vineri, 28 februarie 2014

My CSR

Today we did the CSR - Corporate Social Responsibility group activity which meant going to a local school in a poor area of Ludhiana, run by the Swabhimaan NGO and interacted with the children. It has been one of the most rewarding moments of my life so far, although it left me thinking that there is so much more that should be done.

We did some preparation for the event and I paired up with Eduardo to set up the Mexico & Romania station where the kids would have a choice of 2 activities:
- jumping rope - a serious but enjoyable physical exercise
- guessing animals (and saying the animals' names in English) and the sounds that they make, starting from a picture

There were other learning activities as well, like learning the numbers in English, simple math, etc We played with the children, gave out candy and of course had a lot of pictures taken.









miercuri, 26 februarie 2014

Driving in Ludhiana

No, this is not a post about how bad traffic is in Ludhiana, although it is bad, crowded and polluted, especially in the afternoon when the workday is coming to an end. This post is about my experiences getting behind the wheel of machines I had never planned for.

First experience is the so called 'auto' (from the full name 'auto-rickshaw') which is not a car, but a three wheeled machine which we see so often in Ludhiana and other bigger cities in India. Although it is small, it can fit up to a tested amount of 9 guys (including the driver) and can reach speeds of up to 50-60 kmph. I have had the opportunity to do a short drive test in the campus, where there is almost no traffic. It was a challenge because of the right side driving and because the gear stick is next to the left hand and goes only in an up-down motion, but overall a very enjoyable one. I think my passengers were happy because I honked less then the traffic demanded.

The 'beast' I drove.
Can you guess who was my driving instructor ?

The second driving experience was on a tractor. Although quite popular in Romania, I was never able to get my hands on one and drive it in the country-side. Luckily the professors at PAU were kind enough to let us have a ride. There are 3 gear positions and each gear positions has in turn several gears. There's also 2 breaks, one for each side. Oh.. and the front wheels can turn quite a lot, allowing for a sense of drifting at some points :)





Overall, wonderful moments and great learning experiences.


duminică, 23 februarie 2014

Trip to Shimla

On Friday we had a shorter workday so we could leave for Shimla earlier. It was supposed to be a long drive of 180-200 km which in India takes about 6 hours by car. We had rented a 9 seater mini-van for a group of 8. Everyone was enthusiastic to embark on a new adventure. We had some small stops on the way, one of which was at McDonalts :)


We reached Shimla late at night at around 10 PM. The hotel we had rented had tall rooms and they were very cold. It was 0 degrees outside and probably inside also. It was a difficult night, but everyone survived. 

On Saturday we had a small breakfast and headed for the Jaku Temple. A beautiful sight from the center of Shimla (the orange statue van be spotted on the left of the church, high up at the top of the mountain, rising thom the dense forest) but also a demanding walk up the mountain. 
 
I did the trip in 30 minutes with Kazu. We had to take some pictures on the way and also warch out for the monkeys that were always present and ready to steal anythingnvaluable to them. One had already stolen a pair of glasses from an elderly lady... perhaps a wannabe intellectual :). All joking aside the monkeys were a little more dangerous than I had imagined. We had no problems... and actually took a lot of pictures.
 

The view at the top
  
After the descent, we went for lunch in the city center at a cafe with good reviews

Walking and shopping untill it got late and then one more (very spicy) meal before going back to the hotel for a drinking game ;)

On Sunday we decided to take the train for a few stations (9 stations - 3 hours, to be more exact), since the railway station and trains are very famous and old. The view was indeed very enjoyable... Although not very comfortable...




joi, 20 februarie 2014

Daily ride to PAU

I never imagined going to work in a ricsa, with my IBM bag and laptop, wearing a fresh shirt or suit... but everything goes in India.

video

Maybe I will get to drive one sometime :)

luni, 17 februarie 2014

Hindustan zindabad (Long Live India)

Sunday was a long day. We set off in the morning towards Amritsar, which is an old city by the border with Pakistan. It is a place of major importance, not only because it is the administrative headquarters of the state of Punjab, but also because it is center of the Sikh religion, housing the majestic "Golden Temple".

We had a horse-pulled ride from the parking lot towards the temple


We removed our shoes, washed our hands and feet, covered our heads with a scarf and entered. The view was absolutely astonishing.


















The water surrounding the temple found in the middle is called "holy nectar" and is supposed to have healing powers. There is continuous singing in the background, which I later saw was in fact reading from the holy book of the Sikh. We walked around and learned more about the symbolism of the sights, like the 2 orange poles signifying religion and politics. Afterwards, we waited in a very long line to enter and see the holy book (the last of the gurus) and the temple. Many people bowing and praying.



Finally we had "langar" - which is basically vegetarian food at a canteen, that is for free. All visitors can eat, as equals. The process itself was extremely efficient, there are huge rooms that fit about 500 people. Food was served very fast, from buckets and in 20 minutes we were in and out, to make place for the next batch. There was a huge staff that prepared food, provided and took the plates, washed them, etc



We went back to the bus and headed towards the Waga border to see the lowering of the flag. It is ceremonial moment, each day, when sunset comes and the flag is lowered both by India and Pakistan at the same time. It's more of a show, as each party tries to show that it is great and powerful and a potential threat if it needs to be :)  I guess the movies will speak for themselves. One phrase I remembered - Hindustan zindabad !!



sâmbătă, 15 februarie 2014

Shopping on the weekend

First week of work has passed and everyone is excited about the weekend. The plan is to take it easy and relax on Saturday and then head up to Amritsar early morning on Sunday for a full day of visiting and taking pictures.

I wake up late on Saturday, have some breakfast and then we decide to take a stroll around the shops close to the hotel. There's plenty of small shops selling everything you can imagine, but mostly it's clothes, garments and the like. There are even the big brands like Nike, Adidas, Puma. Of course I have to go in and check the prices. Except when they have something on sale and it's 30-50% discount, the prices are almost the same as in Bucharest.. maybe 10-20% cheaper. I find a really nice sleeveless jacket on sale at Levis and I buy it, getting informed advice from my colleagues :)

And then suddenly everyone rushes to the door, because there are some people passing by and there's also an elephant. The men look dressed for an occasion, however I don't know what kind of event it is. 

First time I see an elephant so close and it is happening on a shopping street :)

 We take some pictures with the elephant and then Cathy bargains for a ride - 500 rupees for 3 people to ride the elephant - Chalo (Let's go) !




An incredible experience

sâmbătă, 8 februarie 2014

Second day - trip to Ludhiana, lunch and first briefings

The trip started very early in the morning, around 6:15. Once we arrived at the railway station and were heading towards the main entrance we were almost attacked by various individuals even before we got out of the car. They were peeking inside the cars, looking if there was luggage - which was very suspicious behavior. However once we got out I understood that they were porters - our guide Shruti negotiated with them and they just picked up our luggage and headed towards the station. They went through security with the luggage, guarded it and then deposited it on the train when it arrived in station. Such nice fellas...

 The train itself was looking very bad from the outside and then much better on the inside. There was certainly more leg room than on the German ICE trains. We were even served breakfast in 3 stages - first tea, second milk and cereals, third a main course which for me was a vegetarian omlette (because that was the only thing I could understand from the menu). Trip lasted 5-6 hours and then in Ludhiana.

The hotel in Ludhiana is great - I have a big room with a double bed, flat screen tv, free water, clean bathroom and a small seif .. what more can one ask for ?!

There's even a swimming pool at the 7th floor - which was a good idea in order to separate it from the all the dust created by the cars below.


After settling in the hotel we went out for lunch, this time using the local transportation - the ricsa. Another adventure - less cars, but more dramatic overtaking and almost no breaking. Lunch was very good - we had a lesson about the local cuisine, how the food is generally prepared and what to expect in terms of spiciness :). We started with some meat appetizers, then for main course butter chicken and some a type of mash of black beans, with roti (which is like a 'lipie' but milkier) and finally, some breath fresheners.




I did my first attempt at eating with my fingers, which is actually not so difficult - you just have to wash really good before and get over the reflex of wiping your hands with a napkin after each bite, or you will run out of napkins.
Good advice to remember in case eating spicy food - pour lemon over the meat, take small bites and have a drink of Lassi (which is like a sweet 'lapte sana') to calm down the taste-buds.