Thursday, October 15, 2009

Au Bon Pain

Au Bon Pain in ITPL, originally uploaded by s_w_ellis.

I remember walking into the latest eatery in the complex where I work, excited about seeing wraps displayed on the visual menu above the ordering counter. Where I live in India, just about every meal has a bread component: paratha, roti, papad or something. There is a Subway down the hall, but they do not have wraps, and just to watch the bread intake a bit, I was ready to try the wrap pictured. I got to the counter and found they had no wraps. But, the sandwich I had was delicious and I decided to give this place another try.

When I came back, I found out they now had wraps. So, I quickly ordered the sandwich I had the other day as a wrap, only to find out they have set menu items as wraps and what I wanted only came as a sandwich. I was ready to walk away when a gentleman came over and asked what I was trying to do. Once he realized how easy it would be for them to make my sandwich as a wrap, the order was made. A few bites into my wrap, the same guy, Prasanna, came by to check if my choice of meal was satisfactory. I told him it was and thanked him for accommodating my special request. Upon his exit, an Au Bon Pain corporate woman asked about my experience and we chatted a bit about customer service.

Customer service in India, at least where I reside in Bangalore and by only speaking to my experience, is fairly non-existent. A horrible time as a customer is what you expect, so you certainly recognize a good consumer moment. This is not just related to food services, as you might sense from my photo of frustration with other stores in this area (like in the photo below). Or, don't even get me started on the police commissioner's office for foreign registration (one more photo down)!

Reliance Digital Service Center
Does it really take this many people to get nothing done?

The Bangalore FRO, Slower Than the DMV
Molecules at zero Kelvin move as fast as these guys

From Florida, Elizabeth, explained to me how this is a major training point for Au Bon Pain's entry into India. I applauded her company's commitment to service and mentioned that I hope that training will continue with new hires.

Oh, and I found out why they did not have wraps on my first visit. Bernard, also corporate, from Boston, informed me that there were quality issues with the first batches of tortillas. It turns out that Au Bon Pain sets up their menus in other countries to only use ingredients that can be sourced within that country. In other words, they support the local economy and cut down on shipping at the same time. This was good to hear.

Subsequent visits have left me happy to be a continued customer. Prasanna remembers me and now asks if I will have the usual. This morning, I became a breakfast patron and when Prasanna arrived for work, he came by to shake my hand and say good morning. It does not take much to feel valued, and I appreciate the effort.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ending a Bombay Day

Sun Going Down, originally uploaded by s_w_ellis.

Random flickr photo blog entry for October 9, 2009.

I have a cheap digital camera. I purchased a cheap one because I never really took many photos and needed to take a few for work every now and again. Part of me thought that I did not have the talent and skill to take decent photos, so why purchase something expensive. Having said all that, every so often I take a photo I feel measures up with the photos the pros take. This happens to be one I am proud of.

This photo was taken from the walkway bordering the Arabian Sean in Nariman Point, Mumbai, India. You can see the rest of my recent Mumbai visit photos here.

Get to Know Family and Friends

I received an email from Veena wanting to know some things about me. Here was her email:

Looking forward to your answers!

Here is the 2009 edition of getting to know your family and friends.

Here is what you are supposed to do, and try not to be lame and spoil the fun. Change all the answers so that they apply to you. Then send this to a bunch of people you know, INCLUDING the person who sent it to you. Some of you may get this several times; that means you have lots of friends. The easiest way to do it is to hit 'Forward' so you can change the answers or copy and paste. Have fun and be truthful!

01 - What is your occupation right now? Mainly a computer network engineer
02 - What color are your socks right now? None on now, but was wearing white
03 - What are you listening to right now? Wall of Voodoo - Mexican Radio
04 - What was the last thing that you ate? A handful of almonds
05 - Can you drive a stick shift? Yes, I have even driven a truck with fifteen gears
06 - Last person you spoke to on the phone.? Anjali
07 - Do you like the person who sent this to you? Yep
08 - How old are you today? One day older than I was yesterday (36)
09 - What is your favourite sport to watch on TV? Darts or poker (not sports?)
10 - What is your favourite drink(s)? Very dirty vodka martini
11 - Have you ever dyed your hair? Yes
12 - Favourite food? Sushi
13 - What is the last movie you watched? Either Stripes or The Toy
14 - Favorite day of the year? Don't really have one
15 - How do you vent anger? I try to address things and move on, but watch for the finger
16 - What was your favorite toy as a child? Marbles
17 - What is your favorite season? Winter because I like the cold
18 - Cherries or Blueberries? Cherries
19 - Do you want your friends to e-mail you back? No, they should comment below
20 - Who are most likely to respond? Ratboy has nothing better to do
21 - Who is least likely to respond? Anjali is too busy
22 - Living arrangements? Great!
23 - When was the last time you cried? A couple months ago while watching Big Fish
24 - What is on the floor of your closet? A backpack and some boots
25 - Who is the friend you have had the longest that you are tagging? Ratboy
26 - What did you do last night? Cooked poori for the Tuckshop celebration supper
27 - What are you most afraid of? Ferris wheels
28 - Plain, cheese or spicy hamburger? My system can't do them now
29 - Favorite dog breed? No favorite
30 - Favorite day of the week? Saturdays usually
31 - How many countries have you lived in? Two: USA and India
32 - Diamonds or pearls? She wants diamonds
33 - What is your favorite flower? I like the orange or yellow ones
34 - What is your favorite dessert? Ginger snaps

Thanks Veena!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Halloween 2007 at DWA

Lobster in a Group, originally uploaded by s_w_ellis.

Random flickr photo blog entry for October 6, 2009.

I took this photo from the breezeway at the Riverside building on the DreamWorks Animation Glendale studio campus. When you have a creative workplace of one thousand people, Halloween can get pretty crazy. I am still wondering how the lobster guy ate lunch that day. To see more photos from that day, click here. And, for even better photos from that day, check out these from Travis.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Bangalore in the UK

Random flickr photo blog entry for October 5, 2009.

So, there we were, in a rental car, cruising the English countryside. When we felt it was a good time to stop for a bite to eat, we found ourselves in the small town of Bromham.

The restaurant/pub we ate at was up the street from a church. To help digestion and to stretch our legs a bit, we visited the church and inside my eye caught "Bangalore". We traveled five thousand miles west from Bangalore, just to find Bangalore!

Ten Songs

Sophie tagged me on Facebook with this one.

The Rules

Once you have been tagged, you are supposed to write down the top 10 songs you cannot live without. The ones you can listen to over and over and never get tired of. They don't have to be in any particular order. These are the songs that make laugh, cry, think of an old friend, whatever the reason . At the end, choose a few people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If you were tagged, it's because I want to know more about you. To do this, go to "notes" under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note.

Here is my list...

Pink Floyd - Comfortably Numb
I used to stock groceries as an overnight job while attending college. One of the guys at work would put a radio up against the public address microphone and we would listen to a college radio station. It was painfully distorted. Every night, yes every single night, I would call the station on my break and ask them to play this song at half-past-four. So, if you were in College Station in the early Nineties and heard Comfortably Numb at 4:30, that was a morning I was working at Apple Tree. College radio: they would do anything stupid.

Don McClean - Vincent
This is the answer I give when someone asks what my favorite song is. This song just puts goose bumps on my arms when I hear it and think about the lyrics.

Men Without Hats - Safety Dance
This is proof that a song does not have to make any sense to be a great song. When I hear this song, I immediately get an image of home during the MTV days. If a few bars of a song can transport your mind to your childhood, it is a good song.

Steve Vai - The Audience is Listening
This song changed how I looked at the guitar. I enjoyed guitar music up to that time, but I dove into the technical aspect of playing only after hearing this song.

Dead Kennedys - Holiday in Cambodia
I remember asking many questions after hearing Dead Kennedys songs. Questions like, "Who was Pol Pot?", "What is Dachau?", and "What's going on in Afghanistan?" I believe I learned more history from reading about what DK lyrics were talking about than I did through a decade of schooling. The guitar at the beginning of Holiday in Cambodia was something I always thought sounded cool, and it is still one of my favorite songs. I remember a girl from Cambodia getting upset with me when she saw me wearing a Holiday in Cambodia shirt. After she found out what the song was about, she wanted me to make a tape with some DK songs. I doubt she ever got into punk rock, but she was happy to discover that an American band was telling others about the atrocities which happened when the Khmer Rogue were powerful.

Rush - Tom Sawyer
Every time I hear this song I immediately want to become a rock star. This song makes me want to pick up the guitar and jam!

Plastic Bertrand - Ca Plane Pour Moi
Having no idea what the lyrics are, I just think this song is great! I remember ordering the soundtrack to a movie I heard it in only to find out that it was not a track.

NOFX - The Decline
A punk song that is eighteen minutes. Most punk songs are two minutes, at most! Not only is this one over eighteen minutes long, it keeps my attention for that long. I remember Robo, the drummer for Black Flag, was asked once why punk songs are so short and fast. He said, "If you look at the amount of lyrics, the songs are just as long as popular music. We play fast because that is what inspires us. The songs are short because that is how long the inspiration lasts." Kudos to NOFX for going the distance with this great song.

Pixies - Where Is My Mind?
I cannot put my finger on what makes this song so great. The mix of Kim's 'oooo'ing and Frank's overextended voice? The simple guitar riff? I don't know, but it works, and it works great. I like ever cover version I have heard of this song too.

Tommy Emmanuel - Somewhere Over the Rainbow
This guy works without accompaniment, using nothing less than magic to produce melodies from his acoustic guitar. The best use of harmonics I have ever heard, the intro and outro to this song sound amazing. A familiar song to most people, this is an approachable song for casual listeners and an intense study for musicians.

One Happy Street

Today I did a bit of shopping and had an hour to kill before my clothing alterations would be complete. During that time, I wandered down some side roads and took photos of the local people. A small group of kids wanted their photos taken and that was all it took: I was taking nothing but photos of these kids until I left. Now, usually I take a photo of a kid and then show the image immediately, never able to give a permanent copy nor email a digital file. Since this street was fairly close to where I live, I decided to do something a bit different.

After finding a fair number of good photos, cropping and creating montages, I then made several print copies to be distributed. I went by a store and picked up a bag full of candy, and with printouts in tow, revisited the same street. The kids were going crazy for the chocolate; no surprise. But, the adults were ecstatic about the photos of their children and grandchildren. However, no one was more happy than me.

I have promised the kids (all yelling out "Uncle" trying to get my attention) that I shall return in a few days. This time, I think there will need to be two bags of chocolate.

Happy Couple Looking at Photos
Couple is pleased with the printouts of the photos

Click here to see the other photos.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Tomb Raider

Entrance to Khufu's tomb, originally uploaded by s_w_ellis.

Random flickr photo blog entry for October 4, 2009.

This is me entering Khufu's tomb within The Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt. The head covering I am wearing sure saved me from getting sunburned.

I traveled to Egypt back in March/April 2009. A couple days in Cairo and one day in Luxor.

Relaxing in Khafre's tomb
Also spent time in Khafre's tomb

Nandi, Lead the Way

Nandi Hills is just outside Bangalore by about sixty kilometers. You see, sometimes you do not have to travel far to have a great motorcycle ride and see something spectacular. The view from Tipu's Drop, looking down from the mountain to the plateau, is something to see, even on a hazy day.

Nandi points the way to Nandi Hills
Eight kilometers to Nandi Hills

Jain Temple

On the way, we stopped at a Jain temple, on the outskirts of Bangalore. This temple has ceased construction for reasons the guards did not know, but it was under construction for about ten years and is used for active worship. It is built in the Rajasthan tradition and has extremely nice marble work for its temple flooring. No photos are to be taken within the outer wall, but a guard wanting money for coffee allowed me a couple in exchange for a few rupees.

Jain Temple Floor
Marble floor of the Jain temple

Jain Temple Built in Rajasthan Style
Inside the walls of the temple grounds

The Hills

Anjali took some photos from the back of the bike, which turned out great. Here is what we saw on the way up.

On the Way to Nandi Hills
Starting to see some hills

On the Way to Nandi Hills
Large hill in the distance

Tipu Sultan's Drop
Looking up to Tipu Sultan's Drop


That morning, we threw some toasted bread, cut cucumber and some spicy cashews into a bag as a snack to share on the way. Halfway up the winding roads leading to the top of the highest peak of Nandi Hills, we stopped to eat.

Roadside Picnic
Stopping roadside for a snack

It was hard to capture just how crazily winding the roads are, but here are some photos of the traffic coming up and down the hill.

Winding Roads up the Hills
Bikes coming down from the peak

Riding up Nandi Hills
Slight bend in the road going up the hill

Let's Take It From The Top

Ah, the view.

View From Tipu Sultan's Drop
View from Tipu Sultan's Drop

Looking Down From Nandi Hills
Looking down on a bend in the road

Monkey Business

One thing you will see a lot of on Nandi Hills are the monkeys. Lots and lots of monkeys!

Cute Monkey Family
One monkey family

Rickshaw Driver Monkeying Around
Rickshaw driver

Parked cars should have rolled up windows
Uninvited guest in a parked car

Getting Lost

Part of the fun of taking a trip without being completely sure where to go is when you get lost. The course we took home was not the reverse of our way to Nandi Hills, but we managed to find our way by stopping every so often and asking for directions. The ride there took just over one hour. The return took an extra hour, but we got in some added ride-time that way. The total journey gave us five hours away from home, a nice walk up many steps, an awesome view of the villages below the drop and a long bike ride. A great day, to be sure.

Coffee Trails in Coorg

On the eastern side of the Western Ghats is wonderfully-green district of Karnataka known as Coorg. Taking about five hours by car, this is a great weekend getaway from Bangalore. Within Coorg is Orange County, a resort on the grounds of a coffee plantation. Away from traffic noise, cell phones and Internet, this place provided a great way to enjoy long walks, quiet meals and uninterrupted conversations.

Everything was green in Coorg
Everything is so green in Coorg

A Village Walk

After getting checked in, Anjali suggested a walk down to the river. We were only a short strut to the banks of the Chauvery. Stopping there, you could hear nothing but bamboo cracking as the gentle breeze would come and go. Not ready to head back into the confines of the resort, we pressed on down a road, through a small village.

Chauvery River in Coorg
Chauvery River

Every kid in the village was eager to say hello, but that was all they would say. Whether they were shy or did not understand us when we spoke, a quick acknowledgment was all we got before they would turn away and go about their prior activity. One young girl eyed us taking a picture of a napping kitten and she proceeded to follow us holding that kitten, calling out "photo" and then smiling. Anjali took a photo of her and the girl was all smiles.

Showing a girl her photo
Girl uses kitten to get photo taken

Kids enjoying lunch
Kids enjoying lunch

We walked quite a distance before hitting a main road and then heading back.

More Walking

After a great supper and a delicious breakfast, there was not much to do but go for another walk. This time, we explored the coffee plantation.


Orange County is filled with walking trails. There are so many crossed paths, you would think it is a maze. But, all roads lead back to the lodging and the comfort of some iced fresh lime soda. If you are a bird watcher, this must be the place to be. Posted throughout the area are signs showing which birds can be observed at which time of year. Funny thing, all the signs ended exactly the same way, with "Sighted: Jan to Dec". I guess you can see every variety of bird there at any time.

I guess they never leave
Why not just say "Seen Year-round"?

Perhaps it was our thirst for something cool between walks, but we never drank coffee while staying on the coffee plantation. Coleridge would have likely written:

Coffee, coffee, every where,
Nor any drop to drink

Little Tibet

Coorg is also home to the Tibetan Golden Temple, a Buddhist monastery. After leaving the coffee plantation, we decided to visit before trekking back to Bangalore.

Tibetan temple in Coorg
Tibetan Golden Temple in Coorg

Using soda bottles as decoration
Using cola as decoration

Tibetan temple
Inside the temple

Tired from walking and walking and walking, we really were not too crazy about a long drive back home, so we decided to break up the return trip with a stop in Mysore to watch the light show at Brindavan Gardens.

Power Failure

We chose an excellent vantage point from which to watch the lit fountains of the garden. The Elephant Bar of the Royal Orchid Hotel gave us a great view, chilled wine and yummy appetizers. Just as the show started and the lights came up, there was a power failure. The electricity never returned to the garden, but we enjoyed our travel break just the same.

Ending the weekend with wine in Mysore
Us at the Elephant Bar

Friday, October 2, 2009

Domino's Pizza Motorcycle Club

Domino's Pizza Motorcycle Club, originally uploaded by s_w_ellis.

Random flickr photo blog entry for October 3, 2009.

This is just a small section of the long line of motorcycles used for pizza delivery at a Domino's in Mumbai. In India, I have yet to see a delivery car, businesses using bikes instead.

Now, a bit more about pizza in India. I have not been to Domino's, but Pizza Hut is like a fine-dining restaurant: bone China plates, linen napkins and waiters which serve the pizza slice by slice. When I first entered a Pizza Hut, all I could think of was Demolition Man, where all the restaurants of the future are Taco Bell. Another big difference between pizza in the States and pizza in India is the elusive Parmesan cheese. Instead, pizza is served with ketchup. And finally, you don't have any of the usual American toppings because of the absence of beef.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Campus Starbucks, originally uploaded by s_w_ellis.

Random flickr photo blog entry for October 2, 2009.

The DreamWorks Animation Glendale campus has its own Starbucks. Inside you will find the always-smiling Sunshine. It has been a long time since I have had an early morning coffee run with Victor and Murad, or an afternoon game of chess with Sunshine. Murad, one morning we'll have to get you a drive-on pass.

Looks like I shall be back on campus in early 2010, so see you then!

Sameer in Mumbai

Kids Posing, originally uploaded by s_w_ellis.

Random flickr photo blog entry for October 1, 2009.

Starting today, I am going to pick a random photo from my flickr Photostream and write a bit about it. I am going to try to do this once daily as a writing exercise and to also share some photos and stories.

These two kids live in a shack on the side of a busy Worli street in Mumbai. The kid on the right's name is Sameer and I met him when I stopped to ask what he and several other kids were doing. They were separating the metal from plastic and paper from tons of liquor bottle tops. Even though we shared little in the way of a common language, him knowing very little English and me knowing even less Hindi, we were able to understand "aluminum." It turns out that they sell the metal to recyclers.

Even though I saw him sleeping on the sidewalk with many other kids later that night, he seems not to let poverty take away his spirit. He wanted photos of him to be taken in many poses and was happy to view the image after each one was taken.

The living conditions I saw while walking around just a few streets of Worli are horrible. It is nice to see these families doing their best to survive the streets without resorting to begging or crime. This particular band of family and friends that I spent a few minutes with were extremely friendly, especially Sameer. As I walked on ahead, turning back I saw he was still smiling and waving.