To do that ... I happen to write!

Friday, 31 August 2012

Winning the IIT Journey

Having seen it first hand through my 4 years of education, I found this article profoundly true, well written and genuine. Do give it a read:

The candid blog talks about a journey of a guy through IIT Kanpur - taking one F (Fail) after another, with his final total stand at 11 Fs! And yet he resolutely kept moving forward with his life and always tried to make better of it. I take the liberty to quote from his blog, where he explains why he didn't commit suicide:
"The reality of it was an eye opener. Having been so near death, I was convinced for life that suicide is simply not an option for anyone and even those who do it must be terribly afraid in those last few moments of their life. But perhaps by that time it would have been too late for them. Regardless of my failures and whether or not I got the IIT degree, it was clear to me that I would never do anything to harm myself. My life wasn’t my own. I owed it to the people who brought me to this world, who trusted me and gave all they had so that I could have a better life and were counting on me to graduate and help them. I owed it to all those people who had enriched my life by just being there for me. I couldn’t die before I had fulfilled my duties to them, not even by accident, forget by suicide."
The pressure - not just academic, but social pressure to perform and conform to the standards is so high - that there have been an alarming increase in number of students giving it up. On their life. 

This has truly increased the respect for all the professors who are genuinely concerned about their students, all the classmates who reach out to help their peers, all student welfare clubs and the Psychiatrist department at IIT, and all the mentors who care about their mentees - in my eyes. 

Aside, it was great to find mention of Prof. H.C. Verma in the article. Brought back the fond memories of working through the books written by him, and attached another piece in my image of him.

Keeping aside the debate on how good are the IIT systems of education, the important thing to note for students is that there's nothing worse enough to throw away life, and for others is to realize that their genuine ethical help can be life changing for someone else.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Vietnam Diaries #8: Found! A McDonald free nation

A nation of around 90 million people, with 10% concentrated in a single city (Saigon), 5-7% GDP growth in recent years, PPP per capita almost close to India, and yet no McDonalds!

Actually, that's the first thing that struck me after landing in this country - no McDonalds, really, how?

While I am yet to find answer to this, I am wondering which consultant told them that the market entry scenario of Vietnam is not too great. The same consultant also must have told something similar to KFC, Burger King, Lotteria and Subway - who went ahead an set up a few shops anyways.

I have my own guess (without pouring numbers here) - the 'fast' food eating population is really low in Vietnam - and that's almost, how to say, inspirational! My translators just refuse to eat any biscuits, chocolates, chips or any such thing we bring to office. They don't even touch it, and prefer to eat their meals nicely or drink coffee!

Of course the other reason can be the famous supply chain issues of McDonalds: because it wants to procure just the right ingredients.

Any other conspiracy theories? 

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Vietnam Diaries #7: Crazy language; and the pineapple-coconut tale!

I was recently in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. I met a few Vietnamese people there and together we went to a cafe shop by the Lake Turtle. 

Trying to order for my own, I asked for some dừa tươi. But they didn't understand me. "Something wrong again with my tone, they never get me", I thought in my mind only to quickly realize that I was speaking the southern language where 'd' is pronounced as 'y', however in north 'd' is pronounced as 'z'.

Correcting my mistake I again said 'zua t-u-oi' (or fresh coconut that is to say). And voila - they understood; nodding in appreciation - "ah, zua, zua tuoi".

After 10 minutes of wait - I got a glass with some juice in it. It totally didn't look like coconut or any of its derivatives. Nevertheless, I took a sip and exclaimed - this totally is not like coconut. 

"Coconut!", my friends exclaimed, and broke into a laugh. I was later explained that while Coconut is dừa; Pineapple is dứa !

All that is different is the tone - so if you speak it in a sad manner; with your voice going down at 'u' - that's coconut; but if you speak excited, as I was, with the voice going sharply up at 'u': Ta Da - that's pineapple for you!!!

And in case you happenstance to be ambivalent about it: neither excited, nor sad; your voice a flat tone - you will speak du'a - and that's melon for you!

Crazy language.

p.s. I was surprised as to how I was not able to pin down that the juice tasted like Pineapple before I was told it was so; all I could tell was that it was citrus and not coconut-like :)

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Vietnam Diaries #6: The charms of a new airlines!

Charms of a new airlines!
I flew VietJet this time around, primarily because it was giving me the cheapest possible flying option; and I was up for a surprise.

The first thing that struck me about VietJet was its similarities to Virgin Airways, an then our own Kingfisher airlines when they first started: Preppy red color splashed on the plane, brand new planes (so brand new that seats were stiff a little stiff when you try to push them for recline); trim, enthusiastic, happy and sharp looking air hostesses, and a very interesting in flight dining menu!

Where else in the world do you find a fresh coconut served on board? And that too for $2. 

The tickets are quite cheap, almost 50% of the state owned Vietnam Airlines; however it is going down the path of delays right from the start, given that, and the state of airline industry in general all across the world, I would like to fly this aircraft as much as possible before the cash considerations come into picture! For instance, in the US, one of the biggest air travel hub, domestic airlines have made a total loss of $60 billion in last decade. That's a lot of money to lose! A very well written NY times article on it here. Though a quote sums it all up: 

“I’d say that the only harder thing to start up than an airline is a nuclear plant,” said Bill Diffenderffer, the former chief executive of Skybus.

Unfortunately, for my readers who really want to fly one of these brand new airlines, Vietjet flies only in Vietnam as of now!

Oh, and finally in case you have been reading the news lately - apparently the entire world has taken notice of this airlines, though only good 9 months after its launch - when the Vietnam government fined Vietjet for hosting a bikini show in the flight. I leave it to you to find more details!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Vietnam Diaries #5: The Bus Journey!

Every day we have to commute almost 40 minutes to work, in the morning and in the evening! And to do so we use a van with 4 rows of seating! 

Every morning and we prod along, sometimes sleeping, sometimes chatting, sometimes lost in our thoughts, sometimes reading, sometimes busy in our iPads, and sometimes working away on our laptops (which is very bad!), I am always reminded of the times when I used to go to school like this.

There was no way that you would not pull hair of people sitting in front of you, and then fight with someone troubling you from back, throw paper balls, foil paper balls, air planes,   water, snatch food, mess up hair of people, pull their ties, dirty their shoes, remember to cut nails, and on rarely rare occasion - read about the class test due in the first period! 

Every day when I go in the morning I have inkling that one day, one good day the scene will return back to those childhood days of going to school! 

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Vietnam Diaries #4: A 200 KM bike trip, and being mini celebrities

All along the way we were treated to the beautiful countryside of Vietnam!

My friend was visiting from Singapore, and thus it was finally time to stay back in Saigon for the weekend and do the things around Saigon which I had never done! 

However, the work week, which allowed only a few hours of sleep everyday happened and it was 7:30 AM on the Saturday morning as we ran around from one Tourist company to other asking us to take to the Cu Chi Tunnels (one famous site of war) and Cao Dai Temple (a new religion blemished in Vietnam!). Well, o'course travel companies being extremely efficient had optimized everything and there was no room for us. 

After much deliberation we decided we will go to Cu Chi tunnels the next day, and will be a little adventurous today. We would rent motorbikes - the manual 50-70 cc Vietnamese one and will venture to Cao Dai Temple - a good 100 km away.

For those who don't know, driving in Vietnam is not for faint hearted; esp. driving a motorbike. It truly feels like being in a motorbike race with enormous number of participants. Well, I guess I will write separately on it.

Given I am from India, I can drive very easily in such mad traffic. Thus after taking elaborate directions and writing the Vietnamese phrase to ask for directions down on paper, and memorizing them, off we went (and none of our phones had GPS!)

The ride was great, though it was almost 35 degrees and the sun was beaming down on us. But well, again, both of us were from India and the weather in Delhi at the same time was 45 degrees. So we went on.

After driving almost continuously for 2 hours, and having covered only around 60 km - we decided to stop for iced coffee and something to eat on a giant roadside restaurant. Stepping in the restaurant, and on seeing huge glass jars with snakes and scorpions in them we immediately cancelled plans to eat and settled for a Coffee. (With my shaky Vietnamese I was able to convey that we are vegetarian and just want Coffee).

Deliberately a small picture, to minimize the effect!
It was almost 3 PM and we were another 20 km from the temple. We had been traveling for almost 4 hours and there was no way we were going to make it. I usually never turn back, and sometimes pushing yourself that extra bit is all it takes. But having recently read  'Into Thin Air' I was more appreciative how 'turning back' is a mature thing to do in itself. There was no way we wanted to be stuck far away in some countryside where not a single person spoke English. So, THAT close to the temple, and after having traveled so much we turned back!

The return journey was much more relaxed as we had ample time now on our hands to eat and chillax. Immediate priority after turning back was food - we hadn't had anything after breakfast! Being close to temple, we were in good luck - and we were able to find a veg place! 

It was a small place in middle of no where, and those people had apparently never seen foreigners. We created a mini-stir by stepping inside and conversing in half baked Vietnamese.We were quickly made to sit, given iced green tea to drink, followed by delicious bowls of vegetarian noodles soup. All this while the entire family gathered around us and tried to speak to us. I tried repeating multiple times 'toi khong hieu viet' to mean that I don't understand Vietnamese, but that did little to deter their enthusiasm. 

They repeated something several times of which I was only able to capture Xinh Dep meaning beautiful. Finally they pointed out the earrings on my friends ear and made signs to show that they really liked it. And then they tried asking her where's the nose ring? Apparently, they knew something about India afterall! We took off, but not before trying to speak to their daughter and giving our share of Kit Kat and Oreo to her. 

Smile Please! 
As we hit Saigon, it was already dark and was time for delayed 4'o clock rains. One of the heaviest downpour of my life hit me, but nevertheless we continued driving and covered another 15-20 km in that downpour hour with already mad city rush thrown into chaos! Our map became a lump by the time we reached.

What a day! I am sure my friend would be quite thankful to me, as little chances otherwise she would have got to experience all this in that short trip to Vietnam. I think I made her obnoxious Visa fees worth it.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Vietnam Diaries #3: Tipping the Em

At the airport, after having conversed back and forth in English and Vietnamese that I want something vegetarian (or an chay) to eat at the airport cafe; I decided on 2 items each for 27,000 Dong (~ 1.3 USD). I handed her a 100,000 Dong note and she returned 50K. 

However, when I gave her 5,000 dong (i.e. around 25 cents) back she refused to take it. 
Only when I really insisted she took it and thanked me smiling profusely. I was a little confused where all this was going because I was just paying the money for what I had bought and this WAS a fixed priced shop.

Anywho, I left the counter with a Cam On Em (which is how you say thank you to women) and totally caught Cam On Ahn (which is how you say thank you to men!) which she said back to me. Satisfied that my basic Vietnamese is quiet perfect now, I walked away.

Shuffling with the receipt a little later I noticed that the bill was only of 50K and not of 54K as I was thinking! I could not stop laughing thinking what the Em would have thought of me trying to tip 25 cents to her!

I want to go back and explain it to her, but obviously I can’t, and would have to live for a while with this unsettling stupid feeling!