What would RTH do?

That is the question.

If I were in a highschool yearbook, they would vote me most likely to die of a lynch mob. That does not prevent me from opening my mouth and serving a warm hearty cup of STFU to people who deserve it. My dark scathing humor will leave no matter of existence untouched. My innocence will touch your soul.

Welcome to a warped world turned inside out and upside down. All sorts of discretion advised.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

An American Odyssey - Part Six

Part One
Part Two
Part Three 
Part Four
Part Five

Welcome to Sugar Land

We would be spending most of Wednesday, May 11th in Sugar Land Texas. So I thought I would just spend some time on a quick overview of Sugra Land. Just a short quick drive from Houston, it is a nice little suburban community. Many say it is one of the fastest growing and most affluent regions in Texas. To make a comparison the median household income in Madison, WI is about $50,000 and the median household income in Sugarland is about a $110,000.

Way back in the day this region was a Sugar Plantation (you know what those were like in Texas). Now it is a growing city. Its connection to Sugar is probably Imperial Sugar factory which is headquartered in the city, I'm not sure though. It is also unique in the fact that it boasts the largest percentage Asian population, in Texas. Asians are almost 34% of the population of Sugarland. Don't let that fool you though, its just a twinkie trick. Sugar Land is otherwise like your very stereotypical of your white suburban middle class neighborhood. Its got all these fancy planned master communities. They are not gated communities thankfully, but its got an aura of the upper crust neighborhoods you find in Wauwatosa or North Chicago.

Think of it, in a state with a 35% Hispanic population, there are less than 7% Hispanics in the region. African Americans don't do too shabby, the state average is 12% and Sugar Land hovers slightly over 5%. Asians got it really lucky, cause their state average is around 3% or so. After all we are the model minority. Sugar Land is also known for being one of the biggest Republican strongholds in Texas. It kind of is like the anti-Austin that completely obliterates the Austin factor of the state.

The gravity of the situation is that we, at least I am a Madison liberal. So spending a day in Sugar Land is like contaminating my soul. It would take a while to purge myself of the sins. After all, when it comes to friends and family, you have to let go of your silly neurotic prejudices - you know at least grow up for one day. Besides I bleed Madison through my heart, God will let this slip by.

Train Wreck

We were welcomed to Sugar Land by a train wreck. I am not sure about the physics and geometry of what happened. All I know are the visuals I saw. There was a freight truck, once a majestic sixteen wheeled beast that runs freely on America's highways. That freight truck had its hind quarters on a railway track. Clearly, the railway tracks are not the habitat for sixteen wheeled trucks or any other beast of the tarmac as a matter of fact.  Tarmac dwellers are supposed to cross railway tracks swiftly, but with caution. You don't want to be caught on the tracks when the massive track dwelling beast the train rolls on forward.

The train is actually a very benign and gentle beast. It loves chugging along rhythmically on its narrow tracks. However, the gargantuan volume of this beast makes it very difficult for it to control itself. Once the train gallops at a certain velocity, it takes monumental forces to stop it in its tracks, not something that can be done easily or quickly.  Coming back to the fate of the sixteen wheeler, a happily tooting freight train was running down the tracks, going about its daily business in maximum velocity when it spotted a the truck shortly ahead stunned in the tracks like a deer in the headlights. I'm sure it tried to screech itself to a halt evident by the distorted parts of its body heaped behind, but alas it was to no avail and the train had plowed through the hind quarters of the truck. The insides of the truck had been ripped apart and spilled all over, the truck had lost its hind limbs forever. Fortunately, there were no human casualties in this horrifying clash of the mechanical beasts.

There were just a lot of chaos and scattered contents. Cop cars and emergency vehicles were everywhere. Everyone was diligently focused on cleaning up the mess. While its nearly not as memorable as a bloated dead body floating in the Niagara falls, the train wreck surely makes Sugar Land more memorable than it really is.

Lunch

Our day in Sugar Land is not divided into people, places or events really, but on meals of the day. While we were visiting relatives, it is imperative to note that for Indians visiting relatives and having a meal are indistinguishable. As a matter of fact even places and events are not easily distinguished from meals. I myself am hard pressed to remember the people and places I visit, but I do remember the meals. This day was no exception.

First we visited a distant relative on my dad's side. To refine it further, it was my dad's mom's side. The relative is my FaMo of some sorts, but even with my sophisticated cutting edge system I am lost at the moment for computing out the exact relationship, maybe some other time.

Lunch was a vegetarian but a delicious affair. It was a pure Indian meal. As with visiting any Indian relative there was a cornucopia of assorted foods laid out on the table. There were rotis, rice, dal, a paneer dish and other dishes that I find hard to recollect after so many weeks. While we relished on the lovely Indian meal, filling our hearts with the warmth of good old fashioned Indian food - it was only the beginning of our desi overdose. It is ironic how everyone down south says you have to try the Mexican food but offers only Indian food. 

Over lunch the ignoramus heathen in me also learned about the Chinmaya mission. I always find it deeply disturbing and awkward that children out there are reciting shlokas and receiving religious education. However, to think about it, in a foreign land like the states its a great channel to pass on our history, tradition and culture. Every culture needs an identification point. Moreover, the Chinmaya mission's teaching methodology is well rounded. Its not overtly religious, but based more on sound theological and secular philosophies. I also learned that Swaminarayana temples always sell some incredible snacks. I can't get started on them though.

Tea

As promised the day is being divided into meal times. I'm ran into a conundrum if I should split tea into two separate meals like the hobbits or treat it as one extended meal period. I'm choosing to roll it all as one, and you will soon see what I am talking about.

Although I am fast approaching thirty, I still have the heart and soul of a five year old. Forget heart and soul, I'm pretty much convinced that I have an IQ of a five year old. Sometimes while waiting at the doctors office I play with the toys instead of reading Home & Garden or Ladies Home Journal or even Cosmopolitan. In this situation it meant that the conversation that the grown ups were having was akin to undergoing some sort of trepanning ritual.

To escape the ritual, my sister and I escaped and headed to the oasis and watering hole of our species - the local mall - First Colony Mall. Let me be clear that I'm not a girlie girl who loves fluttering about in malls buying adorable new outfits and matching shows. I'm definitely not into that. Its just that malls usually tend to be great places to kill time. There is plenty of area to walk, run or play hide and seek if you wish. Lots of people specimen to gaze at. There is greasy mall food to gobble. Then there are always places that cater to more sophisticated interests like Godiva, an Apple store, Williams Sonoma or  such. In our case it was a Barnes & Noble so the nerdy bookworms in us could grab a warm drink and then lose ourselves to be enchanted by the endless shelves of books. I had an enormous glass of sweet green tea, and twiddled through the cookbooks and Bill Bryson's travel books. I could be locked up in Barnes & Noble for eternity and never be bored.

As we left the mall to return to complete the trepanning we found ourselves enamored by the palm trees adorning the landscape of the mall. If there is one thing we truly miss about the hot, sultry, steamy, sweaty, torrid, tropical weathers is the majestic grandeur of palm trees swaying the breeze. Man, I could do with a coconut tree right in my yard now. So we went trigger happy with the photography of palm trees and freaked out a local girl who was sitting by.


After having consumed green tea at the mall, I returned to the parental units and was faced with the prospect of tea again. Even though we pointed at our exploding tummies and the nuclear explosion of dinner that was looming over our heads, there is no saying no. So we had tea again, accompanies with idli sambar, which is quite a heavy meal in itself.

Dinner

Our next meal stop was dinner which took place at my mom's relatives place just a hop, skip and jump away in another part of Sugar Land. This relation is simple we visited my MaMaBro. We also met our MaMaBroSo and his wife. All of us indulged in some small talk, watched television namely a basketball game which my dad and MaMaBroSo were extremely interested in, much to the boredom of everyone else. We looked at wedding photos for our MaMaBroDa who was not there.

Finally when it was time for dinner it was like receiving manna from heaven. It was Shrikhand,Puri and a bunch of other tasty, but not as important stuff. Shrikhand is a delectable and relatively simple Indian desert. It is made from yogurt. You could never imagine yogurt being so incredibly delicious. Basically yogurt is strained to remove as much moisture as possible. The strained yogurt is stirred in with sugar and cardamom, along with other desired flavorings like pistachio, saffron etc. This shrikhand was light, smooth and creamy. It was sweet, but not to sweet with the right balance of tartness. Its sweet, but not always a desert - with the tartness factor and the bizarre ways of Indians, it serves as a spread or dip of sorts for Indian meals.What was incredible was that it was made by my MaMaBroWiFa, a feeble old man who needed support to walk but still insisted on whipping up a perfect shrikhand.

After dinner we lounged around more and indulged in some more small talk. We decided to sit and watch videos of the wedding and reception of our MaMaBroSo that we had missed last year. Finally, the day came to an end and we bid adieu to family and bid adieu to Sugar Land as we headed on back to Houston.

Now I must say one thing, even though I give Texas a lot of crap and they rightly deserve every bit of it - they sure do know how to mark their roads at night. I mean the white and yellow markers on the tar that tell you if you are traveling in straight in the right lane or buzzing around like a drunken fool. Even a person with night blindness like me could see the way clearly. Now their dumb ass highways and crappy road signs is another story. Heck, I would never get where I need to in Texas because of being lost - but I have the assurance that at least I won't be swerving of the road and crashing into a tree.




Sunday, June 12, 2011

An American Odyssey - Part Five

Part One
Part Two
Part Three 
Part Four

It has been almost a month since our journey, that the memories are fading into dusty corners of the brain. No longer are they vibrant and vivid as they were in the after hours of the experience. To add to it the mind has been clouded with dozens of more ideas like interpreting nonsensical songs and trying spiritual healers for crime. Nevertheless I trudge on, with the tales.

If It's Tuesday, It must be Houston

I'm not gorging on southern breakfasts anymore. We Indians typically don't start of the day with sizzling sausages, fluffy biscuits, gravy, bacon, eggs and all that jazz. The fanciest we do is the masala dosa, or so I think. So we kick started our day with a really down home Maharashtrian breakfast of upma.

After that the question was what does one do in Houston? Here in Madison, we take people to see the Olbrich garden, there is the Monona Terrace, the State Capitol, State Street, the Overture Center, there's plenty because we live here. There is plenty to do in Houston as well like the Galleria, all the museums, I think even a place like Houston has its pretty places. After contemplating between art exhibits, a mall, or the long trip out to NASA we settled on the Natural History Museum.

Sea Rex 3D



I'm not sure why, but our family decided that we would do all the attractions at the Natural History Museum. That works fine for me because, I'm a nerd like that. Our first stop was the film Sea Rex 3D. It is a 3D film on prehistoric sea creatures. I'm a massive fan of dinosaurs. I don't think of the rapture much, but I do wonder what to do if there are raptors (Velociraptors for you infidels). Although the dinosaur I am in love with is the Tyrannosaurus Rex. I'd want a pet T-Rex. I'll name it Rex.

Turns out we were not the only people who wanted to watch prehistoric sea creatures. That Tuesday, was field trip day. The cacophony of dozens of chattering children was echoing through the museums. Kids darted in all directions like a bucket of skittles thrown on the floor, and the chaperons desperately lunged trying to scoop the precocious bunch together. There were some really wee tots as well, and I was concerned if they should be watching dinosaur flicks. The worst part was as responsible citizens we had to enter last, and wait till all the little tykes had gone in. Thankfully, we were not last and least. There was another elderly couple with us. More importantly museums don't fill capacity crowd line an opening night and we still got some swell seats.

Overall the movie was educating, entertaining, and interesting. The run time is quite short compared to most movies and you have plenty of stuff packed into that short period. Although its nerdy knowledge stuff. The only read downer is that there really is not a lot of dinosaur flick action, you know ravaging rexes, raptor invasions and that sort of stuff. I was somehow expecting a Mega Shark vs. Giant  Octopus kind of flick. They made it kid friendly. Oh well, someone really needs to make chomping dinosaur flicks. Such magnificent beasts always tamed to be kid friendly.

Black Holes



Our next endeavor was at the planetarium. I really wanted to see the Mayan Prophecies doomsday showing. Unfortunately, that was not possible due to time conflicts, so we went to watch Black Holes instead. When you are a nerd, any such documentary works really.

Black holes are perhaps the most interesting things in space. They are the darkest, densest portions in the galaxy where all matter and energy is compressed so tightly in a tiny speck. Once sucked in nothing can escape, not even light. Its really baffling and complex science. Even the greatest minds in the world have a hard time understanding black holes and explaining them in terms of scientific laws and phenomenon. I think for us mere mortals it is good enough to know just what they are and leave the worrying about how, why, where, when, and a plethora other scientific questions to the experts.

Although there is one interesting thought that mortals will totally be fascinated with - the Einstein Rosen Bridge. This is a theoretical wormhole that connects the nucleus of the black hole to another time and space. More mind blowing stuff really, but fun - if you want to see it in action watch Thor. Who said movies are not educational. I first come across this phenomenon in Thor and two days later learn more about it.

Its a short 20 minute film and kind of leaves you wanting for more meat, more explanations, more data, but I think its the best they could do in mortal levels. 

Mickey D Again!

Lunch as you guessed by the subtitle was McDonalds again. It was the only food place in the museum. This time I tried the cheddar onion burger. I wish we had those southwestern flavors here.

Conquering Insectophobia
One pretty creature at a time. 

Those who know me, know very well that I suffer from a dreadful case of Insectophobia. Insects totally frighten the living daylights out of me. The second I see an insect my heart starts pumping, my mouth goes dry, my thought process freezes, the muscles of my body twitch in panic, my mind narrows down two alternatives - run for your life screaming and crying like a little child or freeze in fear. The background music is always kill, kill, kill. Over the years I've managed to control my fears slightly and shuffle away stiffly but quickly to fetch someone who can accomplish the Herculean feat of slaying the beast.

Phobia is a strange irrational fear. I fear despite education and knowledge in my mind that these creatures are harmless, but seeing one sends my senses for a loop. It sounds horrible, but it is this irrational fear that makes me empathize on a certain level with homophobes or xenophobes - that is only if like me they are actually pretty gentle caring souls whose body unfortunately succumbs to irrational fear and they can admit they have a problem.

It is weird, I'm not afraid of snakes or sharks or wild animals - just insects. Only flies and mosquitoes are on my no fear list - otherwise I'm even scared of damned butterflies. That is until recently.

Yes, butterflies are insects, they maybe pretty but some are huge and fly. Its unnerving. The last time I went to the Cockrell butterfly center years ago, I baby stepped my way swiftly across the thing, hands in pockets, shoulders slouched, head low trying to be invisible. I shivered and shuddered as butterflies would sit on me, making the little kids gasp in awe as they wanted the butterflies to sit on them. It was an evil conundrum as I surely cannot manifest my dreadful fears before kids.

I've been getting better though. Working in a rural area has had me exposed to some terrifying creepy crawlies. I'm slowly getting to a point where I'm at least desensitized or somewhat indifferent to their evil. The same fear reaction sinks in, but the mind is not completely shut down now, there is a conscious part gently counseling me to appreciate and respect all creatures. When it comes to creatures like butterflies that are beautiful to all humans, its that soulful beauty that makes the task of conquering fears gentler and easier.

Today I conquered insectophobia till I was able to capture it in the lenses of my phone camera.









Museum Museum

The rest of the afternoon was spent leisurely strolling through the museum displays. Natural History museums are somewhat like zoos, they are zoos that have all sorts of creatures - prehistoric beasts to modern day animals, from birds that soar the sky to creatures that habit the deepest darkest depths of the sea. The only differences is they are all in glass cases, and they are dead - not alive. So one can imagine why a concept like night at the museum is so incredible. Just imagine all these creatures from all cross time and place coming alive here for you.

I'd love to cuddle up with a pride of lions or see if any of the wild cats will go feline crazy with catnip. I'd like to climb atop a woolly mammoth and tower upon creatures of the ice age. I'd like to hear from historic people and beasts, a first hand account of our history. So much fascination and such a limited realm we have here.

Although, I was immensely disheartened by the energy display, especially the energy display that glorified drilling for oil. Even more disappointing was a whole simulation feature on fracking without any words of caution on the dangers of fracking. Any display of fossil fuels ought to come with the pros as well as the cons we face. I guess, this is why its Texas and not any other state.

Another fascinating display was the gem and mineral display. One can barely imagine the multitude of stunningly beautiful stones found in the heart of the earths crust. I'm not talking just gold and diamonds, but more ordinary stuff like talc, calcite and gypsum. They come in all stunning pretty colors. It took me to a nostalgic period in my childhood where my most precious possession was a rock. It was a massive piece of flint I had found digging around as a kid. It sat on our mantle for years, as I would proudly look on my precious stone. When we moved to the states, they threw away the only precious stone I ever found for myself.

Diamonds maybe a girls best friend, but any rock that is substantially unique, does it for me. What is wrong with a granite ring, I'll never understand.


Dinner

I was able to meet an online friend from India-Forums for dinner. My friend happened to be working close by and treated my sister and I to a delicious Indian dinner. There are plenty of Indian restaurants in Madison; however, they are not at the caliber of the Indian restaurants in places with higher Indian populations. The meal was delicious and enormous as well.

More importantly I was able to meet another person from internet in real life. In fact it was the seventh online person I was able to meet in real life. Its always interesting to cross that virtual vs real bridge and learn more about the other person beyond words on screen. The internet is what you make it to be. It can be a dark and dangerous place, but it can also be a fascinating place where you meet different people and exchange ideas - bring the world closer one step at a time.

We had a wonderful time, and we managed to talk without bringing the virtual world up much either.

And here I shall wrap up part five, because its the end of this day, and also I'm a bit tired and need to wrap and move on to the next phase.