the wonderful world of veena.

25 October 2012

30 thursdays: 30 websites that use up all my time.

My ability to procrastinate is well-known the world over. If I have Internet access, I can waste hours upon hours online to avoid being productive, as has become apparent this week when I'm supposed to be working on 4 various reports for various people and organizations. The following are the 30 websites that use up the most of my time [other than gmail, of course].

30 websites that use up all my time:
  1. facebook
  2. blogger
  3. espn
  4. cricinfo
  5. nytimes
  6. cnn
  7. bbc
  8. old navy
  9. grantland
  10. imdb
  11. barnes & noble
  12. good
  13. npr
  14. wikipedia
  15. craigslist
  16. google
  17. kayak
  18. trip advisor
  19. devnet
  20. charity job
  21. yahoo! fantasy basketball
  22. atlanta braves
  23. green bay packers
  24. target
  25. best buy
  26. howstuffworks
  27. mental_floss
  28. room to read
  29. hulu
  30. various blogs of friends and strangers alike [a copout, I know, but these rotate and so listing them all could take up the whole list]
As you can see, I'm a bit all over the place, and the regularity with which I visit those websites ebbs and flows based on where I am and what my schedule is. For example, I check the news sites much more often when I'm abroad than when I'm in the States, the Hulu watching is mostly when I'm State-side, and the fantasy basketball is seasonal [it's starting back up, hence my visits have become more regular again]. But regardless of where I am or what I'm doing, I can always find time to waste online. It's a talent, to be sure, and I have been blessed with it.

And now it is time for me to return to my procrastinating report-writing. Until next time.
woo pig.

17 October 2012

random rambles.

1. I've had more social interactions in the last 4 days in Delhi than I think I had in my entire 2 months in Nepal. Lunch at Anish's house in Gurgaon on Saturday; dinner in Hauz Khas Village with Shonali's friend Nithya on Saturday; drinks in Lodi Restaurant with Rob's friend Divya on Sunday; drinks and snacks with Pranay and Vikki Sunday evening in Defense Colony; drinks with Bobby in GK I Monday; drinks with Rohan and his friends in Khan Market yesterday; dinner with the Swedes and the French last night. I'm exhausted all over again just reading that.

2. I'm about halfway through The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks [Rebecca Skloot] for my UACS book club, and it's very interesting. I really like the way Skloot has arranged the book, and I've already learned a lot through the first 170-odd pages.

3. I have received preliminary approval for my Capstone! Next step: write my PPR, draft my Work Plan, compose my Annotated Bibliography, etc. Fingers crossed.

4. I submitted my draft of my final report for Room to Read to my contacts last week. I'm waiting to hear back from them regarding their thoughts, and then my final draft is due next Friday. Looks like there is going to be a lot of reading and researching and writing in my immediate future.

5. Between now and my eventual shift to Bombay in mid-November, I will be traveling to Andhra [Peanut's getting her head shaved!], Pune [NH7 Weekender with the third-born], and Goa [Devaraj cousins take over Morjim]. It's going to be a crazy few weeks.

6. Rob and I have been getting up in the mornings and going for runs in Lodi Garden. It's been great to exercise again, and I am slowly building up my endurance for that half-marathon in January I seem to think I'll be able to run. Eeks.

7. I've somehow gotten the idea stuck in my head to spend Christmas in Cambridge with the Mann family, and Rob and Ellie are not doing anything to discourage me. That should be a fun conversation with my parents.

8. I've enjoyed Delhi more than I expected to - it helps to have friends to hang out with - but I am ready to be back home. Bangalore-bound on Sunday!

9. Fantasy basketball is almost upon us. I have one draft next week and another the following week and am hoping being out of the country and out of the loop will actually help rather than hinder my teams. We'll see how that pans out for me and how quickly I get distracted and stop bothering with it.

10. I've not forgotten about my 30thursdays or my 30before30 posts. Both will be returning in the coming weeks as I sort out other bits and bobs of my life.

woo pig.

08 October 2012

my camera's vision of nepal.

I did not take nearly as many pictures in Nepal as I should have, but I managed to get a fair few, and here they are for your viewing pleasure...

[stupa at Boudha]

[closeup of the stupa]

[prayer flags all the way up to the top]

[walking around the stupa. clockwise, of course]

[more prayer flags]

[Patan Durbar Square]

[Patan Durbar Square]

[Patan Durbar Square]

[I always like a good picture of a tree]

[Jackalope looks confused]

[inside Pashupatinath]

[inside Pashupatinath]

[rice paddies near one of the schools]

[our view on our drives to the schools and back]

[more rice paddies]

[the "steamer" that took us across the river. just picture it with 20 people, 5 buffaloes, 3 motorbikes, and 2 bicycles. it's an adventure, to be sure]

[more shots out the jeep on our way back to the hotel]

[sunset over the water]

[Pokhara lakeside]

[Pokhara lakeside]

[so many pretty boats]
And there you have it, my life in Nepal summed up in 21 pictures [plus the ones I already posted from the top of Sarangkot]. I'm still learning the ins and outs of my camera, so the pictures unfortunately do not do it justice.

Happy week ahead!
woo pig.

07 October 2012

30 before 30: sunrise over the himalayas.

  1. Go bungee jumping.
  2. Go sky-diving.
  3. Spend one week on my own in Honey Valley, cut off from the world and from all of my electronic gadgets.
  4. Do a wine tour [preferably in California, but due to logistical constraints, improvisations may have to be made].
  5. Complete my Master of Public Service degree.
  6. Run a half marathon.
  7. Explore a new part of India.
  8. Be vegetarian for one month.
  9. Go skinny-dipping.
  10. Learn to scuba dive.
  11. Learn one Indian language properly [it's about time, wouldn't you think?].
  12. See the Grand Canyon [I smell a US road trip in my future].
  13. Get a professional massage.
  14. Try 2 foods I've never tried before.
  15. Take a photography class.
  16. See the sun rise over the Himalayas.
One morning last week, I arose at 4 to begin my journey up to Sarangkot, a village on a hill overlooking Pokhara. I had heard the sunrise was very nice up there, and my guesthouse very nicely offered to drop me part of the way up to save me some time. So at 4.30am, we set out from the guesthouse, and at 5 the driver dropped me off and pointed me on my way. Armed [headed?] with my torch, I set off and up. After about half an hour of a combination of steps and trails, I found myself at the viewpoint atop Sarangkot just as the first rays of the sun were beginning to peek through the clouds. [the clouds were worrisome, as I was afraid the mountains would not be visible, and my journey would be for naught, but luckily the clouds were just sitting low, and the mountains could still be seen]

[just a few rays peeking through]

[cloud cover over Pokhara]

[a view of the Annapurna range]

[a view of "Fishtail"]
When I arrived, there were only 4 others already up there, so I was able to take a few initial pictures and then stake out a spot for myself to sit and watch the light hit the peaks.

[first rays hitting the mountains]

[Annapurna range]

[just hitting the peak of "Fishtail"]

[slowly creeping up through the clouds]

[and the haze begins to set in]

[Annapurna range, circa 6.20am]
Around 6.30am, it became quite hazy and the visibility was getting pretty bad, so I began my descent a bit earlier than most others. I had a nice leisurely stroll down to the turnoff for the lake, but because it was still cloudy, and because there were too many locals trying to get me to hire them as my guides, I decided to follow the road and take the long way back into town.

And a long way it was.

About 10km down and over [at a guess. possibly longer] later, I arrived back at the lakeside for breakfast which was quickly followed by a nap.

It was certainly a long morning, but it was definitely worth it. The pictures don't do it justice, not just because of the clouds and haze, but because there are some sights that cannot be captured in a photograph [and also, I'm still experimenting with my camera].

I'm glad I got up to make the journey, and I'm also glad to be able to cross a second happening off my list. Hopefully I'll be more productive now that I'm back in India.
We'll see.
woo pig.

06 October 2012

the end of an era.

I have been a fan of the Atlanta Braves for as long as I can remember. As a child I watched all of their games on TBS and drove my parents and brother crazy spouting off random trivia about the team [did you know they're the only team to win the World Series in all 3 cities where they've played? it's true, look it up]. And for over half my life, Chipper Jones has been a steady presence of my favourite team, the anchor that's held us together through players coming and going and the stigma of winning division title after division title but only one World Series.

This past Friday, 5 October 2012, Chipper Jones played his last Major League Baseball game. And my world as I knew it has changed forever.

I don't say it to be melodramatic. I say it because it's true.

The Braves selected Chipper as the number 1 overall draft pick when I was 9 years old, and he's been a mainstay in the lineup since 1995, when he helped lead the team to its World Series triumph and was robbed [in my humble opinion] of the Rookie of the Year award by 1 measly vote [to Hideo Nomo. I rest my case]. I watched him win an MVP, win a batting title, humbly move to the outfield for a time when the team signed Andres Galaragga just so he could continue playing, and continue to show his loyalty to the Braves year after year. It's unheard of nowadays for a player to spend his entire career with the same team; the only other I can think of is Derek Jeter with the Yankees, and Joe Mauer will most likely spend his career with the Twins. But with free agency what it is, it's extremely rare. And yet Chipper has made it known that he never had any intention of playing anywhere else and has returned every year to contribute to the team and to chase that ever-elusive second championship ring.

Now, I know Chipper's not perfect. He's made some poor decisions in his personal life, I know. But I can disapprove of those off-the-field mistakes while still admiring him as a player. No one is perfect; Chipper's flaws are known because he's a professional athlete, a public figure. But he's owned up to his mistakes and has admitted that he works every day to be a better person, a better role model for his children and his fans. In fact, I like him better because he's flawed and because he admits to those flaws. Too many athletes and other public figures try to cover up their mistakes and pretend they're perfect, and it usually ends up blowing up in their faces.

But I digress.

While I always hate it when the Braves season ends, I especially hate the manner in which Chipper's season and career ended. I hate that the game involved a controversial call, I always hate losing in the playoffs to the Cardinals, and I so wish they could have made a run at the World Series for him, but I still think he's gone out in style. Even at the age of 40, he was a daily contributor to the Braves' playoff run, notching his first career five-hit game and a few multi-homer games as well. As a switch-hitter whose been playing regularly for nearly two decades, his career average is over .300 from both sides of the plate. And, I re-iterate, he's done it all with the same team that drafted him.

I've been lucky enough to see Chipper play a number of times over the years, in both Fulton County Stadium [may it rest in peace] and Turner Field in Atlanta as well as in Busch Stadium when the Braves visited St Louis. This past May, I took my mother to a game in St Louis for Mother's Day weekend, allowing us both to see him play one final time. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but I'm really thankful I was in the country for a bit of his final season and to have had the opportunity to see him play.

I digress again.

The point is this: next spring, for the first time in 20 years, Chipper Jones' name will not appear as a player on any Atlanta Braves roster or list.

I for one am going to miss him.
woo pig.

[nerd alert: in my sentimental state, I really want to watch my 1995 World Series video. what do you think the odds are that my mother will ship it to me in India? I thought as much]

book update: the nepal edition.

I've been a reading machine while I've been in Nepal [spending 4.5 weeks in a remote area will have that effect], so here is my update of all the books that have kept me entertained during my two months in this amazing country.

The Great Hunt [Wheel of Time Series book 2, Robert Jordan]. I read the first of this 12-book fantasy series [yes, you read that correctly, I said 12 books. and counting, if I'm not mistaken] about 3.5 years ago at the suggestion of Vik [as in Manipal Vik, not my brother]. I really enjoyed the first book, called The Eye of the World, but never got around to continuing the series. So when I was thinking of books to download for my time in Nepal, I figured a few of these would be good, as they're quite long. I forgot, however, how quickly they go, and I finished this 1,700 pager [according to Nook, that is] in just over a week while I was in Bardiya. The beginning took me a little while, just because my memory was a bit rusty, and I was trying to remember things I had read nearly 4 years ago, but once my memory started kicking in, the rest of the book flew by. It would take me days to explain the plot of the series, so you'll have to trust me when I say it's a really interesting series. I've never really read many fantasy series before, but this one has caught and kept my interest. I wish I had not waited so long to get back into the series, and I'm continuing on with it while simultaneously reading other books. And this has been a case where my Nook app on my iPad has come in handy, because these books are behemoths and weigh quite a lot, so I'm able to read them while traveling without having to deal with the weight. I still love physical books, but sometimes those e-readers are convenient.

The Bastard of Istanbul [Elie Shafak]. I've been hearing this title from various sources for a while now, so I finally decided it was time to read it. I liked the back-and-forth between past and present, and I learned a lot about the Armenian genocide, but I can't really decide what my overall feelings for the book are. There were a few too many coincidences that connected the two main characters, Asya and Armanoush, and I found those coincidences to be just a little too convenient. After a point, I could predict how certain situations were going to turn out, and while that's fun while reading mysteries, it's not as fun in fiction. Sometimes it's nice to have things revealed to you rather than guessing what's coming 10 pages before it happens. I liked Shafak's writing style, the book itself was a quick read, and I enjoyed remembering my own days in Istanbul when reading about some of Asya and Armanoush's wanderings around the city; I just feel the story itself could have been stronger.

House Rules [Jodi Picoult]. Ever since reading Picoult's My Sister's Keeper many moons ago, I am always intrigued when I spot another of her books. Picoult takes on difficult subjects, and I always tend to enjoy the stories she weaves. This story, about a teenager with Asperger's Syndrome on trial for murder, struck a particular note with me, as I had a significant experience with someone who has AS in the last year. While the ending was a little too neat for me - as is the case with many of Picoult's books - overall I enjoyed the book. My Sister's Keeper continues to be my favourite of her books, but there are some stylistic points from this one that I liked, particularly how she changes narrators throughout the story to allow the reader to assess the situation from many different viewpoints. It's a style that she employs in many of her books, and I always like these more than her others. Overall it was an interesting read, and I'm sure I'll continue to read most of her future works [ps - after My Sister's Keeper, my next favourite of hers is Perfect Match].

Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me? [And Other Concerns] [Mindy Kaling]. I will admit, I have not always been a fan of Mindy Kaling's. It's not that I don't think she's funny, because she absolutely is. It's because my first introduction to her was a Diwali episode of The Office, and her character Kelly Kapoor irritated me to no end. As a result, I couldn't watch her in anything else for a few years, which is my own fault, because she's hilarious. Her book, a collection of random stories, anecdotes, and lists she thinks are important, was a great, breezy, light, funny read. She herself admits in the beginning that her book is a poor man's Bossypants [Tina Fey], and there were some definite similarities between the two, but Kaling's unique personality also shines through in this book. She has a new show on Fox called The Mindy Project, and I'm looking forward to checking it out and following Kaling's career more in the future.

The Dragon Reborn [Wheel of Time Series book 3, Robert Jordan]. I thought I would take a bit of a break between these books, but they're so addicting that I couldn't stop myself from jumping into this one quickly. I also didn't want to risk forgetting details like I did between the first and second books. I don't know how Jordan can keep up this story through 11 books [Jordan passed away without having finished the 12th and final book, so his family hired another writer - Brandon somebody (I can't remember off the top of my head) - to complete the series], but I am looking forward to continuing the series and finding out.

Primary Colors [Anonymous]. I happened to find a copy of this in a bookstore in Kathmandu when I was searching for a physical book to read, and I couldn't stop myself from picking it up. Last year, I had the amazing honor of having dinner with Joe Klein, the "Anonymous" author of this book, and was able to hear some of his stories of the writing and publication of this work. Having had the opportunity to hear a behind-the-scenes account of the book certainly gave me an interesting perspective. I also found it to be quite interesting given the current election that is taking place in the States. While I am always glad to be out of the country during the election lead-up [I was in India in 2008 also], I still follow the highlights, and reading this while simultaneously reading about the conventions and campaigning and debates that are occurring in the States made for a unique experience. Suman, one of the servers at one of my regular coffee shops, remarked more than once on my random giggling while I was reading. For someone who mostly avoids politics, I really enjoyed reading Klein's book.

The Borrowers [Mary Norton]. I've been thinking a lot recently about books I enjoyed as a child, and when I saw this book mentioned somewhere online last month, I took it as a sign that I should re-read it. This story about a family living below the kitchen of a great country estate who "Borrow" items from the main house to run their own household held my interest just as it did 20 years ago. It also made me want to go back and re-read some of the other books of my childhood, so I think that might become a plan, depending on my schedule for the coming months. It's nice to take a trip down memory lane every now and then.

Currently reading: The Shadow Rising [Wheel of Time Series book 4, Robert Jordan] and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks [Rebecca Skloot].

Thank you, Nepal, for being productive for my reading. Now to see how India compares.
woo pig.

05 October 2012

30 thursdays: 30 things to know about Nepal.

[note: I wasn't able to post this on Thursday, but I wanted to post it before I left Nepal, so I'm making an exception. just pretend it's still Thursday as you read it :)]

As my time in Nepal comes to a close [Delhi-bound on Sunday morning!], I wanted to share 30 thoughts / observations / quirks about Nepal. It's a random compilation of my 2 months in the country, and hopefully you may learn something you didn't already know about this wonderful place.

30 things to know about Nepal:
  1. Nepali guys love their Angry Birds t-shirts. As someone who didn't even know what Angry Birds was until I started sitting for the Erbach girls last fall, it was quite amusing to roam the streets of Kathmandu and Pokhara and see at least 5 guys a day wearing a shirt inspired by the game.
  2. I wish I'd packed a pair of shorts. It's a lot hotter in Nepal than I expected it to be, and a pair or two of shorts would have been much more handy than that North Face fleece that's taken up permanent residence in my rucksack.
  3. Be prepared for bandhs [strikes] on a regular basis, and make sure you have a backup plan if you need to go out and about.
  4. For my money, the easiest and fastest way to get around Kathmandu is on foot. For being a small-ish city, Kathmandu sure does have a lot of traffic [when there are not bandhs, that is].
  5. I was surprised to discover that Nepal is more expensive than India, even adjusting for the exchange rate [if you're curious, it's 10 INR = 16 NPR].
  6. There are few experiences like watching the sun rise over the Annapurna range from the top of Sarangkot.
  7. Kukri is a poor man's Old Monk [except it's more expensive] but is acceptable when the latter is not available.
  8. I have yet to figure out the method to the madness that is the microbus system in Kathmandu, but it somehow manages to work.
  9. If you're cool and stealth like me and my Jackalope, you too can enter Basantapur Durbar Square, Patan Durbar Square, Boudhanath, and Pashupatinath without paying the entrance fee. But only if you're cool and stealth like we are.
  10. The best decision I made during my time in Nepal was to spend 5 days staying with the Rajbhandari family in the Lamachaur area north of Pokhara. After 2 months of haunting hotels and guest houses, it was so nice to be in a real house with a wonderful family and amazing home-cooked meals. If you're ever in the area, go and stay with them [their website is currently not working, but if you're actually interested, I can put you in touch with them].
  11. If you prefer sticking by the Lakeside in Pokhara, stay at The North Face Inn. Also a very sweet family, and a more convenient location if you want to go out and about in the town.
  12. Even if I described how small and quirky the domestic airports are, you'd never believe me. That's how small and quirky they are. The Nepalgunj airport doesn't even have an x-ray machine for carry-on bags.
  13. Make friends with a local who will drive you outside the city at 1am to see the lights of the Valley [I promise it's not as sketchy as it sounds. I've known Gaurav for over 3 years, so it was legit].
  14. If the music festival says it's going to start at "12pm", that usually means roughly 2.30pm. Nepali Standard Time is a lot like Indian Standard Time.
  15. If you're in Kathmandu, spend a morning in the Mondo Bizarro cafe on Freak Street. You'll meet some very interesting people, Nepali and foreigner alike. And in all reality, you'll probably run into Jack, drinking his milk tea and eating his muesli, fruit, and curd, because I'm convinced he's never going to leave. Oh, and it's also one of the few places that serves brown bread. You won't realize how much you appreciate brown bread until only white bread is available to you.
  16. Go bungee jumping with the Last Resort. I promise you won't regret it [my connection is too slow at the moment to take the time to link to my post about our jump, but it was sometime in early August].
  17. Those "buff" momos? No, they're not named so because they're particularly macho. They're buffalo meat. And they're delicious. And oddly enough, cheaper than chicken momos. Go figure.
  18. Another go figure. Nepal is a whopping 15 minutes ahead of India. For a time zone nerd like myself, it's fascinating.
  19. Be forewarned: free wi-fi in coffee shops will likely turn you into a chain-chai-drinker. Scout out the ones with poor service, and you can sit in one place sponging Internet for 3 hours while spending only NPR 40. Stick with me, young Jedi, and I will teach you my ways.
  20. Dr Pepper is more readily available in Kathmandu than in Bangalore. Best - and most dangerous - discovery ever.
  21. Be prepared for power cuts. About 9 hours a day in Kathmandu, about 11 hours a day in Pokhara, and about 14 hours a day in Bardiya. Don't say I didn't warn you.
  22. Nepali women love to break out the umbrellas on sunny days. For an umbrella-phobe such as myself, it can be terrifying. And I've seen at least 5 people almost get their eyes poked out by these umbrellas, so don't tell me my fears are misplaced. Umbrellas are deadly.
  23. If you go to the stupa in Boudha, make sure you walk around it clockwise. I don't know why, but I am certainly not one to tempt fate.
  24. The caste system is still in existence in Nepal, but it doesn't carry the negative connotations that it does in India.
  25. My favourite tradition is the "Namaste" greeting you receive everywhere you go. There's just something to be said for good manners.
  26. In Kathmandu, pedestrians actually use the zebra crossings. Granted, there are not very many, so in most places people cross haphazardly, but where they exist, they're used. Indians could take a few lessons.
  27. Why no, good friend on the street, I do not smoke up, I have no need for that fake-sandalwood box, and I am certainly not going to pay that much for a bag I can get for less than half that in India. In other words, strolling through Thamel [the tourist area in Kathmandu] is much like strolling through Jew Town in Fort Kochi or the bazaar in Hampi.
  28. Sadly, sports is not high on the list of priorities in Nepal. I followed New Zealand's tour of India on cricinfo while I was in Bardiya, and I've watched most of the World T20 matches alone. I'm not ashamed to admit that more than once the highlight of my day was listening to my ESPN podcasts while sorting through data spreadsheets [because let's not forget, the primary reason for my visit to Nepal was a research project. sometimes I'm a diligent student].
  29. If you get the chance to see Albatross play live, take it. They have an amazing energy on the stage, and you can tell how much they love and appreciate music.
  30. Nepal is a wonderful country full of beautiful people, breathtaking sights, great food, and a million little quirks that make it unlike any other place. It's like India in some ways but is also its own unique country, and you'll really only understand that if you see it for yourself.
And so wraps up my time in Nepal. I've had my ups-and-downs [the heat was a lot to take while I was in Bardiya], but overall I've had a great time, and I look forward to returning one day in the future.
woo pig.