Non Resident Alien

This is a chronicle of my tragi-comic life as a foreigner in the United States. My official status when I started school in 2004, was that of a Non-Resident-Alien and that's where the title of the blog is from. My status has changed to Resident Alien since then. My personal experiences are a unique roller coaster mundane everyday experiences for locals, but unique from the eyes of a foreigner. I started this blog to share some of my experiences beginning my third year living in this country.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Reflex Action

Ok! How does it help to shut your eyes tight when the car in the next lane lands in a big puddle and splashes all the water on your front windshield? Well! That is exactly what I did this evening on my way back from the airport. It has been pouring all day, and this minivan in the lane next to me landed in a puddle at 35 mph; I was driving alongside, and all of the water splashed on to my windshield. It felt like someone just dumped a big bucket of water on my windshield. Visibility in that instant was zero, compounded by the fact that I shut my eyes tight to prevent the water getting into my eyes :D!! Of course, I opened my eyes right away, but the reaction was simple reflex!! I laugh about it now, but I am also wondering how you can prevent such reflexes. After all, I knew the water would not splash on me, cause I was inside the car with the windows rolled up, nice dry warm and cozy!! I guess its similar reflexes that make us instinctively duck even inside a car when we pass low clearance areas, especially under those hanging clearance indicators at parking garage entrances

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Withdrawal Syndrome

I just got back from taking a friend to the airport. The last few days I have been to the airport several times to see people off. Today was no different, the same quietness at home after having talked and laughed non-stop for 24 hours or more. This is the toughest part of life here, connections with people. I have found my life here too busy to make any new meaningful new relationships; while at the same time yearning for the companionship of my younger years. There is just no time outside of school and research to think of hanging out with friends. Every minute I spend away from my dissertation I feel guilty that I am wasting time, and it adds to stresses later. I guess that's the price we pay for ambition. It puts a lot of perspective on my claims that I am not ambitious. I think I lie to myself every time I say I am not.
A friend talked about having spent a third of his life in the US; and a third of your life seems like a lot. But, I have been studying Economics for over a third of my life and will continue to do so the rest of my life. Such magnitudes just put things in perspective. For now, I have no time to wallow in my withdrawal syndrome. I need to quickly snap out and get back to revising my paper so I can call it done sometime in the next two weeks. Thankfully, being practical is something I have learned along the way and I should be at work in the next hour or so. Until then, I shall give way to nostalgia and those silly memories

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Too many flash backs!!

It has been a week of flash-backs!! Another of my college friends was in town from India yesterday. He just surprised me out of the blue, just as I was getting ready to enjoy a lazy sunday afternoon basking in the glorious sunshine. Instead we spent the afternoon looking at old photographs from college and laughing at how silly we used be, and catching up on life in the last 8 years since I saw him last. We had always been in touch on and off, and he had mentioned a couple of months ago that he might be in the US sometime later this year. Little did I know then that the visit would be so soon, and to the DC metro area. It was a wonderful afternoon. I love visiting and visits from friends that have known me in my past life. This has indeed been a wonderful weekend, and I am glad I was at home to see email messages from friends in town.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bridge Across Forever

Lately, I have been reconnecting with friends from High School and College quite by chance. Last week, I found a high school friend online quite by chance and we spent a wonderful morning chatting (online) about old times. Today I met with another old friend quite by chance. Its always to fun to see old friends again, cause they see you and you them as you were when you first knew them. Sometimes the differences are not too many, but other times you are a different person now than you were in the past. Its always a laugh when you remember the yester-years. If not a laugh at least they bring back fond memories of a childhood long gone. Its funny how you forget so many things for a long time and a chance meeting reminds you of stuff tucked away somewhere in the deepest recesses of your mind. I guess it has something to do with associations in your head. On my way back from meeting my friend today I was reminded of this poem by Richard Bach. 

Dawn’s peaceful, luminous blue Intensified
with the day As did happiness,
Blue … bluer the bluest
White puffs of delight,
Joyover flowing,
Until sunset Wrapped us in tender pink
And we fused in a Passionate magneta goodbye,
Earth-soul and Cosmic-soul
Bursting with beauty.

When night came,
A baby moonLaughed sideways in the dark
I laughed back And thought
Partway across the world
Your sky Is filled with this same Golden laughter,
And hoped that you, Twinkling Blue Eyes,
Saw and heard,
So that somehow we three
Were joined in our gladness,
Each in our own space,
Together apart
Distance meaningless.
And I slept In a world Full of smiles
wishing u a world full of smiles -

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Two Movies:The Lives of Others; Pan's Labyrinth (Spoiler Alert)

I have always loved European movies. They are significantly different from Hollywood. My bias could also be availability bias since I am usually exposed only to the award winning European movies and not the run-of-mill ones like I am with Hollywood. However, that being said, even the award winning Hollywood features do not capture depths of emotions the way European features do.
Das leben der Anderen (The lives of Others) is a beautiful story that shows the extremes of Socialism in East Germany. It is also the tragic story of a bureaucrat who has to spy into the life of a writer and ends up protecting him. To me the most powerful parts of the movie were the descriptions of scholastic conditions under Socialism. Artists did not have the freedom to choose to do what they wanted to do, instead they had to work on ideas and topics the administration liked, and heaven forbid anyone who chooses to assert their independence. The administration breaks their career and drives them even to suicide. This movie is also a curious case of movies mimicking reality. The life of Ulrich Muhe the Stasi officer in the movie was spent in East Germany and he died in 2007. What I loved about the movie was the characterization of great emotions without much fanfare and drama. The most powerful part of the movie for me was the last scene where Muhe buys the book about him and tells the cashier "No! It is for me". That scene brought tears to my eyes. It was such a loaded sentence, filled with dramatic irony. What a beautiful movie. Gave me new perspectives on life under socialism, and the depths of human emotion and character. The casting was superb and it deserved the Oscar win. The Lives of Others: Quiet, deep and emotional.
The other foreign movie nominated in the same year and same category is El Laberinto del Fauno or Pan's Labyrinth in English.  A completely different storyline. This is a wonderful fantastical tale of the war from the eyes of a child. The movie opens with a gruesome scene where you see a mortally wounded girl rasping for breath. The rest of the story moves back in time and is woven as fantasy interspersed with reality. Is the fantasy Ofelia's escape from the reality of her stepfather and the horrors of war? That just seems too obvious. There is a deeper meaning I want to read here, but as a simple fantastical tale it is very poignant. The fairy is not the usual disney fairy, but something that looks like a grasshopper and a scary creature. The same is true of the faun, not the friendly Mr.Tumnus of Narnia, but someone who seems much more scheming and scary looking. You keep wanting to warn Ofelia not to trust him, while at the same time questioning your own judgement. What a fantastic story of bravery and innocence!! I loved this fantasy tale and it gave a new meaning to fantasy outside of the Disney culture. Its not all nice and hunky-dory. Fantasy can be as gory as reality, and that is the lesson I learned from this movie. Wonderful movie!! I will see it again. 


Sunday, September 06, 2009

Little Devil's Stairs

All summer my hiking goal has been Little Devil's Stairs at the Shenandoah. I have been working my way upto it the past few weeks and yesterday was my moment of triumph. I finally did it. In fact I did even better. Instead of doing the usual Keyser Run Fire road circuit, I did the longer circuit through Pole link, Piney Branch Trail, Hull School to Keyser Run, and Little Devil's Stairs was the last 2.4 miles of my 10-11 mile hike. Needless to say, I was pretty tired by the time I got to the Little Devil's stairs trail head. However, little (all pun intended) did I know what was awaiting me. There were at least two places where the trail went absolutely vertical and I had to put my hiking stick down and climb up using my arms. It was incredible. The trail was pretty steep and pretty rocky most of the way. It climbed 1200 feet elevation within one mile. On the whole, it was a wonderful hike yesterday. I started at 2900 feet, went down to 1400 ft, and climbed all the way back up. Piney Branch was as beautiful as the last time. I took my lunch break at the second river crossing before hitting Hull School trail, and enjoyed the company of several spiders and small insects during the break. However, it got hot towards the end of my hike. It could have just been me, cause I was burning up a lot of calories, but I do think it was the weather as well. This is despite the fact that I started early. I hit the trail head at 9:15 and was done by 3pm. The longest and most strenuous part of the hike was obviously Little Devil's Stairs. There's a small stretch on Hull School (maybe a mile) which gains about 400-500 feet elevation, but the rest of it besides Little Devil's Stairs was mostly downhill. I would not recommend going down on Little Devil's stairs. I do not like going down-hill on rocky surfaces; you keep stubbing your toes (unless you have great hiking boots). It is certainly strenuous, but doable. I am glad I saved it for now when I am more in shape than I was at the beginning of summer.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Main Relay

I have never regretted my mechanical bent. After weeks of suffering from no starts on hot days I was forced to do something about it. My car is unique. Most old cars have a problem starting on cold days, mine refused to start on hot days. The problem is simple enough. The component called Main Relay has several soldered connections. These soldered areas develop cracks and that prevent it from conducting a charge when it is too hot. I am yet to figure out why heat has this effect on it. I have known this problem for a few weeks now. I would make a quick stop at the drug store or gas station and my dear car would refuse to start after. The first time this happened, I thought my $300 investment had run its last mile. However, I did go online and find out what was wrong, and there were enough forums that discussed the Main Relay problem with older Hondas. So, I kept track of when my car refused to start and diagnosed my problem as the Main Relay. Although this diagnosis was made in mid May, I have been too busy (think not having time to talk to folks back home) to do anything about it. Finally this last saturday my Main Relay gave out completely at a gas station forcing me to fix it right away. The fix was simple enough if you have hands the size of a small child and the power of gigantor and a muscle and bone density of elastigirl. The Honda Main Relay is at an impossible location and took me forever to get it out in the first place. Long story short, 2 tow trucks, 1 main relay, greasy hands, cricked back and neck and 72 hours later my Main Relay is fixed. Ladies and Gentleman I present to you Your's Truly, who lives up to the family tradition of being a Petrolhead!!