On the way to Memphis… my first trip to U.S.

(This write-up was originally sent as an email to school and college friends yahoogroups in Dec 1, 1999 after spending 15 days on my maiden business trip to US)

When I got the news from my Manager that I will be going to US in a weeks time then I said ‘YES!’ (my right hand with elbow pointing down in motion hitting the air four or five times) ‘This is the opportunity I was waiting for !’. A weeks time is too less a time to prepare to go to any place and for US it is way TOO less. I sent mail to all friends in US about what to take & what not. I got loads of advice from people….’Take a jacket it will be very cold’.. ‘don’t take any jacket…you’ll find nice ones out there’…’Take a pressure cooker & some masala’..’Some medicines’…’Yes! take a dozen undergarments, socks!’…’Toothpaste!’…’Camera rolls’. There were also advices like….’Speak politely at the I94 interview’…’Dont take much in your cabin bag’… ‘Smile this way’…’Dont smile much…it may look as if you are flattering’. All this advising were too much for me but some were surely useful. You feel like all you knew all the years was crap. Well some of the advices were surely useful. Anyhow I managed to pack everything …well everything (I left my sunglasses, my address book though). Two days before I had to give treat to my friends at the Purple Haze (I was thinking…in case my trip is cancelled…I will make these guys return my 2000 bucks). My heart was beating very fast when I was on my way to Airport. This was the second time I’ve been to the airport. First time I went to an airport was to see off a friend of mine. Weird thoughts like meeting an accident on the way & missing my flight (although I was 2 hrs before) came to my mind ……First trip you know!. Finally I was at the Bangalore airport without anything happening to me. I was holding my tickets tight, then a Sahara Flight guy came took my luggage. I was reluctant to give it till one experienced friend of mine (two trips abroad!) said that nothing would happen. That didn’t stop me from keeping an eye on the luggage till it reached the check-in counter.

The next hour I was looking at people in the airport …how they move, how they talk and picking up some tips from them. Suddenly the feeling that I’ll be reaching US in a days time took me to cloud nine. My friends who came to see me off kept advising ‘don’t lose your passport at any cost’…  but I was hardly listening to them. Then the call came for the Bombay (I mean Mumbai!) flight I bid bye to my friends promising them that I’ll buy this, that for them. I was sheepishly following the queue. ……Now I was on my own…

I was on the way for my ‘first flight’. One thing I was curious about was  how to fasten the seat belt (courtesy Bollywood movies), but I found it very simple. I was glad I was on the window seat but just after 15 minutes the person on the next seat requested if his wife can sit there as she was a first timer. OK! I said at least he didnt figure out that I was a first timer too! I grabbed everything that the hostesses gave. When the flight took off I was looking at the window while making sure the other guy doesn’t see me. I enjoyed the biriyani knowing well that it is going to be the last Indian food I will be having for the rest of my journey. There was lot of commotion at the Mumbai airport. I took a taxi to the International airport with another colleague of mine going to US via Amsterdam. The taxi guy charged me 250 bucks for some 3 odd kms! At the exit point they asked questions like ‘Did you leave your luggage unattended at any time…’. The answers came out in a nice flow as I was hinted earlier about the expected enquiries. At the waiting room I was for about one hr. when the call for business class and other classes came and in the end the economy class. I felt a little bad. Then I was on the KLM-North West airlines. It was much bigger. It had 9 seats in one row unlike the Sahara which had 5 seats. This time again I was on the window seat. I made up my mind that I was not going to leave my seat to anyone any cost. It was about 1 pm on the Saturday, 13th Nov that the plane took off. Throughout my flight my eyeballs were rolling. I was looking at everything the people,.. the interior of a plane …everything. There were 30 percent Indians and I swear 90 percent of these Indians were from software field. After about 1 hr. the big screen on the flight displayed “Mummy”. I wanted to see the movie but there was no sound at all. I thought maybe they have put off the sound as it was night. Despite my unwillingness I was sleeping after sometime. I got up after about 2 hours and saw quite a no. of people were awake and had earphones on. I thought I should’ve got my walkman too. When I looked at the person beside me, he had put on a similar earphone. I carefully followed the cord and traced that it ended at the arm of his seat. Then I saw a pouch in front of me with similar earphones. I put on the earphones and found that it was the audio of the movie! Damn! I missed the movie. I saw a person carrying a small bottle (drinks for sure). I had heard that in the flight they provide drinks (alcohol) and made up my mind that I would be the last person to miss it. I stood up and went towards the sign it showed toilet although I was looking for the pantry. I found a hostess. I asked if I could get orange juice (I dunno why the hell it struck my mind!) while he has giving he asked if I would like to taste wine.I instantly said YES! Red or White? Red!…I said. I was happy about my smartness. After having the wine I went back to sleep again.

When I got down at Amsterdam first thing I wanted to check was my luggage. I went to the KLM counter to double check my connecting flight to Newark (not New York), my entry point to US. They said that I need not worry about my luggage, as it will directly go to Newark. I was not convinced so checked with my colleague and he said the same. At the airport we roamed around and then we thought we should have something. We had coffee. I had Capuccino(‘coz I heard the name earlier) and my colleague (2 trips experienced…should mention that!) had black coffee. It cost us $11. I thought if this is way I will be spending I wont have much to save. The airport at Amsterdam is something to see. It is perhaps the busiest in Europe, at least I thought that way. While boarding the flight I changed the time to local time. They provided breakfast over there in the flight. I was waiting for them to come to my row when one Hostess asked if I was Mr.Parker. I said I was Patra …Gyan Ranjan Patra. She went off and came back again saying that the special breakfast was for me and by mistake it was written Parker instead of Patra. I remembered that the travel scheduler at office asking if I want to specially order my food advisably vegetarian ‘coz you never know they are providing Chicken or Beef. I had said Yes. I opened my breakfast. I had bread, yoghurt and a big pack. I opened and saw all kind of uncooked vegetables beautifully decorated. If this was my specially ordered vegeterian dish then I HAD IT. I settled for bread and yoghurt for breakfast. Next came the drinks trolley with a variety of drinks apart from Cold drinks that I didn’t know. I was not sure what to ask for then I said Soda, ‘Which Soda?’ When I delayed in answering he said ‘Club Soda? ‘I said ‘yes’. These are the times you feel that you don’t know anything. The next flight was peaceful as I was already two flights experienced. When I reached Newark it was still Sunday. I had reached the United States of America! That was the longest Sunday I ever had ..literally. I started feeling jet lag. I had no time as I had to collect my luggage as well as to check my departure date at the I94. This is something one should be careful of if you are going on B1. They asked questions to make sure I leave US in time and my departure was stamped 14th Feb 2000 as expected. So I was sure that I will be staying for 3 months if everything goes well. I rushed to collect my luggage…..sorry baggage as Americans call it. I had to make a few changes of my English (which was British) and spellings too. I saw my baggage at the roller but it was going inside again then someone said it will comeback again so no need to worry. Not much adventure happened on the next flight -from Newark to Memphis (my destination) . The plane was smaller than the Sahara Airlines and the travellers had a more rustic look. One can say these are the typical country men of the mid-south (that’s what they call people of Tennessee and other southern states). I reached at 7:00 pm on Sunday 14th Nov. I covered a journey that should have taken more than 36 hrs. in about 24 hrs. At the Memphis airport I saw big photographs of Elvis Presley. Memphis is the birth place of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. I was collecting my baggage when someone (an Indian) asked if I was from BFL Software. He introduced himself as my colleague in Memphis and he had come to receive me. I had a nice sleep at the apartment so that I can make it to the office the next day…my first day in US.

FIRST FIFTEEN DAYS IN U.S.

One of my colleagues picked me to office. The roads here are neat and 3-4 laned and depending on the speed in which you are driving you will have to drive on one of these lanes. All the cars are beautiful. You will find all the models Toyota, Volvo, Chevrolet, Honda on the roads. The Fedex office where I work on behalf of BFL Software is huge and even for visitor pass you need to show your passport. At the office initially had problems understanding what the American clients spoke. Not the language but the accent. They speak very slowly unlike we Indians and listen carefully at whatever we say. In a few days I got adjusted. Unlike Indian towns and cities here the places are sparsely crowded (I don’t know about busy cities like New York or Las Vegas). It is really hard if you want to have a cigarette or any small thing. You have to go to a shopping mall on a car for it. Dependency on car is much because in small places like Memphis the public transport is bad if it exists at all.

In the weekdays my life is routine – go to office, cook food, watch TV and sleep. Now I have started liking my food. No other go. If you don’t have a car you will be holed up in your apartment. In the weekends, if you have a kind friend who will give you a drive then you can have a nice time. If you don’t have a car or friends your life will be miserable. Let me tell you about shopping complexes. In a shopping mall like Wal-Mart you will find everything from DVD to vegetables, shoes to toilet paper. Indian shopping malls like Food World or West Side will look like kids in front of them. The vegetables are really big. At first I mistook onion for cabbage. Here everything looks artificial. You go to a person and ask something they may not talk to you as you are stranger. But at office you meet people you don’t know but they will ask you “Hey! How are you doing?” as if you know them for years.

Here everything is formal & artificial. Back home in India things are bit different. After about a week I felt sick of this place. Yes, culture shock. All my dreams about US was gone.  Maybe I haven’t seen the best of US yet. And maybe I will start liking the place….maybe. After all it is only 15 days in US.

Gyan Ranjan  Patra

Dec 1, 1999

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