Friday, 31 May 2013


With almost 100 hours of fast-paced, activity-based instruction smooshed into three weeks!  With packing and repacking a random collection of left-over classroom supplies under the supervision of a security guard (because that’s how Infosys does things).  With grading, quantitatively and qualitatively evaluating 18 students with long, personalized narratives!
Final class photo
The final days of camp certainly weren’t easy but it wrapped up to be an incredibly rewarding experience.  We were able to covertly use the fountains to test our solar powered boats, even though it had to be done with the highest degree of sneakiness because it wasn’t allowed on campus, especially considering the important guests visiting Infosys this week.  Since my students are typically completely inept at discretion, I was worried but taking them in small groups of three worked out well.  During the last couple of days, all the students wanted me to fill out their “slam books” which ask all sorts of random questions from “your sunsign”, “best friends”, “I dream of…” (Jeanie?) and “your latest crush”.  In addition to filling out this for all my students, random students who I had never talked to before wanted me to fill out their books.  And if that wasn’t enough information, I’d get additional requests for “autographs” in their normal notebooks and of course, an infinite amount of “snaps” (photos).  So my brilliant attempts to plan some quiet activities so I could make progress on the evaluations quickly got devoured but I’m sure these kids will treasure these books for years to come.  I told them that I should be the one asking them for autographs because they’ll probably accomplish more than I ever will.  But they insisted.
On the final day, I received so many thank you cards, all homemade and incredibly creative.  I got pop-up cards, origami roses, a paper lantern and several nice long letters about how I changed their lives- one of my favorites was "My days at Engineering with you were filled to the brim with fun learning like cheese in stuffed-crust pizza", "Never has physics been so much fun.  Thank you for making it seem like a game", "The fun days we spent together will never be forgotten.  I hope to meet you again and learn more from you even after this session ends.".  I met with each student individually to share some of my observations and give them a certificate of completion and it was amazing to hear what some of them had to say.  None of my students want to leave and almost all my girls were teary when they were talking to me.  They said how much they loved being pushed academically, engaged in activities and building projects and they dreaded going back to their normal classrooms where they were bored and forced to memorize meaningless-ish things. 
It was fun to see how proud they were to show off the things they built during the academic fair and they loved the video slideshow I put together for the final day.  My class was always one of the last to leave for meals and activities because they never wanted to stop what they were doing.  Yesterday was no different- it took Sid and I 45 minutes to push them out of the door back to the dorms to pack with their RAs.  And at dinner and talent show, they just clumped around me wherever I walked.  I’m looking forward to escaping into anonymity in Thailand because living up to celebrity status at nerd camp is exhausting!
Saturday morning, I received a last minute knock on my door that we’re supposed to wait in reception to greet the parents so that’s where I am now… I have yet to meet a parent (most of my kids took off on a huge bus to Bangalore at 5 AM this morning).  I’m meeting up with Vivek this afternoon for a to-be-determined adventure but I’m looking forward to fitting in something fun during my final full day in India.

Not the prettiest thank you that I recieved but the only one I could take a picture of and it made me laugh.  The cartoon me is saying "x and y component!!" which happened a lot.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013


I just learned that "SNAFU" was World War II slang for "Situation Normal: All (let's say) Fouled Up"... I think the past two days and the past eight hours to get a form that no one is going to look at falls under that category...
As I mentioned, we were initially told we didn't have to register, but there was a sudden change of heart  as soon as the deadline passed and they decided we DID have register AND pay a $30 USD late fee per person.  So yesterday morning, we had to get our kids going then take off to the Police Commissioners Office with a bundle of any potentially relevant papers, enough passport photos to sink a ship and hopeful hearts.  The office literally has an exposed attic filled with piles of papers, stacked to the ceiling... We're staring at these unorganized piles, knowing that our papers will soon join the sea... never to be really looked at by anyone ever again. After waiting for awhile, we met with a woman who scruntized our documents, asked a bunch of questions, made us wait longer for an officer.  While we waited, there was actually a bugle call and a formal changing of the guard... I felt like I was in mid-19th century England.... All these offices are in cutesy, 50-year-old beautiful buildings.
Eventually, we met with the officer (well, I assume we did... the morning is kind of a blur), met with the lady again who listed two stops we had to make before coming back to this office.  And she said Anne would have to come back later in the week to get our Visas stamped.  We raced across town to the first office and honestly no one knew where to send us... bottom level back corner... top level opposite corner... right by the stairs first door on your left... back to the bottom level down the hall from the back corner... after about 8 wrong offices, we ended up where the first guy tried to us before we were intercepted and sent on this wild goose chase, through clouds of incense down hidden hallways.  Finally, we met a woman excited to talk to us and more excited by her mistaken impression that we're teaching mentally retarded kids.  She brought us to the "Strong Room" us to another man for a stamp and a signature.  We thought they told us this was the treasury room but later, we thought maybe they were laughing because they had us in a stronghold. He found us absolutely hilarious- he asked if we were having a good day getting our paperwork filled out and let out a jubilant  "This is India!" laugh.  He asked if we liked it and said that most Indians want to move to the US.  He was entranced by Anne's Dan Brown book and sent us merrily on our way to the MAIN BRANCH of the Bank of Mysore.
So we got to the Bank... got a signature from someone, they sent us to the Treasury Branch in a small building in the back... waited in a long cue, paid and raced back to the Police Commissioners to hand in our documents in the fifteen minutes before they went on break for lunch.  Fortunately, we caught the lady but now she said we ALL had to come back later in the week to get our documents stamped and no, she could not do it now.
Just a random cute house with a decorated sidewalk to bring good things

Hopefully the "legal documents" my horoscope referred to will be taken care of!

So that was fun.  Raced back to squirrelly kids.  But I was happy to be there.  After work, we had another staff meeting (even though we had one last Thursday and Friday and we were sent 96 billion e-mails about related things) then I raced off to meet Abhi for a last visit before he moves to Mangalore on Wednesday.  It's hard to believe he'll be leaving Mysore before me... he's been like a brother, checking in every day so I'll miss him when it's Friday afternoon and time to do laundry.  We talked more about Rumi, his poetry and keeping up with ever-changing life.  He took me to the city center to meet up with Azaf, a couchsurfer from the Island of Kochin.
He works as a doctor on a medical ship and I'm honestly not sure how he found me or why he took an epic bus journey to get here.  Maybe he had some work?  But we had dinner and he told me about his island and brought me some beautiful conch shells.  He was a jolly guy- contagious laugh and generally, very happy.  He came back in an auto-rickshaw with me which was quite the experience.  I'm convinced our driver was half-blind and we were barely inching along since he claimed he couldn't see in the headlights of the oncoming traffic.  The guy stopped the rickshaw but what I guess was his house and pulled a garden house out of the front door and put gas in the rickshaw.  I had never seen anything like it- in the meantime, his son was sitting on the front porch, staring at me and bandaging his foot with a thick cast-like covering.  So weird.  After a billion years of inching along but good conversation, I finally made it home.  Poor Azaf had to go back to city center and go home on an epically long bus ride.  He said he got to take a forest permit bus and see deers, wild dogs and a family of elephants (a mama and a papa and three babies) so I'm glad he got some safari-ing in.
What a crazy country!
So we just came back from ANOTHER three hours of waiting at the commissioner's office.  Fortunately not during class time.  But we got there, waited "1 minute, 1 minute" multiplied by sixty.  Then they moved us to some other chairs around the corner.  Waited there some more.  Listened to a couple more bugle calls, during which everyone froze.  Including the woman's arm when she was handing us something.  Eventually, we got granted access to the commissioner's office.  This man was sitting in a huge white chair with assorted trophies on his right side (cricket, riflery, etc.) and a real, stuffed tiger mid-roar on his left side.  There were some rhino horns on the wall.  He scruntized our passports, asked us about our fathers, and made me take my hair down because he thought I looked different in my picture.  Ultimately, he signed four forms for each of us, told us to leave, we didn't know where to go, we waited some more and finally got proof of registration.  Tyler says he's going to bring this paper to the grave with him, it was such a hassle to get.  I hope I never have to go through that again!  Wish me luck with all the end of camp craziness- I definitely need it!

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Just keep your mind open

"This is where the hungry come to feed. For mine is a generation that circles the globe and searches for something we haven't tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It's probably worth it." -The Beach (2000)
Mayukh recommended the Leonardo DiCaprio movie "The Beach" since it takes place in Thailand so I'm watching that, listening to the rumble of thunder from tonight's passing storm, wishing I was in the US with a long weekend but still enjoying my last day off in Mysore.  The quote's not really related to this post but I liked it and wanted to share it anyway.
Friday night dinner was absolutely delicious even though I ended up getting an Indian spinach and mushroom dish with roti.    Sidd and Aseem told me about some of their recent treks around the country and it made me wish I had the time for a hike.  The latest involved a 15 km portion almost straight up and they camped above the clouds and observed a lightening storm from above.  Their pictures were unreal- it looked like something out of the Lord of the Rings.  Most Indian desserts I've tried are way too sweet for me but we shared a mashed carrot dessert gajar ka halwa that was perfect.
On saturday, the kids tested their catapults, which passed with flying colors.  The best one launched a mouse ball almost 12 meters!  After that, the instructional staff went to Hotel Roopa rooftop  in celebration of the academic counselor's birthday.  We tried to surprise her but feigning a need for a saturday night meeting about writing evaluations didn't trick her... but we got everyone there for a good time.  We feasted and couldn't even eat everything on on the table and no one had room for dessert but drinks, appetizers and main dishes at a fancy place averaged out to $8 USD per person.  I'm going to miss the exchange rate here!
Sunday, I left with some of my colleagues pretty early for a touristy day hitting the final major sites of Mysore.  We started at the Chamundeshwari temple, which I was excited to actually see, even though I enjoyed the view from Chamundi Hill multiple times before.  The temple was beautiful but it was absolutely packed.  We bought a ticket to get in the expedited line but when we got to the actual altars, they had female security guards man-handling people to keep them moving fast.  Mindy saw a guard practically fling the old lady in front of her out the door.  So not the most peaceful experience... but it doesn't stop people.  There's religious significance to circling the temple so some people get in a shorter line to complete their orbit and get pushed through the crowd again.  This temple is built to honor the goddess who slayed the beast that haunted Mysore so this place is close to the Mysorean people's hearts.

Chamundeshwari temple

Me, Tyler, Todd, Mindy and Asha behind the temple
 After descending down the hill and enjoying the aerial view of the city, we stopped at the famous Bull statue, the second largest in India.  Jimi performed his adoration and the rest of us enjoyed being treated like celebrities because everywhere we went, people wanted to take pictures with us "Just one snap!".  Two teenage girls were especially cute and exclaimed "this is the best day ever!" after their photoshoot.

For lunch, we had the best dosa (kind of like an Indian crepe with a dash of chili powder in the batter) in Mysore (according to Mindy's guidebook), made a pit stop at McDonalds for the less adventurous of the group, then proceeded to Mysore Palace.  I had been there for the Light and Sound show last weekend but going inside was even better than I expected (unfortunately, we couldn't take any pictures).  It's three-stories with a combination of Indian and European architecture.  There were mosaics on the floors, walls covered with paintings of the Indian army marching, a collection of sandalwood boxes, royal armory, golden thrones and exquisite stained glass inspired by peacocks.
After that, we were all pretty beat and headed home.  I was going to meet with Abhi because he has to move to Mangalore at the crack of dawn Wednesday morning (earlier than he expected too!) but I think I'll save that to look forward to tomorrow.  Speaking of tomorrow, wish us luck at the Foreign Registration Office!  We think they changed their minds about having to register just so they could charge us a late fee... grrr..... Adios!

Friday, 24 May 2013


Amen to that!  And it was a pretty nice friday- the students worked on their catapults all day, no one lost an eye during testing and I got to start working on their week two evaluations.  After meeting #3 this week <!>, I went swimming (between it storming every afternoon because of the advent of pre-monsoon season and too much work this week, it's been too long), planned tomorrow's lesson and I'm leaving shortly for Italian food for dinner with Sid and Aseem who I met last night.  I'm trying not to get too excited about eating something other than Indian food... the instructor from last year told me they all went out to Olive Garden which had an extensive American, Italian, Chinese and Indian menu... but everything they ordered had curry in it.  We'll see if this is actually Italian.

Last night was fun too.  Mayukh's an infosys couchsurfer I've met up with several times but he's pretty elusive... kind of appears when you least expect him too.  He's leaving his life up to chance and going where the wind blows.   Anyway, last night he took me to the Green Hotel which used to be the King's guest house.  He told me about the king's curse... supposedly an old mistress or something said he'f never have children, and to this day, it appears the line might be ending.  It seems kinda surreal to live in a world of kings and curses but that's Mysore, I guess.  Mayukh prides himself in finding hidden gems that no one knows about.  This place is a gem- calm, serene and practically empty.  They pride themselves on eco-friendly sustainable tourism and even use solar panels.  We went into the French-style bakery.  The bakery is entirely owned by women, which is extraordinarily rare, and they actually find their employees from unprivileged areas and castes, send them to France for training then they work here.  
The Green Hotel, Mysore
For someone my age, Mayukh has a remarkable amount of stories to tell about people he's met and places he's been.  He planned out a hippie tour of India for me if I ever come back with a month to kill, and he highlighted some places that almost no one knows about.  We're both LOST fans and he told me about an island within driving distance of here that is a surreal, almost dreamlike community.  Everyone wears white, everything's free (free food, free place to stay) and there's places of worship for every faith and a huge meditation hall.  I barely believe him but he said he'll take me there on Sunday.  Unless we want to go to the jungle and get trampled by elephants.  We'll see which way the wind blows.

After the cafe closed, we went over the house of some of his aerospace engineering co-workers that I met at the floating restaurant the other day.  Hanging out on their back porch under an almost-full-moon, surrounded by interesting nerds was the perfect way to unwind and felt a lot like hanging out with the physics boys back in Raleigh.  I think I almost convinced the three of them to come in and talk to my class... I think the kids would appreciate the honesty of three young, working engineers.

We had one other guest speak in the class, from India's largest tire company, recommended by last year's instructor.  I was hoping he'd talk about what mechanical engineers do, what the training process was like, etc. Unfortunately, instead, he gave us what appeared to be a dissertation defense- two and a half hours of graduate level information on tires.   It would have made a perfect university colloquium but seventh graders don't need to know about finite element analysis.  I was so proud of them for staying awake and staying interested.  When he left, he sent an e-mail saying how blessed he was to have gotten the opportunity to speak to "such intelligent young minds" and that their "active participation made the presentation fully interactive" and that he wishes them "all the best".  So I'm glad he got something out of the experience because they didn't understand much and were monsters in the afternoon after having to sit, listening to him for three hours in the morning.

It's time for dinner.  Woot woot for two weeks of teaching down, one slightly shorter week to go! 

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Glad I'm made in 'merica!

I know I said that Mysore's such a nice city (India's second cleanest!) that I could imagine living here but I'm very glad I didn't grow up in India.  Although times are changing in India (as well as the rest of the world), there's still many traditional and cultural biases that put a lot of pressure on the people here.

Last night, one of the most experienced, competent, enthusiastic and capable Indian teaching assistants went home.  The camp started a week after his undergraduate graduation and he came with some medical issues but he hadn't slept in a week and has had increasingly bad nighttime panic attacks.  He loves the kids, knows a lot about business and has been a huge help to everyone because he was one of the two current staff members who worked here last year.  Although the camp's fast pace and long hours exhaust us all, he seemed to be real struggle in figuring out his future.  He said how his last name means "accountant" and "businessman" and expects him to fulfill this role and take over the family business.  He wasn't the first to mention how his family name set up expectations for either personality traits, future professions or behavioral expectations.  And although the caste system is gone, people are still aware of them- the first day of camp, the TAs organized themselves hierarchically by caste and were trying to figure out where the domestic instructors fit in.  That's just crazy to me.

Speaking of TAs, back to the story at hand- although this TA was really good at business, it's unlikely that's his true passion.  Anne said he seemed infinitely more excited about a website he developed with his friends to sell artwork.  But in India, many people live with their families after graduation and it sounds like some families use this to really chose their children's future for them.  I met one of Vivek's friends yesterday, Abu (best name never!  And I can pronounce it!) whose father owned an orphanage but then got sick, had to let the children go elsewhere and decided his son should get an MBA in hospital management.  It's nice to make a career out of helping people but it definitely wasn't Abu's idea.  

Another recent example was Abhi's roommate who's completely in love with a Moroccan girl.  They've been dating for over three years and talk every day for hours.  He claims they've got a mysterious connection where one has a stomach ache and the other one feels it.  Obviously, I've never met her although I said hi on the phone, but they seem adorable and made for each other.  However, he said how they could never get married because she's Muslim and he's Hindu.  He said they decided to stay single and stay "friends" so they could at least be together, even if they can never make their romantic relationship official.

I can't imagine dealing with all these religious and caste complications- life and love is hard enough at it is....

To end on a lighter note, today was the halfway point of classes and things are going well- we have a guest speaker tomorrow, an engineer from JK Tyres so that's a little less of a lesson that I have to prepare.  When we were talking about prototypes, I showed the students a video of the new Hunt library and they all want to go to NC State, use the Bookbot and play in the Gamelab.  Yesterday, we introduced Mechanical Engineering so I showed them the Ok Go music video and had them design Rube Goldberg machines that incorporated all four types of motion and at least four of the simple machines.  My favorite was the "Cork opener 2000" to open champagne bottles at a party quickly.  At 11:59 PM, a cuckoo clock releases a bird that lays an egg that spins a wheel and delivers the ball to turn on a fan which causes a toy boat to set sail, which releases a mento that travels through a maze-like contraption into a bottle of Diet Coke to start a reaction that activates the uncorker to start a chain reaction of uncorking for a dramatic display at midnight.  I want a Cork Opener 2000! (Even though I'm not sure why this kid has champagne on the brain...) 

Last night, Vivek brought me to get my camera fixed (it decided to get stuck open with a "lens error" right before I got to the palace last weekend.  He's finishing up his architecture degree and is the president of NASA (National Architecture Student Association haha- it fooled me too at first.  Apparently this organization is older than its American counterpart though).  He loves to buy old cars and fix them up and sell them.  He picked me up in an 30 year old, burnt orange, open-air Jeep that would have been right up my brother's alley (not too many Jeeps in India, that's for sure).  After dropping off the camera, we stopped at Gupta's which is famous for its Jalebi, an Indian "fried dough".  Riding high on a sugar high, he picked up Abu then went to one of the oldest and largest Catholic cathedrals in the country, St. Philomena's to see some beautiful Gothic architecture.  It was interesting to go inside and see statues of Catholic saints and Jesus adorned with flower wreaths and people making offerings in a similar way they would at a Hindu temple.  After that, we went to Mayukh's flat (since he's a couchsurfer I met at Infosys and Vivek knew him) to hang out with his flatmates... I was supposed to see their band perform last thursday but didn't get the message in time so it was nice to finally meet them.

St. Philomena's... not my pic because we were there at night and I didn't have a camera but just so you can see

I think that's more than enough of an update for today.  It sounds like we need to go back to register online AND go back the Foreign Registration Office next week to get approval to leave the country so wish us luck.  It's a huge pain because they are only open on weekdays between 9-3:00, which is when we teach and all the instructors have to go so I'm not sure how they're going to arrange that.  I guess I should be grateful that we haven't had to deal with elephant stampedes or jaguars yet, although the students rioting at lunch when they ran out of chocolate mousse was pretty terrifying.  Bye!

Monday, 20 May 2013

Dropping like flies!

And it's only week 2!  The myths and legends instructor is hospitalized with a fever over 100 degrees, one of my students passed out in class today and my TA had been suffering from a sore throat.  I asked him how his throat was doing today and he's like "I had whiskey" which apparently implies full recovery.  Some of the instructional staff noticed him pretty tipsy yesterday afternoon, which is kinda hilarious, but if it's for medicinal purposes, it's ok, right?  Apparently, it works like a charm!

I had a nice weekend.  We have to teach on saturday afternoons (don't get me started on why they make us teach on weekends when we already work a billion hours a week... it made me miss a potentially awesome journey to the jungle with two couchsurfers and an Albanian girl) which did encourage me to be productive that morning.  After class, the instructional staff planned to go to the temple on the hill then to a sound and light show at Mysore Palace.  Unfortunately, the drivers took so long to pick us up that we missed the temple so we went straight to the Palace.

The drivers-for-hire around here are pretty ridiculous.  I think the company that we use from Infosys is fairly legit (although not necessarily timely) but Anne came to India two weeks before camp started for sight seeing through a reputable tour company.  Her driver had worked for them for 25 years but she said that while they were in the car, he knocked down a gate and ran over and killed a dog, without a backward glance.  Later on, they noticed him drinking from a flask in his glove box so they had to let him go....  Gosh, the guts in a land with minimal regulation.

At the light and sound show, I met up with Achyutha, a couchsurfer who was very knowledgeable about the mythical origins of the city. Mysore was named after the buffalo-headed monster demon that ruled the city according to the legend. In response to the prayer by the Gods and Goddesses to save them from the demon, Goddess Parvathi came down killed the monster on top of the Chamundi hill (which is where we were supposed to go and see her temple). The palace is large from the outside but it's even bigger inside- as the sun was setting, we explored one of the eight auxiliary temples on the ground then we settled down for a 45 minute, very dramatic tale about the history of the city.  Unfortunately, it was in the local language so I didn't get too much out of it besides that there was a lot of fighting, partying, some soup slurping and a fire.  But then, they lit up the palace for five minutes and it was gorgeous!  (They do it for an hour on Sundays but according to my couchsurfer, it's better to come to these shows to avoid some of the crowd)
Anne, me, Todd, Tyler, Jimi and Krisnan- all the instructors
After that, I met up with Abhi for some ice cream, meditation and he shared some of his favorite Rumi sayings and poetry.  I was impressed- a computer science major who writes poetry?  And it was definitely infinitely better than anything I could do.  He looks pretty serious and solemn, consistent with being raised in a warrior state and he's of the Punjabi Raj caste but he's surprisingly spiritual and thoughtful.
Sunday was my day off and I met up with Sujay for a really nice lunch, a nice drive, a trip to the Brindavan Gardens and we ended in his favorite coffee shop.  Sujay said he's the nephew of the king of Mysore so he has to attend the opening ceremony of the ten-day Dasara festival, where the royal couple (and family) have to perform puja to the goddess to supposedly slayed the demon and saved the city.  Sujay just graduated with an MBA, likes to race motorcycles and basically spilled his life story.  I'm always amazed how much people share to a random person who they met hours before.

Sujay and the Brindavan Gardens
 Besides that, today was a pretty nice day.  The kids were still relatively sedated from their campus wide scavenger hunt the night before.  We tested their bridges but none of them broke despite filling the waste basket that we hung from them with any borderline heavy thing we could find, from actual scientific masses to random sheets of metal we took from the forensics class, to water bottles to magnets.  We had some cracking and bending but all the bridges made it!

Well, I think it's time for bed- an old friend from my Research Experience for Undergrads in Minnesota is teaching my Nuclear Science course this summer so I've got an early Skype meeting to catch him up to speed.  Good night!
My class and their balsa bridges

Friday, 17 May 2013

Satisfying Social Activities

“Social activities will be satisfying but don’t neglect legal documents”.  Hmmm… last time I read my horoscope in India, it told me to “get any inflammation of the skin investigated immediately” and it turned out my rash was shingles.  Maybe I should make sure that I’ll actually be able to leave the country on this Visa… (if it wasn't for Thailand and more exotic destinations ahead, I'm not sure I'd want to!)
But yesterday’s horoscope was correct in predicting very satisfying social activities.  After a decent day of teaching, I went for another nice swim (after the fact, I learned that there’s a girl and guy side of the pool.  Another one of India’s many unwritten rules.  Fortunately, I chose the right one!)  then met up with Sudeep.  Sudeep is a mechanical engineer by trade but works for some bank as part of Infosys and he’s a tattoo artist on the side.  He picked me up on his motorcycle and we headed into the night!  He took me up the same hill for the view of the city- I think Mysore is even more breathtaking at night, especially because the moon and the stars were more striking away from the campus lights.  After hanging out for a bit, we went to the rooftop of a nice hotel for drinks and “a bite”.  We had fried baby corn, which comes on a stick and looks like an American corn dog.   So that was fun and I decided I’m a fan of Kingfisher beer.  The temperature was perfect, there were candles on the table and relaxing with a new friend and good conversation was just what I needed after a fairly hectic week.  He’s the first couchsurfer who didn’t complain about Indian girls… well, I guess he complained about one Indian girl.  But that was an ex- who stole all of his cigarettes as he slumbered. 
The gender dynamics here are still pretty strange.  The instructor from last year told me he struggled to get boys working with girls so from the first day, I emphasized that just like real engineers don’t get to chose who they work with, every one in this class is expected to work with everyone else and be happy about it.  I change the seats and groups everyday so now, they’re used to it, even though the girls asked me on the second day whether they could avoid working with girls.  However, during any break, meal, walking anywhere, the five girls are in a clump, visibly separated from the thirteen guys.  Obviously, my kids are thirteen and all thirteen year olds are silly.  There’s slightly more interaction for people my age but, considering the segregated swimming pool and from what I hear from Abhi and Mayukh, girls tend to be very reserved (perhaps bordering on excessively paranoid) toward guys.  All the guys I met were gentlemen and I doubt it’s justified but there’s a lot of traditional societal pressures at play.
Today was a good day- the students started building their bridges and it was nearly impossible to drag them away from working- they missed juice and cookies entirely this afternoon.  I was slightly worried about what the visitor from Indian Academy of Sciences would think of the class because today, the kids were vibrating with excitement and she didn’t come at a particularly exciting time.  But she spent a lot of time talking to students and looking in their notebooks and she couldn’t believe what they’ve accomplished in just four days and she said she wanted to join the class!  So that was nice to hear.
Some of my oh-so-photogenic munchkins on our architecture field trip
After class, I crashed Abhi’s laundry party with some of his friends from last week.  He and Gabriela spent three hours of their Friday night getting me a local number, which I appreciate.  We successfully activated the international SIM but my AT&T phone rejected the card so Abhi’s going to give me his extra phone tomorrow to borrow.  So I’m close to accomplishing the “impossible” task of a foreigner getting a local number around here (I don’t know how Indians do it- supposedly they need a new SIM card for every state!  Ridiculous!).
Anyway, I’m off to enjoy my relaxing Friday night with some cheesy Indian soap opera (the only channel that decided to work on the TV) while working on week 1 evaluations-  śubha rātri!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Maybe I'll make it!

Life is starting to stabilize!  Each day, we're able to cover more advanced topics in class and it's amazing how these kids just gobble it up.  We did some more practice with trigonometry word problems today and one of the guys is like "These are so much fun.  Can we do one every day?".  It's amazing how I can just throw things at them, watch them squirm for a few minutes then they figure it out.  Just after introducing the concept and notation of a vector, I had them doing word problems that involved adding vectors (even though they didn't know that's what they were doing).  I can't wait to see what they do with the balsa bridges- two minutes after introducing the project, one of the guys wanted to know the density of balsa wood for who-know-what-kind-of-calculation.  It's just so much fun- we built balloon rockets with straws and sent them flying down dental floss all around the classroom and I taught them the trig dance (see below) so they'd be the coolest kids at saturday's dance (unlike Amber, the biotech instructor from CTY who can dougie with the best of them, that's about where my instructional dance skills stop).  I even have a few of them calling me Katie and I've mastered most of their names (memorizing 18 new faces is tricky but pronouncing Arpitha, Ananaya, Rishwajeet, Vaibhav, Bhairavi properly adds a whole new layer of fun).
Tomorrow morning, we're going on a "field trip" with the architecture class to analyze the structural elements of the buildings around campus which relieves me of 90 minutes of class planning.  So I decided to take the plunge and check out the rooftop pool.  The office assistant joined me for an amazing swim in our "bathing costumes" in the beautiful outdoors.  And I got to catch up with Abhi and hear about his new job, working for Apple starting at the end of the month.
In general, I continue to be amused by the people around campus.  There's all these women in white coats that look like housekeepers but they have a huge badge that says "Private Eye".  The staff is still trying to figure out what they do (and sneakily take a picture because it's hilarious)- certainly, they aren't the most discreet spies, if that's what they are going for.
I think that's all I've got.  All the best!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Talent Identified!

Wow this job is going to keep me busy.  There's some people on this campus have the most monotonous, ridiculous jobs but after a few days of this, I might be beginning to trim the grass between the cobblestone path with giant scissors or maintain miles of road with just a wisk broom.  Just kidding- it's going to be hard to keep up with these kids but they're amazing and time flies when working with them.

Sunday was arrival day for the parents, which actually went incredibly smooth.  It was fun to meet all the families- the parents all wanted to take pictures of their children with me to send to their grandparents.  Some of the other instructors got grilled by parents who wanted to know everything their children would be learning and why.  (The poor Myths & Legends instructor- that course is one of the only humanities classes and for many, it wasn't their top choice.  Indian parents have never heard of a course like that being offered so Jimi's had to work hard to justify his existence).  Since my class was one of the first to fill, everyone in there wants to be there, except for one girl whose parents picked this course because they want her to like physics and right now "her interest in physics is rather low".  When I asked them to write about why they chose this course one said "because I like physics more than video games" which made me laugh and one said "I want to learn and be a more independent and clear-thinking person when I get back.  I also want to meet other talented students and make good use of these 21 days" which indicates how ambitious and mature these students are (even though they can be incredibly silly and true to their 7th grade age- my students are mystified by the "lift" (elevator)).

Some of my co-workers in front of the academic building where I teach

Anyway, I digress, so after an action-packed opening day, the instructors elected for Dominos Pizza at the food court for dinner.  It was nice to get away from Indian food and crazy children figuring out the Floating Restaurant for a meal.  For some reason, the Dominos guy thought I'd be an excellent person to practice spanish with so I was doing the best that I could to keep up with his "como estas?" and such that he learned from some recent Spaniards.

Then classes began!  I guess homesickness is more of a problem here than in their domestic sites but all of my kids are so excited to be here.  The talent search started with 44,000 students nationwide and multiple rounds of testing narrowed it down to 102 students.  Supposedly, schools put the accomplishment of these students on bulletin boards and even local newspapers wrote something up about them going to this camp.  So they are little local celebrities and it's just adorable how grateful they are- they've thanked me every day before leaving the class.  In general, they're so respectful it's almost absurd.  They kept asking what they should call me and I said "Katie" (all of the instructors agreed to go by their first names).  Their eyes bugged out of their sockets and jaws dropped in shock because they are used to having very formal relationships with their teachers.  They still refuse to call me anything but ma'am, except when we were playing Introductory BINGO.  They habitually stand when they answer a question.

The first day, we blew threw everything I planned an hour ahead of schedule but fortunately I had back-up.  None of the students admitted to knowing anything about scientific notation but after introducing it, I started to do a sample problem to explain how to add two numbers using scientific notation.  Before I finished the one example, they figured out how to subtract, divide, multiply and exponentiate numbers in scientific notation.  I honestly think the only thing every student had trouble with was using a calculator (since it was the first time for most).

The second day I came prepared with tons to do and introduced trigonometry for the first time which was new for all of them.  We made inclinometers to measure the heights of distant objects, did a role playing brainstorm and wrote design proposals for interesting challenges.  When the girls were leaving for lunch, one said "I'm having so much fun and we're not even building things yet".

So that's nice to hear and hopefully will provide motivation to keep up.  The printing and copying situation makes planning even more important since we're supposed to request copies 24 hours in advance (which means I'd ideally be two days ahead of these brainiacs... that's not going to happen).  I did take a study break for a nice walk and talk with a new couchsurfing buddy Mayukh.  He basically convinced me that I want to move to Nepal, where they calculate the nation's worth with a happiness index and everyone has a nice car and good education.  Both of us were just taking a break from the work we should be doing so hopefully we'll hang out more later.

In the meantime, I'm trying to stay hydrated (I've been drinking over 5 L of water a day but you could barely tell), keep my motorcycle burn from advancing to a point where my leg needs to be amputated and hoping that my voice will hang in there with these anti-malarials.  Already I sound like a husky chain-smoker who sometimes squeaks.  Awesome.  Adios!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Bracing for the Notorious

Today's the day when 102 "notorious" youngsters will descend upon this idyllic campus (when we were brainstorming characteristics that describe gifted students, multiple Indian staff members used this adjective to describe the kids... the American staff exchanged puzzled looks "where do they get these kids anyway?" because notorious typically has a negative connotation in our english.  Apparently, they use it to mean more "mischievous" which makes more sense).  It does sound like some of these kids will be spunky.  My TA is on airport duty and I hope he's up to the challenge.  Supposedly, last year, the TAs had the airport kids corralled and calm, almost ready to go when someone spotted the Delhi cricket team.  All hell broke loose and kids scattered everywhere in search of their favorite players. It's cricket playoff season so we expect something similar this year.  The last I heard, Sidd was recruited for a rickshaw adventure around Bangalore to hunt down balsa wood for our bridges, so hopefully that will be a good warm up exercise for the impending chaos!

After an action-packed fun day yesterday, I slept like a baby, went running and hopefully will have a productive morning before we have to help with registration and meet the parents this afternoon.  But I'm so ready to stop talking about all these hypothetical situations and start teaching!
Rooftop swimming pool- Tyler and I decided we're going to risk and go.  He's training for a triathlon- I need to appease my inner fish, because I'm a mermaid.
 Yesterday morning, we finished some final logistics then we went on a tour of campus.  The facilities here are incredibly extensive- in addition to the ones that I already mentioned, there's badminton courts, a billard room (they call it snooker), a climbing wall, track, cricket field, laundry room, "saloons" (for hair cuts) in addition to all the food courts and cafes.  I'm probably forgetting something but its a nifty place and we can use any of the resources, usually for the equivalent of $1 USD.
After that, I met up with Abdi, the couchsurfer for yesterday and he took me on an awesome afternoon adventure (mom, you may not want to read this part).  He picked me up on his motorcycle, which is his pride and joy.  Supposedly, it's a top tier bike and he's planning to trade it in for a Harley within the next couple years.  He's also hoping to go on a fifteen day motorcycle safari early next month with one of his cousins.  It's an established triangular route that starts in Delhi, goes through almost all of Kashmir, through the Himalayas.  I can't imagine starting in 115 degree Delhi weather and then biking through areas of mountains where there's 12 feet of ice on each side of the road.  I had so much fun seeing the city on the back of his bike that I'm sure that would be an extraordinary experience.

He took me to a delicious restaurant "Sixth on Main" which serves Indian food but is popular with the foreigners- he recommended some sort of potato dish which was more sweet than spicy and epically delicious, especially with mint-lime soda.  After some excellent conversation (this 22 year old is wise beyond his years), we stopped at his flat to meet the rest of the guys in his apartment.  He lives on such a cute street within walking distance of the yoga studio- this city is a place that I could actually consider living- spiritual, quiet and nice.  The flatmate and metalhead I met yesterday played for me a song that he engineered from scratch with this music mixing program.  It was unbelievable how he layered piano, guitar and drums to create this "sexy" tune that sounded like it was made with real instruments!

Afterwards, we headed to the center of town, driving by the Mysore Palace and 9-square-kilometer zoo to a lake and nature park.  The park wasn't huge but it had an aviary with an incredible mix of birds and multiple varieties of peacock.  We got to see a male flaunt his tail feathers for a female who heartlessly refused his advances.  Poor guy had to pack away his feathers in defeat but we enjoyed the show!

There was also a bird observation tower overlooking the lake, where we saw even more types of birds.  Several young, adorable Indian girls asked for a photo with me so that was fun.

 After spending several hours at the nature preserve, we headed up a hill for an incredible view of the city.  Unfortunately, the road tax for his Punjab license plate didn't make it worth visiting the temple on top but the view from the roads as we wove our way to the top made it a very worthwhile trip.  After some juice at a peaceful cafe, he dropped me back on campus just in time for dinner.  Just went I thought this campus couldn't get anymore resort-like, walking back, I passed the main building just in time for a light and fountain show, coordinated with music.  The arriving storm added dramatic affect with sideways lightening in the background.  If it rained last night, I was sleeping to soundly to notice but I guess the rainy season is arriving so it sounds like there will be plenty of storms.

Wish me luck meeting the parents!
Light and fountain show- I felt like I was at the Bellagio, Las Vegas

Friday, 10 May 2013

That's not a green bean!

Life is getting better and better in Mysore.  I've been assigned a beautiful spacious classroom with a projector screen and I can even use a flash drive!  There's never going to be internet access in the classroom, printing and copying is still a pain and computer lab access doesn't seem likely but it's a relief that I'll be able to project things.  Also, more work for me because I didn't want to spend too much time coming up presentations or extensive course notes until I knew what I'd be dealing with.  But I'm super-excited for the kids to arrive on Sunday since two days of orientation has been sapping the life out of my bones (the domestic staff had an orientation in April at Duke so I've heard all this before).
This afternoon, I met up with an Infosys employee and couchsurfer named Abhi.  I would think that people would exist relatively anonymously on a campus of this size, especially because many people are here only temporarily for training.  But Abhi knew everyone!  We mostly hung out with his flatmate and a female friend of his (one of the five best bowlers in Mysore!) but everywhere we went, people wanted to say hi.  Apparently he knows people because his university supplied 400 of the incoming 1300 interns his year so they're friends from undergrad.
“When one realises one is asleep, at that moment one is already half-awake.”
― P.D. Ouspensky
The four of us hung out at a cafe on campus and I learned a lot.  He's recently gotten really into power meditation and so he told me about its Sumerian origins.  Supposedly, it is a silent, independent practice where you harness your chakras and train yourself to get into deep trance-like states.  He had originally suggested we "share meditation lessons" and "enjoy sheesha" together if I want.  I said I'd love to hear more about his meditation and although, I've been enjoying tuesday morning meditation in Raleigh but I didn't have much advice to share- I can't even keep my feet from falling asleep during the 20 minute guided practice!
I also learned more about why Mysore is known as the (Ashtanga) yoga capital of India.  Thousands of people from all over the world come during the yoga season (November- March) to study.  Supposedly, in the cooler weather, people do yoga everywhere, starting at 2:30 AM. One cool (but potentially very confusing) thing about Ashtanga is it is self-paced so at any given time, everyone may be doing something different because they're at different places in their practice.  Hopefully I'll get to crash a yoga class before I live this site of pilgrimage for yogis!
After we chatted over coffee, we went to the campus bowling alley.  I warned them that I hadn't bowled in forever and they said not to worry, they weren't that good either.  About 65 strikes later, those three had scores around 200 and I ended up with an embarrassing score of 32 despite enthusiastic encouragement and some good tips.  But I still enjoyed bowling in the presence of greatness... the girl admitted that she's one of the top-ranked bowlers in Infosys and her coach swung by to give me a couple of tips.  His reputation extends to Bangalore, for bowling well himself and coaching champions (unfortunately, it doesn't look like I'll join the ranks anytime soon but it only costs $1 per game with shoe rentals so I can certainly afford to practice).
The spicy food here has been a struggle since I'm a huge pansy.  Abhi's probably going to take me to a non-spicy restaurant tomorrow if the Mysore Palace trip with my co-workers doesn't happen.  The floating restaurant tries hard- yesterday, they had a "Eat-like-a-king" lunch in celebration of a state's holiday (supposedly, many kings came from that state).   They featured regional food and music and even constructed a sand mandala with the state's symbol in the middle of the floor.  Everyone says the food here is really good but I'm a pansy.  I've been mostly surviving on white rice and chapati with a teeny drizzle of the daal or paneer of the day.  Last night, I thought they were serving green beans and enthusiastically spooned in a giant mouthful... steam started flowing out of my ears... those were peppers not green beans.  It doesn't help that I got sick from the food yesterday (awesome timing right when the housekeeper came to clean... poor guy) so now I'm paranoid about eating anything that isn't cooked to death.  Bub-bye juicy watermelon!  Reva, I miss your cooking!
Another Infosys couchsurfer/aerospace engineer (who I convinced to guest lecture in my class, although he's going to try to find someone with more experience since he's only 24) invited me to live music tonight which would have been so fun but Infosys has a 9 PM curfew (every night except for Saturday), which didn't give me enough time to go off campus which is a bummer.  I probably should take advantage of going to bed early since I've been up without a nap since 4:30 AM.  However, there's a pretty hardcore storm outside and I kinda want to watch it...  Good night!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Oh what a beautiful morning… let’s hope it’s a beautiful day

Just came back from another lovely run.  My earbuds broke on one of the first flights over and I haven’t had a chance to buy a pair (still waiting on a rupee reimbursement…) but Anne let me borrow hers.  So I was jammin’, probably with a Cheshire Cat smile on my face.  I bumped into the only other possible “runner” that I saw yesterday… I wasn’t sure if she was actually running for exercise because it looked like she was dressed in pajamas, running after a dog who escaped while she was pouring her morning coffee.  But our paths intersected multiple times this morning and she gave me a huge wave so I think we’re going to be friends.  Maybe because the music made me so happy, I started to elicit more smiles on the faces of people I encountered- one biker said “good running, good running”, the security guard yelled down a jolly “Good morning” from the top of his perch on the observation tower and I finally got permission to run on the asphalt instead of the concrete.  Running on asphalt pounds your joints but running on that concrete was even worse, it got dangerously slippery near sprinklers and I constantly had to leap up and down sidewalks that were more elevated than normal.  And I found some new birds (Eliot, the birdwatcher, would have a hay day!) and some new cool trees (Fact: seed pods resemble badminton balls).
            In general, I feel like I’m starting to bond with more of the Indians here.  Rajiv (the network engineer) and I are practically best friends.  He spent another two hours in my room last night after an hour and a half in the morning, I learned most of his life story and he left me his cell phone number.  Not like I can call it.  He might have called my room last night around midnight to check if my problem was fixed but I passed out after dinner, even though I was watching some Indian music videos desperately trying to stay awake for the Internet service providers who were supposed to stop by in an hour.  Oops.  Everyone’s on-line but me at this point so I keep telling him it’s not the Internet service but he’s convinced.
            Unloading supplies yesterday provided a great opportunity for team bonding.  We had a small closet filled with boxes in one building so after lots of waiting (that goes without saying in this country haha.  I’d love to get a statistic on what percentage of Indians are actually working at any given minute during the workday.  I’d estimate 30%, to be generous) we had to bucket brigade the boxes down a floor, over a building, up a floor including a segment of the journey outside in the sweltering heat.  Sweating through your clothes in a cloud of Indian body odor is about as good as it gets (I wonder what Americans smell like to Indian people… The most American smell I can think of is greasy McDonalds so hopefully not that.  After using this “Mysore sandalwood” soap and eating their food three times a day, I doubt I’ll retain my gringo scent for long).  But it was fun talking to more of the TAs and RAs.  It’s kinda silly because although I’m the youngest instructor here, I’m one of the most revered.  The two most prestigious fields in India are engineering and medicine (business is starting to catch up) and since there are no medicine classes here, as the resident engineering expert, I’m one of the most well respected.  Even though people are starting to learn I’m not a trained engineer (shhh…).  I’m also the first staff member to earn a nickname “007”.  (Partially because of my room number but also because I’m as smooth and sly as James Bond… haha I wish).
            After we got the boxes up to a classroom, we were told to open and sort them Christmas-style.  Fortunately, most of my supplies seem to be here except for my balsa wood shipment which is the basis of the solar-powered boat and balsa-wood bridges project… which is, of course, our first project, starting as soon as Wednesday.  So hopefully they can find some in Mysore.
            I finally got to talk to my TA more extensively and figure out why he kept asking me the same question over and over again prior to the conversation.  Apparently, his “engineering physics” major is basically a physics major that had a couple basic engineering courses his first year.  So he’s a little nervous about the practical, engineering emphasis of this course.  That makes two of us (but I didn’t tell him that!).  Building things, writing engineering design proposals, drawing technical sketches is definitely out of my comfort zone (I haven’t done it since high school and my first year of undergrad) but I constructed the course around what would be interesting and engaging to the kids.  After talking for awhile, hopefully he feels better that this class will be a new but exciting challenge for both of us.
            It’s time for a nice cold shower (not like there’s any other option) and breakfast.  I hope the rest of today will be as good as my morning run!  
One of the pretty buildings I ran by today

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Over the hump?

It’s Wednesday and in the second half of the week, I’ll actually accomplish something besides getting here.  I did sleep like a baby until 5:30 AM so it helped to wake up with energy.  Around 6:30 AM, I decided to run and although being blonde, wearing neon shoes and being one of the only runners, I earned many strange looks but it was totally worth it.   Besides the extreme humidity, the weather’s not awful (especially early in the morning) and today’s breeze and slight detours through sprinklers made it very bearable.  Mara promised me mid-80 degree weather, which would be even better than North Carolina in the summer.  Unfortunately, its been unusually hot here according to one of the locals (38-39 *C) so I think Mara underestimated the daily temperatures.  But most spaces are air conditioned (which is extremely unusual in India) so I’m not worried.  But then again, the man in the dining hall said the rainy season starts in three days.  So we may not have to deal with sun?  I don't know what to believe- last year, the program wasn't during the rainy season...

Then we had breakfast, I met my TA briefly, and the gringos were off to Mysore to get registered with the FRO, which was a kind of anti-climatic 2.5 hour adventure.  Last Friday was a major State election so most of the important people were counting ballots.  However, the people we did get to speak to said we don’t need to check in since our 6 month visa should be fine with the 180 day check-in limit (since they went by months).  Mara’s still going to investigate this and get official documentation so we don’t get detained.  Because that happened two years ago.

 Silly picture from traveling to Mysore today... there's always cows!

Walking into the FRO office- so much prettier than the one in Delhi

Mysore Palace- need to come back to tour this
Came back to fight the good fight (trying to get internet access), currently waiting for the ever-illusive engineer, we’re meeting for lunch shortly then we’ll spend the afternoon getting supplies organized.  Tootle-loo!

Settling in

So we’re here!  And surprisingly enough, campus is just as pretty (if not more so) than it appeared in that silly video.  The lawns and landscaping are pristinely maintained- some of the key trees and bushes have nametags and fun facts including “Fact: the official flower of Argentina”, “Fact: fish-like fans”, "Fact: decorative bush".   If you watched the video, you might have noticed how the pride and joy of campus is this pretentious Roman-looking building that is absolutely massive (I think it can fit 9,000 people). 
Largest building in India built after Industrialization

Epcot looking movie theater

 There’s a cricket field, track, gym, pool (which was I so excited for but now people tell me I’ll get sick if I swim in it), cafes, a store, and a movie theater inside a dome that looks like Epcot.  So it looks like I’m in Disney world but working in India is never a walk in the park.
My bedroom
 View from my window

 After at least two hours of security checks, waiting, baggage checks, waiting, filling out forms, waiting, we finally got to our rooms.  My bedroom is simple but clean and has a beautiful view of the gardens outside.  One of the first missions was to get online and I can’t say I was entirely surprised when it didn’t work.  About a million phone calls later, “yes, I tried hooking up my laptop to the cable.  Yes, I tried both ports.  Yes, I know how to find my internet browser”, they eventually admitted it was a problem on their end and they were going to send an engineer of some variety so I decided to hang in the room and forgo exploring to wait.  Despite three reminder calls, where the engineer was supposedly coming in “5 minutes, 5 minutes”, dinner rolled around and no one showed on the scene.  Supposedly, one guy who was late to dinner did get to interact with this person and they realized it was a bigger problem on their end that would probably take awhile to solve.  Even though you would think that someone at the biggest Information Technology training center in the world would know what to do.

 So besides the epic battle to get connected, we didn’t have too much time yesterday.  At dinner, the entire staff gathered for dinner together for first time and diversity of experiences and backgrounds that we bring to the table is just amazing.  The Indian TAs and RAs seem particularly excited to have the opportunity to work for such a special program, one of the first of its kind in the country (we were warned we’re going to have a ton of visitors for that exact same reason).  It was fun to meet people and learn why they’re here- the cryptography instructor (who they ended up hiring from India because they couldn’t find a US candidate in time) told me that most of his education was a blur except for the time he spent preparing for the Math Olympiad.  He hoped that working with gifted students would allow him to vicariously re-live his glory days.  I hope students here will remember this program as fondly as he did.