Thursday, March 29, 2007

God Bless America

Yep, we're back in the US of A. Jet-lagged as all get out, but back safely and really enjoying drinking the water from the tap and eating whatever I feel like eating. In fact, I had a bacon cheeseburger for lunch on Tuesday and fajitas for lunch on Wednesday. Mmmmm...American food. (Yeahyeah, fajitas are Mexican. Whatever. I ate them at Chevy's so they might as well be American food).

I will update with full reports on the rest of the trip at a later time. For now you should know that the flight back from Singapore was freaking long. And my seat back would not lock upright so I had to fight the slowly reclining seat for the whole flight. Goddamn irritating.

Oh, and the LTTE Sri Lankan rebels bombed the airport in Colombo just a few days after we left. My biggest fear while visiting the civil war torn country, even if we were far far away from the actual fighting, was that the rebels would seize the international airport and make it difficult or impossible for us to leave. Nearly happened! Yikes. Doug is crazy. Every US State Dept. and travel advisory bulletin I read regarding Sri Lanka said that all Americans in Trinco (where Doug is living and a place we got absolutely nowhere near) should leave immediately. And here's Doug telling us, "Eh, it's not that bad, really. The fighting is a good 4km away from me." Super Doug is insane. Although his blog has a nice recap of the sea turtle sanctuary we visited, so go check it out.

The Belgian Beer Dinner is Sunday at the Toronado in San Francisco. It's a five course meal with three Belgian beer pairings per course. Like wine pairings at a fancy schmancy restaurant. I like the beer pairings better. Some of the Belgians taste like mold, or like the inside of a used wetsuit. Those I don't like so much. But most work really well with the food. Anyway, it should be a drunkenly decadent good time.

More later, if I have anything interesting to say.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

I Just Need a Stamp

I went to the post office the other day. Gripping, I know.

We left the office at about 11:30 in the morning. After a ten minute walk, complete with cars and motorcycles whizzing by my elbow (a feature of any walk to any destination here) we arrive at what best could be described as a “postal annex” and more accurately described as a “shack”. It’s a tiny little building featuring the requisite Indian chaos. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the organization of the papers, envelopes, and other objects I could see through the old-school, Clint Eastwood-style barred teller windows.

I tried to “speed post” the birthday card to my Mom (awwww, what a good son) but it was not to be. Apparently, we had to go to the “main” post office to do that. We determined this after a rapid-fire exchange of Tamil between my guides and the postal worker, who were soon joined by several onlookers, all who seemed to have an opinion or contribution to telling us how to get to this place. The rapidly spoken and nearly full volume Tamil flew everywhere and somehow I ended up right in the middle of it all. If I was a language-learning savant I would have looked like Trinity learning to fly the Apache.

Armed with our new directions, we hire a tuk tuk (or auto-rickshaw) for the ride. These things provide quite an exhilarating ride. The one wheel in front and motorcycle-style handlebars inside make them very maneuverable. We darted in and out of traffic and were making turns between two other moving vehicles. I think they’d be kinda fun to drive around. They’d be great for a version of bumper cars but they probably tip over easily.

We arrived at our new destination and this one looked more like a government office. Run down, peeling paint, signs everywhere, stacks of papers and folders all over, and more chaos. The concept of a “line” here is a bit different than in the US. If someone is conducting a transaction and there is a brief delay for, say, getting your money out of your wallet or some translation of the prices of the different delivery methods, the next person in “line” will just walk up, nudge you out of the way, and hand their letter to the clerk. I nearly, and I mean NEARLY, elbowed this guy out of the way the first time it happened. I mean, it’s so different than the American “please wait behind the yellow line” approach that my natural, almost instinctual, reaction was, “Dude, hello, WTF?!? Go wait your F’in turn, buddy.” But, hey, that’s how they do things here and it didn’t really slow down my transaction at all. I think it’s a product of having so many people in one place. I think. Dave says China is even worse in that regard, with cutting in line and other types of madness.

Christen comes in tonight and we’re off to Sri Lanka tomorrow. The blog posts will no doubt decline in frequency and may stop completely. We’ll be back in the US on the evening of March 25th. I will no doubt be ready to come back to the US by then, although I am looking forward to lounging on the beach for a few days.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Temple and Random Thoughts

I did some sightseeing today after work. Manickam and Anwar took me to a temple not far from the office. The largest temple-type structure served as the entranceway into the complex itself. The vast majority of the structure consisted of a pyramid-shaped top, probably about 100 ft tall, on top of a cube, about 20ft square, with a 20 ft tall opening to walk through. Many, many carved and intricately painted figures depicting various gods and characters from traditional stories covered the pyramid roof.

After taking our shoes off, we walked through the entrance into the main complex. This was a courtyard type area with various shrines and smaller temples to various gods, also covered with the carved and painted figures. The stones making up the floor were pleasantly warm on my feet, although the thought of stepping on a wayward sharp foreign object did concern me a bit.

Some people wandered around, some sat on the ground, others waited in line to pay their respects to certain gods, still others bowed and kissed the ground at what seemed to the uninitiated (me) to be random spots on the floor. It was a much more chaotic, disorganized, and free form type of worship than that found in your typical Christian church. Some of the smaller shrines had certain routines associated with them. For example, at the shrine to the 9 planets of the solar system I could see a path worn in the stone where people walk (and were currently walking) in a circle around the 9 figures representing the planets.

Pretty cool experience. Too bad I couldn’t take pictures (not allowed). I did take a few from outside of the big entrance temple. Not like you’ll see them.

Iron Maiden is playing in Bangalore (about 2 hours from here) on March 17th. Too bad I’ll be in Sri Lanka and unable to play with Indian madness.

At lunch the other day the water poured from the metal pitcher, presumably filled from the tap, was a nice shade of yellow. Um, can I have some bottled water please? Thanks.

There’s a brand of car out here called “Tata”. If you own two of them do people ask, “How are your Tatas?” Heh heh.

I spent all of Thursday on the way out here from California in the dark. I took off at 5 after midnight on Thursday morning. Darkness followed us all the way to Hong Kong where the sun finally came up on Friday morning as we reboarded our plane.

People out here point a lot with their middle fingers. It’s disconcerting and I still am not used to it. “Oh yeah, buddy? F you too, pal. You wanna go? Oh. Right. Sorry. Here’s your hat back.” Though I did just read it’s rude here to point or gesture towards someone with your left hand. I don’t know if it’s quite the equivalent of flipping someone off, but, well, I’m an American. Isn’t it just assumed I don’t know anything about anyone else’s culture? They can cut me some slack.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Shady Dealings

I spent today (Sunday) lounging by the pool on the rooftop of my hotel. I’m trying to get as much lounging practice in as I can before my trip to Sri Lanka. That and I need to tan my pasty white American skin.

Christen and I have one night to kill between Sri Lanka and Singapore. We’re staying in a beach resort south of Chennai. Very posh. It better be for the prices we’re paying. It’s spendy by American standards.

Paying for the room turned out more difficult than necessary. I booked the room over the phone, since the website wasn’t working. The lady on the phone told me I had to go to the 2nd floor of an office in Chennai to pay for it. Why I couldn’t pay over the phone I don’t know.

So, Saturday morning, before going to work (total BS) I gave my taxi driver the address I was given and we were off. Turns out, this city is so confusing even my cab driver couldn’t find the place. It took the two of us, collaborating in very broken English before we could even find something that looked like the right building. It had some closed clothing store on the first floor. No obvious way up to the second floor immediately presented itself.

My taxi driver kept motioning me to go around the side of the building and into a darkened doorway. I couldn’t help feeling like Loraine Bracco in Goodfellas when Robert DeNiro is telling her he has some dresses for her “…just around the corner. Go ahead. Through that doorway. It’s ok, go ahead, right through there.” I have never seen a more dilapidated staircase. Broken marble, piles of trash and construction materials, the building looked abandoned. I just couldn’t picture giving my credit card info to someone in this building. I almost turned around and left but figured I might as well at least go up to the second floor. Up I go and I’m greeted not by an enclave of squatting feral children, but by the standard security guard seen in front of most offices. I ask for my contact and he directs me through a set of glass doors into an ordinary office. I went from “condemned building” to “everyday office” disorientingly quickly. Everything else went smoothly (I even got a receipt), although I’m still confused as to why I had to go to this strange office building to pay for my hotel room.

Did you know the mom from Six Feet Under shows up at the end of Scent of a Woman? And why does the HBO here have commercials? What kind of crap is that?

By the way, thanks to everyone for the comments, they make my day.

Road Rage

I finally witnessed my first fender-bender today. Witnessed it from inside one of the cars with the bending fenders. It wasn’t so much a bend as a scrape. The other car thought its dimensions would allow it to squeeze by my taxi. It was wrong. I just happened to turn my head as the car started going by and I thought, “This is gonna be close.” But so often I’d seen the maneuver done successfully in the past when I was convinced it would fail, I figured this time it would work out, too. Nope. Sckeee-rape.

More intriguing was the aftermath. If I haven’t made it clear before, these roads are narrow and jam packed with a variety of vehicles. The “traffic light” had just turned green and we were the second car in “line”. After the scraping did the two cars pull over to the side and get out of the way? No. They stayed just where they were, rolled down their windows and started yelling at each other in Tamil. I couldn't understand a word of their shouted exchange but I'm pretty sure it wasn't, "Pardon me, dear sir, for my vehicle's most terrible obstruction of your glorious right-of-way." "Think nothing of it. Here, allow me to pay for the damages to your most splendid conveyance."

It’s at this point I’m thankful I’m in India. I mean, at least I didn’t have to worry about seeing the barrel of a .38 poke out one of the back windows (Hi, my name is Eric and I live in Oakland). Meanwhile, everyone else is honking, and honking some more. The motorcycles and bicycles that managed to squeeze by either yell at the obstruction or make some sort of arm gesture. (Gee, I wonder what that means?). After 2 minutes or so of yelling the windows roll back up and the cars drive off. That’s it. No exchange of info or anything. Unless, of course, they were yelling insurance information at each other.

At least we didn’t hit a pedestrian. One of the travel sites I read said that if you’re in a taxi that hits a ped or a cow you should get out and run as onlookers have been known drag the driver (and sometimes the passengers) out and beat them. Dave suggested I take the initiative and drag the driver out and start beating him myself.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Interviewing the Liars

I’m working too much. How am I supposed to treat this as a boondoggle if they’re working me all day every day? I’m interviewing people like a coked up Larry King. Or trying to, anyway. The HR manager at CTS, Ragesh, has been lining up interviews like crazy. If 50% of the people actually show up, the day is considered a success. Whether or not those candidates are actually qualified is another matter entirely.

Apparently, it’s ok here to blatantly lie on your resume. “Familiar with” or “knowledge of” a product does not mean “I’ve heard of it” or “I saw the box once in a store”. We all exaggerate our resumes, but if you can’t even tell me what it does, don’t list it. Why put it on your resume only to flail in the interview? Most of these people can’t even answer the equivalent of “where is the on button?” about this stuff. One guy today, when I asked him to describe his specific usage of a piece of software his resume (of course) claimed he used extensively, started reciting what I now believe are the marketing bullet points from the website.

And the language barrier…I mean, I don’t want to be an insensitive American prick about this, but if you’re going to be working with a development team in America, and conference calling your American boss once or twice a week, when I very slowly and with perfect enunciation (I swear!) ask you “Where is your current development team?” you should not respond with 5 seconds of blank staring followed by “I work in QA”. Good lord.

Some of these people I actually feel kind of sorry for. Some are so nervous and twitchy and desperate seeming I want to hire them out of pity. What do I care? I’m not hiring for my product. One dude was practically deaf. I almost burst out laughing when I caught myself yelling simple phrases towards his good ear. It’s like I was interviewing a 7 year old Helen Keller with rudimentary QA skills.

Was that too far? Eh, you’ll be fine.

This extraordinarily shallow talent pool makes me just that much more thankful for the rockstar team I have right now. Too bad for the other managers that my product is all staffed up with the good ones and these other products have to choose from the dregs. Bwahahahahahahaha! *cough*

In more pleasant news, I booked tickets to Sri Lanka for Christen and me. Hooray for vacations. Doug is feverishly planning our tropical beach paradise itinerary, right Doug? I keed, I keed…but it will be nice to relax on the beach for a while. Civil war, schmivil war. My next vacation is gonna be in Sudan. I would have said “Iraq” but from what I hear there is no civil war there.

You’ll notice there are still no pictures on this magnificent blog. That’s due to the fact that, apart from not going outside as much on this trip, I broke my f’ing card reader. That’s what I get for bragging about it costing only $8. It broke due to operator error, not due to any sort of product defect…but still. Karma is a bitch. Not like it matters. They work me like a Himalayan Sherpa here, allowing me only glimpses of the sun through a dirty window as I trudge my way to the printer to pick up another superlative-laden yet criminally misleading resume.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Tuesday, Monday, and Last Week

Another day, another near death experience. Ok, not really, but yesterday I rode in a tuk tuk for the first time. (If you don’t know what a tuk tuk is, check out the December 2006 archives). The crazy Indian traffic intensifies further when one weaves through it in a three-wheeled tin can. Considering one of the guys in the office, Natarajan, offered me the choice between riding on the back of his motorcycle or taking a tuk tuk, I believe I chose wisely. Part of me really wants to take him up on that offer at some point before I leave.

That reminds I saw two guys re-painting lane lines in the middle of a road as my taxi courteously gave them a 6 inch berth. Hahahahahahaha. That's a good one. I'm assuming they were part of a performance comedy troupe since the disregard for lane lines here is total and complete.

You may have noticed the lack of pictures on the blog for this trip thus far. There is a good reason for this; I have not taken any yet. Perhaps my sense of wonder and amazement is diminished as this is my second trip here in three months. Perhaps I continue to forget to bring my camera with me when I go outside. Perhaps they are working me like a dog on this trip with nary a moment to spare wandering around outside. I suspect it’s a combination of all three. I do have some pictures of Singapore but I have yet to determine if they are blog-worthy. A high probability exists they are not as I was extremely hungover when I took them and could barely see.

Today we ate lunch at a place called The Rainforest. At the risk of offending my coworkers who took me there, the place was quite silly. I think I ate in a similar place at Disney World once. Fake thunder noises, rain sounds, walls made to look carved from stone, as if you are eating in a cave. The best part had to be the stuffed animals. Tigers, snakes, and monkeys all scattered around the place. One poor monkey hanging from a clothesline looked as if he was strung up by his thumbs. Good food, though. Mmmm…tikka masala.

I don’t have malaria yet. At least, no outward symptoms.

It’s not as hot here as I expected. It’s toasty, but I experienced worse during the summers of my youth in Contra Costa County. Of course, it’s only March. It is, however, a drastic change from where I was a week ago. Where was that, you ask? Driving through a flippin’ blizzard. Coming back from Tahoe I drove through some of the worst conditions of my life. This from someone who lived in Colorado for 9 years. It was daytime and the falling and blowing snow prevented me from seeing more than 2 cars in front of me and sometimes only one. If someone up ahead had panicked or become disoriented or even blinked I think we all would have followed her off the road one by one like a pack of lemmings. After dumping snow for the previous 24 hours it dumped the whole way from Truckee to Auburn and showed no signs of letting up (in Auburn it turned to rain making the visibility even worse, which was quite a trick). When trying to leave on Sunday afternoon I shoveled a good two feet of snow from around the car. After being defeated on that attempt (no, really, I love spending 45 minutes traveling 50 yards in traffic that moves only when someone bails out and pulls a U-turn), I shoveled another two feet the next morning. I mean, seriously, if you’re not going to close 80 in those conditions, when do you close it? Some portions of the highway looked like Beirut with cars scattered all over, facing every which way, people wandering around in a daze. If the weather had been like that during the snow cave adventure I’m not sure I’d still have fingers with which to type this mediocre blog entry.

Snow cave? What is this snow cave adventure of which he speaks? That’s a tale for another day, perhaps when I’m sitting on the beach in Sri Lanka, drinking a mai tai.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Don't Touch My Stuff

Well, here I am, back in Chennai. And super tired, since I got in at 11:30 last night. Which is actually 3:00am in Singapore or something. And, if you'll recall, I was up until 4am the night before. Wah wah wah.

I hate the aisle seat. Why do people covet this seat? I had to get up about 6 times during a 3 hour flight to let my row-mates in and out. What a pain in my ass. And you, Mr. Window Seat, when Mr. Middle Seat gets up to go to the bathroom, THAT is the time for you to make your move. NOT 30 seconds after Mr. Middle Seat returns and he and I have settled back into our seats. What other conclusion can I draw but that you're doing this to us on purpose? No one is that much of an idiot.

Oh how I wish that last sentence were true.

And there was luggage drama. First, it took for-freaking-ever to get through the immigration line. By the time I got to the luggage carousel I could barely see the luggage meandering along on the belts due to the crowd gathered 3 or 4 people deep. We always hope, in this situation, to walk up, see our bag, grab it off the spinning treads and be off. Alas, by the time the same haphazardly duct taped box reappeared my bag had not made it's glorious re-entry into my life. 5 more sightings of the sad little box and still no bag. 10 sightings and now the crowd is thinning and I've moved beyond the "hoping my bag appears soon so I can get out of here" phase to the "please, god, I just want to see my bag even if it comes out looking as if it's been run over repeatedly by drunken baggage handlers" phase. Let's just say that there is no Singapore Airlines Customer Service counter in the Chennai airport baggage claim area. Half an hour has gone by and the last of the people are piling their bags on their carts and heading for customs. I'm all by myself. And now the baggage-moving belt has stopped. Terrific.

The only people left not going through customs are a group of about 8 people gathered in one spot, arguing loudly. I meander over that way hoping to find a customs official to start pleading my case to when what do I see? My backpack lying on the ground just outside of the circle of loud people. I can only assume they were fighting over whose turn it was to detonate the "unclaimed" bag. I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to whichever motherloving fartbag made the courteous and helpful decision to take my bag off the luggage carousel and just leave it on the floor, out of view. I hope Dick Cheney personally gives you a full body cavity search in Guantanamo.

Oh, and hey, how about waking up at 5am in India scratching the side of my head where the mosquito who somehow found her way into my 5th floor hotel room bit me repeatedly? Fun times. Especially since it brought about the realization that I forgot to take my "24 hours before you arrive" malaria pill. If I get another fever on this trip I will not be calm about it. I will most likely panic.

I'm tired and I want to go to sleep. Not ask the same questions and pretend to listen to the same answers. Yep, I'm interviewing people.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Clubbing in Singapore

Sounds fancy, doesn't it? I can now cross it off my list of things to do in life. And it was pretty bizzare.

Let's get right to the meat of it. The last club we went to had an entertainment act called "Double Penetration" - a dance team consisting of a skinny Asian dude and a fat white guy. They danced around on stage in a variety of spandex outfits that revealed waaaaaay too much. They were, however, surprisingly good dancers. The chubby white dude even, at one point, strapped on a pair of old school roller skates and busted out some fancy moves. He did some nice backwards crossovers (not easy on such a small stage) and at one point did the Running Man. On roller skates. A whacked out DJ who looked like Crazy George from the old A's games provided the music. He also had a penchant for gold spandex, and, unfortunately, at the end of the show, a thong.

(This is perhaps the first time in modern history a paragraph containing "double penetration", "strapped", and "thong" remained PG-13.)

After their show ended the real dancing began. A new DJ took over, spinning earsplittingly badass beats and looking disturbingly similar to Jesse Goffin. Only 1 of my 3 readers will know who that is.

We stayed out until 4am. I'm amazed that there are no "club drugs" here, as the crowd was still pretty lively when we left. I'm only assuming the lack of drugs given as I just read about a Nigerian whose death sentence was carried through in January for 700g of morphine.

Working backwards, we ate dinner first at a wine bar along the river walk called The Wine Garage. Really, was "The Wine Hardware Store" name already taken? Regardless, they had good food, and I drank a LOT of wine. I don't remember the last time I drank that much wine. The servers kept coming by and refilling glasses making it nearly impossible to keep track of how much I'd consumed. Always trouble. Especially with such a delicious pinot.

At the Wine Smog Check Station I met many of Dave's friends, all ex-patriots, or "expats". In the past, whenever I'd heard of an "expat" I'd pictured some 50 year old white guy with a 16 year old Vietnamese girlfriend, sweating in the back of some smoky bar in Saigon, doing his best to keep a low profile and probably on the run because he accidentally killed a man during a flashback in 1978. Not the cute 24 year old girl from New York having the time of her life and the rest of the very attractive people in their late 20s and 30s eating, drinking, and heading out to the clubs.

Near 3am some crazy looking local type began forcing his way into our little group of dancers consisting of Dave, me, 2 expat guys, Dave's friend Tamara (who is just crazy and a trouble-maker, in a good way) and 2 or 3 local girls. This guy, looking about 50 or so, appears from no where, butts his way in, and forces himself between Dave and the local girl he'd been dancing with for the last half hour. All the while he's got this crazy looking smile on his face and his awkward bobbing and shadowboxing is completely out of time with the music. Nice windbreaker, dude. My only guess is that he was tired of seeing the expats dancing with the local girls and decided to step in and finally "do something about it". At one point he actually pushed Dave out of the way, leading to one of those silent exchanges between me and Dave that went something like: "Can you believe this guy?" "He's an idiot" "Should I kick his ass?" "Whatever, man, I'm ready to leave either way". Basically this club was like any other club, aside from the crazy dance show in the beginning.

In other news, congrats to Grant and Emily Watkins on the birth of their first child.

Off to Chennai tomorrow.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Safe in Singapore

It's Saturday morning and I'm hanging out at Dave's and hanging in there. After arriving yesterday at about noon, napping, then heading out to dinner and a few drinks, I grew tired of Dave making fun of my "slits for eyes" so I turned in. I dropped an Ambien since I didn't want to wake up at 4am and be unable to go back to sleep. Well, they call it "hammer in a bottle" for a reason. I was out cold for 10 hours. Good stuff.

If you deem this post not up to my usual breathtaking standards of wit and charm, I've just given you many reasons to screw off.

This was all after the taxi driver I took from the airport couldn't find Dave's address. He dropped me off in the general vicinity but I was left to my own devices to find Dave's actual building, carrying both of my backpacks. Some of the area looked familiar from my (romantic) midnight stroll with Dave the last time I visited, but as I continued to search and dig up memories I found myself wondering "what happens if I can't find his place?" I don't have a working cell phone and I don't know Dave's cell I just wait in one of the many bars here for Dave to come searching for me? Climb in another cab and hope they can do a better job finding the place? I decided my first plan would be to call Eric Strasser's cell and go from there. But, all of this was unnecessary as, using the crudely scribbled map Dave provided on the back of a business card I was able to do what the local cab driver couldn't: Find Dave's building.

So, here I am. It's almost noon and we're going to go out and eat some food, maybe jump in the pool, and see what happens.

Take care.