Thursday, April 9, 2009

Pappu ka Amrica Safar...Part 2(pappu Amrica mein kya kiya ??? What happened there??? )

First day in America : As told earlier I was very tired so I hit the bed at the earliest. Set the alarm for 6'O clock morning and went to sleep but Jet Lag caught me on and I was wide awake by 2 AM :D.... all my efforts to sleep went down the drain or must say down the bed and I was half asleep and half awake. Anyway got out of the bed at 6 AM got ready and went down for breakfast. Breakfast was pretty simple with just bread/jam and apples. After finishing my breakfast I was waiting at the reception for Kevin to take me to office. Kevin came in at 8.45 and we set off to office which was just next to the hotel. Once into office all my Indian colleague came rushing to see after who was this guy who became the talk of the town due to delay in arrival to US. Someone commented "Jeez you are here finally...its been quite a wait". After the 'Welcome' I quickly got down to business and started my work, soon it was lunch and one of the guys came over and asked about my plans I said no idea. He took me to his apartment for "Grand Indian lunch". It was a great feeling to have rice, dal and bhindi(lady's finger/okra) curry which he had prepared. Likewise after lunch it was back to work. In the evening I was 'invited' by another friend to his apartment and we had an Indian dinner. After dinner I was feeling very tired(Jet Lag) so went to my hotel room and called off the day. So the first day in US went very well.

First weekend in US :The first weekend started in very nice way with my friends taking me to a party for celebrating one of the guy's birthday and also to bid farewell to two others who were returning back to India. It was typical 'guyz nightout' with unlimited drinks, chicken and lots of controversial issues to argue and blow your vocal chords on. I didnotdrink as I am under an "drinks embargo" by the doctors, due to the appendicitis surgery a few months back. The night ended with around of 'Lemon rice'. Next day it was almost afternoon when we returned to my hotel room andgotready for lunch outside. We went to Chik-Fil-a the pioneers of chicken sandwich. I got the "chicken salad sandwich" with iced-tea my friends had chicken nuggets and burger. I must say the nuggets were real tasty and crispy too. Next stop was 'Wal-mart' for some groceries where I was shown how to swipe the card myself and sign the reciept electronically. This was bit different as in India the counter guys do the swiping. I had to walk carrying the groceries all way to the hotel which was about 2-3 kms from the store. In India i am used to carry groceries for 3-4 kms but there it seemed i was walking miles. The reason probably was we were the only souls walking. That night my dinner was fruits, crackers(biscuits), candies(chocolate) and fruit punch(mixed fruit juice) as I had enough through the day. Sunday I was supposed to go to one of the guys apartment for lunch at an Indian restaurant but couldn't make it, as another guy was coming in from India and I was to receive him at the hotel. The whole afternoon was spent chatting about his journey and other stuff like that. In the evening I watched Vinay Pathak's movies "Dasvidaniya" on my Laptop. So the first weekend was over and I slept early as I was to wake-up early next day as I was to travel to Charlotte, North Carolina for 2 days business trip.

Trip to Charlotte, North Carolina:The trip to Charlotte began early morning. Charlotte is about 100 miles(160 Kms) east of Greenville which is about 1 hour 45 mins drive. Charlotte is the second largest banking headquarters in the United States after New York City with two leading banks of US headquartered there. So we started at 7.30 AM. This was my first long drive in US and for the first time I was on Interstate Highway. The experience was very thrilling as the car was running at an average speed of 70 MPH (110 KPH). My manager who was driving me to Charlotte was explaining about the different places as they paced by with a little bit of history about the place thrown in. We reached our destination by 9.15 AM, on reaching it was business as usual. After checking in to the hotel my manager said we will have dinner at around7.30 PM. We had dinner at Ruby Tuesday an 'American Restuarant' with guaranteed burgers and special steaks. Burger guarantee means if you don't like it they will replace it :). Though I was tempted to go for Steak but I had 'Ruby's Classic Burger ' the classical American burger. The next day we went for lunch at a Greek restuarant where I didnot experiment much... went for a chicken sandwich... which was barbecued breasts with salads rolled in 'Pita Bread'. I could not see much of Charlotte as we had to return that day. We reached Greenville around 4.30 pm. It was the day when I was to check-out of hotel and move to an apartment. This shifting was helped by our operations manager there...after shifting she took me to a grocery(Bi-Lo) to do the basic groceries so that i can start my life in apartment :).

Christmas in US :It is quite obvious that the trip was for six weeks and the trip covered the holidays (Christmas and New Year). Actually the holidays are pretty boring for outsiders like us... as everybody go on leave and we were the only few desis working. Anyway let me say how the Christmas was spent. Christmas eve was a holiday and we were told that all stores and everything closes down early on Christmas eve and everything is completely closed on Christmas so we better get our provisions in place beforehand itself. On Christmas eve we met in one of the apartments and prepared and had meals together. I had fried pappads and bhindi(Okra/Lady's finger), dal and rice was done by others. After lunch we decided we must go out as the weather was improving. Now let me mention here the weather was turning very bad for few days. It was raining and cold winds were blowing. So we went to downtown Greenville. Downtown is a sort of Central Business District or City Centre like MG Road area in Bangalore or Esplande in Kolkata. Actually US cities have this concept of Downtown, midtown and suburbs. Suburbs is where most people live and they work in & arounddowntown. Its a place where you find the offices, shopping malls, theatres, restaurants, night life etc.... A typical US downtown is generally tall buildings and agreeably narrow lanes with lots of twists and turns. Greenville downtown is bit different from others as there is a river flowing right through the downtown andabeautiful park with bridge and falls. The pictures on Greenville travel guides are very beautiful but thats all in Fall or Summer... in winters like the time we were all the beauty disappears. When we reached downtown it was around 2.30 pm and most of the stores, restaurants, art galleries were closed with notices that they'll open again on 26ththat is on boxing day. It was also very desertedwithvery little number of people moving around. We parked our car near the River Park and entered into the park. The park withriver, falls, bridge looked nice but the trees were all barren. The colors were gone after the Fall. Actually a few guys who were there during fall had taken some splendid pictures of the same place. We could not roam around for long as it was nearly freezing there. And one of the guys remembered he had to buy gift for his American friend withwhom he was living.... so we were running around looking for a gift store and came to know that there's this Mast General Store which will close by 4 pm. We started running towards the store as it was already 3.50 by then. As we entered the store they were announcing that they'll close by 4 and everybody was requested to co-operate. We were rushing through different items from toys to apparels to candies to handcrafted items...but the friend of ours was unable to decide so he asked the help of the counter girl and though she suggested some perfumes etc but he couldnot decide and by now it was already 4 andtheguys were closing the counters. My friend finally found a nice coffee mug which had been hand painted. He quickly purchased it and as we were leaving the store it was 4.10 and the manager was at the gate to wish us christmas very politely. There a bit of thing about this store ...its one of the oldest store in Greenville which is there right from the end of 1800s. So it was a heritage store :) maintaining much of its old worldly charm... After we came out we realized that it was the last store open in downtown and there was nothing much left to explore, so we returned. Now in India we celebrate Christmaswith cakes and grand dinners, lunches, likewise we had decided to cook chicken on Christmas in US as well and celebrate. The chicken and other ingredients were already procured on the day before Christmas eve. So we prepared and had chicken with rice, chappatis( tortillas) and curd (yogurt) for lunch. Again we went to downtown on Christmas and clicked some pictures and my digital camera started giving problems before going dead completely. In the evening I watched TV in my apartment had only rice and cauliflower/potato curry for dinner.

Lunch at the Indian Restaurants in Greenville:As I mentioned earlier I missed lunch at Indian Restaurant on that Sunday I was given an opportunity on 26th December-the boxing day when my friends took me to Handi-Indian cuisine in downtown. It was nice to be able have Indian food in a foreign land. Its not that I was missing it but I thought... lets see what are these guys serving the NRIs and Americans in the name of Indian cuisine....I must say the food was "Good try" ;) and it was expensive. The following Sunday I was taken to another Indian restaurant Saffron which is supposed to be the best Indian cuisine in town. I guess the food was "better" then 'Handi'.

New Year Celebrations in US:As the New Year approached lots of planning started happening around... also this created some differences in opnion with one set of guys wanting to have party at home other small set wanting to go out. I was more for going out as partying indoor is something we can do back home in India but don't know whether I'll get chance celebrate a New Year in US more specifically in Greenville. Nevertheless a consensus was reached with plan that food would be prepared at home alongwithfew drinks then who so ever wanted to go out would go out.... The plan looked good on paper with having best of the both sides :) ....but noone seemed to have considered the time factor. Anyway as planned we started our new year eve after office by getting chicken and other items. Then cooking for so many(about 10 ppl) took quite a while and by the time we were ready to go it was 11.30 Pm. Eventually when we started it turned out that everyone was willing to go out.... so we set out in 2 cars towards downtown to see how they celebrate in Greenville. We reached downtown by 11.45 - 15 min from the New Year, after parking the car we started walking down the Main Street which was decorated with lights etc. Andwepassed a pub with a lot of noisy crowd. We wanted to enter but guy at the door asked for ids (age proof) , its mandatory in South Carolina to be above 18 to have alcohol. Thus the Pubs, Clubs, Stores all ask for ids before allowing anyone alcohol. Except one of H1B guys nobody was having Ids. So we were roaming everywhere not being able to get in anywhere just peeping from outside. It was freezing outside and it was almost midnight but nothing could be done. We were cribbing about not coming earlier and being a part of the whole thing. It seemed a great environment with so many young goris dancing inside. Then the clock struck 12 andthe revelry reached feverish pitch with everyone erupting and shouting wishes. Fireworks started lighting up the sky. We stood there watching from the sidelines very disappointed with ourselves. After about 20 minutes we decided to call it a days started moving towards the car. While passing the corner of the Main Street we came across a Bar and Night club called 'Blu Martini' and one of the most optimistic guys in the group said "Let's try one last time". So we walked up to the entrance and as usual the guy at the door asked for id we said "only one of us has it. can't you allow" He said "Any id'll do sir !!! Even Indian one'll do" we looked in our pockets and wallets and said "Sorry" he then thought for a while andpointed towards the lady inside and said "Pay $10 there and get in" we were little startled and asked "all of us?" He said "yes". We got in and it was usual pub kinda place with loads of drunk people dancing to music. We looked around for the drinks counter and they got a beer each and got to the dance floor. We started dancing and lots of people were coming and joining us. One of the goris cameand started to dance with H1B guy and had brief conversation after which she drifted away. I was overwhlemed to able to dance with so many Goris ;) . The party went on till 2 Am and the music stopped couple of the goris were asking for numbers etc but I didn't have any to share. So do we say then "Where there's will there's way" I guess we should. 2009 started on a quite unexpected note. We reached home almost in morning and slept.

Trip to Atlanta, Georgia:The trip to Atlanta was planned as we all wanted to go around and see some places around Greenville. Likewise a Rental car was booked, hotel booked and the entire itenary planned that is the places we like to see. Atlanta is about 145 miles (233 Kms) from Greenville and it takes about 2 hours 30 mins drive to reach there. So we started pretty early about 7.30 Am in the morning. The H1B guy had got a smart SUV(Black Toyota RAV4) and I was overwhelmed by its looks. It was cold, foggy morning with huge fog cover. After driving about two and half hours we reached our first destination of the day 'The Georgia Aquarium" by 10 AM but we had about an hour or so before the place opened up. So we looked around for breakfast and foundadecent place nearby. After breakfast we headed back to the Aquarium. It is the world’s largest Aquarium withover 8 million gallons of water – the top Atlanta attraction, right in the heart of downtown. Inside we saw lots of different types of fish andother aquatic animals like squids, sting rays, jelly fish, sea-otters, whales etc. It had some amazing displays of the animals withvolunteersexplaining their lifestyle, behaviour etc. It took more than 2 hours to see around the entire aquarium. By this time it was already lunch time and everybody wanted to go for lunch into an Indian Restaurant Swapna. The buffet was awesome actually the H1B guy who was driving us was not feeling hungry and wished for something 'light' but the taste of Swapna made him eat the full course actually he overate. Why only him infact all of us had overeaten. Result was that we needed a walk post lunch and after that we visited an Indian Grocers as I had to pick-up "sona masoori" rice which was a little cheap in Atlanta compared to Greenville. After which we had to check-in to hotel but before that we dropped one of the guy's to his Indian friend's place. After freshening-up and a brief rest we planned for a night out andthis was not in my itinerary as someone else had taken the responsibility. Armed with the addresses of a few clubs and pubs we headed out of hotel at 7 Pm. As we had lot of time we planned to go for movie and searched for IMAX and ended-up in a deserted museum and eventually gave up the idea of movie. Then we move towards the clubs by now it was past 8 PM. We searched for a few places andgoingin circles trying to find a free- parking, finally ended up in a place called LocaLuna a Restaurant cum bar with Live music. Once insidewe discovered that it was Latino night with salsa music playing and people doing salsa to it. The guys ordered drink andI ordered plain water withno ice :-D . After looking at the menu we were not able to figure out what to order so we asked the help of the waitress who suggested Grilled Chicken Skewers withCrispy Plantains with Cuban Mojo Sauce which turned out to be a tasty starter. We ordered a couple more of the same dish. Meanwhile as the night progressed the crowd started to grow and more and more hot girls, lesbians started pouring in. We then ordered the main course Tacos- Taco de Pollo, Chipotle and Onion Braised Chicken, Lettuce, Lime Crema which was also very nice. Once the dinner was over it was around midnight and crowd had swollen greatly and most were busy dancing. We wanted to join but the problem was we didnot know salsa !!!! also didnot have any female company. After spending some time watching the crowd dance we moved back to our hotel. While coming out the interesting thing we noted was here also ids were being asked andprobablythere was an entry fee. Finally the first day at Atlanta ended with each of us jumping into our beds alone :( .Next day started little late naturally as all were very tired the previous day. We got ready by 9 and after having breakfast we headed towards the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir located in Lilburn. The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Atlanta is the sixth BAPS traditional Hindu stone temple built outside of India. It is also the largest Hindu temple of its kind outside of India. It serves members of the Swaminarayan branch of Hinduism, which originated in India more than 200 years ago. This is the same sect which has built Akshardham (Delhi), Akshardham (Gandhinagar) andothertemples around the world. The temple is built fully in marble and it looked splendid in the morning sun. Insidethe sculptures are simply breathtaking all done in marble stone. Pictures are allowed only outside so we clicked a lots of pictures. The whole ambience was simply superb and nobody wanted to move out. But we had to go as the complex was closing by noon to be opened again in evening. Next stop was Global Mall, Norcross it was most recommended by the Indian community in Greenville. The Global Mall, the first indoor South Asian Mall in North America, is home to a rich Indian culture. The Global Mall, one of Atlanta's premier shopping centers, boasts over 60 specialty stores andrestaurants. At the Global Mall, we foundone-of-a-kind stores and services, clothing, jewelry, furniture, banking, dining, dancing, tutoring, arts and crafts, make-up professionals, beauty salons, entertainment, game rooms, and much more. Let me mention here that Atlanta has a fairly large concentration of South-Asian community like other big cities of US namely New York, Chicago etc. It was nice to see 2nd, 3rd generation Indians learning Indian dance, music, art etc. We had lunch at one of the Indian Restuarantswhichwas worst Indian food I had in a while. Now we decide to check out the movie theatre which showed Indian movies 'Galaxy Peachtree FunPlex' in Norcross only. They were showing a Telugu movie, a Tamil movie, a Malayalam movie and Hindi movies Rab Ne Banadi Jodi & Ghajini After looking at the theatre and the prices we decided to drop the idea as most of us had watched the movies back in India. It made sense for people living in US and have no chance to see Indian movies. Hence we decided to head towards downtown for the Olympic centennial park. One thing is important to mention here is the distances between two location were huge andmuchtime was taken navigating around. Also we went off-course many times despite having GPS to guide, simply because we were missing turns and getting into wrong street as most of us were inexperienced in deciphiring the GPS instructions. After reaching Olympic centennial park we clicked pictures androamed around the downtown. The downtown looked very desolate and scary to move alone. There were shady characters andhomeless roaming around. Sometimes they were approaching us but we were just ignoring them, moreover seeing a group of 5 mostly they were not bothering us. There are lots of stories about safety concerns in Atlanta downtown. As it was getting dark also it was time for us to go to our last destination of the Atlanta Trip-the house of our account manager. Actually when he came to know that we were in town he invited us for dinner at his house. This was something 'un American' as they generally donotinvite people they do not know so well personally or otherwise. We reached his house with brownies and cakes . After a few drinks andsnacks we sat for dinner. It was my first experience of dinner with an American family. Our hostess apologized for not being able to cook a grand meal. She asked whether anybody could prepare barbecue sauces but we could help her. She had barbecued chicken, prawns, vegetables and rice. Everything tasted very nice and we were chatting about 'arranged' marriages v/s 'love' marriages and it seemed that a few Americans nowadays were turning to marriages 'arranged' by their friends and family. They gave an example of their co-worker whose recent marriage was 'arranged' by them. Also they talked about 'Slumdog Millionare' and they were raving about the film, expressing that it'll sweep the Oscars this year and look at the irony except me nobody else in the group had even heard of 'Slumdog' :-P . Can we say 'Ignorance is bliss' :D . By the time we finished dinner and desert rounds were done it was almost 9 Pm time to leave. After thanking our hosts we headed back for Greenville and reached our apartments around 11 and the 'Trip to Atlanta' came to an end.

Trip to Columbia,SC, Charleston,SC and Ashville, NC :The penultimate weekend was spent going around these places. The trip was planned hastily as we got a good deal for car on Friday night. Due to communication gap between me and my friend we started late for Columbia at about 10 AM. Columbia is about 90 miles (145 Kms) from Greenville it takes about one and half hrs. to reach. We reached Columbia's Lake Murray but could not do much because of extreme cold. The Lake has a beautiful earthen dam. The next stop was Finlay Park in Columbia Downtown. Before moving there we decided thought of picking up some supplies like cold drinks, chips etc... from Aldi supermarket. Its here we made a startling discovery that the GPS was not getting power from the car's power outlet. The GPS box lost all its power and was dead. The car was a brand new red Toyota Camry 2009 an awesome car but it was not supporting my friend's GPS box. Without a GPS box driving around unknown towns in US is almost impossible. To add to our worries the friends phone was also on low battery but still he could make a call to the car rental co. and they said to take the car to the Columbia airport where it can be fixed or replaced. Now the question was how to get to the airport without GPS :) , I told my friend to ask someone the directions. He went ahead & asked a lady who gave rough directions and told to follow the road signs. So we followed her directions and the road signs to reach the airport finally. At the airport the guys took the car to the workshop got it checked and foundno problem with the power outlet. They then decided to change the car and gave a White Chevrolet Cobalt. This car was supporting the GPS but was an older model not really very impressive. We again started moving after about one and half hours at the airport. We reached the Finlay Park but it was empty and not anything special other a big park. We decided to grab something to eat so we entered into Subway outlet and I picked turkey $5 footlong. While driving through the downtown we reached Downtown, Five Points and parked our car. The area is north of USC around the intersections of Harden Street, Devine Street and SanteeAvenue. with different boutiques, shops, restaurants infact therewas this Indian Restaurant named "India Pavilion" right there. The place was beautifully decorated with fountains, restaurants andpubshaving tables outside on the street like the European cities. We clicked some pictures and started towards Charleston, SC around 3.30 PM. Charleston is a beach town of South Carolina its also has significant place in the Revolutionary war andhistoryof USA. It is about 113 miles from Columbia, it took around2 hrs with Resting in a 'Rest Area' on I26 (Interstate 26). At the rest area I got the feel of speed of vehicle travelling on the highway, they were just zooming @ avg speed of 60-75 miles. When we reached Charleston it was already dark and we drove upto the Folly beach andcameback as it was already closed. On the way we crossed the lovely 'Ashley River Memorial Bridge' tried to take pictures from inside the car but didn't come out well. Then we drove to Kings street in downtown which seemed to be famous for its Night life. Once in kings street we were overwhelmed by the number of young people on the street on a chilly winter evening. This was for first time in US we saw people (specifically young girls) walking alone on streets. All this made us desperate to look for a place to stay at night and we started searching in GPS for B&Bs but as the luck had it nowhere there was space. One very polite owner came out on the cold street and pointed us to a few B&Bs as she didn't have space. Many places no one was there to answer the doors or the offices were closed with phone nos. to be contacted but we couldn't call as my friend's phone battery had gone dead. It was extremely cold out there andwalking around knocking doors seemed to be very difficult. At last we had to abandon the idea of staying there after searching for more than an hour. All this searching and roaming made us hungry so started looking for places to eat and ended up in Nirlep Indian Restaurant on Savannah Hwy. We had dinner of 'Baingan Bharta' an eggplant( Brinjal) curry and Dal Makhani, these dinner entrees come with basmati rice and onion chutney. I must tell just two dishes were too much for us and we actually struggled to finish them. It was about 10 pm and we decided to turn back because it would was about three and half hours drive back to Greenville. While returning I kept blabbering all the time because I didnotwant my friend to fall asleep on the wheel, still he felt drowsy and we turned into a gas exit for gas(fuel) and some rest for him as well. Finally we reached home around 2 AM. I told him to sleep in my apartment as we didnot want to delay next day.On Sunday we were searching for a nearby place to go as my friend didn't want to drive far and we zeroed upon Asheville, North Carolina.Its about 50 miles from Greenvile and is just about an hour's drive. Drive from Greenville to Asheville is very nice as you have to pass through the mountains and the roads are simply awesome. We could see icicles in some places also some of the water bodies were frozen. This place must be very beautiful during spring or the fall. The first stop in Asheville was Biltmore House in Biltmore estate its claimed to be the "largest" home in North America. We reached there by 10.30 and it was very cold. To enter the complex we required to take tickets which were expensive, though I was willing to go in but one of the other guys didn't want to go in and"waste time" seeing "a large house" so we had return from outside. Next we headed straight for the downtown to see "Buildings". It was pretty cold but still there were tourists roaming around the downtown. The place was very romantic with some very beautiful buildings more like European structures. We kept moving around andclicking pictures, there were many pretty faces aroundtoo;). For lunch we found out only Indian restaurant Mela. Though Mela is an Indian restuarant its waited by pretty American girls in short skirts :D which took us by complete surprise, moreover we were the only desis having lunch there. Also one more thing, I felt overwhlemed by the popularity of Indian Cuisine in US, that it had reached every nook andcorner. Whichever city I went ended up finding a decent Indian restaurant. After lunch we looked around some Art Galleries. We returned to Greenville by 6 PM so my city trips in US came to an end for this trip of US....

Trivia :Other than going around to many cities we also had been local mall namely Haywood mall or went shopping at woodruff road. One of the saturdays we went to 'Prime Outlets' at Gaffney, its a place where biggest brands like Reebok, Nike, Tommy Hilfiger, Banana Republic, American Eagle, Samsonite, Bose etc had their factory outlets. I didnot shop much except a couple of sweaters from Tommy Hilfiger as most of the apparels were with "Made in India/China/Vietnam" tags, does it make sense to pay in $ for stuff produced in Asia.
It was time to return in no time and six weeks in US were coming to an end ,with me packing my bags, only this time doing everything myself, though I had not shopped much and some of the items like rice etc was emptied, it was easier to pack. I was all set for flying back on 24th Jan. The story of flight back home in my next post :) . It'll be the final part of this series.....
to be continued....

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