Sunday, February 10, 2013

My First Trip to Shanghai

**post backlog**

Early December of last year, I had the opportunity to head to China for a work-trip. My first time on the mainland (I have been to Hong Kong before), I wasn’t sure what to expect. Other Indian people at work in Redmond had told me to be prepared for the difficulty of getting wholesome vegetarian food and the difficulty to explore the city on my own without being able to speak Chinese. Both were great advice but not as optimistic as I’d hoped. Thankfully, only one of them proved true when I visited.

I was impressed by the infrastructure in Shanghai and also by the fact that there were SO MANY people everywhere! We landed there late Saturday evening and headed straight to bed. The following morning, my manager, who also travelled with us and had been to Shanghai a few times before, showed us around the city. We walked miles and travelled even more miles on the subway which he expertly navigated. Shanghai is a bustling metropolis that, like a lot of Indian cities, manages to be cosmopolitan and traditional all at once.
A few truths:

  1. Subway can get you anywhere. For the rest, there are cabs. It helps to be planned and prepared and to carry the little cards with addresses written in Chinese (and carry extra cards)
  2. You need to haggle. It’s amazing how with zero common languages between you and the storekeeper, you can still score a great sale.
  3. Food- okay, this is tricky. There are vegetarian food options; you just need to know where to go. If you’ve got a local with you, you’ll do fine. On your own, you need the cards (that say “I do not eat meat”), some patience and a little bit of spirit of adventure. Since it was my first trip, I was cautious about not wading into fried-lizard territory for fear of being (physically) intolerant.  Maybe next time… I also carried a bunch of protein bars, ate lots of noodle soup (delicious), steamed veggies and rice. On my last working day there, I managed to get the office cafeteria to custom make veggie-egg fried rice for me all on my own. If that’s not a win, I don’t know what is!
  4. The teas are really awesome. And yet, you’re more likely to find Starbucks and other coffee stores and Lipton tea bags. I fell in love with this bottled sugarless Oolong tea and I don’t know what it’s called. It helped me quench thirst when I was out of my bottled water.
A few reflections:

  1. There is definite westernization happening in Shanghai… more pizza joints and Italian restaurants.
  2. People have their noses in their phones ALL.THE.TIME even while crossing the road
  3. Roads bring me to traffic. The traffic is all kinds of chaos. And like India, it all seems to work.
  4. The people I met at work there seemed ambitious, eager to learn and very hard working.
  5. People love to sleep on buses. Employees carried neck pillows to sleep on during their commute. I thought that was a little unusual.
                                          The Shanghai skyline in the night

On Being Thankful

**Post backlog**

Thanksgiving is huge in the US. Every year, Thanksgiving officially ushers in the holidays, the lightening of the wallet, the heavying of the closet and the weighing scale. Having no family in the US, Thanksgiving offers me an opportunity to squeeze in a trip since it’s a day more than a traditional long weekend.

This year I decided to head back to the Bay Area to meet all the friends I have been missing since I moved to Seattle. Also, the weatherman called for clouds and rain here (surprise!) and beautiful summer weather in SF. It was a no-brainer! I hung out with the bestie, meet up with OR and NR and their adorable 7week old K! I also drove down 101 to meet AC and her adorable new baby, L. Both my girlfriends make beautiful, natural mothers and it was a pleasure watching them in this new role.

My last evening in SF, the bestie and I ate at one of our favorite joints in Burlingame, where they still recognized and remembered us. We talked about the things we can’t tell anyone else, fears, hopes, dreams, insecurities. We talked about being thankful for each other and the life we were given.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Back in Sao Paulo!

When I took on my current job, I was told that travel would be an important part of it. It took a while for me to get my travel papers in order but I finally got that done on my trip to Canada over the summer. So I was ready to hit the road… er the air.
Work took me back to Sao Paulo a couple weeks ago. A bit of visa drama later I showed up at our SP office in the middle of the financial district of the city, groggy and ready to take on the week. After sleeping through most of the afternoon meetings and going to bed at 8pm, I was alright for the rest of the week.

This time, my trip was zero touristy and 100% work. But more interesting to me was to compare and contrast the Brazil of 2009 with what I saw this time. If it is possible, there are more cars on the road and the traffic gridlock is frustrating… makes you wonder how people drive at all. I remember taking the underground train last time but most ppl I spoke to at the office there seemed to think of public transport as a non-option. As the host of the World Cup and the Olympics later, I sincerely hope SP does something about the traffic and the stress its people undergo in their daily commute.
The trip was not without its share of adventure though! While being on the 31st floor office for the week had its perks by way of gorgeous views (read daydreaming fodder during meetings), a fire drill in the middle of the week had us walking down all 31 floors. Without lunch.

It was great being back and re-familiarizing myself with the little observations I had the first time around. I was once again struck by how much like India Brazil looks and feels – though perhaps cleaner. I’m pretty sure I’ll be going back again and hopefully next time I’ll be able to take a couple days off to visit Rio.
Caipirinha count on this trip = zero

Fresh fruit count = insert some large number here (happy me!)
Longest car trip on SP roads = 4hours
View from our office in SP

Butter cookies I couldn't get enough of

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Playing Catch Up

There is a nip in the air and I had to break out my fleece jacket this morning. It seemed like a good time to bring back the blog to life to mark the end of summer, if for nothing else. And I am happy to report that the summers in Seattle are indeed absolutely gorgeous… everything they hype the place for and then some more! As far as the weather goes, we had clear blue skies and the mountains were in full show… evenings were cool enough for a light jacket and splendid sunsets that reflected off the glass fa├žades downtown.
As with every summer, my family visited and we had a whale of a time exploring the place. Trips included a day jaunt to Leavenworth, whale watching in the Pacific at San Juan Island, riding the ski lifts at Whistler, exploring the Oregon coastline, checking out the volcano at Mt St Helens, happening upon a mountainside wedding at Mt Hood to name a few. Lots of great food was had at home, in Oregon, Washington and Canada. We used my SUV to its hilt and had a great time travelling together and it is with no regret that I welcomed the car’s 10,000’th mile last week!

Living here has really brought on a new appreciation for nature. It is gorgeous and unexplainable and uncapturable in a camera. Really! No camera does it justice. There were so many beautiful sights that I couldn’t capture in my camera because they didn’t look as majestic in a little screen. Eventually I gave up trying to capture for posterity, instead, teaching myself to absorb moments, sights and sounds. It also teaches you to live in the moment and appreciate conversations and silences equally. It also taught me to put the phone/iPad/laptop down to enjoy people every once in a while, though now I indulge in the TV instead!
For anyone that’s still reading this – if you’re getting perfectly fall-like fall weather in your part of the country I hope these pictures will make you want to get out for a bit and enjoy the sun while it’s there.

 From top to botom: 4th of July fireworks, view from my living room, Canon Beach OR, Seattle as seen from Kerry Park, Mt. St. Helens from the distance (though we went much closer)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Still Searching for the New Normal

This weekend will mark three months since I left the Bay Area. It seems like forever ago. Needless to say, I still miss it terribly and miss my life and friends there. As you can tell, I am in the midst of new-city-blues that just won’t go away. Blame it on having to find new everythings, from where to grocery shop, how to manage your evenings, what to do on weekends, your favorite gas station etc. Right now I’ve been looking in earnest for places to get a haircut.

I completed the car purchase I was trying to decide on and have been driving my SUV for close to two months now. I can’t believe how quickly I’ve adapted to driving the bigger car. I still wistfully gaze at sandwiched “Compact” parking spots where my car will not fit but overall it’s been a positive adjustment. Of course having the extra space in the car means I have to be careful not to constantly dump stuff in it.

My apartment, while now mostly fully functional, still has the occasional box sitting in a corner waiting to be thrown into recycling. Some things still haven’t found a spot where I am completely happy with them but it’s a work in progress. My kitchen has been getting a lot of use as I have been cooking almost every day now.

Work, while not insanely busy, has a schedule that is not under my control. Working with global teams means my work day often ends very late. It also tends to begin later than it did in my previous job (I honestly cannot believe I would show up to work at 8am when I was at!). However, multiple stakeholders and awful scheduling conflicts means that no week looks like the one before it or the one after. This makes it very difficult to plan a life after work on the week days.

This past weekend was first time in three weekends that I stayed local and didn’t go to Portland to visit the sis. I went to dinner at a colleague’s home in Seattle and really enjoyed meeting some new people.

The search for the elusive normal is far from ending. I seem to be making a habit out of it!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Another Year, Another City

A friend recently remarked that the last year and a half has brought too many transitions for me, and there’s a lot of truth there. I’ve blogged through most of my moves and that’s a lot of posts! This year, I’m giving the Pacific Northwest a chance to win me over. I’ve been in WA for three weekends now, having started work a few days ago in Redmond. This past week all my stuff from my home in CA got here and I’ve spent most of this weekend unpacking boxes and finding a place for everything in my new apartment.

Work has been pretty busy already and unlike my previous jobs, the expectation here is that you’ll just carve your own ramp-up plan and get upto speed. This is new for me, but also interesting because it allows me freedom to ask my questions, form my impressions and understanding. Also, for the first time in my career I am not working in a cubicle and that’s a whole new experience. Here everyone gets their own “office” and while that’s great for some privacy and concentration, it’s also really quiet. I like being in the thick of things, where all the action is happening. You learn a lot just by accidentally overhearing a conversation or you’re able to provide clarification easily. Here the quiet time in my office makes me wonder what I’m missing out on that I should be learning. The one constant at my new company is that everyone is really passionate about their product, their company, their job and they work hard everyday to take their vision forward. This is refreshing and inspiring.

The bad news is that I still miss the bay area terribly. Every evening on my drive home, I have to convince myself that I can make it another week without wanting to go back there. There is nothing wrong with Bellevue, it’s nice, it’s green and it rains but I’m indoors anyway so how does that matter?! But it’s lonely, everything’s new, I don’t know where to go for anything and for once, I have no clue what to do on the weekend. Remember, I don’t own a TV either. I hope I figure things out soon enough so that I can stop feeling so displaced all the time.

The big question weighing on my mind these past few days has been what car to buy. I sold my Nissan in California and I’m ready to upgrade to something that’s a little more powerful. Should I get an SUV? Is it too big for me? Is it something I can use in the city? 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Role Models

As an early user of Google Plus, I have come to love the flexibility and selectivity the social network affords me, especially in comparison to Facebook, whose privacy settings I have finally given up trying to understand as they apply to the timeline format. More on that in a different forum. I started to add companies to my circles when they first came out with that. And recently I’ve started to add people I don’t personally know. I call this new circle the People I Admire circle.

To this circle, I recently added Drew Houston. This was in part inspired by reading about him in the much tweeted about LA Times article (which, by the way, doesn’t really add much to the much circulated Forbes article about him and Dropbox) and also in part inspired by his Google+ profile. I discovered that he went to undergrad the same years as I did, albeit in a totally different part of the world! He, and the article, made me think about my years as an undergrad, around the time I began this blog. I think about my ideas, motivators, priorities at that time and hold it up against what they are today. If you had told me back then that I would be where I am today – literally and figuratively, geographically and professionally – I would have dismissed you as an incompetent fortune teller.
bI realize now the importance of having role models. But that’s just such a generic thought. I wish I had known the importance of having role models for the right reasons. My undergrad major was driven by my desire to escape computer programming. I turned to mechanical engineering because it’s what my father had done. It was an easy choice. In retrospect, it was a great choice, I loved my coursework and the skills I acquired. But in 2001, I had no idea what it entailed and what I was going to do with it four years on. Same time, half the world away, Drew Houston was getting into MIT and thinking about starting his first tech company.
Back then I didn’t know he existed. Today I admire him immensely, not just because he has this wildly successful company that actually means something to a lot of people and not just because he has this strong vision of building the next Apple or Google. I admire him also because as someone who is the same age as I, he has shown vision, maturity, motivation and determination to do something with his life. I think the word I’m looking for is focus. He has remained focused on the thing that matters most to him professionally, and given it his all. He’s just one example. There are other thirty year olds I can hold up… or the twenty two year old Doogie-Howser-of-the-tech-world co-founder I met a couple months ago; or the Google Guys whom I’ve admired pretty much all my professional life! In comparison, my own professional history reads to me like a drifting log.
I am still trying to figure out what my “thing” is going to be… you know, the thing that you were born to do, the one you’ve been preparing for your whole life without actually knowing it. A month ago, I stood at (what seemed at that time) a very important, life altering crossroad in my professional life. I had been building up to it for a while now, taking certain decisions and choosing a path to get there. When I finally reached, I threw out the obvious choice and selected an entirely different one to go down (remember the drifting log?). I still can’t extrapolate forward the dots in a way that makes any sense. But I now have role models whose successes, failures, tenacity, creativity and focus I can look up to. I am fortunate that my role models are real people, who I could easily run into at a terminal at SFO. It makes the dream seem that much more achievable. It makes me believe that I will be able to connect the dots someday soon. All I have to do is keep moving forward.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Truth Be Told...

It has been an eventful few months. Being the normally reticent person I am (at least online), it comes as a surprise to me that I feel this urge to let it all out on this post today. Two months ago, I found out that for me and a hundred and fifty of my colleagues, the end of the year will be our last day at our current job.

Since then my emotions have alternated between deliriousness at the freedom from a place that I had been unhappy at for a while and lost at having to start the job search all over again. Since then I’ve thought a lot about my work and my time there. Places and people and how much I enjoyed being part of it/them. I think about how the excitement of it all slowly morphed into dissatisfaction over the course of this year, at the pace of activity and the lack of challenge. Since then I have also realized that this year has been a blessing in disguise.

A Darden alum I spoke to gave me the best advice – it is not personal, move on. I have had the opportunity to meet with my colleagues since then and I take comfort in the fact that I left at the top of my game, having garnered respect from the people I worked with and knowing that they appreciated my contributions at work. And if I ever doubted that comfort, I have had help and support pouring in from friends, ex-colleagues, ex-bosses, neighbors… I am blessed to have this support system around me and I didn’t even know about it. No one gets anywhere without help and I certainly would be nowhere without the support, emails, phone calls, introductions and what-have-you that everyone in my network has been offering up.

Working in corporate America comes with its own share of risks, maybe more so than working in corporate India. You have to be competent, driven and constantly performing. But you also have to be visible and audible. But most importantly, at corporate-anywhere, you have to be good to the people you work with so that when you get thrown a curve ball you have the support system in place to make the most of it.

I am looking forward to the close of the year because next year I get to start all over again (more on that in a different post). I get to move to a different city/state, a different company and get to expand my professional network. My new company has a great relationship with Darden and a lot of Darden alumni, and I’m looking forward to connecting with them


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