Jesse’s Blog

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Neighborhood strays

Fred the monkeyFredGeorge the monkeyGeorgeFred's buttButt of Fred

posted by Jesse at 11:10 pm  

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Motorcycles!

Today we went down to Hero Honda to check out their bikes. As much as I want the Bajaj Avenger, we have a special relationship with this Hero Honda dealer that gets us a really sweet price on a monthly lease including full insurance and maintenance. So Hero Honda it is.

The dealership was nice, and they had a lot of bikes there. The only problem was that they only had one of the type of bike we all want… the Karizma. Everyone sort of decided on this bike before we even got to the dealership, because it is the top of the line and is pretty cheap for us ($91 per month). It’s the fastest Indian bike we can buy (to my knowledge), topping out at 75 mph.

So with all of this in mind I went for a test drive of the Hero Honda Achiever (the next bike down). I have never driven a street bike before, only dirt bikes when I was about 14. And even then I only did it about once. Call me crazy, but the first time I have ever driven a motorcycle was in the insane traffic of New Delhi, India.

I loved it.

I took off in to traffic and kept to the left until I got to the first traffic light. Traffic lights in India are more of a suggestion than a hard-and-fast rule, so I decided to turn left down the side street
instead of proceeding through the intersection. This was a bad idea, since the side street was packed with bicycle ricks, animals, cars, and other motorcycles. I had to go so slow I actually stalled my bike. No problem – except for the fact that I had never started a motorcyle before (this one was already started when I got on). So there I sat, on the side of the road in front of a fruit cart, calling the guys to get instructions on how to kick-start the bike… all the while trying to play it off like I was sitting there on my cell phone on purpose looking for someone or waiting for something.

Starting the bike was easy, and soon I was headed back to the dealership. On my way back I got a little crazy and went all the way to third gear (I think it had 5). Yes, I realize I was only going about 20 mph, but it was against traffic! I didn’t want to go through the intersection without a helmet. ;)

So, most of us ordered black Karizmas which we’ll get sometime between Thursday and Monday. Whaley got an Achiever and Albert got one of the scooters (it has an automatic transmission which was a key selling point for him). Next we have to go get helmets so we can ride our bikes home from the dealership.

This is all very exciting. :)

posted by Jesse at 5:38 am  

Monday, June 26, 2006

Bad news…

I think I may have gotten sick from the salad after all. It started bothering me after dinner on Saturday night and by Sunday my stomach was turning over itself all day long. I won’t go into details.

Still, it wasn’t bad enough that I couldn’t go out and about. After I met Raj for lunch to discuss some business, Garland and Esther joined us and we all went out to go shopping at Spencer Plaza (a really *big* mall in Chennai). It’s full of little stores and big stores, food vendors, service providers (like dry cleaning)… pretty much everything you’d need! Garland and Esther got some lunch at Mary Brown while I grabbed a smoothie at a juice store (they only use mineral water and “safe” ice as it says on their menu – they better not be lying!). After buying a present for Rachel (hmmm… wonder what it could be, honey??) everyone bought some cookies at Cookie Man. Except me… my stomach was getting worse.

Spencer Plaza, Chennai.
Picking out some cookies at Cookie Man in Spencer Plaza.After Spencer’s Plaza we hit up a street market where Esther wanted to buy some bracelets like the ones she bought on her last trip to Chennai. Garland and I wandered up and down the block looking at the various goods people were selling. Everyone was begging us to come and look at their stuff.

Raj helping Esther negotiate some bracelet prices at the market.Garland wandering around the streets of a Chennai market.I was pretty eager to get back to the hotel and take a nap. Esther was tired, too (since she just arrived late the previous night) so her and I conked out while Garland did some work. I slept restlessly until I had to leave for my flight.

I waited at the airport for about an hour and a half for Albert and Lara to deplane and get through customs. They had flown Lufthansa from Frankfurt, but one of their bags got damaged. After figuring out how to report it to the New Delhi Lufthansa office, we made our way to the domestic terminal to take our SpiceJet flight back to New Delhi through Hyderabad. I barely noticed the flight – thankfully I was sleeping the whole time. Mahindra picked us up from the airport and we went straight home and passed out after talking to Rachel for a bit on our new wireless connection with my PDA. It’s great to be connected at home. :)

Albert and Lara on the SpiceJet plane from Chennai to Delhi at 2:30am.
See all my Chennai pics.
(Note – you do NOT have to sign in to view the pics. Just click “View Slideshow”)

posted by Jesse at 2:58 am  

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Chennai

Today I headed down to Chennai with Garland. I’m picking up Albert and Lara tomorrow and meeting with Raj about our backend infrastructure for Exigent.

We got to the airport about 2 hours early, which was good, because I forgot that I had the office keys in my pocket and had to call Mahindra (our driver) to turn back around and come get them from me. For some reason he had only been gone 10 minutes but it took an hour to come back! I feel bad for him.

The domestic terminal was dirty but I’m getting used to that here in India. Even so, the chairs were nice (though we didn’t sit) and there was a nice plasma screen showing a Hindi network. As we stood in line for the plane we met a guy named Peter from New York. He looked a little strewn out and I found out that, after 20 days in India, he was feeling very disenchanted and ready to go home. He had been to the major cities: Chennai, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Delhi. Like many Americans I imagine he wasn’t quite ready for the amount of poverty and need that is everywhere here.

We walked out on to the tarmac and got sardined into a bus that took us out to the plane. I was surprised to see that the plane was actually virtually brand-new. Garland said that these budget domestic Indian airlines are sometimes less than a year old. Despite the fact that we had to pay for everything on the flight (including water), and the fact that we were delayed almost 2 hours due to air-traffic backup, our flight on Air Deccan was nice and we arrived in high spirits.
We met a nice Vietnamese girl named Chau (pronounced “choh”) as we deplaned. She taught us some Hindi she had learned, which I now forget, and Garland impressed her with his ability to count to 10 in Vietnamese. She told me she is studying Electronic Communication in Chennai… It seems like an interesting place to come to study if you’re from Vietnam, but what do I know? I’m just a gringo. She liked the pictures I was taking out the window (and I did get some nice ones), so I got her e-mail address so I could send them to her.

Garland and I made our way to the prepaid taxi booth that would take us to our hotel. The ride through Chennai brought back some memories of last March when I was here. The feel is a lot different down here, and if it weren’t for the pollution that is practically hanging in the air I might even prefer it over Noida. It is definitely a lot dirtier here, though, and I don’t know if I’d really want to stay here for a year.

We headed to Hotel Green Park which is where I’m sitting now writing this. I also wrote the last entry right before I wrote this one – but you might never know that unless I fessed up since I sneakily put yesterday’s date and time on it! And the good news is I’m not sick. Yes, folks – I can eat salad at Papa John’s. I’m stoked!

I think I’m going to get a massage at the salon here and go hang out by the pool. Tomorrow I have a busy day. Apart from everything else Selva says he is going to teach me to ride his motorcycle. On Monday, Red Avenger cometh.

I’ll post some pictures for these last two entries when I get back to the office.

posted by Jesse at 5:44 am  

Friday, June 23, 2006

Papa John’s and my first salad

This may not seem like a big deal to those of you in the audience who reside in the U.S., but there’s a Papa John’s pizza in Sector 18. Even more amazing – this is the first and only Papa John’s in India and it opened just 1 week ago here in Noida. There can be no coincidence about this – God is watching out for us whiteboys!

Tonight Waylon and I made our first visit to this glorious oasis of authentic American cuisine. I can’t quite explain the excitement that I felt tingling through my toes as we walked up to the door and put our name on the “list”. Yes, indeed – it seemed there would be a bit of a wait for a table. We had driven by the place a few times before and noticed that it was always packed. Before we even had a chance to taste the food – we knew it had to be good. This place was doing quite well for itself considering it had just opened. Amazing.

About 10 minutes later we found ourselves at a 2-top, pouring over the nicely-done menus. I was holding back a foodgasm as I saw actual pepperoni on the menu. I don’t even like pepperoni pizza, but the fact that I can’t usually get it here has sent its value to my palate through the roof of my mouth. (Ha! That was a good one.) We finally decided on a medium supreme pizza loaded with chicken, pepperoni, and I think a few other meats and vegetables. At this point I was drunk with excitement and my culinary inhibitions were at an all-time Indian low. Despite my better judgment, in complete disregard of everything I had been told, I did the unthinkable.

I ordered a salad.

“What’s the big deal??” You might be asking. See, the problem is, we Americans have very weak immune systems. Just like we’re not supposed to drink the water in Mexico, the same holds true for India. And salads – fresh and crispy vegetables abounding – usually come in contact with their fair share of water before entering anyone’s mouth. Furthermore, the actual vegetables could contain harmful bacteria if not handled and prepared correctly, hence the CDC’s warning that you should not eat any fruits or vegetables that you haven’t washed and peeled yourself. Some might even say it’s crazy to do so. “You’d have to be insane,” they might say.

The second the salad landed in front of me, looking even more scrumptious than I had imagined, I felt a twinge of doubt. Should I really do this? Should I risk a day hugging the thrown in my 300 degree bathroom? I felt like all I had eaten for the past 2 weeks were carbs and protein. I was craving these vegetables like a smoker who had gone cold-turkey on a deserted island. My body literally ached for these fresh, crisp, delectable ambassadors from the vegetable kingdom. I could feel it in my jaw. I could feel it in my jaw, and that was weird. Screw it! I tossed on the dressing and mixed up the lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes. I stabbed a huge bite with one-of-everything on my fork and shoved it in to my mouth!

Salad had never tasted so good. Honestly, I didn’t even care if I had my pizza. Of course, that was irrational – I wanted my pizza like a kid wants his presents at Christmas-time. But I didn’t really feel like it mattered. There was no turning back now. My fate was sealed. Could I “hack it”? Would this be my first salad, or my last? Only time would tell.

By the time the pizza came out my salad was gone and my attention was refocused. The server melodramatically served up our first slice of pizza. It’s funny, but now that I think about it, I have never been to a Papa John’s in the U.S. were you could actually sit down and be served. Here in Noida, Papa John’s is practically a gourmet restaurant. I had eaten Pizza Hut, which was pretty OK, and heard that Dominos was awful. This looked better than all of them. “Better Ingredients Make Better Pizza.”

Let me tell you, it’s hard to distinguish between PJ’s in the U.S. and here in India. PJ’s was my favorite pizza in the States, and I never ordered anything else. I know what Papa John’s tastes like, and this is definitely Papa John’s. Waylon and I ate half of our pizza (we had also ordered garlic sticks and got a free order of cheese sticks), and boxed up the rest to go. I love cold pizza for breakfast and I couldn’t wait to indulge myself in the morning. Assuming I wasn’t sick by then…

As we left I could confirm what my friends had been telling me. This is the best American food in India. As we pulled away on a bicycle rickshaw, I laughed at the sweet little delivery scooters with a custom Papa John’s pizza warmer on the back. And the phone number? 424-PAPA. :)

posted by Jesse at 10:53 am  
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