Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Work Ethics

At work today the secretary was preparing to be out of the office tomorrow and asked if she could give me the cash to pay the cleaning woman tomorrow.  It's not a problem at all, so I agreed.

I was already thinking about it, and knew I'd better pay the cleaning woman when she finishes, and I was looking up online for a Spanish translation for "I will pay you when you finish."

Later, when I went to the secretary to collect the envelope of cash, she said "don't pay her before she's finished."

My first thought was that if I paid her all $60 up front for six hours of work, that she'd stretch out the cleaning to a full six hours, rather than whatever time it actually takes.  When I told the secretary that, she said, "no, if you pay her first she'd probably take the money and go home."

It must say something about my work ethic that my vision of cheating still including actually getting the job done.

It must also say something that I'm not qualified to manage people...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Chilly December Saturday in Manhattan

After Leena and I got off the phone I did a few things around the apartment, cleaned the robot vacuum filter and what-not…

Then I got my backpack put together and dressed and headed on out…

I wanted to see the East River Park, so I looked on the map to see the best way to get there, and took the F train to its first stop in Manhattan, East Broadway.

Fisherman in the East River Park
From East Broadway it was a bit of a walk to the park, and not all of it felt like a completely safe neighborhood, but some did here and there.  I ended up across a freeway from the park, with no obvious sign how to get across, until I saw a foot bridge a couple of blocks away, next to the Williamsburg Bridge.  The footbridge, of course, just went across the FDR Drive freeway to the park.

I walked over there and checked out the park.  It was cold, with a cold wind blowing off the river, so there weren't many people there.  A few guys were fishing, and there were tennis games going on, as well as some people running along the sidewalk along the edge of the river.  The bathrooms had really classy tile work on the outside of the entrances.

Since I was down near the Williamsburg Bridge and looking at cross the river at Williamsburg, I got the great idea to go and look for an address there my mother suggested, where her parents lived when they first got married.  So, I went back over that footbridge and walked quite a few blocks up Delancey Street to where the Williamsburg Bridge comes down to street level so people and vehicles can get on it.

Crowd coming over the Williamsburg
Bridge from Brooklyn
The foot path onto the bridge is right in the middle of the street, so while I was waiting for the light I saw some people on the entrance to the bridge in matching T-shirts with some logo on them and waving Mexican flags, with lots of police officers around.  When I finally got a walk signal and crossed over to the entrance to the bridge I looked up the path and saw it completely filled with marches coming my way.  The front of them were carrying a Virgin Mary statue, and there were thousands of people behind, almost all wearing identical t-shirts and many waving flags, and singing or chanting…

I decided to skip walking over the bridge when I saw that, especially since I planned to go the opposite way and they completely filled the bridge's walkway…

So, I continued across the street and walked around Manhattan some more.

I walked up to Prince Street, then along Prince Street past Broadway, until I couldn't take the crowds anymore and turned up a less crowded street and went up a couple of blocks.  I sort of zig-zagged about, went to Washington Square Park, then out and up University Place amidst NYU.  I bought a pretzel from a vendor and walked across the street from Union Square, then up Broadway to Madison Square Park, then up 5th Avenue to 40th Street, and over a couple of blocks and up to Grand Central Terminal.

Grand Central Terminal and the Chrysler Building
Grand Central Terminal was packed.  There was a line of people waiting to get up to the new Apple Store so I skipped that.  There was a line for the men's room, so I skipped that, too.  I bought a chocolate croissant from a small bakery that didn't have a line and went back out to 42nd Street.

I walked up 42nd Street and through Bryant Park, which was also crowded.  So was 42nd Street, completely packed…

At Times Square I found an empty table with a couple of chairs and sat down to eat my croissant and write in my diary.  Despite being night time it was brightly lit, like daytime, from all the lights around.  It was chaotic and noisy, too…  Today was SantaCon, so the city was full of many thousands of people dressed as Santa Claus, walking around to party and drink…  And of course, Time Square is a popular spot for everyone, so lots and lots of SantaCon people were singing and yelling and cheering and going through drunk, but it was all cheerful noise and chaos, not violent or protest or anything negative.

Me in Times Square, writing in my diary
I stayed there for close to an hour, but then I was cold from sitting in the cold wind on a cold metal chair…  I didn't realize just how cold till I got up and started walking again.  I walked over to the Port Authority Bus Terminal to use the public restroom, then caught the A train back to Brooklyn.

Back in the apartment I took a hot shower when I first got in.  My feet were really sore, as that was the longest I wore the new Nike sneakers for walking, and they rub in different places, so there's some blisters.

Small sculpture in a kindergarten
on the Lower East Side

Crossing a footbridge over the FDR
next to the Williamsburg Bridge

Alongside the Williamsburg Bridge

Domino Sugar factory in Williamsburg

Underside of the Williamsburg Bridge

That crowd coming off the Williamsburg Bridge

42nd Street, Bank of America Tower
reflecting off another building

SantaCon in Times Square

Times Square

Avoiding Christmas Tree Sales

Walking around New York City in the month before Christmas there's lots of guys on the streets selling Christmas trees and wreaths and things...  A few are aggressive salesmen and the instant they see me glancing their direction begin trying to sell me something, "want to buy a tree?"

Me, "um, no, I'm a Jewish atheist..."

It's a good way to get them to stop...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Return Travel from India

I returned to the U.S. from my three week vacation in India on November 18th, with a flight around 2:30am on the 19th.

The trip to the airport in Mumbai was fine.

Once in the airport I checked in and dumped my bags with the airline for the trip, then paced up and down the nonsecure parts of the terminal looking for a quiet place to sit and fill in the immigration form.  There was a small lounge that was jam packed with people at the far, far end of the terminal from where I checked in.

Finishing that, I got in line for Immigration (which technically, should be Emigration, since it's for exiting India).  There were two lines, both of which stretched completely out of the Immigration hall's roped queues and freeform into the terminal.  While I was waiting, some guy tried to go through the First Class and Diplomatic line, which is shorter, telling the gov't security woman "I'm a platinum customer" and when she said nothing, and didn't open the rope he started yelling "PLATINUM, DO YOU KNOW WHAT PLAT -- I -- NUM MEANS?" and she still didn't let him through, so he got in the regular line.

Behind me in line was a young woman who whenever the line inched forward would walk ahead until she hit me, never just stopping a few inches behind me.  The line took about 40 minutes or so until my turn at an Immigration counter, where I had no troubles and didn't get any questions from the officer.

Through there the line formed for the security check.  There was a bottleneck in that two officers checked all the passengers' passports and boarding cards for the fresh Immigration stamp, then there were the roped queues going to the actual security checks.  The security check was like it always is in Mumbai, chaotic and confusing about where to go, which line to be in, and a longer time separated from my bag than at other airports.  It took another 20 or 30 minutes…

Once through I found a seat in a somewhat quiet lounge in the terminal to call Leena and talk for a bit...

After she and I got off the phone I just sort paced around the terminal.  There wasn't any food that seemed appealing at the time, so I was a little hungry, but didn't get anything.  I kept using the bathrooms, too, to empty myself out for the travel.

We started boarding at the time I sent Leena an SMS (which was quite a struggle because I forgot how the old Motorola RAZR worked…) to say I was on my way...

I got a window seat for the flight from Mumbai to London, so that was good…  I slept for around 4 continuous hours when they dimmed the lights, and then off and on later.  The whole flight was in night time, with the dawn some way behind us, but getting closer and closer throughout...

I got to my seat early in the boarding process because it was so far in the back.  That was when I opened my backpack to get out my sweatshirt that I noticed my new, $1,500 Canon 35mm f/1.4 lens was not there...

It wasn't until the plane was nearly full and few people were still getting on that my row-mates arrived…  They were an elderly Gujarati couple.  The wife took the aisle seat and the man took the middle one, immediately spreading his legs wide so he encroached on my space.  And smelled kind of bad…

Both of them coughed horribly throughout the whole flight, without covering their mouths or anything.  The woman looked like she was pretty sick most of the time.  She refused all food and spent a lot of the flight with her head against the seat in front of her.

When the meal came around, the flight attendant asked me if I wanted the egg or the idli & upma option, but asked them if they wanted veg or non-veg.  The man got veg, which I also got, since the non-veg one was scrambled eggs, which I don't like.

I take it the older couple are not seasoned, worldly travelers…  The man opened his meal and didn't recognize the idli, sambar or upma, all three of which originated in south India but are now common everywhere.  For each one of them he asked me, "what this?" and when I told him he asked, "is vegetarian?".

Near the end of the flight the flight attendants handed out suggestion and rating cards to some passengers to fill, about how the airline performed.  After I finished filling my rating card, the guy next to me handed me the couple's U.K. Immigration Landing Cards and their passports and sort of asked me to fill them out, because neither of them speaks or reads enough English for that…  So, I started with one, copying the details from the man's passport (that's how I know they were Gujarati…) onto the Landing Card.

I filled all of it except the details about their stay in the U.K. and when I asked, the guy said they were going to London.  But I'd noticed his Indian passport had been issued in San Francisco, so I guessed they have relatives in the U.S. and might be visiting there, so I asked "U.S.?" and he said "Los Angeles" and showed me his boarding pass for a flight from London to Los Angeles.

At that point, I couldn't ask in Hindi or English for him to understand whether or not they were spending any time in the U.K. that would require them to go through Immigration.  I rang for a flight attendant and when she showed up I explained the problem and she asked the guy in Hindi about their travel plans, finding that they weren't leaving Heathrow Airport, so they didn't need the cards at all…

The couple split up after we landed, the man getting off the plane while the woman stood in the aisle and indicated for me and others to go ahead of her.  Maybe she needed assistance getting off and was waiting for a wheelchair or something, I'm not sure.  She definitely didn't look well, so it's a possibility.

It was a long, long walk from the plane to the first sign for transfer passengers showing what terminal to go to for the next flight.  I stood around a little bit to see if I'd see them so I could tell them where to go, but they never showed up.  If she needed assistance then probably the airline person who helped would also get them to the right place.

It turned out to be a lot more walking to get to the bus between terminals, which I just barely got on before the doors closed and the bus left the terminal.  And then in that other terminal another security checkpoint for transfer passengers.  It was smaller, yet more confusing and chaotic than the regular security checkpoints for passengers entering the airport there at Heathrow.  But I got through okay, and into the terminal…

I didn't have all that long to wait until the gate opened for my flight to New York.  At the gate when I handed my boarding card and passport to the woman it gave her some kind of error, then it worked, but she still had some trouble.  She got another gate agent to help her with what to do, and he asked me to step aside while he did a bunch of things, running the boarding card through the scanner and my passport through it and a tremendous amount of typing on the computer before he finally handed it to me and said "it's okay" and waved me into the waiting lounge…  I don't know what that was about, maybe the barcode from the Mumbai airport's computer wasn't compatible or something like that…  Weird…

For this flight I had an aisle seat next to a window seat in the very last row of the plane.  The woman with the window seat was an extremely large woman who needed to get an extension for the seatbelt to go around her bulk.  I was already sitting there when she came back and saw her seat and apologized to me about my having to be crammed in next to someone of her size.  And she did encroach into my space a bit, simply because she was so big...

Otherwise, the flight was fine.  I didn't sleep at all on it, just read stuff on my iPad most of the time.  Virgin Atlantic heats their planes more than other airlines, so I was comfortable the whole flight in short sleeves.

Once at JFK the Immigration line was slow, with only two agents handling the line for U.S. citizens, but no problems there.  Baggage claim was okay, I got my bags fine, and then the line at Customs was chaotic, with a single desk and one agent on each side of it, but no defined queue for people to get into.  When I got to an agent he just looked at my forms and said "welcome home," and passed me through to the exit.

I had to wait in line for a taxi but got one to Brooklyn.  That was $34 so I gave him $40 and he helped me with my bags to the door and all that…

So, both Jet Airways and Virgin Atlantic were fine airlines to fly with.  There service on board both of them was good, the meals were, well, airline food, but not bad.  Virgin Atlantic's food service had several rounds of snacks, that were good stuff, including high tea…

Reply from Virgin Atlantic Customer Relations

After the fiasco at the end of October with getting to India, I wrote to Virgin Atlantic to complain about the confusing lack of customer service at JFK after the flight was canceled.

I got a reply from one of their customer service representatives today:

Dear Mr Rubin Thank you for your email regarding your recent experiences when your flight home from New York was delayed. 

This flight was delayed as a direct result of the inbound service being diverted to Bangor. This was due to excessive holding times at JFK airport caused by light snow, wind and low visibility. Due to on-going delays while the diverted aircraft was waiting for ground provisions, and clearance, the crew ran out of their legal operating hours and it was therefore necessary for the flight to be delayed in Bangor. 
I can make no attempt to justify the lack of communications with passengers and the poor service you experienced with us on this occasion - it was unacceptable.  However, I would like to assure you it was not intentional or the result of any lack of effort by our ground and operational teams, we were simply overwhelmed by the task in hand.  We are of course taking this matter up in the strongest possible terms internally, so should something similar occur in the future we will have better contingencies in place.  
Mr Rubin, I appreciate that this experience may not have given you a great desire to fly with us again, however we would very much love to welcome you back onboard in a bid to restore your faith in us.  
With Kind Regards, 
Lee Pope
Customer Relations Executive 
Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd, The Office (GSW),
Manor Royal, Crawley, RH10 9NU, UK

Well, that sounds like they're looking at what went wrong.  In my message to them I made sure to not complain about the flight being canceled because of the snow, that my complaint was strictly about the problems in the airport after the flight was canceled.

In my complaint I suggested that more uniformed Virgin Atlantic staff to direct the crowd from the gate to the baggage claim to the ticketing area would've been nice.  And as the wait in line was several hours, uniformed Virgin Atlantic staff to at least periodically go along the line and reassure customers that they were in the right line, since that wasn't at all clear.  Nothing that seems huge or drastic, small things that would've made the process less confusing and stressful.

That last sentence, though, makes it sound like they should be offering me an incentive to fly with them again, " a bid to restore your faith in us."  I interpret that as there should be more coming, like a discount or an upgrade to upper class or something if I fly with them again.

Probably not, though...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Old Man in the Garage

A poor, old man sleeping in the car port under our kitchen.
About a year before I left India to return to the U.S. some creepy old guy started living in our building's garage.  I didn't know much about him, but Leena said she thought he was a servant of one of our neighbors, although he never seemed to do any work, just sit or lay in bed, half dressed, and stare at us when we came and went in our car.

This week, while visiting Leena here, he actually waved and smiled at me as we were getting into the car, the first time he's acknowledged my presence.  So I commented about him to Leena and she said that over the last year, while I've been in the U.S. she's talked to him a little, and related some of his story to me.

He's an old, uneducated man.  He worked almost his whole adult life at low paying, menial jobs, but spent almost every rupee he ever earned to send his sons to school and college so they'd get educated and live better lives than him.

Only now that they're grown up, better educated and far wealthier than he ever was, they don't want anything to do with him because they think he's too far "beneath" them, and don't want to be associated with an uneducated laborer.  They don't want their acquaintances to know where they came from.

So, now he's too poor to have his own home.  Somehow he knows our neighbor who was kind enough to let him live in his parking spot under our building (and that's directly under Leena's and my kitchen).  He works as a night watchman at a bank ATM somewhere nearby.

In her conversations with him she's found out his favorite food is fish, so when she has some extra, or left over fish dishes she shares them with him.

Sounds like he's a nice enough guy, but life has dealt him a less than ideal hand...

Another view of our garage, with the old man at the back...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Made it to India...

Whew, that was tough, stressful travels...

I started to get worried about the trip on Saturday when it started snowing in New York City, and a few hours before I planned to call a cab to drive me to the airport, the snow started to stick!

At 2:30pm I called the cab company and was told it would be half an hour before they could get a driver to me, because of the weather.  I'm glad I called early...  The driver showed up about 2:50pm and it took around an hour to get to the airport.

Check-in with Virgin Atlantic was easy, a fairly short line.  My bags were about half a kg over the weight limit, but they didn't charge me for the excess.  The woman said the flight might be up to an hour late due to the snow.  Getting through security was a breeze and I was in the terminal with some time to kill...

After sending a quick email to Leena, I found a place at the quiet end of the terminal to get a nice, pepperoni pizza.  Once finished with that I walked the length of it again, and vaguely noticed that the display over my gate didn't show anything, not the flight, just the generic background.

I dashed over to the nearest large display of flights to see if maybe the gate changed, but alongside my flight it said "CANCELED".  Canceled?  Gulp!

I dashed back to the gate and as I arrived the agent announced on the PA system that due to the snow the flight was canceled, the plane we were supposed to be on was unable to land in New York and had been diverted to Maine.  I asked her about connecting flights and she said they'd have to be rebooked, and asked me to wait patiently while Virgin Atlantic sorted everything out as best they could.  She said we'd be provided with hotel accommodations and all that overnight.

The waiting around by the gate got more full and more full as people waited around for the next news about our flight and the arrangements.  No new announcements were forthcoming, just an occasional one about  being patient while the airline worked out the arrangements.  They said they'd supply refreshments, but they never showed up.

After a while they finally announced they were ready for us, and said to go to the "domestic loft" (no one understood that last word) to get our baggage, then go to the ticket counter to make new arrangements for the bus to the hotel and rebooking of flights.  As a group we all went en-masse away. Some of us went up to what we thought "loft" meant, which was the ticketing and check-in area, and the closest we saw to the stairs was Virgin America, which matched the term "domestic" but we found out that was the wrong place...

Back down to a baggage claim area...  Our suitcases were alongside a baggage carousel and people were taking them away.  I went through it over and over, but didn't see my bags.  There were no Virgin Atlantic uniformed staff for assistance.  A few other people looked equally puzzled and didn't find their bags either, and after going through the rows of bags over and over and over, the carousel started again and more bags came, with an airport working hauling them off as they came, to throw them on the floor.  No idea why they didn't just let them roll around the carousel, as it was harder work to get them from the floor when they were stacked in a huge pile...

I got whacked in the face once by a taller man with a backpack who wasn't paying attention to where he was swinging it.  But he was gone before I could say something snarky to him about being careful.

With my bags in tow, and not ready to spend the money on a trolley, I wheeled them to an elevator and waited in line for my turn to go up.  Once I got to the Virgin Atlantic check-in area there were no uniformed staff, again, to help with where to go.  It wasn't at all obvious.  I saw a few other people with tags on their bags and carry-ons that looked like they'd already checked in, so I figured that was the line to wait in, especially as it went to the small ticket counter...

I was behind a friendly, older British lady and we chit chatted during the two plus hour wait.  Her husband came and went, going between possible places trying to make sure they got served in one spot or another.  The husband turned out to be the guy with the backpack, but once in line like that they were friendly.  They were on their way back from an Atlantic cruise, and she said the storm affected that, too, with huge waves and lots of people getting seasick.

So, after around two hours or so I finally got my turn at the ticket desk.  Travis was the agent who helped me out.  He first said he couldn't get me to London that night to make my connection and I'd be delayed by a day.  But then he didn't give up too easily...  Using both telephones and the computer whe worked my case for around 20-25 minutes.  The other agent was rebooking passenger after passenger on the Kuwait Airways flight to London that left at 9:45pm, filling out some forms, stamping them and saying "take this to Row 6 over there and hand it to the agent and they'll check you in..."

Travis eventually said he could get me to London that night, but was still working on the London to Mumbai route for me.  He had some trouble getting hold of Jet Airways to cancel my current booking, as no one was answering their phones.  He got one of his supervisors to get him an unlisted number, and got through and I heard him telling the Jet person about canceling my booking as "he's not gonna make the flight."

Finally he had everything ready for me, around 8:45pm.  He had me booked on the Kuwait Airways flight to London and a British Airways flight form London to Mumbai, but with a 12 hour layover in London.  He explained that he wasn't able to get me checked in all the way, or my bags, so in London I'd have to collect my bags at the baggage claim and then check them in again at British Airways.  Then he gave me the form he stamped and sent me to Row 6...

I found the Kuwait Airways check-in desk and handed my form to the agent who then weighed my bags and put the tags on them and handed me my boarding pass.  She sent me to the baggage security area where there was a massive line, both for Kuwait Airways and some other airline.  There someone in a uniform stopped me and then stopped other Kuwait Airways passengers saying he'd have to halt the whole line and get us through in order to make our flight.  He coordinated with another person and blocked the line of other passengers and led us as a group to drop our bags.

The next security was easy enough, and I got to the gate before boarding actually started.

Once on the plane we stayed on the ground for an hour and a half before taking off...

I slept badly on the flight, with an aisle seat and a somewhat annoying, older fellow on my right who kept banging his legs and arms into me.

The Kuwait Airways flight was shorter than my original Virgin Atlantic flight for the same route.

We made it to London early in the morning.  At Immigration I just told the agent there that I was only transiting through and had to get my bags and go check-in for another flight and he didn't give me any trouble.

After getting my bags I had no clue where to go in Heathrow...  I found the service desk who said I needed Terminal 5, and said the bus was faster than the train, but he'd have to carry my bags up the stairs to it.  So, I opted for the train (let's face it, with a 12 hour layover, who's in a rush?).  Only I got on the wrong train, the one that went between Terminal 4 and Terminals 1, 2 & 3.  After twice I figured out that one didn't go to Terminal 5 at all and switched to the parallel one...

At Terminal 5 I took my bags up the elevator to the check-in area and got in a short line for assistance.  The guy there booked me onto my flight, asking what kind of seat I wanted, with window seats still available.  I asked about my bags and he said it was too early to check them in, they would only accept them 3 hours before the flight.  I said I was hoping to dump them off, and directed me downstairs to a private company that'll store bags, for a fee that he didn't know.  He said "check your bags there and take the Underground into London, don't take a black cab, they're too expensive, that's what I reommend, that's what I'd do if I had a full day layover like you."

After checking my bags into the storage, I got some cold drinks at the Marks & Spencer, then struggled to get hold of Leena to tell her about the change in plans.  None of the pay phones in the terminal would accept my American credit cards, without the chip & pin combo.  Eventually I turned on the roaming on my iPhone and sent a couple of emails.

Then I got an Underground ticket and took the Piccadilly Line into London.  I kept falling asleep on the train, though...  It took about to get to Piccadilly Circus.

I enjoyed a few hours down there.  Walking around Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, Green Park and down to Charing Cross and Embankment.  I didn't want to go too far from the Piccadilly Line as I had a plane to catch...  I had a good time, took a bunch of pictures with my newest lens (which I haven't offloaded from the camera yet).  I had too much acid reflux to stop to eat, which now I regret, I should've gotten a hamburger at Ultimate Burger anyway...

Around 3:15 or so I made it back to the Underground and headed out to the airport again.  I was still a bit early, but I didn't want any delays to prevent me from making my flight.  I stood up all the way on this train and still kept dozing off between most stops...

I got to Heathrow half an hour before the earliest I could check my bags in, so I sat down and wrote in my diary for a bit.  By then I was developing a migraine, too, which was unpleasant...

At 5pm I got up to check my bags in, and stood in the long, slow line...  Again I didn't get charged for my overweight bags, so that was good.  Heathrow security was easier than JFK and I was into the terminal to wait for my flight.

I spent about an hour and a half just walking up and down, up and down, trying to find a drinking fountain, but no luck.  Once I bought a bottle of water, though, then I sat down at the quietest spot I could find to relax and sip it, only to see the water fountain there...

Then some more walking and I found another spot in a busier place to sit and write in my diary.  After I ran out of things to write I kept dozing off...  I'd start to dream a bit, then my eyes would close then I'd shake awake a few minutes later.  I did that for about an hour before getting up to keep walking more...

The British Airways flight was good.  It wasn't crowded, so I had a window seat and the seat next to me was empty.  A British lady had the aisle seat...  I slept most of the flight, with my head against the wall by the window.

Once in India a bunch of flights came in at once, so the line at Immigration was the longest I've ever seen it out of all my entries.  They had the rope barriers up but the crowd extended way beyond the entrance to that.  Once in, the line was moving fairly steadily, but it was still long...

The immigration agent asked me if this was my first trip to India, and I told him it wasn't (as though he didn't already know) but when he asked when my last one was, I had to think about it...  Because I was living in India, not just visiting, I thought of my previous trips as "out of India" and my entries as "visiting India."  But I figured it out as 2009.

My bags came quickly at the baggage claim, but the customs officer directed me to the x-ray, not directly out of the terminal.  The only problem I had at the x-ray machine was getting my bags, since a crowd developed around and I simply couldn't get through to get both bags off the machine.

And then out for my ride back to Pune.

So, here I am...  It's great to be with Leena again after a year, and nice to be back in our flat in Pune.  It felt like coming home.

And I'm quite wiped out...  I dozed off in the shower, and had a rip roaring headache.  I went to bed around 9:30pm or something and slept till 1:30pm.  When I woke up my headache was reduced quite a bit, but still slightly there...  It's easing off more and more...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cold Brewed Green Tea

In the past I've experimented a bit with cold brewing coffee, with some success (actually, it's hard to tell, I'm not really much of a coffee drinker, and I only like it with enough milk and sugar that I probably can't tell good coffee from bad...).  The beverage I drink a lot of, though, is green tea.

This summer I've been making cold-brewed green tea.  A chilled Thermos of that is a wonderfully refreshing drink to carry around the hot city in the summer...

My basic recipe is:

2 tablespoons of loose Japanese Kokei-Cha green tea
24 oz refrigerated tap water (bearing in mind New York City water is good water)

I use a French coffee press to make it.

First, I pour the loose green tea in, then a little water, and slosh it around so the tea is well soaked, before adding the remaining water.

I let it refrigerate overnight, not being too careful about the time, but at least around 12 hours.  Sometimes I swirl it around before I go to bed, and sometimes in the morning, a few hours before I'm actually going to pour it out.

When pouring it out to drink, the bottom bit of it that's been on the tea the whole time tends to be quite bitter, so don't try to use every last ounce of it.

And that's it...

I'm not clear if the Kokei-Cha that I buy at Java Joe's, two blocks up the street here in Brooklyn, is what's listed on Wikipedia as Kukicha, or Konacha...  When I bought it the first time I thought I remembered the woman at the store saying it was made up of bits and pieces, including dust, which matches the konacha description, but the name is closer to kukicha...

Monday, October 17, 2011

October - New 35mm Lens

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Full photo album on my Picasa page...

I slept in till almost 9am in the morning, then hung out on the computer a little bit before hitting the shower.  I lost track of time in the shower and it was 11am when I got out…  I guess I was daydreaming in there longer than I realized.

I puttered around the apartment, reading stuff about camera lenses online, munching some cereal and things in the apartment.

I finally left the apartment at nearly 2pm…  I took the R train to 42nd Street - Times Square, figuring I'd check out the grey market electronics dealers that are all over there about the lenses I was interested in, still not fully decided on which of the two I really wanted to buy.

First stop, though, was the public restroom in the Port Authority Bus Terminal…

Then I just walked up and down 7th Avenue, Broadway and 8th Avenue, plus some of the streets in between, ranging from 50th Street down to 35th Street…  I must've tried at least 25 shops.  Most stops were very fast, I'd walk in and ask a clerk, "I'm looking for the Canon 35mm f/1.4 lens" and nearly all of them instantly said "no."

Some followed the "no," by "we have the 50mm" or "we have the f/2.0".  At a few they took me where they had all the lenses they stocked to look at the selection, but they didn't have it.  One brought out a box with a 35mm film camera.  Another guy tried to convince me the 7mm fisheye he had was much better than a 35mm lens, and I asked "is this like golf, or something?" but he didn't get it.

Only one shop had it.  But they wanted $20 more than the normal retail price from an authorized dealer.  He did agree to drop down almost $100 if I paid cash (for them, that would mean no credit card merchant fees, and possibly hiding the income on their taxes…) but it wasn't enough of a savings for me to be worth buying it grey market and not getting the regular warranty or purchase protection from the credit card.

I checked one or two more stores after that, but they didn't have the lens, so I took the subway from Herald Square (the subway station under Macy's is full of JC Penny clothing ads!) down to City Hall.  I'd pretty much decided not to get the Carl Zeiss lens, as it's $400 more expensive and doesn't do autofocus, while the Canon one is a professional series one anyway, so it's like "gee, do you want gold or platinum?" already near the top of the line...

First photo with the new lens,
in City Hall Park.
There I went to J & R Camera across the street, which isn't as big as B & H but still one of the country's larger camera stores.  I'd already seen online they had the lens in stock, and $20 cheaper than B & H or Amazon, so theirs was already the price I was trying to beat.

The salesman in the SLR department was quick with what I wanted, got it off the shelf and took it the cashier where I waited in line for quite a while to actually pay for it.

Once I got it, I took it to the park next to City Hall and unpacked the new lens from its box and put it on the camera to start playing with it.  A couple of squirrels saw me sitting there and probably the bright colored packaging and they came begging, within a few inches of me.  But I didn't have any food, and by the time I could get the lens situated on the camera for a picture they gave up and ran off…

I took the camera on a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge (whose Manhattan side walkway starts right at City Hall) but had to put it away pretty quick as the rain started.  But once I got halfway across the rain eased off and I took it out again.

At various places I tinkered with some settings on the camera to make use of the capabilities of the new lens and learn a bit more about it.

Origin - by the Creators Project
On the Brooklyn side of the bridge my first stop was to the public bathroom at the Brooklyn Bridge Park…  Then I used the lens around the park a bit, catching some of the sunset (too cloudy to see the sun actually set, just the sky getting darker) with Manhattan across the river lighting up…

Once it was fully dark I went over to another part of the park (in all, it's a very large park, stretching for quite a distance along the river, but not all of it is completed) where there's the Jane's Carousel.

On the way I saw a weird light and sound art project in an old, industrial roofless building (it probably wasn't built that way, it's just that only the walls are remaining).  It was weird, a big cube, divided into smaller cubes, of multicolored lights that would light up in various moving patterns, and deep, throbbing techno music shaking the place in time to the patterns of light so you could feel the movement of the lights…

Jane's Carousel
Then I wondered over by the carousel and did some night photography of that.  It wasn't running much, probably because there were hardly any people around to pay to ride it (I mean, it is a Thursday evening, not prime time for leisure activities…)

I played with the camera and lens a bit, trying to get some interesting night shots near the carousel, and some of the waves from passing boats splashing on the rocky shore of the East River.

And then a while I headed up to the York Street subway station and took the F train back to Park Slope.

After getting to the apartment I dropped my things off and went out grocery shopping.  Then I came back and took out some trash, another trip down the stairs for that…


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Full album also on my Picasa page...

After Leena and I got off the phone I hit the shower then puttered around the apartment a bit.

I did some errands around the apartment in preparation for my upcoming vacation to India.

The workers outside got noisier, and kept banging the buckets they were hauling up on ropes against the air conditioners sticking out.

I finally got out around 2pm…  I figured my first stop would be Shima for sushi, so I took the R train into Manhattan and got off at the 8th Street - NYU stop, which is a few blocks from Shima.  The sidewalks were crowded with people, and it was somewhat sunny.  It was really windy, and kind of chilly in shade of buildings, but I was overheating uncomfortably whenever I was in the sunshine.  This is the second unseasonably hot October weekend in a row, with the city more crowded than even holiday weekends...

Shima ended up being crowded, all the seats I could see near the window were taken and there were people standing near the entrance, probably waiting for seats.  So I skipped it.

Washington Square Park
I wandered on down to Washington Square Park, figuring I'd use the public restrooms there.  All the streets on the way were crowded with people, young and old.  Lots of police were standing around the outer edges of the park, though not as many as last weekend with the Occupy Wall Street protest going on.  It turned out this time to be another protest.  Judging by the signs this seemed more anti-war than the Occupy Wall Street, which is more political and economic.

The restrooms were more crowded than I'd seen them before, but there was no line.

After finishing up my business there I found a shady park bench to sit on.  I tried using my iPhone for some connectivity, but I think there were too many people using AT&T (and probably other carriers as well) for me to get much of a connection.

I got out my diary and tried writing on it in my lap, but the book is slightly flexible, so it was a challenge to do that. I'd written maybe a quarter of a page when I was interrupted by two well dressed, elderly ladies.  They wanted to tell me that from what they could see of my handwriting in my diary, upside down from where they were standing, they thought my handwriting was very nice.  I started to protest, that my handwriting isn't all that great, and maybe it was just them seeing it upside down, but they said "no, it's very neat and orderly."  I gave up arguing and simply said, "thank you."

Great musicians in Washington Square Park
After they left a small group of park rangers had a get-together next to my bench.  I could hear them discussing their day.  One of them, in plainclothes, came running up and took over.  He told how he was crossing a street next to the park and a driver ran a red light and nearly hit him.  Then when he told the driver to be careful the driver started yelling back at him.  He didn't look like a park ranger, but he said he warned the driver "you don't want to fuck with me, I'll get you good," because of course, he's a law enforcement officer, not a mere civilian with a sharp tongue…  I don't think anything happened, as his story to the other rangers didn't go farther…

On the next bench over were a young couple, probably NYU students, making out.  The girl was laying on top of the guy, who was sitting, and every time she'd shift a bit her boots would bang against the arm rest of my bench,  a couple of feet from me…

At one point a bag lady, dressed in rags, pushing one wheeled suitcase, wrapped in plastic bags of things, and pulling another, also draped with plastic bags of stuff, came walking by, cursing and yelling at no one in particular.  The park ranger who was guarding the lawn near me looked at me and said "she's harmless, she's always like that" and I asked "a regular?" and the ranger said, "yeah, she comes through every day."

After a while I was done writing and ready to walk more.  I'd cooled off a bit sitting there in the shade and wasn't sweating too much anymore from the heat, so I got up to go walking a bit.  By then the protest in the park seemed to have disappeared, too, while I wasn't paying attention.

I got out my camera and walked through the park, taking some photos, then up 5th Avenue.  Traffic was insane, both on the street and foot traffic on the sidewalks.  Crowded everywhere.  Drivers were honking like mad, police were at almost every street corner directing traffic in the neighborhood, and there was such gridlock that as lights changed no cars would move, there was nowhere for them to go.

It wasn't until I got up around 14th Street, a block from Union Square, that I heard a police officer telling someone else that it was all messed up because of the protest.  Apparently the protest that I saw in Washington Square Park was marching somewhere…

Art in the Flatiron Building's front gallery
I worked my way up 5th Avenue until I got alongside the Flatiron Building.  I took photos of the Empire State Building at various place, trying different focus points and depth-of-field stuff with my new lens.  Then I crossed into Madison Square Park. Not much is going on there, and there's no artwork at the moment that really has my attention the way the last two sculptures in the main lawn did.

From there I walked up Broadway.  It was getting even more crowded and the sidewalks between about 28th Street and 33rd Street are full of vendors selling things, so it's more crowded.

At Greeley Square, a block south of Herald Square and Macy's, near the Empire State Building, I walked through the park part of it and a police officer walked through yelling "Everyone, the park is closed!" at 4:30pm, which is awfully early for a public park to close…

My favorite picture of the day, the sunlit Empire State Building viewed from the shadows...
Walking up past Herald Square, towards Times Square was getting more and more crowded.  At 42nd Street, I crossed and the press of people was so thick I simply couldn't get past it.  As I was turning away I noticed that there were police barricades blocking some of the square, so it was empty inside, and I realized that the protest march was probably coming up there…

Police in front of the Bank of America Tower
I turned on 42nd Street and walked over towards Bryant Park.  As I passed the Bank of America Tower building (one of the two tallest buildings currently in New York City) I saw there were police barricades and police officers in front of it, keeping people out, checking IDs of the few they let through.  There were lots of police cars on the street, too…  Bank of America is held up as the poster child for the current protests, of what's wrong with the politics and economy and things…  So I figured there might've been some threat against it.

I took some photos over there and then went into Bryant Park.  The main lawn in the park is no longer accessible, they're covering it with things, preparing the winter-time ice skating rink, though it's still early, but I guess it takes a lot of preparation.

After I finished up in Bryant Park I went back to 5th Avenue, planning to head over to the Port Authority Bus Terminal to use the public restroom, but things on the street were getting busy…  The protest march was working its way up there…  Or maybe it was another one, I don't know the route it took. I was on the sidewalk and about to be engulfed in it, and could hear the police bullhorns telling marchers to stay on the street, off the sidewalk.  Actually, I think the sidewalk was full of not so much protestors put photographers and news people recording it from the side.

I managed to get away from it and turn up 40th Street, though I could hear the roar of the crowd behind me.  I saw some interesting looking building spires from there and took a bunch of photos.  Then as I was crossing Broadway, a block away from Times Square there was full-on crowd roar going on up there.  I continued on my way to the bus station where I got my relief.

Back outside again I walked up 8th Avenue, thinking I could cut over to Times Square around 46th or 47th Streets and get a view of things from the red steps, since I'm a bit too short to see things from street level in a crowd.  It was slow walking, the sidewalk was jam packed with people going about.  And once I got to Times Square again, police had the red steps blocked off so the only people on them were a police officer at each corner.  Bummer…

One of the cartoons I saw online recently was an octopus in a business suit with the caption, "I'm here for Octopi Wall Street".  In Times Square the crowd of protesters had a huge octopus shaped structure made of what seemed like blue plastic bags they were holding up overhead…

It was starting to get dark around then and I wanted to get down to the Apple Store on 14th Street before they closed, which was probably at 9pm, so I'm sure I was early…  I used my iPhone to run an app and find the nearest A C & E subway station, which was up at 50th Street, four blocks away.  So I made my way through the crowds and got up there to catch the C to 14th Street.

At the Apple Store I waited quite a while, actually, longer than I have before to make a purchase.  All the salespeople were working with customers, and from what I could tell giving detailed explanations of things, which I'm sure is really good for those who aren't sure what they want.  One couple that was looking at 15 inch MacBook Pros, at the same table as the one I wanted, with a saleswoman were an Indian man and an American woman in a pale blue sari with loads of pale blue, glass bangles.

But me, I knew exactly what I wanted, I wasn't there to ask questions…  Eventually I went over to wait in line at the checkout counter so I could clearly get "a turn" to talk to someone.  Then a guy in a blue shirt, Louis, came from somewhere else and asked if he could help me.  I told him, so he ordered one up from the godown under the store and said he'd bring it in a few minutes, to just wait where I was…

A few minutes later he brought the box with the MacBook Pro and took me to the checkout counter where I paid for it with a simple swipe and it was done…  He put it in a large size plastic bag, we shook hands and he said "hey, any time you're in, say hi to me."

I went up a block and caught the A train back to Brooklyn, then transferred to the F to Park Slope and walked home from there…

Love Lock on the Brooklyn Bridge

On the Brooklyn Bridge

Jane's Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park

Jane's Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park

Jane's Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park

Art in the gallery of the Flatiron Building.

Art in the gallery of the Flatiron Building.

Louis Vuitton handbags, only $10 on the street...

Glass high rise amidst old brick buildings, reflecting old brick buildings...

Empire State Building reflected off another glass tower

Playing with bokeh in the new lens