Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Crufting, Working Full-Time, and Squatting

This summer, I’m working full-time in Concord with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I’m not the fondest of cubicles, but to be fair, the pay’s alright and I’m definitely happy (and lucky!) to have a job. It’s also not every day that you get to shake hands with a three-star general: The Chief of Engineers happened to visit the New England district two weeks ago.

Because the transit from Boston to Concord is a bear, I’m subleasing a house in Medford – with two housemates. One is my coworker, Cori; it’s rather convenient - she drives me to and from work. She is a rising junior at Duke studying biology. The other is a twenty-six year old Tufts grad student.
My housemate, Ramon, eating watermelon...
He’s going for a masters in biological engineering. Between the two of them, they keep me entertained just fine. This past weekend, we threw a World Cup watching party. We also had a taco potluck awhile back. Also, I think I have watched more movies with Cori  (21 Jumpstreet, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Italian Job, Clueless, Thelma and Louise, Dark Knight, 21 and Over, 13 Going on 30, Failure to Launch, Frozen) than in my entire life. I blame my forty-hour workweek for the movie/World Cup marathons; I’m completely exhausted by the time I get home. However, Cori and I have gone into Boston on various weekends – Harvard Square (crashed their alumni reunion coincidentally), Boston Commons, Newbury Street. We listened to street musicians and admired numerous weddings.

But then Electric Vehicle Team happened (Thanks, Jacob!). I’ve begun carpooling back to MIT for the weekends. Some of my co-workers are staying in MIT frats (not MIT students though), so I have been fortunate enough to catch a ride with them back on Friday evenings. Squatting at MIT has been a pleasurable experience, thanks to some phenomenal, generous friends. I have stayed with various friends in EC, including Luisa. Luisa and I even ran into Andrei at one of our Shaw’s grocery runs. We also went to the Cambridgeside Galleria two weekends ago.

Latest Project ^_^
I had my first ever Porsche car ride at EVT. I watched my first ever episode of anime on floorpi (3W of EC). I learned to harvest free food and amass cruft. As it turns out, one of my EC friend is rather skilled at the aforementioned two tasks. Here is a photo of the jumbo fan assembly I made the other day. They are fans from a desktop computer, wired in parallel. The fans run on 12V DC, and my friend was kind enough to lend me a 120V AC adaptor :D. It actually works remarkably well. The air it blows is surprisingly cold, not the hot air you would expect from a subpar hack. Unfortunately, there is no protective grating in front of the last fan, granted I don’t think it goes fast enough to take fingers off.  

The free food harvest
Anywho, I hope everyone is having a wonderful summer! I’m so happy so many prefrosh saw the light and chose LMF in the housing lottery. Long live la maison!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The elusive leisurely hike, or how we accidentally hiked up one of the highest summits in Vercors

The people: four rising junior summer interns from MIT, Penn, LSU.
The plan: to catch the bus to the northwest of Grenoble to a place where we can do HIKING.
Status of plan: Improvisational!
Destination: Lans-en-Vercors --> Some cool summit.

Result (spoiler!): 5 hours, 1835 meters in altitude, about 16km of hiking to amazing summit La Moucherotte (has its own Wiki!).
I was overlooking the Chartreuse Mountain Range 
from a 360 degree viewpoint on the summit!
And for a geographic overview, see the Le Moucherotte peak here: 

I knew that we could catch a bus to the beautiful Vercors mountains, but I had no plan, no maps of trails, just the knowledge that there are awesome hiking paths.

After about 50 minutes on bus 5110, we arrive at a small village. The tourism office was closed and not much people were in sight, except for a couple with bikes who were clearly also going hiking. I don't know where it was luck, or the necessity of the situation (since I had no idea where any of the hiking paths began) I went up to the couple and asked them in French where we could find a hiking path. They were nice enough to actually lead us to the beginning of the path, or show along which road we could turn into it, despite it being not exactly in their direction. One of them was from Quebec actually, and the other from Martinique, and I don't know what we would do without having asked them for directions.

"Go down this motor route, then turn into the little path with the yellow and red marking." they told us.

We did as we were told, and after accidentally going down a really sketchy and swampy path, we finally found the path paved by the yellow and red markers which reminded us of the German flag. From there on, the path led up, up and up, past small pastures, barns, cows, and some overprotective dogs.

Happy after finally seeing the correct path!

Cute horses. 

Still on the road with cute dogs. 

A peculiar small patch of trees. 
Our destination was the summit La Moucherotte, the highest mountain peak in this Lans-en-Vercors region. After almost two hours of strenuous hiking through the forested mountain area, we finally came out into a clearing which gave us the urge to sing a song from the "Sound of Music".

Group selfie at 1/4 way there!
As we neared these rocky paths with cute mountain flowers and amazing views of gorges and valleys opening before us, we realized we were truly gaining some altitude. For me, this vastness of nature appeared in this way for the first time, and it was breathtaking.

About the 1/2 way mark!
More motivational views. 
Three hours after the start, we arrived at the very top. It was well worth it any pain we might have had going up, being the amateurs we were while taking up this rather challenging hike. See for yourself:

Grenoble and the Alps in the background!

Mont. Blanc!
On the top of summit La Moucherotte.
All of Grenoble and Alps. 
Once it was time to go down, we knew there was no way we were going to make the 6:05pm bus. So there was only one way out: hitchhiking. Or... Being the clever one I am, I saw a French couple on the top of the summit with us, and asked them for directions back to the closest village (not the same one from which we came). They told me that they are from the same village and could show us the way. This was wonderful, and it turned out that they were also going back to Grenoble and had two places in their car! They were really nice. Except we still had four people, and had to get out of there somehow. Or camp out in the mountains.

The path we took down was actually more extreme than the one going up - it was made up almost completely of rocks and almost on a vertical angle. Our companions had almost no trouble going down, while we kept falling and stumbling as the rocks kept slipping under our sneakers. "We are all going to die," said my friend and fellow intern Alexis '16, as we kept stumbling and picking up scratches.

When we finally got down from the steep 1.8 km slope, Alex, another intern, thanked God for his mercy. We all felt the same, and the French couple chuckled, and said that this shortcut to the village was actually the "easier" path. Ha.

Finally in the village, we each bought a liter of water and started contemplating how to hitch hike, since none of us had done it before. I saw an old couple seemingly packing a car, and asked them if they were going to Grenoble. The man immediately rushed me over to the side of the road and waved to a car with a family inside, who responded that they would be able to take one other person to Grenoble. Or two. We swiftly squeezed Alexis and Katie into the car and they zoomed off; I asked the family to drop them off at the tram end stop, conveniently in their direction.

It was just me and Alex left, so we waited for the couple we met at the mountains to go back to the city; they had two places. When the guy, Alexander, drove by the stop, he was alone and once we got in the car we realized that he is literally just dropping us off and getting back to the village. It was the nicest thing to do that. I learned he is a petroleum engineer and the young woman was actually a scientist at CEA where most of the interns here work. We had a nice chat about chemical engineering, the pros and cons of Paris, Grenoble, and Marseille. Alexander drove as fast as he hiked, and 20 minutes later, we were at a tram station at Grenoble. No matter what people may say about the French and being snobby, I have several personal testimonials of them being the most nice and incredibly lifesaving.

Onward we marched with our muddy sneakers and legs exhausted from all the downward and upward climbing. Although somehow it wasn't all that bad, since all was compensated by the spectacular views and the mountain breeze which feels like an A/C, but better. It tingles your skin and is fresher than any air down below. Just for that, all the scratches were 100% worth it.

The annual music festival, Fete de la Musique, awaited us in the city, but nothing it could offer could compete with the exhilaration of being on the top of the world!

The synchrotron from La Moucherotte. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

I had a bear encounter and my entire body hurts

(Fortunately, those two facts are not causally related.)


The last time I owned a bike, I was nine years old. The last time I felt comfortable riding a bike, I was nine years old. In the decade or so since, I have ridden a bike exactly twice: once in France on an eighth grade field trip (I lost control of the bike and threw myself off before it fell into a rock pit) and once in Albuquerque the summer after I graduated from High School (I lost control of the bike and slammed head-on into a bush, and skidded on my ribs on the road for a few meters).

So, when Raphael suggested that I borrow his sister's mountain bike for the summer, I lol'd. But I managed to wobble around on the sidewalk and made it successfully (with a bit of shrieking) to the University of Montana campus and back.

Raphael seemed to think that my performance was worthy of leveling up, so he suggested that we go on a mountain biking trip: eight miles up, camp overnight, eight miles back down the next morning. I said sure. What the hell, why not. Mountains are like flat cracked sidewalk, right?

And just like that, I found myself in the passenger's seat of Raphael's '88 Mercedes with two bikes riding on the back.

This is probably a good point to tell you that I've been a little nervous about bears. Montana is very much bear country, and in the next few weeks we're going to do quite a bit of hiking and camping. When I told Raphael's dad about my fear, he responded by telling me no fewer than four stories about innocent people getting mauled and killed by aggressive bears. "Maybe I should bring bear spray!" I said. He responded with "I prefer this kind of bear spray," miming holding and firing a rifle. Great.

With that in mind, we reached the trail head a little after noon. I swung on my backpack (which had zero rifles, but among other things our camping stove, fuel, and my sleeping bag) took a moment to think "wow, this is actually a little heavy," got on the bike, and wobbled around the parking lot for a while. I felt okay, so off we went!

The first half hour or so was tough. I kept panicking and stopping, trying to fiddle with changing the gear on the bike. Eventually I had such bad nausea (and period cramps. UGH they were terrible.) that I had to get off the bike and sit on the ground. My legs hurt, my stomach hurt, I was out of breath, and my butt was NOT happy at bumping over all those rocks. I also felt incredibly embarrassed that I was slowing my companions (Raphael and this guy) down. Mark had to get back into town by the evening, so he zipped on up ahead while I puttered around on the gravel and dirt. Raphael was very patient, though, and eventually my bad temper passed and my balance on the bike improved. Not to mention that the scenery was beautiful:

At some point, I literally could not continue (my legs were operating so slowly that the bike would just stop and tip over) so we took a break. We sat on the side of the road, and I scanned the meadow across the stream. Suddenly, a large brown mass moved. Hey, it was fuzzy! Kind of like a teddy-

OH GOD. "Raphael, what is that?" Raphael looked, then said "let's get back on the bikes." So, we got back on the bikes, and suddenly I had enough energy to keep going for a while. It's amazing what your body is capable of when that flight response kicks in.

A few minutes later, though, I was definitively out of steam, so we stopped for a proper break. I had to do that a couple more times before we reached our destination: Franklin Bridge. And in the last few minutes I was walking and pulling my bike along. But we made it!

The couple who took that picture for us had run into a park ranger on the way. "Did you guys hear?" they asked. "There was a bear and mountain lion spotted around here." Here, as in: our camping site. WHY?????????????

Raphael was amused by my freakout: I guess if you do this kind of thing enough, you make peace with the idea of being ripped to shreds by a set of sharp teeth while you sleep.

We toyed with the idea of biking onwards for five miles, but I knew that I wouldn't make it, so we set up camp instead. When we (well, mostly Raphael) set up our shiny new two-person hammock, it looked like a spaceship!

Pro tip: there is no such thing as a platonic two-person hammock. If you ever find yourself sleeping in one, prepare to cuddle.

We (well, mostly Raphael) made a fire and ate dinner.

We then slept for twelve hours straight, without meaning to (we had assumed that we would wake up when it was light...whoops). It felt fantastic, though. In the morning, we packed everything up and began the journey downhill.

Conclusion: I like downhill mountain biking a lot more than I like uphill mountain biking. I was also much more confident than I had been the previous day (I guess practice helps) and went zipping down without freaking out and having to stop every two seconds. I also learned to shift my weight to my feet when going over rocks, so that I wouldn't bounce around on the seat as much. It rained but I was happy anyway: we zoomed down in about a third the time it took us to get up. I sang a rendition of my new hit single "beaaaaarrrsss! please don't eaaattt meeeee" and Raphael whistled, so that we wouldn't sneak up and surprise anything or anyone. Fortunately that all worked great and there were no bear encounters.

Raphael took some pictures:

Now I'm back in Raphael's house, having unpacked and done the laundry. Mountain biking is a full body workout, and I can barely move. Raphael said that we should try mountain biking again, but this time without the heavy packs -- I said sure, I'm down.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

From Dusk Till Dawn

First of all, congratulation to the Class of 2014! You will be dearly missed in French House next year. I really wanted to come say good-bye in person, but I overestimated the length of a Wednesday and was already about to miss my flight. Well, I did get on the plane during the final call: 15 minutes before the scheduled take-off I finally realized that I had been checking the updates for the 10:45PM flight to London instead of the 9:30PM. 

Heathrow is not half as romantic in real life as in “Love Actually”, or at least not in May. However, on the shuttle from Terminal 5 to Terminal 3 I finally felt I was going home because so were all the Finns, and I learned that Etelä-Suomessa on kesä.*

*It’s summer in Southern Finland. Interestingly enough, while the names of all other cardinal directions are virtually the same in Estonian and Finnish, the words for south and southwest are reversed, so edel would actually mean southwest in Estonian. Furthermore, the Estonian word for lunch (lõuna) is the same as our word for south, while it is lounas for the Finns, meaning Southwest. It has been proposed that lunch is generally eaten around noon when the Sun is in fact in the south, hence the polysemy. I wonder if the Finns just eat lunch later in the day?

Then again, I am willing to believe that those Finns at Heathrow were quite right: Etelä-Virossa oli samoin kesä, for a few days at least. It was 90 degrees outside, and although far less humid than in Boston, still more than I had expected or would have liked. That did not last, of course, and the past two weeks it has mostly been raining with a chance of thunderstorms. Lasse, my dog, has once again decided to declare the bathroom his own: he is scared of the thunder, and the bathroom is the only place with no windows. I still have to take him out for walks, though. At least, everything is back to normal at home - even the mosquitoes are back. 

Taking Lasse out for walks seems to be my main contribution to society; I mostly just sleep a lot. To be fair, these almost three weeks, there has been only one sunrise I have not seen (I was simply too exhausted after 17 hours of travel on the day I arrived). Then again, the sun rises around 4AM and sets around 11 PM, so I do not feel particularly guilty for sleeping at odd hours as I still see plenty of sunlight. My sleeping mask has proved useful, though. 
Sunset over the Baltic Sea at 10:30PM
I did, however, travel to Narva and Narva-Jõesuu with my family last weekend. Narva-Jõesuu is a summer resort on the coast of the Baltic Sea near the mouth of the Narva River (which is exactly what the name means). Most of the population speaks Russian, although there are 13% native Estonians in Narva-Jõesuu compared to just 4% in Narva, so I was hoping to get some language practice. While most of my friends have been learning Russian for over 10 years, I managed to avoid taking Russian all my life in Estonia, learning German, French and Swedish instead (the folks in the capital Tallinn have no choice to opt out, as nearly half the city speaks Russian as a first language). A fourth of the people in Estonia are native Russian speakers, so it is without a doubt the most practical language to learn after English. I have thought about it and come to believe that this is exactly the reason why I decided against learning Russian: it was practical. Then I moved to the US for MIT and suddenly Spanish was the practical language to learn, while Russian became something exotic (at least at MIT), not really useful at all. I’ve now taken two semesters of Russian at MIT, and am hoping to continue in future semesters. As I learnt, I still mostly use the words and phrases I knew before taking Russian, but at least I understand more. We even went to a museum tour entirely in Russian (not that I understood much, but still, I can know distinguish the words in a sentence). 

Narva-Jõesuu is basically a forest with some houses, several spas, one supermarket and lots of Russian and Finnish tourists under those pine trees. Despite somewhat cold water, I hereby declare the swim season open. The salinity of the ocean water averages around 35‰, whereas the Baltic Sea has salinity between 6 and 8‰ by the coast of Estonia. It was probably even less in Narva-Jõesuu because of the river, so it is debatable whether or not it should be considered a sea at all for swimming purposes. The low salinity is one of the reasons why the Baltic Sea has a unique species composition, as well as why Estonians like to taste the seawater whenever they travel (the Gulf of Mexico, for example, is ridiculously salty compared to the Baltic Sea). 

What Americans might think of as a forest, the Estonians consider a parking lot
Narva-Jõesuu is best-known for this kind of wooden architecture
Narva obtained Lübeck City Rights in 1345 under the Danish rule. The baroque style Old Town built during the 17th century underwent practically no changes until World War II and became in later centuries quite famous all over Europe. As in many parts of Europe, however, WW II destroyed practically everything, and Narva is now architecturally nothing more than an average Soviet town, with the exception of the castle and the rebuilt town hall.
Russia on the left, Estonia on the right
The town hall of Narva
The border crossing
As you can see, I finally bought myself a smartphone from Amazon and spent a great deal of Saturday learning to use the panorama function of its camera.
Lotta and Lenin
Lenin is quite popular with the children, despite (or because of) his current location
During the Soviet era, the statue of Lenin used to stand proudly on his own square close to the bridge to Russia. After the union collapsed, Lenin was obviously removed, and is now safely inside the castle walls, possibly to protect him from being taken to scrap iron collectors (considering his size, he should be worth quite a lot) - this actually happened to many Lenins across the former USSR.

PS. It’s less than three hours from dusk till dawn. 

Bienvenue à Grenoble!

Bienvenue à Grenoble, la ville des Jeux olympiques de 1968 et les montagnes sans fin! Mais d'abord, je vais montrer ce que j'ai vu en arrivant à Genève, mon premier arrêt.

I arrived in Geneva at about 7:30AM last Thursday. The day was sunny and a little bit cool, and I was still under a great impression from the mountaintops I saw from the airplane...

The alps of Geneva as I was landing.

Some of the mountaintops near Lyon (?). 
In Geneva, I took a 6 minute train from the airport to the train station (the train ticket is free for an hour or so!) and hung around there for a while. Bought somewhat overpriced tickets to Grenoble (it is cheaper to buy them on the French SNCF site, since they don't charge you a "foreign fee"). At this point I was nearing 24 hours without sleep, so not feeling too upbeat, attempts to sleep on the 2 hours train ride were not met with success.

Oh well. At least I got to my dorm pretty quickly, managed to get my monthly transport card (these rock! literally free bus/tram for a month for 27 euros!) as well as phone card on the same day, before collapsing and falling asleep around 5PM. Ugh, jetlag... 

Here is a bit of my dorm. It is a bit of a step-up from last year in Paris, where there was literally nothing there except a bed, desk, chair, and bookshelf. This time, I get a fully equipped kitchen, 4 sets 
of dining utensils, knives, pans, pots, plates, etc... everything a true LMF-er at heart needs for survival. 

My room and workspace, view 1.

Kitchenette, view part deux.
Oh, and did I mention that is an unfolding King size bed? This is definitely a step-up from Paris. Anyway, here's an example of what can be made here:
Le Yum!
Well, that's that. I will also tell you about my surroundings soon. Let's just say that they are almost as sketchy as the ones I had in Paris after dark. :3

Saturday, 9:07 AM. I wake up to the banging on my door. It's the other GIANT program interns! Darn it! Turns out I grossly overslept my alarm. I was supposed to meet everyone at the first floor at 9:00 AM to go do numerous teamwork activities at the Bastille, a rocklimbing and ziplining mountain (the pinnacle of tourism in Grenoble) which was originally a fort. 

Thanks jetlag! I poked my head out of my door to tell to the others that they could go without me, and started getting dressed and shoving French yogurt in my mouth as fast as I could. I needed to get to the Bastille - the téléphérique (cable car) station on the other side of town - at 9:45 AM. We were going to take the cable car up to the mountain.

Realizing that I just missed the bus and they only come every half hour on the weekends, I decided to speedwalk my way to this Bastille, through a town I barely knew.

And guess what? Keeping my eye on the mountain itself, I soon found my way to the station. A miracle, considering all of the misdirected feats I have had so far. This is what awaited me there. 

Inside the téléphérique

One of the breathtaking views from the Bastille

Inside one of the grottos

This city... ;) 

Hi there!
It was really fun, but extremely hot, and the ziplining was actually a great relief since it followed climbing a mountain and waiting on it for about half an hour before your turn on the *largest* zipline. And it was pretty darn large. I felt bad for all the little kids getting stuck in the middle of the zipline, since they had so little momentum. And kids of any age can go on these things. French people are like that, kids (nearly toddlers) do things you would not see them doing in the US, like riding a zipline over a 100 meter terrain. The entire experience was called AcroBastille, and it definitely makes you feel like an acrobat!

Sunday 1PM. The next day, I headed to a museum but ended up going to an open air antique/flea market which only happens four times per year in Grenoble. It literally covered two streets and more, with things ranging from authentic porcelain to film cameras (which apparently even the sellers don't know how to use) to music records to 1950's French kids toys. It was pretty cool, and I got a few antiques of my own. 
One of my very cute market acquisitions.

Oh, and well, we finally made it to the Musée Dauphinoise at the end, which I expected to be about the prince (dauphin) who resided in Grenoble, but turned out to be about feminism, history of bras, people of the alps, and skiing. Very unintuitive. 

Anyway, that is PART 1 of my welcome to Grenoble Series! Part two - the life of a Grenoblois intern - is coming up soon! Get ready! 

Have a wonderful summer, my dear French House, and congrats again to you lucky graduates. A bientôt! 



Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Tale Of Two Visas

I have a new game for you guys. 'Where in the world is Kelly?' I hope some of you are good at it, since I've begun to get rather confused myself. Set the clock to any time in the past week, account for jetlag, then throw a few darts at a globe between New England and Asia and you'll probably be pretty close.

As many of you know, this summer I had a plan. I was going to go to Bangalore, and intern with Shell. I'd spend my weekdays working on computational fluid dynamics, and my weekends wandering on the roads and hills of India.
Lake at the botanical garden, Lalbagh, of Bangalore.
The red parts of the tree aren't flowers, but leaves.
I was nervous, of course. How do I find housing in India? Can I haggle with autorickshaw drivers? Will I get sick? Will my work be interesting? What will I wear? Over a few days in Bangalore, I began to figure all of these out. Unfortunately, none of this may matter. Due to a certain miscommunication around visas, I showed up at work on Monday and was told in the early afternoon that I and another of the interns weren't legally allowed to work for Shell.

Our Indian visas say 'TOURIST' on in bold font on the spot where they ought to say 'EMPLOYMENT'. This is a problem in spite of my offer to send home postcards from my cubicle and take smiling photos in front of the coffee machine. As a US citizen, it's a problem best fixed in the US. So, less than a week after arriving, with nothing but a single backpack full of paperwork and a change of clothes, I found myself back on a plane, going to New York to try to swap my visa.

The craziness.
In the past week, I've:
      gone halfway round the world packed for the summer
            learned how to haggle for hotel rooms in Bangalore
                  gone back with just a toothbrush, laptop and clothes
                        spent fifty hours in six planes and seven airports
                                straight into another four hours (so far) waiting in line for visas
                                       to end up in a backpacker's hostel in New York.
I should probably make it clear - I'm optimistic, though less than 100%, about getting my visa sorted. My summer is not yet completely screwed, and MISTI and Shell HR are both trying to help.

The celing of my hostel room in NYC :) The hostel looked
much like Senior Haus, but with pin-up posters in the bathroom
and more cats.
[The Carlton Arms, in case any of you visit the city]

That ordeal being outlined, here are a few fun thoughts on New York and Bangalore. Disclaimer: I've spent about five days total in each in both good and bad parts of the city, always with visa problems, always exhausted and unfashionably dressed.

Many of you are probably a bit familiar with New York. After living most of my life in places smaller than Boston, New York is exciting and a little overwhelming. It's huge, it's fashionable, it's fast-paced and going everywhere at once. Manhattan is packed tight with tiny shops and high rise buildings. You can buy postage, clothes, breakfast, passports, shoes and a dozen things you've never heard of on a single block. On a sunny green space a hundred feet wide and there will be fifteen people talking, twenty eating lunch and another five practicing yoga. New York has great plays and fancy museums. More generally, New York has a sense of newness - of modernity and power - that resonates with dreamers around the world.

Bangalore, on the other hand, radiates modernity and chaos. It New York look perfectly organized. Square city blocks? Undeveloped green spaces? Construction that doesn't block the sidewalk? Nah. Walking down a Bangalore street requires stepping over piles of rubble where the sidewalk has cracked, navigating street vendors, low hanging branches, and the motorcycles that take over the sidewalk whenever traffic gets too bad. In the street, autorickshaws and motorcycles pack in with cars and buses in a stream at least five vehicles wide on what the US would consider a two-lane street. Crossing the street is like wading through a  river river of metal and gas fumes.

Bangalore makes New York look underpopulated. Old. Even a little bit tame. Everything happens in New York, but in India everything goes out of its way to happen to you. Both cities have busy streets with all manner of people, but in New York you can walk with your head down and might make it a few blocks before being approached by someone, or smelling something, or stepping on something. In Bangalore, you get closer to ten feet.

A few more minor differences? Bangalore has bright colors and cows on the streets. New York has working electricity. Bangalore buildings are tattered concrete on the outside and gleaming metal on the inside. My New York hotel is gleaming on the outside and on the inside looks like Senior House but with more cats. Bangalore women wear beautiful saris; New York women wear neon or Gucci or bared midriffs. I wear sneakers and just-off-the-plane-hair.

Things that have happened to me in New York and Bangalore:
1. Asked for directions: NY 5, BLR 0
2. Asked to take a photo for someone: NY 3, BLR 0
3. Asked to let someone take a photo of exotic me: NY 0, BLR 8
4. Hopeful looks from street vendor: NY 12, BLR 40

City life
5. Things paid for: NY 40, BLR 100
6. Minutes spent haggling for them: NY 0, BLR 120
7. Minutes spent confused by transportation system: NY 120, BLR 45
8. Minutes spent confused by hotels: NY 10, BLR 240
9. Minutes spent confused by food: NY 20, BLR 30
Total time spent confused: 9h45 (It's actually more than this. This is only the eyebrow-scrunching, map-checking, telling-three-concierges-the-same-thing confusion.)

Busy things
10. Fun conversations with a stranger: NY 3, BLR 1 (but lengthy)
11. Remarkably pretty plants: NY 1, BLR 10
12. Bumped into a motorcycle: NY 0, BLR 3
13. Bumped into by motorcycle: NY 0, BLR 0 (phew)
14. Electricity failed: NY 0, BLR 30+
15: Offered cab/autorickshaw ride: NY 3, BLR 6
16: Sworn at by cab/autorickshaw driver: NY 3, BLR 1
17. Begged for money: NY 9, BLR 4

Weirder things
18. Offered weed: NY 1, BLR 0
19. Offered sex: NY 2, BLR 1
20. Offered yoga pants: NY 1, BLR 0
21. Offered religious salvation: NY 2, BLR 0
22. Offered marriage: NY 1, BLR 0

So, my advice for those of you thinking of going to new cities? Expect to be offered everything you don't want, and confused about everything you do. But once you've finished scratching your head, and worrying about whether you packed shampoo - expect to have fun being surprised.