US Diaries 2017 – Note #1

Note #1: Why we cannot use a mug in the loo? What’s interesting about walking in the roads in US?
With the advise from experts and experienced people, we realised that it is not a good idea to use water while going to the toilet mainly because the toilet floor doesn’t have a sink from where the water can go out. Water logging can invite leakage and bathroom becoming dirty. So we figured out our own ingenious ways of doing ‘things’ in the loo. This might sound little gross to some of you, but I just couldn’t help writing it because it was a part of our experience.

For lunch on 22nd June, we went to a Lebanese restaurant – Mamoun’s Falafel Restaurant Princeton, Nj, which was 1.4 miles away. This was our first experience of going to a place walking. There were a lot of trees (almost looking like a forest) on both sides of the roads. There’s a small rivulet/lake flowing in the neighbourhood which is why our lane was called Lake Lane. We walked past the rivulet and entered wider roads where there were signals. Very soon we realised that walking on roads in US is so different from walking in India. We were at a zebra crossing and we saw two cars coming from either side. We stopped there. The cars also stopped. We looked at both cars and they weren’t going ahead even though there were no vehicles coming from any other side of the cross road. It was after some time that we realised that the cars were waiting for us to cross the road. We giggled and crossed the road. It also happened many a times that we would see no cars on the road and be tempted to cross the only (that would be an instant reaction) only to realise that it is not a good idea here to cross the road at places where there are no crossings. It also took some time for us to understand how the traffic signals for pedestrians work. It might sound silly, but we got a royal feeling to see all the cars waiting for us to cross the road. 

We walked on the pedestrian walking gazing at all the cars that went by (as a typical new comer to the country), looking at all the beautiful houses, squirrels and birds that played on the trees on the edge of the roads. There was very less cars on the roads, probably because it was the afternoon. The cars parked on the side were parked very meticulously. The pedestrians seemed to gain some respect and priority while walking. The cars would pause if they feel that you are going to cross. For a minute I felt that why is not seen in India? One reason could be that the population density is very high in India and if the cars would pause for every pedestrian  to cross, then there would probably be a traffic jam. Another reason that I felt is that people discipline in life is something that is we need to work upon in India. This is not to compare US and India. That would be foolish because it would like comparing apples and oranges. But if we see someone, some culture or some country following some good qualities, it is definitely good to aspire for them so that we can improvise on our weaknesses.
Anyways, we enjoyed our walk to Mamoun’s. The menu card was like Latin and Greek for the boys because it was a Lebanese restaurant. As I have had Lebanese food in the past, I knew three items – Tabouli, Humus and Falafel. We ordered those three items and a few other items. The staff at the restaurant seemed to me like undergraduate students who were probably staying back in summer. All of them were very kind, loving and always greeted the customers with a smile. We placed our order, and served ourselves. After eating, one is supposed to clear the stuff on the table into the waste bin. This is one more thing that I liked in this culture. In India, we see so many people ordering waiters as if they are their servants. And even waiters and hoteliers serving as if they are fed up of customers. Many times we see there is hardly any love for work that they are doing. 

We finished our sumptuous lunch as we gulped down some juices and started walking back to our apartment. On the way, we stopped at a fountain under which many kids were playing in water. The water under the fountain was ankle deep and the fountain stood within a boundary of a big rectangular pool which had this ankle deep water. On one side of it was statues of 12 animal heads that appear in Chinese astrology. We sat next to it doing nothing and watching the kids play in the water. The quietude of the campus is also something very mesmerising. We just sat there in peace and walked back to our apartment. 

When we came back, we had walked 2.8 miles and were very sleepy as we barely slept in the flight. We did not realise that it was the jet lag that was pulling us down. All of us hit the bed around 2:30 pm and thought of taking a nap. Only Ojas woke up after two hours and tried waking all of us around 9 pm. But nobody was interested to wake up. He ate some food and went back to bed at 10 pm. 

After some time, at around 11:45 pm, I woke up with a splitting headache. The sleep was lost the time shocked me. I was also partly hungry but didn’t feel like eating. So I had a chocolate and checked my whatsapp messages and emails for about two hours and forced myself back to bed. Morning woke me up at 3:30 and I could see Sundar and Aadityan waking up in the next hour. We were all set for a brand new day to explore. But first, we had to eat something. And for that, the cooking range had to be explored. The question was – who would bell the cat? The only person qualified to get into the kitchen was Ojas and he was sleeping. 

I dared to get into the kitchen and had a look at the cooking range the way in which a lay man would wonder which switch to press if he would get a chance to sit in the aeroplane’s cockpit. There was a strong calling for tea. So I went ahead to explore. 

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US Diaries 2017 – Note #0

This thread is about my experiences during my stay in US during the summer of 2017

Note #0: 22nd June 2017

The excitement was on since January 2017 when three of our students (Aadityan, Ojas and Sundarraman) got selected for a 5-week summer program called PACT (Program for Algorithmic and Combinatorial Thinking) to be held in June-July in Princeton. Luckily for me, I also got an opportunity to attend the course as a student. 

Finally the day had arrived and we all met at Mumbai airport to leave for Newark (NYC). The Air India flight was a direct one and very comfortable. It was my first long haul flight but it didn’t seem boring as usually people tell about long haul flights. I managed to do some work, get a wink for a couple of hours and watch a movie. At a couple of instances we managed to get some good views of Greenland while we were flying above it. It was a series of mountains covered with ice and water bodies flowing through them. It was a very beautiful sight to watch. The boys also enjoyed the flight. It was a first time flying experience for one of them and he enjoyed it pretty much.

We landed at Newark safely on time with a lot of pending sleep. The immigration went on well. The cops (except for one) had lost their smile. So was the case with most other staff at the airport. But as we came out and met some cab drivers and ground travel staff, they were very kind and helpful. We tried to check if our luggage would fit into a yellow cab (even though it seemed difficult) and the cab driver helped us with all our heavy luggage and also to take it out when he realised that it won’t fit. There was a Gujarati airport staff, Hitesh, who helped us call a min van (something like an Innova car in India). It was a flat rate from Newark to Princeton (about 40 miles) at $96 dollars + luggage + toll + a small tip cost us $ 120. Aadityan was carrying a US SIM from India which didn’t work when we landed but started working once we got into our apartment. So we had to use the cell of our taxi driver to call up a student who was supposed to be in our apartment (where we were supposed to stay) as he had got the keys from the house owner. 

The delight for the boys’ eyes was the variety of cars that they got to watch on the way to Princeton. All the cars that they dream to see in India, like Porche, Limo, Bentley, they got to see all of them. I was busy taking pictures of these cars to send them to my son who loves cars.

Soon we reached our apartment. We knew that it was a Princeton faculty’s house and a 4 BHK one. So we knew that it would be big. But we didn’t imagine this big. It was a two-storied one with a big store and some space at the basement, a big front room with a dining table on the first floor. The first floor also had the kitchen and an office room. Since the owners have small kids, we could see a lot of fur toys and books and baby stuff. The second floor had four bedrooms. The wooden floors made some noise as we walked, but I loved it more than the concrete floors that we usually have in modern houses. 

We settled down in our rooms. We decided to have a quick shower and go to a Lebanese restaurant that was 1.4 miles away for lunch. But what we didn’t expect that (which I think all Indians who are first timers in US also face) is to see the absence of buckets, mugs, taps and hand showers in toilets and presence of toilet rolls. All four of us looked at each other understanding what’s going on our minds about how to do ‘those things’ with the resources that are available. Bang! Here we hit the most difficult problem.