Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Interstates, freeways, and failed towns

Urban decay in Meridian, MS
I started walking from the Meridian train station towards my hotel, following Google Map suggestions. I was almost there I though. I even see the destination! But a problem. Between me and the hotel is I-20/I-59 interstate with no underpass, bridge, or an alternative way to cross. I had to call an Uber just to cross this street. I came to the conclusion that these Interstate roads and freeways are the new rivers. Rivers used to be the major transportation medium to travel inland. But rivers also segment a village, or naturally become the border of a village. Now, these freeways and interstates are doing the same. You drive fast on them. But they segment an otherwise decent town.

 Most of the US cities have notoriously horrible public transport. I can walk a long distance in flat lands, especially when I am not in a high elevation (I am not acclimatized to elevation). 18 km is my usual weekend walk. Now, what irritates me is, USA does not have a public transport in many towns such as Meridian - but it also has ruined those towns - making them impossible to walk, by segmenting them with streets that cannot be crossed by pedestrians. My hotel was surrounded by I-20/I-59 and MS19. None of them had a way to cross. Essentially it felt like living in an island. Even Google Maps was suggesting me to cross the I-20 by feet to reach the hotel. Apparently, Google wants me killed by speeding vehicles or arrested for jaywalking in a major interstate. How did even these locals agree to let an interstate ruin their town like this? I get it everyone drives in the USA. But isn't walkability an important feature of a town? It is dystopian. As an animal, humans should be able to walk and run freely, without relying on vehicles for everything. Driving just to cross the street or go to a shop a few meters to a couple of kilometers away - isn't it sad?

Meridian was a textbook example of a failed down. Almost everything was decaying there. The two Uber drivers (yes, had to get them just because I cannot cross the I-20 from my hotel to the train station) - both told me there is nothing actually to do in their town. But they were happy that other notable cities (such as New Orleans) are a quick drive from there!

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Immigrant Diaries

Philadelphia Chinatown
I moved out of my country on the 20th August 2012. I have a selective memory. I remember things that I want to remember, most of the time. However, I vividly remember 19th August 2012 Sunday. The night I was leaving my home to fly to New Delhi. My final destination was of course Lisboa. But first I had to go to New Delhi to get my visa stamp from the Portuguese embassy in New Delhi. We don't have a Portuguese Embassy in Sri Lanka. I was flying to Portugal to do my MSc. It was an Erasmus Mundus that I chose Portugal and Sweden, as it is a double degree. Of course, an MSc is just a 2-years degree. I never thought of anything beyond the 2 years. 

There was always a competition in Sri Lanka. I did that competition thing - but only until I entered the university (you need to get high scores in A/L to enter the good programs in a good state/public university in Sri Lanka. Not much different from China's Gaokao). By the 2nd year of my BSc, once I entered the Computer Science and Engineering program, I kind of avoided this competition mentality. I just want to be happy. In fact, I want everyone to be happy. My only benchmark, I do annually, by the year end. I judge my year against my previous years. Then I write an annual post (a habit since 2010), comparing my current year to the previous years, in metrics of happiness. I list 30 things that made the year interesting, i.e., that made me happy. It is all personal. I compare myself to my past self. Not against anyone else. I am on my own path that I carefully crafted. Not planning to follow another one's trajectory.

Italian Market, Philadelphia
I arrived in Portugal with an open mind on the 23rd of August 2012. I had never been to Portugal before. For reasons unknown, Emirates randomly upgraded my flight from DXB to LIS into a business class and treated me well. The border control agent in Portugal was extremely nice. I expected questions from him. He just gave me a smile and "have a good day." Portugal impressed me on the day-1. I met many people in Portugal. I made friends and family in Portugal. People I met in Portugal would change my life drastically. I often tell that I found myself in Portugal.

We were master students, especially from Erasmus Mundus - a prestigious mobility program under the Erasmus+ umbrella. We all had a story to share. We were also attending ULisboa / Instituto Superior Técnico, arguably the most prestigious university of the country. We all had a story to share. Portuguese people are also friendly and usually extroverts (at least compared to all the other 45 nations I have been). I was expecting to be lonely in Portugal as I left my parents and friends in Sri Lanka. But quickly, Portugal proved me wrong. I was surrounded by lovely people. Portugal also quickly made me into an extrovert. I started loving people more!

Most immigrants bring a piece of their home country with them. I usually remind everyone though that an immigrant or a tourist you meet in your country may not be the ideal representative of their home country. Some adopt themselves to fit the host country's culture. Others double down on their home country's culture. For them, they get stuck in a time when they left their country. For instance, I have met Sri Lankans who moved abroad in the 1980s have maintained their traditions sometimes more vigorously than those at home. It is like the time stopping to move. Some of them had not gone back to Sri Lanka in ages. Even if they did, that was too short of a time to observe the country sufficiently. Forget others - even myself - my Sri Lanka moments and memories largely stop at 2012 August. Even though I had been to Sri Lanka after during vacations in 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019, and 2020, those were just 2 - 3 weeks of vacations - too little to do anything beyond spending time with family, visiting relatives and friends, and to handle some other important matters at home.

Camden, NJ
For us - whether nomads or immigrants, often our country stops evolving ever since we left the country. We remember the songs of the country (bus songs!) up until the day we left the country. After that, even if we watch/listen to new songs online, the feeling is not the same as listening them from the bus or at home in Sri Lanka. Many immigrant towns such as Chinatowns and India towns in several western cities give the taste of home away home for many immigrants. As such, new waves of immigrants too often end up settling in the same areas.

Not all the immigrants are the same. Some had a great experience in their host country, whereas others just survived. Some were fleeing brutal regimes back at home whereas others were living a comfortable life in their home country. An immigrant's experience in the home country depends on several factors such as their life back at home and how the humans in the host country treats them. Luckily for me, everyone I met in Portugal were nice and friendly (with time, I might have met some not-so-nice-people - but by then I had already met hundreds to thousands of great ones - so that I could ignore any bad apples). It also depends on the factor who I am. I was in Portugal as part of the Erasmus Mundus double degree program. We had a clique of international students, and also very friendly local students too. When we introduced ourselves as we are from Tecnico Lisboa, we instantly got some respect due to the name of the university (arguably the best in the nation). May not be the same for everyone. I am not sure whether I will be able to replicate the same experience if I arrive there now - 9 years later - say, as an employee rather than a student. Student life always brings the friendships quite easily.

I rarely have considered myself an immigrant. Rather, I liked to label myself a nomad. It made sense. With the mandatory mobility of Erasmus Mundus MSc and PhD, together with the internships, I had lived in 7 countries by the time I arrived in Atlanta in 2018 June. But, now it is 3 years since I came to Atlanta and I haven't moved ever since. Although H1B holders are legally not considered immigrants (I guess ?), I know I fall somewhere in the immigrant-nomad spectrum - but I am not sure where exactly. I am curious to see where time will place me next.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

"Perceived Time" is not a linear entity

Playing chess in Pousada do Castelo de Óbidos
"Why time goes faster as we age" is a question often asked to the Google Gods. Just do  Google search yourself and find interesting and satisfactory answers that the perception of time going faster as we get older s universal. The logic is simple. When you are 10 years old, 1 year is 10% of your lifetime so far. When you are 30 years old, 1 year is just 3% of your time so far. So, as you get older, you start to perceive that time goes faster.

Sounds simple. right? But no. It is not entirely true. Perceived time gets extremely tricky. Sad and boring days go slow. The pandemic 2020 with mostly lock down and work from home home-alone felt to be moving in a snail speed. But looking back, it also feels like time went fast. boring periods feel differently when you experience it vs. when you look at it later.

I also kept moving across nations pretty fast between 2012 - 2018, every year living in 2 countries in average. When you arrive in a country, you feel like your life starts from scratch. Especially if you knew no one from the country, you could really redefine yourself. I often feel like a blank white sheet when I arrive in a country for the first time. As I was living a nomadic life from 2012 - 2018, I rarely bought many things. Any stuff I bought, I had to throw away as I moved to another country. Then, we buy new things in the other country that we arrive. It was like getting new blood. But since 2018 June, I am in Atlanta. Almost 3 years with no change in location, even the apartment. With 3 years, my minimalist lifestyle has slightly changed as things accumulate at home. Also, unlike the new blood coming in when you move around, staying in one place makes you gather more garbage. Things break, and we have to buy new things - not because we threw away things when we moved to another country - but rather, things decay - the wear and tear.

The first academic year in Lisboa went quite fast - but also left ever-lasting memories of friendships, romance, smiles, and tears. But I have also reviewed and relived those memories several times. I have gone through those photos repeatedly. I fondly called those times, "those days," especially the first 6 months of Lisboa. The first year of Lisboa - I lived it again and again, every time I returned to Portugal from other countries such as Sweden, Croatia, Belgium, and USA. Now, looking back, the period between 2012 August - 2013 July feels like quite a long time, compared to the rest of time in my life such as 1987 - 2012 and 2014 - 2021.

I used to write weekly blog posts during my first academic year in Portugal. Then, when I moved to Sweden, I started writing monthly posts. Then upon return to Lisboa, I intermittently blogged my life. I resumed the weekly blog posts during the early COVID19 days of 2020, which I later stopped as WFH was normalized and became normal. Especially with the vaccine, now we feel we may get back to normal life soon. The cases still remain high though. Those excitement of weekly posts also brings a perception of long days when I look back at 2012 - 2013 in Lisboa. We don't remember the events. We remember the last time we remembered the events. When we repeatedly recall an event, it starts to feel closer than it actually is.

When I go on a long-trip that lasts more than 2 weeks, the first half goes feels long. But the second half goes too fast. Maybe that the first half is like the 100% of time I have been in that place where the second half is just the 50%? As I am getting used to all the new places, nowadays, once I land on a new city, the very second day I start to feel home even if I am just staying in a hotel.

Things felt differently when I was young. We used to eagerly wait for the annual trips during our middle-school days. We just started with one-day trips to the villages of Sri Lanka, which became two day trips from grade 9 onward. The 2-day trip involved sleeping over in a new village, and got all of us excited. 2010, my trip to Paris for SoCPaR was both my first foreign trip as well as my first conference experience. As such, it felt special. Now, as I have been to 46 countries and hundreds of cities, such an excitement becomes harder to achieve. I have to go to a farther interesting place to indeed feel the same excitement. Still, I surprise myself in a few exciting trips, such as my visits to Panama or New Orleans.

Perceived time is a weird construct. Trying to explain it makes no sense. This is my conclusion. Long live the memories of our young days.

* Embedded music videos are from INNA. I spent the best days of my life since 2012 (from 2012 and ongoing) listening to her music. It is like growing old with her music, witnessing how her music also evolves and matures. Listening to her music from 2012 - 2013 days takes me back on the memory lanes.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

[Scam?] Dropshippers in Amazon from other sites such as Vitacost

Lakewood organic orange juice 6 pack was 44.55$ (incl. tax) with subscribe & save when directly ordered from Lakewood. Without subscribing, it would be 49.50$. Anyway, anyone can subscribe and then cancel the subscription soon after if they do not need anymore deliveries of the same. I ordered via Amazon for 43.00$ (incl. tax) since it was cheaper. Apparently, the Amazon seller (East Coast Shippers) is merely a dropshipper. He (a dude from East Coast Shippers) had just ordered it from
vitacost (it lists the same product for 28.14$, incl. tax) and shipped it directly to me. "Ship To:" in the bill shows my name and address. "Bill To:" shows the name of the dude from East Coast Shippers. 
Apparently, vitacost is selling stuff cheap. Is vitacost a scam that sells fake products? More likely, they hoard things when there were discounts from the seller? I have seen drop shippers buying things from Alibaba and then selling on Amazon. This works better because Alibaba is not widely used in the USA. Although Vitacost is American, not many are aware of Vitacost either (I wasn't aware myself until I saw the bill). So, the drop shippers shop these not-so-popular cheap sites for you, pay a fraction of the price you paid via Amazon, and ship the product directly to you.
Now, I am tempted to directly order from Vitacost next time. I could have saved 43 $ - 28 $ = 15$ that I paid to the middlemen of East Coast Shippers for no reason. But the juice bottles feel sticky. I am suspecting the quality of Vitacost. However, Vitacost cannot be that bad since they are owned by Kroger. Next time I should be more careful  with the Amazon dropshippers. They may be doing this all the time and ordering stuff from lower quality third-parties.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Viseu - Virtual Internet Services at the Edge

Indeed, I have named yet another project after a Portuguese town - a tradition I started during my PhD days with Sendim, Óbidos, and Évora. This time, I have Viseu. I am loving my footnotes for each of these works.


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