Monday, September 10, 2007

Love At First Sight.

A year back, I was like any other starry-eyed girl who wanted to step out of home and see the world. And like most families, we grew up knowing that education and doing well in academics is the gateway to seeing the world, meeting new people, and doing something worthwhile. “Porashuna ta bhalo kore korte hobe” was what my professors said, meaning, you have to excel in studies. Hailing from a very ordinary family, that is what I believed too. Unlike my other friends, I did not have relatives in the US I could visit during summer. In fact, the first time I boarded an airplane was during my first trip outside home, to the US. 

My first stopover was at Frankfurt, but I never got out of the airport. Just stuck my nose to the huge glass panes, trying to see what Germany and Europe is life. By the time I reached Los Angeles, it was already dark. The connecting flight was delayed for a few hours, and as I stuck my nose to the glass panes trying to catch a glimpse of the much heard about “America”, all I could see were the tiny lights far away dotting the darkness, and several planes taking off. No landscape, no picturesque places, no tall buildings, no Hollywood, nothing. Even while landing in Seattle, all I saw were the blinking lights of the city. It had been past midnight then.

I neither knew the people who would pick me up from the airport, nor my host. All I knew was that my host lived in some remote godforsaken part of the city. So while the guys drove me from the airport, I had once again buckled myself up in the seat (the concept of seat belts was new, though not totally unheard to me then), and had stuck my nose to the glass windows to catch a glimpse of “America”. But even then, all I had seen were the silhouettes of tall dark buildings, freeways, paths winding in huge half circles, and headlights from the opposite direction. Once I reached my host's home (which I thought looked more like a garden house in the darkness), I was dutifully escorted and shown my room. And while my hosts had drifted off to sleep (it was past midnight), I had lain awake, unable to fall asleep due to a mixture of jet lag and excitement. I hadn’t pranced around the house in fear of stomping on their pet's tail in the darkness. So once again, I had stuck my nose to their window panes, awaiting daylight and trying to catch a glimpse of “America”.

And that I did. In the first few minutes of the morning light, what I saw was the most beautiful and most amazing sight I could ever have envisioned. No tall buildings. No expressways. No shopping malls. This was my first glimpse of the US in daylight. 

Who would believe that it was exactly one year since today? Time flies, huh?


Tuesday, September 04, 2007


I will never know how I goofed up the way I did. I work in a lab where the guy who helps run the lab does two things-

1. He makes it a point to write down everything, leave little notes and scraps in papers tucked here, there and everywhere.

2. Whatever he writes, the verb is always, ALWAYS, in the past tense.

Now I thought it would be more of a case of amusement than concern. This is the same guy who in his own words, “Ranned away from Vietnam” about 30 years ago, found himself a job, imported a Vietnamese girlfriend, got married, and raised little kids. And all the time while I listened with fascination about his courageous story, my vision transfixed in between the upright strands of his always oiled, porcupine like hair, I imagined what a great feat it must have been to have “ranned” from Vietnam. I mean did he actually run mountains and valleys, like we often hear in movies? Or did he run for his life towards the airport while mom and dad ran after him, hoping to stop him? My second question- despite the amount of oil present on his head at any given point of time, how does his hair remain perfectly at an angle of 85 degrees with his scalp at any given point of time? These are a few things I mean to ask him someday.

However, there you would find little scraps of paper pasted neatly everywhere, with things written that read like the following-

Very expensive instrument. Handled with care.

Whoever stolen, please returned my favorite knife. No questions will asked.

Please use the knife to cutted the food.

Don’t wasted the buffers. Stored them back.

Please contacted me at this number.

I am leaving on a vacation but will returned in two weeks.

You get the point. In a way, it amused me to think of this guy who fled from his homeland to establish himself in an unknown country, and even with his screwed up tenses, managed to have a job and raise his family. Every day I went to the lab, I would look at the familiar notes stuck on the walls of instruments, refrigerators, incubators, etc. I would read them and re-read them in my mind, till I finally knew which note was stuck where.

And then one fine morning in a meeting with my advisor and the other profs, I finally declared my intent to complete deadlines-

“I will go over the rough draft this weekend and will returned them by next week”.

Shit! I knew I had heard of similar sentence constructions before, but where? And then I remembered- Oh shoot ! Will returned by next week?

I don’t think many heard it, but the few who did were looking at me in amusement, asking me silently what my TOEFL scores were. I mean I wish I could convince them that they had just misheard something. I bit my tongue and rolled up the draft papers to give myself an imaginary whack on the head. I’ll have to stop reading those notes he scribbles from now.

By the way, did you know what someone asked me when I arrived in Seattle? Your English is so good, do you have English schools back in India?

I did not know what to say. 


Monday, September 03, 2007

My Best Investment This Summer.

It was great to feel the breeze on my face and get my hair flying wildly in all directions after so many years. Just hope that the weather remains warm for some more time now.


Sunday, September 02, 2007

Weekends Awaited.

This is the long weekend, the Labor Day holiday on Monday. Now what’s the big deal about an extra day off work? Well, I would ask the same question if I was still in India. What’s the big deal about one extra day of holiday, when we already have so many, thanks to the numerous Gods and Goddesses and the great men of India, their birthdays, death anniversaries, weddings, and if nothing, the bandhs. No more holidays coming up for the next 2 weeks now? Let’s call it a bandh!

One of those many culture shocks I got here was after taking a look at the yearly calendar. Barring weekends and Christmas, I have counted MLK day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and two days of Thanksgiving. There might be more, but I only know of 6 extra holidays a year. No holidays for Makar Sankranti, Poornima, Karwa Chauth, and Maha Shivratri.

And guess what? My poor granny asked me the other day- Will they give you holidays for Durga puja? 

Most holidays (except July 4) fall on Fridays and Mondays (long weekend!). No holidays on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

This means you slog your butt off Monday through Friday. No midweek potluck parties, driving down to Spokane to meet your best friend, or attending musical concerts in the middle of the week.

Of course as a student, you have those one week breaks between quarters (quarters are 3 months each). But then again, not having classes doesn’t mean work stops. Research continues. Lab work continues (even with greater gusto). The only difference is that you don’t end up frantically searching in your planner the next date for the impending quiz or the exams every now and then.

And when you research in the area I do, most of the times there are no weekends as well. You can take the weekend off if you study political sciences or sociology. But lab animals do not understand holidays. They have to be fed and taken care of and monitored every day. If you plan to study the effect of solvent intoxication on the liver of a rat on day 4, it doesn’t matter whether day 4 is a weekday or not. If you know that a certain insect sheds its shell (ecdysis) between 5-6 in the morning, you have to be there between 5 and 6 am. You just can’t take off and come back after a vacation to Portland. You can momentarily stop its growth by putting it in the temperature controlled incubator for a few hours. But that is only if you need to run to grab some lunch at the nearest food place.

I have never awaited the weekends as eagerly as I do here. Because the work load in the weekends is usually low, and you do not have to start running and getting things done the first thing in the morning. Weekends doesn’t mean I run off to some island. It means I have more time to organize my life, clean my home, cook proper meals, and put my books and papers in some order. Weekends, I take my time and sleep until late. Late being 8 am. 

I am not complaining. I have learnt the art of working my ass off 5 days a week, 12 hours a day, surviving on sandwiches and eating meals in between running errands. There will always be deadlines. It doesn’t matter if you have to stay back in the lab and sleep on the couch. If you have a deadline, you better complete it. Excuses like stomach aches and granny is ill do not work here. Everyone is working very hard. There is no babugiri, government officers idling time, dozing off in offices or playing cards on the computer (Clerks in CU do that). You run with the rest, and try to outrun them. Come Wednesday and I am like- oh, is it just the middle of the week? Come Thursday and I am like- oh, just one more day. And come Friday, I am like- oh man, it is going to be over. Every time it is Friday evening, I return home with the knowledge that there would be two days of peaceful sleep, hearty meals, a walk by the beach, and most importantly, the knowledge that I have survived yet another hectic week.

Welcome to the work culture in the US.