Thursday, March 1, 2007

JRuby World Tour: Bangalore

After my adventures in Hyderabad, the next stop on the tour took me to the heart of India's IT industry, where I would present my TechDays talk again for Sun Microsystems' Indian Engineering Center. But I scheduled in a little free time as well, to do some exploring.

I arrived on Saturday the 24th after a short flight on Sahara Air. For once, my travel arrangements worked out, and I was able to buy my ticket upon arriving at the Hyderabad airport. A few hours later, I had landed in Bangalore. A hotel car was waiting for me (this is now only the second time I've had a car waiting with my name on a sign, and I think I like it), so I headed straightaway to the Richmond Hotel in central Bangalore.

The Richmond has a fairly old-world feel, apparently having been converted from an apartment or office building some time in the past. It had a musty smell, but was otherwise pretty clean and well-kept. I'm generally more comfortable in "clean and comfortable" hotels than in "pristine" hotels like the Novotel, so the Richmond was just fine. That night I made arrangements for the next day's tour, ordered in some room service, and caught up on sleep.

It still amazes me how everything has changed since blogging became mainstream. Even as short as five years ago, I had a devil of a time finding local tour guides for my travels. Generally the best bet was to fork over too much money to a paid guide or to travel with a tour group. Neither of those are really conducive to free-form exploration, so I've always been forced to strike out on my own. But those days are certainly behind us.

In response to my "World Tour" blog posts, I had no less than 5 different people offer to show me around Bangalore. They ranged from JRuby enthusiasts to casual readers, and for once I had more guide offers than I could use. So I settled on the first two to contact me: K "Venkat" Venkatsubramaniyan and HÃ¥kan Raberg.

Venkat was up first on Sunday the 25th. He had actually stopped into the JRuby IRC channel (#jruby on FreeNode) as well as emailing me. His plan for the day included a trip to a cultural/folk center outside the city, lunch and dinner at a couple places to be determined, and shopping stops for a few things I wanted to purchase. So we started out bright and early at 9AM.

We made the following stops, in order:
  • Rajarajeshwari Temple in western Bangalore, where I paid my respects and was gifted with a wreath of flowers and a tilak on my forehead. It was a moving experience, even though I felt a bit out of place in my western clothes. And the classical architecture of this modern shrine was quite impressive.
  • Janapada Loka (Folk-Cultural World), a collection of folk art museums and exihibits on the road from Bangalore to Mysore.
  • Kamath Yathrinivas Restaurant, where I had my first traditional Indian meal, complete with banana-leaf plate and eating with my hands. It was very tasty.
  • Nalli Silk Arcade, to purchase sarees for my wife. I think I was the only guy in there shopping, other than a few poor saps who were obviously dragged along by their wives.
  • Cauvery Crafts Emporium on Mahatma Ghandi Road, a nice collection of handicrafts, clothes, and nick-nacks, but very much tailored to western tourists. I looked at pearls for my wife briefly here, but decided not to buy.
  • Navaratna Jeweleries, up the road from Cauvery, where I found the pearls I wanted. I went back on Tuesday before flying home to have the string extended and a clasp put on.
  • Garuda Mall and Bangalore Central Mall...we just kinda ended up here looking for a place to buy tea and wasting time before our evening's restaurant opened.
  • Amaravathi Restaurant, another more traditional place (more banana leaves and eating with hands), but this time with some delicious spicy curries and a crab dish as tasty as it was difficult to eat.
Venkat was an excellent guide, and I can certainly claim a new friend in Bangalore.

Monday the 26th was my day on the spot at Sun Microsystems. Conveniently, Sun's office in Bangalore was only about two blocks from the Richmond, so I headed over at around 10AM to prepare for my 11AM talk.

For some reason, every Sun office I visit is a terrific maze of doors, offices, and cubicals. The Menlo Park office has all L-shaped buildings with multiple intersecting hallways. Santa Clara's offices are plus-shaped (I think) which is often even more confusing. The Bangalore office put them to shame. It is hosted on the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th floors of a circular building with a central unsecured walkway and multiple secure entries and exits as you progress around the outer ring of offices. What complicated things most was that hallways extended out from the center of the ring like spokes of a wheel, but the perpendicular hallways did not always curve to match the circle. This meant that hallways often met at bizarre angles, and it was impossible to maintain any sense of direction. I got lost more than once wandering around, and unlike the California offices, I had no guarantee that following a given hallway would eventually lead me to an outside wall. Bizarre.

Anyway, I did the same talk from TechDays for Sun folks from 11AM to 12PM. Unfortunately, I had lost favor with the demo gods. My NetBeans demonstration froze up and refused to come back. My Rails demo failed with an error I still haven't isolated. And because of a peculiar scheduling snafu, the last 15 minutes of my talk had to be condensed into five minutes, resulting in more errors and a very flustered presentation. What had gone perfectly a few days earlier at TechDays went very poorly at Sun. Luckily, it seems to have still been well-received, and the classic JIRB demo was enough to wow the crowd.

The rest of the day was spent meeting with various folks at the IEC, talking about their projects and how JRuby could help. There's some cool stuff coming out of Sun India, so keep your eyes and ears open over the next few months.

Monday night my new friend Hakan Raberg from ThoughtWorks arranged to meet with me and two other ThoughtWorkers for dinner. It turns out Hakan is an old friend of Anders Bengsston, one of the premier JRuby contributors in the old days before I joined the project. Such a small world.

As a nice change of pace, the ThoughtWorkers and I had dinner at Barbeque Nation, a trendy, modern-feeling restaurant featuring fairly traditional northern Indian cuisine. In other words, lots of meat. Barbeque Nation is one of those "cook it yourself" places, where the center of the table is a small charcoal stove and the meats are delivered mostly-cooked on metal skewers. After marinating with a choice of marinades and allowing the food to cook the last 10% of the way, a delicious entree results. To make it even more acceptable to a western eater: it's all-you-can-eat, with skewers continually delivered until you tell them to stop. For the first time in a week, I was stuffed. It's very hard to turn down delicious seasoned and grilled meats when they keep arriving in front of you.

The ThoughtWorkers also had a number of interesting projects going on, many related to Ruby and a couple likely to use JRuby in the near future. Hakan had even worked on a code-generated implementation of the JRuby selector table's switch statements, which he promised to tidy up and send me. It could be very useful for us to optimize user-created classes in the same way we're starting to optimize core classes, and it was actually a technique we considered doing ourselves. More on that as it develops.

Tuesday, I packed up and checked out of the hotel. I was a little sad to be leaving Bangalore, but since I still had an entire day before my flight I walked up to M.G. Road to take care of some last minute souvenir shopping. My first stop was at Navaratna Jewelers for the modifications to my wife's new pearl necklace I mentioned earlier. While I waited for the work to be completed, I visited a few shops off the main boulevard and purchased the following items to bring home:
  • A small wooden Ganesha (about 4" tall), to bring success and prosperity to my office.
  • A small wooden Emblem of India, atop a 4" wooden column with a felt base. It is a perfect reminder of my Indian adventure (and probably the coolest national emblem I know). This is my favorite souvenir by far.
  • A small wooden puzzle box for my son.
  • Two larger versions of the puzzle-box with hand-painted images of Indian women on the tops.
I had also previously purchased the following items:
  • Two silk ties with different images of dancing elephants on them.
  • Two painted clay hippopotamuses, as gifts for whoever.
  • A comic/cartoon book of stories of "Heroes of the Mahabharata", for my boy to read.
For lunch, I was not feeling particularly adventurous, and also decided something familiar might be safest before 24 hours of plane flights, so I ate at Pizza Hut. Yeah, I know. It wasn't even that good.

Comfortably full from lunch and loaded down with all my new possessions, I returned to the hotel to catch a cab to the airport. Goodbye, Bangalore...or so I thought.

Bangalore Airport was to be a baffling ordeal. People were lined up for a solid block to get into the terminal, mostly encumbered with a half-dozen bags each. To confuse even more, there was an option whereby non-flying visitors could pay for admission to the terminal. Luckily, I figured out I didn't have to pay, and after muscling my way to the entrance, I moved on to the second challenge in this travel gauntlet: Thai Airways had no reservation for me.

My original tickets to India were incorrectly issued to "Charles Onutter", an unfortunate combination of my middle initial and last name. Normally, this wouldn't have been a big deal, but apparently international flights are extremely strict about the name for which tickets are issued. If it doesn't match your passport exactly, you're out of luck and can't check in. In a flurry of activity the day before I left, I managed to arrange new tickets. But because it was such short notice, I would have to buy two of my tickets at the originating airports: Sahara Air from Hyderabad to Bangalore and Thai Airways from Bangalore to Bangkok. Sahara air went fine...either because they found my reservation or because they had plenty of room on the flight. But Thai Airways had cancelled my reservation because they overbooked the flight.

Luckily, after talking to the ticket agents and American Express's emergency travel service, I was able to purchase an unused seat for the flight. I would fly first-class to Bangkok. I rushed through security, ran to the gate, and finally settled into my seat. Onward to the next stop in the tour: Bangkok, Thailand!

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