Day 7

>Day 7: 26 February

What a start to the day. As usual got up at 5 and it was a city covered with snow that said Good Morning! It had snowed through the night and it was serene everywhere. The real problem started later. The bus service was badly hit. No buses were plying. I waited for it for around an hour. Ordered cab – and again waited. Finally, Binay had to drop me on his way to office. And it was just in time for the feedback session presentation scheduled at 9.30. Here we gave the presentation which was supposed to be a final drill for the grand competition next day. The judges gave us feedback on which we worked on for some time. In between we also found out time to have photo ops in the snow cover around the campus. Sreejith booked an appointment with Suzy – the faculty for communications and leadership programs at UW. She is a former theater actor and teaches presentation skills. She spent more than 2 hours with us – giving us tips, suggestions and hearing out our presentation – and helping it to completely revamp it.

One thing that Americans do is appreciate others really honestly and expressively – to the point it becomes embarrassing (may be we Indians are not good at giving or receiving appreciation)
We received a lot of this appreciation and hence confidence in ourselves. The presentation was significantly changed and practiced again and again and again to the point of being extremely meticulous. In fact, timings were taken on each slide, extra flab was cut wherever necessary and it resulted in lots of information being packed into the 10 minutes we had (the point was later appreciated by 1 of the judges in the preliminary rounds as well)

All this while we also made new friends – all from different countries from Ghana to Canada to Mexico – everywhere. The day ended with Raka and me running to his friends house in Redmond and getting his stuff over to Anu’s place so that we could leave easily for the airport next day. So it was 48 to Montlake, changing to 545 to Redmond. Back on 545 to MontLake and then 43 to Broadway. We are now adept at moving around in Seattle..

Day 6

>Day 6: 25th February

It was the start of the real thing – the competition. The whole process started with the orientation in the afternoon. Some forms were filled in, basic rules were set and we were given the Foster B School bags. 😉
It was followed by the first competition – The trade show. It was an interesting concept. All teams were given spaces in a big hall where they had to set up their posters and make elevator pitches – basically 1 – 2 minutes of pitch to potential investors who would come to them. There were 25 mock investors who were given $1000 and they had to divide that into 3 teams which they think that would give them the best returns. It was a long 2 hours. With all of the investors coming in each one of us kept on talking the same thing over and over- again and again. And it went on more than 2 minutes. There were questions from everyone which had to be handled up to the last detail. Ultimately it was an incredible session – a first experience which left us mentally and physically drained.

The trade show was followed by dinner where through a ice breaking session we interacted with some other teams. A practice round of presentations where we would get feedback as a preparation for the final thing was scheduled early next morning so despite the extreme mental exhaustion preparation had to be done for it and an hour’s session followed the dinner.
As I reached home an interesting weather was taking shape – it started to Snow!

Day 5

>Day 5: 24th February

It’s amazing how much you can experience in a day. It started with a visit to Microsoft. The most amazing experience there was the Future Home designed by techies at MS. It was futuristic – but not so futuristic. It was very easy to believe that such homes would be a reality in the next 5 – 10 years.
It used simple technology of RFID (in everything that there is at home) and light bulbs with smart chips (not at all an expensive option in near future). Just few examples of the usage – which we actually saw in the future home. You take out milk from the refrigerator and place it close to the mixer. Some recipes involving milk which will be used in a mixer will be displayed on the kitchen surface from an overhead intelligent bulb. If you chose a recipe which, say involves choco chips and the refrigerator doesn’t have it, the Home will announce that you are out of choco chips and cannot make that particular dish.
Further, what you have on your computer screen can be seen on the TV or the walls of the room. When we wanted to see where the planet Jupiter was w.r.t the sun, the whole room got converted to a planetarium showing Jupiter’s position. There is no need to paint the walls. You can have it re-designed as and when you like by just by announcing to the home that you need some kind of a setting. It will change the color on the wall, change the photographs on the electronic photo frames – basically you won’t feel it is the same room. It’s tough to describe the whole 1 hour experience in which we actually were in the future.

Microsoft Office: A slight Deja vu of Infosys
After this awesome experience, Binay, Anu and I went to the space needle. The 360 degree view of Seattle from the top of the 600 foot tower is breath taking. More than that it is fascinating to see how the Americans market it. Cameras were installed on the top and you could see the whole city standing at one place and moving the camera with a joystick. Interactive touch screens were installed to give information about the part of the city that you are viewing at a particular point. We got out of the air conditioned enclosure only for a few seconds and were blown away by the super chilly winds at that height.
The dinner was Pan Asian today and time to again learn something – using chopsticks. I learnt it quite quickly and went on eating for sometime using the sticks but it was tiring after some time. Such a fascinating day full of experiences is of course tiring and it was tough to think of anything else apart from the bed on reaching home.

Observation Deck of Space Needle

Day 4..

>Day 4: 23rd February

Duong showing us around the UW campus

The first official day of the GSEC week. And it was quite awesome. The day started early with leaving for the college early. It was a bright sunny day. Sreejith and I landed up in the Balmer Hall – a common room where we sat comfortably with our laptops and tried to access the net. There were few terminals where the net kept on disconnecting at frequent intervals. After working on the presentation for some time we moved for lunch and a tour of the UW with our student ambassador. Lunch was Mexican – Chicken Burrito. It is like a big Roti which has lots of things like rice, salads, chicken etc stuffed inside. Tough to eat the whole but I was hungry. Duong Dang, our student ambassador took us for a tour of the beautiful UW campus. The most fascinating was the Suzzallo Library. Tough to resist comparing your own library with the one here. But not tough for me as there was no comparison at all.

Suzzallo Library
It was a visit to Path – a company involved in global health by technological innovation. Met some other teams from different countries here. And it was quite amazing to sit around a table with from so many backgrounds and listening to them. The Pat h had some interesting innovations which it was trying to bring to the improve health in collaboration with different partners in the developing countries.
In the evening it was time to try another cuisine – Italian. And it was not the simple Pizza that we generally think of under the Italian category. Under Anu’s able guidance we had Bruschetta, Rivoli, Gnocchi, Tiramisu and Mussels – though now it is tough to remember which was which (Excuse me for any spelling mistakes I have done in these dish names). Damn I am getting more interested in trying out new cuisines. After dinner it was a ride to the east side of Seattle from where we could get a magnificent view of the city.

Amazing view of Seattle

Day 3

>Day 3: 22nd February, 2009
Day 3 belonged to Walmart. Woke up early at 6.30 AM (guess the jet lag is still not out). Sky Diving was cancelled today – it was the bad weather this time. Guess that is one thing that has to be there in the bucket list for some more time to come. Nevertheless, no regrets for that. The lunch was Mediterranean at Flowers – a place jointly owned by a European man and his Indian wife. The combo was well visible in the buffet.
Walmart as expected was huge. The main aim was to shop around a bit but it is a bad place to go when you don’t know what you have to buy. One gets lost in the massiveness. After struggling for a couple of hours we moved to an adjacent complex which was full of factory outlets of all possible brands. Some browsing around and after some coffee at Starbucks, it was decided to go to Redmond where Raka was putting up with his friends. Time for the 1st bus ride of Seattle. The one at NY was easier as it was more like a tourist bus with 3 main popular stops. This time around it was a local bus. Raka, the 2 day bus ride veteran was the guide. His friend’s place was like a typical bachelor house though more refined than the ones in India. We learnt Minimizer, a new card game – quite enjoyable I must say. The residential campus – just across Microsoft was quite similar to the Infy mysore campus. Or should I say Infy campuses are deeply inspired from MS. The return journey was independent of the veteran raka and after some struggle we were able to reach home – getting lost in the dark on the way.

1. There was a survey by Reader’s Digest that people in Mumbai are not courteous as compared to ones in US or Europe etc. Don’t know about other places but people here are definitely much much more courteous – especially in buses.

2. We threw away our bus tickets after completing one leg of the journey but the ticket here is valid for all journeys within 3 hours. On our way back, by chance we got into the same bus and the driver recognized us and updated us about this. He didn’t take any money and gave us new tickets for our 2nd leg of the journey.

Day 2

>Day 2: 21st February, 2009

Snoqualmie Falls

Well.. the jet lag effect had its say on the first morning in Seattle. After hitting the bed at 3AM, I remember watching the wrist watch at 6.30 AM last. And then as if something hit and it was deep slumber till Sreejith woke me up. It was 2PM and I had already said bye bye to plans of Sky diving on a bright sunny day.
Had breakfast errr.. lunch – a big chicken sandwich at Broadway. (Though they call something else a sandwich – what we normally know as hot dog kind of thing). Travelled to Snoqualmie Falls – a half hour ride South of Seattle. Did some hiking down to the waterfall there. Amid the nice chill. Then had coffee at Starbucks. One thing noticeable is the huge servings of quantity here – be it dinner, lunch or coffee. On the way back saw Anu’s hospital Virginia Mason – her working place to be precise and got to know the ultra modern processes and facilities available there. It was a trip downtown then. Seattle touches the pacific ocean so had a nice walk alongside it. We went to meet Anu & Vinay’s friends then. It was something like you see in HIMYM or friends – café below their flat. Someone sitting in a corner playing games on his mobile, others chit chatting and most of them with their laptops on coding, researching and having coffee. There are plenty of cafes in Seattle with a similar ambience. It was dinner time – Ethiopian this time. Nice food – with a similarity to Indian food. We had a big dosa kind of thing with Dal (2- 3 types), Paneer.. ok cheese etc around like a thali. And everyone gorging on it. Time to move to a sports bar – a huge complex with pool tables, TT tables, a huge video games section, Dance floor etc. You lose track of time in a place like this – after rounds of video games, pool and TT. That’s what pretty much ended the short day.

Breaking rules???

Insight: If everyone follows the traffic rules any place can look so good.
The laws are too many, well defined and well followed here. For example, you don’t cross the road wherever you like – only at a zebra crossing and only when the light is green for you. Imagine someone coming from Mumbai and told to follow these rules and regulations. No wonder it took me a couple of days to adjust to it.

Day 1. Part 2

>Day 1(20 Feb, 2009), Part 2: Seattle
This has to be the longest and the most eventful day of my life. The fact that I am writing it in 2 parts signifies that. Longest because we travelled through 3 time zones and every time moving backwards in the day and most eventful. Well.. does that need further explanation???
Anyways, so the flight to Seattle was uneventful – slept the whole time (It was night at that time in India). Anu and Vinay came to receive us at the airport as did Duong Dang, our student ambassador at GSEC. Sreejith and I came to Anu’s place while Duong dropped Raka and Ankit to his friend’s place in Redmond. With the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean, it was a scenic ride to the beautiful apartment. Minimal furniture and cosy environs with a three side window giving an amazing view of the lake and the city on the hill beyond. Actually this part is quite similar to the house we had in Shimla where there was a view of the whole of shimla from the drawing room. After freshening up, it was time to try some new cuisines. It was Thai on day 1 – a meal which looked quite healthy considering the high percentage of color green in the food. We dashed quickly from there to watch Delhi 6 (quite amazing – coming from India and watching a desi movie within hours of landing). The theater was much more amazing – one that is hard to find even in India. Sunil and Ruchi – friends of Anu and Vinay joined us. Once you enter the compound, it doesn’t feel like its US. All Indians around, no English, typical long lines in front of the ticket counter. Once inside, any feeling left of being in US also goes. There is no seat number assigned so sit where you get a seat – typical jugads (“yaar, 1 seat udhar ho jaa, hum 4 log saath mein hain”) in the making. The 9 PM show hadn’t started and began half hour late – letting the theater fill up. I won’t comment on the movie here. After the show, 6 of us moved to Broadway café for some late night coffee, ice cream etc. The day ended quite late with lots of mails, replies and some photo uploading.

Insight: Nice exhibition of customer service by continental airlines. They knew 4 of us were on a connecting flight and were served special Indian vegetarian food and it was free for us while rest of the passengers or ‘customers’ as continental call s them has to pay for meal. At Seattle too, our luggage was brought out separately and we didn’t have to wait at the conveyor.

US Trip Log


Day 1(20 Feb, 2009), Part 1: NY

Newark Airport :

At Times Square

Just a day has passed since we left Mumbai and already so much has happened that it’s tough to believe.

Things started at Mumbai itself where I left our poster (brought for a competition) at the immigration desk. Realized it later after having gone through all the security checks and had to go back, reversing all steps and finally retrieving it. After multiple security checks, we finally boarded the aircraft. Raka’s row was different so he boarded late and with that came another news that he gave the wrong boarding pass (the one meant for travel from Newark to Seattle) for the Mumbai – NY flight. With that settled after some time, started the 16 hour long journey. There were plenty of movies on board (which I was quite excited to see initially) but eventually landed up watching only 1 and rest of the time listening to music only. 16 hours passed easier than expected. All the time it was dark outside, so was good that I got an Aisle seat. It was a first time being in an aircraft with 3 columns of seats.

After more security checks and questioning at the immigration desk in Newark, we finally settled down for the 8 hour wait to the connecting flight to Seattle. It was while waiting that we met Manisha – an Indian settled in Columbia. She was also waiting for a connecting flight and suggested we go out to see NY as we had lots of time on our hands. Raka had already proposed it but the fear of unknown had led to turn us down. After a bit of reluctance initially everyone agreed – Manisha had been to NY so the resistance was considerably reduced. The trip turned out to be a chilly and memorable one. Gloves were the first thing bought to beat the cold. In record time Times Square, Grand Central Station, Wall Street, Statue of liberty (not upclose) were visited. Time spent at each place was minimal – due to cold and lack of time.

Managing to Hold on!!!

Some insights:

1. Desi help was readiliy available – from airports (all guidance about sight seeing in NY was in a Hindi/Gujrati mix) to buying gloves (maandwali to lower the prices in Hindi).

2. As we entered Grand Central station – one color that hit us was black. Everyone was wearing black – the preferred color of heavy over coats.

3. There was no clock at the airport. Surprising. Yes!!

4. There was no security at the front gate of the airport. Generally when you enter a airport in India, the policewala checks your ticket and then lets you enter. Nothing like that here. 

Writing this post @ Newark Airport






And Set Free……

Waterfall Rappelling

>It was one of the ‘To-Do Things’ in life. And after a day of ups and downs I was finally able to do it. The ‘thing’ is rappelling and it happened in a wonderfully awesome way – not like the ordinary rappelling which you do down a dry hill. This was off a cliff with water from an angry waterfall gushing on your side. Opening eyes was difficult and you couldn’t hear a thing.
Things actually started a lot earlier – at 4.15 AM when the alarm went off. The start of a incredible day was hard to believe too – well.. I took a bath in cold water at 4.30 AM when it was pouring heavily outside!! Anyways, we (4 guys) were at Dadar station by 5.30. And it was truly a surprise to witness a huge rush at 5.30 on a Sunday in the middle of the heavy downpour there. The train journey carried on to Kalwa (near Thane) where other groups joined in and we packed off in a bus to Kasara. Into the wilderness, we reached a small village (again like Malshej Ghat experience, there was no electricity in the village – this, for a place just 3 hours way from Mumbai). Thankfully there was a school (the only pakka building in the area). The rain was on its onslaught – for the whole day. And in a few minutes it was forgotten that something like rain did exist.
After the round of introductions and some photo sessions, we were taken down the 120 feet hill where the professionals were to give a demo of how to rappel down the rock. It was an unforgettable scene when we reached the bottom.

There it was – our huge waterfall, in full force, aided by the incessant rain. In fact, more than the rain, it was the water from the fall hitting us that was a problem. It was tough to open eyes and we had to talk in sign language. Things started to get bad here. Due to the heavy rain, the flow had increased and even the professionals were finding it tough to rappel down and cross the stream in front of the fall to reach the good end of the hill where they could climb back. The water flow was tremendously strong. Anyways, discussion took place. The event was almost called off. All had lunch. And then a final decision was to be taken. After some more discussion, it was decided to have some volunteers go in first and share their experiences with other, based on which they could decide, if they wished to risk their lives. Precautions were in place for the climb down but the problem was crossing the fast flowing stream in front of the fall and there were plenty of rocks there where you could bang your head. Another problem was the rope which was tied to cross the stream was a very strong and sharp one which could cut in your throat if not careful. Anyways, I obviously volunteered along with 5 others. 3 people, with prior experience went down initially. The rain had stopped for a while and the flow was lesser now but the rock was slippery as hell – the algae, not helping the cause. Tejinder went in next. He was the first first-timer (non experienced in rappelling). And unluckily he lost his balance and slipped while doing down. He hit the rock and got hurt. So had to be pulled back up. I was padded up to go in next. And it was an out of world experience for the next 10 minutes. Fully focused on keeping my legs straight and yet fully aware of the awesome beauty of the waterfall by my side, I made my way down. Next part was actually the tougher one – Crossing the stream. 2 times I got flown away by the pressure of stream – my legs moving downstream with the flow and my hands (and mind) holding on to the rope. Though there was a carabiner holding me to the rope but the fear of letting your hands go in a high-pressure situation is something which you don’t want to experience. So after a heady experience, it was some hard work keeping your feet on the ground. Within minutes which were like hours, I was on the other end, exhausted. A long climb up the hill from there and back to bus – it was time to change to something dry after 7 hours of being soaked.

Strange that it is .. we get sleepy in a 2 hour class even after a full night rest.. But the excursion for 22 straight hours was not tiring at the end of the day(except for a cramp here and there ;))

The only sad part was not much of photography could be done as the camera had to kept in due to the rain..

Irony amongst the greenery