Sunday, August 30, 2009

Nikkumo Nikkadho

It is a good idea to go to South Italy in the summer and why?
- the long days (its sunny atleast until 9pm) give you a lot of time to go around and enjoy the tourist spots
- Italy is the one place where you can always find tasty vegetarian food (mind you, classy hotels and restaurants will not offer pizza, since it is considered a laborer’s meal) and you can sit outside in the good weather to enjoy it

It is a bad idea to go to South Italy in the summer and why?
- everyone knows why it is a good idea (:D) and the reasons listed above, so the place is swarming with tourists ! To give you a perspective, there is atleast an hour and a half of waiting time to even get into the colosseum in Rome
- it is hot, hot, hot and you sweat like a pig. You might think that this will not be a problem for someone from Singara Chennai but there is something about the sun in Europe that I don't get (or get along with!), 35 deg C in Munich is intolerable while I have roamed the whole day in the Pondy bazaar area at the same temperature without even feeling it !

Since we are eternal optimists, we chose to go to South Italy, to Pisa. Since the numerous websites all caution you to rush to the Piazza dei Miracoli to buy your tickets to get to the top of the leaning tower since no. of visitors per day are restricted (what's with all these places ? they have a similar rule for the statue of liberty and thats even more annoying since you spend a considerable amount of time waiting for the ferry to take you to the statue !), thats exactly what we did. Thankfully there is a time slot given in the ticket, so we chose to look at the Cathedral, Baptistery and the churchyard. The beautiful roof of the cathedral, the sound acoustic design of the Baptistery (people working there make sounds to prove this to you !) and the arcades on either side of the churchyard pushed the video and picture capabilites of my camera to the hilt !

By this time, we were totally dehydrated under the scorching sun and decided to take a bite before climbing nearly 300 steps to the top of the tower. Unfortunately we had to eat in the vicinity and prices were exhorbitant - something you cannot really worry about when dying of thirst ! After boosting our energy levels, we were just on time for the tour after leaving our rucksacks in the cloak room.

The climb started normally and as I was thinking about all the hype given in the website, I realized the passages were getting smaller and smaller. At one point, it became narrow enough to fit just one normal person (no place for obese people) and the steps were worn out and uneven and one had to balance using the walls. However when we got to the top, the views made us forget everything else...well...almost....its one thing to be standing on top of a tower and totally another thing to be standing on top of a ''leaning'' tower...there was always this eerie feeling in the pit of my stomach (had flashes of peeping from the mottamadi water tank as a 9 yr old kid, just to prove a point !). You get only a few minutes here since the next group is already waiting at the foot of the tower for you to make your descent. All along, there is still this thought in the background about the tower as an engineering know the facts, the figures and the fact the tower is leaning more and more every year and you still cant help wondering about it.....will it still be tourist-friendly when my son or daughter get there with his/her spouse ?! Time has the answer !

The first few minutes of the descent would have been a little uncomfortable had I not been forced to help a 12 yr old who burst out crying and as I was leading her down I had to keep showing off my bravado to let her know that its really easy, once we got down I was really thankful to my comfortable clothes and good shoes !

We then went to the hotel for a quick siesta and I was so thankful that the hotel had AC (many hotels in Europe don't). Its amazing what a couple of hours of sleep can do to your energy levels. We woke up refreshed and the coffee completed the cure.

We then took a bus tour and saw everything else Pisa had to offer. Like every other European city, there was a river with a bridge across it, a square in the city centre and above all, excellent camping grounds.

If you live in Europe, Pisa is a good weekend get away and if you are coming to Italy from elsewhere Pisa should not occupy more than a day of your agenda.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Kokorakko I mean, Kanthasamy movie was my agenda for saturday morning. For the last few years the only tamil movies I have seen in the theatre in Munich include Shivaji and Dasavatharam and because of all the hype that has been generated, Kanthasamy became a part of that list too...well...unfortunately !

The movie started at 11:00 am
11:20 am: idhu onnum theradhu polarukke....
11:40 am: mudiyala.....
12:20 pm: venam.....azhuduven......
12:45 pm: Interval....well....lets say I seriously did consider going home only held back by the miserly thought of getting my money's worth !
13:45 pm: dei...enna vitrungada....
2:15 pm: appadi...the end.....the relief was mixed with pity for kalaipuli dhanu for his money and Vikram for his time and effort!

To sum up the movie in a few words, it was a very bad potpourri of Anniyan and Shivaji, more along the lines of puliya (shankar) parthu poonai (Susi Ganesan) soodu potunda kadai ! The concept of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor has been done to death and the director should've realised that just grandeur is not going to impress the audience. The story was weak, the screenplay weaker, the music and re-recording pathetic and the result godawful !

The only plus was Vikram - he seems extremely fit and his hardwork shows in many frames and the saving grace was a couple of decent comedy scenes from vadivelu that made one forget the misery and laugh a bit ! I am not going to go into details because I seriously believe its not worth my time or yours but here are a few that I have to list...

What was annoying:
- Vikram's seval like behaviour....if it was like the mask of Zorro, quick and subtle, it would have been a lot more enjoyable
- the english rap song that goes along with his costume...panra rap atleast thamizhla irundhu irukalam !
- the total lack of coherence in the screenplay and abysmal editing

What was most annoying
- Shreya and her attitude...I agree she has a good figure but she has had some really bad lessons about attitude (she probably got them from Paris models and totally failed to emulate them!) and someone should tell her that flaunting one's back side every 5th min loses its charm even for the opposite sex.
- the unbelievably badly choreographed song in the end with the villain and an ''extra''....whoever came up with the idea of making the villain do a pole dance ?! Goundamani bashaila ''idha pakka kanna pidingi kaakkaku potudalam'' !

In short, spare yourself the trouble, don't bother watching the movie even if its telecast on TV !! If you are tempted to spend money for it - kasuku pidicha keda !?!!

Image from

Friday, August 28, 2009

கொலுவோ கொலு....

ரசிகர்களின் வேண்டுகோளுக்கு இணங்கி இதோ என் முதல் தமிழ் பதிவு (வடிவேலு பாஷையில் ''முடியல'' சொல்றது காதில் விழுகிறது)
Statutory Warning: naan appo appo pesara thamizhla ezhudi irukken, so spelling mistakes parthutu correction sonna kadi ayiduven (kidding, I will be a sport...well, mostly :D ) and since I assume ''எம் தாய் மொழியை யாம் நன்கே அறிவோம் !'', here goes.....

வீட்டில் நடக்க கூட இடம் இல்லாத அளவிற்கு படி கட்டி ஒரு நாள் முழுவதும் கொலு வைத்ததும் உண்டு...
இடப்பற்றகுறையை காரணம் காட்டி 5 படிகள் கொண்ட showcaseல் பொம்மையை அடிக்கியதும் உண்டு...

மண் கொட்டி, செடிகள் நட்டு, மிருக பொம்மைகள் வைத்து park கட்டியதும் உண்டு...
மாக்கோலம், பூக்கோலம், தோரணம் என்று அலங்காரம் பண்ணியதும் உண்டு....
showcase கொலுவிற்கு கலர் பேப்பர் கட்டி twinkling lights போட்டதும் உண்டு....

கண்ணாடி குங்குமச்சிமிழ் சீப்பு வாங்க T-Nagar ரங்கநாதன் தெருவில் அலைந்ததும் உண்டு....
மாமிகளுக்காக கூடை கூடையாக blouse bit தூக்கி வந்ததும் உண்டு....
அதில் யாருக்கு என்ன கலர் குடுப்பது என்று மணி கணக்கில் யோசித்ததும் உண்டு...

அப்பா மூட்டை மூட்டையாக தேங்காய் வாங்கியதும் உண்டு...
அம்மா ஆளுக்கு ஒன்று என்று பங்கு பிரித்ததும் உண்டு...
ஏற்கனவே தேங்காய் பெற்றவர்கள் பெறாதவர்குளடன் வந்து விட்டால் அதை master strategy உபயோக படுத்தி சமாளித்ததும் உண்டு....

வெற்றிலை பாக்கு செட் செட்டாக எடுத்து வைத்ததும் உண்டு....
சுண்டல் மடிக்க பழைய Hindu பேப்பரை கிழித்து வைத்ததும் உண்டு...
''நன்னா பொட்டலம் கட்டிற்கியே'' என்று வந்திருக்கும் மாமியிடம் Certificate வாங்கியதும் உண்டு...
அதே சுண்டலை Ziplock கவரில் போட்டு குடுத்ததும் உண்டு....

வெள்ளி கிழமை என்றால் ''புட்டு'' உண்டு......
எனக்கு புட்டு ரொம்ப பிடிக்கும் என்பதால் அன்றைய தினம் மாமிகள் கூட்டம் கம்மியாக வர வேண்டுமே என்று ஸ்வாமீயிடம் வேண்டியதும் உண்டு....
வந்த மாமிகளுக்கு இரண்டே இரண்டு ஸ்பூன் புட்டு பொட்டலம் கட்டி குடுத்ததும் உண்டு....

நன்றாக சமைக்க தெரிந்த மாமிகள் வீட்டிற்கு தினமும் collectionகாக போனதும் உண்டு....
வெந்ததும் வேகாததுமாக சுண்டல் செய்யும் மாமிகள் வீட்டில் ஒரே ஒரு நாள் தலையை காமித்து விட்டு ஓடி வந்ததும் உண்டு...

அம்மா அழைக்க சொல்லி கொடுத்ததை மனப்பாடம் பண்ணியதும் உண்டு.....
அதை மறக்காமல் ''எங்க ஆத்துல கொலு வெச்சுருக்கோம், வெத்தல பாக்கு வாங்கிக வாங்கோ'' என்று மழலையாக சொன்னதும் உண்டு....

தாத்தாவிடம் நவராத்திரிக்கு அம்மன் பாட்டு கற்றதும் உண்டு.....
அப்படி கற்ற ஒன்று இரண்டு பாடல்களை மாற்றி மாற்றி எல்லார் வீட்டிலும் பாடியதும் உண்டு....
முன்பு பாடிய வீட்டிலிருந்து யாரவது வந்து விட்டால், அவர்கள் போகும் வரை காத்திருந்து அதே பாடலை பாடியதும் உண்டு...
ஸ்ருதி பெசகாமல் பாட வேண்டுமே என்று பயந்ததும் உண்டு...
அப்படி பாடி விட்டால் இன்னொரு பாட்டு பாட சொல்வார்களோ என்று நினைத்தும் உண்டு...
பாடுகிற போது அந்த வீட்டின் வானர கூட்டம் ஜாடை காட்டி கேலி செய்ததும் உண்டு....
போனால் போகட்டும் என்று கடைசியில் அந்த கூட்டத்தை பார்த்து ஒரு புன்சிரிப்பு உதிர்த்ததும் உண்டு....

குழந்தை கிருஷ்ணராக வேடம் இட்டதும் உண்டு....
ஊசிமணி பாசிமணி குரத்தியாக குதித்ததும் உண்டு....
மடிசார் மாமியாக கரண்டியுடன் சென்றதும் உண்டு....
அந்த மடிசார் கழண்டு அதை கையில் பிடித்து கொண்டு அவசரமாக திரும்பியதும் உண்டு....
முதல் முறையாக தாவணி போட்ட உற்சாகத்தில் அந்த வருட கொலுவுக்கு நாள் ஒரு மேனி பொழுது ஒரு வண்ணமாக வித விதமாக பட்டு பாவடை தாவணி போட்டதும் உண்டு......
அதற்கு அடுத்த வருடம் நவராத்திரிக்கு அவைகள் எல்லாம் பீரோவில்தூங்கியதும் உண்டு.....
பாட்டியின் பட்டு புடவையை கட்டியதும் உண்டு....
அதை பார்த்து தாத்தா ''ஆஹா என் பேத்தி வளர்ந்து விட்டாள்'' என்று பூரித்ததும் உண்டு....

அம்மாவுடன் காலையில் தூக்க கலகத்தோடு ஸ்லோகம் சொன்னதும் உண்டு...
அம்மன் அலங்காரம் பார்க்க சாயங்காலம் தெருகோடி கோயிலுக்கு சென்றதும் உண்டு...

சரஸ்வதி பூஜை அன்று ''அப்பாடி படிக்க வேண்டாம்'' என்று எல்லா பள்ளி கூட புத்தகத்தையும் பூஜையில் வைத்ததும் உண்டு...
கல்லூரி பரீட்சை அடுத்த நாள் என்பதால் பூஜை அன்றும் பரபரப்பாக படித்ததும் உண்டு....

விஜயதசமி அன்று புது சைக்கிள் ஒட்டியதும் உண்டு....
அன்றே விழுந்து வாறி அப்பாவிடம் திட்டு வாங்கியதும் உண்டு...
விஜயதசமி அன்று Hindi Class சேர்ந்ததும் உண்டு....
Visharat பரீட்சைக்கு படிக்கும் பொழுது ஏன்டா சேர்ந்தோம் என்று நொந்து கொண்டதும் உண்டு...

கொலு முடிந்தவுடன் பொம்மைகளை பார்த்து பார்த்து பேப்பரில் சுற்றி பரண் மீது வைத்தும் உண்டு...
showcase கதவை மூடி அதுத்த கொலுவிற்கு பார்த்து கொள்ளலாம் என்று விட்டதும் உண்டு....

இன்று நான் இருக்கும் இடத்தில் கொலு இல்லை....அதை கொண்டாட நேரமும் இல்லை, மக்களும் இல்லை, ஆனால்.....
....இப்பொழுதும் நினைத்து நினைத்து மகிழும் நினைவுகள் உண்டு....ஞாபகங்கள் உண்டு....

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Puliyodharai Noodles

What do you need:
- Spaghetti or Maggie noodles (I would NOT recommend tagliatelle or any other pasta that you cannot roll with a fork, the mixing will not be uniform in that case)
- MTR Puliyodarai mix (its really good!) or homemade (if you are lucky)
- 2 teaspoons of Oil
- A teaspoon of Coconut scrap (Optional)
- A spoon of Ground nuts (Optional)
- A spoon of cooked Chick peas (konda kadalai) – mostly likely leftover from the previous day (otherwise its not worth the trouble of cooking it just for this)
- Coriander (Optional)
- Curry leaves or karuveppilai (Optional)

Time needed: 10 min

Kind: Not healthy, purely for the benefit of taste buds => using it once a month is acceptable!

How to do it:
- Cook Spaghetti in a pot of boiled water. Do not took until eternity and make it a porridge, just until its soft enough to eat. Also cook only a portion that you know you can eat. Left over spaghetti tastes like @%$#^%^^& !
- Since the above step will take a max. of 10 min, in the meanwhile take a pan, add 2 teaspoons of oil
- Add MTR puliyodharai mix (quantity depends on how spicy you like it) and everything else (coconut scrap, ground nuts, chick peas, curry leaves) and fry for a few seconds. If you have homemade paste it will mostly have all the above ingredients in which case your job is just to mix it !
- Set aside and let it cool
- Finally mix spaghetti with this, garnish with coriander and eat with a fork (very tough to use one’s hands :D)
- Drinking a glass of buttermilk along side with it or afterwards is recommended (since each one of these items can push your body temperature !)

- Spaghetti has a lower calorie content than rice
- There is a limit to how much spaghetti you can eat (unlike rice :D), so you will eat far less than usual
- But you still retain the wonderful taste of puliyodharai (solrecheve enakku vayellam jollu), I have had friends laugh at me at the mention of this but afte tasting it, they all make it now! I am going to spare myself the trouble of giving disclaimers as to who can eat this food. If you don't know, I cannot help it !

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


My Orkut Fortune for the day: What we think, we become (Please don't think you are a superhero and don't try to fly)

I couldn't help laughing thinking about how disclaimers have become an integral part of our life. what does this go to show ?
....that people are dumb enough to do such things (like believing one can fly) ?
....that they are dumber to blame others for it ?
....that people would rather give disclaimers than deal with these no-grey-cells people ?

I understand explaining terms of liability for a product or service you pay for because as a customer you are entitled to have certain privileges for the money you pay and its important to be clear what those privileges actually are but when I read disclaimers in help forums and blogs (including mine) I cannot but wonder if ''pointing fingers'' logic has stooped so low that no one can get by without disclaimer !

Let me give everyone the benefit of doubt and assume that the people who do use disclaimers are so worried about other people misunderstanding what they said/offered and that they want to spare the people the trouble of realising too late that they made a mistake...well, that is a happy and positive thought I can live with !

Disclaimer: I have nothing against disclaimers :D !

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

His last laddus....

Although the news piece is very sad, I have some questions about it

- Since when is a 39 yr old man considered a ''youth'' in India ? Should I be vain enough to consider that my blog brought about such a change and sad enough to think that it was brought about in this unfortunate incident?
- Had it happened in the US, will somebody sue the contest holders and also the movie makers of ''maya bazaar'' with ''kalyana samayal sadham'' that is very often shown on TV ?
- how is it an achievement to win an eating contest ? Idha chumma panna namma thinni pandaramnu solla maatom ??
- How did noone show eating as a talent in ''India's got talent'' ?

The kidding aside, lets hope that in the future, contest holders exercise some discretion in choosing the participants (and maybe even in choosing the contest concepts in the first place !) and viceversa. The loss of a life is not a joke, anyday !

Monday, August 24, 2009

India's got Talent, indeed !

When someone initially suggested to me that I should watch ''India's got Talent'', I was not very excited because I am always wary of the so-called reality shows where probably every move is orchestrated before and one has to be careful about what one chooses to watch for the sake of time and peace of mind!

But the show was promising from the very beginning and remained so throughout a couple of inevitable-in-a-reality-show disappointments aside where one's favorite did not make it to next round or some not-so-good performance got acclaimed too much for whatever reasons.

Its very easy for someone to say that its a copy of ''Britain's got talent'' and the original is better...blah...blah...but just think of plain numbers and make an assumption that 1% of the country's population is talented in one way or another and you have your answer - India definitely has a lot more to offer than any other country (Chinese probably do not have time for such little pleasures, they are too busy with technology and development !) and add to this the diversity and you can say that there is definitely no room for comparison at all !

You can watch all episodes at - the official website but the quality is unbelievably dismal. If you have patience, wait for the high quality videos to be uploaded to YouTube to totally enjoy the brilliant performances.

Some remarks about the show before talking about my favorites:

Host - Nikhil Chinappa: I fondly remembered him from my crazy-about-Mtv days and the discussions about who is better - Nikhil or Cyrus. He still retains the same sarcasm, well-timed witty remarks and the only thing receding w.r.t him is his hairline.

Host - Anshuman: He has this cute-guy-the-heroine-inevitably-dumps-for-the-sake-of-hero look, a good singing voice (that surprised many) and keeps up with all of Nikhil's pranks.

Judge - Shekar Kapur: He definitely has a way with words, only his expression makes one wonder if he will burst out crying (which he did atleast 5 times, and there is a limit to how many times a man can cry on TV - even Kamal does it only in his movies !) and he is always the ladies-man (keeps hitting on Sonali or any other beautiful girl every chance he gets, nothing offensive though) !

Judge - Sonali Bendre: One would assume she is definitely eye candy (she still looks ravishing inspite of losing her drop-dead figure to motherhood) but she made intelligent and unbiased observations all the time; she is my favorite judge.

Judge - Kirron Kher: Everytime I looked at her, I used to think ''How is she managing with that heavy jewelery ??'' but I have to give her credit for wearing nice saris all the time, the only one to do so in the entire show although Sonali did wear one for Independence Day. What have girls and women these days against Indian clothes ?? why is wearing a nice salwar or a skirt out-of-vogue ?? I know I am talking more about the costume than about the Judge ...well, read between the lines.

Here are some youtube links to some of the acts I really really enjoyed, trust me, they are better than watching some cheesy movie.

Salsa at its best: Sneha and Richard (I would give anything to be able to dance salsa like that !)

Coordination at its best: Prince group (the winners of the show)

Creativity at its best: Illuminati (you would grin at the apt name, had you read/seen angels and demons) - Tom and Jerry (video quality is not great though)

Flexibility levels at its best: Ujjain group (the second place winners)

Rapidfire Bharathanatyam at its best: Vaishnavi Patil

Besides these shows, there was a scintillating belly dancer, a 11 year old MJ like dancer, a really funny and creative ventriloquist, a totally brilliant karagattakarar , 2 women saxophonists, some really nice rock bands, singers, dancers, stunt performers and what not ! Many of them had to be eliminated not because they were not talented but because of the entertainment factor since the show was based on finding ''India's most entertaining act'' and the final results were based on an audience poll. The best part was that the show brought out people from all over India, irrespective of their age, social position and physical disabilities and gave them all a chance in the limelight. While a few of them, for example, got offers from Shekar kapur, for the rest of them having ''finalist or semi finalist in India's got Talent'' in their resume, was opening many new doors.

Now that the first season is over, I am hoping the second season remains as fresh and as promising and is not subjected to the banes of many reality shows that went down the drain after an intial powerful launch.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Second place counts !

I just finished watching the grand finale of ''India's Got Talent'' and I am really happy with the choice for the first and second places although I believe the third place was mainly due to the home advantage (many votes from Mumbaites for a Mumbai based group) than talent...anyway I am digressing....I will have another post just about the show.

The third place winners had their moment of glory and then there were 2 groups to choose from and the tension runs doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that revealing any one of the two places actually concludes announcing the results since the other place is automatically implied.

The hosts chose to announce the first place and naturally the winners deserved to rejoice after all the hardwork and hours of practice, not to mention their hopes and dreams coming alive with a price money of 50 Lakhs and a Maruti ka shandhar Gadi (like Nikhil reminded us a million times) Ritz...they were overjoyed, the got a standing ovation and glitter falling on them from the cieling of the magnificent set.

And all along, the group that probably missed out on winning the show by a few votes stands quietly in the background...their moment in the limelight is gone since the thunder was stolen by the winners and all they got was a bike worth 50K (how can you have a factor of 100 between prizes for the first 2 places ?! Its like having platinum and thagara dappa (Tin) medals in the Olympics !)...nobody seemed to remember that they stood 2nd out of probably 1000s of different contestants from all over India and have gone through gruelling sessions of practice and multiple levels of screening from both the judges and the audience. They deserved an applause even if not a standing ovation to tell them that they did make a mark, to tell them that they deserve to go on, to reach much higher levels ! Clap, clap, clap from me (and probably a few others who did so while watching the show) !

Exactly the same thing happened in the ''Super Singer'' show (and God knows it went on for years!)....while both Renu (third place) and Ajesh (the winner) had a round of appreciation, all Ravi (second place) got was a pat on the back with everyone moving towards Ajesh and jumping around him.

When the show has judges, planners, hosts, choreographers and thousands of technicians and all experienced ones at that, would it not occur to one person to point out that the second place counts ?! I sure hope someone does, atleast in the future.

From my side...congrats Ravi !! Great work, ''Lok Manya Tilak Sanskrutik Gnyas'' !! Here is my salute to your talent and I wish with all my heart that you go places !

Images are from google search ( and

Friday, August 21, 2009

Working in Germany

If you are already studying in Germany or if you intend to, then this post is not relevant for you. You might want to look here for information. This post is intended for those who aspire to come to Germany only for work.

Note: I personally have never been in Germany on a dependent visa and since I studied here (and so did most of my friends), I have even less information about coming to Germany directly for work.So I am digging around for info from friends and acquaintances and will keep updating this post as and when I learn more. In the meanwhile, leave your questions as comments.

Without beating about the bush, if you are not a member of the EU or a developed country, then coming to Germany to work is a indeed an ambitious task. The easy ways include studying in Germany and/or coming to Germany on intra-company projects.

It is obviously not impossible but there are road blocks you should be prepared for. The first stumbling block is obviously the work permit or arbeitserlaubnis. Usually a non-EU member can apply for a work permit, if and only if he/she already has a residence permit i.e. one should have a valid address and visa to be here, in the first place. This already poses difficulties because to have a valid address in Germany, you should either have studied here or should have a family member supporting you. So coming to Germany in search of a job is a bad idea. Better would be to have a job offer or atleast prospects before getting here (even in that case, I doubt if getting a visa would be easy).

Once you have a job contract, the company may apply for a work permit on your behalf (in case of large companies like Bosch) or you do it personally, in case of the smaller ones. An important step in this application process is the list of reasons that should be submitted by the company to the Arbeitsamt or Employment office to prove that you are important for the job and that the expertise you bring in to the company cannot be found ''locally''. Naturally, the decision of the Arbeitsamt is made easier if you have a strong resume (usually the processing, say for PhD holders is much faster than for those with a bachelors degree).

Once there is an acceptance from the Arbeitsamt, the international office or Ausländerbehörde will give you the work permit. Usually this is given for a maximum of 2 years and is bound to the company. This means that you should apply again for a new permit if you change companies (this is not very difficult given that the new job is not really different from the previous one). At the end of 2 years, the employer should issue a letter saying you are still employed with them and on submission of this letter, your work permit will be extended by another 2 years. Also, your residence permit will now be bound to the work permit since it will be listed as a means of your living.

The other difficulty is the foreign language. Students have the time for learning the language, culture and other required niceties; all their mistakes are made amidst other students and are condoned and in fact its a fun way to learn things. This luxury is unfortunately not available to one while being employed in a company. Although many companies have some form of training to make everyone comfortable with a multi-cultural environment, one has to carefully tread in the first few months while still sticking to deadlines and other responsibilities - definitely not a mean task !

For people who come here on a dependent visa, the rules are different. . One cannot work for a period of 2 years after which one is eligible for an ''open work permit'' that gives one the possibility of taking any form of employment. Exceptions are made in some cases and there are people who are allowed to work under certain conditions in the first 2 years.

For researchers, permission from the Arbeitsamt is not needed and hence getting a permit is considerably easier.

Finally, I have one word of caution for those who approach consultants and want to get to Germany by hook or by crook - DON'T ! I have absolutely no sympathy with consultants and even less for those who attempt to come here on a false pretext and/or false certificates/information. You have made your choice and I have made mine and since they do not overlap, please do not look up to me for help in this case; you will not get any.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cactus cell tower ?

I was in the middle of getting a simulation to work when my colleague walked in with a print-out that made me laugh out loud. The print-out had pictures of cell towers that either looked unusual and/or were located in totally unexpected areas. Out of curiousity, I did a google search and found the photos shown here. The first one is a cell tower in Arizona while the second one is from business week. You can find more such pictures here.

The laughter aside, I was amazed at the ingenuity behind keeping the cell towers inconspicuous for avoiding human intervention either in the form of theft or techno-phobia (I don't know if the word exists, if it doesn't this is going to be my contribution to the english language :D). On another note, it would be a lot beneficial if we learnt benevolent things from nature besides these sly camouflaging techniques.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Studying in Germany - After

You have your masters degree from a University in Germany, so what next ? There are obviously 2 options - doing a PhD or getting a job. There are a numbers of things that change depending on which one of these choices you make.

Before anything, this article says ''after'', so obviously there were earlier articles and they can be found here. All disclaimers stated in those articles are still good and valid

Obviously you would have thought about your career during the course of your studies. Here are a few steps that would help you get a kick start, besides taking an interest in what you study ofcourse :D !

German: By this time, you should have learnt german to an extent that you can maintain a reasonable conversation. Remember, noone really cares about the grammar mistakes and accent (ofcourse mastering them is an added bonus) as long as you attempt to learn and use the language. You can work in a team only if you are reasonably comfortable with the language even in a MNC. Nobody is going to conduct team meetings in english just for your sake !

Contacts: It is always easy for a company to process an application when it is referred to them through a professor or employee. So make contacts through your lecturers, professors, places where you work part-time as research student. Attend career fairs, conferences and related seminars offered/conducted at the University. These contacts can help you get an internship and/or master thesis and can also serve as references. The easiest way to get a job is to continue your tenure as an employee in the same company where you have been an intern. The team already knows you and your capabilities, so the hiring process is made very simple for them.

Time: Start applying atleast 6 months in advance. Remember there is a lot of paperwork, in getting your visa even after you get a job. So the sooner you start the better. Also many companies have a 2-3 stage interview process and all this takes time, precious time.

Application: You need a concise resume (max. of 2 pages) and a covering letter (this should be altered w.r.t the job position you are applying for) and both in GERMAN (this is Germany, remember ?). You can find tips on how to create a good resume online. Here are a few tips for applications.
  • In Germany, a resume should always have a photo, personal details , your studies/job experience in descending chronological order (most recent one should be first) and a couple of references. Remember, noone is interested in knowing that you were the cricket team captain in class X => Exercise discretion when listing your accomplishments.
  • References are really important and ONLY list people who know you well and will provide a good reference. All companies will contact your references before offering you a job.
  • Register in a job search engine like and have a detailed profile. All companies use such job search engines to find people.
  • Register in an business networking site like LinkedIn and have a detailed profile
  • Always follow up with a phone call a few days after sending in your application. The phone call (in German) can help them understand your interest, your language skills and will make them look up your application, if they haven't already done so.
Here is some information on the preliminary work one has to do before graduation.

Visa: The student visa is always bound to the degree you pursue, which means you cannot use the visa for long once you have graduated. In principle, you can stay in Germany for a year after you graduate with this visa, to look for a job. However you will have to show that you have funds or a student job to support your living costs.

Student Apartment: Obviously one can use it only when one is a student. The contract will most likely expire at the end of the semester you graduate. If you still have not found a place to move in to, you can apply for an extension. Depending on the availability, this may or may not be granted and so apply for an extension as early as possible.

Exmatrikulation: Just like registering at the University, this is more or less giving back your student id. Do not forget to do this because along with this process, you will also be included in the student alumni and you will probably also get free passes to career fairs. It would be smart to do this at the end of the semester even if you have graduated (If this option is available) since you can continue to enjoy student discounts everywhere until the end of the semester.

Now, let me go over the 2 career options one by one.

Doing a PhD
There are mainly 2 kinds of doctoral positions - part-time or full-time. In case of a part-time PhD, you are considered an employee of the University and hence you also have other duties besides you research, like tutoring master students, supervising master thesis and other administrative tasks. Usually this takes 5-6 years in Germany and the gross annual income will be around 40000 euro. After 45% taxes, your take-home pay will be between 1600-1800 euro. These figures obviously vary depending on your Univeristy, research topic and above all, sponsors.

In case of a full-time PhD, you do only research work and hence the duration is 3-4 years. You are considered a doctoral student and your take-home pay will be between 800-1200 euro.

Some universities also offer a third kind, where the pay scale and the time limit is between the 2 choices, given above. The information here is Germany-specific. But there a lot of students who do a PhD in countries like the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland.

Before choosing one of these options, you need to consider the following:
  • Can you deal with the PhD being less lucrative than a job for a few years ? If you have immediate finanical responsibilities, this is probably not the way to go.
  • How long can you spend on a PhD ?
  • Do you have interest in tutoring master students ? The answer to this question and the previous one will help you decide which kind of PhD you want to pursue.
  • It is my belief that to do a PhD, one needs a vision because it is research that may lead to expected or unexpected results and one should be highly committed. Do you have a vision and can you stick to it ?
Job contracts are highly regulated in Germany. Job contracts (for engineers that is) are usually 40 hour per week (can be 35 hr/week in some cases) and come with a 30 day vacation package (add to this 8-10 public holidays, I am so glad Germans take their vacation seriously :D). For a fresher with a masters degree, an annual gross income of 50,000 euro is considered an extremely good salary. Needless to say, salaries and perks are both individual and company dependent.
  • When you have an interview, do your homework and thoroughly learn about the company.
  • Have this information handy: starting date, expected salary and any other requirements related to the job (for example, travel perks, training etc.)
Once you have chosen your career path, life suddenly changes, for the better and inspite of that you will probably miss your student life like I did...oh..well...there are memories, really fond memories ! As always, leave your questions as comments, will do what I can, Good luck !

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Oktober Fest in September

I am actually surprised that I havent written about this all along given that the October fest has been an integral part of my life in the last few years....hang on, don't brand me as a ''beer drinker'' (for the record, I hate the smell of beer and I haven't been able to figure out how so many people like it)....there is a much simpler reason....I live just a stone's throw away from where the fest takes place and that means.....

.......I see the preparations from scratch everyday enroute to work and it starts in July !
.......I visit the fest atleast 4 times; somehow many of my friends suddenly want to visit me during this season :D
.......I shocked the waitress (who stared at me for a few seconds) by ordering a glass of water; was probably the first one to do so in a beer festival !
.......I own a dirndl (a traditional dress - a white blouse, pinafore with an apron)

So why all the fuss ? It is considered one of the world famous fests (many people claim that is the largest fest but I always have my doubts when anyone uses the superlative). If October fest does not ring a bell, then wikipedia can help you.

First of all, the October fest begins in the 2nd of week september and ends on the first couple of days in October. It is a sort of misnomer, but weather is to blame for that since it gets way too cold in October and the fest is not as enjoyable.

Second of all, only breweries from Munich are allowed to participate in the fest. Each brewery will have its own tent, with its own beer and band. Beer served in the fest has a higher alcohol content than normal and the min quantity you can order is 1 litre. The waitresses take a bet on how many 1 litre glasses they can carry at the same time and the glass weighs atleast half a kilo!!

Third of all, the fest is inaugurated by the official tapping of the keg by by the mayor as youngsters eagerly wait to get their first beer and this is around noon ! I was confused and amazed at the same time when I first saw this :)

Finally, there is a parade of the breweries and this begins with a professional canon salute. I have always been amazed at how some of my friends and colleagues remain faithful to their favorite brewery ! Do you know you can actually get an engineering degree in brewing and beverage technology ?!

Just like Germany, October fest is not just about beer. It is more or less like a trade fair with a lot of fun rides (I have been on nearly all of them), lot of home made items to buy, lot of food stalls right from pancakes to fruit dipped in chocolate (I would die for pineapple with white chocolate !) and if you notice closely, lot of family time - I have seen pics of babies with the title ''His/Her first october fest'', have heard of proposal stories that took place there, have heard funny ''my first beer'' stories to gross ''I-puked-here'' stories, have celebrated a project completion with my colleagues here and have numerous fond memories of spending time here with my near and dear ones.....October fest is simply a celebration for everyone living here and if you live in Europe or ever happen to here in September, you should definitely take a peek.

Tips for visitors
  • Hotel prices are ridiculously high during October fest and hotels close to the city centre get booked really fast. So book one well in advance. is a good place to look for hotels. When you pick a hotel, pick one close to the U-Bahn station and/or close to Theresienwiese (place where the fest takes place) or hauptbahnhof (central station)
  • Parking can be a catastrophe during the fest, so I would suggest leaving the car in the hotel and walking or taking the public transport to the fest. When you book a hotel, make sure you get a parking spot too.
  • Be prepared to deal with a crowd. If you are from Chennai, imagine T-Nagar a few days before Diwali.
  • Be prepared to deal with the prices. A glass of beer (glass here is 1 litre, the min quantity you can order) is around 8-9 euro
  • If you are coming with a large group, especially on a weekend and you want to be seated in one of tents, make reservations. Otherwise you will easily wait 2 hours or more get a table.
Also, herzlich Wilkommen zum Oktober Fest ! Prost !

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sporty Indian - an Oxymoron ?

In Munich: Its a bright sunny morning. A 40 year old man (no mills and boon like blond-hair-blue-eye type, just a normal man) is riding his bike (read bicycle) from home to work. Its a 20km ride and so he changes from his cycling pants to office clothes on reaching his workplace. He is really busy at work since he is going on vacation soon, for his wedding. He is saying to his friends excitedly ''My life is just beginning, I am so excited'' and he rushes home, again on his bike (remember its a 20km stretch), for a barbeque that he and his fiancee have arranged.

In Chennai: Its a bright sunny morning. A 40 year old man is driving his honda city to work. His office is on the 3rd floor and the elevator is out of order. After climbing 3 flights of stairs, he is puffing, panting and totally out of breath. While he is recuperating with a glass of cold water, he says to his friends ''what to do, I am well past my prime''. After his work day, he goes home, has dinner with his family and settles down on his couch to watch a movie, some cricket and news.

It is true that lifestyles, culture and priorities are different in both these countries. But does that really warrant no health awareness and a total lack of fitness or any related activities once someone gets married and has a kid ? Is being older than 30 an added excuse ?

Why does ''Sports'' still remain something done out of compulsion in schools or colleges ?

Some really disturbing facts:

Obesity has affected more than 10% of the Indian population (and that is 120 million people !)

91% of deaths in India are due to diseases and metabolic disorders, according to WHO.

India's track record in Olympics is well known. No comments.

In Commonwealth games, usually the host country will win a lot of medals mainly because the participants from the country would have trained for months in the venue and will be really used to it as compared to participants from the outside. India will host the commonwealth games in 2010. The venue is still under construction and in the best case, Indian participants will hardly have a couple of months to train in it.

The problem (and the solution ?)

Indian cuisine is one of the world's largest and according to me, the most delicious too. With the variety available, watching what one eats is quite difficult. Agreed.
But does that justify being a couch potato ? A lot of people like to blame the traditions, the ceremonies and various celebrations where certain sweets and savories are considered a must. What they forget is, these were coined by people who probably toiled the whole day in fields or walking to and fro to temples and various places; certainly not for those zipping around in cars and using elevators/escalators all the time. Remember, noone asked you to have bhajji and samosa everyday.

Marriage is a very important part of one's life and can change a person for better or for worse. Agreed.
But does having a spouse justify bloating out of proportion ? Why should getting married imply the end of trying to be fit and attractive ? Infact, that is when one needs the health to rear the family and the attraction to keep the passion in the marriage alive.

Parents say my kids mean the world to me. Agreed
But does that mean you can throw caution to the winds w.r.t your health ? When you can take your kids to swimming, skating, karate, dance classes and what not, how long would it take for you to do something similar while keeping company to your kids? How can parents forget that the longer they stay healthy and fit, the more beneficial it is to their kids ?

On the bright side, it is true that a lot of people have started going for morning walks, yoga classes and are enrolled in a gym....but this is just a beginning and we have a long and arduous way to go to live upto the challenge !

Ancedote: I have to digress a bit and definitely mention the mamis in saris with an ipod and nike shoes (most likely sent to them from their kids living abroad). I saw them early morning in the marina beach, Nageswara rao park (Mylapore) and in Ashok nagar park (yup, managed to go to all these places during my brief stay in Chennai to compensate for the 6 meals I was having everyday !). The mamas on the other hand were much smarter in their striped t-shirts and matching shorts ! What totally cracked me up was the laughter therapy many people are into these days - seeing 10 strict-school-principal-like mamis and mamas standing in a circle, with their hands up in the air and laughing out loud for no apparent reason is simply too much to take. Result: I was laughing like crazy at the end of my jogging session and doing some real laughter therapy :D !

Coming back to the topic in hand: Seeing sports as a career is still not prevalent in India but we have started with tiny steps here as well. Progress can only be made if the middle class attitude of wanting sons and daughters to be engineers, doctors and IT professionals, as a way of coming up in life, is let go of. I understand that it can be difficult for those worried about financial security to take the plunge, this is where the support from the Govt. will be most valuable. But someone has to start somewhere to break this vicious cycle ! And that someone should be from our generation - probably my son or daughter can help me with this in a few years :D!

And finally some simple fitness tips:
  • Any exercise or activity done in the morning on an empty stomach is 3 times effective compared to any other time of the day. Since you break your fast after nearly 10-12 hours, any exercise done will dip into the stored reserves in your body aka fat.
  • Drink lot of water BEFORE you start exercising rather than during. Dehydration will cause you to slow down.
  • Start your routine with 10-15 min of walking or running to warm up, and then stretch to avoid muscles tightening (lots of simple stretching exercise available in youtube). Now when you continue with your regime you will be surprised at how much more your hands and legs cooperate.
  • Take the stairs. Climbing or walking on a road with a higher gradient is twice as effective as just walking.
  • Avoid rice for dinner. Carbohydrates are not friends you invite for dinner :). If you must, cook just a cup of rice, so that even if you are tempted, there is no more rice left to eat.
  • Avoid long gaps between meals. The longer the gap, the ravenous you get => the more you eat, the less you digest => FAT. Have an apple or a banana inbetween meals. If at any time, you are really hungry, your digestive system is not going to be happy with you.
  • Hide the remote. Walking to the TV is exercise too.
  • Do not drive all the time. Walk to nearby places.
Stay healthy, Stay fit and enough with the reading, go out and exercise :) !

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I have no home but I have a lawyer....

When I read the synopsis of John Grisham's book - The Street Lawyer, I was confused. It talked about homeless lawyers and although I understood the term as lawyers for the homeless, I still could not grasp why they needed lawyers in the first place ! Wont they have enough trouble finding a place to eat and sleep ?

The book is not a fast moving thriller that makes you want to read chapter after chapter (even when you know you are unbelievably late for bed and your henceforth ensuing workday is not going to be great) ! The book is about an American lawyer, who just like any other lawyer, works 90 hours a week in a big firm, dreaming to become a partner one day and taking home a couple of million dollars a year and how his life drastically changes because of a hostage situation.

The escape from death suddenly gives him a whole new perspective and he regrets being a part of the rat race. His restlessness leads him to public interest law and it was this part of the book that totally shook me.

I have just jotted down what I learnt (from the book and the follow-up internet research I did), along with my feelings (in Italics)

There are millions of homeless people in the US and nearly half of them are African-american. If a developed country like the US has this many homeless people, what is happening in the developing countries ? I am really scared to even look up the numbers in India.

There are people and families that actually freeze to death, not because they were out skiing or they lost their way in a snow storm but simply because they do not have a shelter or a place to live. I cannot imagine taking out the trash in my pyjamas in winter. This makes me glad that India is protected weatherwise, to a large extent but images of people sleeping on platforms in Nainital came to mind. I was there in November a few years ago to meet a cousin and I remember how cold it was even inside the house.

Numerous crack babies are born every year. I did not even know what this term meant until today. They refer to babies that are born to mothers who consumed crack heroine (commonly known as crack) while they were pregnant.

75% of the homeless are either addicted to alcohol or drugs and/or involved in prostitution. Being ''clean'' for 24 hours is considered a record. When these people have no money for food where do they find money for drugs or alcohol ? Is it like a barter system with the latter leading to the former ?

There are lawyers who help the homeless and naturally for free. They fight against the Govt. that makes homelessness a crime - cops chasing away or even worse, arresting people sleeping on parks or bus stops. They fight the social security system to make sure these people get the benefits they deserve. I somehow still have difficulty wrapping my head around ''Fighting the system''...I thought it was a curse reserved for the developing countries.

There are shelters and soup kitchens that feed hundreds of people everyday. But there are millions of homeless, what are the others doing for food ?

Even in these shelters and soup kitchens, there are always too few volunteers and too many homeless people. Why can't every firm/university have a ''volunteer day'' every quarter ? When the Govt. can spend time and money making new traffic rules, tax rules, rules against smoking in public, why is someone dying from hunger not an important concern? I am going to remember this everytime I touch a morsel of food.....I really am.....

Just like no place is immune to disease and sickness, there is also no place immune to hunger and poverty. If only each one of us donated some time, money, care and attention to it (and there are numerous ways to do it !!), maybe one fine day....we can drive it out and make this world a better place to live ! It may sound cliched, dramatic but I wish for it to come true with all my heart and soul...I really do....

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A pinch of Salt

well...actually the title is a gross underestimation since I am going to talk about a place that has produced 70,000 tonnes of salt and can still produce salt for another 1000 years - the salt mines of Bad Dürrnberg, a few km away from Salzburg, Austria.

If you are ever in Salzburg and have an extra day, do not miss the Salt mines and why ?

- If you have never been in a mine, this can make the best first impression (like it did with me)
- The ride through the mines on what is called a pit railway (a motorized long cart that can take you into the mines and spare you the 5km walk !) gets you more excited than when you get to wear the white protective overalls before entering the mine. The warnings about the dos and donts gets your heart racing (you think if there is a warning, then there IS a risk :D !). Dark tunnels that seem never ending make you wonder about how miners worked in olden days
- The tour of the mines is made interesting with lectures from a multi-lingual guide and ours had a sense of humour and to add to it, you have interesting videos (not the national geographic kind but the story telling kind) to learn about the history of the mines
- You get to cross over the border into Germany without a passport, obviously while still being underground
- The best part: you get to slide down wooden chutes that are about 50-100 m long to go to different levels (exactly like miners did) and that too twice ! You would be amazed at the acceleration and I am talking about literally sliding (this is when you are thankful you put on the white overalls) !!
- Finally, you take a raft ride on a salt lake with music and lights that highlight the different kinds of salt formations.
- Once you come out of the mine, you can complete your day with a tour of the Celtic village (Celts settled in this area nearly 2500 years ago)

Some interesting facts:
- Salary is derived from the roman word salarium which was more or less the pay given to soldiers for buying salt or ''sal'' (coined from the fact that salt was a mode of payment in those days)
- Italian architecture: Prince Wolf Dietrich built numerous buildings and castles in Salzburg all based on Italian architecture that many times you stop to wonder if you are in Austria or Italy. Residenz platz, Schloss (Castle) Mirabell are a few of the examples.
- Crash course on salt mine formation:
continents drift -> ocean water trapped between land masses -> eventually trapped water evaporates leaving salt behind -> over years, geological layers form over the salt layer -> result is a salt mine within a mountain !

I have been in Salzburg in winter but visiting it in summer was a completely different experience. The water fountain in the Residenzplatz and the flowers in Mirabell garden were a summer treat. The stunning view from the top of the Fortress of Hohensalzburg was worth the climb and I couldn't help but compare the picture to the snowy white sheet and fairytale-like-view I had enjoyed last november.

All around the city, I noticed people getting ready, women in their traditional Drindl and men in their leather suspenders for open-air Mozart concerts...after all he was born in Salzburg. As I saw the concert stages being built and the instruments being lined up, my mind was once again looking at pictures of christmas market in these same places and I realised every season makes the city beautiful in its own way.

I finally boarded my train back to Munich with the satisfied feeling that it was a weekend well spent.....!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

How lucky are you ?

You are running late to catch your flight and when you reach the counter you know your flight is already gone but then comes the announcement that the flight is delayed by an hour and you sigh with relief while your friends claim you are lucky !

There are people who never miss a train or a bus ever, there are people who never lose baggage, there are people who get everything at the right time, there are people who brush death and escape alive and unscarred (both physically and mentally)

Some call them blessed, some call them lucky.....but at one point or another we have all believed in ''luck'', maybe worded in different terms.

So what if in this business world, where everything is ''green'' and is measured with GDP, stock value, ''luck'' also became an investment ?

Thats what the movie Luck is all about.

I would love to discuss it in detail, about how some parts left me bewildered, some parts left me shocked and analyse the rights and wrongs in it but that would be a spoiler.

So dont read reviews, dont ask your friends for a storyline, just watch the movie and I bet you will be taken aback in one way or another (disclaimer: need not necessarily be in a good way).

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Studying in Germany - During

Disclaimers: If you have read the previous posts in this category, then you will know what I mean. All disclaimers stated there are applicable here too.

Now that you have arrived and successfully enrolled, what are you expected to do ? Study and be a model student....oh...well...easier said than done, eh ? well, here are some pointers, and examples in all cases refer to the University of Stuttgart.

Lectures and Lab: Your would be required to complete some credits to earn your degree. You can choose the subjects you want to earn these credits. However, depending on your major there might be a couple of mandatory courses and labwork.

Professors/Lecturers will not usually worry about your attendance, it is upto you to do that. Assignments are usually not graded. You would be well advised to solve the assignments not just to do well in the exam but also to understand the subject.

Labwork will usually involve some preparation before hand - learning about the equipment, its usage etc. In some cases, you might be asked to take a short test to verify that you are really prepared to handle the expensive equipment.

Exams and Grading: Written exams usually last 45 min to 1.5 hours. In some cases, Professors may offer oral exams which will also last as long.

Plan your coursework in such a way that you are not overloaded (3-4 subjects a semester is a good rule of thumb). If you take 3 subjects, try to write the corresponding exams in the same semester, even if you have the option of taking the exam in the next semester. Your preparation will be so much easy when you finish the exams along with the lectures. Note: Some subjects may be available only in the summer or winter semester. Be careful to choose them correctly to avoid waiting an extra semester.

Grading system in Germany is usually on a 4 point scale with 1 being best and 5 being fail (This is completely opposite to the system in the US). Finishing your course with any grade less than 2 is considered really good. Note: Many exams will also have relative grading where the highest scorer will get 1 and the others will be graded relative to his/her score; the highest scorer could have scored 90/100 or 50/100.

HiWi: Working as Research Assistants is a good way to learn, have something useful listed in your resume and finally to make contacts with Professors. Even if there are no HiWi Ads in the website you can contact lecturers in the department of your choice and ask them for a position. An email with a brief resume (2 pages utmost) would suffice. Note: Send an email to the lecturers, not to Professors - they have no time for applicants.

If you have worked as a HiWi for a long time on a project, your supervisor will know your capabilities well enough to get you some contacts in the Industry for an internship or maybe even for a job.

Internship and Master thesis: Most courses ask for a 3 month internship as a requirement. Internships are a win-win situation since companies get a cheaper workforce and students get training on-the-job. So getting an internship is relatively easy if you apply right and can speak some German. Most companies pay somewhere between 500-800 euro per month for an internship and students often end up doing a 6 month internship.

Most course also require the students to do a 6-month master thesis. The topic should be approved by your Professor. Usually Universities prefer that the students do the thesis in one of their departments. Students choose to do it in a company because they want to get paid for the thesis.

If the University has no rules about the master thesis being done in a company, then the internship tenure can continue on to a 6-month master thesis in the same company. Note: Since the company has had a year to observe your competencies, getting a job in the same company would be a strong possibility. So do well and make more contacts (always needed !)

Extracurricular Activities: Being a student, you should take advantage of the various extra curricular activities the university offers either for free or for really subisdised rates. These activities would involve everything from swimming to dance lessons to language courses. These places are also great to make new friends.

That being said, there are a few things you must take utmost care about

Personal Hygiene: You could have been a pampered child at home where your mom washed, pressed and even handed your clothes to you but now that you are on your own, its time you learnt to take care of these things.

Because of the weather, Germans may skip a shower or two and when you are tempted to do the same, remember that your sweat glands are a lot more active than theirs. Using a mild deo or perfume would also be a good idea. One does not have to smell ''nice'', one just shouldn't smell, catch my point ? Along the same lines, it makes sense to wash the jackets once in a while even if you wear mutliple layers of clothing inside.

The same rules apply to one's breath. If you have had garlic or onions for lunch, have some pity on your lab partner and chew some mint !

Health: If you have never cooked in your life before, never mind, now is the time to learn. Google can help you find the simplest recipes. The key is to eat healthy food. So unless you can manage all the time with cereal, salad, milk and fruit, its about time you start cooking at home.

Many students make the mistake of eating junk food since its cheap and pay the price, in the long run in the form of over-weight and/or deficiency problems.

Do not use your course as an exercise to sit in front of the laptop all the time. Take some exercise. If you have time to chat, watch movies, gossip, then you also have time to go for a run. Another good way to get some exercise and have some fun, would be to get a bicycle (second-hand ones can be purchased in flea markets for reasonable prices)

Home country's Image: The moment you step outside India and come to live in another country, you are an Indian ambassador ! Anything and everything you do will not trace back to you but to your country. If you are late for a couple of meetings, the consensus would be ''Indians are never punctual''. If you get caught without a ticket in a train, the ticket collector will pay extra attention to ''Indians'' the next time.

Its human nature to generalise and create prototypes. If we saw a couple of Germans walk into a temple with their shoes on, we would immediately complain ''Germans do not respect our culture''....see what I mean ?

Even if one is not extraordinary and bringing India glory, the least one can do is be ordinary and not stick out as a rule-breaker !

What you must do

Travel: If you are a student living in Europe and are not traveling, you are missing out on one of the greatest opporutunities in life. Many people say that the only way to experience Europe is by living in it for a couple of years. When you already have the chance, use it, use it, use it !!

It is so nice to travel to different countries - trying to figure out the language, trying to get by with a few phrases that one learns from the internet, tasting a new cuisine, listening to new music...the list is endless. With every trip, you will grow and learn and whats more you will have a lot of fun in doing so !

Learn something new: Choose a hobby - something you will only get to learn to Europe - and pursue it, you will surprised at what you are capable of doing. This would be the best time to do it, before you join the rat race and start running behind projects and deadlines.

Some examples would be
- Learning a european language: learning French and going to Paris to try it out on the French is more fun than just learning French
- Taking dance lessons: Imagine dancing along in a Flamenco show in Spain
- Diving, Skiing, Tandem biking etc..etc..etc...manam irundhal margabandhu :D !

Use your time here wisely ! Have Fun !

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Germany - there is more to it than Beer !

Yes, Germans like their Beer and yeah, Germany has the auto-bahn, which has some sections with no speed limits, but there is definitely a lot more to Germany than that.

Disclaimers: The intention of the article is not to typecast Germans but to make it easy for foreigners who come to Germany to understand their culture and them better. The article purely reflects my views based on my experiences (in italics throughout this blog) and finally, remember there are always examples and exceptions.

Punctuality and Time: Germans are extremely punctual. If you walk into a 5pm meeting at 5:01, you would have missed the first part of the introduction for sure ! If this is a technical meeting involving demos, then you would see them getting ready for it from 4:30 onwards (or much earlier) because starting at 5 ALWAYS means EXACTLY starting at 5.

Germans value time a lot, in the sense that they would not prefer small talk when they are working. They pretty much stick to 'work while you work and play while you play'. If it is a 8 hour work day, they will work exactly for 8 hours (not counting the lunch and coffee breaks) and then leave. This might be difficult for desis who are used to 11 or 12 hour work days, of which probably a few hours are spent in chit-chat and/or browsing. So if a German colleague is not willing to talk to you during work hours, it is not personal, it is simply the work culture.

My experience: I walk to a bus-stop and notice an old lady complaining to her friend that she is fed up of the public transport system and that things are not as they used to be. While I am wondering, why she feels that way (since I totally love the public transport here), the bus arrived and I almost choked with laughter when I heard her say "There comes the bus and it is 2 minutes late today too". In my mind, I was thinking of the times I stood in some bus-stop in Chennai without a clue as to when the bus would come and if it would actually come ! I am not trying to demean PTC (I love Pallavan - have fond memories in 21, 21G and 5B :D) but I was thinking about how pampered the old lady was and how she still did not realise it !

Trust and Reliability: Germans usually say 'Yes' or 'No'. They do not prefer 'maybe' responses. Sometimes when they are so frank, it might seem impolite but the truth is they are only going by facts. If you get a 'yes' for a task, you can be sure that it will be complete, come what may....ergo, Yes means yes and no means no. The tricky part is when desis say 'yes' to be polite, even when the task is ambitious, Germans believe it is 'doable' and this will naturally lead to a misunderstanding.

Germans are truthful, even when the truth is bitter. They have no problem in accepting that they do not know something, even in an interview. Conversely, they also believe that the other person is saying the truth and there is no need for verification. Interviews here, for example, will not have technical exams but more or less a discussion on what you claim to know in your resume.

My experience(s): I had an interview for an internship that my professor had set up for me. It lasted 5 minutes, seriously ! They had already looked at my resume. They first asked me if I had read the project description and if I was interested in the internship offer. When I said yes, they gave me the contract. Nobody had ever placed so much trust in me professionally !

I was invited to coffee and when my host asked me if I would like a piece of cake, I politely refused although I was really hungry. I was being the total desi, who refuses the first time and and agrees the second time....only there was no second time because Germans read a no as a ''no''. If you are hungry, say so and eat :D

Adherence to Rules: Rules mean everything to them irrespective of how much time, money and effort will be spent in doing so. Sometimes it is frustrating, at other times it seems the most logical way of doing things.

My Experience(s): I was getting my passport by post from an embassy. I had to go to the post office to collect this parcel. The parcel required showing a govt. id and given that I did not have my license then, I was in a catch 22 situation. I explained to the lady in the counter that the parcel contained my passport but she would not take my word and open the packet ''unauthorised''. Parcels can also be picked up by people who have an authorisation letter from the recipient. So I asked her if I can authorise her to ''pick up'' the parcel for me and as a post office employee, she is apparently not supposed to do that. In the end, I authorised a colleague of mine, who showed his id, and got me the parcel. I only wonder how they allowed me to ''authorise'' someone when I couldn't prove my own identity ?! I was afraid that asking this question would mean more rules, so I simply shut up !!

It was October fest (the world famous beer festival in Munich) and I noticed a totally drunk chap swaying to and fro in the road. He was walking before me and when he entered the subway to catch the train, I was worried he was going to fall into the track. Suddenly he made a sharp movement and while I was still in shock he moved to a ticket machine and bought a ticket !!! I was open mouthed and I was even more shocked when he got the ticket punched (at a validating machine) so that it was validated before he boarded the train. I couldn't get over how the buying and validating a ticket before boarding the train was so much an integral part of him that he remembered to do it even in that drunken stupor !! He is the first drunk man to have impressed me in a good way.

Efficiency: The word ''German efficiency'' is common and true to this word, efficiency is the watchword here. There are lots of meetings, discussions, plans and one would think this is taking a lot of time but only at the end of project comes the realisation that not only is the project on time and in budget, but every contigency is also accounted for. The ''attention to detail'' is a trait they are most likely born with !

My experience: I was in the BMW museum and I came across one of their first bicycles and right next to it is a detalied LOE (Level of Effort) that would put today's excel worksheet to shame ! This LOE describes man-hours and other costs for every part with detailed description on what might cause delays.

Privacy and Personal space: Germans value their privacy and personal space so much that if you are ever invited to someone's home, you can assume that he/she considers you a great friend.

My experience: I had gone ballroom dancing with a few German dance classmates and had forgotten my house keys at work and getting into the office building at night would require a special access card that I did not have. When I realised this, it was already 11pm and I was frantically making calls to get hold of someone who could let me into the office. Although all my classmates were sympathetic, none of them invited me to spend the night in their homes. They would have gladly lent me money to check into a hotel (thankfully I had my credit card for that) but inviting an acquaintance home is something they would not do. They have nothing against me but they are not comfortable in sharing their personal space with someone that is not a spouse or a partner. I actually spent the night with a Punjabi family who owns a restaurant close to my house. The restaurant owner saw me making calls and asked me what was up. Even before I completed my sentence, he said that I could stay with him and his wife - Desi hospitality is unbeatable !

Independence: The social system is in such a way that they are anything but dependent. You will often see a 80-yr old using one of these walking assist devices and doing her own shopping. Even while traveling in Europe, you will often come across tourists reading maps and you will surprised to note that hardly anyone is asking for directions.

My experience: It was my second day in Germany and I was trying to figure out where the lecture hall, where my german classes would take place, was. I asked a German that walked past me and he made me walk a few steps with him, pointed me to a map, showed me where I was standing, smiled and left ! I thought he was messing with me and then gradually I understood he was giving me the tool to figure out the answer rather than giving me the answer itself and why - because thats what he would do, if he was lost he would look for a map and not for directions, he would figure that out himself !

Level of Affability: Germans are not extroverts. They are not openly friendly and they do not go around smiling at everyone but once you know them, they can be very warm.

My experience(s): During my first year on the job, I did not even know if my colleague (who I worked with in most projects) was married but now that we are friends, we know each other's childhood stories.
One of my German friends came all the way to India for my wedding even though he did not have enough time and money to travel in India. He attended my wedding, just spent a week in Kerala and came back....needless to say, I was really touched.

Environment: Germans care a lot about keeping everything clean and green. They seriously take care of energy conservation. Most people take the public transport to work for this purpose. Lighting in most public places are built in with sensors so that they can be automatically switched off if no human presence/movement is detected.

Noise pollution is one of the most hated words here. Using a horn while driving is considered taboo and is actually illegal within the city. If you are having a loud party on a weekday without informing your neighbours you can be sure that cops will become party-crashers !

My experience: When I first landed in Stuttgart, my expectation of seeing a city with skyscrapers was erased and everywhere I saw it was green. This was amazing given that Stuttgart is one of the most industrialized cities in Germany ! It was so silent in my dorm on the first day, especially since I had arrived much earlier than most people that I had trouble sleeping !!

Loyalty: Germans are extremely loyal to the place they grew up in. They generally would not even consider moving from one state to another.

My experience: When I was working in Stuttgart, all my colleagues had studied in Stuttgart, graduated from the University of Stuttgart and except for a brief stint in a foreign country for an internship or exchange program, all of them had always been in Stuttgart.

Vacation: Germans love their vacation and enjoy it to the fullest. Most jobs come with a 30 day vacation package and add to it 8-10 public holidays. They make really good use of the 40 days. They are great travelers and are extremely interested in knowing/experiencing other cultures and cuisines. These vacations are well planned and during one of these, they fall off the radar completely as in they will not be reachable.

My experience: All my German friends have atleast been to 5 Non-european countries for vacation in the last few years I have known them.

Sports and Entertainment: Germans love watching sport - football and doing sport - swimming, cycling, skiing, trekking (you name it !). Germans are also voracious readers. German is the second most used language in writing books and this is impressive when one considers the number of german speakers in comparison to the rest of the world.

Germans are not television or movie friendly. Believe me when I say most of my colleagues do not even have a TV at home (reminds me of Joey's question from Friends: If you don't have a TV, whats all your furniture pointing at ?! ROFL !!). It is true though. You will find only foreigners and youngsters (since the movie craze is slowly catching on here too) in theatres. I know people who have never heard of Pirates of the Caribbean !!

My experience: The first time I saw my professor, a 50 year old man, coming to the University in a suit but on a bicycle I laughed. But when I realised he cycles 15kms to and fro everyday, the laugh was on me because at my age, I do not believe I can do it and still spend a whole day at the university...I would be exhausted ! And this is the man who owns a Porsche !!

That was a lot of blah...blah...I got carried away, here is a time-saving (and probably less interesting) version of it (dos and donts, if you will)
  • Every country has its own history, culture and practices. You don't have to like them all but learn to respect them and to be tolerant. I assure you, they will do the same - I still remain a vegetarian and Germans respect that.
  • Multi-cultural interactions are always tricky. So give people the benefit of doubt - is the only way to grow.
  • Give people some time to get used to you - do not ask people about their marital status, income and age (especially in case of women)
  • Give people some space - do not barge in without appointments or drop by without making a call
  • To the most part, I agree with ''Be a Roman in Rome'' but there is no need to lose your identity just because you are in a foreign country - I wear salwars to work in summer when the weather permits it and I wore a sari to the christmas party and everyone loved it.
  • Be ready to learn, to face challenges, to have fun !
If you are here already, be ready for an interesting and exciting life !

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Blog stays as memories ?

I came across this blog and needless to say, the word sowmya got my attention. The more I read it, the more similarities I saw - someone who liked writing just like that, someone who talked about Chennai...and I could not help placing myself in the same situation as she was and wonder how I would have reacted, my family would have reacted.....I made a note that I was going to write as much as possible too, so that my near and dear ones have my photos, blogs and everything possible to assure them of my presence......I had to stop these thoughts before they went on too far.....May her soul rest in peace !

And yes, I am glad I am alive, well and happy ! Thank you God !

Studying in Germany - Arrival

Disclaimers: I graduated from the University of Stuttgart in October 2005. A lot of things have/could have changed since then. Most of the information is obviously from my own experience in Stuttgart and from my current stay in Munich. Although other cities in Germany are not drastically different, there could be a lot of city-specific information that I am missing. In short, please google for detailed information. Here is one such link I found -

If this is 'arrival', then obviously there is an article before this and you can read it here.

The first step would be to check your university website for A-Z FAQs. You might be able to find even email ids of senior students who can give you up-to-date information. Here is an example:

Below given is a list of things you would have to do once you get here. Since many Universities have an orientation program that begins a month before semester begins, to help international students settle down, learn the language and get comfortable with their surroundings. Do not miss this orientation, its a lot of fun and it makes life a lot easier when you are running from lecture to lab to shopping to cafeteria if you atleast know where everything is !

Weather: If you are from a place where the coldest it gets is 20 deg C, then the weather in Germany will surprise you. There are 4 seasons and hence 4 different sets of jackets, clothing and shoes that go with them ! Do not try and buy everything in India, just have a couple of sweaters, a jacket (do not buy a leather one, is very difficult to maintain especially in rain and snow), some thermal undergarments and you can buy the rest here.

Airport to University: Check if the universities have an airport pick-up service. If there is none available, do not panic. All airports in Germany are well connected to cities by means of railway networks and/or public transport. The airport website will have detailed information about it. Here is one example - . The 'getting to the airport' section will give you clear information. Besides this, there are always 'Information Counters' in any airport or railway station marked by an "i", also known as "i-punkt".

If you are arriving in Frankfurt and are catching a train to another city, there is a railway station right at the airport. The train availability and price can be obtained from . You can also book a ticket online. Note: Please allow a couple of hours for customs, immigration, baggage claim while booking the ticket. Since trains from the airport are always full, getting 'seat reservation' will be a smart idea. Seat reservation can be done at an extra cost of 3 euro per train.

If you have already reserved for accommodation, make sure you know where to pick up the keys from. Send an email with your time of arrival to the concerned person.

Avoid arriving on a weekend since all offices are closed from friday afternoon to monday morning. NO SHOPS ARE OPEN ON A SUNDAY ! All shops close at 8 pm on working days and much earlier on a saturday depending on where you live.

Here is a link to the welcoming service offered by the University of Stuttgart -

Accommodation: As soon as you get your admission letter, start hunting for accommodation information. Most Universities will have student apartments on campus known as 'Studentenwohnheim'. These are usually studio apartments or WG (Wohngemeinschaft). In case of a WG, 3 or more students will share a huge apartment. While the living room, kitchen and bathroom are shared, each student will have his/her own bedroom. Note: Europeans are very touchy about their personal space, so forget the concept of sharing your bedroom with someone.

The 'Studentenwohnheim' is generally reasonably priced. It would save you time in commuting to and from the campus plus it is always a 'happening' place where there is always something going on, to get rid of your loneliness. Even if you decide on staying elsewhere, do so only if you already know someone who can help you find a place or after a few months of staying in Germany, when you have had enough time to settle down.

Formalities: You will get a list of things that should be completed on your arrival in Germany. Your program co-ordinators will offer help to do this. Here is a brief description of those formalities
  • Anmeldung: Roughly translated as ‘Registration’. You go to the cityhall (Rathaus or Bürgerbüro), show them a copy of your lease and register yourself as a resident of that city. This address will then be used for all official correspondence you get – welcoming package, tax information etc. This will also be the right time to get your Lohnsteuerkarte (Tax cards). Students pay taxes too, but very little compared to the regular tax system in Germany and for this you need to submit your tax card to your employer. Note: This ‘Anmeldung’ will be regarded as a proof of your address when you try to open a bank account or get your visa extended. So keep this safely until you move to a different place.
  • Bank Account: The easiest option is to open a bank account in a bank closest to the University. However you might want to consider a bank that has branches all over Germany. For example, LBBW (Landesbank Baden Württemberg) has branches only in the state BW (Baden Württemberg). Unless you want to do everything online, this bank account will not work if you move out of this state after your studies. Also, choose online banking (and telephone banking) while you open the account. Except cash withdrawal (duh!?), everything can be done online - money transfers locally and internationally, checking account balance, applying for a loan etc. This will save you a lot of time and trouble since Banks are open exactly during your lecture hours ! Note: Do not forget to deposit the DD and travelers cheques you brought with you. Also keep some cash with you for some intial expenses. Thereafter, you can pay for most things using a debit card (NOT credit card), also commonly known as EC Karte.
  • Immatrikulation: Now that you have a bank account, you can finally start paying ! Naturally the first thing you pay is the semester fee and you have to enrol at the University and get your student id. This is called Immatrikulation. You have to fill in some forms, submit your documents along with the fee receipt to do this. Beside the student id, you will also get what is known as ''Studienbescheinigung''. This is a small slip of paper indicating your name, student id number and the semester. This would be asked for in a number of places where you have to prove that you are a student. While the student id is valid for 2 years, these slips are issued anew every semester. Note: Remember, the student id is your golden card for discounts everywhere. So never go anywhere without it !!
  • Krankenversicherung: Health Insurance (or Krankenversicherung) is mandatory for every resident in Germany. As a student, you have really subsidised rates, around 60-70 euro per month and some of the common Insurance providers are TK, AOK. Again, students usually choose the closest one ! All you would need is your passport, student id and proof of address.
  • Visa Extension: The student visa obtained before arriving in Germany will usually be valid for 3 months. Before it expires, you have to go to the Ausländerbehörde (International Office), fill in a form, show your documents - enrolment, address proof, health insurance and pay a fee of 40-60 euro to get your visa extended. usually the visa is given for a year at the end of which you have to do this process again. this is done to ensure that you are indeed still a student and that you are actually studying at the University like you claimed before. Note: Be warned that there is a lot of paperwork in the first 2 weeks and it might be frustrating but once its done, everything else will go on like clockwork !
Food and Shopping: Saturday is called Einkaufstag (Shopping day) since all stores remain closed on sunday (its God's day and you are supposed to pray !). Students usually hit stores like Lidl, Penny Markt and Aldi that offer groceries at subsidised rates (more or less like Walmart) for regular supplies like cereal, milk, yoghurt, frozen vegetables (Fresh vegetables are not available all the time in these stores), fruits etc. and then go once a month or fortnight to the Indian stores for supplies like Dal, Rice, Masala. Your seniors will be able to tell you where these stores are located, which of them is cheaper (Srilankan, Bangladeshi, Pakistani stores are all there in many places and they interestingly always have desi names and sell desi items).

Shopping for electronics in Germany is not a great idea because of the 19% sales tax. If you must have a laptop, then bring one from India or ask your friend/cousin to get one from Singapore or the States. However, you can find deals online or sometimes within your university where there are always special offers for students.

Communication: With developments in technology, this is really not as challenging or as expensive as it used to be. The cheapest option is naturally the various VoIP services available where PC to phone calls are free or costs 3-5 cents per minute. Check out or for more information. This obviously means you need an internet connection or actually a computer to begin with. It is pretty easy to find second hand computer deals from students who are graduating or rising to the level of owning a laptop :D.

  • Internet: All universities will have WiFi in public areas - mostly everywhere in the campus and in some case in libraries, cafeteria and classrooms. Also, you will have computer centres where you can go and browse, print etc. Student dormitories will have cheap internet connections that cost 10-15 euro per month.
  • Mobile and SIM: Getting a post-paid SIM on a 2 year contract will probably be the cheapest option. In such a contract you can virtually get a mobile phone for free (obviously not the iphone 3G !! asai dosai appalam vadai !!). Pre-paid cards are far too expensive and is an option only if you have a landline number and you want to use your mobile as a ''for-emergencies'' device.
Germany's mobile network o2 has this cool option where your mobile phone will also be assigned a ''local'' number similar to a landline within your home zone (this is a 5km radius with your home address being the centre). In this zone, all calls from and to your phone are billed at the same rate as that of a landline. Note: There are multiple flat-rate options available, so google and ask around before you decide on a plan.

  • Calling cards: Calling cards are really outdated now and I have not used one in the last 2 years but this could still be a mode of communication when the internet fails you. You can usually buy them in the desi stores. Trial and error will tell you which ones are good but it usually costs 4 euro for a 1 hr calling card (that usually lasts 40 min and even less if you make multiple calls using the same card).
Traveling: This is probably the best part of being in Europe, you take a wrong turn and you are in a different country. A schengan visa allows you to go to 14 countries (or more, the list keeps growing) and since you have a residence in a schengan country you are allowed to visit Switzerland as well. As a student, you get discounts in train tickets, tourist places entrances etc and you can stay in youth hostels that cost 30 euro a night and visit places you have only heard of in books or seen in Bond movies.

The public transport system in Germany is one of the best and you can reach any nook or corner of Germany without a car. Semester tickets are available for students. Even otherwise, weekend tickets, group tickets (where 5 people can travel with 1 ticket) make traveling pretty cheap.

Driving: If you get an international license, you can drive here for the first 3 months and then you need to get a license here. Getting a license can be very expensive (around 800-1000 euro) and so students never get a license until they graduate and find a job. If you already have a license in India, then you can ''change'' it to a german license within the first 3 years. This 'conversion' process also requires you to take a theory and a practical driving test but you will not be required to practice for a specified number of hours. Beginners should complete atleast 9 hours in the Auto-bahn (highways with no speed limits in select areas) with a driving school before registering for the driving test. Each hour costs 45 euro and hence you can save a minimum of 400 euro if you already know how to drive. Note: If you have time before leaving, learn driving and get a license.

I jotted down information that I think would be useful. If you have any specific questions, leave a comment.

Welcome to Germany and Do India proud ! Good Luck !
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