Sunday, January 15, 2012

Adventures of California - Santa Monica, Hollywood and Beverly Hills

It’s been really busy lately with preparing for the project implementation, learning things that I wasn’t familiar with, packing for the travel that includes laundry, polishing shoes, ironing my formal wear (which I only wear when I am traveling to clients now) and of course managing all my bills and payments so that I don’t miss any while I’m gone.

I’d always fantasized about getting a chance of seeing Hollywood celebrities and guess what, Santa Monica, Hollywood, Beverly Hills are the few cities that I will be visiting or should I say be living in for the rest of the month.  It’s going to be fun at the same time hectic too with 3 training sessions of 3 hours each every day for next 15 days and then who knows how many hours of walking through with users every day post Go Live of the project phase. But in nutshell, this trip would be amazing.

It is Day 7 of my travel today and now I have something to talk about and share. For some reason this time flight to Los Angeles from Chicago felt quite tiring even though it landed 20 minutes early than the expected time of arrival at LAX International airport. Even my boss admitted that it felt longer and tiring so I wasn’t the only one to have this feeling. We took our bags, rented the car and checked in our hotel. We rushed to our training center quickly to ensure that everything in Test environment is running fine and we are ready to roll with our coming sessions. Luckily everything was functional and ready to be demonstrated. We went for a quick bite to a famous Japanese Sushi station “Kaido” located on Santa Monica Boulevard. The first time I went in a Sushi station with one of my friends in Chicago, I wondered what I was doing in a Fish restaurant but when I saw the menu I was surprised to see that a place like that too can have options for a person like me as in Vegetarian. So this time going to Kaido, I was a bit comfortable as I knew that I would get Vegetarian Sushi too which of course would be minus the main ingredient that is fish and I wasn’t disappointed because I did get couple of vegetarian options to satisfy my belly.

(Sushi Chef at Kaido)

The next couple of days went fine, my 1st training session was a bit here and there because I was training users something I wasn’t well versed with but thanks to my potential of learning quickly and getting acclimated to the surroundings, I got over my nervousness and lack of expertise in things I wasn’t sure of. Coming sessions were like piece of cake and I got busy and comfortable with all sorts of users from different areas and specialization.

As Friday slowly ended with the setting sun, I relaxed in my hotel room and thought about what I had gone through in past few days. I was content with what I did and achieved. I was happy about being in a new place and experiencing some new things after a long. It appeared that I’d lost a lot of me somewhere and was screaming aloud from that somewhere place to come out. I’m glad that I got this opportunity to reclaim myself a bit if not to the full potential. People say when you are in new town, the best way to experience and see the town is on foot and local transport and luckily I am not one of those lazy bums who prefer to drive even for a block. So I explored my way in the town on foot after work everyday and tried different cuisines and restaurants. Best was when I saw an Indian restaurant named “Chandni” just 6 blocks from my hotel. What else I could have asked for in an alien place away from home, family and friends. I didn’t think twice and walked in the restaurant and ordered a Vegetarian Thali (platter). I must say for a price under $20, it was a lot of food. I left almost half of it and got it packed. Food was simple, close to home taste and freshly prepared (not the frozen food heated in microwave).

A few blocks down from Chandni restaurant, I found another Indian restaurant called “Nawab of India”. It was definitely my next pick for one of the coming dinners. Throughout the week, I tried Thai, Mexican, Indian and American food. Nawab of India was better than Chandni restaurant but the taste came with the price.

Best part was that in both Indian restaurants I was the only Indian sitting and dining, rest all tables were packed with Americans and I was enjoying the sight because people were literally licking their fingers while eating their meals. It brings joy and a feeling of proud when I see Indian culture, food and tradition accepted and enjoyed by foreign people on their land like this.

Well, the weekend started with a tour to Hollywood and Beverly Hills and we were a small group of 7 people to take the 5 hour tour. An Australian family with 2 daughters and mom and dad, 2 German guys closing their Business travel with the tour and me with our Chicago based tour guide Charles who came to LA 8 years ago to start his acting career, landed in shooting for some commercials and waiting in special celebrity parties. He showed his recent pictures from the pre Golden Globe Awards function where he was standing behind Anne Hathaway (the new cat woman in last of the Batman series), wearing tuxedo holding a tray of Champaign glasses. His story reminded me of stories from Bollywood and Mumbai where people come from all over India with dreams of becoming movie stars but end up extras or background group dancers.

He and I got tuned quickly when we both realized that we were from Chicago and he felt like he met a family member. He talked about his life struggles and even shared his upcoming moment of happiness, his marriage and honeymoon he is planning in Australia. I kind of felt happy for the guy that he could share his feelings and offload his pain and hardships with me. I hope he gets what he deserves one day.

Well the tour went fine, started with Hollywood and the most famous Hollywood sign on the mountain. Slithered around the streets of Hollywood and clicked pictures of all stars engraved with celebrities and embossed on the payment.

My guide escorted me personally to Madam Tussauds museum and got me tickets from front of the line.
Saw some celebrity homes and hotels where celebrities have their money invested as partners (The Standards - investors list includes Leonard Di Caprio and Cameron Diaz), and learned about how Fox Production lost everything in 1950s with their biggest flop movie Cleopatra, where stars live and Dine, where they were caught by police, where they got married and divorced, etc. etc.

Then we headed to Beverly Hills, my most awaited part of the tour.

I’d heard of it so much from everyone that I couldn’t wait to see it and the wait was worth. Rodeo Drive, the heart and soul of Beverly Hills apart from Celebrity homes of course, is the Mecca for girls and shoppers but a nightmare if you don’t have big bucks in your pocket to spend. You name the brand, you have it and on top of that, you have top of the line Designers that you won’t find anywhere else. For example, BiJan, is the only designer store in Los Angeles area at least where entry is strictly by appointment, no matter who you are. Makes hand stitched to your fit clothes and is the place where celebrities, members of Cabinet and even some past US Presidents have done their wardrobes. He is one of the 2 guys in Los Angeles area who owns Bugatti and proudly parks it outside his store and pays for the day parking at the meter. Tourists are welcome to take pictures with his Speed Mean Machine which if run at its maximum speed will wash out the gas tank from max to empty within 11 minutes.

Then I saw the famous stores (Badgley Mischka) from the movie, Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts was insulted and kicked out of store and she then comes back to tell the staff that they made a Big mistake. As usual, I am tempted with hats and when I see one, I just want to try it and if possible buy. I saw one nice original straw hat inside a store and next thing I knew it was on my head. Don’t worry, I didn’t buy it, I couldn’t have bought a $1600 hat but I am thankful to the store manager, the lady, who smiled and let me try it to satisfy my desire.

Finally to end the day tour, I asked the tour guide to drop me at their office instead of my hotel so that I can spend some “My Time” at Santa Monica beach. It was a lovely day, warm enough to be in short sleeves and walk on the beach and see the sunset.

After spending couple of hours and clicking pictures and being asked by few girls to click their pictures, I was done for the day and needed a nice dinner when I checked in Buddha’s Belly restaurant. It has a nice ambience and a very smart staff with some beautiful women working around (don’t take me wrong but if you are single, Santa Monica is your place to be in. You just can’t keep your eyes closed with beauties all around, LOL). Unfortunately, I am not one of those guys who would hang out with any stranger so I sat over the bar counter and had a small Hot Saki with a Vegan Sen Pet (noodles, soy soup, Tofu and potato stuffed sushi style burger).

It was a perfect day after a long time and after a walk of 20 blocks approximately 1.6 miles; I was dead tired and ready to retire in the comfy bed.

Sunday has started and I am planning to drive through Malibu beaches where celebrities prefer to live and just relax. I guess I'm ready to start another week of work as following that is another weekend with a friend of mine visiting me from Boston to celebrate her Birthday at the Universal Studios and Disney Land.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Sketching on iPhone

I miss my sketching app so badly. I downloaded the free version and forgot to backup and the worst part is I don't even remember the name of the app that I used to make these sketches :(

I wish I can somehow find this app again and get back to my iSketching

Abstract Art - Face
Egyptian Pharaoh
Old Man's Face

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lost In Paradise

There's a posh and glamorous side of USA and almost all advanced countries that we all know which is primarily represented by tall sky scrapers, dense down towns, branded shops, celebrity homes, big corporate offices, high tech and advanced commutation services like well connected roads and rail networks and of course expensive standard of living. Life in such cities is fast and furious, complex and tensed, keeps you always on toes.

Everyone is struggling in life daily and chasing their dreams in so called paradise. No one is at peace, there is no contentment in life, people are more prone to diseases and health issues, they crib about tonnes of things every day, fight with the notorious politics of the surroundings and environment they live in. Quality of life is absolutely trashed no matter one has everything needed to live a comfortable and luxurious life but it still lacks the quality that comes with simplicity and untangled lifestyle.

Then there is another side of the life, the Country side, where every one lives at peace, manages daily chores with less worries and live a way better and healthier life as compared to people like us who are stuck in the hustle bustle of metropolitan lifestyle. Agreed that they don't get all those worldly pleasures and comforts that people living in metros get but they get what is needed by every man every day in life, contentment and satisfaction.

They might live in torn and broken houses, may struggle on day to day basis for many things but still they live a peaceful life, a life with family and friends near and dear to each other.

I started my new year by spending my first 2 days in such serene cities and wondered why is it so difficult for us to move in places like these and spend our life. Why can't we survive the way these people survive? Why can't we live in such places and breath fresh air every second of our lives, see stunning sunrise and sunsets everyday, enjoy the freshness of flowing river water, walk around the fields and feel the freedom and not worry about traffic and rules or be cluster phobic? Why did we make our lives so complicated and difficult when others could live simple and yet be contended? Why?