again young college students, professionals and people from all the strata of society have filled the capital with protests and demanding quick justice. Fast track courts have been set, both the victims have made their statements and can't wait to see the perpetrators brought to justice.

And now to the reason for my sudden anger today after a week. There is a reason. Today as I woke up, as usual was reading the news, and read that now the protestors, who just want a plain justice and stop rapes, were assaulted with water canons, laathi-charge, and tear gas shells at India Gate. Seriously, that's the best the UPA/Congress govt could do? Instead of listening to the voices of thousands of people, they too are assaulted. It's a real shame. In another political stunt, a high ranking official (Minister of State for Home R P N Singh) of UPA govt took a bus ride today to 'assess the security' in Delhi. And to his surprise, he found Dilli unsafe during that 40 minute ride - no police anywhere, no security, no nothing. Moreover, he was greeted by a few roadside drunkards when he got off the bus. Now you believe that Delhi is unsafe? You didn't believe in all those hundreds of rape happening in Delhi every year? You didn't believe in the thousands of people protesting? Meanwhile, Sheila Dixit has acknowledged that Delhi is indeed the rape capital. But blames that the state police is not under her control and reports to union home ministry and most of the police force is used to protect the ever so important VIPs.

I just don't have words to describe the shamelessness of the govt. For me it's much more than just the rape case. There is so much pent up anger. Numerous times the govt has failed - be it 2G scam, Jan Lokpal, Commonweath games and so on. MAUN Mohan Singh is the most spineless leader mankind has ever seen. I just wonder does he ever watch/read what happens in India?

You must be thinking, what's the point of writing all this here? And that's true, there is no point. All of us talk, write, discuss a lot whenever anything rare happens in India - be it political, social, terrorist attack etc. We all talk about it, facebook posts, tweets for days or even weeks and people forget and move on. All that's left is for the victims to suffer and countless trips to courts, police stations, hospitals, govt. offices and so on.

But then you would rightly wonder, what can we do? Hum log kya kar shakte hein?

Hopefully, decades from now I'll revisit this blog, and wonder India aisa tha?

================

P.S.: The case in media (notice how many rape stories are there):

1) http://www.ndtv.com/article/cities/delhi-gang-rape-case-what-happened-that-night-308689

2) http://ibnlive.in.com/news/delhi-gangrape-victim-has-given-a-very-bold-statement-police
/311823-3-244.html

3) http://ibnlive.in.com/news/delhi-gangrape-protesters-brave-water-cannons-teargas-police-lathicharge-to-demand-justice/311831-3-244.html 

4) https://twitter.com/search?q=%23delhigangrape&src=hash





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Saturday, March 13, 2010

One more Nor'Easter!

Tonight I'm going to go a little 'old school' after quite some time - posting a blog entry in the era of Facebook, Twitter and so on. But the topic that I want to write about tonight can't really fit in the Facebook status updates.

As many of us have experienced so far, this winter has been pretty unusual in all respects. 3-4 major snow storms dumping snow all across North-East with amounts not seen in decades. And just when everybody thought the unusual weather of February 2010 was over - the snow became water from the sky.

It has been raining since yesterday, but it just seemed like one of the many days when we get get and nobody cares. But since this morning or may be last night itself, the wind has been blowing heavily. Just when I thought I have seen all kinds of extreme weathers - be it 45 deg C (around 115 F) burning sun in India or feet and feet of snow in Buffalo or the storm of Oct 2006 in Buffalo - I've been proven wrong. More was yet to come.

Today's winds got me scared for the first time in my life as far as weather related fear is concerned (the other thing that scares me is snakes ;)). I've been looking out of my window again and again since this morning and the rains and winds haven't stopped for a minute. At times the winds gusts were so loud I thought I'll go deaf. And mean that quite literally - you don't want to listen to that when it blows at 50-60 miles an hour. Living in my current apartment has made me realize what the sound of blowing wind really means. After all I've been hearing that for almost past 3 years, and when it blows it gets very spooky especially at nights. And living on the top floor of a 20 story building only aggravates the effect. There have been numerous days when the sound of winds combined with the EMS/911 responses of the nearby hospitals St. Peters and Robert Woods Johnson have filled my ears.

Anyways, but today has been the mother of all. It has been so bad that at one point in the morning I thought the wind is going to break the door to my balcony along with the window beside it, together they cover more than 75% of that wall. That's how hard it has been slamming the glass partition. So bad was the fear that I moved my bed away from the balcony door, I wasn't going to surprise if the wind broke it. If it fell inside, I would be crushed ;), better safe than sorry. I am still surprised that everything including the building itself has survived so far. Moving on, so later in the afternoon I noticed that rain water has been leaking inside the apartment from the balcony door and window. Now, that was totally unexpected. Slowly but steadily significant amount of water had crept up inside. With lack of any sophisticated tools at hand I had to resort to simply paper towels to soak the water and some futile attempts to block the leakage completely. But there were too many ways for the water to get in apparently. But for a while I thought water had stopped coming in, I was caught again by surprise when I found traces of water almost 10 feet away from the balcony side after 4-5 hours. Mine is a wooden floor and apparently the water stream had found a path underneath the wooden tiles and made its way and made a little puddle right in the middle of the room. This did wet my cotton 'gadda' a little bit from underneath, thankfully the damage wasn't that bad and once again I had to move it.

Hopefully everything will be quiet when I wake up tomorrow morning ;). But when this is all over, there will be hundreds of trees fallen down, flooding rivers and houses without electricity all across the tri-state area.

It seems the 2012 prophecy is coming to reality all too soon and may be who knows aided by the global climate change as well! ;)

And the local news on Fox 5 NY.
video

Next Morning Update:
Raritan River:

Rutgers Busch Campus Football Stadium in the back ground:
Landing Lane Bridge:

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Hong Kong - Special Administrative Region!

This is a continuation of Seoul-Hong Kong Trip. If you are interested in Part I, please find it here!

The flight from Seoul to Hong Kong was fairly short - 3 and 1/2 hours I think. Since we (Charles and I) had left Seoul early in the morning, we arrived in Hong Kong before noon. As soon as we landed at the airport the first thing struck me was the airport. If you don't know, Hong Kong is a big island surrounded by several islands. Anyways,so the airport is also on a separate island and it's made by landfill. It appeared that there was no barrier/wall between the airport and the adjoining sea. We can easily see the boats and ships in the sea. It seemed like somebody could easily jump into the sea from the runway and vice versa.

We de-boarded and proceeded towards the immigration counters. Even though, HK is a part of China and it's officially called Hong Kong - Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), the economic and visa policies are independent of China. For most countries HK gives visa on arrival, and the stay ranging from several weeks to months. Indian passport holders can stay for up to 14 days.

Anyways, we cleared immigration and proceeded towards baggage claim. And something unusual. On the baggage claim belt, all the bags were arranged nicely such that for most bags the handle faces upwards/towards you, so that you can easily fetch your luggage. Now, this was unusual, surprising and impressive. I've been to many airports but never saw anything like this before. I mean, who cares about those damn bags, anywhere else most of them can be found upside down, but here there were some special airport staff people who were arranging the bags and aligning them. Wow - that was my reaction! I don't know if it has always been like that at the Hong Kong airport or they are going that extra mile to impress the international community due to the Olympics! Whatever may be the case, but it was a nice gesture!

Apparently, due to the Olympics, there were lots of Beijing Olympics banners/posters/billboards/stalls put up around the airport. Unfortunately, this was my first time at HKG airport, so can't really compare it, but some things/informations kiosks appeared real new - may be just because of the Olympics!

Moving on, Charles went to the ticket counter of 'Airport Express' train. This train connects the airport and downtown Hong Kong. They market it very well at the airport - '24 minutes to downtown'. While Charles was buying the ticket, I was wondering how fast is it, since I didn't know the distance between the airport and downtonw? In about 5-10 minutes we were in the train and it started moving. Well, it wasn't that fast, however the seats and interior was designed to look like a plane than a train.

So, the train is moving along the mountains on one side and the sea on the other! And within minutes lots of multi-storied building started to appear along the train tracks! They were impressive and there were hundreds and hundreds of them, each probably averaging at least 40 stories. Now, that's something you don't see anywhere else. Most/All of those buildings were residential apartments and they truly define Hong Kong. The more I saw them, the more was I getting impressed! Truly, I had never seen anything like that before. It's one thing visiting a downtown like Manhattan and visiting something like this. A simple reason for such tall apartments is that - Hong Kong doesn't have land to build societies and town houses. It's total area is just about 1104 sqkm (426 sq mile, NYC is about 470 miles) and population of almost 7 million. That makes it world's third most densely populated country at 6352 humans/sqkm.

Anyways, we reached our destination - Kowloon (it's one of the islands), took a free shuttle to the hotel and checked-in. It was about 1.30 pm and we decided to meet around 3 after some rest!

We were walking on the streets of Kowloon and Charles is leading since he had been there before. While in Seoul you can only see Korean people, Hong Kong is totally different - meaning, all kinds of nationalities. Interestingly it has a very significant Indian population, and you can see them on the streets of Kowloon, either selling something or offering some service or inviting to eat in an Indian restaurant. Anyways, we are walking, streets are fairly crowded and narrow with lots of shops side by side - A typical market in India! One interesting thing - Hong Kong is famous for its tailor-made suits - they make it for cheap and in most cases they can get it ready within a day in some cases the same day. So, many Americans/Westerners who visit HK, make a point to get a couple of those. However, I think we can still get them cheaper in India..;). Also, many of those tailors are Indians, earlier they used to be Chinese but now Indians have captured a big chunk of the market.

Anyways, we are getting hungry and looking for some place to eat, that's when we spotted a traditional Chinese dragon-lion fight/dance being performed live. A watch shop was being innaugrated and they had arranged this special item to impress the CEO. It was fun to watch! One thing worth mentioning - the weather in Hong Kong usually is very very humid, and that was getting into my nerves ;)! So, if you ever visit around this time, be mindful of that humidity - cotton is the best, no jeans..;)!

After taking a detailed walk around this streets Charles led me to the Kowloon waterfront from where we can see the Hong Kong skyline. Once again, I was impressed by the down town! In a sense it's just another downtown, but still different! I think it's far bigger/better than Manhattan at least from distance..:P.. anways, took some pictures for 5-10 minutes and decided to take a ferry across into Hong Kong down town. The ferry was pretty cheap - I guess USD 1.30. 1 HK$ = 7.7 US$. HKD is directly tied to USD. And something I didn't know before - in Hong Kong any bank can print the dollar notes. I came across one note/bill which was printed by HSBC - no RBI or something..;)!

The ferry was pretty short, within 2-3 minutes we were on the other side. Being Sunday evening, there were lots of people on the streets - mostly shopping. Charles enlightened that, Hong Kong has a very huge Phillipino poppulation. They are mostly employed in low-wage jobs. Sunday being their only day off, it seemed like all of them were on the streets. Downtown Hong Kong was flooded with them..;)..everywhere!

We were walking in the down town and it's just another down town, nothing unusual about it! So, we are walking and walked into one of the cloth shops - 'Bossini'. And it appeared the clothes were real cheap..I mean 1/2 the price of US or even less. So, that was real tempting and both of us couldn't resist..and wasted money..;)! But still, I wish I had more time, I could have bought something more for others as well..;)!

Anyways, that was enough of downtown and shopping - time to go back to hotel. This time we took the underground train to get back, we dispersed and decided to meet for dinner in 30 minutes or so.

Somebody had suggested Charles that there is a nice Indian restaurant very close to our hotel Kowloon, so we decided to check that out. As it is, I was almost starving for past 3-4 days in Seoul..;), and wanted to eat something desi desperately :P. But to my bad luck, that hotel waitress really screwed my order and didn't bring my order after more than an hour of waiting. So, while Charles was eating his 'Goan Fish Curry', I had nothing to do...:(, in the end, packed some veg-biryani and went back to hotel empty stomach. That hotel really pissed me off that night. Anyways, ate some biryani in the hotel room and decided to go to the water front to check out the skyline in the night. It was truly beautiful, took some pictures and that's all, end of day 1 in Hong Kong!

Next morning, I was alone, Charles had to got Shen Zhen, China to meet some customers! I was also supposed to, but yesterday at the airport I came to know that I couldn't get visa for China from Hong Kong, I need to go to India :(. They stopped issuing visas from Hong Kong due to the Olympics.

Anyways, I decided to take a guided tour of the country side, since there was nothing much I could do in Kowloon or Hong Kong, except to watch the same streets and same down town, so country tour seemed an enticing idea. But before that, I had to buy some batteries, remember from Seoul, I still rely on Alkalines..;). I must say, they turned out just fine and can easily fill the gap of rechargeable batteries, even for digicams.

I took the 'The Land Between Tour'. It was a half day tour starting at about 1.30 and ending at 6 or so. Being a Monday, there weren't too many people on the tour, only 5 + guide + driver..;). Anyways, the tour took us to the region called 'New Territories'. This is the place where the 5 original dynesties of Hong Kong settled hundreds of years ago when they came from China. It's a fairly big area, I believe 4-5 times the size of Hong Kong.

The first stop on the tour was Yuen Yuen Institue, it's a temple dedicated to 3 major religions of China - Confucism, Taoism and Buddhism. This was the first time I was visiting such a temple. Some things looked pretty similar to our Indian temples with one exception - you don't take off your shoes in these temples.

Next stop was Fanling Walled Village. But, this village came as a shock to me. I mean, I had a totally different definition of a village - dusty, 'kaccha' houses with minimum amenities etc etc. Fanling village rather had very very narrow streets and very cramped houses. The streets were just wide enough so that 2 people can walk in opposite directions. I don't know what was the deal with that, but looks like they have some historic significance, that's why they don't move out. I am sure the government can provide housing better than that! But, it's all about their dynesty!

And a funny incident at this village, in the entrance of this village a little boy was playing with an old man - probably his grandfather. Anyways, the old man was sitting a squatting position, and this boy would push him from the back. The grandpa got very irritated and tried warned the boy not to do it, but he would push him again with double force. So grandpa pushed him in my direction and said something in Chinese, the boy got scared and tried to run away. I am sure grandpa must have said something like 'Isko le jao re, bahut masti kar raha hein'.:), he he..that surely reminded me of childhood, I am sure such incidents happened to all of us...kids always get scared when threatened to be taken away by strangers...;)..moreover, in my case I was a real stranger, far from looking Chinese..;).

Moving on, made several stops and almost touched the boundary with China! Some real nice landscapes and heavenly mountains, it was lush green and different from those concrete jungles! Our last stop in the tour was a fish farming zone called Sam Mun Tsai. I had seen such boats in many Chinese movies, this time it was for real! Anyways, it was still from pretty far distance so couldn't get a closer look!

Reached again at the hotel and slept, it was just 6 pm! Woke up after several hours and decided to make one more stop. I still hadn't visited one major tourist spot of Hong Kong - the Victoria Peak. Victoria Peak is located just behind the downtown and there is a tram which takes us there. It was about 10.30 in the night and I didn't feel like leaving the room ;), besides it was raining all day and it was very cloudy. But still somehow managed to leave the room :P, took the train to downtown and then tram to the peak. But couldn't see much, too many clouds, and fog and smog from Shen Zhen ;).

So, just took the tram again to the bottom and started walking towards the train station. But then realized, I didn't have enough Hong Kong dollars to buy the train ticket..:(, now what to do ;)! There was an HSBC ATM nearby, but no use of that, it would give only 100 HKD bills, which are of no use, the ticket machines won't take them anyways - they are too big for them! I had some 3-4 dollars and the fare was 8.50, where to get the rest from ;)? I had lots of USDs with me, so I thought I could ask somebody if they can give me some Hong Kong dollars for them..it was past midnight so no shops were open, only people like me were my hope, but that too were rare like those Hong Kong dollars at that time..;)

So, walked upto a guy nearby in hope of exchanging some money -

Me: "Do you speak English?"

Guy: "A little"

Me: Offering one USD note, "Can you give me 4-5 Hong Kong dollars for this?" (The rate was 1 USD = 7+ HKD, I was asking for less)

The guy got confused by my question probably, or may be he thought I was some homeless guy..:P. He started looking in other direction, and one girl came, probably his girlfriend - both looked Chinese. He talked to her in Chinese and explained my situation!

Girl: "How much do you need?" (It seemed like she had American accent)

Me: "5 Dollars" (seemingly embarassed)

She gave me 3 coins of 2 dollars each. This was more than what I needed.

Girl: "Is that enough?"

Me: "Yes" (giving 1 USD back to her)

She: "No, no, you keep it!"

Now, this was bad.;), she thought I really was begging for money for fare.

Me: "No, no I am not begging, I just ran out of the Hong Kong Dollars and need some to buy the ticket, I have this USDs, but they are no good, please take this!"

She just wouldn't take it and I had to insist, eventually she took the USD, but just as a favor to me. I am sure she still wasn't convinced that I wasn't begging :P. But anyways, I didn't have any choice at midnight. I gladly accepted the change and thanked them.

So, we entered into the station and I was buying the ticket and they were waiting for me and making sure, if the cash was enough to buy the ticket. The girl asked again if that was enough. I said yes and then they walked away.

Wow, what a night - one more Master Card moment, Priceless..:)! Took the train and then back to the hotel.

That was the end of everything. Nothing more was planned and no more places to visit - back to the US of A. Packed the bags and tried to sleep. It took a while to fall asleep - kept on thinking about the past week and the places and the people.

We were flying the next morning - though in separate flights but at about same time. The return journey wasn't as enjoyable as outbound. That's because of the Continental Airline staff. They really pissed me off that day. The flight attendant was so rude and it seemed like she was doing us all a favor by working in Continental. No manners, no respect for customers nothing at all. I couldn't stop comparing them with the Korean Airlines staff. The Continental staff was really bad - no sense of dressing, hair, nothing whatsoever. It seemed like they were just working in their homes and feeding their teenagers. I hope I won't have to fly by Continental again - especially with that Chinese-American flight attendant. She shouldn't be working at all!

Anyways, that was all about South Korea and Hong Kong. While writing this, I still am thinking what was I doing this time last Sunday? Answer is, probably sleeping..;)!

In the end - New places, new people, new experiences, new memories!


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Trip Photos
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1) The Land Between Tour, New Territories
2) On the Streets of Kowloon
3) Hong Kong Downtown and Skyline
4) Hong Kong Airport and Train to Kowloon

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Hyundai, Samsung and LG Chronicles..!

It's been a while since I wrote something - at least more than a year now. I think I have become too lazy or may be there wasn't any kind of motivation to write ;). On the other hand, nothing exciting has been happening lately, or say life has become pretty much a routine now. So, things which used to arouse curiosity and surprise earlier, now they don't as much. One reason may be - I've been in America for too long now, and 'Americanized' a lot. It will be 5 years at the end of this summer, since I left India. 5 years... really seems like a long period of time. Long story short, after a while now, I've found a reason worth.

Recently, I got a chance to visit Seoul, South Korea (or Republic of Korea as they say it) and Hong Kong. It was more of a company business trip than a vacation, but nevertheless it was a great opportunity. Earlier this month, I was notified that I may have to visit Korea and china and I was asked to check the visa requirements and things like that. And it turned out that China had tightened the visa requirements these days due to the Olympics and perhaps Tibet protests as well. So, getting China visa seemed like a difficult thing to do in a period of a week or so. Meanwhile, things also cooled off a bit in the office and I was told I might need to go towards the end of May. So, everything was kind of quiet in mid-May. But suddenly, on Thursday, May 15th I was told that I'll be flying to Korea the following Tuesday, May 20eth. Quite naturally I got very excited, but Wow that was a real short notice. I had to get Korea visa and I had exact 2 business days to do so. So, on Friday morning I visited the Korean embassy in New York but they wouldn't return the passport same day. That simply meant I'll have to go back again on Monday to pick up the pass port. Now, this was real tight, I was flying on Tuesday and I wouldn't have my visa until 3 pm Monday. Fortunately, everything went well and I was lucky and ready with all the necessary paperwork. Meanwhile, 2 of my colleagues Charles (Chinese-American) and Chan (Korean-American) took care of the flight and hotel bookings and that was a great relief. One less thing to worry about, phew! So, after all these rush of about 4 days, Monday evening was a little bit relaxing and the only thing I had to do was packing. Finally, I was all set for Korea! ;)

On Tuesday morning, I left home at about 8.30 for the airport, considering I had to goto JFK - about 50+ miles. The flight was at 2 pm, so it was a bit early. But you never know the traffic in the area. Fortunately or unfortunately, there wasn't any kind of traffic at all, and just after 9.30 I was at the Korean Airlines check-in counter. Now, this was a little too early for a 2 pm non-stop flight to Seoul. Anyways, the check-in counters also wouldn't open till 10.

Fast forward, we've boarded and ready to take off and my excitement level is as high as it could get. First reason being, visiting a new country is bound to pump your adrenaline up and second reason, a bit silly ;), flying into an airplane always excites me in the beginning, I routinely fly at least twice a year, but it still feels great. Anyways, we are all settled in the jumbo 747 and ready to take off.

One thing worth mentioning, the flight attendants or air hostesses in Korean Airlines were great. I think all of them had picture perfect figures ;)! It's rare to find such personalities in a real airline (esp. if you fly those Continentals and Uniteds and NWAs - they suck). But Korean was a different story, I must admit I was impressed by them, the way they were dressed - they looked so fresh and clean. So far I always had seen such air hostesses in tv commercials and magazines, but never in an actual airline. And to top this all, they all were very polite and eager to help anybody.

So, that was the beginning, but then Seoul was a little too far. The flight was about 14 hours and there isn't much one can do on a plane. At least, I get very frustrated sitting in the same place for such an extended period of time. But what else can you do, except wait. Anyways, so the lunch/dinner was served and I knew it's going to be tough for me. Even though, I had requested a vegetarian meal, it still wasn't suitable for my taste buds :(, I just couldn't take those vegetables and rice ;). But, somehow I managed! Btw, initially I had thought I'll be the only Indian in the flight. But, I was wrong, there was another family, returning from a vacation in Hawaii and traveling to Bombay, via Seoul. Surprisingly, they were Gujju ;), now that was something! I thought, no matter where you are in this world, there'll always be some Gujjus there ;)!

Fast forward, it finally ended and we're at the Incheon International Airport, Seoul and it's about 5 pm on Wednesday in Seoul. I just started looking around, and everything was so different and Korean. Needless to say, I was the odd one out ;)! I just started taking pictures of the airport and vicinity. In all fairness, it was just another airport ;), but still in a different country :)! The airport seemed pretty small compared to an average American airport, but I still don't know how big it was.

Anyways, Chan, who spoke Korean, led us to a ticket counter to buy tickets for a shuttle bus which would take us to our hotel. Incheon is an island and about an hour away from the Seoul city area. Like most Asian cities it too is new and at a distance from city. We were at the ticket counter and ticket price was 14,000 wons. Wow there came the first shock! 14,000 is a big number in any currency I guess, unless you are in Zimbabwe! But, it turns out that 1 USD = 1000 Korean Wons approximately. So, every thing is 1000 times bigger as far as numbers are concerned. Anyways, we bought the ticket and waiting for the bus to arrive, meanwhile I kept staring at the surrounding and getting amazed and surprised, hearing people talking and not understanding a word :). Luckily we had someone who spoke Korean, so he would translate everything for us!

Soon the bus arrived. I think the buses were run by private travel agencies or something, but very convenient mode of transportation between the hotels and the airport - end to end connectivity. The first thing in the bus that struck me was the satellite TV, now that was something I hadn't expected. Btw, Korea too has left hand driving, but they have the Metric unit system, just like India - everything is in kilo meters and celsius ;)! The airport being on an island, there were many mountains in the road leading to the city, and it's quite scenic in the beginning. As we pass along the road, lots of similar buildings of 15-20 stories pass by, but they all are identical, not an inch different. An inquiry with Chan revealed that those were residential buildings, more like the housing board apartments/flats in India. In a way they were unique but at the same time monotonous, nevertheless they defined the panorama of the road leading to Seoul downtown.

So, we are cruising along, and I was looking at types of vehicles on the road, most of them are cars, with occasional mopeds and scooters and many buses. But it's still mostly cars. But one thing stood apart - they all are just Hyundai! That's all, no matter what type of vehicle (4 wheelers and up) you look at, it's all Hyundai and Hyundai, cars, buses, trucks, and equivalents of 'tempo' in India. It seemed like Korea runs only on Hyundai!

Anyways, as we approach the city, the traffic keeps on getting denser and denser, it's still evening rush-hour in Seoul, so lots of office-goers going home! Due to this our bus had to make frequent stops but that was fun since I got to see how people drive and the cars and so on. Driving style in Korea is a mixture of both American and Indian style - but I guess still more Indian. People making sudden turns and stopping and cutting one another, but in the end it all works just fine. If you are not used to this kind of driving, you may be in trouble. We were almost at the hotel, and we spotted the Seoul Olympics 1988 stadium. Being in the bus, I didn't have much time to take a careful look at it, but it didn't seem impressive. May be 20 years have been too long for it and time has taken its toll.

Okay, so we reached at our destination, which was in the basement of the building next to our hotel. We still had to walk to the check-in counter of our hotel, some 3-4 minutes walk away, and there was a big mall and shopping complex in between. It was wonderful, still being in the evening hours, lots of people out and shopping. The more I looked at those sign-boards, most in Korean, the more it amazed me. I was feeling luckier and luckier to have such an opportunity to see this.

Anyways, we entered in the Grand Intercontinental hotel lobby, and the staff was ready to greet us;), I think they were just doing their job, but it still feels great when somebody bows politefully in front of you. It seems in Korean culture, they lean forward when they greet somebody. We checked in and were on our way to our respective rooms.

So, I went to my room, took a peek outside the window, and noticed Seoul was still buzzing. Lots of tall buildings and traffic on the road. I took a quick shower and went downstairs but was a bit little late ;), both C & C were waiting for me :P. Anyways, we went to the same mall food-court, where we came from. Now, being a vegetarian I was a special case, so, we had to find some place where we all can find something. We were walking and you see these lots of young Korean people, carrying shopping bags full of stuff.

It was a hip, urban, trendy crowd - and everybody spoke Korean only, I don't think they care about English as much ;), but one thing stood apart was the electronic gadgets that everybody had. Those devices made the iPods look ancient. I was truly impressed by their media players and those cool, sexy, flashy phones. Here in US, the best you can find is iPod, I think there iPod was the last one ;).

Anyways, we are walking around and trying to decide what to get. And it turned out that there weren't many vegetarian choices, but luckily in one store I saw something in a picture of a dish which looked vegetarian. I asked Chan to inquire about it and he gave green :)! So, he ordered it for me and walked away to the next shop. While I was waiting to get my order and the girl in the store kept looking at me! She was asking me for something in Korean and I had no idea what she was saying. This went on for a while and she started attending to other customers while I was waiting to get my food. So I walked upto Chan and asked what's the deal! He said, didn't you pay her? Wow, what a bummer ;)! Hehe... she was asking for money and I had no clue, anyways, so the food cost around 7000 wons, I guess, once again I got a shock, 7000 for food, it's very psychological and it takes a while to get used to such big figures :)!

W are sitting and eating, and turns out that, the food which I ordered, sucked big time :(, I had ordered buck wheat noodles with some soup I guess, but it wasn't for me. I realized, no more food for me tonight, I'll have to manage with something else. I kept on trying hard to eat it, but it wasn't working out ;), and determined Korean food isn't for me, even vegetarian :)!

And suddenly, I ate something, and that's it, it started burning up and down my nose, sinus and brain. I was scratching my skull and jumping center, right and left, for a moment I couldn't see anything and tears started coming both from my eyes and nose ;). Wow, whatever that was, it totally hillaofy my dimaag. Meanwhile, both C & C are looking at me and laughing crazily, because they knew exactly what happened. It turns out I ate 'Wasabi', which is infamous for causing irritation in the nasal passages - if you chew it down carelessly, you just can't do this, you've to show some respect to Wasabi ;). That was first direct encounter with wasabi and it took me 2-3 minutes to settle down :(! Anyways, that was the master card moment - priceless! ;)

Anyways, so we are still eating and suddenly all the shops started closing, it was about 9 pm, and the area was closing, everybody just disappeared within a moment and the entire food court was shut in a flash. Now, that was a little too quick and unexpected, now we 3 were the only ones left in the entire court. Since, we were still working on our food, we were instructed to leave the trays in a small box which led into the store kitchen. The store staff left and all lights were off!

That was surprising, the shop was fully accessible and you can still get inside it if you wanted to! And it turns out that, that's how it works in Seoul, most such shops are kind of unlocked/accessible at night. No fear of somebody stealing things. I don't know how true is that, but it certainly looked like that. I mean there were no homeless people, beggars etc. Apparently, Koreans are very honest, and nobody steals! Once again, I just have been there for 3-4 days, but this is the impression that I carry. It's difficult to imagine such a situation anywhere else, for example in New York City, everything may be gone by the morning! We finished in a bit and headed for the hotel. Everybody was very tired after the long flight and we decided to meet up in the morning at around 8.30 to take care of the business part of our trip.

Next morning, at 8.30 I went to the hotel kitchen - Grand Kitchen - for breakfast. I tried to find C & C but couldn't locate, anyways I ate by myself , and it was a pretty hearty breakfast ;). Anyways, somehow I managed to find them after I finished, and it turned out that our morning appointment was cancelled. So, we decided to meet someone else, since we had till about 1.30 pm before the next meeting.

We got a taxi from outside the hotel - needless to say Hyundai only ;)! Btw, it turns out that Seoul has 2 colors/types of taxis, black and white, Charles pointed - the black ones are costly ones and the white ones are cheaper, they look same though! Anyways, we decided to take the white one with GPS in it, since the company that we were visiting was in the area some 45 minutes away! As soon as we got into the car, I spotted the GPS, man, that was big GPS display, at least 6-7 inches, I haven't seen anything like that here in US. They seemed to be advanced ;)!

So, now we are on the streets of Seoul once again, and I got to see the real deal. While the hotel where we stayed is in a relatively very new, modern kind of area - but where we were heading was kind of 'old Seoul'. And to my surprise, it reminded me of India, the mom and pop shops side by side and that too hundreds of them, just like any typical road in India! Now, Korea was becoming India and that was nostalgic ;)! May be because, Korea too has history that dates backs to several centuries. Anyways, naturally due to all these, no big chain like stores were present, no big parking lots! I saw vehicles parked on pavements and footpaths and places you wouldn't expect normally for parking :)! In most gas stations you can't see the price from distance, in US they've big tall structures indicating current prices, I didn't spot anything like that in area. But everything had its charm and it was nice!

If you are in Seoul, you can't miss Hyundai, Samsung and LG. I think if put together these 3 symbolify Korea :P. While Hyundai makes vehicles in all kinds of shapes and sizes, Samsung and LG have their part too. There were so many buildings which were marked as Samsung and LG, I don't know what were those, but there were plenty. Needless to say, it was difficult to spot any non-Korean brand vehicles..very rare Hondas and Toyotas or any German cars....

Anyways, we met our first customer, and then they took us to lunch and dropped us at another customer's office. The working day just passed and now it was about 6.30 pm and we went for dinner. This time we went for some American-Korean kind of restaurant. The waitress there was a little too polite. While they take your order, they never stand straight-head up, they always lean forward while talking to you. Anyways, this is more of culture and tradition than anything else I believe! One more thing, it turns out that in Korea, they never give things with just one hand. For example, when they bring the cheque at the end, they always use 2 hands to give it to you! Impressive! I can't speak for entire Korea, but this seems to be the general impression.

We finished and our host company offered their driver to drop us at the hotel! We couldn't say no, it was so nice of them! At least in US, it's totally opposite culture, you rent the car and go however you want to go ;)! Anyways, the car driver took us through some real narrow streets, sometimes 2 lane traffic seemed impossible, but it was still working!

While we were waiting at one of the traffic lights to go straight (say North), a guy on a bike/motor cycle came from West and he had to go North, for him it was left turn signal. Many times left turn signals require longer wait, so he simply came into our lane and stood right in front of our car, as soon as the light turned green and vroooom... straight North! How smart ;)!, and I thought only people in India do such things! ;)..I noticed similar instances so many times after this :P..anyways, we reached the hotel and dead again!

Next morning was Friday, and today due to better co-ordination, we could go together for the breakfast ;)! Instead of taking taxi to client's place we decided to take the Subway (it's actually called Subway) today ;) and experience the morning rush-hour in the underground and also taste an average commute. We bought tickets for 'several thousand' wons ;) and found our way to appropriate lines. At least in the Subway, all the sign boards are both in Korean in English and in Chinese as I well I think, so it was easy to navigate. Due to the rush hour, the trains were fully packed. Many people getting on and off within a matter of seconds, most seemed young in their mid-20s or so!

Anyways, we reached our destination, once again, met customers, went for lunch and they dropped us at the hotel at about 6. Btw, where the customer offices were located, it was an Indian equivalent of Special Economic Zone, it came into existence just about 5-6 years ago, so everything seems relatively new. It was called 'Busan Digital Complex' if I recall it correctly. I am sure Korea has lots of such special economic zones esp. for electronics industrty.

After reaching hotel, I decide to take a walk outside the hotel and check out the vicinity. And once again, lots of young working class people with their fancy gadgets. Everybody seemed to be either talking on phone or doing something with their media players. All eyes busy and occupied. It was difficult to find somebody walking just like that - no phones or fancy electronics ;)! Anyways, took some more pictures and then went for food once again. Btw, Seoul is probably as costly as US, so not a big place for shopping ;)! 1$ = 1000 Won doesn't help ;)!

We all had decided that when by ourselves we won't go to fancy hotels for lunch and dinners, we'll always check out the places where average people go. So, today we went to the food court in the Hyundai Departmental Store, yes, once again Hyundai ;)! Today, luckily I managed to find something better, I found some kind of fried rice, so I felt a little better after all those salads and vegetables ;). But say what, once again, while we were eating, all the shops suddenly closed, hehe, what a timing! We were the last ones left, once again left dishes in designated places and same story, semi-locked shops. No worry of stealing stuff! Finished food, went to room and dead again!

Now, Saturday morning we had for ourselves, no meeting, so this was the time to check out the 'popular spots' of downtown Seoul. Chan had some other place to go, so it was just me and Charles. Earlier we wanted to visit the most common tourist spot of Korea - the DMZ (De-Militerized Zone), which borders North Korea, it's about an hour away from Seoul, but that seemed to be taking almost the entire day and we didn't have that kind of time. So, instead we decided to check out the down town.

Fortunately, Seoul has a very nice and organized tourist shuttle services which run pretty much the entire day and take you to all the popular spots with one tourist guide on every bus who speaks both English and Korean. You can get on and off as many times as you want if you buy a daily pass (about 10USD). Our hotel was not exactly in downtown Seoul, so we took the train to the nearest area Itaewon in downtown where we can get the 'Seoul City Tour' bus. I think Itaewon and nearby areas are like 'Little America', lots of American are still there. This is due to the fact that US had a big military base there during the Korean War. So, here for the first time we spotted American things - McDs, Quizno's, Coldstones and so on, and on the streets you can spot more Americans than Koreans...

On our agenda for the day, we wanted to visit 3 places and anything in between ;) - 1)Changgyeonggung Palace, 2)Gyeongbokgung Palace and 3)North Seoul Tower - equivalent of Empire State, WTC and Statue of Liberty ;)..!

Changgyeonggung Palace

So our first stop was Changgyeonggung palace. And as soon as we got off, the first thing that came from my mouth was 'Wow', it was just different, and to better it, it was a perfect sunny day with temperatures in 25-35 deg C I believe. So far I always had seen such buildings in those Chinese movies of Jackie Chan ;), but this was with naked eye. Quite naturally, there is nothing much you can do in such public places except take a little walk and take as many photos as you can, and that's exactly what I did :P, but truly it was a wonderful palace. Unlike Indian palaces, these are quite different, they are not as complex as typical palaces in Jaipur or Udaipur, but fairly simple and mostly one story buildings and rooms. They are entirely made of wooden with some complex arrangments and carvings in wood.

Also on that day there were lots of young kids on a school visit or something. They were so cute and chubby, and in similar clothes. One funny thing happened, while I was taking pictures of two 5-7 year old girls from quite a distance - 100+ feet, it's difficult to determine from such a distance if somebody is taking your picture or something else's, but somehow those little girls realized it, and were talking about me - that guy is taking our photo, they both were gigglig, shying away and became very conscious..:) I waved my hand at them and so did they, in the end they gave a big smile and obliged with a photo..;)..

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Next was the Gyeongbokgung Palace. As soon as we entered the palace court (which adjoins National Folk Museum), my camera battery died. Oops..! I tried to replace with another quad of 'charged' batteries and they didn't seem to be working at at all, it turned out that my charger had bailed out on me the night earlier, and didn't charge the batteries at all. Now, this was a real emergency :(, I can't move on without taking pictures ;). That was something unexpected, and it came at the worst time.

Anyways, so we decided to check nearby street to see if we can find any shop where we can buy AA batteries. We were walking and walking but not a single shop in vicinity. It turns out that the street on which we were walking was some kind of 'fashion street' or something. It was weird to me, every shop/store had 'gallery' in its sign board. I was wondering who comes to these galleries, I mean there are so many of them and how do they all survive? Needless to say, they all must be very expensive, and were meant for some rich, trendy, urban feminine crowd :P. But nevertheless, it was a trip worth, we get to see something different. Anyways, we were on a mission to find batteries, but no luck so far, after almost walking for a mile along this 'gallery street' I had lost hope, but suddenly Charles spotted a tiny 7-Eleven in the midst of all these boutiques. Eventhough I was looking for rechargeable AA batteries (I know.... that was asking for too much;)), I settled with regular alkaline ones. Somehow, they don't last long with digital cameras, anyways, I had no such choice, so bought them after some hesitation.

My camera is working now again, what a relief! Back to the original mission of the palace. This palace is much bigger than the earlier one and I think it's one of the biggest in Korea. It really was grand with lots of ancient rooms. Also, to add to its beauty, it has a lake in it and there is a big mountain just in its background, that adds a lot to it's value..;). Once again lots of pictures behind every pole and in front of every door ;)! But it's well worth! Truly wonderful place!

I must admit, after visiting this place, there is certainly one less place to visit in my 'places to visit' list..:)!

North Seoul Tower

After visiting 2 palaces, we were tired and hungry and it was about 6 pm and we didn't even have lunch. So, we found a Dunkin' Donuts nearby and had some muffin and back on our last pit stop in Seoul. The unique thing about Seoul down town is that, it has a big mountain right in the middle of it. The tower is built on top of this mountain. In a sense, it's just like the towers in Seattle or Toronto or else where. You can get a real nice view of the entire Seoul metro area from this tower.

Something special about it though - there were lots of pairs of locks tied to the steel ropes of the viewing area. As I mentioned before, all the locks were in pair, first locked to each other and then to the steel rope. I don't know what's the deal with them, but my guess is, it's for married/dating couples ;) - probably they visit the tower and lock the lock for longevity of their marriage/relationship!

By now we had covered everything that we wanted. It was pretty dark, we took a cable car to get to the base and then a white taxi from there to the hotel, had dinner in the hotel restaurant for the first time, since every thing was closed outside and we were tired a lot.

So, that was it, Seoul trip was over now, just one more night to spend and leave for Hong Kong at 5 in the morning. I was already feeling very sad - it had ended!

But nevertheless, great memories, great experiences! Hopefully, I'll go there back again!

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Trip Photos
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1) Gyeongbokgung Palace
2) On the Streets of Seoul
3) Changgyeonggung Palace
4) N Seoul Tower and Downtown
5) Around Grand Intercontinental Hotel
6) Driving from Airport to Hotel

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Congrats to BJP, Modi and Gujarat!

Well done Modi and many many congrats to BJP on this historic win! You've made us proud.

I read so many comments from all parts of the country not just Gujarat, and there is a common feeling - many want you now as PM of India..! Let's see, keeping fingers crossed!

Anyways not much to write, few snaps should be enough. That should give what's the general atmosphere is like across the media.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The day that will be remembered forever..!

India won today a BIG BIG match - the final of Twenty20 World Cup. It's special in so many ways - first, this is the first T20 Cup and we won (anything first is always special) , second - this was Dhoni's first series as a captain and he just won it - it couldn't get better and most importantly we rout Pakistan - the arch rivals. That's the peak of any kind of drama cricket could have..!

Any kind of game against Pakistan is full of high expectations on both the sides - and so far India never has herself let down. As far as world cups are concerned we have always won and the tradition was continued today as well...and hopefully it will stay like this forever.

Much has already been written about today's great win, the young team, the absence of old stalwarts like Sachin, Ganguly and Dravid. And they sure must be very happy to see this young team living up to the high standards set by the trio - who in near future will retire for sure.

I am sure, we all shall remember the game for the years to come and will sure will have many stories to tell our children..;).

Many many congrats to our team India....! Great job..! You've made us proud..!

Kaushal

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And the highlights
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