Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Visas: Americans have it easy!

Taking the first step to beginning your travels is exciting. I guess the first step is really when I conceived the idea that I wanted to go to Spain. Then again there was the purchase of the non-refundable ticket to Spain and back for $1000+.

And finally there is the tourist visa. You see even though I am a permanent resident of the United States, I still am a citizen of India which is considered a third world country and rightfully so. Therefore, for me to fly to other first world countries for any reason - except transit - I have to fill out lovely bureaucratic stationery and apply for a visa which costs extra $$. And then hope the application is processed correctly.

If I were an American citizen or first world country citizen for that matter, I would just have to book a ticket to Spain and show up. No visa application and no approval process. Not fair. Americans have it easy! And yes I would renounce Indian citizenship to be American in a heartbeat. Americans, please value your citizenship and its benefits. I know many permanent and temporary residents certainly do.

Since my trip was scheduled for Apr 15-Jun 3rd I decided that I would apply early. I called the Spanish Embassy, read their website, and got all the proper documentation necessary. On Dec 30th I went to the Spanish Embassy and turned in my paperwork. Unfortunately, they told me I cannot apply so early. Never been rejected for being the early bird to catch the worm.

So this morning - after emailing and confirming with the embassy that it was acceptable apply 2 months in advance - I got up at 5:30 AM and drove 3.5 hrs during rush hour to Vienna/Fairfax. Hopped on the Metro to Foggy Bottom and arrived at the Spanish Embassy. I was in and out in 5 minutes. I waited 2 mins for my turn in line, and 3 minute review of paperwork + $79 application fee (wishing I was American) and now I wait 15 days to get my passport back in the mail. Crossed fingers for an approval.

No trip to DC is fun without meeting up with friends along the way. I met up with my last roommate Jamie. He is a human rights lawyer (insert favorite heart melting awwwww sound here). Jamie is Canadian - so we shared common sentiments on the work visa/immigration system in the US. However, he does have the same benefits as Americans when traveling abroad - actually Canadians are better off travel wise due to being part of the Commonwealth and recognizing the British Queen in namesake only.

Funny story, one of the first things Jamie told me before he took his first class at W&L Law was that if we were ever driving together in Virginia and we got pulled over, and I was asked if I was a US Citizen and he wasn't, I could argue for racial profiling. I knew Jamie and International Law/Law School would 'goes together like peas and carrots.'

I love it when you are able to catch up with friends from where you left off. Hadn't seen him since Jun 2013. We greeted each other like old friends. Initiate rapport with the middle finger flip off, followed by a warm hug/embrace, and then every man's favorite two part question 'How are you bro?' and 'I'm hungry, where do you want to go eat at?' We settled for food truck lunch at a park bench on Franklin Square with the sun in our faces. Best lamb kabob salad ever! Zoom in the pic for the menu.

I headed back home at the perfect time to catch RUSH HOUR again.

RANDOM: Some driving observations noted on the way.

  1. Drive slower if you are not in a rush. I filled up and drove at 65 mph on a 70. Noticed the big difference in my left over gas tank. I usually drive 5 over but this time stuck to 5 under for most of the way. 350 miles traveled and relatively a quarter tank left.
  2. I need to be more patient with stop and go traffic - especially if they come to an abrupt stop and then go back to 30 mph repeatedly. I wonder if having a dressed up mannequin in the front seat would pass as a head in the HOV lane.
  3. Practice mindfulness when driving instead of listening to music. It is amazing how you can feel the road or sense your internal body movement when you turn off the radio and more importantly the inner dialogue and mind chatter.
  4. Buy a portable 2 gallon tank of gas for the road ... just in case.
  5. I estimate I got 33 mpg by going 65 mph. Wonder if I can cruise on 60 mph and a significant enough gas mileage to warrant the extra travel time - there by saving $$$. After all, I am planning to travel all across the US right??

Friday, February 7, 2014

Visting the Wu Tang Clan: Dabbling in appetizing travels

It is funny how the universe works. 

I've never been to California. I have friends scattered all over the state and have always wanted to go. One of my 'extended' fraternity brothers Jordan Wu lives near LA with his gorgeous wife Shamim and two beautiful daughters. They are such a beautiful eclectic family.

Over the years of meeting each other at fraternity related events we have developed a close friendship. We share an unique connection in that we are both foreign born, came to the US to study, had really thick accents before we assimilated to 'Americanized tonality', became orientation leaders at our respective schools, joined our fraternity Sigma Nu in college in very distinct geographic regions (Jordan in Cal Poly, Pomona, California and I at Nicholls State, Louisiana) and experienced similar challenges and successes in fraternity life along the way.

For me what is more personally connecting beside the similar backgrounds is that Jordan is a past Collegiate Grand Councilman of Sigma Nu who was involved with the High Council of Sigma Nu that created the first Strategic Plan. This first Strategic Plan required the hiring of IT Director co-incidentally right about the time I graduated from college. My employment with Sigma Nu has afforded me the opportunity to become a proud permanent resident of the US. For that I am eternally indebted to Sigma Nu, and those individuals who made my small yet profound American dream possible.

Jordan was born in Taiwan. He, his immediate family and extended family celebrate Chinese New Year every year. For 2014 it fell on Friday, Jan 31 2014. Over the past years they have invited a few Sigma Nu members, and this year I was asked to join. Unfortunately due to financial circumstances, I would not be able to make it. But Jordan and Shamim were determined that I should be there to celebrate this occasion - after all it only happens once a year. So they used their miles points and booked me a ticket. I was speechless and am grateful to such friendships in my life.

1 AM ET and my flight is cancelled. I wake up at 3 AM. Only have a few hours before I have to be at the airport. After battling cancellations, route adjustments, and airline changes and a longer flight pattern I left from Roanoke Airport, Virginia ... and behold a beautiful sunrise to greet me on my journey to the West Coast.

2:30 PM PT: Hello John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California for the very first time.

First stop: In and Out Burger ... SO DELICIOUS and yes with Animal Sauce. Nuff said.

Second stop: Touching the Pacific Ocean for the first time

Third stop: Bromance with Wu watching the sunset.

Fourth stop: Wu residence for socializing with the rest of the Wu Tang Clan.

Fifth stop: If you've been hosted by Jordan before, you know the final stop to the Chinese massage parlor is just part of the agenda. Right Scott Smith? And no, it is not that kind of Chinese massage parlor!

The next morning Shamim and I chatted over breakfast for hours. BTW she makes an amazing iced coffee. Matt Miller, the coffee aficionado would concur. I love those over-sized straws.

Later Shamim, I, Jordan's cousin, and his mother spent a lot of time prepping for the celebration while listening to the 90s on Pandora. Yes - I love to cook, but most of what we did was prep work for making the special sauce to be used with the Hot Pot. It is basically a bowl of boiling broth where you drop vegetables, meats, and other ingredients for a minute or two, take it out, and mix with the special sauce and devour. It is served family style so there is hours upon hours of slow paced eating and lots of conversation. The special sauce is very spicy and may require a napkin or two for the sinuses. But it is TOTALLY WORTH IT. Just ask Jake who managed to sneak out some left over special sauce for a marinade.

This year we had a few Sigma Nu brothers from the local area (relatively) and from Chicago join in. We missed you Chris and Diego. It was just amazing dining experience. I wish the night would never end.

On my first flight back to Roanoke, Virginia, I met a wonderful woman on the plane. We decided to enjoy our two hour layover in Phoenix with lunch and margaritas. Not bad for the first time to California: instant lunch date on the return flight home.

If this is what just a weekend with friends (old and new) brings, I cannot wait for my travels to US and Spain to begin. I didn't expect to be here, but really desired to. It is funny how the universe works.