Thursday, September 8, 2011

Rain Day

When have they ever shut down for a rain day. Its on a bloody hill. How is it even possible for the place to get flooded? And after we leave too.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Blogger's Block?

Ok, so I haven't written anything significant for many months...I think I will just resort to letting pictures speak on my behalf. Just go to my Facebook profile and check out the amazing photos I've taken all across Europe, particularly at CERN!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Spring Break: The Beginning

I had possibly one of the most eventful and memorable spring breaks of my life. Something noteworthy happened almost every day, and therefore you should expect ten blog posts from me over the next several days. We begin with…

Day 0 (Friday, April 15th):

Well, officially Spring Break started on Saturday, April 16th, but since I had no classes on Friday, it was already partyin’ time for me! I woke up pretty late, around ten in the morning, and followed my usual schedule of email and Facebook before breakfast. I had to reserve accommodation for the latter half of my spring break trips, and ended up spending the next couple of hours glued to the laptop screen trying to figure out what hostels/hotels worked best. It was only around noon that I realized how fast time had flown by. I needed to take a quick shower, have breakfast and attend Friday prayers at the nearby mosque, not to mention that I had still not packed my stuff for the flight to Rome later that evening. So off I went to complete the first of these tasks.

Thirty minutes later (quick shower, no?), I opened the door to exit the bathroom. Shockingly, the door wouldn’t open more than half an inch. My first reaction was, “Hmmm…this is interesting!” My cool and calm personality was still in control. Turns out that the cupboard right outside the bathroom door had somehow moved in front of the door now, and no amount of pushing and shoving would make it budge. HOW THE GUAN can a cupboard move by itself?!!

Well, if I could only open the door an inch or so further, it would allow me to reach the cupboard and maneuver it back to its original position, setting me free. And so, I tried and tried again and gave it my best shot, to no avail. Fifteen fatiguing minutes later, I came to the bitter realization that I was utterly helpless on my own and would need outside help or divine intervention to get me out of this hole.

There was a window of hope though, literally. I cracked open the bathroom window, and for what felt like the first time in my life, I cried for help: “Kérem, segítség!” I shouted!
“Kérem, segítség!”
“Kérem, segítség! Please help!”
I had to scream for a good five minutes before I finally heard footsteps approaching my apartment door. I couldn’t see who it was from the window, but it sounded like the voice of an old Hungarian man talking to his wife. He said something loudly, addressed to me I guessed.
“Kérem, segítség! Beszél angolul (do you speak English)?” I asked.
He responded in the negative.
“Segítség! Ajtó (door) won’t open!” I tried to convey my message in a mix of Hungarian and English!
The man muttered something in Hungarian which I didn’t understand. But the tone in his voice was reassuring, and therefore I stopped yelling and began waiting for help to arrive. I imagined that, being a European nation, Hungary would have a similar emergency response system as that in the U.S.: I expected the police to arrive very soon.

I didn’t have my watch on me, but I estimated that if the police arrived in the next ten minutes or so, I would still be able to make it to the Friday prayers. And so I waited, and waited. Nothing. I waited some more. But there was no sign of the Hungarian man, the landlord or the police. After spending another thirty minutes or so in a state of anxiety, the reality finally began to sink in. The Hungarian man had never called for help. And given the fact that all of my neighbors had already left for the weekend; there was no one else to call for help. I was tired, cold, and alone. The time for prayers had already passed, and I was beginning to resign to the fact that I might not even be able to make my flight to Rome either. This was a terrible start to the Spring Break, and I would have to work hard now to obtain my freedom. I could now imagine how it must feel like to be locked up as a prisoner, or be trapped in a building after a natural disaster.

So how was I going to get out? The cupboard wouldn’t move, and the door was of too good a quality for me to merely break through it. I concluded that my best bet was to saw off part of the door to allow me to at least reach the cupboard. But of course, there was no saw in bathroom. I knew I had to improvise. I looked around for some sharp object. The first thing that caught my eye was the toilet paper holder. It was shiny and silvery, and breaking it off from the wall might give me a sharp edge to work with. I got hold of it and pulled it away from the wall, breaking it without any effort. Well, turns out this shiny silvery holder was made of silver-painted plastic. How useless!! Broke it off for nothing.

I looked around some more, and then I saw it: the clothes hanger on the door. I checked first to make sure it was truly metal. I disassembled the hanger into its components. One of the pieces had a sharp edge, and I finally began sawing the door.

I was chipping at the wood for approximately twenty minutes or so, but the results were not looking promising. I was putting in a lot of effort, but unfortunately this improvised blade was very blunt and I had barely scratched the surface (both literally and figuratively).

Looking at the progress I was making, I projected that my freedom would take place between four and five days. I had had neither breakfast nor lunch, and I was expending too much energy. I knew I wouldn’t survive for that long without any food. It was at this moment that I was filled with a sense of foreboding. I might actually die here…in Budapest…in the bathroom of my apartment! And then a thought occurred that made me realize the irony of the situation. I always wanted to be able to write my will before I died. And now, God was giving me the opportunity to use this piece of metal to carve my will into the wooden door.

This thought didn’t last for that long. I knew that dying wasn’t going to be so simple. I need not give up hope yet. After managing to create a small hole in the door, I switched from sawing to chiseling. This served the dual purpose of speeding up the door-breaking process as well as creating a lot of racket which might attract the attention of people in the neighborhood who just might be able to help.

Well, the door wasn’t going to give way anytime soon, but the clamor had an instantaneous effect. Imagine an angry looking old lady storming into the apartment complex, shouting at the top of her voice, “WHAT THE GUAN DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING!” Well, that’s exactly what happened, except the language of communication was Hungarian.

“Kérem, segítség! Please help! Call the Police!
No response from the lady.

Five minutes of hammering later, I heard a young woman’s voice, “What’s your problem?”
“Please call the police,” I implored.
“Why should I call the police?”
“I’ve been stuck in the bathroom for nearly four hours now, and no one has called for help,” I explained.
“Oh…” She seemed to finally understand what was going on. “Why don’t you call for help yourself?”
Are you kidding me, I thought. “I don’t have my cell phone in the bathroom!”
“Do you know of anyone who can help?” she asked
“Ervin Gyori, the landlord. He has a spare set of keys. He can enter the apartment and let me out.”
“Do you remember his number?” she wondered.
“No! Do you?”
“I’ll try to find someone who does, I’ll be back!”

It was nice to finally ask for help from an English speaking person, but I still feared she might just avoid all the hassle of finding help and leave me to rot just like the Hungarian man did earlier in the day. So before she left, I had a final parting remark. “Please make sure to get help. I’ll pay you if you want.” This was definitely the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever said to anyone trying to help me. I felt like a stereotypical Arab, and it reminded me of one of my friends back at Cornell who often debated with me on the misuse of money by rich Arabs.

Anyhow, it was time to wait again.

“Hello?” It was the same girl’s voice.
“Hello!” I replied.
“I talked to the landlord. He is at a meeting right now. He says he will be here in an hour.”
“An hour?” I had waited for so long already!
“Yes, an hour maximum he said.”
“Okay, thank you so much.” I was convinced now that I was going to survive. Moreover, there was even a chance that I might be able to catch my Rome flight just in time.

From then on, I heard activity in my neighborhood every ten minutes or so. Every time I heard footsteps, I would heave a sigh of relief, expecting it to be my landlord, but every time it was someone else. Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. Thirty minutes. Forty minutes. Time wore on.

And finally! About forty-five minutes since the good news, he finally came. “Muhammed, I will try to get you out.” It was Ervin Gyori, the landlord!
“Well thank you. I’m really sorry you had to come!”

He opened the apartment door, and then saw what had happened. “This will be easy,” he said. Ervin moved the cupboard back into place, and moments later I was finally able to get out! “I thought maybe the door lock was not working, so I had brought all these tools with me.”

“Oh no, it’s just that somehow this cupboard had moved and I couldn’t open the door anymore. Thanks so much for your help. Also, I may have damaged some parts of the bathroom trying to get out, but I’ll pay for the repairs.”

“What did you break?”

And so I showed him the broken items, as well as the gaping hole in the door.

“It’s okay; we’ll figure this out at the end of the semester.” Ervin didn’t look too worried. I felt much better now.

“I have a flight to Rome and I need to get to the airport. Do you know what the fastest way to go is?” I enquired, making obvious the urgency of the situation.

“Get a taxi!” He gave me the taxi’s number. After seeing Ervin off, I hurriedly collected all the laundered clothes I had planned to take with me, and stashed them into the bag I had bought the previous day specifically for this trip. I called the taxi, which showed up in less than ten minutes. It was 5:35pm, and I was finally off to the airport!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

And gone.

So we need the temp back. Again. It broke. Again.
A couple of us took it apart but it didn't help. Tried doing what I did last time. Didn't help either. I guess I might have to put it back together but I am guanning on about it.

And we had dinner at our old hunting grounds last night. It was a pretty large crowd too. Telluride joined in, most of the apartment and even the new kids on the block. Wang's got pictures. Its been a while since the last time I ate at Frymania. The place was full of other kids too - from all over the world. Some sort of conference going on. Some modern model version of the League of Nations. Always wondered what happened with that.

They were screening Dil Chahta Hai - an old classic favorite of mine, but I realized that I had finally got past the phase were I enjoyed those movies. Quite sad really.

Good to hear Sammy is enjoying Hungary. Especially that meat market has me quite envious. And we played Contact after a very long time. Wang was there - so it was pretty entertaining as usual.

Time to start watching the FA Cup game now.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tomatoes and Bell Peppers

March 2nd marks the completion of exactly 30 days since my arrival here in Budapest. As the weeks go by, things have been getting progressively more exciting to say the least. I’ve pretty much settled into my apartment now, which is located in a very nice neighborhood. In fact, from what I’ve seen of the city so far, District V is hands down the BEST area of Pest at least. And if you happen to stroll around to the WestEnd City Center (15 minutes walk or 1 metro stop away from my place), you can verify a certain fact from my previous post ;)

This week also marks the fourth week of classes, which means no more add/drop of courses allowed. Having dropped two math classes already, I’m finally settled now with four math courses and Beginner’s Hungarian! Among my math classes, Analysis is thought-provoking and the most challenging, whereas Combinatorics is by far the most fun! The combinatorics lectures are the highlight of my week: the professor is extremely witty and amusing, and his t-shirts often have hilarious references to math, science and pop culture. He has also taught us a new way of solving math problems, something he calls “proof by thinking”. I bet Watson can't do that!

Ok, to tell you the truth, the real reason I’m writing this post today is because I am really excited and happy. Today, after countless many years, I have finally legitimately cooked my own food. It just so happened that early last week, a friend of mine took me to this big halal butchery in District VIII called Bab al-Hadeed. Apparently the place is a major meat supplier to many restaurants in the city, thus explaining their claims of compliance to Muslim dietary laws. Well, I made the best of the opportunity and purchased over a kilo of chicken. And after acquiring the appropriate ingredients and spices, I finally got down to making some good ol’ spicy boneless chicken in my kitchen tonight. The preparation and subsequent clean-up was backbreaking, but the tender, juicy and mouth-watering pieces of home-cooked chicken were more than enough compensation for all the hard-work. This is the end product on my plate!
(Yes I absolutely LOVE raw tomatoes and bell peppers!)

Unfortunately, I totally forgot about bringing some traditional naan from the nearby Pakistani restaurant, and there wasn’t any bread at home to eat the food with. I had to make the difficult decision of temporarily parting with my food in order to secure some delicious naan fitting for the occasion. One metro stop and 15 minutes later, I find myself at Kohinoor Étterem, only to find out that the restaurant had already closed for the day :(

There was still hope though. If I couldn’t obtain Pakistani naan, I could always get my hands on the American naan next door. And that’s exactly what ended up on my dining table!

Needless to say I was really happy at the end of the meal :D

And so ended a very successful day in Budapest. Let’s hope that there is a lot more of such good food in store for me in the next few weeks.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Intro to Budapest

It has been almost three weeks. I apologize for having guanned for so long. Since it is already past midnight, I think I'm only gonna write about my first few days here in Budapest. To tell you the truth, nothing noteworthy actually happened. You can skip this post if you want. It only contains one significant statement anyway.

Hungary is a nice place. You should Wiki it. They just got the EU presidency this year. I don't think many Hungarians are actually aware of it. At least the person who picked me up from the airport wasn't aware of it. He was more concerned about wars and oppression in Pakistan. Specifically he asked why some women in Pakistan were forcibly veiled. I had to evade the question. The issue is so complex, it reminds me of A Few Good Men. "You want answers..."

Before reaching my apartment, I was informed about three essential facts about Hungary and Budapest. Here they are, in the words of my escort:
  1. "The drinking age in Hungary is 18. Hungarians love to drink. You should try some good wine here."
  2. "You will soon find out that Hungarian girls are very beautiful/good-looking."
  3. "Your apartment is located in Pest, in District V. It is one of the best areas of the city. Everything is only a few minutes walk away."
Well, as you might've guessed, I was only interested in one of these three facts...

(Quick note: I read somewhere that streets in Budapest look a lot like streets in Amsterdam. I find myself very interested in verifying this claim. Somewhere down the road, I will hopefully find out.)

The guy was right, almost everything in Budapest is quite within walking distance. It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes. Since I didn't know any Hungarian, I was too scared to buy a metro pass for the first week. I also happen to love wandering aimlessly, so it was no surprise that the very first thing I did after unpacking was familiarizing myself with the streets of Pest. By the fourth day, I think I had easily covered 20 miles or so, without getting lost. Not bad in comparison to Cornell, where I got lost on the very first day of orientation!

Okay, I am deliberately skipping a lot of interesting stuff because I want to talk about it in my next post. For now, these soporific statements will have to suffice. And no, it's not 1.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Its fixed

Apparently we didn't even need the temp. So as I mentioned in my last post, we were thinking of getting the problem fixed. But tinkering is always good, and I thought I might try my hand before we try to find a solution professionally. End result being that I fixed it by myself quite easily after a couple of hours. Even though customer support told me it was to fix it/replace it without a large payment. The big evil corporation? Redmond I say.

On the plus side, we are back to guanning again. Last night. I guess I should tell the other guanners who have yet to hear about it.

Also on the world and (maybe local?) scale, dictators/autocrats/presidents are stepping down. Rebellions all around.

And a guanner project team is apparently getting persecuted for reasons beyond their understanding. Sounds like a conspiracy. But there is proof too. Hypothetically. Saucy little scandal. Hypothetically of course.

And then Facebook. Randomly stumbled on an aspect of its coding. Apparently it keeps track of a lot of information.

Theoretically, a couple of friends were searching and adding a person on Facebook. So there was a Facebook search for the person at about the same time. So you know that Facebook design change which puts a lot of album/pictures on the top right hand corner. One of them noticed it was suggesting the other's albums. Apparently it was doing the same for the other person too. So a quick test with random names repeated a couple of times showed that this logic held. For non-friends ofcourse. Not really important. Potentially what a social network is supposed to do. Still something to think about.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Its been a while.

So its been a while. Things have changed. Someone might even be in Europe, I mean you never know. And our main avenue of guanning might have also broken down over the past year.

As usual we did what everyone else does - we hired a temp. But they have a habit of running away with something else, sometimes literally more trouble than they are worth. Ironically thats what allowed me to come up with an update. So things might be a bit more regular here.

I mean we are going to go public soon, another couple of months and most of us will sell out and go our own guanning ways. Until then a few pictures, a couple of updates from us and maybe one from Europe. Oh and we are seriously looking into a potential solution to our guanning problem and before you misunderstand - the problem isn't the guanning, its more the lack thereof.

Don't you hate red rings? Oh and it was warm today. Was. Frigid now though. Can't wait till April.