Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Life on the Pacific Coast!

Disclaimer: These are my impressions. They're not facts, they're my impressions, so they can't be argued with. Also, it's quite a lengthy post! With that out of the way let’s begin.

It has been close to 3 months since i moved to a totally different part of the world. The experience so far has been mind blowing if anything. Dream job, wonderful location, awesome co-workers and above all, amazing culture of people. I have been taking notes since the past three months and am posting my observations about this part of the world as i have seen it in this short period.


First Picture after I landed in the US

Human involvement == Expensive
Anything involving one to one human attention for a significant amount of time will be significantly expensive. For instance, you can reach from place to another in a bus for $2 but the same might cost anywhere between $20 and $100 in a cab. A loaf of bread costs around $3 whereas a bread toaster costs $13. This is because bread loafs are perishable and requires constant human interaction for replacing it, probably on a daily basis. Whereas the toaster will be mass manufactured by a machine in thousands and requires the least human interaction. The main upside to this is that people are very hands on. They usually assemble their own furniture and so on. Hiring a human on a hourly basis is *much more* expensive than buying the required tools and doing the job yourself.

Public transport == Longer
In India, if you can cover a certain distance by car in 15 minutes, you can usually cover that in a public bus in 30 to 45 minutes. Here, if you take the bus for the same distance, it could take anywhere between 60 to 90 minutes (depending on whether you have direct bus access or not). You can see this for yourself as to how long it takes from a location to SJC airport by car (15 mins) and by public bus (85 mins). The reason behind this is quite straightforward. In the US, traffic is in two extremes: you either take the freeway which has no signals whatsoever or you take some internal road with overwhelming signals and other obstructions. Cars take the freeway and public buses don’t, hence the significant time difference.

CTM!
Can anybody guess what CTM stands for? Ok now can anybody guess what this is doing in this post? I’m unsure of the reason, but whenever people here refer to Indian food, CTM is the de facto scale of reference. They tend to compare the spiciness of other stuff with CTM as the base scale. Also, people who have never been to India usually differentiate between North and South India as bread eating and rice eating parts of India.





New term for Public Wifi
When i was back in India, I always used to wonder what’s the point in having any wifi only tablet, or any other wifi only device for that matter. Now I understand why it totally makes sense. All the public places usually have free wifi. Especially since i live in mountain view, i enjoy free city wide wifi provided by Google. Also, Starbucks wifi is the most common example of public wifi. Starbucks is a coffee shop which exists on almost every street and usually all Starbucks shop have free wifi, thereby extends that almost all streets have free wifi.

New notion of City
The notion of a “city” is very different when compared to what it means in India. Cities in the US are small, very very small when compared to cities in India. For instance, the distance between Mountain View and San Francisco airport is 25 miles (~40 kilometers). In India, if you drive 40 kilometers from a place, it is very likely that you’ll still be in the same city. Whereas there are some 5 to 7 cities between Mountain View and San Francisco. They are that small. On an average, if you drive about 6 to 7 miles from any city, you’ll definitely be in some other city. There’s another level of granularity known as counties. County sizes here match with city sizes in India (size, not the population!).

Meat is De Facto
I am not sure if it seems so because i am a vegetarian, but in general what i have noticed is that meat is the de facto ingredient for preparing any sort of food. Even soups by default have a meat based stock. You will have to specifically ask for the restaurant guy for food without meat and seafood (for which the choices will be usually limited in a normal restaurant). But there are a lot of places in the bay area where one can get very nice vegetarian/vegan food. By the way, McDonalds in the US does not have any vegetarian dishes which makes me realize how much they have customized their menus for their Indian version (there’s McAloo Tikki!). Tofu is the usual vegetarian replacement for any meat.

Go Karting
Car driving in this country is a joke. Yes, the traffic is high speed, but apart from that there’s no thrill in driving. Majority of the vehicles have automatic transmission (which means that one hand and one leg is always free while driving). The only challenge is to learn the lane discipline, but that’s a matter of very short time. Once you learn the rules, driving is a piece of cake. If you have ever done Go Karting in India, you can drive real cars here. That being said, rules have to be followed here even while driving in a small road where there is no traffic whatsoever. Cars are the default mode of transport, there are a very very small number of motorcycles (bike == bicycle here, hence the term motorcycle). Motorcycles are more of an enthusiasm here than a mode of transport. They cost about 4 times as a car and hence very rarely found on roads (Edit: I realized this was an exaggeration. Depending on the type of car and type of motorcycle the prices vary. But the general idea is that motorcycles aren't intended as a primary mean of transport. They are more of a fun thing).



US-101

Water, Coke and Beer
Almost all these three cost the same, in the sense that the difference isn’t significant as it is in India. You can get water and coke for the same price and beer will cost a little more. Again like meat, beer is very commonplace. All shops usually sell beer and there are bars in almost every major places in the city.

Pedestrians and Bicyclists
Contradicting Indian behavior, pedestrians and bicyclists (bikers) are given priority at any intersection. Vehicles taking free right turns or passing an intersection without signal always come to a complete halt to look out for pedestrians and bikers. Even if the pedestrian or biker is a little away from the intersection, the vehicles usually wait for them to pass. This is religiously followed by all vehicle drivers irrespective of the type of powered vehicle they drive.

Silicon Valley == Epitome of Technology
Technology is used almost everywhere, it is more or less ubiquitous. One of the main reasons for this is availability of internet everywhere (as i mentioned earlier 1Mbps internet is free in mountain view). Buses and trains are high tech and have systems for ticketing that logically make a lot of sense. For instance, a single ride in a bus costs $2 and a day pass costs $6. You can use a prepaid smart card and the system is actually smart enough to charge you not more than $6 for the rides you take in any 24 hour period. Debit card cash back is really an awesome system. I don’t see any reasons why they don’t have that in India. It is a true win-win.



San Antonio Caltrain Station

Cash? Why not card?
Cash transactions are very very rare. It’s been three months and i still have the cash that i bought along with me when i came from India. Every shop, as in every single shop, accept credit/debit cards. So there is no necessity carry a wallet. I just carry my card in the pocket along with the phone. There are even mobile phone cases with credit card holders.

Differences in words
There is a lot of difference between American english and Indian english, many of which i learnt only after getting here. Glaring ones include: 1) Ground floor is mentioned as First floor here, First is Second and so on. 2) Capsicum is called Green pepper (the guy from subway stared at me when i said capsicum). 3) Bill is called Check and Cash is called Bill (the paper note). There are loads of such word differences.

Numbers can be Deceiving
Not following the metric system is a pain in the ass. The distance unit is particularly very deceiving since you look at 1.3 miles and start walking, whereas walking 2 and odd kilometers is really difficult (when comparing the distances which i used to walk in India). 



Note: Image copied from Facebook

More than all this, the best part about this country is its people. They are friendly by heart. Even strangers greet each other. The bus driver tells you to have a nice rest of your day when you get out of the bus. The person whom you held the door for tells thanks. To reiterate, the best part for me so far has been the People!

Such has been my experience in this country so far. I am enjoying every moment of it. It has given me a whole new view of how life can be, since all this is a sudden surprise (something i never constantly dreamt of). Maybe i’ll do another blog post after 6 months describing the views then.

Good grief, my blog is not dead. I will definitely write more soon!

-Vignesh