Monday, December 31, 2007

Conspicuous Brown Guy In India Finally Learns Traffic Rules

I finally gave in after 5 years and decided to take a REAL vacation. This time, no phone, no email, and no working. My out-of-office auto-response even states that I will only be available by "holographic imager", which of course would be difficult to find. For various reasons, I decided to visit Goa, India (which I've previously visited -- see Fleece Me, Please!, or Order And Chaos, or Sousegade: Welcome to Goa written exactly two years ago, for more interesting stories that have pretty much happened on this trip too in some form)

Going to India is always a little weird for me. For one thing, I definitely don't feel like I belong there, despite my very brown skin. I realise that there are a couple of things that give me away:

  • I wear shorts. For some reason everyone wears long pants even when its too hot in my opinion. I believe it has something to do with mosquitoes, but you're going to suffer from the heat or the bugs so take your pick.
  • I have a trimmed goatee-moustache. Most people in India tend to have just a moustache or no facial hair at all. In fact, for about a week and a half I didn't even bother shaving at all -- that was awesome, and disturbing of course.
  • I carry a backpack (a dead giveaway that I'm a tourist)
  • I don't speak the language(s). I feel I can avoid getting pegged this way if I keep my mouth shut, but somehow, I just don't!

I started out staying with my parents in Dona Paula, where they are visiting, and also had the wonderful opportunity to go visit my friends Pearl in Palolem and Natalia in Calangute while they were in town. They don't even know each other, Pearl was in India for a wedding, and Natalia was around to break her wrist while on vacation (ouch!).

Good times were had by all, and I even stayed in nice hotels for a few days, which made it a lot more pleasant, as staying with my parents in my aunt's apartment tended to be harsh without air-conditioning.

Driving in India may seem difficult, but general behaviour and traffic patterns can be summarised by what I call "Path of Least Resistance" and "Obstacle Course". Here are a few simple rules to get you started if you are ever so lucky:

  • If you have wheels, then you have right of way... unless something else has wheels and is bigger or faster, then they have right of way... unless they honk at you - in which case the bigger vehicle may choose to give up their right of way if they slow down. Slowing down does not mean one can't immedately change their mind, speed up and cut you off.
  • After vehicles, anything with legs takes right of way next. [However, humans can overcome this by walking on the left side of the road along with traffic, giving one at best a poor excuse for not moving farther over (since one can't see the cars coming from behind) -- thus usurping your right of way from the vehicles! I was actually hit by a rickshaw when I was with Pearl in Calangute using this method so now I tend walk on the right and face oncoming traffic because I'd prefer to be alive.]
  • If you are a cow, the above rules do not apply, as right-of-way is permanently guaranteed for bovines in any environment.
  • When behind a slower moving vehicle, you must always attempt to pass it, regardless of oncoming traffic conditions, especially on winding roads with little visibility. This must be attempted continuously until passing is succesful, or a fiery ball of carnage is created, or your foreign passengers have a heart attack.
  • Seatbelts are mandatory, but their usage is not. It is required to have seatbelts in the back of a vehicle, but no receptacles to buckle them into.
  • The main tools for communication with other drivers on the road are the horn (use often) and extreme proximity to other vehicles (use just as often).
  • A 2-lane road contains enough space for 6 lanes of traffic in any direction in any order. Additionally, animals may use the shoulder along with motorcycles (except cows who may travel wherever they wish). Motorcycles with more than one infant, must travel at half the speed of other vehicles, regardless of posted limits.
  • Lane lines and other painted lines should be ignored at all times, similarly for traffic lights.
  • Bi-directional roads can be converted into one-ways along the overtaking distance relative to the vehicle ahead of you, but the horn must be pressed a minimum of 2 times for this rule to take effect. When oncoming vehicles reach this new one-way section, they may use the shoulder, or attempt to revert the road to 2-way by using the horn and proximity tools described above.
  • Foreigners named Natalia should carry extra cash in rupees to bribe traffic police, and should also use extra caution when driving a motorcycle near a pole.

Wishing everyone a happy new year and all the best in 2008!


Sunday, September 02, 2007

How I Boarded the Wrong Plane

It may come as no surprise that I tend to do a little travelling for my job. I suppose I do somewhat enjoy the looks I get when I say "I'm going to Italy in a few hours and I haven't packed yet" (incidentally true right now, so I'm procrastinating by finally making another long overdue blog entry), but in all honesty the constant motion of travelling can get pretty tiring.

On my way back from Japan, I managed to get a last minute change from my flight itinerary, so that I didn't have to make another touchdown in Seattle and make it a 22-hour journey. I was lucky enough to call a few hours ahead of time and get a 2-stop journey from Nagoya Japan to Narita Japan and then on to Detroit. I would arrive at 2:40pm EST.

Arriving at Nagoya, they gave me both boarding passes and sent me on my way. The first one-hour flight went without a hitch. I arrived at 2:55pm (Japan time) with plenty of time to spare for my 3:55pm Narita to Detroit overseas flight.

So I decided to walk to my gate and make sure where it was even though I was really early. So I arrive about 3pm and they are already boarding, so I get in the line. When I get to the front, I hand the airline lady my boarding pass, and she looks at it confused. Then without a word bounces away running! She shows another lady the ticket, who takes it, rips it up and gives her a new one. Then she runs back over to me (they always run in Japan if you're waiting) and hands it back silently with a great big smile.

Daniel: Uhhh... thanks? What just happened there...?
Super Smiley Hyper Japanese Airline Lady: Oh... nothing.... you're ready!
D: You didn't just downgrade me to Economy did you?
SSHJAL: Business class okay!
D: Ummm.... business class?
SSHJAL: Yes! Thank you!
D: Okay....thanks....

When I boarded, they escorted me upstairs to the top floor of the 747 (I've never ridden on the top floor before!) so I knew I was in business class and everything was fine. (right? right!) The plane took off and I was excited to soon be getting back to the Western world!

About an hour in, I look at the monitor. Time to destination: 1:04pm. I'm a little confused thinking "How is that possible? We're going to be 90 minutes early? ...? ... Sweet!". It doesn't really state what destination, so I don't really think about that again until about an hour later, when they are handing out the customs declaration form. The guy next to me is filling his out, just like me. So I ask him:

Daniel: Hey, what flight did you write down there?
Guy Next to me: Northwest 12
D: Oh, you must mean Northwest 26 right?
Guy: No, no... we're on NW 12. [Motions to his boarding pass in his pocket]
D: Oh okay. Let me check my boarding pass.
Guy: uh huh.

D: Nope... we're on NW26, not NW12. Did you know this flight is going to be 90 minutes early!?
Guy: Actually my boarding pass says NW12. And it looks like it will be a few minutes late according to the screen. Are you sure you're on the right plane?

My heart begins to beat a little faster. I realise that I'm not on the right plane.

Guy: Where are trying to get to?
Daniel: Detroit!
Guy: [Laughing....]
Daniel: Are you even going to the USA?
Guy: Oh yeah, of course...
Daniel: .... AND?
Guy: I'm also heading to Detroit.
Daniel: .... non-stop??? ...
Guy: [DRAMATIC PAUSE] Yup! You're fine!

So I'm sitting there wondering how this happened. And it dawns on me: They automatically bumped me forward to the earlier flight. And then I start rejoicing internally. That truly is a fortuitous coincidence! And now 90 minutes early!! After about 45 seconds, I then realise my luggage will be on the original flight, and I'm going to have to wait for it, so its all an exercise in futility.

Sigh. I arrive at customs at 1:10pm, a full 90 minutes early, aheda of schedule and my luggage. The lineup itself is interminably slow and takes about an hour and a half because of the inefficiencies of the lineup process and many other things. In any case, as I make it through immigration, I'm too bothered about the useless windfall, the long wait and the later luggage to realise that its already about 2:35. So I remain annoyed until I hear the loudspeaker "Northwest 26 passengers arriving from Japan, your luggage has arrived on carousel number 6", and a smile suddenly hits me. I then think I've won after all, because I look back and my would-be co-passengers who are only now arriving prove that I would then be looking at a 2+ hour wait in the lineup for immigration. So would have ended up getting out of the airport at about 5pm, but now leave exactly when I originally planned to, thanks to my windfall!

My taxi ride home was exeedingly pleasant due to that one inescable conclusion: Sometimes, everything really does even out.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Smitors #2 - The "Doc" Emmett Brown vs. Harry Potter

This is match #2 in a series of tournament bouts pitting powerful "Smitors" (as in one who smites), against each other, one on one.

Vote in the comments. You can also campaign for your favourite smitor, by commenting about why they should win. At the end of each match, the smitor with the most votes (or most convincing arguments if votes are tied) will be declared. For true democracy, my vote weighs equally with your vote!

Last time, Batman bat-nihilated Spiderman with precision and skill!

Smitor Challenge #2 - The "Doc" Emmett Brown vs. Harry Potter

The Doc's Advantages/Disadvantages
-can travel through time to steal cool weapons and stuff from the future
-can invent lots of stuff (though it doesn't usually work)
-has seen the future (and therefore knows if/when he would win)
-really cares about not screwing up the time continuum, but ignores that whenever he wants to
-can survive a lightning bolt
-doesn't have magic

Harry's Advantages/Disadvantages
-can travel through time occasionally (but needs Hermione)
-has a knack for surviving things that should kill him
-can escape to Hogwarts (sometimes)
-has magic (but Hermione is way better)
-has a conscience, but is naive
-has a lightning bolt (on his forehead)
-doesn't have a time machine

Monday, March 12, 2007

Godspell, Godspeed

Now I will answer the questions that I've been asked in the past few weeks: "Is Daniel alive?" and "Why can't I get ahold of him?". The answers are "Yes" and "Godspell". Godspell is a musical all about the life and teachings of Jesus, framed in a theatrical setting, with comedy, dancing, and music, and a whole lotta awesome!

My involvement was as the director of music. It was written for just rhythm section, i.e. piano/drums/bass/guitar. However, we had a couple of trumpets that wanted to be involved, so I somewhat foolishly decided that I had enough time to write parts for them. In the end, I was pretty happy with it, but perhaps could have been a little easier on them, even though they performed well for the difficulty! I also was responsible for rehearsing the "orchestra", and helping the singers learn their parts, and playing at rehearsals, although there was another rehearsal pianist who filled in for me, when I was having pasta in Italia, or stuck at work overnight.

So how did this experience affect me? Well I think I can categorise it:

  • Management experience: I learned more about how to manage people effectively, how to provide leadership, how to encourage people and motivate them. Scheduling 6 people to attend rehearsals, making sure they are informed about where they have to be when (not that I was exceedingly clear on this!), and ensuring that I knew what to tell them took a lot more energy than I originally anticipated.
  • Musical knowledge: I feel my knowledge of music, and conducting was greatly enhanced. I remember the last time I did this for Anything Goes in 1996, and it was natural for me, but this time even more so. I felt totally at home in the Director of Music role. I even was surprised at my ability to write parts for both trumpets, and at the fact that I did this at a table, without a piano for most of it. The music seemed to flow out of my hands! Yes there were a couple of errors here and there, but for the most part, I surprised myself. The ability to make musical decisions was deepened, as in "should I take this out" or "should I change that part of the music" were questions that I started being able to answer more readily about midway through. All of my musical talents were tested and improved, and it was great! I'm still waking up with songs from the musical endlessly bouncing aroudn my head.
  • Spiritual development: Not that I ever got to really see the show from the audience's point of view, but I feel that hearing the script over and over again, while not being able to get the music out of my head has really forced me to think about what the show is about: Jesus, discipleship and growth. It brought me new perspectives that I had either forgotten I had or not thought of, and really helped me focus on how I live out my faith life. I resurrected (no pun intended) question like "Am I really focused on any of the things that Jesus taught us or am I simply following doctrines?" It was definitely a re-orienting of my spiritual compass, which I'm thankful for.
  • Community: I made a lot of great friends, and forged a really cool bond with the other two directors, Kristen and Brian. Their energy and passion is where this idea came from, and flowed forth. I was just happy to be a part of it. I feel I got to know the whole cast, and chorus, which was very much a friendship-building experience. The Orchestra was composed of Paul on bass (not the fish!), Kristin on percussion (yeah slide whistle!), DeVeaux on guitar (18 strings of goodness!), and Alex and Franco on trumpets (quit fighting over the parts!). These people made my life so much easier, thanks to their passion and dedication, and flexibility. Thanks a million to everbody!
  • Nostalgia: I found myself thinking back to my days in high school, playing the Euphonium, and I really wanted to be part of the Guys and Dolls pit orchestra. My teacher Ms. Evered, actually wrote an entire part just for me, which I really never fully appreciated until now, having now had to finally try it myself. That dedication of hers came back to me over and over again as I composed the trumpet music. I realised also that a significant source of my inspiration really came through her teaching and encouragement, which says a lot about her ability as a teacher.

Overall, this has been the most gruelling and rewarding experience of late, and I would do it again in a heartbeat! Thanks to everyone who attended and made it possible. Here's a picture from our dress rehearsal. Check out the band in the top left corner! You can also take a look at the rest of the pictures too!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Reflections On Another Year #2

This year on my birthday I was having a birthday dinner with some of my friends, including a surprise appearance from my best friend John all the way from Dashwood! And since I recently resurrected my blog, I had the presence of mind to check out last year's review and think about how I felt around this time a year ago. Well, the feelings are similar, namely that I've done a lot of things. But this year I feel like I've developed as a person more than I did last year. Part of that has been by going through difficult experiences too. And that's one part of me that has developed -- the ability to admit my issues more readily and also to learn from my so-called negative experiences. I think one often grows more through things that hurt than through those clear successes in life. So this year, I'll review not just the good stuff.

Good stuff:
  • Submitted my final Professional Engineers Ontario licensing application to PEO (the processing begins in February)
  • Undertook significant new projects and more management responsibilities at GM
  • Bought my first major non-mobile purchase: my house (I am now renting my house to a family, and they're really nice!)
  • Broke my land speed-driving record (yes, 227 km/hour on the Autobahn is faster than last year) in a Mercedes E-Class
  • Wrote 2 more pretty good songs
  • Organised a small but successful campaign to raise money for orphans in India
  • Started dating someone really cool who lives near me
  • Started playing live jazz with my duo/trio at swing dancing nights
  • Became the Musical Director for the musical Godspell, which my church is putting on
Hard stuff:
  • I broke the heart of someone I really cared about
  • My best friend, John, was in a major accident
  • I witnessed my extended and immediate family enter into conflicts that strained our relationships and caused a lot of hurt
  • I learned to accept that I have issues
Things that I've learned:
  • Although difficult to admit to yourself, sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is to remove yourself from their life
  • You can be completely financially organised by spending 2 hours a month on it
  • In many arguments, you can be right or you can be happy, its up to you
  • You can love someone even if you disagree with them or don't understand them
  • If you are offended by something, it is often because you are insecure about something
  • Love does not always conquer practicality
  • Not deciding something is a decision in itself, and usually its a bad decision (I'm relearning this one again and again)
  • Seeing a counsellor/therapist is great way to improve yourself (I'm planning to do this)
  • Your self is made up of your feelings more than your thoughts
  • The drive from Windsor to Toronto feels a lot longer than I used to remember

Monday, January 15, 2007

Procrastinators Unite! Just not quite yet!

Took me long enough to get another entry out. Fittingly, lets talk about procrastination. I saw the best headline in a newspaper yesterday at work. (No I wasn't reading the newspaper at work... it was someone else's and I stopped to take a look, okay?) Anyway, the headline read "Procrastination Study Complete -- 5 years late", and since it was an apparently reputable newspaper, I thought it deserved another look, as I've been making jokes along those lines for years. As it turns out, more and more people are considering themselves to be "chronic procrastinators", and the basic reason is there are too many distractions and things to help you procrastinate along the way. I did find another article about the same study too.

I don't see myself as a chronic procrastinator, although you may disagree. When I do procrastinate, I find that I have a different reason, though. After having thought about it, the desire to complete the task perfectly prevents me from starting it because there isn't enough time. Of course, I realise that not starting it also prevents me from perfecting the result, so it must be some sort of mental block.

The perfect example of me not procrastinating is this particular blog entry, since I only read the article yesterday and am writing this a day later (and posting it the next day). However, a perfect counterexample is the length of time since my last post, but I can just blame it on the desire for a really good post. Personally I don't think it was worth the wait, but at least I'm back on the blog again! So leave a comment... whenever.