May 21, 2010

Colorado Diary - Apartment Life

I have been fortunate to have come to the US on an exchange visitor program sponsored by an educational institution. It has revived my good old college days experience and have made it possible to compare the kind of education I had back in India with the US. Again, I haven't traveled or visited any college other than the CSU and so this comparison cannot be used for any extrapolation.

First comes the apartment life. I was not fully prepared for my US trip partly because I followed my junior's suggestions who visited the same university last summer. He said I can take food in the mess for which the money will be taken directly from my monthly stipend. But it came as a shock to me when I came to know that they don't allow graduates to the mess. They expect graduates to take care of themselves and so we are given an apartment furnished with a kitchen.

The apartment is about 15 minutes distance by walk from the CSU transit center. The front portion of the apartment is secured by a gate. The key to unlock the gate and reach the front office is available only with the residents. The new comers are helped by the inmates or the concerned care taker to open the front entrance. Checking in is done at the front office by filling a few forms with your name as in passport, duration of your stay etc. The apartment has to be booked well in advance in order to get an accommodation. The CSU department and Prof. Chandrasekar's (under whom I will be working at CSU) assistant helped me in reserving an accommodation by paying $140 deposit and so a room was already allotted  for me by the time I arrived.

One of the Ph.D scholar working under Prof. Chandrasekar has already taken the key from the front office because my arrival time is after the office hours. The keys include  one for the front entrance, another to  my apartment and the third one to my bedroom. The fourth key, which is used to open my mail box located opposite to the front office was given a day later, after my check-in process is completed. All the keys but for my bedroom one were working fine. After registering a formal complaint from me, they changed the lock and gave a new key the next day. I must say that the maintenance people are very good and lot more friendly. They helped me to get in the apartment with a spare key and changed the lock with in the next working day.

I am living in the second floor at West Elizabeth. The apartment is called as The International House and the resident inmates come from various countries from all over the world. The entrance to the I.House has a lobby where people gather every Friday and introduce themselves to the new comers. The lobby also houses a snooker table,  hand socker game and table-tennis. Opposite to the front office lies a couch facing the television, and two computers on the left side which is for the resident inmates to get connected with their parents, relatives and friends through internet.

It is here at this lobby that I have made most of my friends who all have come from various countries to study at CSU. Well, actually you don't have to 'make' friends as people here are lot more friendlier and start to talk with you themselves. I started conversing with a guy from Russia when I was using the internet to send sms to my mom about the recent happenings. I told him about the time difference, about the cyclone Laila, about climate in Chennai, Himalayas and in some major cities. He seems to have known about Calcutta (he pronounced the 'cut' as in 'put') through his friends. He is a very good listener, and later he told about his country, but soon he got a call from his friend and so I couldn't learn much about him.

The lobby leads to a washing machine room on the left side.  Inside the washing machine room there is a place for inmates to share their stuffs with fellow residents, mostly left over by the students who are graduating/graduated in the current semester. I found lots of plastic utensils some of them are new, some CD's, a telephone instrument, some food items which are unopened and a book. My roomie picked up the telephone instrument; since much of the food items are non-vegetarian, I prefer not to take anything from there. But now I know when I leave the apartment where to keep the stuffs that I had bought so that other inmates can use them. They call it as "green recycling policy".

The apartment entrance leads to a kitchen and a common area. There are two bedrooms on either side of the common area and a common bathroom. The common area has a couch and a chair, a tea table and provision for cable connection. My roomie has bought a Sony television with wide angle. I watch programs during my lunch break. The programs includes Miss USA competition (which got over recently), random flicks, TBBT, Star wars and Exploring the universe with Stephen Hawking.

The common area, bathroom and two bedrooms are heated electrically the control for which is located near the bathroom. The bedroom was unfurnished before, and furnishing is done at free of cost at the time of checking in as per your requirement. I got a double bed, a desk and a chair and a cupboard to keep my stuffs on. Later I bought a comforter and a pillow to keep myself warm at nights. Its too cool inside my bedroom in spite of having a heater as the upper cut off is set at 70 deg Fahrenheit to save energy.

Unfortunately, I am not able to mingle with more people because most of them had vacated and had gone home for summer and will return back only by the month of August. The only Indian I had come across so far is the Ph.D student who works with Prof. Chandrasekar. The apartment life is good, but it will be in its full glory when more students are here, that is when the CSU is in session. I hope to make friends with more people and plan to meet some fellow Indians here in days to come.

May 19, 2010

Colorado Diary - Traffic

To talk about the traffic in US by observing how the rules are followed in Fort Collins is like an extrapolation outside of the domain, which is prone to lot of error due to uncertainty. So in this article, I am going to talk only about the traffic at Fort Collins. As I had mentioned earlier, Fort Collins is a college city, with the population majority from college students who are either in their teens or early twenties.

The city is well connected by roads and all roads are either parallel or perpendicular thus forming a regular rectangular grid like pattern. The major roads are identified, and are within 1/4 to 1/2 mile (they don't follow metric system in the US). Majority of the people living in Fort Collins owns at least one car. The city's major roads are also connected by the city bus transport called Transfort. A single ride in Transfort cost $1.25, 60 cents for senior citizens, free for kids under 17 and for CSU students with a valid ID (its called as Ram card).

There are three important junctions, aka transit centres; the one closest to the CSU is called CSU transit centre, the one in the north is called as Downtown transit centre, and the other own down south is called South transit centre. Buses are numbered from 1 to 17, the route map is available at any of these transit centres, or at the apartment's front office for the benefit of new visitors. Each bus starts from their particular destination which is one of the three transit centres and always proceed in one direction in a cyclic manner.

Contrast to the keep-left rule in India, the vehicles move in the right lane of the road in the US. At any of the 3 or 4 way junction, the vehicles traveling in all direction comes to a halt even if there is no signal, and are proceeded on first come first drive basis. I call it as a gentleman agreement as the drivers agree the order unanimously without any conflict. Horn is used only when somebody is angry with your driving, which is the case when either you don't follow the lane rule, or when you don't listen to other vehicle's movement.

School zone and other important zones are identified and speed limits are mentioned. The lowest speed is near the school zone where the speed limit is set to 20 mph. To say that they obey those traffic rule is an understatement. Because they religiously follow it. Preference are given to pedestrians and heavy vehicles such as trucks wherever possible.

Since I don't own or use a car here for my transport, I will talk about the bus service at Fort Collins. All buses are air conditioned and has two exit doors whose functioning is controlled by the driver. The buses are equipped with video and audio recording device for the security purpose. The front half of the bus is designed to provide comfort traveling to old people and people with disability. The bus is also designed to lower itself using pneumatic control for easy boarding of these people.

Every bus has a chord passing above the shoulder level connecting from the first seat to the last which is operated by the passenger to request the driver to halt at the next bus-stop. People pull the chord, sit on their seats till the bus comes to a full halt, get down the bus and say "thanks" to the driver. Most of them are lot more friendlier and say "have a good day" in addition to saying thanks.

The bus driver waits until the lane is clear before starting from any bus-stop. Once he starts from a particular place, he doesn't have rights to stop in between to take-in or drop a passenger until he reaches the next one. In order to not to miss a stop, the driver announces the next stop over mike well ahead of it. The gentleman's agreement follows even with the co-passengers. If you are sitting in any of the front seat at the latter half of the bus, got up from your seat to get down, the co-passenger who is getting down at the same stop coming from behind will stop, allow you to move ahead and then gets down. One can see this gentleman's agreement at many places, such as from a parking lot, or while driving out from a mall or an apartment.

Its a human's nature to compare things what we have got with what we see. I personally believe that its not a good idea to compare, because the system which works at Fort Collins might not work in Chennai for various reasons.  In this  post, I have tried to avoid comparison to the possible extent by putting things only that I observe in writing.

May 18, 2010

Colorado Diary - Fort Collins Public Library

In any new place one can observe several good things and several bad things. To take good things and ignore bad things requires a certain level of training, which comes out of practice. Often, we tend to be biased by accepting things that we like as good and things that we hate as bad. One has to reach a level to understand and appreciate the fact that often times things that we like the most need not be good.

I was contemplating on the good and bad when I was beginning to feel that I got lost in Downtown,  north of CSU on Saturday. Earlier, my roomie dropped me at the Fort Collins Public Library, which is in Downtown, about 4 to 5 miles from my apartment. Having no other job to do in my room, I went to explore downtown, one of the busiest center in Fort Collins. Since I am yet to receive my first month stipend here, I choose not to shop and lose the few dollars which I still carry and so I went straight ahead to the public library. The library is well maintained, and very well organized. Its not very large and not too small. I should say its spacious enough to house the collections that they have. The ground floor is the juvenile section, where they have collections in all forms such as text, graphics, in various fonts for kids of varying ages.

The public library was not crowded on the day I went.  Partly because Fort Collins is a college city with majority of the population coming from CSU students. The vacation started on last Friday and so the population dwindled to about 10% of the total. I went to the first floor of the library after skimming through the juvenile section. On the stairs was a display board exhibiting various competitions and events asking the locals to participate, however much of them got over already. One of the event which caught my attention is the reading competition wherein the participant should read a book continuously for 4 hours!

After coming out of the public library, I lost my direction and so wandered along a random path. On the way, I asked a person how to go to downtown. He was in a hurry and so he didn't stop. I returned back to the library road and found a bus stop. I remembered that some of the buses don't run on vacation days. Not knowing if the bus will come in this route or not, not knowing if it will take me to the downtown transit center, I walked slowly to the bus stop counting on my fate. To my surprise, I found an old lady sitting on the bus stop talking over her cell phone to someone.

I approached her and asked if the bus that comes to this stop will go to the downtown transit center and received a positive reply from her. After she finished her call, we don't have any other job to do until the bus comes, which is about 10 minutes from then. So I casually started talking to her, telling that I came to see the public library. Then I told her I am coming from India, came here to CSU as an exchange visitor and will stay here for about 2 months. She was surprised to hear from me that I am doing Ph.D from IIT Madras and that I will be finishing it in another couple of years.  She told me that her daughter have just finished her school and will be joining some college next semester.

We talked about the weather at Fort Collins. Then she said she enjoys traveling and she has traveled herself to several countries in Asia, Europe and Africa including China and Pakistan, but never to India. She said India has changed a lot since her childhood days. She likes Indian culture which she came to know through Indian immigrants staying near to her house. Then the talk moved on to the places to see in and around Fort Collins. Earlier, my cousin brother had planned to take me to Aspin, a ski resort. But the old lady said there is nothing to see in Aspin except some wealthy and rich people from all over the world. Rather she asked me to go to Estes park from where I can get a beautiful view of the mountains.

I am still planning the trip with my cousin brother and we are yet to finalize our plan. My bet will be we will travel to Estes park, take a peak-to-peak drive having breathtaking view of the mountains through the natural forest, drive up to rocky mountains park and end up the trip at Denver. I will post about my trip after I undertake it, which will be by the end of this month.

Wondering if my contemplation have got anything to do with this article? Nope, it doesn't have anything to do with it :P.

Colorado Diary - Horsetooth Reservoir

Having an Ethiopian roomie (Zeab), who is here in the states for the past 7 years, a green card holder and owning a Nissan vehicle is like a boon from God. Yesterday, my roomie and I along with my guide and his family went to Horsetooth reservoir, which is only about 15 minutes drive from our apartment. At first, we ended up in wrong place because the map mislead us, and so does the street which is named as 'horsetooth'. We thought the street will lead us to the reservoir, but it didn't. Instead, it took us to a community park where the dogs and kids relaxed themselves by playing lot of games.We took some snaps there, asked a local lady about the way to the reservoir and drove back to the actual place.

From a distance, we are able to see the rocks on top of a mountain which resembles like some tooth. We assumed its the horse tooth and hence the name. We took the road that leads us to the reservoir bank. Man...the view from reservoir road is mesmerizing! Alas, we couldn't find a proper place to park our car, so we just kept going all the while capturing the beautiful view in our eyes. Finally we spotted a parking lot where some people have parked their cars, but the foot of the reservoir is not reachable from there because the rocks are very steep. We weren't prepared for that sort of trekking as we were just wearing sports shoe. So we decided otherwise, found a place to sit and enjoyed our snacks. We did have a good view of the water from there, and we could spot people who are boating and water skating in the reservoir water.

On our way back, we went to the Indian shop, bought puliyodarai mix and vatha kuzhambu mix. I cooked the rice, mixed it up with vatha kuzhambu and puliyodarai and served it to Zeab for dinner. We both had a very good dinner, following which we went to nearby redbox and rented Sherlock Holmes DVD for about a dollar. I watched the movie alone in our apartment since Zeab doesn't like watching movies. But the movie was boring and I was also tired after all the journey we took. So I hit the bed at 10 pm.

May 17, 2010

Colorado Diary - Introduction

Travel is always fun. Especially if you get a chance to travel into an unknown place. For this summer, I am visiting the Fort Collins at Colorado following the invitation from the Colorado State University (CSU) as an exchange visitor. In fact, this is my first trip out of my country.

One thing unique about the CSU is the student population. People come here from all over the world to get themselves educated in current topics with state of the art facilities. My visit is being funded by the Dept of Elec and Comp Engg, and I am currently staying at International House, which houses grad students from various countries. People here are very friendly, and are willing to provide help any time. The campus also has a bus facility which connects most of the important landmarks with in the CSU.

To start your stay, there are a couple of good stores such as walmart. I spent about $90 to begin with by buying a comforter, pillow, an electric cooker and some veg food items with which I can survive for about couple of weeks. I am planning to do some more shopping today to buy some ready-to-eat food items which can be served with rice. I am also planning to visit the horsetooth reservoir today, which is only few miles from my apartment. I will write about it after my trip.