Category Archives: Travel

Horn Ok Please

The first time I was in India, I travelled to Bombay, Agra, Delhi, Jaipur, and Udaipur mostly by van. It was impossible not to notice the multicolored painted vans. They are covered in painted flowers, designs, and the ubiquitous “Horn OK Please.”

And why does it say this? Driving etiquette in India requires that drivers honk before passing, “to let them know you are there.” Driving with a friend and his dad, I was most amused when his dad scolded him for not honking enough. You can’t even imagine how much honking there is on a four lane highway, with each car honking every time they overtake another. It brings new meaning to the word cacophony!

A few years ago I went to Goa, India. While there, I had the chance to drive both a scooter and a car. It was so much fun. Like a video game. It was the 5th or 6th time I’d travelled in India, and I’d consistently been impressed with how traffic works, often without signals, in some kind of natural organic flow. Different types of vehicles blending together to share space.

Though Goa is far tamer than other parts of India, I still found driving very inspiring. It was fun like the best kind of driving video games — which got me thinking…

Wouldn’t it make a great video game? Imagine that you drive different kinds of vehicles. Maybe you start out with a push cart that you push yourself, move up through ox drawn carts, rickshaws, scooters and motorcycles (with at least 5 passengers), cars, and, of course, horn-ok-please trucks. You have to negotiate traffic, avoid hitting cows sleeping on the median strip, and achieve goals (like delivering the vegetables on the push cart, or picking up and dropping off customers in the rickshaw). Meanwhile, trying to incarnate up levels to better vehicles. And if you do hit that cow? Definitely incarnating downward…

It’s amazing how the traffic flows… somebody build this please? Otherwise I’ll have to go back to India for the real thing. :)

Photo Credit: Horn OK Please by Dave Morris

A loving Indian family

The meaningless ack. You mean that you care about their opinion; you say that you agree with what they are saying. If it ever comes up again, you use one of the following techniques.

Distract. Add more or less unrelated information to the discussion, the more the better.

Delay. Decide to decide after some given point, which may or may not ever arrive. Insist that it is now too late to decide.

Seek additional advice. Everyone’s opinion counts equally. If the currently included opinions are not in your favor, invite an auntie or cousin to give their opinion. If you are really losing a battle invite so many opinions that it is impossible to sort out who thinks what. Ideally, this will include the entire family.

Claim supporters, whether or not they have actually expressed an opinion is mostly irrelevant. For example, “Auntie thinks I should get to eat nothing but cake.”

Reevaluation. Decisions are never final. You might think a decision has been made and you are on your way to get a bite to eat, when in fact things have magically evolved and you are going to visit an obscure neighbor on the other side of the city. Turn the tide of the discussion at the last moment before the decision needs to be acted upon to allow reevaluation to work in your favor.

Disagree respectfully and with a smile and you can get away with being quite forceful. The downside, everyone else will be doing the same, and they have a lot more practice than you do. You are hopelessly outmatched and you will eat five times as much as you meant to. A bit of Zen will go a long way. Remember, letting go is just a gesture.

Give up. Some arguments are not winnable. For example, your friends mother is completely incapable of understanding why you might want to go to the ATM, know the address or phone number where you are staying, buy a map, or have your own cell phone. She can’t imagine you going off on your own or even getting lost because the idea of doing things independently has no place in her worldview. Why would you ever want to be alone if you could be with others? She may treat you like a small child, but she will also make you chai ten times a day and generally spoil you rotten. Revel in it, mother love is a beautiful thing.

About this post

These are notes I took on my recent trip to India. I am nervous to publish them because they were written with great affection. I hope that comes through and they don’t seem sarcastic or mocking. I enjoyed participating in family discussions and getting to see ordinary local life both times I visited. I’ve been so lucky to have travelled with two different families who welcomed me, fed me, and showed me the joy (and occasional pain) of life in loving Indian families. Both are closer than American families (at least my own), and with this closeness comes a lovely complexity of interactions.

I enjoyed Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur, Bangalore, Calicut, and Mysore, but Bombay remains my favorite place in India (perhaps on the planet). Crazy, vibrant, full of life, especially the normal places like Kandivli. This time I even took the local train!

kya soch rahi ho?

Object Oriented CSS video on YDN

Yahoo! Developer Network has released a video of my Object Oriented CSS talk at Web Directions North just in time for Ada Lovelace day. I’ve also been included in a feature on Women in Technology. I’m absolutely flattered to be included among these fantastic technical women. Wow.

Object Oriented CSS: for high performance websites and web applications.

Find out more about object oriented css

  1. Open source project on github (GIT is having some DNS issues, be patient)
  2. Follow along with the slides on slideshare
  3. Join the OOCSS google group

Thanks to Havi, Julie, Ricky, Yahoo! Developer Network, and the whole Web Directions North team for their hard work putting this together!

Immigrant meta-culture

The capellini and eggplant at the Sheraton was nothing special, but the bartender made me a martini French style with sweet vermouth. The drink reminded me, the way it always does, of aperitif in my tiny apartment on the border of Chinatown in the 13th arrondissement in Paris. The bar on the hotel patio had been rented out to the hair group for their company party. Unseasonably cold weather drove the party inside where loud, very plastic women flirted with wannabe-actors. Being in L.A. really is different than anywhere else I’ve ever been.

The quiet guy next to me at the bar glanced over a couple of times. He looked more like me, a business traveler getting his dinner, his laptop on the bar. The place got more and more crowded and somehow we began to speak. I suppose he started it. By the time our dinner arrived, he moved to the seat next to mine so we wouldn’t have to shout.

I probably should have been playing the tourist at the third street promenade, but I was still holding out hope that I would finish writing an article on background images for a series that Opera is putting together. More on that later. Anyway, this could be some clichéd story, but actually he and I had a really interesting conversation about a new culture that is arising out of essentially fitting nowhere.

Anyone that has lived abroad for more than a few years, understands fundamentally not fitting. When I moved to Paris, I expected it to be a culture shock, to really change my ideas. It’s natural, I had to learn the language, and more than that, figure out how to make my way in a culture with vastly different values and customs than my own. To my surprise then, the biggest not-fitting had nothing to do with my adopted culture, but rather the first time I returned home after truly becoming French somewhere deep in my core. It’s only then that you realize your instincts are off, you find odd those who share the culture you once considered as natural as water to a fish.

Dario confirmed that ultimately, when you’ve truly adopted another culture, you can never feel ordinary again. I will be an etranger for the rest of my life. I only feel French when I’m in the States, and I only feel American in Paris. I can only imagine what California is doing to my brain as we speak. In fact, just last night I casually told a group of people about buying a treadmill for my dog, without once thinking that this was a little eccentric.

I wrote about The Namesake, an excellent book about Indians moving to Cambridge for graduate school. When I read it, I wasn’t thinking about the cultural differences of the Indian family, I was empathizing with a situation that so closely resembled my own. These same stories echo in people from around the world. I know an Indian married to a Jewish American woman, living in Boston. I’m an American who married a Frenchman and we’ve lived in Boston, France, and the Silicon Valley. I work with a Bulgarian who has lived in Canada and California. I went to school with Algerians living in the banlieue. I have friends here who have American children though both parents are foreign (what does a word like foreign or international even mean anymore?). I sang with Brits living in Nairobi. And, on this night, I talked to a Spanish man living in New York.

These people, pioneers really, are comfortable everywhere, even as they fit perfectly nowhere. They’ll never have the luxury of believing that their home is perfect or being so firm in their ideas that they don’t even notice them. No matter where they settle, they’ll miss something, or someone, from everywhere they’ve ever lived. And each knows, that they can never truly go home again. In each place, they’ll only feel all the more strongly the parts of them that are drawn to another home. They’ll mix up languages and use words that don’t belong. For me it is dégradé, I simply cannot remember the word in English, at least not while speaking.

Similarly, I’ve come to believe everyone should have access to healthcare, an idea that is only beginning to be considered other than shockingly left wing, in my own country. For an Indian friend, the press of people in Bombay feels slightly overwhelming. Or a Frenchwoman, with her stroller stuck in the sand in Cannes, prefers American friendliness to French politesse. You might think that fitting nowhere is a lonely place to be, and you’d be right, it can be. But I’ve discovered that these multicultural people fit well with each other. No matter where they’ve come from, or moved to, it seems that the archetype of the immigrant is strong enough to bond them in a common un-culture. I enjoy the sense of humor that comes with personal understanding of just how transitory strongly held beliefs can be when you begin to look at them from the eyes of the other. When you begin to be other.

Eric, Hugo, and I arrived in Kyoto

Small Street in Kyoto with lighted black and white signsAround five in the afternoon we met at the Ryokan Yuhara. We took our time settling in, and then went to explore. We walked along the Takase Canal and Kamo River. The canal is bordered by tiny streets and traditional architecture. The river by restaurants with decks which offer al fresco dining. We made it to the more Tokyo-like section of kyoto at nightfall and Hugo took a photo (password required, email me if you’d like one) that I’m very jealous of.