The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Delhi residency, day 2

Hypotheticals in class can lead to cognitive dissonance if you think too hard on them. Today, for example, Ian invented the cell phone and admitted taking bribes, Ryan paid a high price for his seat in class, Elena punched Bob for trying to steal hers, and Nathan's wife spoke through him. All this after Bob and Kacie counted M&Ms for us.

Best not to dwell.

Instead, here are two more photos from yesterday's trip to the Red Fort:


Much Stats homework tonight; more photos tomorrow.

Old Delhi tour

They loaded us up on buses and drove us to the Red Fort and Old Delhi this afternoon. First stop, the Red Fort:

Within the Red Fort grounds are a number of buildings, including the Diwan-i-Am, or audience chamber:

Also the Khas Mahal:

We then snagged about three dozen of the now-happiest rickshaw drivers in the city, and went to the Jama Masijd mosque. (I mostly took short videos on this trip, which I hope to upload to YouTube when I return to the U.S.) Then there was the bus ride back to the hotel, which reminded me, in a way, of the Kennedy Expressway...with pedestrians, goats, stray dogs (always), and live chickens:

Tomorrow we're in class just about all day, so I may not have any new photos until later in the week.

Delhi residency, day 1

After waking up at 4:30 for two mornings in a row, I really would like my body to figure out what time zone it's in. Maybe the problem is the Indian half-hour (it's 11½ hours ahead of Chicago, not 11, not 12), or possibly it was the two overnight flights in a row? Maybe I should just be glad I've had a relatively easy time getting to a point where I go to sleep at night (last night around 9:30pm) and wake up in the morning, instead of the reverse.

Meanwhile, back in Raleigh, it looks like they have some weather this weekend:

Tonight: Snow likely before midnight, then snow and sleet. Low around -4°C. East wind between 13 and 21 km/h, with gusts as high as 40 km/h. Chance of precipitation is 100%. Total nighttime snow and sleet accumulation of 8–12 cm possible.

Saturday: Snow and sleet before 1pm, then freezing rain and sleet. High near -4°C. Northeast wind around 24 km/h, with gusts as high as 47 km/h. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New ice accumulation of less than a 1 mm possible. New snow and sleet accumulation of 8–12 cm possible.

Friends have reported stockpiling mac and cheese and wine. In some respects, I wish I were there. In others...well, it's going to be 20°C and foggy in Delhi today, while we Dukies go out to the Red Fort and Old Delhi.

More, with photos (I hope), tonight.

It really does make sense

Armed with two cameras and a Garmin Edge 305, I set off towards Connaught Place around 1pm and, eventually, found it. (There was this roundabout, see...and I didn't count correctly.) Total trip, 6.1 km, 1 hour 22 minutes, 15 auto-rickshaw drivers asking me where I wanted to go, 4 random people asking about the camera, no injuries. (Google Earth file)

Oh, and about half a million stray dogs, like this one who I didn't see until I almost stepped on her:

Living in New York and Chicago my entire life turned out to have prepared me quite well for navigating Delhi. Crossing a street requires a trust in the laws of physics (and in the forebearance of drivers) that one also learns in Manhattan:

As I noted earlier, though, everyone on the road here—including the pedestrians—seems to be totally aware of everyone else. Or, maybe, they're just aware of imminent collisions.

More photos:

Delhi residency, day 0

I'm still digesting Delhi, and in just a few minutes I'm about to walk to Connaught Place, to give me more to digest. Quickly, though, some notes from the cab ride from the airport to the hotel yesterday:

  • Kudos to Lonely Planet, directing me to (a) the money-changing booth at the airport and (b) the pre-paid taxi booth. The Thomas Cook just outside baggage claim charged no commission on the exchange--except they kept a few rupees as a "fee". (The calculation was pretty straightforward: I bought Rs 6,340, and they kept 340.) There was a similar "rounding" issue at the pre-paid taxi booth, where I got voucher to get to my hotel for Rs 250—except that the money-changer gave me no bill smaller than Rs 100, so really my taxi was Rs 300. Duke's orientation letter said taxis cost Rs 1000-2000. Maybe they should have read Lonely Planet, too.
  • Drivers in Delhi have what I may charitably describe as a liberated attitude toward traffic laws. Strangely, I felt totally relaxed about the driving for the entire 20-minute trip. So, apparently, did the scooters, auto-rickshaws, horses, pedestrians, bicyclists, lorry drivers, and stray dogs that my driver completely failed to hit. Since everyone behaves the same way, everyone knows what to expect, so the free-for-all just works. Also, not having seat belts (or, for that matter, any other visible safety equipment) probably makes everyone more vigilant on the roads.
  • This morning's Times of India headline gave me an immediate perspective shift: "As ratings plunge, Obama gets tough on outsourcing," reporting on the State of the Union address. As an American reading the speech[1], I scarcely paid attention when he said "it is time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas, and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs right here in the USA." Indians, however, sat up and heard very clearly the paragraph that followed. They apparently dismissed it, too, with the India Times writing, "As has now become the norm, the President invoked the growth of China and India to gee up the home constituency on the economic front, where a continuing slow-down and job loss has bedeviled his first year in office."
  • I have not yet died from eating or drinking anything. I think I may have overestimated the risk; both dinner last night and breakfast this morning seem to have done nothing more to me than eating food with a similar amount of oil and spice would have done back home. This does not mean I'm going to go swim in the Ganges; but I do feel a lot more relaxed about it having been here a full day.

Time now to finally leave the hotel for a bit. More photos later today.

[1] I had hoped to watch it live, but my 8-hour delay in London meant I was in the air somewhere between Baku and Kabul during the speech.

Delhi residency, day -2

Apparently it gets foggy in Delhi. My four-hour connection at Heathrow unexpectedly turned into a 13-hour connection, so I took my sleep-deprived self out of the airport for a while. Yep, definitely not Delhi:

And when in London, why not have a traditional breakfast?

It was as good as it looked.

Only one problem: my coat was in my checked bag, somewhere in the bowels of the airport. No problem: I now own a passably warm Reebok starter jacket, bought on sale for £22.

It's 3pm now, and my flight is rumored to start boarding at 7 for an 8pm takeoff. That puts me in Delhi by 9:30am local time. I hope to regain consciousness before classes start Saturday morning.

Update: It turns out, some of my classmates got diverted to Mumbai and had to spend almost 24 hours there. More details later.

Delhi residency, Day -3

I'm once again at O'Hare, with about 90 minutes to kill before boarding. I think this counts as Day -3, but it could be Day -2 as it's already 3am Wednesday morning in Delhi, and classes start Saturday morning. If both airlines perform as expected, I should be in Delhi on Thursday morning—about 19 hours from now. Someday after that I might even adjust to the Indian time zone, 11½ hours ahead of Chicago.

I also have figured out how to pack, having gotten my bags down to 6 kg and 17 kg. In part I accomplished this by forgetting a textbook in Raleigh. I hope one or more of my classmates can part with his or her copy for a couple of hours over the residency.

And so it begins...

Ach, noo to the wee beastie!

The United States will shortly lift its 21-year ban on Scotland's national fruit, the haggis:

The "great chieftan o' the puddin-race" was one of earliest casualties of the BSE crisis of the 1980s-90s, banned on health grounds by the US authorities in 1989 because they feared its main ingredient ‑ minced sheep offal ‑ could prove lethal.

Some refined foodies might insist it always has been and always will be: in the words of Robert Burns, in his Ode to a Haggis, looking "down wi' sneering, scornfu' view on sic a dinner". But now, as millions of Scots around the world prepare to celebrate Burns's legacy tonight with an elaborate, whisky-fuelled pageant to a boiled bag of sheep innards, oatmeal, suet and pepper, its reputation has been restored, on health grounds at least.

... Nearly £9m worth were sold in the UK alone last year, the 250th anniversary of Burns' birth, up by 19% on 2008. Richard Lochhead, the Scottish environment secretary, was delighted. "I am greatly encouraged to hear that the US authorities are planning a review of the unfair ban on haggis imports," he said. "We believe that reversing the ban would deliver a vote of confidence in Scottish producers, and allow American consumers to sample our world-renowned national dish."

In other news, the Boeing 747 turns 40 this week, and the Economist has a link to its original story from 1970:

Apart from the very first flight of all, for which around 2,000 people applied for seats, and which would have taken off with a full load of 362 seats (the replacement aircraft that eventually took off to cheers some time after 2 a.m. the following morning was still as full as makes no difference), bookings for 747 flights have been relatively slow coming in. The well-publicised troubles with deliveries, air-worthiness certificates and, most recently, engines, may have something to do with it, but so also has a certain timidity about embarking in a vehicle that most resembles a small flying cinema.

Like cinemas, some seats are better than others. First class apart, with its lounges and spiral staircases, the premium seats are probably the block that runs two abreast down one side of the aircraft, but not those too near the tail, which has a tendency to swish about, nor the extreme front nor behind the engines, where the noise level is above average. Least attractive are the three abreast seats along the opposite wall. The large block of four seats in the centre, with an aisle on either side, turns out to be more comfortable and less cramped than it looks; big men packed four abreast passed an uncomplaining night mainly because the seats themselves are larger than average.

I sincerely hope the 747 I'm flying on tomorrow morning is somewhat newer.

United, others roll back fare hikes

After American Airlines raised fares last week, all the other majors followed—for about three days. Delta bolted first, and yesterday United and American caved:

The increase, which was from $6 to $16 round-trip, was initiated last week by AMR Corp's American Airlines and later matched by rivals, including Delta Air Lines and Continental Airlines, said Farecompare Chief Executive Rick Seaney.

The airline industry has been groping for pricing power after demand for business travel sagged during the economic downturn of 2008 and 2009.

Seaney said Delta was the first to retreat from the hike, followed by American, Continental and UAL Corp.s United Airlines.

The price rise evidently reduced the number of seats bought past the point where it made sense. That's great for travelers in the short term, but in the long term, all the majors have serious financial problems. Low prices don't help much.

Still, American went ahead and released its weekly Net Sa'aver fares, including $259 Chicago to London, $323 to Brussels, and only $70 to Toronto (each way).

The Toronto route is on sale most likely because people (a) may not want a long weekend on the north shore of Lake Ontario in the middle of winter; and (b) the airline, at the TSA's insistence, has added severe restrictions on carry-on luggage to and from Canada. And that $70 fare? A round-trip with taxes is actually $205, which isn't bad, but it's not exactly a give-away.

Unusually nerve-wracking travel

I travel a lot, both in the U.S. and overseas. Last year I flew about 93,000 km, including three trips to the U.K., one to Ukraine, one to Dubai, and another dozen in the U.S. So I'm pretty sanguine about travel in general, and thanks to the American A'Advantage program, I get a few perks along the way that make it even easier.

Tomorrow, though, I'm going to India for the first time. This has given me a kind of pre-travel jitters I don't ordinarily experience.

First, most obviously, it's the farthest I've ever gone—12,000 km over the pole or 13,000 km through London—requiring 18 hours on airplanes and 5 at Heathrow.

Second, I've never traveled anywhere requiring vaccinations and doxycycline, where an errant mosquito can put you in the hospital for a month.

Third, I've never had to get a visa before arriving. Really, we Americans take that for granted, as we can travel visa-free to about 180 countries. India, it turns out, is one of the few that requires us to get one ahead of time. So do China and Russia, where I'm going in April and July, respectively. (Good thing I got a fat passport last time.)

I did learn an important lesson traveling for the first two terms, so I'll have probably 10 kg less luggage this trip. (I did not learn the lesson about having a long layover at Heathrow between long flights, though. I blame British Airways for that.)

So, I've got my passport, my visa, some cash, the afore-mentioned anti-malarials, a feathery 4 kg of books, one suit, a few changes of clothes, and a fully-loaded Kindle (including one of my course books). Now all I have to do is finish everything I have due this week within the next 22 hours and I'm good to go. Oh, and sleep. Some time between now and Saturday, I should do that too.

I hope.