Sunday, May 23, 2010

Story of the baggage carousel.

Rio-De-Janeiro, Brazil

The best way to head from the US to Brazil is to take a direct flight out of Miami, DC, or any other major US city. To save some money on the tickets, I took an Avianca flight with a layover at Bogota. After landing at Sao Paulo airport early in the morning, while waiting for my baggage to arrive, I saw a wide variety of things tumbling down the baggage carousel. Usually baggage carousel’s have bags big and small, suitcases hard and soft moving around, but in Brazil you see more than that.

Baby strollers, electronics, home decorations, bridal supplies and many other items which I have never seen in the baggage claim area at airports in 9 years of living in the US. Some of these are gifts and some will be sold informally for a profit. When international flights land in Brazil the baggage carousels are the supply chains feeding this informal economy. I have done more research on what things are in demand here and you can make use of the information I provide here to pay for your future trip to Brazil. Please do send me a royalty check on the profits you make here!

Victoria secret lingerie is definitely in demand here, or so I hear. Women here are completely smitten by American and European luxury and beauty products but they are prohibitively expensive here. Not that it stops people here from buying them. A walk around any shopping mall in Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo, you will notice that these American and European brand boutiques are doing roaring business. Bring in beauty products from the US and Europe, sell them cheaper that the ones in the boutiques and you will have enough profit to pay for your trip down here.

My Brazilian friends in the US are experts at this. They even book orders prior to heading down to Brazil. Friends and acquaintances make a wish list of things they want and transmit them across Facebook and chat. This is usually followed by frantic trips to malls and squeezing in every last gram of baggage allowance allowed on flights. Weight is money, the more you pack, the more you earn.

Bridal dresses are a guaranteed money maker. Take a trip down to any bridal store in the US or order a bridal dress of every size from David’s bridal. Brazilian waistlines are trimmer than the ones in the US. So order accordingly. Pack all of them in a suitcase, come down here and sell them on e-Bay. You will make enough money to pay for your flight tickets, hotel accommodations and money to splurge on few drinks by the beach.

Laptops are a big money spinner but I suggest you don’t try this. Customs officials here can be very difficult when it comes to letting laptops pass. One laptop maybe, but two, you are definitely pushing your luck. You can try small electronics which can fit into your carry on and suitcases.

What’s the deal about baby strollers which I mentioned earlier? It’s too bulky and you have to check it in as an item. So it doesn’t make much sense from a profit perspective. Usually people bring this in if someone in the family is having a baby and they requested a stroller.

So hurry and start planning for your free trip to Brazil! Check out your nearest Brazilian embassy website for visa requirements.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The game of animals.

Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

Yesterday I played the game of animals, “Jogo de Bicho” as it’s called in Brazil. Why am I playing a game of animals? Let me explain. Jogo de Bicho is a lottery played all around Brazil, and particularly popular in Rio de Janeiro where I am now.

In the USA and Europe, you have the Lotto, Power ball and Mega millions. Organized lottery, involving governments, with printed tickets sold in convenience stores across the country and televised drawings. Jogo de Bicho on the other hand is no where as nearly organized as Lotto, Power ball or Mega millions. “Bicheiros” are the ones who sell these tickets and you can find them on any street corner in Rio de Janeiro. All you have to do is pick an animal to place a bet and the payoff can be anywhere between 15-20 times the bet depending on the numbers you picked and results of the draw. What makes it so popular is that you can pick the amount of your bet. So poor can bet less and rich can bet more.

There are around 25 animals you can choose from with each animal having 4 numbers associated with it. You can pick one of the 4 numbers to place a bet. I picked elephant, which has 45, 46, 47 and 48 as its associated numbers. Out of this 4, I picked 45. Apart from this number you have to pick 2 more digits which go in front of 45. I picked 05 for this. So my number was 0545 and I bet 5 Reais (around US$3). The results came out today. You have to go check with the Bicheiro for the results. The results are on coupons like the one you see here.

All the 4 numbers matching has the highest payout. 3 numbers matching, for ex – 545 would have a lesser payout. I did not win anything. The number of the drawing was 0646. Damn! Missed it by a number! Should have picked 6 instead 5.

The game has an interesting history and you can read more about it at
Jogo De Bicho

Thursday, May 20, 2010

From copy of a passport to history of a republic

Rio-De Janeiro, Brazil

I arrived in Brazil yesterday and will be staying here for the next 45 days. Carrying my passport everywhere I go, did not seem like a smart thing to do. In Brazil, you can go to a “Cartorio”, a person who authenticates copies of your documents which you can use in place of the originals. I decided to get an authenticated copy of my passport and Brazil visa which I could use instead of carrying my passport around.

Usually Cartorios have huge lines, maybe that reflects the amount of paperwork Brazilians have to put up with while dealing with their government agencies. Luckily for me, when I reached the Cartorio, it was empty and getting an authenticated copy took less than 10 minutes. On the walk back to the apartment, I came across a beautiful building “Palace Catete” with a huge signs “Museu de Republica Brasieira”, Museum of the Brazil Republic. Now that I have quit my job and have nothing much to do with lots of time on my hands, I decided to go in and see what this museum had to offer.

I walked in and was heading straight into one of the rooms when a security guard called me from the back and said “Precisa Pagar”. He meant “Dude, Don’t just waltz right in, you need to pay”. Ticket paid, with a brochure in hand I walked around the museum with photographs, portraits and displays chronicling the lives of former presidents of Brazil who lived in that building which served as a seat of government for over 80 years.

Before getting to Brazil, I read a fair bit of Brazilian history. Walking through the museum, I could put pictures and faces to the words I read about Brazilian history. One picture was with the current President of Brazil, Lula in a TV debate with the former president of Brazil, Collor de Mello. Lula lost that election to Collor de Mello in part due to TV Globo’s editing of the debate showing Lula as a bumbling idiot and Collor as a handsome, educated man. Collor de Mello proved to be an utterly incompetent president, looting the Brazilian government treasury with impunity. Globo, years later apologized to Lula.

One of Brazil’s popular politicians in the early 40’s, Getulio Vargas, killed himself with a gunshot to his head when he was about to be deposed from his presidency in a military backed coup. In Getulio Vargas’s bedroom in the museum, the Pajama and the revolver he used on his last night were on display.

When not in a hurry to get to work, we look around, notice and observe small things around us. We take the time to explore things we observe and it is in those moments that our understanding of the surroundings we live in increases. All in all, an educating morning on Brazilian political history and a good start to my 4 months of traveling.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Greetings from a scooterist.

Raleigh, NC

I ride my scooter to work every day and very often I get yelled at by car drivers that I slowed them down. I have tried to empathize with you and have tried to understand your road rage but have failed. I have built empathy for the poor, the underprivileged, the struggling grad students, the clueless undergrads, the overworked TA’s and underpaid restaurant workers. This road rage though defies my understanding. On blogs, I see perverts posting their fantasies and the intelligent trying to provoke a reasoned debate on issues they care about. I will use this forum to explain a few things in the interest of mutual understanding.

Do I have the same right of road as you have?

Yes. Just because you are driving a car does not give you an entitlement to the road. I have the same right to the road as you have and so do the students who ride a bicycle to their classes every day. I slow you down? Well, the bicyclists slow me down as well but I respect their right to the road and just give a smile and a nod when I pass them by. A little bit of respect and acknowledgement can go a long way in making the society a better place. So shut the f**k up and drive behind me and wait for your turn to pass. If you are trailing me for a long time patiently, then I usually move to the side of the road and at the first available opportunity, will let you pass. Some drivers acknowledge this gesture and give me the universal “thumbs up” sign and a smile. This acknowledgement makes me happy. I am no saint but I am no self serving bas***d either.

Why should I be on the road?
For the same reason you are on the road stupid. I need to get some place, be it work, gym or the grocery store.

Why am I in the middle lane?
Douche bag, I have to make the next left. That’s exactly why. I can’t be a super moped hero, moped ninja, super moped man or a flying James "moped" bond, to make a flying left turn from the right most lane. Does it make things clear?

Why I drive this moped?
It makes perfect financial sense. This moped costs 500 dollars to buy a used one, gives 80 miles a gallon and the insurance comes to 90$ per year. Add to it, I live just 1.5 miles from my work place. So it makes perfect financial sense which you, the guy driving the hummer with 500$ rims will surely not be able to comprehend.

To sum it up, I will be nice and I will let you pass. I will be respectful of your road rights, but if you yell or f**k with me, I will drive at 15 miles per hour and hold the entire traffic down during the morning rush hour and make your hummer feel like a worthless piece of s**t. Yes, I have this aggressive side to me as well. I just don't express it as road rage.

So just shut the f**k up and drive behind me.

Good day
The Scooterist you yelled at today.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Internal insecurity

Raleigh, NC

I haven’t been watching much television lately. I switched on the TV a few days back, tuned in to channel 29 which is CNN here and the first news story was about nuclear security. Fear mongering about how much nuclear material is out there and why you must be worried.

If I go by what CNN says, and make a list of things I should worry about, then the list would be unending. By the time I reach the end of the list, I would not know what to worry about first anymore. Discussions about national security seem to be less about national security and more about internal insecurity.

National security, finance, stock market, health and for that matter anything else. Everything seems to be driven by “sentiment”. I understand that humans are driven by emotions but is there no place for logic in our reactions? A cursory look at history would reveal that lot less people are dying today of diseases or war. USA has faced far more serious military, economic and health disasters than any conceivable problem or threat it faces today. So why this heightened anxiety and the illogical responses to them?

The richer we get, the lesser we seem to have the ability to handle adversity. Sometimes I feel like running away from this all. From this breaking news cycles, from the madness of sanitizers being installed in every nook and corner of my office because of the H1N1 scare, from draconian laws being implemented in the name of national security. Sometimes, I just feel like going some place far from this fear, anxiety and negativity.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

One Lucky bastard

Raleigh, NC

A search on for the word bastard brings up the following

a person born of unmarried parents; an illegitimate child.

a. a vicious, despicable, or thoroughly disliked person: Some bastard slashed the tires on my car.

b. a person, esp. a man: The poor bastard broke his leg.

3. something irregular, inferior, spurious, or unusual.

I am a bastard not in the sense of 1 but in the sense of 2b and 3 (something irregular or unusual not necessarily spurious or inferior).

I say that because the overarching theme of my life has been my strong luck. Things seem to serendipitously fall in my lap when I least expect. So I can say, I am one lucky bastard.

Growing up in India, I never was a hard working student in school. My approach to examinations was that I needed 50 out of 100 marks to pass any exam, so I read 50% of what I needed to read. The day of the exam usually 80-90% of the questions on the test would be from the 50% material I read. Sometimes I would push my luck and laziness a little too far and read only 30% of the material but the result would still be the same!

In India the 10th class examinations which one takes at the end of high school is a stressful situation for a lot of students. Unlike examinations until the 9th standard which is conducted by the individual schools, this exam is conducted by the board of education. One has pass this to enroll for junior college. My brother is 4 years older to me. When he took the 10th board exams, he spent a huge amount of time preparing for it. He would pull out all-nighters and my mom would prepare tea for him to keep him awake through the night. After a game of cricket, I would come back home and make fun of him for his troubles. His reaction, “dude, laugh as much as you want to, in four years time, it’s your turn”.

Four years later when it was my turn, the board of education decided that the curriculum is too intensive and stressful for students. So there was a simplification of the entire curriculum. Add to it my 50% logic, I breezed through the board exams. Growing up, my brother and sister would always complain, “You are so lucky, that it’s just unfair!”.

My brother after his board exams enrolled in a junior college in the sciences stream and decided to take a go at the entrance examinations to various engineering colleges. The same routine followed, all-nighters, mom preparing tea and his frustration at it all. What did I do after my board exams when I enrolled in junior college? I decided my brothers troubles are just not worth it. I am not going for the sciences stream and taking a go at the engineering entrance exams. It’s way too much work and I don’t care about being an engineer anyways. I enrolled in the Math and economics stream. The 50% reading rule continued for two more years in the junior college. My clueless, lazy attitude bothered everyone around me except me. Why should it? The going was smooth for me. I was cruising! Two years of junior college was followed by three years of under grad and some technical training in computer science on the side. The trusted 50% rule did not let me down in those three years as well. To make matters sweeter, I had a girl friend as well!

Finished undergrad, bachelors degree secure in hand, now it’s time to find a job! Everyone around was struggling to land one. I landed an interview from a software company through the technical training institute I attended the previous two years. The questions during the interview? Questions about C++. My answer? I don’t know anything sir and I don’t claim to, but given a chance I will do my best. The result?
I landed that job! The interview seemed to care more about my honesty more than what I actually know or did not know. The next three years I loved that job, lunch breaks was usually spent with my girl friend, disposable income to spend on chai and cigarettes at the numerous “irani” cafes with friends and occasional beer parties thrown in. Even treated my then girl friend to a few fancy romantic dinners. (By romantic, I refer to the dinner, not me). Life was good.

At the end of three years received an admission offer along with a guaranteed loan from a university in the US. Getting admission offers from a US university was the easier part, getting the US visa was the tougher part. What did I do? I applied my mail for the visa when everyone would line up outside the consulate for one. Voila, in a week the visa arrived by mail. That was when I realized the theme of continuing good luck in my life. My brother had a few years earlier got an admission offer from the University of Nebraska at Omaha but was turned down a visa by the US consulate and here I was, never tried hard for anything in my life and things just falling in my lap.

After finishing my Master in the US, I worked for a few years in the IT industry. One fine morning, I was told, “Sorry, we have to let you go. We are cutting your entire division”. I decided to make plans to return to India. I was at a restaurant and I met a guy whom I had seen occasionally at the same restaurant and engaged in small talk. During that conversation, I told him that I was making plans to return to India as I just got laid off. He asked me for my resume. The next week I had an interview call from his organization. After 2 days of interviewing, I had a job offer in hand which paid 15K more than the previous job. Add to it, I received one more job offer in Austin, Texas which paid the same 15K more than the previous job. Around the same time, I even met my now about to be wife. Even accidents do not seem to go wrong with me. After three years at job, the same person whom I met at the restaurant wrote my recommendation letters for the MBA admissions and I now have an admit from HEC Paris with a scholarship.

Why am I writing all this? Recounting my life story, spilling out details of my life which are probably of no interest to most people in the world? It’s because I realized every now and them that we value so little of what we have and strive and pine for things we don’t. It creates frustration, anxiety, stress and all the while we fail to appreciate all the beautiful things that have been given to us, for free. Things which serendipitously fell in our laps, things for which we never had to work hard. From the beautiful lush green trees and the breeze outside my window, to the smooth tasting Yuengling beer in my hands while I am writing this! We are all far more richer that what we actually have in our bank accounts. All this rambling is just an acknowledgement that probably the world has given me lot more that what I ever gave it in return or what I actually deserve and maybe in the future I will be able to correct this imbalance.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

In the last stretch

Raleigh, NC

I am ready for a life change. There is so much more I want to explore and experience in life. All that will start come May when I quit my current job. Before that, I have to finish a few projects I am working on. My co-workers and managers have been good to me over the last 3 and a half years. The way I see it, I owe it them to finish the projects I am working on before I leave.

I am working harder the last 3 months at my job that I ever did in the last 3 and a half years. I feel stressed out and by the end of the day exhausted. I wake up the next morning and have to push myself hard to do my best. It's hard to motivate yourself when you know that you will soon stop doing what you are doing.

I can't wait for May when I can kick back and relax on the beach in Rio De Janeiro with a Caipirinha in my hand.