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Scott has been my partner-in-crime for traveling. You will find complementary info on his blog, youtube channel, and especially, photo album.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


I was quite sad to be leaving my friends and set-up in Hyderabad. It’s easy to get used to such luxuries. My Indian friends joked that I was the American Desi. A concept about someone of a regional heritage being raised in another country.

When we were at the Delhi airport, I cut a queue for the baggage scanner. The worker asked me what I was doing and I said truthfully, “I guess I spent too much time in India.” He shrugged and let me through. I’m a little bit worried that I will continue to eat with my hands.

It was fun getting back to work and seeing everyone, but I was a bit disappointed to be “back in my old seat” and not working on such exciting things. It will also be a challenge to keep myself stimulated when I am not necessarily traveling every weekend, though it shouldn’t be hard in SF.

Admittedly, the first thing that I did when I returned was hire a housekeeper.

I did notice how quiet, calm, and clean things seemed in SF. I returned to a pretty serene and welcoming atmosphere among good friends and clean air.

While I might have things to share everyday, sometimes it takes an adventure to get them out. Thanks for listening…

Agra, Shimla, and Udaipur

I heard a story of blind men who were told to inspect an animal (it was an elephant) and describe it. The men circled around it and touched different areas: the tusks, snout, tail, side, and legs. They all described something vastly different – and that is what it is like to describe India as a whole by only visiting a handful of places.

I wanted to create a trip for us to give Lulu a good taste of India. We traveled to a big city (Delhi), the Taj Mahal (Agra), the Himalayas (Shimla), and then traditional India (Udaipur).

Agra – There is a reason that all tourists go to the Taj Mahal, it is spectacular, and I was pleased to go again. It is truly a romantic experience that is not to be missed. The entire city revolves around the Taj’s existence. You can see it from a variety of perspectives: from the backside across the river, at sunrise or sunset, and from terrace bars and restaurants. The mausoleum’s creator was overthrown by his son after its creation and got a good view of his own from a marble prison growing off the side of the far away Agra Fort, in clear view of his wife’s mausoleum.

I made sure to also expose Lulu to a Bollywood performance as well… by having dinner at the soon-to-be famous Pizza Hut!

Shimla – From Delhi, we headed north to the foot of the Himalayas where the British set up to govern during the oppressive summers.

The Toy Train – Getting There - The first half of the train journey from Delhi was long and unexciting. The second leg was still long but wound through 107 tunnels, up the mountains, on a cute toy train: colorful compartments pulled by a steam engine. The scenery got greener and cleaner the farther we traveled though trash disposal was the same as always – out the window. During a stop, I was searching for a trash bin to chuck my foiled lunch packaging. Going against the chiding of basically everyone on the train, I could not make myself do the same and brought the trash back on board until I could find a suitable bin.

Houses of all shapes and sizes cascaded down the hills. Indian and international tourists, alike, paraded down The Mall, a pedestrian town center. Our hotel was an amazing British construction that overlooked the mountains. We had to pry ourselves from the hotel to enjoy the gorgeous weather and nature walks.

We took a day trip to Chail, another hill station town. We broke for tea and hikes and play some pick up at the highest cricket ground in the world. On the way back, we stopped in Kufri and trotted horses up a stony hill for amusement and culture parks. This marks the last time that I ride a horse. Twice in my life was enough. At the top, we tested the world’s highest go-kart track.

Udaipur – The train home wasn’t as long because the boring half was overnight. We shopped around Delhi on our way to the airport. Udaipur is located in the state of Rajastan which is what most people think of when thinking of India – dry and hot and inhabited by turbaned men with mustaches with intermingled palaces. The city is set on picturesque Lake Pichola, part of an interesting 500 year old irrigation structure that allows a string of lakes to overflow into each other, stay full, and sustain life.


Lulu’s arrival and week long holiday together was my home stretch before re-immersion. I arrived a day earlier than her and had a whirlwind tour of Delhi with a hired car. To clear up any confusion, Old Delhi and New Delhi are in the same city but are different train stations. As with many old cities, it was built in stages under different rulers and has a layered feel to it.

I started in the old city and checked out the Red Fort and Jama Masjid Mosque, the largest in India. Soldiers were convinced that this fort was still some type of strong hold and were stationed in random areas with big guns, seemed like a joke and big waste. Hanuman’s Tomb would be amazing if it was not in the same state as the Taj Mahal.

Moving on, the India Gate, president’s house, and parliament had the look and feel of Capitol Hill in DC and all stood in line. The green around the Gate was swamped with locals picnicking and there was a great vibe going. In contrast to the States, there were tons of mostly naked kids playing in the equivalent of the reflecting pool. As always, Indians seem to make the most of any urban green areas they can find.

Coincidentally, it was Easter Sunday, and I stumbled upon Lodi Gardens to find a reveling celebration. These spontaneous gatherings seem less common in the States. Big crowds generally make me uneasy but there was no drinking and everyone was in line.

Judah Hyan Hall Synagogue – While I had the address, it was tough to find hidden behind a cement gate. There is a larger congregation in Delhi because of the cosmopolitan composition of the capital and is bolstered by many embassies. I surprised the temple secretary who lives on the grounds when I arrived unannounced. More interesting was how the Indian groundskeeper and his large family lived inside the adjacent Jewish cemetery.

Lotus Temple – I found this Bahai structure and concept particularly inviting. While they do conduct services and have their own doctrines, the institution promotes interfaith gathering and prayer. Entrants looked like a bee line queuing for the hive. Once barefoot and inside, silent observation (and a cool respite) calmed the once-buzzing mass. It was quite relaxing, and I felt part of the eclectic group. I relish my Jewish identity and heritage, but I despise religious institutions when they put up walls and instill divisive behavior.

Thursday, April 5, 2007


We have a now-written tradition that all the expats have to try paan during their first meal out with the group. Being my going away dinner, I made sure that the newest group partook in this conical shaped dessert of filling wrapped in betel nut leaves.

It is actually an acquired taste that has grown on me and is quite refreshing to the mouth and stomach after a meal. There are basically 2 kinds - sweet or bitter - and all the fruits and spices they use vacillate to either of those tastes. Most kids grow up craving the sweet stuff and the adults buzz around on the bitter which is made from more betels and has a tobacco-like effect; both of which can be picked up at stands on the side of the street.

A brave soul dared to break the chain and abstain while the rest of his peers choked down the digestifs and the vets looked on. The whole table played good cop, bad cop to coax him to no avail.

The next day, being my last day in the office, I became easily sidetracked and picked up dozens of paan and decorated his desk while he was at lunch (and treated my co-workers to a paan party). He returned and was floored. Knowing he was licked, he gave in. Here is my first attempt at photo journalism:

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Passover in Hyderabad

Yesterday was the first 'day' of Passover, so I cobbled together a Seder lunch for my co-workers. There was a great turnout in number and interest. We told the story and then broke for an engaging lunch where we talked about the differences between our religions and the Jews of India.

I was shocked to be able to construct a convincing Seder plate and pseudo-matzo on short notice using only cafeteria food. I used papad in place of matzo and cabbage fry in place of charoset because their consistencies were similar to the real thing. While the roasted egg was hard-boiled, the 'pickle' was quite bitter, and the lettuce, shankbone, and potato were spot on!

Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed to have not found a Jewish community in Hyderabad for the past months or share a meal or holiday with an Indian Jewish family.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Around Town

My Run:

...through time and tax brackets

- In a 2 mile out-and-back, I start out at a global, cutting-edge corporation capitalizing on the expanding phenomenon of e-commerce.
- The first turn takes me onto the street where water buffaloes and un-metered compact taxi cabs jockey for position and fares.
- The recently created 4-way stop light manages the tech boom traffic and allows poor (and sometimes handicapped) people to appeal to drivers and vendors to hawk their penny goods.
- My next turn takes me down a connector street that it lined with street food and chai stands.
- As the road progresses, it becomes less developed. Makeshift huts are created with recycled parts to house the needy.
- In the distance, you can now see our complex and other buildings under construction, a cruel foreshadowing that these impermanent shanties are truly impermanent.
- The straightaway ends at a Novotel Hotel that is known for its decadent brunch for $40/head, probably more than the weekly salary of all the people I just ran by. Breath. Now touch the gate and run back home.

Barber Shop menu:

1 haircut with shears and meticulous attention
straight razor shave
chai and optional cigarette
Direct TV on the little box
cracked knuckles
head, face, shoulder, and arms massage

> 100 rupees ($2.50) ...and I'm paying the foreigner price of triple the normal

My Gym: Cyber Pearl. Not the nicest place, but we get a corporate rate there. It is louder than any club I have been to. The weights are adequate, but there wouldn't be enough for my brother Jesse to get a proper lift in. High-kicks while looking in the mirror are so in right now.

The Garage: Where all our drivers hang out and the meeting place for any trip out. They play Carrom Board to pass the time (picture taken from the web). Like pool, you have to knock 'poker chips' into the pockets using a cue-chip. These guys are angels and put up with a lot of traffic and waiting time for us.

The ATM:
The closest one to the apartment only provides 100 rupee notes ($2.5o) while most machines dispense 500 and 1,000 notes. It reminds me of post WW1 German hyper-inflation. Some withdrawals won't let you close your wallet.

Street Food: Mr. Tibb's Frankies. We went there thinking we were ordering a hot dog and got a little slice of heaven instead. Basically an Indian taquito, this greasy snack adjoins our tailor. This place is the only reason that we are never upset that the tailor can't ever gets things right the first time. or the second time.

Sunday, April 1, 2007


As I was contemplating this post on my way from work, walking up the stairs to my apartment, I saw a baby lying by itself on the platform between flights of stairs. Poignant timing. The housekeeping mother was outside gardening. This is just a random occasion, so it is a good start to the randomness post.

Traffic - people, cows, buffalo, bicycle rickshaws, auto rickshaws, cars, buses, in all directions. People take countless photos/videos of the traffic. There are few sidewalks, and you usually have to join the fray. To add to the confusion, every participant beeps, rings their bike bell, squeezes their horn, or just hollers. Proper times to sound off are if you are changing or not changing lanes, about to get hit or about to hit someone, planning on going faster or slower, see someone you know... you get the point.

Marriage - Couples who meet on their own are said to have a love marriage as opposed to the still present arranged marriages. Personal ads in the paper and on the net are matrimonial driven and very specific in their descriptions of themselves and their preferred mate. At times, the arrangement process can be quite formal with a sit down interview process and shrewd dowry negotiations.

I would not want an arranged marriage, but I understand the idea. It seems to take the stress and heartache from the dating process by formalizing it. In fact, it removes the dating process and turns it into an interview process conducted by family and friends before you even meet. They get right to the big issues which can be underlying and can destroy a marriage down the road. The detractions are obvious: you don't have the thrill of finding that special someone and many people enjoy dating. An Indian friend of mine said that she did not have the temperament to fall in love before getting married. Arranged marriage aims to secure a steady mate and build a loving relationship based on shared values. This seems to open a possibility for a love-less marriage, but this could be said for any marriage.

Divorce is far less common here, but one could attribute that to societal norms rather than blindly crediting the arrangement process. It would be interesting to see a divorce rate comparison of love versus arranged marriages.

Family Life - After marriage, it is quite common for the woman to move into the man's house who is still living with his parents and could possibly continue to do so for some time. Sometimes, your extended family will all live together: grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins, all in a house. I think this is pretty cool, probably because I love my family, but you could be sacrificing many things depending on the house size.

Activity - The sport of choice is cricket and there are no seconds. People play anytime, anywhere. However, the public on the whole does not seem to be overly excited about activity and its health benefits. I think people aren't outside running or stuff like that is because it's too damn hot most of the time and there aren't enough public forums (like sidewalks or parks) to help. A lot of the popular games seem to be low impact, like badminton, or rely on smarts, like quizzing. Gym culture is around but has not caught on yet.

Directness - Strangers can ask you very direct questions like what your salary is and about your romantic history. It catches you off guard at first but eventually affords you the opportunity to reciprocate and find out about people quickly and candidly. Additionally, your friends will tell you things that Americans don't generally hear: "You look like you have been gaining weight." "You are looking very tired." "You are not as attractive as your sister." You will find out if you have something in your teeth pretty quickly. Business is also conducted with this directness, small talk and sugar-coated statements are minimal.