Tuesday, February 28, 2006


So this sore throat started off on Friday night. Immediately all warning bells went off. My cubicle neighbor had been sniffling and coughing all of Thursday and Friday. The last thing I wanted to get was a cold - being sick when there is no one around to pamper is not a very nice thing! So as soon as I felt my throat hurting a little, I immediately started all the precautionary measures - drank lots of hot water, hot soup, hot tea, hot turmeric milk - in short, the works. All of it seemed to have some effect - though my throat continued to burn mildly, it at least wasn't turning into anything full-fledged. Yipppeee.

Too early celebrations I guess. Sunday night a non-stop bout of coughing kept me awake for a couple of hours. Monday morning I went to work, quite sure of the sympathy of people around me when they saw my coughing self. Yeah right. As soon as I settled in my cubicle I heard at least five different people coughing. And then learnt that four other of my colleagues had taken the day off due to being sick with the flu. Hmph. There flew out of the window, all my plans of getting sympathy. On second thoughts, I was at least feeling a little less miserable - with so many people sick with the "bug", it was just a matter of time before I caught it too.

Anyways today, the cough has gone away a bit but new symptoms have appeared - runny nose, heavy head and general wooziness. And I am supposed to be at work. Sigh :-(!

I hate the flu-season!

p.s. Sorry to crib, crib, crib. Am just passing my general mood around ;-)!

Saturday, February 25, 2006


I came across this quote on someone else's blog:

If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you. - Winnie the Pooh

Isn't that sooooo sweet?

I know, I know - I generally don't post mushy stuff on my blog. But, ah well, once in a while is okay :-)!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Childhood Stories - #2

Long ago, I wrote this post which related experiences from my childhood. I decided it is time for more reminiscences and so here is another vignette from the past!

When I was small, we used to have a lot of family gatherings during vacations. All of my extended family used to meet up at one family's house (the selection of the host family usually used to go in a round-robin fashion to avoid undue burden on just one family) and spend a bunch of days either visiting fun spots or just hanging out together at home.

One of the things I remember loving about these vacations is how the hosting house used to almost burst with all the visiting people. With so many visitors, any day-to-day activity, including eating and sleeping had to be fine-tuned, planned and well-orchestrated to avoid chaos.

For eating, there was no way that all of us could fit into a single room with any comfort. So unless the meal was special (like the elaborate Sunday lunches or the lunches hosted to celebrate a festival), the eaters would generally be divided into three batches: kids, men and women. Or sometimes into two batches: kids and adults. Either way, we kids always had the privilege of eating first :-). After we were done eating, the older kids would take on the serving duties (with an occasional "aaarhgh, don't spill stuff" from the adults) or the babysitting of the younger kids while the others ate. Every meal-time, especially lunch, was a big affair by itself. During dinner, if the menu featured dosas (rice pancakes), woe betide the cooks. All of us kids once sat for more than an hour and a half at dinner eating dosas until we could be satiated!

The next difficult task was making sleeping arrangements for everyone. Those days, during all such gatherings, most of us slept on mats on the ground. We kids would try to group together in a single place while settling down for the night so that we could whisper and giggle into the night (or at least until some irate adult asked us to shut up and sleep). Each family brought its own blankets but the pillows were usually from the hosting house.

One of my uncles, C, used to be very particular about the kind of pillow he wanted. During one vacation, after trying several of the pillows at the hosting family's house, he decided upon one he liked. But how to pull out the "correct" pillow from the pile of bedding night after night? So he hit upon a brilliant idea: using a red pen, he lightly marked a corner of the pillow case of his favorite pillow with his initials. Tada! Now, night after night, as we kids watched, he would triumphantly pull out his favored pillow from the heap.

Soon enough, my sister hit upon an idea for a prank. One day, when no one was watching, we cousins got hold of a red pen ourselves and quietly marked the corner of every pillow's case with Uncle C's initials. And replaced them all back and waited for night. Sure enough, that night, uncle C pulled out the pillow that had his initials but then doubtfully said "Oh, I thought my pillow was thicker than this". One of us innocently said, "Oh uncle C, you are holding the wrong pillow. See, this one has your initials on it". As more of us jumped into the conversation with, "Look, I found THE pillow with your initials", uncle C realized that something was amiss. It wasn't hard to guess what we had done and we all got a sound scolding. But we kids almost cracked our sides laughing that night - so I guess it was worth it!

Hmm, writing about all this makes me wish that I could rewind and go back in time. Oh well, even just recollecting feels good :-)! For now, I shall settle for that!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Things to do on a lazy Saturday

9.00a: Open eyes slightly. Aw gosh! Its only 9.00a and its Saturday. Roll over, snuggle closer to the comforter and go back to sleep.

9.30a: Open eyes again. Aw gosh! Its only 9.30a. Wait a minute! Hey, its Saturday - I don't need to go to work. Jump out of bed.

9.45a: Make chai and take it to the coffee table along with the "marie" biscuts.

10.00a: Turn on TV. Watch Showbiz India. Man, that Tanisha looks so ugly. Uday looks uglier. Hmm, I didn't realize 'Karam' had a nice sounding song. God, is Abhishek really going to marry Ash?

11.00a: Bollywood news and entertainment quota for the week met. Grab 'Emma' and continue reading it. Mmmm, I like Jane Austen novels.

12.15p: Feeling hungry. Maybe I should cook good food *just* for myself.

1.30p: Eating chapathis and self-made dal, raitha & sabzi. I rock or what?

2.00p: Lying down in front of the heater, reading 'Emma'.

2.15p: Aaaah, I feel so warm, comfortable and sleepy. This is how cats must feel when they lie down in front of the fire-place.

2.30p: Now am covered with comforter and window shades are closed. Zzzzzz.

3.30p: Wake up with a start. Continue reading book.

4.00p: Make carrot kheer.

4.30p: Feeling very virtuos while drinking kheer. I know how to pamper myself. Wish I could only play the pampered part and let someone else do the pampering though.

5.00p: Hmm, maybe should take a shower.

5.15p: Finish putting away the washed clothes from last laundry-day which were still in laundry-bag, before going for bath.

6.15p: Wow, that was a refreshing bath. I *love* soaking in the bath tub.

6.30p: Drinking chai, I remember the kutti oil-lamp brought from India. I light it and feel even more virtuous.

6.45p: Feeling a bit homesick. Could do with some company about now.

7.00p: Finish looking at all the pictures from India trip for the nth time.

7.55p: Finish chatting with neighbor and get wireless network set up. Am using his wireless network and the speed (after my pathetic dialup) is just cool :-).

8.00p: Good net connection, good surfing speed - start blogging :-D!

p.s. I still have a couple of more hours to go to bed. But I am very confident that I will do absolutely *nothing* useful whatsoever in that span of time. Every once in a while, I simply love to just LAZE around on a holiday.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

We speak only British English

The other day I was watching the movie 'Flavors' with friends (an aside: if you haven't watched the movie yet, do so! Its pretty funny and cool). In one of the scenes, one of the characters explains to an American woman that he can't follow her too well since he speaks and follows only "British English"! How true! When I landed up in the US for the first time, in spite of coming with the tag of "I speak good English", it was quite an experience interacting with the people here.

I had teamed up with two other future UC Davis students, E and F while coming here. We arrived in at the San Francisco airport and then took the airporter to Davis. We arrived at my apartment about 12.30a at night (yeah, I had already chosen my apartment and apartment-mates from India). The apartment manager was fortunately still up and helped us with our suitcases to my apartment. There, to my dismay, we found that the apartment was locked. Fortunately, we found a note from R (my future roomie) that she was out for a b'day party and would be back soon. Now we had the task of convincing the apartment manager that we weren't trespassers and that our arrival was anticipated.

So E, F and me explained that I was the 'Archana' mentioned in the note and that R was expecting me and that we would wait for her arrival. The apartment manager listened to us carefully for sometime and finally asked, "Do any of you speak English?" What!?!!! For goodness sake, we had been speaking in English :-(!

The next shock came when most of the people I spoke to said that I spoke too fast. Again, I was zapped. Whenever I watched American movies back in India, I used to think that all the American actors spoke way too fast and here they were accusing me of speaking too fast. Anyways, I slowed down a bit. Now, I had the pleasure of watching all the people staring intently at my lips while I spoke. They were basically trying to lip-read to comprehend what I was saying! Yikes!

Next came the pronounciation part. For some reason, whenever I said 'A', people heard it as 'E'. Similarly when I said 'T', people heard 'D'. Of course, I had to have a first name which has 3 A's in it. So, everytime I spelt out my name out for anyone, they would carefully write down 'ErchEnE'. I still have this problem. So, nowadays, I *always* spell out my name like "My name is Archana. A as in apple, R as in Robert..." and so on. It takes a while to finish spelling out, but at least I no longer get mail addressed to 'Erchene'.

All the above mentioned problems mostly happened with the native English speakers. For the people from other countries, since they themselves had their own brand of accents from their home-country, trying to decipher each other was a fun and mutually-challenging task. But, I soon found there were problems with that too.

UC Davis has a wide diversity among the grad students. However, the undergrad student population is almost completely made up of Americans or second-generation American descendants of non-Americans, especially Chinese. The latter group formed a huge bulk of the undergrad student population. As a Teaching Assistant (TA), I was assigned to teach C to freshers. My co-TA, S, was a fresh-off-the-boat Chinese guy. His English had a thick Chinese accent and I had a hard time understanding him. We both had to take "discussion" classes for the students to discuss homeworks and programming problems.

S's turn to teach came before mine did. I decided to sit through that class to see how he taught (and get tips). When he started teaching the class, I tried really hard to follow him. From what he wrote on the board, I knew he was covering all the essential concepts, but I could not follow much of what he actually spoke out. But, surprise, surprise - the students seemed to be following him. And I gleefully thought, if the students could follow his accented and broken English, they shouldn't have too much trouble with my accented but gramatically correct English.

So when I went for my first discussion class and started to teach, I looked around for signs of comprehension. Blank faces stared back from all corners. When the class got over, I was disappointed that I had gotten far fewer comprehending glances than S had got. I was beginning to doubt my explanation skills when it suddenly struck me. Most of these kids had Chinese parents. Most probably they were used to hearing a Chinese accent at home. While an Indian accent was a whole new ball game altogether. At the end of that quarter, guess who got the most number "I can't understand her" on their teaching-review?

Slowly though, I began to pick up the rules of speaking English the American way.Don't get me wrong here. For the life of me, I just CANNOT talk with an American accent. The only word I pronounce differently from the time I was in India is 'schedule'. And that's because the word crops up so often in conversations that it is easier to pronounce 'ske-dule' instead of confusing people with the Indian pronounciation. But - I have managed to pick up the intonation, tone and manner of speaking. So, if I speak slowly and enunciate the words clearly and follow the general American speaking pattern, people can understand me.

In UC Davis, by my third quarter, there was not even one "I can't understand her" on my teaching-review (hooray). And now that people could finally follow me, they were struck by the "good" English that I spoke. Not many people knew that, in India, most of us are taught English almost right from the time we get out of the crib. So they thought that it was wonderful that I could speak so fluently so soon after landing in the US ;-)!

Now, at work, again we have people from a whole bunch of countries. I am able to get comfortably by with my English and I no longer have to keep reminding myself to slow down.

Of course, even now, sometimes, I do encounter people who have difficulty understanding what I say. Oh well, sometimes, I can't understand what the other person is trying to tell either. I guess it all evens out! But at least, no one has since asked me "do you speak English?" after hearing me talk!!

p.s. My experiences trying to understand others in the USA would make a whole post by itself :-)!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Just two coffees is fine, please

Late noon on Sunday, my friend N and I decided to go hiking in the Half Moon Bay area. Half Moon Bay has a delightful collection of beaches and hiking trails. After a surprisingly traffic-filled drive, we arrived at the beach. It looked sooo inviting (I simply love being anywhere near a beach. Maybe its got to with my Chennai genes - not sure) that we decided to do our "hiking" on the shore, near the water itself.

After about an hour of walking down the beach, both N and I were beginning to feel chilly. I really think they should have some law making it illegal for a beach to be cold when the sun is shining. It would make life (and dressing) a lot simpler.

Anyways, we decided that hot coffee would be a most welcome diversion. Now where to find a coffee place? This being the USA, when we climbed back up from the beach, sure enough, there was a restaurant. In our casual jeans and shirts, we both trooped into the restaurant. For 5.00p in the evening, the restaurant was already filled with people having dinner (!?!). The restaurant had a stunning view of the ocean and the hostess asked us if we had a reservation. That should have been a clue. However we ignored it and said that we did not have one.

In any case we were shown to a table and were handed the menus. The ambience was lovely and there was lovely piano music. N later said that he had noticed that a live person was sitting at the piano, playing it (I hadn't and was wondering why the rest of the people applauded whenever a tune finished).

So we checked and found that there was no mention of coffee anywhere on the menu. I doubtfully told N that it looked like a proper restaurant and that we probably wouldn't be able to order just coffee. Even as N was confidently saying that if we just wanted coffee (and it made sense - come on, it was freakin' five O' clock in the evening - it was just too early for supper), we should not have qualms about ordering just coffee, the waitress arrived with the bread basket. Well, well! Then she asked us if we wanted something to drink. N and I gave relieved smiles and said, "Just coffee". She gave us a weird look and off she went.

A short time later, the waitress returned with the coffee. After setting it on the table, she stood all poised and ready to take our orders. Then N bravely ventured, "Actually, that will be all. We just wanted coffee." The waitress gave us a frosty stare and said, "There is a $15.00 per person minimum charge." Then seeing at our dismayed looks, she softened up a little and said that she would give us some more time to choose something to eat.

As soon as she turned, N and I looked at each other, stunned. Then burst into laughter. It was just past five in the evening and we had the prospect of choosing supper before us. We both carefully studied the menu. N is vegetarian and this was a seafood place. Needless to say, other than salads, there were absolutely no veggie options available. However, this time round, I did spot the fine print on the menu which had the $15 (actually $14.95) per person clause.

We both SO did not feel hungry. But finally, N chose a Caesar salad and I chose a spinach salad. N also asked for a side of the tropical fruit salsa which came with one of the entree specials of the day. And thus, there N and I sat, delicately sipping our coffees, while munching on our respective salads (fyi, this combo does not taste as bad as it sounds). In between breaking into laughter at our own funny plight, we did get to see a wonderful view of the the sun setting into the sea - actually it set into the clouds but whatever, it was close enough!

Lesson of the day? Do not enter expensive looking restaurants if you are planning to order coffee only. Unless you want supper also thrown in.

p.s. If you thought the moral is an obvious one, oh well, what can I say!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Bye, adieu, ciao, adios, tata ...SBC DSL!

I discontinued my SBC-yahoo DSL service without any regret whatsoever after the following conversation took place between me and one of their customer service representatives.

Me: (after going through many, many automated options and finally reaching a human) Hello. I currently have the SBC-Yahoo DSL service.

Customer Service Representative (CSR): Uh-huh.

Me: I would like to disconnect the service.

CSR: Hmm, okay. (After a pause) Why do you want to disconnect the service?

Me: Because it is tooo darn slow.

CSR: (big pause)

Me: (thinking and dreaming) Ha, now she is going to offer for somebody to come and take a look at my connection. All these stupid companies will take action only when you threaten to disconnect service. About high time too. Maybe if they solve the problem, I might reconsider my decision. These people and their ...

CSR: Okay.

Me: (jerked back from my reverie) What!?!

CSR: (probably thrilled about the good riddance of another pestering customer) I said 'okay'.

Me: (hmph) Thank you.

Oh well, finally my hate-relationship with the SBC DSL service has come to an end. If not ath, that is good news for my blood pressure (which used to shoot up to abnormal levels whenever I surfed the net with the horrible DSL connection). While I am exploring other options, I am back to dial-up. Yes, you read right - dial-up. After a reeeaaaalllllly long time, yesterday I had the joy (!?!) of hearing the trrring-ding-ding sound from a modem speaker. First pathetic DSL, now dial-up. While the rest of the world is moving forward, looks like I am progressing backwards to the Stone Age. Wonder what's next? Pigeons, maybe :-|?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Guess who's coming to dinner?

Sometime back Gingko passed on a dinner tag to me. I have to choose six people from blogsphere who I would like to invite for dinner. Six being too restrictive a number, I am going to go for the obvious answer. I would like to invite all of my regular readers. If something I write makes enough sense to a person to encourage her/him to come back and check my blog again, we are probably somewhere on the same wavelength and I am sure we will definitely make a connection :-)! And of course, I would love to put faces to the people. Whether the meet will be in-house or in a restaurant can be voted for by the invitees. However, if it is in-house, it will be a potluck (sorry, paper cups, chips, etc. do not count as potluck items) and if it is a restaurant, we will all be going dutch (unless some lucky person has their b'day that day ;-)). Okie, now, who are the takers :-)?

Since I did not follow the exact instructions for the tag, I waive my option to tag others. So all the taggable people can sigh in collective relief this time ;-)!

p.s. I am back from India. I am currently jet-lagged (a lot) and homesick (even more) :-(. If anyone has coping-up suggestions other than "Quit whining! You made this choice. Get on with your life!" (I already tried it - it's not working), please to let me know.