This time in Chicago, I decided to skip the touristy things (because I already did them last August), and have a more local experience instead. I was staying in a beautiful neighborhood of Lincoln Park, resplendent with parks, walking trails, lakes, greenery, pubs, and restaurants. I started exploring one new restaurant every day, and walking a lot. The bus connectivity is great too, and entry to the Lincoln Park Zoo is free. Every day, I took a new street and continued to walk in a new direction. I did this for a week, and it felt like I had already lived there forever.
The other day, I stepped out to buy fruits and vegetables in a bid to eat healthy, and ended up discovering an Indian restaurant. People who know me well know my obsession with eating biryani. So instead of apples and bananas, I ended up having biryani that day.
The other highlight of my trip was meeting my PhD adviser. One of the brightest people I know, I am fortunate to have been mentored by him. It is interesting how our mentor-mentee relationship evolved over the last five years. Back then, I used to seek his permission, his approval for everything, and my biggest reason of worry was how to do well in a class exam. Five years later, I have realized that exams and grades do not matter, and I do not need his approval. I already have it.
He used to often tell me many useful things, one of which was that he is training me to be his colleague, his equal. I chatted with him for hours at the conference that day, and it was an invigorating, one-on-one discussion. I shared my new research ideas with him, and he did the same. Looks like a German-US collaboration might be on the cards. He promised to visit me in Deutschland soon.
On a different note, a hilarious thing happened at the conference. I was sitting in a room, waiting for the presentations to start. As I looked around, I saw someone I had been introduced to yesterday sitting behind me. I waved and smiled, and she smiled back, a little reluctantly. Ignoring the cue, I started making small talk. At some point, my eyes fell on her name tag, and to my horror, I realized that I was speaking with a stranger. But she did look like the person I met yesterday. And before you tag me borderline racist, let me assure you that it's not just the Asians I get confused about. Often, I get confused between Whites or Blacks who look alike.
Looks like this is not the only embarrassing faux pas moment I had at this conference.
I totally missed seeing an old acquaintance professor as we were crossing the road. It was not until he started calling out my name that I realized this. We crossed the road coming from opposite directions, and I looked at him and looked past him, lost in my thoughts. He was nice enough to stall me and spend a few minutes asking how I am and what I am doing now. It was all the more embarrassing because he is a really famous guy, and the dean of a school.
I met someone, and spent a good few minutes telling them how hard the German language is and how things do not make sense, until they told me that they are from Germany.
But this one takes the cake.
In Germany, when you are at a restaurant and need to use the restroom, you usually open a door that leads to a passage with another door, and then you see the Ladies room and the Gents room. Either that schema was stuck in my head, or I was plain unmindful. I went out for lunch with a colleague. When he rose to use the restroom, I followed him too. He took a left, and so did I. He opened the door. I was probably far enough that he did not notice me following him. I held the door and entered inside before it shut on my face. I never read the sign on the door. I should have. And I should have taken the right door, not the left. I was in the men’s restroom! Those few seconds turned out to be the longest seconds of my life.
Conference talks. Meeting my adviser. Procuring biryani. Taking long walks in unknown roads. Taking in the sights and smells of a vibrant city. Gazing at the turquoise waters of Lake Michigan. Meeting the only friend I have in Chicago, and spending the next 24 hours eating nothing but dozens of idlis and bowls of sambar she made for me. Running to catch a Metra train, with two minutes to go, Kajol in DDLJ style. Listening to live music at the hostel every night as I fell asleep. And conceptualizing two new research studies while listening to others presenting.
That is pretty much a summary of my 10-day long Chicago trip.
I headed to Seattle next, to spend a month working at the university there. And traveling some more.