Traveling to the joint Indo-US X-ray crystallography conference in Mumbai
I traveled to Mumbai, India, for the first time to attend the joint Indo-US X-ray crystallography conference. This is the second blog in a series about the trip.
In this installment: The Cab, A Late Night of Wine, Cows on Campus
The cab ride from airport to guesthouse. The cab ride could have been the best selling Disney ride ever! Many times I wanted to put my hands up in the air and scream “Yippee”! There are no, or at least few, stop lights or stop signs. The experience reminded me of Harry Potter’s trip on the night bus, but it was a fascinating experience. At first, I noticed that the cab driver used the horn judiciously, as did every other driver. Later, I decided that using the horn is important to let the other driver know where you are rather than being a rude gesture. There is construction everywhere, and my impression was there they are building rubble on top of rubble. I now understand how archeologists can uncover an ancient city buried in the middle of a modern city. Water flow, sewage, electricity – everything is haphazard. The streets are also full of little cabs – mostly three-wheeled motorcycle-type vehicles that are covered. It seems the top speed for those is about 30 mph. Vehicles are supposed to drive on the left here, but it seems that whatever lane is open is fair game.
The cab driver dropped off one person at the hotel, then took me and another person to the IIT campus (Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay). It was like entering a military compound. Traffic flow was restricted to a guard gate, and we had to stop because I had to fill out a ledger to get permission to bring my laptop onto the campus. The experience didn’t make any sense to me, and it wasn’t explained, but I had to fill out my name and computer type and sign the receipt. I remember playing in my grandmother’s post office when I was a kid and finding old books and ledgers. The laptop receipt reminded me of those ledgers. Again, it seemed to be an excuse to have two guys working. I don’t know what other purpose they could serve.
Checking in at the guesthouse reminded me of the old movies about British India. The desk clerk pulled out a large ledger – probably 3×3 feet. I had to write my name, address, and sign a couple of places. The next guest had to skip two lines and do the same. It seems that the information flow would be very slow here if nothing is computerized. On the other hand, Mumbai is the financial capital of India, so there must be more modern techniques somewhere. In some ways, things don’t appear to have changed much since the British were here.
After we checked in, one of the conference organizers, Ruchi, and her husband met us at the guesthouse and took us to a bar. I wasn’t hungry since there was plenty of food on the plane, but one of the other guests seemed to want to eat. We went to a bar near the hotel where other conferees are staying, and I had a couple of glasses of wine. Ruchi and Eric worked together in the US (Boston area), and he brought a couple of bottles of US wine for Ruchi. So, she recommended we try Indian wine. It was not good.
But, that’s when it really struck me. Here I am at 1 am local time sitting in a bar in Mumbai India drinking wine. If ever there is a reason to recommend to someone to be a scientist, this is it (aside from the whole help humanity, find cure for cancer, disease, etc.). The travel makes all the bureaucratic sh*t worth it. I think that I can put up with the budget crises and head-scratching decisions at NCSU when I know that I get to travel the world occasionally.
I can’t put into words how awesome it is to sit in a bar in Mumbai, or London, or wherever, and discuss science with other scientists. I mean, I grew up in a town of 200 people, and now I’m sitting in a bar in Mumbai, India, drinking local wine. It makes me feel less isolated, among many other things. Anyway, we stayed at the bar for maybe an hour, then went back to the guesthouse.
I met a few other conferees, and one guy in particular was interesting. He’s Indian, but has worked at the Univ. of Alabama for about 16 years. The small scientific web slash six-degrees-of-separation is always interesting to watch. Scientists seem to need to give their pedigrees, but it’s a way to see how we know each other. For example, Ruchi was a post-doc with a guy in Pennsylvania, Ronan, with whom I had worked on the NIH study section. So Ronan also joined us at the bar when his flight landed.
Ruchi and her husband took us on a short driving tour of IIT to show us where the conference center is – about 7-8 minute walk from the guesthouse. It was interesting to see the cattle on the campus. At one point a large black bull was walking down the street, and the cars just pulled over to the side to let him by. I saw a couple of cows laying in a grassy area, settled down for the night. Also, there are hundreds of very sad-looking dogs here. Someone commented that they seem to have evolved to stay out of the roads, and it seems to be true. I didn’t see a dead or injured dog, but they are all underfed. Many of the people look underfed too.
After about three hours sleep it was time to get up and go to work.
Next Installment: The conference starts, and there’s some great science going on in India.