a gathering place for the words, images and momentos of the world of adventures i've adventured, the stories i've wandered through. curriculum bella vita...a resume, of sorts, of the good life.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Delightful Delhi

Flight from Hyderabad to Delhi – 2 hours, costs ~$200 roundtrip

First impression: “Wow, this place is civilized.”

Purpose: Two days of training and consultations at the embassy, both made much more useful with a few weeks on the job under my belt. Pretty amazing to see the differences in lifestyle between a work-in-progress micro-consulate versus one of America’s largest embassies, home to a thousand American staffers and a sprawling compound complete with baseball diamond, well-stocked commissary, clinic and...yes...hamburgers.


Marvelous. Andrew and I stayed until Sunday to enjoy the capital. After our time in the diplomatic enclave, we stayed in Connaught Circus. It’s a nice centrally located commercial hub. A place, unlike Hyderabad, where it’s easy to enjoy Mexican food and share a dinner table with a gaggle of Germans working here in the publishing industry. Even the bars were better, thanks in part to Asian lady karaoke, even if Andrew was drinking illegally thanks to Delhi’s 25 year old drinking age!

We chose to travel mostly by Delhi’s moder metro, which borders pretty close to phenomenal! Most often it’s ridiculously crowded, but that’s half the fun. Trains come very often, fare is cheap. The first car of each train is reserved for women only. We were a bit jealous of the much more comfortable-looking “lady trains.”

India Gate
Rastrapati Bhavan
New Delhi train station *
Connaught Place
Chadni Chowk
Red Fort
Old City of Shahjahanabad
Jama Masjid
Qut’b Minar
Archeological Area

* Not actually a tourist destination. Avoid.

We didn’t get to see everything we wanted to see in one day, but two days would be plenty to add Humayan’s Tomb and a few other noteables to your list before moving on to the rest of the Golden Triangle.

DO NOT stay at Jukaso Hotel. Nice location, but a little pricey for what you get and they arrange sketchy taxi cabs.

DO NOT walk from the Qut’b Minar metro stop to the Qut’b Minar. It’s asking for confusion. Take an autorickshaw, it should be 40 rupees or less. But if you feel like stroll on the way back and have a map, take the time to walk through the Mehrauli Archeological Park. It’s not as compact as the Qut’b Minar Complex, but has just as many lesser-visited treasures.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Squiggles on Reverse

it's like i have a normal career.

except the back of my business card is a bunch of squiggles.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Republic Day with the Kids

I’m not beyond making friends on the internet. Usually, in fact, it’s worked out pretty well in the past, and no reason to think it’d be any different in a booming high-tech city with a huge population of young professionals working for all sorts of MNCs.

First step? Joining two local “meet-up” groups. One linking up folks interested in adventure, the other sports.

Last weekend, I autorickshawed to the lakeside Sanjeeviah Park for a pick-up ultimate frisbee game. Nine guys and a gal with a pretty wide range of ultimate experience – stretching from too worried about defensive strategic alignments versus never thrown a Frisbee before. In the combination of the two, a great morning of frisbee.

And today? Republic Day in India.

A holiday to celebrate the world’s largest democracy. And it’s longest constitution. At the moment, a whopping 395 articles and already 94 amendments only 61 years into the experimet.

The adventure group had a few activities lined up for the mid-week holiday, but only one really caught my eye. Hanging out with orphaned schoolchildren at a local deer park?

Yes, please.

The adult half of the meet-up gathered just outside the gate of a local women’s college. (My first monkey sighting in India was a cute little troop scampering atop the masonry wall guarding the college.) Most people didn’t know too many people there, small pockets introduced themselves. It was nice to see a familiar face from ultimate frisbee.

A Microsoft programmer here, an Infosys business analyst there. BEP folks, in our consular slang, as they come from the types of companies that have strong reputations and can get a spot in our Business Executive Program for easier visa processing.

English is the default link language for young professionals in a place like Hyderabad. Some people are from here, others from up north or different parts of the south. Most were educated in English-medium schools and it’s obviously the lingua franca in the international hi-tech offices.

We bussed to the orphanage, a modest house-sized concrete building in a residential neighborhood. (Aadarana.) A colorful awning covering the bare roof, offering the biggest open indoor space. With curious eyes, uniformed boys shyly offered their hands. Curiosity doubled to wonder as I offered a “Namaskaramu! Na peru Jeremy. Mee peru emi?”

One of the hardest parts about starting to understand a new culture, I’ve found, is learning about names. In Hungary, I can remember how baffled my ears were by the Zsofi’s and Gyongyi’s of the world, let alone adding surnames into the mix, too. Same now in India, I don’t know what names to expect, and can’t always here what they’re trying to say. The only solution? A spare pen in my pocket and the canvas of my palm. A growing list of names and initials.

Free of a set plan or agenda, a plopped down on the floor amid a sea of brown eyes and black hair. I spread out a state highway map, a favored hobby in Hungary, and a crowd of brown hands poked at the innards of Eau Claire and Ashwaubenon as I explained in a blend of three languages a little about my little corner of America. Five minutes later we switched, they told me more about themselves, in an easy blend of three languages. I had to work hard to keep the German and Hungarian out.

After an hour, the official program began. The partner girl’s orphanage arrived in a variety of colored uniforms, one per grade. Then the orphanage’s benefactor arrived. He raised the ceremonial tricolor, high aloft portraits of Gandhi, Nehru and Dr. Ambedkar, to a rowdy anthem. The next minute, he asked each of the children what they wanted to be when they grew up. First the boys. Software engineer, doctor and cricketeer were the leading responses. Then, my favorite part, the girls, too. Doctor and teacher were most common. All to applause from 50 young adult adventurers. I smiled a lot.

We loaded back onto the buses, this time with 50 extra little sets of smiles, headed outside the city limits to the deer park. The facility itself was a little anticlimactic, and hardly deserving of the national park label on the ticket window. A little safari bus rumbles down a dusty dirt path with occasional glimpses of deer and peacocks in a savannah-like natural environment. A five-minute loop dumps you back outside the animal fence.

Better, of course, was fun with kids. Small circles eventually evolved into a big game of duck-duck-goose, although they used none of those words. If caught, you had to do a dance or sing a song in the middle. I know this may be hard to believe, but I strongly believe I was racial profiled, which led directly to the center stage.

I only had to think for a moment. It was chicken dance time. “I will teach an American dance,” I proclaimed in Telugu to cheers. I might have described the specifics, though, in English. A minute later, a hundred first-timers were snapping their beaks, flapping their wings, wiggling their butts and clapping their hands. While getting faster each round, of course.

It proved so popular I had to break out the Hokey Pokey ten minutes later, so these kids are set for their first American wedding...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

First Visitor Visa

First visitor visa confirmed!! ETA, Aprilish!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Settling In

The more I’m here, and the more I see, the more I’m convinced that I’ve found myself in a fabulous place. With each corner of the city that we see for the first time, my definition of Hyderabad expands from the busy, crowded, noisy pseudo-Westernized concrete commercial conglomerate – supposedly, of course, the best part of town – to a more holistic and far more interesting sum of so many parts. Egeszsegedre to that.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Big Box Day

The day's arrived, a glorious day!

250 lbs of typewriters, toilet paper, ties, (now already-blown-out) computer speakers, tennis and camping gear, two yeas of contact solution have arrived.

And, of course, a winter coat.

And in side the pocket of that winter coat?

One cell phone. Slow-boated to India instead of connecting with friends on my last days in America. Awesome.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mom Makes a Friend

Eleven exclamation points at 6:06 am...that's a whole lotta excitement!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Volley for Serve

One of the first ways I wanted to settle into living in Hyderabad was to find a tennis court to continue the heated Andrew-Jeremy tennis rivalry. It’s not as easy as walking three blocks toward Rock Creek park, though. You can’t take privileged public amenities like parks and tennis courts for granted in these parts, so we set out to find a suitable privately-owned place to play.

And here’s where I confess that I expected my diplomatic standing and, frankly, skin color, was going to open doors. “Of course, sir!” I expected to hear as gates were bring swung wide open for us. “Come play tennis on our court. We’d be honored to have a ghora come join us!”

I started the research on the phone. Cold called the most prestigious country club in town.

“Hello, my name is Jeremy. I’m an American diplomat and will live in Hyderabad for two years. Is it possible to arrange for a tour of your facilities?”

A grainy voice back. “No, sir. We are for members only.”

“Yes, of course. I understand. But I would like to see your facility to see if I would like to become a member.”

Adament. “No, sir. Members only.”

After getting the same answer at the second most prestigious club in the city, we decided to take our search to the streets. A scribbled pad of internet suggestions on places to play tennis in the city and a driver with a good sense of directions.

The first place, four courts scratched into clay/dirt, was closed. We learned from a local that it always is on Saturdays. Vaguely promising on another day.

Second, across the street, the Jubilee Hills International Club. We marched up to the reception desk, trying to look as international as possible. “Can we tour the facilities?” Same schpiel, members only. Membership costs? Ten-times what the website quoted. Ouch. Fine, we’ll just take our international selves elsewhere.

Stop three? The Tollywood Screen Actor’s Guild’s recreation center. Couldn’t talk our way into the membership rolls, actors and actresses by invitation only.

Fourth? I kid you not, a residential enclave called “Income Tax Colony.” The signs did not seem to welcome us.

Fifth, two courts scratched behind a local college’s recreation hall. Again, closed. Somewhat less than promising.

Sixth? Finally, our new tennis home. Six beautiful hard surface practice courts next to the 4,000 seat centre court at Lal Bahadur Stadium, formerly home to the Hyderabad Open.

Established by the Andhra Pradesh Sports Authority many years ago, formerly a hostel to train India’s promising young talent. A bit dilapidated in its stately ambition, not unlike much of the sporting infrastructure I remember from Hungary.

After a few minutes of wandering, we found someone. Not just anyone, but assistant coach “Johnny.” Friendly, even if he didn’t look the role of a tennis affectionado. We worked out the rental fee with him: 140 rupees an hour, three dollars. If we wanted to come back and play at night, though, he warned us, it’s an extra 17 rupees.

Per lightbulb...

(For the record, first match ended a tie. Andrew won the first set 6-0 as I warmed up – apparently -- to India and a borrowed racket. I got my act together to win the second set 7-5.)

Friday, January 14, 2011

What is hardship?

Even once you settle into the odd rhythm of honks and horns, it takes more than a week to feel comfortable in India.

In short, it’s just that there are more hardships to life here – even when you’re living an incredibly privileged life. State’s will to put a percentage on that reality: Baghdad, for example, is 35% hardship, Hyderabad is a 25%.

We take a whole lot of comfort for granted in America. But here, you can’t rely on those amenities that we don’t even have to think about back home. The power goes out once, twice, thrice, sometimes more a day. Unlike many folks here, I’m lucky enough to have a backup generator that kicks in to power a light and a fan in each room.

When I come across a problem, one week in, it’s hard to know what’s in my control. What problems can I fix by myself? What problems can I get fixed? What are things I just have to shrug off as beyond control? An example, the other night I cursed a steady beeping as I was trying to fall asleep. I figured someone in a neighboring apartment had left an alarm on while they were away from home. I bemoaned the fact that there was nothing I could do about it as I woke up several times in the middle of the night. By the time I was ready to roll out of bed, the beeping was really bugging me. But as my feet hit the marble, I realized the noise was slightly louder. I looked at the landline phone next to my bed. Sure enough, the beeping was coming from inside the phone. Not quite an off-the-hook alarm, but something similar, solved by resetting the handset back on the phone. A good reminder many things are under my control. Hours of trying to figure out a router for wireless connection though? All for naught after a Monday morning “oh yeah, they were replacing a cable this weekend.”

Solving a problem, or even getting something routine done, always seems to take twice as many steps as you would imagine. But at least I haven’t had to pay any bribes yet...

In a similar sense, the soon-to-depart-ers have show us some fantastic restaurants, cafes, etc. Amazing little joints that would fit in anywhere in America or Europe. The problem is that from the outside, even the great places are less than impressive. Facades are invariably dilapidated. The same trash litters the fronts of fruit markets, paan shops and first-class spots alike. A bit like Hungary, inside the fence meticulous, with nary a concern for what’s just outside it. I figure we’ll get good at it, but at the moment, its often easy to forget that each ramshackle street has lots of hidden gems waiting to be discovered.

Luckily, discovering is half the fun.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

When To Come

The moral of the story is visit between january and march or between october and december. Thanks wikipedia.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Weather or Not

Double ha!

I've landed in the midst of what must be the ideal month for weather in Hyderabad, a city that has a pretty favorable reputation as far as Indian cities go.

Every day, highs of 85 degrees and sunny skies. There's a bit of haze/smog that takes a while to burn off every day, even if the smell of smoke usually lingers all day, but it only makes for more aglow sunrises. The low temperature each night? Mid-50s. In short, it's glorious.

Alas, it's a bit chilly for my Indian friends. The Times of India went so far as to call it "bone chilling." So much so...I kid you not...that a good percentage of them wear earmuffs every morning and night. Camouflage, of course.

But to put it into perspective, if possible, keep in mind that Hyderabad as NEVER IN RECORDED HUMAN HISTORY seen freezing temperatures. Touche.

Monday, January 10, 2011

First Friend

On the first pass, I offered a nod and a “Namaskaramu.” He volleyed back a soft hello.

A few minutes later, we passed each other again. It’s not all that surprising, seeing as we were walking in opposite directions on the .5 km path around the still – or stagnant, your choice – pond in the local park. Jalagam Vengala Rao Park, a monthly pass costs 45 rupees. $1. Wherever I wander, I find at least one park that makes me feel content, and I think two-days into Hyderabad, I’ve already found that spot, a few blocks north of my apartment...even though it requires two death-defying road crossings.

That second time we walked past one another, he said “You are walking very slowly.” In English. I knew I’d found a friend.

Five years ago, it was Zsofi. She has a special place in my heart. And she always will, even though I’ve only every met her three times. She was my first friend in Heves. The first of many, it would turn out, but for a moment she was the first and only.

I couldn’t understand her name when I met Zsofi at the pencil store, I wasn’t accustomed yet to Hungary or to Hungarians and their names. And it’s to same right now in India, that same exciting sense of wonderous knownothingness. I don’t know my new friend’s name – I took to calling him Shri Rao – because my ears are still new to India.

I changed my direction and we walked for half an hour before sitting on a bench for half an hour. Then he invited me to his home, close by, for coffee. I thought about declining, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to keep talking Telugu/English to my first Andhra friend. So I joined him.

I kicked my shoes off at the door, just past the rangoli his wife or daughter-in-law had etched on concrete with lines of flour. I smiled. It took me seven months to be invited into a Hungarian’s home in little Heves. Here I was, my second morning in bit ole Hyderabad, invited into an Indian’s home.

It was just the second time in my life – both pleasantries with foreigners – that I’ve choked down a cup of coffee. It was far tastier to savor an indigenous friend. We talked about his family. We flipped through Telugu political cartoons from a week’s worth of newspapers. He demanded I eat breakfast with him, upma. So I did, even though I had brunch planned with G&A.

After another hour, I was finally able to extract myself from his friendliness. I promised repeatedly that I would see him again in the park someday soon, then skipped away with a smile.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The 19th of 41 Places to Go in 2011

Thanks for the shout-out, NYTimes! Fusion9's half a block to the south...and you don't even need to frogger a street to get there!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Hello from Hyderabad


Try and put into words the first few impressions of India?


Far more talented men and women of all creeds and colors in all ages that visitors have come to India have tried to do just the same.

And I feel like I’ve read half their stories in the past 13 years, fascinated with India since a long-ago high school class demanded I play the role of the world’s largest democracy.

But all those books, and any other books you could ever read – and even all the movies you could every watch – nothing short of years in the developing world could prepare you for the first blast of India.

It’s not the airport. Delhi’s is nice and new. No different the Europe. Hyderabad’s, too, is state of the art. But the real India lies out the door.

A soon-to-be leaving officer picked me up at the airport bright and early Friday morning. Just as English Peter had done six years earlier, she shared a long list of goods and bads and an answer to every question I could muster. I couldn’t help but interrupt her monologue with a long series of “Oh wow. That’s the first (insert your favorite Indian stereotype here) I’ve ever seen in my life!”

I wasn’t fully expecting a full blast of culture shock. I thought maybe I’d studied it long enough that I wouldn’t be intimidated to see autorickshaws swerving to dodging cows and aunties alike; three-limbed beggars stooped right next to the gates of five-star hotels; tangles of low-clearance electrical wires strung between long lines of homes/offices/everythings caught somewhere between dilapidating and potential.

The result’s a whirlwind. One I’ll gladly admit that I don’t understand a bit yet. But I suppose that’s half the fun. Two years to learn and grow. To make sense of Hinduism alongside Islam. Palaces and slums. Outsourcing and scam-artists. Villages and metropolises. A live of privilege and a commitment to a greater good. My merry brand of hedonism in a traditional society. Etcetera. Should be fun. Hope it proves good writing. And reading.