Thursday, July 15, 2010

New Home, New York

I think Singapore has spoiled me.

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog for a Status Update: Have moved to the states and living in New York now.

Ok back to the story. We are all set to make a home in New York and have been spending the past few days soaking up the city.

If we had come straight from India, there is a chance that we would've admired many aspects of this city - the disciplined traffic, the subways, the clean streets, the Laundromats, the huge apartment blocks etc.

But coming from Singapore, we only find reasons to complain. Take the Subway for example. Number one complaint - they aren't clean enough. The stations are dirty and the tracks haven’t been cleaned in ages. The trains make this huge thundering noise we aren't used to and especially in the enclosed underground, it feels like the whole world is exploding. And what is with the elevators here? They are either absent from many stations or they take forever to travel from one level to another. When were they installed? 18th century?

And the trains themselves are supposed to be 'air conditioned' but all the air did was to make us sweat copiously! I think they forgot to turn the 'Summer' switch on and it's still stuck at 'Winter' position. How do those high powered career types who work in Manhattan manage to take this train and stay sweat-free?

Next on, the food. The first day here, we went for breakfast at a small diner. For a couple of omelets and orange juices (a small glass at that) we ended up paying about 25 bucks. Did we pick a wrong diner or is food that costly here? I was expecting about 10 dollars. To be fair, we did get toast and potatoes by the side and also the food in quantity was large. But still, it was a surprise that we had to fork out 25 bucks for breakfast!

Now that the complaints are outta the way, let’s go in for the good stuff. The streets of Manhattan - what a beautifully planned town this is! The perfect perpendiculars with the one diagonal streaking through. As the guide books say, it does make it easy to understand the layout of the town.

If you're a people-reader like me, you'll find greatest food for your interest - New York City has this eclectic mix of people of many races. At any place, you'll hear atleast four or five languages being spoken. And not just different languages, the English accents are a-plenty too!

Few unrelated things that struck me here were: One, the international brands that we were used to are now no longer international - they've become local! Two, I got to see in person what I have only hitherto read in PG Wodehouses, Mary Higgins Clarks, John Grishams and others.

So in all, my first impression of this city is a pot pourri of wonder, disgust and quiet happiness. And I’m all set to explore and experience more!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Fussbudget

At the Induction Day speech of my first job, the company's vice president introduced us to a new (to me) concept - Customer Delight. He defined it as a step above the usual Customer Satisfaction.
Rather than a satisfied customer, a delighted customer brings in more business - naturally.
But sadly, even customer satisfaction seems to be pretty hard to find these days!! Customer need not be the king, but they aren't dirt either. What follows is a list of incidents where not even the S of the satisfaction was reached.

Incident 1:
A popular textile showroom in Usman Road (we shall call it Pothys) . I was shopping with a friend, on a crowded day. She had just picked up some pants and was waiting in queue with about thirty other people for the use of three fitting rooms. I in turn was waiting for her some distance away and saw a sales lady next to me, standing idle. I smiled at her (I did!) and said "What a crowd! Maybe you can suggest adding some more fitting rooms to manage this" in what I thought was a friendly voice.
She shot an irritated look at me and spat out, "Aaan, the manager will be sitting downstairs. Go down and tell him. Hmph!". So saying she turned her head away and I felt that she stopped short of slapping!
Maybe she was already in a bad mood and thought of me as a nosy parker - even then did I deserve that reply?
This ensured that the portals of Pothys weren't spoiled by this nosy parker again.

Incident 2:
A popular photo studio in Nungambakkam (this we shall call Konica). Let me just say that no other shop had succeeded in making me as mad as this dear one! After the experience, in a fit of 'Hopping Mad'ness, true to the digital age I sent out a complaint EMail. Whatever I hoped for as a reply, it certainly wasn't this! I did not email you for the sales brochure, my lads!
[insert another indignant 'Well' here]

Incident 3:
A popular cruise ship (you know I'm going to say the name anyway) called the Super Star Virgo. It was my first cruise and I was all excited about it until we were actually on the ship. Well, trip details will come later but for now lets gossip.
There was a water slide which was accessed by a flight of stairs. I did not notice that we are not allowed to wear any chains and climbed all of the steps (which seemed about fifty) and prepared to slide down. The slide in-charge told me bluntly 'Stop. Can't go'.
I was confused and asked him why.
He pointed to my chain and said insolently 'Remove'.
'Oh am I not allowed to wear it? I'm sorry but its ok I'll take care'.
He shook his head and told me, 'Remove' in a harder tone.
I said, 'OK can you keep it for me? I'll come back and get it from you', so eager was I to slide down.
'No No. Go back down or put it in pocket', he said to me at a time I was wearing a swim suit (do they come with pockets?).
'Please? I don't have any pockets. Do you really want me to go all the way down there? Listen I'll take full responsibility for the chain, do let me go."
"Look. I give you one chance. You go back or get out".
That did it.
I was afterall a 'guest' (as the ship's brochures proudly called us) and common etiquette demands that you shouldn't be rude to your guests - even those who did not read the water slide rules.
Of course I complained to his supervisor and I imagined a beautiful scene would follow where His Insolency came and said "I apologise for being rude" and I sweetly told him, "Oh but I should've read the rules too. Let bygones be just that.".
Well, reality hit where no sweet scenes happened. Just one fuming 'guest' and a load of BS speaking supervisor were left.
The water slide looked too exciting that I forgot my pride and went and had a slide after I made sure that the same guy wasn't on duty. And I did remove my chain this time.

Just so that you, my reader, aren't left with a bad taste at the end of this post, I shall now recount an incident which was completely in contrast to the ones above.

Incident 4:
'The dot says its hot" - does this sound familiar? Its the promise of Pizza Hut at Singapore that they'll give a free pizza if the delivered pizza isn't hot. One pizza of ours wasn't hot and the dot did say so.
So, the next time I ordered a pizza, I told the girl that my last order wasn't hot and I had the box to prove so can I please have a free pizza too?
She forwarded me to her manager who told me that the rule is that if we get a non-hot pizza we were expected to immediately alert Pizza Hut of the fact. Telling them after a month and a half as in our case wasn't accepted.
That made sense, I said, but how can they expect me to alert them immediately when nowhere in the brochure or the box does it say so?
After some more talk back and forth of the same vein, she said that this one time they can bend the rules. And also that our free pizza was on our way along with the regular order.
I love you Pizza Hut!
Now there's an example of what the dude was talking about. Customer Delight? I should think so!!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Omana Penne

If you have reached this post looking for the song of this name - wrong destination dude! But read on, it's as (if not more) interesting. ;-)

Sometime back, I was at a queue to buy some tickets. The Indian guy at the counter presented me with two or three options. So I turned around and discussed with my friends which one to choose. My interchange with the counter guy was in English while with my friends I switched to Tamil. When I turned back to the counter, he smiled at me and said, "Oh, Tamila neenga? (Are you a Tamil?)".
I smiled back, "Amam (Yes)".
More smiles from his side, "Neenga Malayalee nu nenaichen (Thought you were a Malayalee)".
I was curious, "En? (Why?)".
An apolegetic smile from him, "No, you looked good that's why".
Wait. Do I take that as a compliment or an insult to the Tamil girls worldwide?
I, of course, was stung and told him off as politely as I could for being so presumptious!

Another day, another time, I was standing in yet another queue for airline check-in (Funny how these things always happen at queues). A lady stood behind me and I smiled at her, since we were to travel the same flight. She smiled back and asked after an instant, "Malayalee yaanu? (Are you a Malayalee?)"
I shook my head smilingly, "No".
She gave me a pitying smile (!) and turned away her head.
I could've told her that even though I may not be a Malayalee, I would still make a delightful travel companion. But, I didn't know how to say that in Malayalam.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Madrasi

In one of my evening strolls, I came across an elderly Punjabi lady doing her breathing exercises in the park. We struck up a conversation. Or rather, we began to strike up a conversation. In my side it was carried out in English and on her side, Hindi. After a few sentences, she asked me, "You don't know Hindi?". I replied with the usual, "Umm.. I can understand a little but cannot talk".
She frowned, shook her head disapprovingly and said, "This is bad. Madrasis speak only madrasi. Everyone must learn Hindi. It is the National Language no?". There are only few things that are as annoying as the sentence above. But then I checked myself. Why should I get upset just because she's an idiot?
So I explained to her about this whole new thing called Tamil and about how there's no such language called Madrasi. She nodded blankly - poor thing was denser than I thought!
She reiterated the need for every Indian to learn Hindi, citing her own example - about how she learnt Hindi in school along with Punjabi.
I told her, "Maybe we can follow Singapore's model in language education".
"Yea yea, Singapore is very good", she nodded her assent.
"Yes, even though Malay is the National Language, they learn English and their own mother tongue in school. Malay isn't a 'must learn' you know', I said.
'Oh', she said. She clearly didn't expect that. And changed the topic.

Speaking of Malay, its one of the interesting languages and also easy to understand a little if you know English. For one, it uses the English alphabets. And most of the words are derived from English, Tamil, Hindi etc. For example, consider the following - 'I went by tren to the nearby pasar. It was a long walk from the tren stesen so I took a teksi. On the road I saw many elektrik lights. I saw a farmasi shop and a telekommunikasi shop.'
No, I haven't misspelled. Its how they were spelt in Malay. Any trip to Malaysia is spiced up by trying to decipher the road signs and a finding a small joy when a word is understood. 'Must learn' or not, learning a new language is interesting, no?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

As the Eagle flies

Here I am!
I haven't disappeared, dear Reader. Ever since I shifted my job, from being a Software Engineer working 5 days a week to a mother working 24/7, its been kinda hard to fit in the blogging!
Usually a thought takes shape in my mind and before I can document it, my time is claimed by the little one. But, I have squeezed in the blogging (though it takes me about three days to write one post) because, I've missed it!!

In this post, I'm gonna take you with me to Langkawi. It is a touristy island in Malaysia, filled with beautiful beaches and plenty of rain forests (Note to self: Stop sounding like a tour brochure). Since we wanted to taste the best of both worlds, we booked two nights at a hotel inland amidst wooded areas and two nights in a hotel overlooking the bay.

There is a great beach in Langkawi, called Pantai Cenang. (Pantai = Beach in Malay). It has the most famous and crowded restaurants and night life in the island. That is to say, this is the only area which is alive after 10.00 pm. Of our four nights there, we had to head back here three nights for dinner! Talking of dinner, let me recommend you the Little Mexican at Pantai Cenang. Absolutely deliciously tasty mexican food!

Getting back to the things to do (rather, things we did) in Langkawi, renting a Toyota Vios we drove to Kampung Tok Senik resort. We lost our way and ended up taking a longer, and incidentally scenic, route to the resort. The resort was set in a Malay village style (hence the Kampung in the name). Beautiful wooden houses with wooden furnishings complete wioth creaking floorboards! After a lunch of half-baked potatoes and chicken (they had the gall to call it Madras Chicken Curry!) at the resort's restaurant, Warung Tok Mat, we headed to the Pantai Cenang which is known for the water sports it offers.

First I went Parasailing. This was the first time I was doing it all by myself. If you haven't done it yet, make time to get it done soon! Its one of the 1000 Things To Do Before You Die. The absolutely liberating feeling of being propelled by air, meeting the setting sun eye-to-eye, seeing the gray-blue sea waving at you below your feet instead of through the tiny oval of an airplane window, and getting to wave hullo to the passing airplane - beautiful beautiful feeling! After the parasailing, I also tried the Jet Skiing. It was pretty exhilarating to skim along the water in something other than a boat!

The next day we headed to the famous skybridge of Langkawi (See Billa or Don!) which is reached by a cable car. Beautiful views from up there, all mountains and sea and islands and such. Then we headed to another beach called the Tanjung Rhu from where we could charter a boat for island tour.

Since it was pretty late in the day, not many people were there and so we got a boat all for ourselves. The journey started through a mangrove forest (do you call it forest?). The boatman first stopped at a fish farm, where the fishes are grown(for food) in the sea water in small square encampments. Living in an island, visiting other islands, you can have one too many fishes to see. Fish and ocean life have begun to bore me!

So we moved quickly to the next activity - Eagle feeding. There are many bloggers out there who request the tourist to Langkawi to discourage the boatmen from this activity and I join their list.
Out boatman stopped the boat, dropped some food for the eagles in the water and then raised the motor a few times. About six or seven eagles came from nowhere and started swooping up and down grabbing the food - all for our entertainment! The argument against this activity is that the eagles lose their natural capacity to hunt and their dependency may endanger their lives.
Next he took us to a scary cave (it was dusk remember!) and said it was the Crocodile Cave. He must have seen me slowly freezing in fear for he said reassuringly, "No crocodiles now". Thank god for that!
Next stop was an even scarier cave called the Bat Cave. Here, we had to proceed on foot. The boatman conveniently moored his boat and asked us to go ahead on our own. Inside it was absolute darkness and all we were armed with was the boatman's flashlight. I shone it on the cave's ceiling and it was like I was in my worst nightmare, but awake. (Like Chandler said, I was even being charged for it!)
The ceiling was covered with about two hundred bats - and that's only at the patch of light. I kept shining the light here and there and saw the bats everywhere. I literally dragged Hubs out of the cave as fast as I could. The man actually wanted to linger and take a closer look!!
I ran and he walked to the boat and the boatman now took the sea route to the mainland (rather main island) instead of the backwater route we came by. On the way we saw many yachts moored in the water which the boatman explained to us belong to tourists who sail in to Langkawi from Australia, Europe etc. Apparently, they park here since the water is calmer rather than the main harbor.

We also visited the all famous Eagle Square of Langkawi - nothing but a huge statue of an eagle about to fly. A very typical tourist place. Enough said.

The next day we went to Durian Perangin - one of the accessible waterfalls of Langkawi. Maybe there hasn't been much rain, but this waterfall wasn't very impressive. We had to climb a whole lot of steps to reach the top of the waterfall and we had to stop half-way since climbing while carrying the tot was hard labor!
Next, we planned to go to the tallest mountain in Langkawi - Gunung Raya. We drove for about 15 km and almost reached the peak to be met with this!
So it was a U-Turn and back to the ground!

And that was the end of a much-needed relaxing vacation. Lets wave goodbye to the eagle land!
Oh, are you wondering why I call it Eagle land? Langkawi in Malay means Reddish-Brown Eagle.