Friday Nov 17, 2006

Words From India

I only have a few minutes before I have to catch my plane back home. The flight departure time is 3:05AM; I'm hoping al Qaeda operatives are fast asleep at that ungodly hour (pardon the pun).

So, I'll leave you with a couple of word things I saw during my trip that tickled my brain.

Exhibit One: Jedi Knights Revisited

Some movies available at the Leela Kovalam
First, here's a list of DVDs available to me at the Leela Kovalam. Note the star of "Star Wars 3".

Exhibit Two: Hamlet Only

A scene from Hamlet?
I know Hamlet well enough to recognize the dialog and what is being depicted. The funny thing to me is the line of dialog that Yorick-the-skull is saying. Even in Shakespeare, there's the classic use of the word "only". Shakespeare is a hoot.


Somebody who will go unnamed (but who is sleeping with Mr. Funny Guy from my previous post) kindly pointed out just how bad my memory is getting. She's right: it was mewho was sleeping with the person who said that everything this guy says is funny. I stand corrected. And no, I'm not going to provide more details; move along, nothing to see here.

Signing Off...See You In San Francisco

I'll wrap up on this trip to India when I land. Cheers, everybody!

Thursday Nov 16, 2006

From Kashmir to Kanyakumari: Day 2 of Paradise

The Arabian Sea from my window at the Leela Kovalam

Okay, so I didn't quite make it to the southern tip of India; the helpful staff at The Leela Kovalam Beach Resort informed me that I was about 150km north of the tip, where the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean, and the Arabian Sea meet.  That would be something to see, but I was happy enough to wake up after my first night in Kovalam, hearing the sounds of the Arabian Sea crashing on the shore below my room.  I can confidently say that I slept better than I did on the Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Bangalore.  But hold that thought; let's move on.

I decided to hold off on breakfast so that I could run along the beach below the resort and see a little bit of the area.  Besides, the staff told me that fishermen would be spending the morning pulling in their nets and I wanted to see that.  It was warm and humid; I started off toward the sand.

Turns out, there's not a lot of sand along the shore where I was.  Tides are pretty active, so they don't recommend swimming in the beach there; I can vouch for the need for caution.  I ran past groups of fisherman in a tug of war with the Arabian Sea, pulling in their daily catch and singing songs as a group while they worked.  I didn't recognize any lyrics, but some of you already know that I'm not great at hearing lyrics, especially if they're in Malayalam.

Soon I reached end of the sand; replacing the sand as the definition of shoreline was a rock wall that served to protect shops and homes from the waves.  I decided to cut inland a bit, through a village just north of the resort.  People everywhere greeted me during the run, especially children.  "Hello!" they'd say, often followed by giggling; adults usually said "Good morning" (no giggling).  I must've looked like a goof, tall white guy running to get exercise.

Pankaj At The Pool

I got back to the hotel, overheated from my run, so I headed down toward the infinity pool to cool me off quickly.  Pankaj was there; he set up a lounge chair with a big towel and a cold drink for me to get when I felt like coming out of the pool.  That pool was magnificent.

A View of the beach from the Leela Kovalam

Just a couple of minutes into my swim, it began to rain.  Not torrential, but steady and warm.  I began to laugh; it felt great to be in a pool, cooling off and looking at the Arabian Sea while warm rain fell on my scalp.  I stayed in for a while but eventually I had to get out and have some lunch.  I know, I know: you feel my pain.

After a nice lunch (including another nice conversation with the chef, who agreed to turn up the spice a notch) I decided to head back to the Living Room to relax (did I mention the Living Room?  It's kind of like The Library, except you can purchase and smoke Cuban cigars in the Living Room if you're so inclined).  That worked; a little later, I moved to the Library for tea and --- wait for it --- snacks.  At this point in the weekend, my big problem is where to relax and how to space out my meals so that I'm hungry when it's time for the next one.

Did I mention how beautiful the property is?  Every once in a while, I'd go to a window or walk outside to look over the cliff to watch the waves crash, or just look out on the horizon, or walk around the buildings.

And did I mention how friendly and helpful the staff was?  No, this is not an advertisement; it's just that everybody tried to do everything they could to make me happy.  I think it's got to be impossible to be unhappy at that place, except when it's time to check out.

Later, I had a pleasant conversation with Archana who was both friendly and seemed to have a firm handle on operations in The Club.  After talking with her about the property and other Leela properties, I want to stay at the other Leelas in other Indian cities.  This is a bad trend; I need a raise.

Ameri-nerd: Update

And again, my day at the Leela was just short of perfect.  While I was in the Library, the nerdy American guy came in and sat down on the sofa across from me.  Soon he began flirting badly with what I can only believe is his assigned butler; I feel sorry for her.

Blessings and Airport Alerts

A second newspaper headline later during my trip to India warned me of al Qaeda threats to hijack planes leaving from India toward the United States (of America, in case you've confused it with some other United States).  Coincidentally, later this week I myself am planning to return home from India to the U.S.  My greatest consolation is that the flights on Lufthansa are so full that terrorists will either

  • not be able to get last-minute tickets for my flight, or
  • will find my plane so cramped that they'll sit down, look around, and before takeoff will say in loud voices "I was planning on hijacking this plane but it is exceedingly crowded in here!  Take me to airport jail, I do not care, just GET ME OFF OF THIS PLANE!"
On a related note, I've just changed one of my three superpowers (\*): the power of instant business-class upgrades.  I suppose it would work sort of like a Jedi mind trick:  I'd go to the airport check-in counter, present my passport, and wave my hand as I said "I would like to upgrade to business class, please" (although I wield great upgrade power, there's no reason to be impolite about it).  The ticket agent would say "Yes Mr. Drapeau, a seat has just opened for you; we apologize that it will be in first class instead of business, but you will not be charged extra for our mistake."  I should think not!

Coming back to my time at The Leela, I feel blessed to have a job that gives me the opportunity to see the world.  Maybe this will wear off at some point, but I'm still amazed that I'm able to travel half way around the world and experience such interesting beauty and people.

\*If you could have three superpowers, what would they be?

Here is an example superpower from one of the funniest guys I know: the power of exact change.  You know, like "That hamburger and fries will be $2.65...oh, you had exactly that much in your pocket, huh?"  and "Sir, that BMW will cost $45, in the world did you get exactly that much money in your pocket, anyway?"

Yep, this is one funny guy: "Everything he says is funny," says somebody who is sleeping with him, which by the way should narrow the guessing down to one person.  If this doesn't narrow down your guessing to one person, then I'd say things just got a little less funny in his life.

Friday Nov 10, 2006

Paradise In Kerala: Day 1

It's been a while since I've let myself truly get away from it all, and for a while now I've had friends and colleagues from India tell me that next time I'm in India, I really should spend some time in Kerala (a state in the southwest corner of the country).  So after some serious thought, I decided to treat myself to a weekend of pure relaxation and pampering at some place near a beach in Kerala.  That place turned out to be the Leela Kovalam Beach Resort, as you can see from the previous blog entry.
George Checked Into the Leela, With a Soothing Welcome Drink

Here is what I looked like about five minutes after checking into my room; I was greeted by about five people who were ready to give me a red dot on my forehead and a nice shell necklace, plus a cool glass of coconut juice.

But Let Me Back Up...

It's been a full day.  It started with breakfast at the hotel in Bangalore where I ran into a great guy who's returning to Sun-India after a short leave (welcome back, Hasham!).  I had a brief scare on the drive to the airport: I picked up the local newspaper which had a front-page headline about a potential Al Qaeda plot to bomb several airports in India.  (don't worry Mom; it didn't happen and I'm just fine)  The plane flight to Trivandrum was fine, and waiting for me at the airport was my own SUV from the hotel, with newspapers, chilled water, and music of my choice.  The driver asked me about thirty-seven times if I was comfortable, liked the drive, if I was alright (yes I was, although after about the thirtieth time is when I asked for him to play one of the music selections).

If You've Been Spoiled Before, Skip This Section...

...because you probably won't be interested in the least hearing how I was pampered.  Otherwise, check this out: I check in, meet my personal butler (please stop and read those two words again, slowly, and with emphasis).  He takes me to the room and asks if he can give me a tour of the room's features.  It's a gorgeous, comfortable room with its own balcony with a view of the Arabian Sea.  (I'm giggling just typing that sentence, which is making me almost spit out my tea with milk and biscuits that Pankaj-the-butler just brought to me)  I think he's about to leave, but he asks if he can unpack my bag for me.  Uhhh, yes he may!  I'm still uncomfortable with this kind of service, but I'm trying really, really hard to get used to it while I'm here.  Anyway, Pankaj asks what I'd like to do next so that he can prepare; I tell him I'll shower then get some lunch.  He makes a reservation at the restaurant that is available only to guests of the wing where I'm staying (called "The Club").  He also asks if I'd like to schedule an appointment for a massage at the spa; I ask him if 5:00 is available and he checks (I'm picking the time pretty much out of thin air; the only schedule I have is when I want to eat lunch and dinner, with enough room in my stomach for high tea at 4:00).  Two minutes later, Pankaj returns to my room to apologize: the spa didn't have any free appointments at 5:00, but would I be willing to go at 5:30?  It's all I can do not to laugh.  5:30 it is.

After lunch (the chef comes out to ask if I'd like any special modifications to the meal he's preparing for me, and we chat for a bit about the similarities and differences between Mexican and Indian spices), I decide to take a stroll around the property.  I'll post photos later, but if you want to get an idea of what the place looks like, look at these photos provided by the Leela web site.  The photos are pretty accurate; this place really is God's Own Country, as they say here about Kerala.  (I have to tell you, this was a little tough to swallow as I often refer to my home land of the Pacific Northwest as God's Country.  I guess God can have a summer and winter home.)

(just took a break; I'm sitting in a room called "The Living Room" which again is available only to guests of The Club.  Pankaj dropped by to see if I needed anything.  I do; it's time for me to pack up the computer and go upstairs for high tea.  Back in a bit...)

...And, We're Back.

The Leela Club Library

Anyway, after touring the place I dropped in on The Library for high tea; it's a gorgeous room with soft, grooving music playing and comfortable furniture everywhere.  And here is where I finally discovered what I believe is my favorite word (as in James Lipton's questions from Inside The Actors Studio).

That word is "snacks", as in "Sir, would you like me to bring you some more snacks with your tea?".  Oh, that word makes me feel so good.

But alas, I can't stay long; the spa beckons.  So after only a few glasses of tea and a couple of plates of snacks, I tear myself away and head toward the spa.

The Spa

They're ready for me; there's not a whole lot to say except that after a hour's massage, I'm completely relaxed and ready to...well, ready to do more relaxing.  That means some time in a quiet place, reading, before heading down to the beach for dinner (of course, Pankaj has made reservations for dinner while I was getting a massage).  The chef comes out to greet me and asks me which of the fresh seafood sitting in front of me on ice that I would like him to prepare.  I suppress a giggle as I walk away to my table, watching him take giant prawns with tongs to prepare for my pleasure.

Rain.  Lots Of Rain.

Raining on the waterfall wall

When I arrived in the early afternoon, it was sunny and wonderfully clear.  Temperature was about 10 degrees warmer than in Bangalore.  As I was sitting in the Library, drinking my tea and munching on snacks (tee-hee), I asked one of the staff if it would rain during the weekend.  Within 30 seconds, I saw a few drops of water; we both looked outside, and the droplets turned to torrents.  It began dumping rain, beautiful, warm rain.  Soon came thunder and a little bit of lightning (I guess saying "a little bit of lightning" is kind of like saying "a little bit of a hurricane", isn't it?).  The hallway outside The Library is exposed to the open air and has a waterfall for a wall; it's kind of a small infinity pool that turns into a wall where the water drops off.  It's beautiful, but even more spectacular with rain falling into it.

By the time I finished my massage, the rain had pretty much stopped.

Americans Are (unfortunately) Everywhere

There was only one thing that spoiled what was otherwise a perfect day: Americans.  Or rather, one particular American guy who I'm sure is, like me, a techno-nerd on vacation (although certainly with a much worse sense of fashion and decidedly less couth).  Here's what happened: I'm enjoying my dinner and this guy sits down at a table near me.  His appearance screams Ameri-nerd, which is fine so far although I didn't come to Kerala to see other nerds (I was hoping to have a corner on that market).  The chef comes to ask him what he would like to eat from among the delights.  There is no menu for the entrees; you talk with the chef about your fish and he suggests several ways he can prepare it for you; you should trust him or you're an idiot, I figure.  I mean, this is Kerala!  Are they going to do fish badly?  I don't think so.

(ah, interruption: Pankaj just dropped by; he needed to know where I'd like to eat dinner and for what time can he make my table reservation by the pool?  So sorry...back to our story)

So...the guy picks out something and then says "I'd like some vegetables with that."  The chef seems a bit confused: what does Ameri-nerd mean by "a side of vegetables?"  The guy insists that he'd like a side of vegetables; you know, vegetables.  The chef finally offers perhaps a spring roll; Ameri-jerk cattily responds with "I don't want spring rolls; I want vegetables that I can see and taste.  What kind of vegetables are local?  Give me a side of those."  I didn't bother to look at what he ended up getting; I did everything I could to avoid eye contact which was tough because he was trying to engage me with one of those "What is with these Indians" looks that I found embarrassing.

I don't think it needs to be difficult travelling abroad, and in a thirteen-star resort where they are falling over you to serve your every whim I figure you can pretty much trust that whenever the staff makes suggestions for you, you're going to love them.  You just gotta go with the flow a little bit; this guy is just losing out on a magical experience, and he'll end up learning almost nothing important about how what other cultures have to offer.  Quelle domage; his loss.

I've decided to avoid this guy at all costs; I'll ask Pankaj to keep an eye out for him.

The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle. What more do you need to know, really?


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