In the last issue:
I was out of the house for more than 5 days every week in the 11 weeks that I spent in USA. No wonder I was not bored. Airlines, Airports, Baggage, Bags and Plastic bags, Cars, Driving and Roads, Cities, Edutainment, Entertainment & Entrance fees, Games & Puzzles and GPS were the topics covered in the last issue. Read on for the rest of the topics.
Guides & Tips
We had gone by conducted tours to Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and Los Angeles City. In Seaworld, San Diego, Universal Studios, Winchester Mystery House and many other places, we had the services of guides. I must say that the quality of the guides and their sense of humour was excellent. When we were going to Hoover Dam, everyone was picked up from his/her hotel and we had to change buses at the office of the Tourist operator. On reaching the office, the guide said,' Get off my bus, you dam tourists'. Though shocked for a second, we burst out laughing at the pun. While talking about the big BC sign for Boulder City (near Las Vegas) which is visible from the air, the guide said,'People say it was for the post office people to see from air so that they could drop the mailbags. But I say it was to remind people 'you are nearing the casinos (of Las Vegas). So Bring Cash'. There were many other one-liners and puns which made our travels interesting and memorable. As a confirmed punner I used to listen to every word of the guide. Though they do the same job every day, they are also quick to catch on and add to their repertoire. Another noteworthy feature of the tour guides is that they are giving all that info while driving the bus at 70 miles per hour.
At this point, I must mention the Gratuity/Tip culture prevalent in USA. There are big notices in tourist buses. taxis and even in some tourist offices, which reads Like waiters in hotels, tour guides depend on gratuities for a decnt living. Please contribute 15 % of the cost to them. Of course no one paid 15 %. But at least one in every group would press a 5$ note discreetly into the driver's palm while getting out of the bus. The Tip Ratna award would easily go to the concierge in front of every hotel in Las Vegas. As I wrote earlier, all the hotels in Las Vegas are very big. The hotel where we stayed had over 2000 rooms and there was always a queue for the taxi. You stand in the line and tell the concierge how many of you are there and he would call a taxi. As we got into the cab, Harish or I (we would settle it earlier so that both of us don't pay) would press a 1$ or 2& bill into his hand, accept his thanks and go off. I think in a 8-hour shift, he would easily be collecting 150 - 200$. I don't know whether the tips are shared. Even if they are, I am sure all the concierges in hotels in Las Vegas are having a more decent living than some of their tippers.
Indians in US
As a state. California has the largest American (Asian) Indian population while San Francisco/San Jose/Oakland rank second to New york as the largest metropolitan area having people of Indian origin. The Indian population consists of both first and secnd/third generation Indian Americans as well as NRIs. Second/third generaion Indian youth are like coconuts - brown on the outside and white inside. Though they look like Indians, they talk, eat and dress like the white and generally do not like Indian food. After ablutions, they would rather wipe than wash. As a general rule, 90% of the Indians who are seen in Indian shops and restaurants are NRIs or first generation Americans and 90% of the Indians seen in Starbucks are second generation Indian Americans. And there are a lot of Indian shops and restaurants throughout Calfornia. In 11 weeks, I had visited 7 restaurants and there are probably 7 more within driving distance of San Jose. I'd rate Mylapore in Folsom (on our way back from Lake Tahoe) and Madras Cafe in San Jose as providing the best value for money and Saravana Bhawan does not definitely provide value for money. I had visited 4 Indian shops in 11 weeks and there must have been a few more. You can get everything that is available in India including Rasna, Cothas/Narasus coffee powder, Thumbs up/Mirinda, Besan laddus, samosas, banana chips, typical S.Indian vegetables etc. Of course they are available at a price. But though they are costly for those earning Rupees, they are not very costly for those earning dollars which explains the crowds in every Indian shop. There is also an added attraction that most of these shops give you a free movie DVD to watch and return for a purchase value of 20$. Harish used to bring 2 or 3 DVDs of Tamil movies after every visit to the shop. Since he was visiting the shop once in 4 days, a Tamil movie DVD was available almost every day. Another attraction was that the calling cards (to India) for phones were available for 8$ in these shops though their marked price was 10$.
There is a Tamil proverb which says கோவிலில்லா ஊரில் குடியிருக்க வேண்டாம் (Do not live in a place that does not have a temple). Though it is a Tamil proverb, all Indians - be it Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or Christians feel the need for a place of worship which also doubles up as a cultural centre. Hindus living in USA have built nice temples which attract families. Though I visited only one temple (at Livermore), I understand that the temples are all fairly big ones with a lot of cultural and social activities. We visited the temple on a Sunday. After the mandatory worship, we moved to the back of the temple and were quite surprised to see a buffet with a fairly long queue. On the table were tamarind rice, vegetable rice and curd rice with enough disposable cutlery/crockery and volunteers cleaning the whole place every ten minutes. It was supposed to be Annadhanam and was entirely met by contributions from devotees. The Newsletter of the temple says that on New Year's Day 2009, over 13000 people had been fed. Imagine how huge the crowd must have been when the whole population of Livermore is only about 75000. To make the day complete for the families, there were Bharatanatyam performances in the hall adjoining the temple. Though it sounds cynical, my comments were ' Even if a family of 4 drive 60 miles and contribute 10$ to the temple, the outing is worth it.' Harish added,' Apart from the entertainment, they also collect punya'. These temples are really doing an excellent service in trying to convert the coconuts (American Indian children) to Indian food and culture. I think there is some success as I heard a father telling his small girl, obviously born and brought up in USA,'There's a big line here. Let's see that ummachi.'
Apart from temples and restaurants, Indian cultural centres are also doing a good job in selling India. We visited one such centre in Milpitas. Apart from sports and cultural facilities, they have a big auditorium, a small cafe and is the venue for many Indian weddings. We saw photos of a Tamil wediing with Nadaswaram, Thavil et al. But what really struck me about the centre were that
-- a few Japanese and Chinese who are also members and
-- the Yoga class that was going on had an affendance of about 20 on a working day
(To be continued)