Weekly Photo Challenge: Hot

The Fatehpur Sikri took 15 years to build. The palace was abandoned shortly after being used for only 14 years because of water scarcity. It was only 40 kilometers away from the more famous site of the Taj Majal

I went on a hot July summer day. The temperature reached 105 and it took a look 4.5 hour drive to get there from New Delhi. Sweltering in the heat just to walk around the palace grounds, the sight of the dried up pool and sun-baked red sandstone was as effective as dense humidity would be in dragging my psyche through an oven.

Nikon D80, f/7.1, 1/200s ©2010

Alternatively, on the humourous sid, a shot of my hot pink buddy dressed in a hot animal print hotel robe. Yes, that was the robe the hotel provided in the room.

Canon S90 point-and-shoot


American Culture Shock # 2498734: Tipping is expensive

Americans have the tendency to tip. A. L.O.T.

In Asia, tipping is not standard. Nor required. Large institutions that cater to Westerners (not just foreigners but specifically Westerners) often automatically add an 10% service charge, after which you are not expected to even leave the change. In some countries, people get offended when tipped. Yes, I am speaking of Japan.

In Thailand, we round up. To the next five for small charges. In restaurants, regardless of the size of the bill, be it 10,000 Thai baht or 100 baht, we tip the person, not the bill. So usually 20-60 baht. The tips generally get pooled together at the end of the day and split evenly across the staff.

So, tipping in the States felt excessive. It used to be 10-15%. I’ve noticed it uptick to the point many people start at 20%. Whoa. What do you start with?

American Culture Shock # 334587: Smart Phones

I’m going to be popping out a series of these post, as an expat returning to America for the first time in a long time. It’s been 15 months since I stepped on America soil. And it’s been far too long.

Observation: Smart Phones are the rage now.

No, I’m not surprised. Logically, I knew the release of the iPhone was going to open up the market. But considering that the US lagged way behind many industrialised and even many developing nations in mobile phone markets because the sorry dinosaurs of cell providers came with so many restrictions.

The reality hit me hard, though, when I find myself trying schedule dinners with friends. It’s like the good ol’ phone tag and SMS-ing is obsolete. No one calls or texts to follow up or to confirm with plans. They just email. They got so used to people having smart phones that they assume I had email access on the go.

And here I am, dragging my ol’ (not really old, FYI) laptop from hot spot to hot spot, trying squeeze time between work, meetings, and errands to sit down at a wifi access spot to log on and check my email. I have a cheap pre-paid cell plan that charges for web browsing and a strangely rare sighting of a flip phone.

Yes, I can get Internet at the hotel. I refuse to out of principle- Internet access should not be charged at the exorbitant rates in large hotels like mine. Yes, I can pay for the data plan, even if it’s on a day-by-day charge. Why spend the money just to look for email?

So people who used to limit their Internet access to the office when they decided not to expend on a home DSL line now have 24/7 access to email. The metro is now surprisingly devoid of loud talkers as everyone silently checks their email on their phones.

I knew I was living a different life overseas. Yet, to completely miss out a trend, especially as an engineer, is somewhat disconcerting. So, friends, just pick up the damn phone and hit the dial button when coordinating with me, please!

postscript: This is post # 300 in this blog!!!

Describe the view outside your window

I rarely blog about when I am at the very moment, largely for my privacy and safety. But I will make an exception to the rule.

I have no windows around me right now. Well, I barely have any walls. I escaped the city off to the quiet hills outside Chiang Mai for a farewell getaway.

I’m seated at a long table with square stools that resemble the kind you’d see in an old Chinese tea shop. Well, the stools, not the table. The table is long solid probably teak wood planks, so long it puts an Italian family dinner table to shame. Right in front of me, an old rickshaw with a safari hat on the passenger seat. And an old chalkboard with a Jack Dainel’s Whiskey label on the front of the bike. The smaller tables for 1 or 2 are old sewing tables with the wheel and pedal still on.

The wooden railings “walling” in me separate me from the garden around me. A jackfruit tree bears so much fruit the scent of jackfruit whiffs across my nostrils every time the wind breezes through, which is quite often. If it had been mango, the mango would be long consumed by now.

Just a little further beyond, from the other side of the open patio below my deck, the sound of a small water fountain ripples through the foliage. I vaguely remember seeing a pair of cows walk through the car park entrance. A covered gazebo overlooking the water is empty, asking me if I’d let go of my tethered Internet wire to sit there instead. Not now, sadly.

I am perfectly content being on the open deck. The restaurant space I turned into my ad hoc office is part of the La Bhu Salah resort outside Chiang Mai. I am the only guest at the moment. In other words, I have the entire place to myself. It is their off-season so their artisan workshops are not in session. It’s OK. I came to get away, relax, and take a cooking class. The rest of the time I was to catch up with my writing. Without a car and being as far away from downtown, I had nothing to distract me otherwise.

For the first time since I started working, I had absolutely nothing about work niggling in the back of my mind. I am content and truly rested. Life can’t get any better than this.