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.


  1. Oh my goodness, KELLY. This is a fabulous post but...oh my goodness. I'm sorry about the visa issues, that sounds like a huge pain in the butt. Good for you for handling it with so much grace and humor :)

  2. Ma chère Kelly... only you would write about something like this with so much humor and enjoyment. I really hope the visa problems were sorted out ASAP. Are you already back in India? Or at least heading there? Shell shouldn't miss out on such an awesome geologist/physicist. I also love your busy things/weirder things stats, they made me smile =)

  3. Miss you sweetie! Hope you're having a blast!