28th April 2004. Letter to Mom. Conference ended 27th April in the evening. Writing from hotel room.
I’m writing at 3:00 in the afternoon on the 28th; I guess you guys’ll receive this on the morning of the 29th. I’m taking the day off today, not going anywhere. I felt really tired today morning, and I realised why when I just went over all what I had done the last three days!
Anyways, the highlight of today, was the trip down to Corporate Headquarters! HQ isn’t too far from where the Learning Center is, so I caught a shuttle there. Too bad they only have visitor tours on Mondays and Tuesdays. I did have a good enough look around, though. It’s eerie to realise that Sam Palmisano and guys like Steve Mills (the de-facto second-in-command) are only a few tens of feet from you somewhere!! Boy! What an experience! No photographs allowed, though! :-( It’s a very quiet place, nothing too spectacular. Not the towering edifice, the sort of magnificent monument to technology I had expected!
Well, yesterday was an incredibly packed day! Got up at 4:20, as usual, rehearsed my spiel (which I can now do in my sleep, for God’s sake!), and left for breakfast.
< Longish narration of Conference Day Two, and what happened and what I did and who I met. Eliminated from blog entry because my employers would have a blue fit if they saw me making public my honest, straightforward, often critical description of a Conference on an extremely sensitive topic at an extremely sensistive venue – T. J. Watson Research Centre, HQ of IBM Research!>
… we went down to Grand Central *again*, only this time, we headed out the other way, and walked up to the Empire State Building! :-D Surprisingly, you don’t notice it from miles around, because your view of the skyline is severely restricted by all the massive buildings around you! Average building height in that area? 25 stories, at least! Then, at one particular corner, though, one building stands out. It never ends, no matter how far up you gaze. Up, up, higher, until the steeple appears to rise into the clouds themselves.
Welcome to the Empire State Building.
The first impression is that it’s apparently being dangled from the skies! You’ve got to see it to believe how tall it is. Perhaps it won’t even appear all that impressive in my photographs (in part to my nascent, tyro-esque photography skills), but it *is* tall. Period. It has 102 floors, not including the steeple on top, is 443-odd metres tall, and was completed in one year and 45 days, in 1931. Tell that to Mehul V. and his builders, please.
We walked all around the ground floor of the ESB, which houses all lot of office space. In fact, most of the ESB (all of it?) is commercial property. (I wonder what the property rates are within the ESB!!) These guys sure know how to promote their stuff. In spite of all the paranoia these days, there’s a lot of freedom visitors enjoy here. Back home, a visit to any landmark is almost stressful and stifling, given the restrictions we’ve got to face. I wonder why policy-makers in India don’t learn basic stuff like this from all their foreign tours.
After (very reluctantly) leaving ESB, Times Square was next on the agenda. This is the intersection of Seventh Avenue and 42nd Street, and was named for the former New York Times office building. (The building still stands, but apparently it isn’t owned by the NYT, which is still in the neghbourhood. Got to check that fact out). Here is a link to a photograph – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Largeviewtimessquare.jpg.
This is where I stopped at a grocery store for chocolates! Lots of chocolates! Luckily, there was some sort of in-your-dreams-only sale there; ek ke daam mein do. Of course, this being the Meccca of Capitalism, I’m sure they’d racheted up the prices sky-high anyway. Though I’ve got a few kilos for $22.80! The only question is how I’m going to haul it back to Thane. For that, I’m going to pack my bags with mystic techniques only known to the Mumbai Train Commuter, for He can pack Matter into spaces smaller than the laws of physics allow!
But I drift from the narrative. Where were we? Oh, Times Square. Yes. Then we footed it up to the U.N. Headquarters. You know, the last sentence sounds almost disrespectful in terms of how casually I said it! I mean, you don’t just ‘walk up’ to the UN HQ!! But such are the vagaries of touring Manhattan. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and nowhere is it more evident than in a tourist’s description of Manhattan. He/she has seen too many legendary landmarks and sights in too short a time, and irreverence inevitably sets in. Yes, the building is splendid. Magnificent. Bathed in the lights from its immediate surroundings, the 39-storey UN Building appears breathtakingly beautiful. I’m betting that the view at night is better than the daytime one. Tragically, that same fact does not hold true in the world of photography, especially when the photographer in question is an over-excited 22-year-old whose hands quiver harder than a cell phone vibrates in silent mode. No, but seriously, the only way to capture sharp images at night is to increase the exposure time to a few seconds, and hold the camera perfectly still for that period of time. This isn’t possible without a tripod. Which is my next purchase. There don’t seem to be any night-time pictures of the UNHQ on the internet, nor any decent large pictures, but here’s a good one nevertheless : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Nyc-un-building.jpg . Interestingly, the UN HQ property is international territory. It belongs to all of the international community, has its own police and fire forces, and issues its own stamps. If you’re wondering if I had a tour guide along with me all day yesterday, you’re mistaken. Like a good travel writer (I am, aren’t I?), I’m doing a good bit of Google-ing on the side!
OK. That was about the most exciting part of the trip. Unless, of course, you want to hear about us catching the Metro back to the city of White Plains, to the Research Lab guy’s hotel – losing our way there at 10PM in a near-freezing drizzle, then booking a taxi to take us to Armonk, which then lost *it’s* way, fortunately taking a crucial correct turn (I’m sure that was the Hand of God on the steering wheel just then, not the clueless cab driver’s!). That’s how I arrived, half-dead, at 10:45 PM. I only realised I’d skipped dinner yesterday, when my tummy roared louder today morning than Chaphekar’s tempo van does when Vinod revs it up at all ungodly hours in the morning. Today morning, the chef at breakfast insisted I have his ‘espesal’ (Spanish chef, in case you’re wondering) creation of waffles topped by strawberries and blackberries in heavenly syrup. I’ve wolfed up most of the food I got from Thane – except the laadoos – which I’m sure are mating and multiplying there in my luggage – how is it that they’re always the same number, no matter how many I eat? – and one solitary Methi ka thepla, which is wondering why it’s been singled out. Don’t you worry, I’m eating it as I’m typing.
I have no plans to go anywhere this evening; just relax, write about the trip (gosh, I can hear you exclaiming, haven’t you written enough already?!) But I’ve hardly written about *life* in the city. I wonder if I’ll be up to writing my obervations about NYC and the people of this country in general – and whether I can keep my keyboard from phyically falling apart after the pounding it’s just received in the past hour-and-three-quarters. It turns out I shouldn’t have brought over half of my clothes with me here. A lot of them are being brought back unused. OK, one keeps learning.