I'm going to be home in about 12 hours. Actually in 12 hours I'll only be on the ground in San Francisco. It'll be an additional couple of hours before I make it back to Palo Alto. Anyway, time to continue the saga from where left off. This time I'll use a time line format.
11:45 pm IST
I just got off the phone with my company in the United States. I'm glad I was able to get a hold of everyone on a Sunday morning. Thanks guys.
The management at my company agreed that the situation was unacceptable and told me to take whatever action was necessary. I decided that since it was almost midnight in India, I could wait until morning.
I took a quick shower. This was when I realized that the hot water heater did not work. This was not as tragic as it would be elsewhere, though, since an ice cold shower felt great in the hot and humid bathroom. This was also when I saw the roaches. I think the shower water had scared some of them out of the drains.
12:30 am to 4:30 am IST
Packing did not take very long at all. It was so dirty that I was still living out of my bag. It was finally time to attempt sleep. Since my door did not lock properly I piled up some furniture by the door to wake me up in the event of a break in. I retreated into the bedroom and bolted the bedroom door. With the help of Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy I managed to fall asleep around 4:00am. The stimulating effect of my asthma medication had given me plenty of time to read.
This is sort of what my pigeons looked like except they were nesting in a window that did not quite shut Photo credit: Swami Stream
This is sort of what my pigeons looked like except they were nesting in a window that did not quite shut
Photo credit: Swami StreamI awoke to the sound of my pets. The pigeons that were nesting in the bedroom window were making a racket. Sadly I did not think to get a picture of them.
I paced around for a few hours since I was still unable to sleep but felt too crappy to do anything productive.
My coworker who lives nearby showed up to walk me to his place for the morning meeting with the team in San Carlos. This was when I told him I was leaving the apartment. He was shocked. He then helped me haul my gear to his place. Few things feel more dangerous than hauling 70lbs of luggage around streets of Mumbai. Even this two-block journey was very perilous. I am no longer surprised that so many people die in traffic accidents each year in Mumbai (I couldn't find any real data to back this claim up, but Mumbai appears to have more pedestrian deaths than LA, and LA surely has more total vehicle miles driven).
10:10 am IST
The call morning meeting started 10 min late. The whole team was supposed to be together for the call but no one else showed up to the apartment I was at.
I kept getting dropped from the call so I can only glean what was said based on activity afterward. My boss requested that they help me find a hotel. They started pretty much right away. They began to panic.
10:30 am IST
The call was over but I decided I had had enough. This trip was not worth risk to my health. I rescheduled my flight which took off about 5 hours from then. The hotel search was called off.
10:45 am IST
In the time that I was changing my flight, Ambi had stepped out and secured me a cellular Internet device. This surprised me since they misled me previously to believe that it was impossible to get one in less than 4 to 5 days. Another lie joined the pile.
12:45 pm IST
The rest of the team arrived. By now it was time for me to head to the airport. They gave me a lift. I witnessed two people get seriously injured in a motorcycle / bicycle collision. I took some videos of the crazy driving.
This was my first time around town during daylight. I witnessed the extent of the poverty for the first time. It was my turn to be shocked. Amid the sea of people running around on their daily business I saw at least a twenty emaciated figures. These people were starving. I have been to the slums of St. Louis, Tokyo, and Baja California. None of them prepared me for what I saw on the car ride to the airport.
During this ride it was also revealed that the guys did not at all understand why I was leaving. They kept apologizing for the lack of comfort. I guess to them a near death experience combined with dangerously rapidly degenerating health is tantamount to discomfort, or maybe they were making fun of me. I'm not sure... they mostly stuck to speaking Hindi.
1:30 pm IST
I made it to the airport at the correct time but the soldiers would not let me into the terminal. They could not find my name on a dot matrix printed list and did not speak English. The soldier asked me to wait in a room created for that purpose area about 500m away.
2:30 pm IST
I returned an hour later hoping for better luck. I still had time to make my flight. I failed to convince them to let me in. They were getting frustrated. They had machine guns. They pointed one at me. I gave up.
I found a pay phone and changed my flight again. This time the layover was much shorter. The customer service rep had a thick accent and we had some difficulty communicating. I misinterpreted the flight change to be 4:30 pm the next day.
3:00 pm IST
A cool cab similar to the one that robbed me. Photo credit: alexbfree
A cool cab similar to the one that robbed me.
Photo credit: alexbfreeI asked around for the proper place to find a branded taxi. Each time I asked I was pointed in a different direction. None of them were correct. I gave up and tried my luck with one of the cab drivers in departures. I picked a cool cab with a driver that did not jump out of his cab to harass me. I asked him to drive by the meter and told him I was not interested in any other stops on the way to my destination. He agreed. It seemed so promising. I only needed to make it a couple of miles to the airport hotels.
Right away on the journey made what I thought was small talk, but he was sizing me up. He asked about my job, where I was just before the airport, and so on.
He drove the wrong way on to the highway. I knew called him on it since I knew the freeway was not on the way to the hotel. He parked in the middle of the freeway and demanded all of my American cash or he'd dump me there. I had $60 USD in my wallet, which I turned over to him under the condition that he'd take me to the hotel.
He called me 'friend' every 30 seconds. I suppressed my anger because I wanted to avoid a dangerous situation. He continued to make small talk. He finally took me to the hotel.
3:45 pm IST
The stock photo of the kind of room I had at the Mumbai Hyatt. Talk about an upgrade...
The stock photo of the kind of room I had at the Mumbai Hyatt. Talk about an upgrade...I made it to the Hyatt. This was my chance to nail the cab driver. I was surrounded by hotel security and had my opportunity to take a photo of his cab to send to the authorities. I did not act because I did not want to cause a scene. Comfort seemed only feet away.
I checked in. I almost aborted due to my brain failing to do math properly. I incorrectly converted the currency and thought their cheapest room was $1400 a night. I was off by a factor of 10. I must have been starting to show a sign of panic. The desk clerk quickly realized my error and told me the correct price of $140 USD.
I under-tipped the bellboy due to yet another failed conversion. I tipped him the equivalence of $0.40. I felt bad. As I peered out of my room window in one of the hotels that was so recently bombed by terrorists who hate Americans and the fresh memories of starving people flashed back into my mind, I felt more like an Ugly American than I ever have. I was no longer mad at the cab driver.
4:30 pm IST
I chatted with some insomniacs in the United States. I took a bath. I decided to attempt a nap now in order to fix my jetlag. I actually slept for the first time since I left the United States a few days earlier.
12:30 am IST
I awoke to the alarm clock. Strange dreams quickly faded from my memory. In my sleep my brain had apparently figured out that my flight was actually at 4:30 am. I have no idea where this information came from, but upon checking the website it was correct. I'm very glad that I took that nap.
My asthma symptoms were significantly improved. The side effects of the asthma medicine were also starting to wear off. I still could not eat, though.
1:00 am IST
I checked out of the hotel and took their limo service to the airport. Even a limo is cheaper than getting robbed again.
1:30 am IST
I made it to the airport precisely at the time recommended by my airline. This time the military let me in without even checking their list. Somehow even though I had so much trouble entering the terminal, the swarm of people who wanted to carry my bags (after noticing me exit the limo) had no trouble passing the blockade. They continued to harass me for almost half of an hour. The armed guards stationed at the terminal entrance are apparently completely useless.
2:00 am IST
I went through immigration (which should be called emigration) and security. I had many documents stamped over and over. It's amazing how much stuff they can fit on to a boarding pass. I also observed the most sensitive metal detector ever. Every single person who went through, including myself, set it off. I'm not sure if the 2 grams of metal in my glasses or the RFID chip in my passport set it off. Since everyone set off the metal detector, everyone got secondary screening. This took about 10 seconds and was, luckily, a complete farce. If I had metal all over me, I would have been cleared anyway.
I went to reclaim my bag but it was stuck in the exit of the x-ray machine. The security screeners ignored me until I reached for it. They were not happy about that so I backed off and waited. Finally someone else's carry on dislodged my bag and I was able to reclaim it.
2:45 am IST
I had about 90 minutes to burn before boarding and all of the seats in the waiting area were taken. I found a lounge and was immediately kicked out for a reason that they would not tell me.
I found a restaurant that did not kick me out. I relaxed, had a couple drinks, and some peanuts. My apatite was starting to return. Before those peanuts I had only had two very small meals since I landed in India.
3:45 am IST
I boarded my middle seat flight. The guys on each side of me fit in their seats. Yay!
9:00 am UAE
I bought a box of these. Photo credit: yum9me
I bought a box of these.
Photo credit: yum9meI landed in Dubai. The airport is interesting. Rather than having a duty free store, the entire airport is one huge duty free store. The tobacco store alone must have been 3000 square feet. Also, the selection of goods spans the entire planet. You can buy stuff from just about everywhere in the world and they accept so many currencies that each register has several huge cash drawers. I bought some European candy.
Wandering about the airport was refreshing. In India everything is amazingly inefficient at the airport. Dubai, on the other hand, is efficient in innovative ways that I've never seen before. For example, in the x-ray machine at security has a built in return mechanism for the trays. This sure beats the manual carting around that they do in the US. Also, each gate has a staging area. This allows the crew to break the usual boarding process up into two steps. This makes the actual boarding process much faster.
Many times in Many time zones
And now I'm all caught up. This may be the longest blog entry I've ever written.
I'm flying over Moscow right now and I'm headed for the arctic. I also flew over Tehran about an hour ago. All that strife was only 33,000 feet away. It's kind of weird seeing all these places that always seemed so far away. I can't wait to get home.