Sorry for not posting updates often! I realize I've missed updating my side of the blog for ages. But fear not, I have a new post and its a fun one. It's all about my new (antique) motorcycle. My Royal Enfield so very perfectly named "Kali".
But first, perhaps you may be interested in familiarizing yourself with Royal Enfield. It's a fascinating, very long story of a company that has been producing motorcycles since 1901 in the UK, and now produces a well loved and well followed "thumper" here in India. You can read more here. By "thumper" I mean the characteristic sound the bike makes while riding because despite all the complex, multi-cylinder, fuel injected, multi-valved, highly tuned bikes of today the Enfield is a single cylinder bike. Each set of two rotations (or four "strokes") of the engine results in the whole combustion and exhaust process but seeing as there is only one cylinder, its a rough "puff puff" kind of sound that the bike makes. Your car usually has a minimum of 4 cylinders, and each one is on a different step of the stroke so you have a nice smooth running engine. With one cylinder things aren't as smooth, and kick-starting the engine can be fun. That's right, no electric start for older bikes! You need to decompress the engine and give the starter a thorough kick to move the big single cylinder to get it to start. It can get you sweating quick, especially when it's October Pune hot out!
My bike acquiring adventure started out much earlier in the year when I met a local contact who rebuilds antique bikes, cars and scooters. Though there are many bikes in his garage, from BMWs with shaft drives to Nortons with unique front suspensions; his passion is Enfields. Yup, just the right guy to get in touch with.
I decided on building one up from scratch. By doing that, it would take longer but I would be able to do more customizing but more importantly, I would be involved in the building process.Some of the items I got to help work on and now understand:
Take a look at some photos of the bike in process below.
All in all the experience of having worked on the bike is great. Once this bike is out of the country, its doubtful that anyone will have experience repairing or working on them so I wanted to know the ins and the outs so I could at least approach fixing it on my own. The nicest thing about these single cylinder Enfields is that they're an extremely simple motor vehicle. They are really not complicated and they're a great way to learn the fundamentals of motored vehicles hands on.
I came up with my own design for the labeling on the bike, a big "RE". Super simple. The color I decided on is matte black. It gets dirty easy but it looks simple, clean and mean. I originally thought to add an accent of color on the front fender by having the white stripes. 2 months after the start date, the first iteration of the bike was complete!
I took the bike for a spin on the building grounds. Luckily, its the perfect spot to practice riding. Plenty of open space, ramps, things to maneover around. It's worth mentioning, I had never ridden a motorcycle before (more than 5 minutes), my only experience was scooters. This is a relatively heavy bike at 418 pounds.
Man was I happy but disappointed with the gear shifting. It just wouldn't shift past first! And there were some other issues like idling, carburetor adjustment, etc. But no problem, the guy sent someone to pick it up and work on it. Also, I disliked the leg guard (the big chrome piece that sticks out on the front of the bike). So I handed the bike back over.
In the meantime, I got my license, and eagerly awaited it's return.
With some gear adjustments, a new front fender with the classic "pedestrian slicer" , a new front leg guard, and finally deciding on the name badge; the bike is back and better than ever. Theres still "some" minor things I would like to change, but a story for another day I guess. Take a look at the beauty known as KALI below.
I named the bike KALI. I had to pick an Indian name, something very deep. I won't get into the specifics but you can read up here. I've gotten countless compliments on the name. It's so multi-faceted for the bike. I love it.
I've ridden the bike a couples of times outside the apartment complex and gaining confidence on it. I hope to have some new photos and maybe some videos in the future. She's a blast to ride, loud and comfortable. She's not particularly fast, I've been able to get her to 85 kilometers per hour (52 mph). She should manage 100 kph without problem based on the feeling I got that she could still accelerate easily, so I should be able to hold the right lane in the US somewhere in the 55-70 mph range.
I never thought I'd like motorcycles so much, but the simplicity and fun of this easy going classic bike has turned me. I think I'm in love!
Weekends in Pune are quickly filled up with visiting street shops and good places to eat, fun bike rides, and going for long walks. Oddly enough, its really easy to forget that there are tons of beautiful, and in this case historic sights both within and not far from the city.
About a 1.5 hour drive from the Hadapsar area to outside Pune and off the old Pune-Mumbai highway are the Karla caves. These caves are hand-cut, literally chiseled by hand from the basalt rock face. This was done (in the case of the oldest section) from the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD. The caves we visited were 2,000 years old. Reminder, 2000 years is a long time, a really long time. Perspective: Its 1600 years earlier then the arrival of pilgrims to modern day US, It's 1345 years older than Notre Dame. Its 80 times longer then the seasons of The Simpsons.
Besides the pre-historic caves I've visited in France, I think this is the oldest site we have been to. The details of the work are impressive, and the magnitude of manually removed stone to create the open spaces is breathtaking.
But a bit on us getting up there first.
A kind fellow by the name of Ashok jumped to us the minute we parked our car with our driver. He introduced himself, said he wouldn't charge anything (riiiight) and just wanted to show up the impressive wonders of the caves. Our driver came with us on the trip, which turned out to be both fun for him, and very helpful for us. Turns out just as we began the walk, there was a fun exchange between the two in Marathi. To sum it up, our driver left very unconvinced of the level of "free" that this tour would cost.
As you walk up the numerous steps to the caves, there are a myriad of small shops along the way selling all manner of sweets, ice cold chaas served by the ladle, corn on the cob with a lemon and spice rub (20 INR), and offerings for the temple. The smells change chaotically as your trek your way up, at times you stop for older folk passing through (I applaud their determination!) or the occasional little one who has run out of steam and let open the stream of tears. At one point, we turned a corner and there was a massive stuffed tiger. Our driver was pretty surprised by it and let out a small yelp followed by a "oh my god". It was a solid laugh for us all. The view at points of the walk is incredible, the valley is rich in rice fields and small cottages and farms. Despite the delay of monsoon (1 month) it was still quite green and luscious.
Once you do make it to the top, you'll pay 20X the price that Indians do (100 INR). At this point, we are used to it. All the historic sights we've been to charge more for foreign visitors.
The caves are actually Indian Buddhist, though there is also a Hindu temple just outside the main cave that is a center of worship for the Fishermen (Koli people) of Mumbai. The location was just near a significant trade route intersection, and promoted a good location to create a temple within the natural formation for the Buddhist community at the time. Our tour guide explained that members of the Buddhist community still come from time to time, visitors from China, Japan, and much of South-East asia,
When you step into the main cave, there are some impressive sights. First, the size of it all. The room is massive. It is at least 150 to 200 feet deep, with 30 columns continuous from floor to ceiling chiseled from the mountain itself. Our tour guide showed us a little secret, namely that out of the 30 columns all adorned at the top with horses only one is adorned with a laughing Buddha. All along the walls can be seen residue from paintings, worn with time. If you look closely at the photos below, one of them has a depiction of Buddha. Along the columns, you can find chiseled inscriptions in various languages in addition to an Ashoka Chakra (wheel, seen on the Indian Flag). At the end of the cave is the Stupa or religious mound. Contained inside are the ashes of monks. An very interesting detail to note are the small holes in the floor. They were put in to allow the monks to mix paints directly, and to paint the walls.
Adjacent to the main cave are smaller caves. The caves on the "2nd floor" are currently un-accessable. I was quite disappointed, the Lehigh explorer in me wanted to get up there. But within the smaller caves you can find even smaller rooms, designed for Buddhist monks to meditate on their own. The cave creates a natural echo and amplification resulting in a powerful meditation hum, as many annoying visitors were able to emulate terribly.
Overall, visiting the site was fantastic. Getting out of the house on the weekend (despite being sick) was a great experience and I'm really happy Stephanie urged me on. It's amazing to find deeply historic sights such as these caves right outside our door, and the government does a very good job of keeping them intact and safe. It was a real pleasure to make a trip outside the city to see some ancient religious sites, and I can only imagine as we reach further and further outside the city what kind of treasures we will find!
Oh, and to note: we settled on 200 INR. Our guide helped us find and learn a lot of cool details we would have otherwise missed. Since we hadn't read up on the site it was actually money well spent!
One of those things mentioned in the title I have a fond familiarity of, one I do not. However both of these things are without any doubt: awesome. Jerky is a staple around the world. Not always only based on Beef, it is also made of tuna, chicken, turkey, salmon, even shredded octopus of squid. There's just something deliciously primeval about letting something dry and ripping off chunks of it to chew. And when you cure it with smoke flavors, soy sauce, brown sugar and an array of spices that primeval taste gets upgraded to the highest echelons of delicious ecstasy.
I made beef jerky in the US, after having gotten a food dehydrator for a wedding present (the only wedding present I primarily use!). It was always a pretty simple affair. I would cozily drive to Wegmans where I would pick up a pound of grass-fed organic ground 95% lean beef and on my way back home stop in for a venti dark brew. You could say it was semi-ritualistic. A good way to frame your Sunday. You know, frame it around dried meat product.
The idea is simple. Mix up a combination of marinade ingredients just like you would marinate a steak, but marinate your ground beef. Let sit in the fridge for some hours (mince is easier since it absorbs the marinade faster) and then pull it out and pack it into a syringe. Squirt it out just like a caulk gun onto the trays of the dehydrator. Add time, heat and some Shahs of Sunset / how things work reruns and you've got yourself a healthy, low fat high protein home made snack.
So can you do said delicious healthy snack here, 8000 miles from home, without your precious Wegmans and venti-latte-low-fat-vanilla-whatever, without your grassfed organic mince beef (we ARE in India, after all)?
Of course you can! Or why would I be writing this? You just need to do what any expat should do in India: change some things around and don't have any expectations. First off, it ain't beef. It's water buffalo. For reference, see below:
I know what you're thinking: that's bad-ass. And it is my friends. It's even HEALTHIER than 95% lean beef. Water buffalo is ludicrously lean. Then again, try and find any fat livestock in India. I dare you. I double dog (buffalo) dare you. Next up, replace your venti-frappawhateverchino with Kingfisher BEER. Now we're talking! That's right, your Sunday just got an injection of Coun-tray, But sort of an Indian country, since it is a classic Indian beer. Finally, the last is ingredients. FYI, I am not sharing the actual recipe, because the jerky came out (as I had hoped) to be absolutely delicious. So be satisfied with the explanation and quantities below:
- Some pepper flakes of some kind. Probably red. Like fire
- Some sauce of le soy
- lots of GARLIC SALT
- Potentially alot of honey, or maybe not?
- A truly MANLY quantity of Worcestershire sauce
- Another pepper that I think (dont trust me) was black?
- Paprika. Cause its fancy.
- 2 Scales of a mature Rainbow dragon
- Happiness (qty: one table spoon)
Lastly, you need some awesome equipment and to half-freeze the meat. Using a industrial meat slicer you slice the half-frozen meat (makes it easier to slice) into thin sections. (At this point, I'm already salivating). You then pour in your mix into some bags full of the meat and make sure to get all the air out. In this case, we also have a industrial vacuum packing machine (like how these pop out of nowhere, hunh?). So we vacuum pack them with the brine inside.
Throw the bags in the fridge for 10 hours, take em back out and pat them dry. Lay them flat in the dehydrator, and set to the highest level heat (170F) for 6 hours. Stop after 1 hour and pat both sides dry to remove excess fat (it will only make the jerky go bad faster if you leave fat). At this point you can sleep, or in our case eat other meat that wasn't used for jerky. Evidence below:
Your final end game is a packet of jerky, vacuum sealed for freshness. Congratulations, you just made jerky! Ta da! And man, ooooooh man is it good. I. Cried.
Now. Onto the other item in the title, I (had) no familiarity with. Motorcycles.
Just the name makes me think back to being a kid though. Dreaming about driving a 50CC mo-ped while visiting our family in France. My brother and I would salivate at the photos of overpriced 50cc "racing scooters". But now I'm not a kid anymore (or am I?) and I've got a little money (not really).
Everyone has bikes in India. Most of them ranging from 50cc to 220cc. But I keep seeing these motorcycles on the street, from time to time. Or should I say, I hear them. Thump. Thump thump thump. Thumpers. Single cylinder Royal Enfields. I could go on and on about the history of Royal Enfield explaining everything I've learned thus far or I could just sum it up real quick, because its really awesome and totally manly:
- RE was begun a long time ago. Like pre-WWI long ago. They made lots of stuff.
- It was originally British.
- Manufacturing began in India under license at some point.
- The Indian group bought up the name and rights.
- It's still made, almost exactly the same as it was, 60 years later.
- Its doing really well.
Royal Enfields all have the same engine type, just different displacement. It's a single cylinder, vertically mounted. So the piston goes up and down, up and down, thump, thump, thump. The sound is awesome. Want to know more about single cylinder engines?
So now I want one, especially after I got a chance to drive a new 500CC (that's half-a-liter engine, or 500 cubic centimeters) Enfield. It was fun, visceral, and not too fast. Just right. You can't accelerate so hard you fall off or pop a wheelie, but you can definitely feel the rush. It's perfect.
But the biggest hurdle is, how to get one back to the States? Import regulation is a doozey. I would need to spend $4000 to get it to pass emissions requirements, noise, blah blah blah. My hopes, my dreams. Crusherized.
Until I met a local motorcycle guru.
He/she owns and operates a Royal Enfield antique renovation spot just in the outskirts of town. Visiting on Sunday just before making Jerky, I got to inspect all the bikes there are, all the ones being worked on, and all the ones we could make. Check out some of the pics below.
The one you see in red I will likely get. But it will be changed. Firstly, it's going to be matt-black with just an "RE" spelled out on the gas tank in white. And I'll probably change out the seats. And best of all? It's a bike from 1975, which means its a "classic antique" and is grandfathered in if you import it to the States. God bless exemptions.
Nice thing about working with the guru is he/she wants to make it your special ride. My favorite part of all: there's a good chance we will be able to work together to build a completely custom bike based on an antique Enfield. I'll be getting my hands dirty. I have a smile from ear to ear right now. I'm getting that feeling I used to get from spending quality time in the bowels of Packard Lab at Lehigh University with the folks in Mini Baja.
So my learners permit is scheduled for Thursday. And during many months I will train in our housing development and get good. And I will ride. And it shall be wonderful! Wonderful with a helmet of course!
Stephanie and I made it. Truth be told, it wasn't as bad as we had thought it was going to be but it wasn't a walk in the park either. Stephanie summed up well the trip as a whole, our exodus from the frozen northern lands of North America to the hot mess that is Mumbai (and eventually Pune). But I do have several great photos to share which I had taken on my phone and really must hit the internet.
Stella flew in cargo from Mumbai to Pune, and I wanted to show the triumphant final unloading of her in her crate at the Pune airport. The flight staff were very happy to help, and full of smiles when looking at/dealing with Stella. She managed to stay very well behaved with no barking and only one growl. The flight overall is very short, in this case only 17 minutes. The photos don't convey it well but there are a lot of mountains and greenery on the short flight looking out the window. To ease in the beauty of nature, you get yourself only the JUICIEST MANGO drink!
We were genuinely zonked out for our first couple of days in Pune. I for one slept an astonishing 15.5 hours in a row following the flight from the US. And I clearly needed it. Stephanie, having been diagnosed with an Ear and Sinus infection before flying was clearly not feeling well but as it turns out she had an upper respiratory viral infection, so her antibiotics were useless. We were still in high spirits and absolutely astonished at the weather. We could not have a more reversing of the weather on earth. There is something to be said from going from snowy and 15F to sunny, 90F (32C), and 30% humidity. Its a wonderful, wondrous thing.
My first day at work was exciting and fulfilling. I got to meet and greet all the old faces I had met when we visited in October, and several new faces I did not have a chance to meet. I learned a bit more about the scope of the work before us, the direction things were headed in and began to think about what kind of game plan could get us there. There's hiring to be done, and just after hitting the ground I already took on two phone interviews planned in the week among getting invited to some team meetings. All in all a great start. Its absolutely in every way different work then I have ever done, but I can see that it plays on some of my strengths. Face-to-face has always been a forte of mine, and my ability to work in teams is going to help. But I am but a young newbie, and I have much, much to learn.
I had a chance to go out and get "Indian" Chinese food on Friday with some of the coworkers I'm getting to know. They're a vibrant and great crowd, very fun and very nice. What I have noticed is that the vibe I'm getting is very familiar. Something similar to Princeton, family... close knit. It's great, if that's the case this is going to make getting in the groove of work just that much more fantastic and comfortable. But you didn't read this section for my boring anecdotes on my budding interpersonal relationships at my new job. No, absolutely not. One word has hung on your minds since I began this paragraph, Indian Chinese Food. That's right boys and girls. Feast your eyes on THIS!
Oh the dirty, thick sauciness of these dishes is a testament to the beauty that is the world economy and globalism. And God bless it. American Chinese has long been a (unhealthy) staple of mine since childhood. But where it concentrates on the solid chunks of meats, Indian Chinese delivers a mouthwatering slop-it-on-rice liquidity that shows its Indian interpretation. Sweet morsels of cooked fish swimming among the thick seas of coriander and lemon sauce. My god. This is my new comfort food. Astounding. Oh, and the cost for 6 people to be overwhelmingly stuffed and nearly incapable of producing any real work for the rest of Friday? 1200 rupee. $20.
I leave my piece-de-resistance for last. The FRRO.
Lets start here. Stephanie and I are foreigners in India, and as such we need to get registered. This is done at the Foreign Residents Registry Office (FRRO). Talking with new friends from the area who had gotten their registration done, we had heard horror stories and expected the worst. Stories of chaotic madness, swarms of people moving to and fro amongst counters not understanding what logical step are required to get processed and spending a whole day there only to have to come back again and again and again due to missing documents. Officers denying applications simply because someone smiled the wrong way. Delays just because babies were not oriented correctly while being help up for a photo. Right. This is going to be a fun one we thought.
Firstly, to register at the FRRO you need to apply first online. If you're so inclined, check it out yourself.
Online, you're to fill out your application with lost of information about yourself and your visa and your passport. Once you're complete in filling out, you're to upload 6 items.
1. A photo of yourself, passport, 3.5X3.5cm but only 50kb. Have fun doing that if you're not tech savvy.
2. A scan of your passport page. 200kb max.
3. A scan of your VISA page and immigration stamp. 200kb max.
4. Your undertaking letter from work. 200kb max
5. Your contact letter from work. 200kb max. Good luck if it's longer then 3 pages.
6. Your C form (more on that).
All of these documents are more fun if you don't have access to a scanner and have to rely on the front desk of the hotel to get scans. But then you need to teach them how to use it correctly to get 200kB. Meanwhile, those documents sent to you through work are too large. So what you do is output the PDF as a photo, drop it into word, compress it to lowest resolution image, save it, scale it to take up the whole page, and then output it back to a PDF. If that didn't compress enough, just do it again. Oh and if it's 2 pages, split it up. Its lot of fun! 200kb is your friend. Everything should be 200kb.
Lastly, the C form. So, a C form is a document that any building housing a foreigner has to supply to the police. Ex: your hotel. You may not even notice it but as a foreigner visiting India, any hotel you stay at will be giving it to the police. If you stay at a friends house, within 24 hours they will need to supply a C form to the police. If you come visit us? Yup, we'll be doing a C form on you. So, the hotel made our C form and sent it to the police, then gave us a copy to bring along with us. And again, 200kb. Upload it and be happy, as now you can hit "submit", select an appointment date and print out your form which you completed initially. Now you're ready for the physical part of the work. The visit to the FRRO. Luckily in this case, Stephanie and I had the aid of an awesome HR person from my new assignment. In hindsight, the task of the FRRO has to be nigh impossible without help.
Fun fact: there's this awkward low level door through which all the foreigners must pass to get into the FRRO. And your Indian help cannot enter with you. They have a different access point. As you come in, there's a daunting pair of Indian police asking you to sign in. One guys got a cane. He's slapping it on the table. The other is a lady. A LARGE lady. Sign, get moving. Metal detectors (which is ok, they're everywhere here). And then you see it.
It's like a mix of the DMV, the body odor of a local French train station in full blown summer, a UN general assembly, and state of the art technology from 1998. Except crank up the quantity of people, the confusing chaos and the body odor to the MAX and refry it twice over. Got a mental image? You're getting there. Keep going. Add in gold chains and primed mustaches. A dash of aviator sunglasses. Indian versions of CHIPS. Bring water but don't drink any before going. We never saw the bathrooms, hope we never do. After about 2 and a half hours of actually watching our HR help move through a hornets nest with no real rhyme or reason, we thought we were ready to get out of there. Not so fast, system crash. Sorry, they need to reboot. 15 minutes. Yeah, no not working yet. 15 more and another reboot. Get up and go over here to look at this person in a uniform and give them our passport. Go back and stand. Come back. System almost ready CRASH. Wait some more. Ok you're almost done. Oh wait your copy of your passport VISA page does not have a the immigration stamp on it. Wait here for 30 minutes while on the fly the HR help finds a copier somewhere in the city. She's back! Scanning the final documents.
It's complete. Please come back in several days when your document is complete and ready for pickup.
All in all, Stephanie and I had a good laugh with it. People made it out to be a lot worse then it was. Maybe it was from our experience at the DMVs of PA and NJ? Maybe its that we're realists? Who knows. But I know our VISA and FRRO renewals are going to be fun.
This is going to be a yearly affair!
Its the day of the flight and the excitement is building. In a few short hours we will hand over 20+ hours of our and Stella's time and in return we will be whisked away to the other side of the earth. Needless to say, it is the most stressful flight I have ever taken. We have at least 100+ pounds of personal items to bring over, a dog and we are relocating with non-visitor employment VISAs. We will spend a long time in line. We will end up potentially arguing. But somehow, I know it is all going to work out.
But the main point of this post is a blog-high-five to my most excellent and truly special coworkers I've had the pleasure of knowing for the past 6 years. Some I have only gotten to know in the past year, others have stuck around like a cozy sweater. Some have gone to other locations in the US or worldwide. But all of them have given me an appreciation for the luck I have in life and the good will of people, sometimes restoring my faith in humanity and other times simply wrenching my frown into a smile. I will miss air guitars to Jon Bon Jovi, faking dirty Italian-American accents in the lab at 6:30PM on a Friday, discussing designs for pulsejets in the hallway, Asian Bistro lunches, Phodown Fridays, ruff-n-tumble soccer games and many many other special moments. I don't say it lightly: The people I worked with in Princeton were absolutely hands down amazing.
Now, before I provoke any kind of sob-binge let me inject some hilarity. I worked on a project called ORCA. Yes, just like the killer whale. And in a sort of haphazard way, I was actually the person who came up with the name. I also used to wear a knitted rabbit hat in the winter which everyone loved. Unfortunately I lost it. My most excellent coworkers could not pass up the chance to get me the most amazing hat I could ever have. I present to you (drumroll): Hat ORCA (or ORCA-H)
I will keep this blog updated as time goes on. For family, for friends and of course for those coworkers in Princeton. I thank you all for your time and friendship, and I can't WAIT to come back to visit and get a solid game of soccer in!
It really is amazing how quickly time passes when you’re having fun (or you’re just overwhelmingly busy). It feels as if just the other day I remember realizing that our Christmas vacation was right around the corner, and now all of our stuff is packed and we are staying at a hotel. It’s a bit of an odd feeling; it’s almost as if I am a tourist in my own town. And with us down to only one car, it requires me to get dropped off by the Marriott van which is really awkward when the driver talks to you to tell you what to do in the area...
The move date is booked, 28th of January. We had planned on the 21st but unfortunately my current project is so demanding I was pushed back a week further. Not that I think that helps them at all, since now I know I can take my two personal days so all they really get is 4 more days of my time. Then again, it is not entirely the end of the world but it does require us to stick around living out of a hotel for a week further here in the US. And with no access to our main stuff (all is packed and out of the gold ol’ Lawrence apartment) it makes you feel like you’re on a super mega extended business trip, but without any of the large over-the-top “expensable” meals. But an extra week does have its perks. Being able to have a couple more days with family and my friends is pretty awesome. The social calendar is nuts.
Packing was definitely an experience. There were countless items we weren’t allowed to bring: suggestive books, furs, my bow (huge loss!), a 2nd TV (apparently they think you’ll sell it). Some things we got rid of made me feel great as if shedding unneeded weight, but some items made me sad like some of my French comic books. But it has to be and I’m prepared to lose some to gain some. I expect to be able to get some really cool things we could only acquire in India. A fun tidbit here is that India basically only allows you to come in with 1 of any single electronic device per person. Thus, I’m in a bind since I have a company laptop and a personal laptop. I’ve requested a letter stating my work laptop is not personal hardware and thus should be excluded, but I can’t even begin to explain how awesome the quest to get that snazzy piece of paper is at work. To be sure that I have something that will remind me of home when the going gets tough, I actually put together a pretty comprehensive mini-painting set with some of my hobby stuff to work on. I know that when I want to be reclusive for a bit and the foreign culture overwhelms me… that little box is going to be KEY.
On a side note my big brother gave me a book for my birthday I have been reading called "Midnights Children", which (in a VASTLY simplified sense) is a story of a boy born on the Independence day of India (15 August, 1947) and gifted with special powers along with many others born at that special moment. It’s not an easy read for me because it’s very dense and descriptive and quite a bit disorganized, but it’s a wonderful book in regards to getting a feel for what India is like culturally, and a gloss over of some history. I find India growing in interest to me; find myself fascinated by its multilingual multi religious multi-cultural multitude. And this is before I even get there. Visiting historic locations is going to be great, and some fusion locations such as Pondicherry which is a post French colonial town in the East Coast.
Stephanie has written a fantastic summary of the gargantuan task of getting our adorable fluffy family member Stella into India, but I would just like to share the below photograph because it’s just too cute to pass up. It’s the labeling on Stella’s crate.
My excitement for this relocation is growing and we are only 16 days away. Having bought one way tickets for the first time in our lives there's no going back! I think the remaining time is going to pass very quickly. Very quickly indeed!
The best place to start my latest update is our recent trip to Pune for a seven day visit. The strategy behind the trip was that while I spend time getting to know the office (staff, vision, plan, etc), Stephanie could get to know the area and do some house searches.
After a 14.5 hour flight, we made it to Mumbai. The flight was as uneventful as 14.5 hours in a pressurized box can be, From there, we stayed overnight at the Hyatt Regency, and took a morning local flight (if barely taking off even qualifies) to Pune. Due to Health and Safety reasons, my company does not allow driving between Mumbai and Pune. And for good reason, it is obvious that at lower speeds the population can manage driving in a hectic symphony. But the minute there's dedicated lanes and a high speed limit, the accident rate skyrockets. And due to lack of safe vehicles, the collisions are frequently fatal.
The flight is so short you don't really get very much altitude, so you get to see all the region from bird's eye. And it's very pretty. The area is full of mountain ranges, lakes and streams, small villages and farming. I would have had some photos to show, but a downside to jet lag is being so tired you let your phone easily get stolen...
I'm going to take a moment here and point out that I'm going to be honest in my recollection of thoughts. Now that this groundwork has been set, I must say my first impressions of India were... mixed. Firstly, I have yet in life to see a place more dirty. I have been to both isolated areas and highly urban environments in China and Thailand but neither compared to the level of debris and trash I noticed in Mumbai and Pune. It's not everywhere but it is definitely prevalent. My second impression was the vast high energy of both cities, which I fell instantly in love with. There is a multitude of people all doing different things, cars swirling around bikes and mopeds on the road, discussions, haggling, hammering, honking, mesmerizing and energizing. It reminds me of my youth in New York City, the bustle of the buses and taxis driving all hours of the night. Except multiply that by a thousand. It's so much, such a sensory overload that you can lose yourself in it, you can easily blink and realize minutes have passed by. It really is something. I think I love it.
Lets get one thing clear: The food is phenomenal. Both Stephanie and I like it hot, and despite the local Maharashtran food being traditionally non-spicy we found several dishes we both loved. I had a semi-sweet and quite spicy Goan Seafood Curry with chunks of fish so tender they seemed to somehow stay solid in the thick sauce but melt the minute your tongue touched it. We ate at a restaurant called "BBQ Nation" which is essentially a mix of Fogo de Chao, Korean BBQ and all you can eat Indian Buffet, except it's cheaper than half of the price of the buffet. I got the instant feeling that it's going to be a go-to spot for me when I want a "Man-Meal". Unlimited grilled skewers of chicken, curry tofu, shrimps and more covered in all manner of spice with a quenching supply of Kingfisher Ultra at hand. Why thank you, yes... I'll be coming back!
Taking Rickshaws as a complete newcomer was quite daunting and incredibly fun. Stephanie and I took our first Rickshaw to the Westin to meet friends for brunch, and managed to haggle down the price of the ride to 100 rupee, or under $2.00 USD. We later discovered that the actual price (yes, there's meters they should be using) was more along the lines of 20-30, max. The ride was bumpy, oily, loud, smelly, jerky, exhilarating, and an overall great way to absorb the city. Stephanie and I loved it. Other rickshaw rides would prove both better, and way worse.
We managed to visit multiple properties and decided that if one was still available in January we would definitely take it. The shining pinnacle of the penthouse apartment was the full roof-garden. It must have easily been nearly 1000 sqft of open garden space with it's own Gazebo and separate stair access to the elevators. We both envisioned Stella prancing around our rooftop in the cool breeze.
A fun fact: The location of our office in Pune has a beautiful balcony which overlooks the most reknown prison in India (Yerawada Central Jail). Mahatma Gandi was imprisoned there. The surviving terrorist of the Mumbai attacks of 2011 was imprisoned, and later executed there. The female wing of the prison and the fields which they work is all visible from the balcony. Its a surreal experience. Coffee in hand you can see the women tending to tomato and eggplants while behind you in an air conditioned office coworkers discuss over 3D models the finer points of material selection for oil-well applications.
My first impressions are a mix, and are great. We like this country. I think we are going to have a great experience there.
I've since had a chance to speak to several groups and people at my company who will be key in the role I will have in Pune.
Talking with HR was a great chance to understand a bit better how the process will go in regards to visiting, finding housing and ensuring as smooth a transition as possible. The current plan is a mid/end October visit to Pune where Stephanie and I will have a chance to learn more about the area, determine housing options (and hopefully choose one) with the help of an agent, and eat some good food. Maybe super awesome food like THIS. Its going to be a whirlwind of activity, Stephanie has to fly to Florida after our return almost same day. And we fly in to Newark in the wee morning hours. I'm actually going to head back to work that day.
I also had a chance to talk to a future stakeholder of my work, who I've been told I would be working closely with. It was really an introduction in passing, as they were visiting my office for other reasons. They warmly welcomed me, and showed excitement to work with me and also excitement for Stephanie and I to join the "International Crowd". In true Geo-mobile fashion, they went on to explain that their family had caught the International bug over 10 years ago. Since, they've been all over the world including positions in India & Southeast Asia, Kazakhstan, Houston, Paris and more. And they have found that they have grown more in doing so. I hope that kind of enrichment translates to Stephanie and I (and Stella)!
The third person is my future boss. I had a chance to talk with the head-honcho for about three quarters of an hour about my future role in Pune, and it's going to be a very interesting job to say the least. Its a huge shift from what I current do (highly lab-oriented product development of completely new technology). Think the scientists from "Big Bang Theory" and you're close...
In my new role, I will be overseeing a group of mechanical engineers and designers who will act as an extension of resources in certain types of projects groups all around the world. Sounds managerial and flashy, but then again that's what I asked for as a next step! Am I going to become the boss like in Dilbert?
Jokes aside, a large part of the job is going to consist of bridging a divide. In changing the outlook of how people view working with Pune. I am going to have to market our team whilst delivering high quality work, and push to change the conception that sending more simplified mechanical tasks to India is not "outsourcing" but rather working with an extended workforce. People around the world call work sent to China or India for lower labor costs "outsourcing". And to a lot of companies employing contractors... it is. But at our company, the people in Pune are colleagues. They have the same culture, share the same trainings as other offices world-wide. Their management structure and quality systems are the same. They are willing and enthusiastic to travel to get to know projects and technology, learning the ins and outs to be able to be an extension of your project team in another country. If they are equally trained and very committed, I just need to learn how to market that resource. Can't be that hard?
So, this is my first entry into the blog and my first blog posting in quite some time. Well, at least since my blog on going to China. And how ironic considering this blog is dedicated to a life changing move to India, the other hot bed of foreign tech growth industry. So I guess I ought to put some basics out there to explain what I think I know so far about what I will be doing work wise. I foresee writing a lot about my learning the ins and outs of the new job. Might as well get my hands dirty.My new position will be a Project Manager, my very first management job. I believe the number of employees I will manage will be ten people or less. From the conversations I had with other workers there, the average seniority is 5 years or less. HR has told me the head count has doubled in 2 years. All of this is illustrating a young, vibrant and exploding workforce in my head. And I don't think I could luck out better for a first job in managing anyone. I can visualizing making a lot of good work friends.The type of work our group will be doing is mechanical aid to other company centers worldwide in specialized design. That means that I anticipate some odd-hours phone conferences from time to time. And potentially trips abroad such as the US, France, maybe even the UK. All in all, I think its going to be a very dynamic, difficult, rewarding and very busy job. Oh, and of course what is important to highlight is the timeline. We are looking at 2 to 3 years.I must say that I'm extremely excited about this career move for me within my company and within my life. I'm in a good mental mix of fear, anticipation, wonder and excitement. And we're still only 6 months out. I know the energy is only going to build the closer we get. Good thing I've been getting very active at the gym and biking lately!And that's just the work stuff. There's all the other hours of the day to spend with my beautiful wife and fluffy little white dog in a gorgeous country with no beef. And 3X the vacation time I had before. And 19 national holidays. Yes, I think this is going to be pretty amazing. Pretty amazing indeed.