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Terrific Turbulence

13 Oct

India was great.

After many challenging yet enlightening months in India, I returned home to a new project, new residence, and new mindset. I am very grateful for the experiences I have had whilst overseas, and for the many new friends made – come visit me soon, okay!*

I don’t wish to cheapen the experience by summarising what the best, worst or most challenging moments were. I think I shared just enough in previous blog posts to provide at least a little insight to my strange life over there.

Nor do I want to undervalue the worth of those experiences. Instead, all I feel I might safely say is: please see it for yourself. But make a note not to see only the “tourist” side of India. Go experience real life. The good life, and the not so good. Talk to people. Really, really see India for yourself.

*Please note: that was not a question.

But being home is better.

Going back on my word a little, I will say that one of the best things about spending a longer time in India is that it has given me an interestingly different perspective on the things that surround me back home. Seemingly simple things like the quiet traffic or the drinkable tap water have become a source of comfort. The personal space is relieving. But the price of groceries… a damn shame.

Reenergised through all of this, I’ve started on a new project – a really exciting campaign – that you will hopefully hear more of soon. For now, trust that jumping between lives and projects is a little turbulent, but mostly great fun.


Vroom, beep beep, screeeeeech

31 Aug

I’m finding it harder and harder to get to sleep. Not only is it noisy in my head, but it’s noisy in an Indian city.

For someone who grew up listening to the melody of leaves rustling in the wind, rain on a tin roof, and assorted birdsong, the noises of Indian city have been challenging to live with. The traffic never ceases, and I guess that’s to be expected, but the stop-start method of driving, prevalent even in the night times, means I hear squeaky brakes, horns beeping and engines revving far too often for my liking. It’s an odd symphony: vroom, beep beep, screeeeeech, beep, vroom vroom squeak beep, vroom beep screech. Is that a siren I just heard? Oh man. It’s getting worse.

What really amazes me though, are the construction noises that  commence at 11pm. I honestly have no idea if it’s common to have a nightshift on building sites, but it sure has been consistent. Especially on weekends. “Bang, Bang, Bang…” It sort of sounds like someone hammering into metal sheets. “…Bang, Bang, Bang.” (Yes, this is my lame excuse for sleeping in and missing another chance to Skype.)

So in the meantime, finding it far too hard to obey the voice in my head saying “just sleep”, the other voice starts whispering as it sifts through the jumble in my mind. In the time that I should have been sleeping, I’ve drafted three half written blog posts, a map for my next photography walk, and a response to that work email I think I read recently – it’s a pity they’re already lost in the depths of my mind again.

One thing has managed to escape into the “real” world though, and you may have noticed it already. In a strange spark of what might be termed “creativity”, I’ve renamed this blog: Olivia’s Oddventures.

There, now it’s done.

Please world, let me sleep now.

A rose obtained by any other means…

26 Aug

The Rose

…smells just as sweet.

This rose carries a remarkable story. It was obtained on the streets of Pune, India, from a seemingly pleasant woman.
I’d idly spent my Sunday morning on my own, walking the streets of Pune. I’ve seen all the sights, even things the locals don’t really know about. I could take my neighbours a unique tour, I’m sure. There’s not much for me to do right now other than travel beyond this city or trawl the internet. But I’m much in need of exercise and refuse to pay gym membership.
So here I am, after a long walk, about to stroll into one of those popular fast food chains. It might have been a typical American place, or it might not have, I won’t tell. I never made it in. Moments before I had walked past a woman setting up a jar of long-stemmed roses. I thought it was quaint but wondered who might buy them. I smiled to myself and kept on walking.
If there’s one rule I keep breaking, it’s to not smile on Indian streets. Even to myself, when looking at anyone, a smile is a dangerous thing. It seems to be code for “I’m a pretty foreigner who’s vulnerable and really wants you to come ask me for money or to go into a shop or something”. Every single time I smile, I seem to attract weird attention. I’ve mostly taken to walking down the street with my head bowed and my mouth fixed in a firm line, but it’s my nature to smile, and my nature often wins.
In this case, my smile may have been taken for an acknowledgement of the pretty flowers – fair enough – and encouraged the woman to send a little boy after me, with a rose in hand. “Excuse miss, miss, flower?”. No, I think to myself, I don’t really need it, I should just have lunch and go. “Miss, flower? A gift? … Miss you buy food for flower?”. Well, things have just got interesting. This young boy, maybe 9 or 10 years old, is asking directly for food in exchange for a rose. Not money for food with some sop tale like the beggars on the street. I feel sympathy, and I stop to listen. I look at this food establishment I’m about to walk into, and consider how my lunch today would amount to a fraction of what I’d pay back home, even for something home cooked. I nod my head, and offer the Hindi of “let’s go”, which sounds a lot like “cello”, the instrument.
We take a few steps but the woman is calling us back. I figure she wants me to buy lunch for her too, which I’d already figured would be part of the bargain. No, no, she says she wants groceries, not this unhealthy food. Well, she speaks with reason and I feel a bit like I’m caught in a trap. I feel like I should reward her for having so much sense – she’s hungry and wants something that’ll last a long time, she’s not like other beggars who want money to squander on alcohol or goodness knows what else. At this point the boy hands me the flower, as if to signify that I’ve already agreed.
So I decide to go along with her. She leaves the boy to look after the pot of roses, and takes her little baby along. The baby must be about 2 years old. The grocery store is about a five minute walk away and she explains along the way that she lives in a church just outside of Mumbai, and she catches the train everyday, buys flowers from the market and tries to onsell them. She travels a lot by train and walking to make this happen. I’m a bit more sceptical of her at this point – why not just stay in Mumbai? There are more people there, surely. She also explains that she needs food for all the people she lives with – they each get a bit here and there from foreigners, but they’ve just ran out. They never ask for money, try earn what they can, but sometimes are desperate for food. It’s very convenient timing to have met me the morning after they run out of food, no? She continues on, because she lives with so many people she will ask me for “3 of milk, 3 of rice, 3 of oil”. It’s apparently all she needs. I’m thinking 3litres or 3kg of each, and think it’s a bit too ask but not too much in the grand scheme. She explains how she wants me to know the expectations now so that I’m not shocked when we get there. I figure it’s fair enough and say to myself I’ll handle it when we get there. So I keep walking, asking a bit more about her.
We’ve been walking a few minutes though and I haven’t before been to a grocery store on this street. I start to imagine us taking a sudden corner and being led into a pack of rough men ready to steal my money and abuse me. I’m definitely a little worried, but I’ve come this far, and she does sound like she has good intentions. She starts talking about Jesus, how she prays to Jesus when her baby is sick because they can’t afford to see a doctor. She demonstrates, holding her baby in two hands as if offering him at a sacrificial altar, and with a sober face says she prays to Jesus and her baby becomes just a little less sick. She asks if I know Jesus. We keep walking.
Shortly we get to the supermarket, and I’m relieved. I mentally chide myself for getting into such a strange situation, but am thankful we’ve not been waylaid by a gang. At least I’m not that stupid, right? We get in and she takes a shopping trolley, and off we go. We get to the milk and grabs 3 x 1L cartons. So far so good, it’s not too pricey and I’m feeling like I’m doing a good deed. We get to the rice, and she takes 3 x 5kg bags. Oh dear. Still not that pricey, but I’m a bit stunned. That’s a large appetite. But rice is the staple food. We get to the oil. She reaches for a 10 or 15 litre bottle, whichever it was, it was massive, and it was pricey. She wants three of those too. Oh god.
Don’t worry though, I might be a bit of a fool right now, but I still have some backbone and explain that it’s too expensive for me. She looks sad and says that I can just use my card if don’t have cash. Aha! I think, I’ve just thought of something brilliant. I use a prepaid mastercard and forgot to top it up, I don’t have all that much money on there right now anyway. So I tell her, she doesn’t quite understand so takes the big oil bottle and one smaller one and off we go to the checkout. By now I’m confident I can’t pay for all this – I feel a little evil, but figure she’s already tried taking advantage of my expectations so there’s not much I can do.
At the checkout, she asks if she can buy some chai powder and some sugar too. I say it’ll have to wait, I don’t think I have enough money. I was right. After the card was declined, the baby started crying immediately. The shopping staff made to take away the trolley. I figured now wasn’t the time to be a jerk, I’ve come all this way and besides, they’ve already given me that damned rose. Sunk cost fallacy? Guilt? Or maybe I’m just that nice, I don’t know. I say we can try again with less stuff. We do, but the lady is still quite greedy. The card declines again. We stand there for a while after the staff have taken the trolley away, probably scared if left with it we’ll try to make a run for it. The baby cries more than ever. Man, I feel so guilty. In the end, we buy just one bottle of oil and one bag of rice. It’s still more than that rose is worth, and it’s probably the last good deed I’ll do for a while.
I help her get the rice and oil back to the buy and roses. I don’t know how she expected to get the intended grocery load back, as we walked and the whole load would have been impossible. She was this tiny, tiny lady, no muscle at all, and kept insisting I let her carry the oil bottle.
I never did buy my lunch. I went back home, a little dazed, a little relieved. If not for this rose, and the debit to my bank account, I might have believed it was all a crazy concoction of my over active imagination. A very crazy dream. In truth, it was a very stupid situation to get into, and I’m lucky to not have been led into some horrid trap. At the end of it all, though, the rose smells sweet.

Welcome to Delhi

16 Jul

It’s 6am, and it’s already 30 degrees outside. You’re in the backseat of a car, and the driver’s idea of “air conditioning” is ensuring all the windows are rolled down. You’re not wearing a seatbelt – not because you’re rebellious, or even because seatbelt wearing is not mandated by Indian law, but because the seatbelt is missing. As your driver takes you down the highway, on the way to the Agra bus stop, he pulls over suddenly, hops out, and walks down the road. You wonder to yourself, is he going to help out the truck driver who’s clearly stranded on the side of the road? How nice of him! …no, he keeps walking. He’s in the middle of the road now, staring at something, picking it up. He returns to the car, doing a quick check of the underside. As he hops back in, he casually places that “something” in the passenger seat, removes a wrapping of gaffa tape from the hand brake, then continues driving down the road. After a while, he calmly announces “the brakes failed…”.
Yep, Welcome to Delhi.
Lesson #1: Keep Calm.
On my “backpacking adventure” in India a month ago, I was faced with a number of life’s important lessons. The first of which is too keep calm, because there’s just too much that’s beyond my control.
In truth, the lesson started about 18 hours earlier. Whilst still in Pune, on the day of our departure, I had learned that the plans to travel right up into the Himalayas had fallen through, and I had to cancel over half of the bookings. I was upset with myself, not too happy with the travel agents, and in the middle of an emotional breakdown. With the support of my wonderful partner, we were able to redesign the trip in a last minute rush, and even make it to the airport on time.
I had almost calmed down, when we discovered that the cab to pick us up from Delhi airport had been and gone, on account of our delayed flight. We were left waiting late into the night for the driver’s return – after all, they expected us to pay for his earlier visit – whilst I closely clutched our belongings and warily eyed everyone and anyone with suspicion.
The arrival at the hotel didn’t do much to calm me down. I was tired and cranky, the air too hot and too thick, and yet we had to wait for our passports to be scanned, amongst other dull proceedings. Finally, we were led to a somewhat-air-conditioned-room for a dreary 4 hours of sleep.
Things were not off to a good start, and I was definitely stressed. Yet the car ride that morning triggered a change. We had no seat belts, were relying on faulty brakes, and I was okay. The realisation that my stressors had all been quite out of my control left me without the ability to panic. I kept calm and, suddenly, the adventure was enjoyable.
Lesson #2: Go Your Own Way
One of the most irritating things about being a tourist in India is being targeted by touts. They might hustle you into their rickshaw, or personally walk you into a shop, mysteriously steer you into pricey souvenir stores (though sometimes not a bad thing), and away from the more interesting experiences of walking through the markets or pretending to be an ordinary citizen.
The store keepers of the touts’ shops are politely worse. Short of actually demanding that you buy things, they turn sales into an art form. Leaving a store empty handed requires a lot of determination, patience and tact. If I ever want to study sales tricks, I plan to watch these guys at work for a day or two.
The lesson learned is to pave your own way, which sometimes leads to doing the opposite of what the touts suggest. When aiming directly for the main bazaar in Delhi, we actually had one such tout tell us not to go there because of a “fight” that had broken out there a day before. It was “unsafe” and we would apparently do better to follow him to the store of his choice. Another tout followed alongside us, offering handy tips to scare us away from the market such as “wear your backpack across your chest”. Sure, this might have seemed like reasonable advice, but I assure you that the safety of our beings, as well of our belongings (particularly our wallets!), was much more secure amongst the confining backstreets and alleyways of the market, than amongst the touts and tourist shops *Phew*. Had we followed their advice, we would’ve missed out on the sights and sounds of a real market, the much better prices, and the quaint experience of meeting with a lost backpacker looking for a last minute budget hotel – what a character!
Lesson #3: Resorts in-the-middle-of-nowhere Are Probably A Bad Idea
Particularly for more than one night.
This part of our adventure was hastily patched together after our cancelled Himalayan expedition. It featured two nights near the Jim Corbett reserve, in the hopes of arranging an elephant safari. The resort was so out of the way that we’d driven past it by about a half hour before realising we had little idea where it was. Once getting there, we also realised we were so isolated from anything of interest, that beyond the 2 hour safari, we would have nothing else to do.
Whilst it was a delight to escape the noises and crowds of everwhere-else-that-is-India, the lack of real adventures left something to be desired.
Lesson #4: Have Fun
Originally titled “It’s Okay to Fail”, thanks to my stressful experience, but already covered in this post, accepting failure is also about having fun. Although the “adventure” had many failures and underwent many late changes, it was still successful, in the sense that it really was an adventure. Particularly the part where we got engaged at the Taj Mahal *swoon*.
So go on, have fun, I dare you.

Girl Geek Spotted in India…

11 Jul

I went for a walk after work, and wound up at the nearest “supermarket”. There, whilst dawdling through the aisles, I spotted an old friend, and invited her back home with me. Here she is enjoying the fine “monsoon” weather on the balcony:

Computer Engineer Barbie

Say what you will about the appropriateness of Barbie as an icon or role model, it’s still pretty cool that she (finally) ventured into the IT industry.

The Next Steps (my learning journey)

23 Jun

After the strong finish point of my previous post, the youngest voice in the room, I’ve decided to look for inspiration on how to take those next steps. I recently picked up a copy of The Passionate Programmer, and whilst I am not a software developer, I find it still has plenty to offer in supporting my journey.
The text had me in its grips from the foreword, and just kept drawing me in. One of the key points made is that “a person who wants to become great is far more likely to be great” – that to treat your job just as a job is unlikely to lead to happiness, let alone success. The passion that comes with wanting “to be great” subsequently offers a lot of drive and energy for achieving just that.
Whilst I do recommend reading the book if you have the opportunity, I would briefly like to share just three of its tips that have resonated well with me:
  • Find a mentor
    Whilst there are many opportunities for self-driven learning (i.e. endless reading, attending events, and so on), experience has taught me that without someone else to bounce ideas off, I have no idea what I’m missing out on.
    Let me explain this another way: The way we think has often been described to me as drawing from four aspects of our knowledge – (1) what we know that we know, (2) what we don’t know that we know, (3) what we know that we don’t know  and (4) what we don’t know that we don’t know. — At this point in time, I am unsure of where this concept first originated, and hence who to attribute it to.
    1. Obviously the first, what we know that we know, is knowledge that we apply when we can. For example, I know that mingle is a pretty useful tool, and I know how to use it. I use this knowledge daily.
    2. When I don’t know that I know something, it often comes as a surprise – information that is stored in the back of my mind, that I absorbed at some point and have retained, that jumps to consciousness when I need it. For me, this is primarily medical information, as when I was younger I entertained a love of biology books and, a few years after that, would often help family and friends study for medical/biology courses. Right now, whilst writing this blog, nothing related to medicine/biology comes to mind, mostly just vague ideas, but I know from experience that if somebody were to ask me about, oh, what ibuprofen is or what interacts with calcium supplements, or maybe even about kidney diseases, I would probably pull the answer an accurate, informed answer from the depths of my memory, and each time it would surprise me, yet I would know it to be right.
    3. When I know that I don’t know something, I can seek out the information myself. This is when reading and self-learning is most useful. For example, at the start of this year, I did not know what mingle was, and at some point I knew that. It was then that I looked it up on the internet (like you likely will too – go on, click the link!), found out more about it, and trialled the software.
    4. The problem with the above example though, is that I first needed someone to tell me of something new, for me to know that I didn’t know about it. There are endless collections of thoughts, facts, ideas and knowledge that I cannot even fathom – to learn more about them, first I need some inkling that they exist. For example, I bet you didn’t know that you didn’t know about this concept. And now you’ve gone from (4) to (3) knowing you didn’t know to (1) reading about it here and now knowing that you know. This is where you most need triggers for your curiosity, and where a mentor can help out most.
  • Practice 🙂
    Not by doing what is comfortable, but by stretching your limits and trying new things. This may mean presenting at a conference, when you’ve only ever presented to your university class. Just go do it, and treat it is a learning challenge.
  • Learn to fail
    It’s not really about failing, but about being okay with potential failure. If we don’t feel capable of coping with it, chances are we won’t try in the first place. Recently, I was organising a vacation trip through the North of India, but I wanted it to be perfect. Knowing that I did not know enough to make it perfect, and knowing that I was certain to fail in actualising my feeble plans, I hesitated, and hesitated again, and kept postponing the bookings. Finally, a month before I was intending to travel, after realising I was going nowhere, I contacted a local travel agency, in the hopes that they could help me. I was relying on their expertise to prevent certain failure. When I ceased getting timely responses from them, I just waited. Knowing that something had gone wrong, I did not want to follow up with them and get the bad news, I preferred to hope it would turn out all right. In the end, things had gone wrong, and my entire vacation had to be replanned, but I only came to grips with this the day before I was due to fly out.
    Failure has its benefits – the primary one being that failure is often a learning experience.
    Additionally, failure is not as scary as we often make it out to be. The damage of my failed trip planning was little – it just required some replanning. This occurred much later in the process, but could just have easily been tackled months earlier. The damage caused by my lateness in facing the failure – major out of pocket expenses, due to the lateness of rebooking.


The youngest voice in the room

9 Jun

I was recently invited to partake in a 3-day strategy meeting, to assess and make recommendations for the future of our graduate program. That’s pretty exciting for me, because the graduate experience is something I feel quite passionately about. Then my eyes were drawn more closely to the words “strategy meeting”. I took a look at the names of the other invites, and saw People Leads and Recruiters, and well known employees and old-timers. What then, was my reaction?
“Uh-oh, looks like I’ve been invited by mistake, I should let them know to amend the invite”.
So I went from being exciting and thinking “this is exactly the event I want to be part of”, to assuming it’s a mistake and I won’t belong.
How did that happen?
It wasn’t that I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea, or that I wasn’t competent enough to go, and I definitely wanted to be a part of it. Yet there was an element of surprise: Why would an employee as new or as young as myself be requested to aid in strategy development?
Upon arriving on the first day of the meeting, I found myself confronted again. A colleague even asked “what are you doing here?”. The question was intended to uncover what perspective I, and other attendees, was providing, but I found it a little unnerving. I ran a mental check:
What was I doing here? Do I need to justify my presence? Will I be listened to?
I had a valid view to represent. As a recent graduate, a recent student, my views and my buy in would be just as important as any other.
Not only that, but I could offer the infamous fresh perspective. As a recently new hire, I had lesser view of what had been done in the past, and so less temptation to grasp onto the familiar. I also had a range of other experiences to draw from, that allowed me to offer unique insights. My presence had value. My presence had reason.
This leads me to wonder – are the opinions of the fresh faces being sought out often enough? Or should we continue to lean towards the veterans?
Yet more importantly, how often do new joinees avoid getting involved, because they feel their insight won’t matter?
At present, I only have anecdotal evidence – having been an intern twice, and now a graduate, and having worked and trained with other new joinees, I understand that we often feel we don’t know enough to start voicing our opinions. It’s best to sit back and learn from the experts, that’s what they’re there for, right?
I say that’s not good enough.
No matter what our experience levels, we have something to share, and plenty to learn.
If I’m not confident enough to share my own view, I’ll learn by questioning others’.
My plan is to get more involved in SIGs, giving presentations, or running workshops, if only to raise more questions.
My plan is to not run away.
My plan is to share my perspective.
What’s yours?