Hey there! I'm Shanif - a young professional with a background in technology and a passion for investing and trading. I've been developing software since 1997 and have been trading options profitably since 2008.
I have a BS in Computer Science and Systems & Information Engineering, and recently earned my MBA, focusing on Quantitative Finance and Entrepreneurship. These days, I focus on generating high returns with options trading and building up a successful mobile software business.
People, Places, Things - My Best Shots
Traveling in Business School
Business school provides an incredible opportunity to see the world. Now that my career as an MBA student has reached its end (more reflections in a later article), I can look back at all of the awesome places that I’ve been able to visit. Here’s a quick review of the amazing places that Stern opened up to me:
At the start of 2011, I got to go out to the heart of Silicon Valley and talk to some of the most successful, exciting startups in business today. It was a great opportunity to see what’s happening in the industry. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see as much of the city as I would have liked to, but I did have some awesome food and a good time.
I actually went to Miami twice – the first time was with the oGolf crew to test out our app, and the second time was a weekend trip with Zain and CaroNgu. Beautiful city, beautiful people, beautiful everything. It has definitely become one of my top five favorite cities in the US.
As a result of our Japan spring break trek getting canceled due to the earthquake, I was able to revisit Thailand. This is probably my favorite country in the world to visit – the beaches of Krabi were stunning, and Bangkok was a huge city that still managed to maintain its Asian look and feel. Absolutely stunning country.
By extending my spring break trip for a week (hey, I was able to catch up with classes fairly easily), I was also able to see the temples of Cambodia. I finally got to see Angkor Wat, Angor Thom, and all the others. It was a really cool experience, and the temples were interesting.
My trip to Dubai was completely accidental. My flight back to the States from Thailand/Cambodia was delayed, causing me to miss my connection in Dubai, and the next flight was a day later. This was actually a blessing in disguise, since the airline gave me a hotel voucher, which let me explore the city with a cousin of mine that happened to live there.
I was able to see the Burj al Khalifa, the Burj al Dubai, the Atlantis, the islands, and the city as a whole. On top of that, my cuz took me out to the desert to do some dune bashing, which was a blast. Truly a great day.
Stern offers its students the ability to take a short course, for credit, in some of the top business schools around the world. These courses, known as “DBis” (Doing Business in…) allow students to learn about the local business environment from the country’s best professors.
I chose to go to China, and had a blast. The classes I took were incredible, and it was truly enlightening to learn what China’s like straight from the horse’s mouth, and not from the Western media. There are a lot of intricacies there that most people would never know about if they have never gone to the country. On top of that, I was able to do a lot of touring, and went to most of the sites in Shanghai and Beijing.
One of the greatest experiences that I had in business school was my time studying abroad at Bocconi University, in Milan. I spent several months both in Milan, and traveling around Europe as a whole. In Italy, I obviously saw Milan, but also had the opportunity to visit Cinque Terre (a gorgeous town that’s composed of five villages, each built on top of a cliff that overlooks the sea), Asti and Alba (small villages with great food and drinks), and Rome.
South of France and Monaco
During one of my weekends in Europe, a few of the exchange crew decided to go to the South of France, including Nice, Cannes, St. Paul du Vance, and Monaco. It was a fun weekend of sightseeing (St. Paul is a gorgeous town on a cliff, very old walled city, no cars allowed), great, great food (sorry Italians, the French have you beat), and good fun.
One of the most fun weekends in recent memory was when the exchange crew went off to Munich for Oktoberfest. Incredible time. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see as much of Munich as I would have liked, but Oktoberfest was awesome. The whole place is built like a carnival, they have rides, and the various beer companies put up tents where they serve drinks, food, and sing German songs the whole day. I would definitely recommend going if you haven’t been. The picture is of a few of the exchange girls in our tent.
On our way back from Munich, a bunch of us decided to make a quick stop in Innsbruck, Austria (long-running, inside joke among the exchange crew). Nothing special, but hey, I got to see Austria.
My most expensive side trip in Europe was my weekend in Stockholm. I’ll be honest, I hated this place. It was freezing (during the end of summer), way, way too expensive, overly sterile, there wasn’t much to do, all of the guys had haircuts straight out of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” music video, and my friends and I had a strong feeling that the people manning the entrances to anywhere cool to go, were a bit racist. The coolest thing to see there was a place named “Skansen,” which was a recreation of life in Sweden a long time ago – the most interesting thing there was a zoo. I will say, though, that the people you come across in every day life were very nice, and the stereotype is true, everyone is tall, and all the girls are (fake) blondes.
For the end of our exchange, a few of the Bocconi exchange crew took a week-long trip to Morocco. It was a blast. We started off in Marrakech, where we stayed in the Medina (old school city). We saw old Arabian markets, donkeys and chickens roaming the streets, chaotic bazaars, and all sorts of homages to Arabian life. We then took a tour through the Atlas mountains and the desert, where we rode camels and camped out overnight, and then we finished off in Fes and Casablanca. The Hasan II mosque in Casablanca was a truly incredible sight.
After Morcco, a few of us headed off to Spain, where we hung out in Madrid and Barcelona. Madrid was a big city and reminded me of New York, so I liked it quite a bit, even though there’s not a whole lot to do there (Retiro Park is really cool, though). After Madrid, I went to Barcelona for a couple of days. The food was awesome, and the sangria was great.
The main thing I remember about Poland was that it was freezing. Of course, my friends and I are some of the only ones to go to Eastern Europe during the winter. Krakow was pretty interesting – in fact, the salt mines were some of the most impressive sites I’ve seen. Warsaw was also cool to see – but it all would have been much more enjoyable had it been somewhat warmer.
Australia was one of the best trips of my life. I went to Sydney, Port Douglas (the Great Barrier Reef), Cairns, and Melbourne, randomly meeting up with different groups of Sternies, and for the end of the trip, even my good friend Leo. I had a blast everywhere I went, and saw some truly amazing things. The only downside was that it was unbelievably pricey.
New Zealand is by far the most beautiful country I’ve ever been to. I tacked on a week and a half in New Zealand after my visit to Australia, and it was incredible. I flew over glaciers, went jetboating, and saw some of the most incredible sites I’ve ever seen. Highly, highly recommended.
For my very last official trip as a business school student, I had the great fortune of being able to visit Tanzania. The Stern Social Enterprise Association (SEA) hosted a trip to this Eastern African country in March of 2012. Along the way, I climbed part of Kilimanjaro, went on a three day safari which was an absolutely incredible experience, and visited Zanzibar – with a quick stop in Amsterdam on the way back. Truly an incredible trip.
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On March 8, I, along with 55 fellow Sternies, boarded a plane that was bound for the cradle of humanity – sub-Saharan Africa. I had never been to this part of the world before, so I was looking forward to a great trip with some of my closest friends from school. I wouldn’t be disappointed.
Our flight to Tanzania was in two legs – one from New York to Amsterdam, and the other from Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro airport. All in all, we spent about 15-16 hours on the plane. When we landed in Kilimanjaro, it was already dark. The airport and its surroundings were very characteristically third world – a small road out front, a single terminal, and a plethora of locals holding up handwritten signs waiting to take passengers to one of many beat up old vans and taxis parked out front in the dusty spots in front of the airport. In fact, the airport at Kilimanjaro reminded me a lot of the airports that I had seen in India and Pakistan. Interestingly enough, that comparison between South Asia and Africa would reappear throughout my trip.
Once we got through the airport, found our guides, and boarded up the vehicles that would serve as our safari jeeps, intercity transports, and city busses for the rest of the trip, we drove over to a local hostel, ready to rest for the night before a long morning the following day.
After getting some sleep, we woke up around 7 AM the next morning to begin the two hour drive to the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Our itinerary for the day? Climb to Mandara Hut, 4 hours up the mountain.
We loaded up our jeeps (little did we know that the car we chose that day would determine what sub-group of Sternies we would spend most of the trip with, fortunately for me I got in a car with a bunch of my MBA 2 guy friends – our van would come to be known as the “bromobile”). Along the way, we saw views of the Tanzanian countryside and the people that lived there. The road was lined with straw and wooden huts occupied by impoverished Tanzanians. It wasn’t uncommon to see a young boy or old man walking slowly alongside the road, seemingly with no destination in mind. The one thing that hit us immediately was how dusty the entire country was. For that drive, and the rest of the trip, we’d all be fighting to avoid ingesting pounds of dust into our lungs.
When we arrived at the registration point, we all unloaded our hiking packs, gave our overnight packs to a group of porters to carry up the mountain for us, and began the hike up. It was long, and extremely, extremely tiring. But I’ll tell you, when we finally made it to the huts, I felt awesome. By the end of that hike, we were all dead, but we did manage to get settled, have a decent dinner, and play a surprisingly fun game of Uno until late at night.
After getting a great workout climbing (a part of) Kilimanjaro, our next destination, and the part of the trip that I was most looking forward to, was a series of safaris. Before our first day of safari, we transfered to Haven Nature campsite, where we spent the night before our first “game drive,” as our guides referred to them. The campsite, though far from luxury, was surprisingly accommodating. There were outlets to charge our electronics, raised beds inside high quality camping tents, and even hot showers and running water. Many of us even preferred the campsite to our bed and breakfast from the following night. In any case, it suited us well. We got another decent dinner, watched a small show that the locals put on for us, and hung out for a bit before heading to sleep.
Our first day of safari was in Ngorongoro Crater. This crater, which was a national park, was an enormous, semi-isolated, and extremely fertile area that had different animals as far as we could see. The drive in took several hours, but along the way we saw a troop of elephants making their way down to the crater floor, amazing views of the crater itself, and several other animals literally “crossing the road.”
Inside the crater, we saw nearly every animal you’d want to see on a safari – lions, elephants, rhino, hippos, zebras, wildebeest, monkeys, oxen, warthogs, hyenas, and more. On our way out, we even saw an elephant with a… let’s say, “5th leg.” I’ll let the pictures do the talking here.
After our safari, and a quick lunch, in the crater, we set off for our hours-long drive to the Serengeti. Along the way, we drove through vast, wide open areas covered by wildebeest. Unfortunately, no picture can do justice to what we saw, but try to picture an ocean of land, stretching out to the horizon, and as far as you can see, there are wildebeest and impalas dotting the landscape. It was truly an unbelievable site. Before reaching the campsite, the bromobile had the incredible fortune of seeing two awesome things.
The first was a beautiful sunset overlooking the savannah. Check out the picture below.
The second thing we saw was even more incredible.
As our jeep was driving towards our campsite, our driver (Salim – awesome guy) suddenly slammed on the brakes. When we looked to see why, we saw a leopard that had a baby “dik dik” (think of it as a super miniature impala) in its mouth, running across the road. When it saw us, though, it got scared, dropped the dik dik, and ran into the brush.
We sat there looking at it for several minutes, amazed. After several minutes of us looking at it, and it looking at us, it slowly got the courage to go back for its dinner. It crept towards our jeep carefully, and then in a swift leap, it went back to the dik dik, scooped it up in its mouth, and ran away into the other brush on the other side of the road.
We were all psyched to have seen that, and when we told the rest of the group what we saw once we got to the campsite, there was sufficient jealousy.
The campsite, itself, was a big step down from the Haven Nature camp the night before, though. This was true camping – makeshift tents with sleeping bags and a large cement floor with a wooden roof for our dining hall. It was a fun experience – for one night.
The next morning, we left the campsite and began our safari in the Serengeti. For me, this was the day that defined the trip. With an early morning departure, we began a slow drive through the brush, slowly getting deeper and deeper into the Serengeti until all we could see in any direction was grass.
Though the Serengetti didn’t have the same density of animal concentration as the crater, it held a huge variety of animals, many of which came within a foot of our jeeps. We saw lionesses rest near our tires, elephants scoop up grass with their trunks right outside our windows (see the video below), and lion couples mating merely feet from where we were.
Here are a few pictures from the Serengeti:
After our drive through the Serengeti, we headed back to the Haven Nature camp for our last day of safari. Along the way, we stopped at a local Masai village and spoke with the tribe about their way of life. Normally, outsiders wouldn’t be able to visit Masai villages, but this was an area set up to encourage outsiders to visit, and, of course, buy their products. It was an interesting visit – we were greeted with a tribal dance, saw the cow dung huts, and visited the village “school” (essentially an open-air wooden hut). The following day we visited a Masai secondary school and donated a few gifts while speaking with them about their academics. Many of them could barely speak English, but it was interesting to see how they got by.
After our visit to the Masai village, we did one final morning of safari in the Lake Manyara national park. It was a bit more tame, with far fewer game animals, but a large number of primates. Following our safaris, though, we transitioned to the relaxing part of our trip.
On Thursday, we boarded a flight to Zanzibar – Tanzania’s local beach island. When we landed, we transferred to our hostels and settled in. After hanging out at the beach for a while, we got dinner and then settled in for the night. The following day, the group split up – about half the group went on a day-long snorkel/dive trip and the other did a half-day snorkel trip. That night, we all hung out at the beach, enjoyed a final dinner together, and partied it up a bit before heading to sleep.
Dar and Amsterdam
After Zanzibar, we took a day tour of Dar es Salaam. This was interesting for me because my grandmother was born in Dar, so it was nice to see what the city looked like. After driving and walking around the city, which, though the capital, was still far from the large and bustling hub that we expect from a national capital, we went to the airport and boarded a flight headed for Amsterdam.
We had a long layover in Amsterdam – maybe 9 or 10 hours, so we went out into the city to explore. After walking around for a bit, I remembered just how little I missed Europe, but it was nice to be able to go out and explore for a while. I had visited Amsterdam a few years ago as part of my tour of Europe. It’s still the same. Amsterdam is decadent.
That evening, we headed back to New York City.
I still have to unpack. I have to catch up on work. I have to study for finals. But man did I have fun. If you want to see more pictures, head over to my album on Picasa, which you can find here, https://picasaweb.google.com/115138297640686378184/Tanzania?authuser=0&feat=directlinkView comments →
Finishing Off New Zealand With Lakes, Glaciers, Mountains, and Helicopters
Drive to Pukaki
After departing from Queenstown, we boarded our trusty Familia and departed on the drive to Mt. Cook National Park – a scenic area close to the two famous glaciers in New Zealand. The drive, as expected, was scenic and beautiful, but otherwise uneventful. We eventually got to our “motel,” which was actually a gorgeous chalet in a small town close to Lake Pukaki. After settling in and grabbing some overpriced food (if you read any of my past posts, you should be sensing a theme at this point), we went to go explore the lake and the entrance to the park. They too were scenic and beautiful, and not quite as uneventful, as I’m pretty sure we interrupted a couple that was skinny dipping, and Leo turned Irina into a semi-professional model.
The Glaciers and Mt. Cook
The day after we drove to Pukaki we left once again, this time for Fox Glacier, one of the two famous glaciers on the south island of New Zealand. Fox Glacier township was extremely small – the quintessential one road town, but, like the rest of New Zealand and Australia, full of extremely nice and friendly people. When we first arrived, we didn’t do a whole lot (considering there wasn’t a whole lot to do). But we were all looking forward to the next day.
We had booked a helicopter tour of, and landing on, the glaciers. Considering the fact that I had never been on a helicopter up until that point, and that I also really like cool looking ice, I was definitely looking forward to it.
Of course, New Zealand’s weather had other ideas. Like the rest of our trip to that point, it was cloudy, very cloudy, and apparently the winds were too strong to take a helicopter out to see the mountains.
We scowled. We asked about alternatives. We looked at other companies. Everyone’s hands were tied. So we ended up doing the only sensible thing we could do – we got breakfast.
While we were waiting, though, the owner of the helicopter tour company that we booked came up to us and apologized for a previous mix up, offering to compensate for it by providing an uncharacteristically long flight and two landings in the now flyable sky. Considering how we thought we may have to wait til the next day (when we were leaving) before the weather cleared up, we jumped on the opportunity, so after breakfast, we trekked over to the central office and jumped into his jeep so that he could drive us to the helicopter.
The helicopter itself was uncharacteristically small, but, it did have three seats all next to windows, which delighted us all. Its blades were also alarmingly close to the doors, causing me to duck my head (unnecessarily) every time that I got in.
Suffice it to say, I survived getting into the chopper.
After we all piled in, the pilot took off without a hint of hesitation and we were soon flying off to see mountains and glaciers. The flight was awesome. Indescribable. We came within feet of the glaciers (and though we couldn’t land on them, we were able to land on the top of a nearby mountain). I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:
After finishing up with the helicopter tour, we took a little walk around the nearby Lake Matheson, and then went off to our last and final destination: Christchurch.
The drive along the way was one of the, if not the most beautiful drive, heck, the most beautiful anything, that I’ve ever seen. We drove past unbelievable valleys surrounded by gorgeous rolling hills with snowcapped mountains in the background. We passed by a pasture where cows were grazing, and after stopping to take pictures, we watched the cows move slowly towards us over the course of 20 minutes, never losing their cautious curiosity. We saw rocks that could put Stonehenge to shame arranged on cliff sides as if they had been placed there with a purpose, though none could be found. It was incredible. No words can convey how gorgeous this drive was, and no pictures can do it justice. I will never forget it.
After we finally got to Christchurch, we headed to our suite, got some food at The Running Bull (a pretty good restaurant that is apparently also Christchurch’s only teen club, considering the long line or apparently pubescent teenagers that were waiting to get into the place late at night), and got in touch with the local hot air balloon operator to confirm our appointment for the next morning.
Wouldn’t you know it, the weather was going to prevent our balloon ride.
Seriously, as awesome as New Zealand is, its weather sucked, at least while we were there. I have no doubt that it cleared up completely the second I left.
In any case, we woke up late the next morning, grateful to have a slow morning. Later that afternoon, we ended up going to the local wildlife habitat, where I fed a giraffe and finally saw a rhino up close and personal. Those things are massive. Their legs were like mini-boulders, and their head was the size of me. Massive beasts. One of the females even went after the male’s food and they butted heads. That was a crazy site to see.
Interestingly enough, I learned that their horns are made of hair and the same material that fingernails are made of, but rhinos “groom” themselves enough (by rubbing their horns against something else) that they’re usually able to get rid of most of the hair. If you look closely enough, though, you can still see random tufts of hair sprouting from their horns. Very odd.
That night, we went to bed early – the next morning I had to be at the airport at 8 AM to fly to Auckland, after which was my flight back to the States.
29 days of traveling. A 16 hour time difference. My 6th continent. Tons of friends. Beautiful scenery. Great experiences. I don’t take many trips where I’m left wanting more after 2 weeks. This was most definitely not one of them. I’m going to miss this place.View comments →
New Zealand – Queenstown and Milford Sound
Getting to New Zealand
Think of the most beautiful places you’ve ever been. What comes to mind? If I were asked this question last month, I might answer with Switzerland, Costa Rica, Thailand.
But the majestic beauty of each of those places is dwarfed by that of New Zealand. When Leo and I left Melbourne, we only had a slight idea of what we’d find in New Zealand. We knew it was gorgeous, but we had no idea just how beautiful it would be. My time in Australia was defined by fun experiences with good friends. My time in New Zealand was characterized by unbelievable scenery and vistas with small group of people close to me.
Leo and I landed in Queenstown, affectionately known as the adventure capital of the world. But instead of parking ourselves in this town of excitement, we actually picked up a car and drove to (relatively) nearby Milford Sound, known to many as the eighth natural wonder of the world.
The drive itself took a few hours, but it was all through towering mountains surrounding large blue lakes, picturesque pine forests, and winding hilly roads seen only in movies and postcards. After we reached our hostel, we settled in for the night, since we had an early morning kayak around the sound scheduled for the next morning (and if you remember, we didn’t get any sleep the night before – all thanks to a certain mischievous Aussie and his wife).
Our kayak around the sound was scheduled for 6 AM the following morning, and since our hostel was still more than an hour’s drive from the sound, we told ourselves we’d wake up around 4 AM and leave for the sound around 5.
Isn’t it funny how plans tend to be changed last minute?
We actually did wake up at 4. The first time. Then at 4:15 the second time. 4:30 the third time. By around 4:40 we were finally conscious enough to realize that we needed to book it. Which we did.
After sprinting out of bed, we jumped in the car and drove through even more winding roads, pine forests, and possibly even Mordor, all to get to the sound. We got to our meeting point at 6:10 only to find that the group had already left us. As luck would have it, though, we randomly ran into Yair, Liz, and Zain (who I traveled with in Port Douglas and Melbourne), and we were able to jump on the 7:15 tour, which they were also on.
Our tour company was Roscos Milford Kayaks, and they provided us with a complete outfit for kayaking. Though, I’m pretty sure they pulled a practical joke on us as they gave all of the guys pink tights with big blue stripes to wear. I’m not providing pictures. In any case, after we got all of our gear on, we jumped into our kayaks and pulled out into the sound.
Unfortunately for us, the whole area was blanketed in low cloud cover, so the views we got weren’t as spectacular as we were expecting. This was actually the case throughout our time in New Zealand, which was a bit of a shame, but since there was nothing we could do about it, we resolved to enjoy our situation.
We kayaked for a few hours, which really took all of our energy. By the time we were done we could barely walk, but it was a good time. The sound is actually interesting in that humans lose all depth perception when they’re kayaking through it. Because the cliffs jut out so high, we’re not able to perceive distance. This was evident when our guides asked us how far away we thought a particular waterfall was – we all said 2-4 KM when in reality it was 8 KM away, so far, in fact, that the curvature of the earth prevented us from seeing where the falling water met the sound.
After we finished kayaking, we all changed out of our Peter Pan suits and piled into the little Mazda Familia that Leo and I had rented and headed to a cafe for lunch. After getting some food to recharge us, we helped Yair find his lost car keys (you’ll have to ask him about that one), sent them on their way, and proceeded to explore the rest of the area.
Exploring Milford Sound
We came across a huge cavern, aptly named “The Gorge.” It was an enormous drop off framed on one side by a flowing river over rocks, and on the other side by a forest. The Gorge was so oddly shaped that pictures of it actually confuse me when I look at them; suffice it to say it was an awesome view.
After exploring a bit more, we drove back through Mordor and the enchanted forest to our hostel, where we passed out from exhaustion. The next day, we began our drive back to Queenstown.
Back in Queenstown
Once we got back to Queenstown we had about a day and a half to take advantage of all the adventures that were available to us. Leo and Irina were both adamant about not going bungee diving, and Irina was dead set against skydiving. Fortunately, there were two other activities that had already captured my attention – jet boating around the canyons of the Shotover River and “luging” down the mountain.
On the morning after we got to Queenstown, we bordered a shuttle bus that led us deep into the mountains surrounding Queenstown. We saw some gorgeous sites along the way – rolling hills, towering mountains, dispersed green valleys, trails carving through the side of cliffs. It was one of the most gorgeous drives I’ve ever been on. But you don’t have to take my word for it, just take a look:
After about an hour of driving, we got to the base – where the jet boat was waiting to whip us through canyon walls, many times on no more than 4 inches of water. The ride itself was a pure adrenaline rush – it may not have been a free fall off a bridge, but it was still a whipping, speeding, blur of close calls with canyons, shipwrecks, and rocks. You can see a few pictures of it on my albums at Picasa, but sometimes, there’s nothing like reliving the experience with a video. I recorded a 2-minute slice of our ride, check it out below, and be careful with your volume, since the only thing you can hear is the wind.
After maybe half an hour, or even an hour, I can’t really remember, we made our way back to the docking point and went to go see one of the bridges that we had passed under during our ride.
After finishing with the bridge, we made our way back into town and decided to see what the “luge” was all about. It turns out that this very well marketed attraction was actually a modified go-kart that allowed riders to travel down a part of the mountain. It sounds a bit lame, but in reality it was actually a lot of fun. All riders had to start with the “scenic” track, probably to get familiar with the brakes, but then we went on the advanced track twice. It was pretty fun, and the views from the mountain were pretty incredible.
Once we finished up with the “luge” we went back to town and grabbed some lunch. That night, we grabbed a few photos of the harbor (below), got some sleep, and got ready for our drive to Lake Pukaki the next day. Oh yeah, and we also iced Leo.
Yep, Queenstown was fun.
Australia’s San Francisco
When I last left you, I had just finished reminiscing about my time in Port Douglas. I’ve since finished an awesome stay in Melbourne, which, in my opinion, is Australia’s very own San Francisco.
OK, so it’s not quite the same as San Fran. There’s no Golden Gate Bridge, and the roads aren’t really hilly (that’s a word, right?). But, there is an impressive Chinatown, a citywide network of trams, lots of good Asian food, and an environment that could make any San Franciscan feel at home.
I landed in Melbourne on the 11th with my posse in tow. We grabbed an incredibly expensive cab to our hostel right in the middle of Chinatown and began to settle in. The first thing we did was visit Melbourne’s awesome Wednesday night food market. It was essentially a giant parking lot converted into an international food bizarre, with cuisine from all over the world. I ended up having a (kanga)’Roo burger with a side of emu. If you remember, it had only been a few days before that I had actually fed kangaroos and emus. Ah, the circle of life.
Over the next couple of days, I hung out with my friends Yair, Zain, and Liz. We walked around the city, took the free tram around the central business district, checked out the harbor, and met up with other Sternies that were either visiting or studying in the city. It was nice to get to know Melbourne a bit. Yair, Zain, and Liz even found a nice LEGO shop where they got in touch with their inner kids.
Late on Friday night, actually, well into early Saturday morning, I even tried to stay up all night trading. With my 5 Hour Energy shot, a two hour pre-nap, and my willpower in tow, I managed to trade from around 2 AM to 8 AM. Unfortunately, my results weren’t as successful as they have been when I was in Europe or the States.
Great Ocean Rd
A few days later, a bunch of us got some cars and headed off on the famous Great Ocean Rd. This is Australia’s version of Route 1, complete with scenic lookouts overlooking dramatic cliff faces, historic lighthouses, a gorgeous coastline, and a scenic and inspiring set of rock formations along a turquoise coast known as the 12 Apostles. To top it all off, we even saw a bunch of koalas in the wild, some of which we were able to right up close and look in the eyes.
Relaxing in Melb.
The next day my posse left me for New Zealand, so I checked into a new hotel, farther out from the city, but closer to the University of Melbourne, where the rest of my Stern crew was staying, and, unfortunately for them, studying. The next few days were pretty relaxing. I caught up with my P90X, which had been lacking significantly. I met up with a few of my friends in St. Kilda for dinner at a hotpot restaurant (Claypots), and I even had a really nice, relaxing day at the first day of the Australian Open.
One of the nights, a few of us even got a car and headed down to Phillip Island to see the nightly penguin parade – an event where the smallest penguins in the world make their way from the sea to the turf. It was pretty cool to see them up close, but unfortunately, the park authorities didn’t allow pictures, so unfortunately I have nothing to show you. You’ll just have to take my word that they’re awesome, funny, waddling little birds.
It’s all in the company you keep
The next day, Leo flew into town and we met up for our short-lived, yet extremely enjoyable, Melbourne adventure. On the first day that he was here, we went back to the Queen Victoria Night Market, this time with a different group of Sternies, Priji, my friend from Bocconi, who I’m sure you all remember from here (the end of the exchange), here (Morocco), and possibly even here (Oktoberfest), and Priji’s wife, Heather, an awesome kiwi-turned-Aussie teacher.
I had a blast at the night market yet again. It was awesome being able to hang out with both Leo and Priji/Heather, as well as Irina, who joined us again. Bringing together three different groups of friends is always a bit iffy but everyone hit it off well and, of course, used jabs against me, as an effective bonding technique.
The next day, Priji took me and Leo out on the Great Ocean Rd. I didn’t mind making a second trip, since I really liked it the first time, and I knew that Leo would be able to get some awesome pictures along the way. In fact, it was good that I went because we got to see kangaroos, get some great scenic pictures, and hang out. After the drive, the three of us grabbed some dinner along the waterfront and then met up with Heather and one of her friends. That innocent meetup turned into the five of us staying out at a club in Melbourne until 4 AM (with a brief interlude in which Priji drove me back to the hotel to change out of my shorts and into club-appropriate jeans).
The only reason we left at 4 was because Leo and I had to get to the airport by 5:30ish to head over to New Zealand. We went straight from the club (Fusion), to our hotel, to the airport. No sleep. Well worth it.
That night ended my incredible stay in Australia. I had such a great time, and it was an awesome feeling to be able to hang out with everyone, particularly Priji and Heather, who I really missed from Bocconi, and who I may not see again for a long time. In fact, when they took me back to my hotel, I was really a bit down that I had to leave such an amazing group of people.
But, c’est la vie.
The next stop had to be explored, and that stop would turn out to be the most beautiful location I’ve ever seen.
New Zealand awaited us.
Just like before, you can see pictures from the entire trip on my album at Picasa. View comments →
Port Douglas – The Great Barrier Reef, Animals, and the Beach
When I last left you, I had just finished a couple of days in Sydney and was heading to Port Douglas. I got into this small little beach town on the 5th, meeting up with a couple of other Sternies along the way. The town itself actually reminded me of the Outer Banks – a sleepy little village that sleeps early, has no qualms about going at its own pace, closes down at 10, and relishes its spot on the water.
During my first night there, my fellow Sternies and I quickly found out that nothing is open late, so a Spanish-style dinner had to be replaced with ready-to-eat burgers in a bag, Tim Tams (the Australian chocolate snack of choice), and some Yellowtail to wash it all down. That actually turned into a pretty fun night, but an important lesson was learned – don’t eat late in Port Douglas.
The next day my friends took a tour up to Cape Tribulation while I caught some much needed shuteye, but I did manage to take a walk on the beach, do a P90X workout, and then head out for some dinner.
The real fun started the next day.
The Great Barrier Reef
We decided to take a boat tour out to Australia’s famous Great Barrier Reef, so on that extremely hot, yet crystal clear day, we packed up our board shorts and bikinis and went out on a boat to a platform that had been constructed in the middle of the reef. Over the course of the day, we took a pseudo-submarine tour of the reef, did a helmet walk under the water, and snorkeled out into the open.
The wildlife we saw was awesome. On the platform’s underwater observation deck I saw a fish the size of a truck. My friends saw a giant clam when they were out snorkeling. On the pseudo-submarine we saw incredible coral formations close up. In the helmet walk, we took some shrimp with us and watched as tends, maybe even hundreds of fish swarmed within inches of our faces as they tried to get their next meal. Though we didn’t go diving like many of our friends did, we did get a taste of just how impressive the underwater world can be.
The wildlife sanctuary
After another relaxing day, some of my friends left Port Douglas to get ready for their DBi in Melbourne, while my friend Zain and I checked into our new hotel and met up with some other friends. That night, we hung out, played a little Monopoly Cards (cool game), and planned for our next day – a trip to the wildlife sanctuary.
Up to that point, one thing I had missed out on was holding a koala. A bunch of my friends did it in Brisbane after they left Sydney, but since I got to Australia after most people did, I never had that experience. One of the cool things that Port Douglas has is a wildlife sanctuary where you get to get up close and personal with animals. After reading the brochure, I thought it sounded pretty cool, so a few of us decided to check it out.
The following day, after staying up late to watch the Giants game, I didn’t really think we’d get out the door, but we did, and in the process we had one of the coolest experiences of our trip – at least, thus far. The sanctuary itself is composed of three different environments (Grasslands, Rainforest, and Wetlands), each of which offers visitors the chance to get up close to animals, usually with no barrier. It was an incredible experience.
I was inches away from endangered birds. I got to feed kangaroos and wallabies out of my hand (amazing). And yes, I even got to hold, and take a picture with, a koala (in addition to a baby croc and a snake)! The sanctuary itself was more like a safari than anything, and I’m incredibly glad I went to visit it.
Back to Cairns and off to Melbourne
A day after the sanctuary, we left Port Douglas and headed off to Cairns, a slightly larger town that was an hour away. Cairns was pretty chill, it had a cool scene, but we didn’t get to spend much time there. The following day we headed off to Melbourne, which is where I am at the time of this post.
The trip so far has been a lot of fun. I’ll be in Melbourne (more on this soon) for 5 more days before heading off to New Zealand for 9 days, and then I finally get to rest my travel-weary body in New York (well, at least for a month). Just like before, if you want to see pictures of the trip, head over to my Australia album on Picasa.View comments →
Two Days In Sydney
The San Diego of the Southern Hemisphere
It took me 22 hours to go from the capital of the free world to, what I call, the San Diego of the Southern Hemisphere. After stepping off my connecting flight in LA, shaking off 16 hours of plane, and stripping off a jacket that had no place in my new environment, I took a look around and quickly found out that I was in one of the chillest places I’ve ever been.
Sydney was bright, and warm, and the airport was covered in palm trees (though I quickly found those were definitely planted – there were nowhere near as many palms in the midst of the city). Everyone was relaxed. Nobody was in a rush. When I countered that with New York and Karachi, combined it with the fact that I spoke the language (unlike 99% of everywhere I had been in the past half year), and that they actually have Starbucks here, I let go of what little stress I may have had left.
After hanging out and chilling in the airport for a bit, I got a cab to where I was staying and found Sydney’s first, and biggest, flaw. It’s expensive. I knew that Sydney’s dollar was on par with the US Dollar, but little did I know that there had been massive currency inflation in Australia over the past year, and without any price adjustments, things cost a lot.
In any case, I brushed it off, took a long, long nap, and then head out for the day.
Most of Sydney’s main attractions are centered around the harbor. The Opera House, the harbor bridge, The Rocks, ferry rides, and a lot of the other sights are all in the same area, so I was able to see most of Sydney on that first day. Fortunately, that area is gorgeous.
It’s pristine. Very clean, definitely touristy, but it’s a really nice area. The Opera House is huge, much larger than you’d expect when you look at the pictures. It also looks strange from up close – you can only appreciate its trademark shape from a distance. The bridge is also a cool site to see. You can actually climb to the top of the arch, which is pretty cool. Had I been traveling with someone at the time I would have pushed to do that. I also walked through the botanical gardens – huge, wide open grassy areas with a few rare trees and some flowers here and there. Not super impressive, but interesting to see, particularly with all of the people sunbathing out there. I also took a ferry to Darling Harbor, which was nice, but again, nothing too special.
The next day I walked around The Rocks (low key shopping and lounging neighborhood), and then met up with a couple of other Sternies that were in town and went to the Opera Bar to relax for a bit and watch the sunset. Afterwards, just a quick dinner and then back home.
A chill town
Overall, I saw almost 90% of the major sites and virtually everything I wanted to see in two days. I did miss the beach, but I figured that I’d be at the beach so much during this trip that it was okay. Sydney has a very chill attitude about it. People tend to wear very little clothing, and they’re in no hurry. The accent is awesome, that’s for sure. The money reminds me of Monopoly, and the coins are a bit weird. It’s okay, though, because you definitely use them up quickly.
From what I could gather, Sydney’s a city of experiencing, not necessarily seeing. You can see the sites quickly but you can’t really get a feel for what the city is like unless you’re there for a bit longer. There are a lot of cool things going on, and a lot of interesting neighborhoods to explore, but unless you’re up for that, a couple of days is enough to hit the highlights.
I’m glad I’m getting to see Sydney. It’s a little weird for me, though, since I don’t have a steady travel group for the first half of the trip. I’m meeting up with different people here and there. It is nice to get to see people again. A little weird, considering how different it is from the Bocconi exchange crew, though.
I can’t help but think about how crazy it would be if I were here with those guys. They are definitely missed!
I’ve got some good friends coming in later this week, and then in another week Leo is coming in and we’ll be traveling around New Zealand, possibly with Irina and Kellie. He’s a blast to travel with, always up for an adventure and always looking off the beaten path. That guy rocks. Good times ahead.
Sydney – check. Now it’s Port Douglas.View comments →
Traveling Isn’t As Foreign As It Used To Be
I’ve been traveling a lot recently. I mean, a lot. In the past two calendar days I’ve been on three continents. I’ve spent more than 48 hours on a plane. I’ve been to more countries in the past quarter than most people go to in their lives. I’m not trying to brag. I’m trying to set the scene.
As my experience as a world traveler has grown, my expectations for travel itself have changed. Before, I used to see travel as a very compartmentalized experience, separate from everyday life. Getting accommodations was novel. Staying in a hotel was a new experience. Trying to figure out who would room with who was necessary. Getting around a new city required studying its layout and planning for contingencies. It was all very out of the ordinary.
But these days, traveling is starting to feel a bit more like home. I’ve come to avoid hotels as much as possible. They’re too pricey, and, one could argue, too stuffy. Alternatively, new solutions like AirBnB or Roomorama can provide actual homes for a fraction of the price of a hotel. My favorite option, though, and one that I just found out about when coming to Australia, is couchsurfing.com. The site lets you find a couch to surf on (duh) while you’re traveling – no charging allowed. It provides a way for travelers and cool hosts to learn something new about different cultures, meet new friends, and make new connections. I myself am couch surfing in Sydney and my host is a really cool guy. It also saves a ton of money.
On top of that, there are sites like travbuddy.com that let you find people to travel around with. If you’re traveling alone, this could be a great way to meet new people and get some company while in a new location.
Renting a car is becoming easier and easier as well. These days, you can get behind the wheel of a vehicle just as simply as if you were in your home city.
You can get lost in a city and use an opportune wifi spot to find your way back. You can find where your favorite restaurants are. You can meet up with friends through wifi-based texting.
It’s interesting to note just how less of a strange and foreign feeling traveling has become. Granted, there will always be times where you’re out of your comfort zone, but these days, travelers can feel a bit more at home. For frequent travelers, it’s quite the comforting feeling.
As an aside, I wanted to let everyone know that I’m now uploading pics to Google+ and Picasa, so if you had an old pic you wanted to grab from my Facebook account (which is now gone), or you wanted to see any of my latest photos, you can head on over there: https://picasaweb.google.com/115138297640686378184
Also, if you’re interested in reading extremely captivating, super creative blog posts that usually have something to do with travel, check out my friend Steph. Her writing is a mixture of storytelling, photo showing, and fantasy creation. You’ll be on the edge of your seat.View comments →
A Trip Back To The Homeland
New York is my home. Chantilly/DC is my hometown. But a much more distant, and different, place is my homeland. After staying away for 21 years, I returned to Karachi for a family wedding and a much-needed culture shock. I intended to write about my trip while I was there, as it was happening, but a combination of late-night wedding festivities, stomach viruses, and extreme exhaustion prevented that from happening. So now it’s time to summarize the chaos that is the land of my parents.
Karachi is an unrestrained, unregulated, and massively hectic city of handlebar rickshaws, meandering sheep, intricately painted 20-seater “buses” (frequently seen with 20 additional passengers sitting on the roof), load-bearing mules, burka-clad women, brightly colored saris, AK 47-bearing army rangers, semi-automatic-bearing street guards, unnecessarily thick mustaches, impromptu cricket on the side of the street, pollution, noise, smells, spices, hustle, and bustle.
If you’ve never been to a developing country, you can only imagine the extreme chaos that comes with the daily life of such a city. Low speed near accidents are a common occurrence. Trying to navigate the streets is a labor of patience and aggressive driving. Purchasing something as simple as fruit or water requires negotiation skills. And I still do not know what drives the economy.
Interestingly enough, I was expecting all this. After having been to India twice, I knew what was coming. But there’s strangely unique about visiting a land, the neighborhood, the building, from which I’m only one generation removed.
On December 21st, I left for Karachi to attend my cousin’s wedding and meet up with family. I was looking forward to it since both of my extended families would be there, including a few cousins that I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. On top of that, I wanted to get another look at the land that I almost had to call home.
After a long day of traveling, my family and I arrived at Karachi’s international airport around 4 AM, and after having to wait in a line of 3 people for 25 minutes, interrupted by a request for us to get out of line and fill out forms that we didn’t know we had to fill out on the airplane, and then waiting another 20 minutes for bags, I remembered what 3rd world life is like – unorganized, inefficient, and with no sense of urgency. You could say we were lucky that none of the officials tried to bribe us, but that’s possibly because we had a guide connected to the governor’s office to “usher us through” the process.
After getting settled in one of the best hotels in the city (a Marriott situated across the street from Frere Hall and the old American consulate), which required a peek by armed guards under our taxi’s hood and trunk, bomb sniffing dogs, slow maneuvering around spiked metal vehicle hazards, the lowering of an automatic metal blockade, and a stroll through a metal detector, my parents and I met up with my extended family from my Dad’s side – they had flown in from the States a day before. After a short nap, we started our first day leisurely, though I knew that wouldn’t last long.
Later that evening, most of my Dad’s family went over to one of my uncle’s (from my mom’s side) house. He lives in Pakistan and had an apartment in Clifton, which is one of the nicer areas of Karachi. This was where all the women had gathered for the mehndi (henna) ceremony. Whenever there’s a wedding in the family, it’s traditional for all of the women to apply henna in flowery designs to their hands, arms, feet, and legs to celebrate the wedding. Traditionally, the bride is supposed to have the most mehndi, but my sister accidentally usurped her on this one.
While the women were doing their mehndi (all the while, talking, laughing, and doing things that 20 women do when they’re all packed into a small room), the guys and the rest of the family were chilling, eating, and hanging out. It was here where I got to meet my crazy cute little cousin, Mosin. The kid is 4 years old, has a devilish grin, and a personality that just screams “look at me,” which can be endearing or annoying, depending on the situation. In any case, this kid won over the hearts of the entire family within five minutes of us meeting him (except for Aly, my 12 year old cousin from my Dad’s side, whom Mosin continuously teased throughout the trip).
That night didn’t go too late, and around 1 or 2 AM we headed back to the hotel. The next day, we woke up ready to take on the daunting task of visiting relatives. You see, in our culture, you don’t just “go back home.” No no. When you visit relatives, particularly relatives you haven’t seen in two decades, you bring them gifts to show that you’ve been thinking of them. It’s a sign of respect.
That in itself is well and good, but my family tends to take things a bit overboard. They got gifts for virtually every family member that they could remember, including their kids, parents, and any close friends. Not only that, but they brought each person a lot of gifts. A whole bag’s worth. Do you know how many suitcases it takes to bring gifts for a whole South Asian family? Do you know how many uncles, aunts, great aunts, great aunts’ spouses, cousins, cousins’ spouses, and other relatives I have? With the number of suitcases we brought it looked like an entire tour group of nomadic senior citizens had commandeered the hotel. In any case, we piled into the little clown van that we were able to rent and headed for one of the worst parts of the already undeveloped city – my family’s old neighborhood.
An interesting thing to note, and something that I want to later write about in extensive detail, is that my family came from one of the poorest areas in the world. My grandparents raised my uncles and aunts well – they forced them to go to school, they instilled an incredible amount of discipline through both religious and moral teachings, and they gave them a lot of love and support, but they did it all in extreme, extreme poverty.
It’s almost unfathomable to think that they could have escaped such conditions, much less progressed to a point where they could all have their own families in their own houses, travel at their own leisure, and provide as much food as they could want. But they did. Both my uncles and my dad are now business owners, and one of my aunts is a doctor who employs my cousins and my other aunts. It just goes to show you the power of education, determination, hard work, faith, and unwavering willpower. This is something for which I feel inexpressible pride and gratitude, and is probably something I couldn’t talk about without getting slightly choked up at some point in the conversation. The story of how it all happened is something of a Hollywood (or maybe Bollywood?) script, and I would love to get it down in a non-fiction short story one day. For now, though, it’s important to keep this scenario in mind so you can put the rest of this day’s afternoon in context.
It took us about 30 minutes to reach Aaliyabad, the neighborhood where my family grew up. As we drove through various parts of the city, my aunts started recognizing different landmarks and locations. It was easy to see that they had strong memories of the city.
Eventually, we arrived at a little shanty of apartment buildings in a very small, dusty, compact neighborhood, got out of the van, and met up with one of my dad’s cousin’s wife (apparently his cousin had died at some point in the past). She led us into my dad’s aunt’s house, the house where he and his siblings spent a large portion of their time as kids. It was originally a one-story apartment, but when we arrived. My dad and aunts took a stroll through memory lane as they revisited the little rooms and areas where they used to study, play, spend time. It didn’t take long. There was one main living room, a couple of bedrooms, and a back “sort of” patio that had been walled closed. They showed us the one dresser where they all stored their clothes. We spent some time there, gave our gifts, and then set off for the next relatives – my grandmothers deaf-mute sister and her deaf-mute husband.
It’s an interesting thing, really. There are so many afflictions and health problems in that part of the world, and yet, it’s not uncommon to see people live into their 80s and 90s. Spending time with my grandmother’s sister (I guess that would make her my great aunt?) and her husband was interesting. They could only communicate with us through motions, facial expressions, slight vocal intonations. I’ve never seen or experienced anything quite like it. My grandmother had a certain intuition and sense of what her sister was saying. Interestingly enough, it never seemed like the couple had any problems communicating. They seemed to be in touch with each other, and they also seemed quite happy.
Later that day, we also visited my dad’s aunt and her husband. I was curious to see what her reaction would be like upon seeing my dad, since she essentially raised him and was like a second mother to him. Suffice it to say there was a lot of emotion. She was both ecstatic to see him, but also a bit disappointed that he hadn’t come back to see her, or offered to fly her out to the States. Regardless, there was more joy than anything else. She was also thrilled to see me and my sister, and kept saying how important it is for the younger generation to take care of the older generation (something very big in our culture).
After some more visiting, we boarded our clown van (seriously, I wish I had pictures of this thing – I’m surprised it actually stayed together the whole time we were there), and headed back to the hotel to get ready for the wedding ceremonies.
That night, around 9 PM (which, on the Indian sub-continent, means 10 PM if you want to be unfashionably early), the “pithi” started. This is a ceremony that the bride and groom hold separately. On my mom’s side of the family, the event’s location is usually in a huge, outdoor, brightly decorated tent that’s set up in the common area of the housing community. Don’t be fooled by how that sounds, though, it was really just a paved lot. Regardless, the decorations were beautiful. There was dinner, dancing, symbolic offerings of well-being, and a ridiculous event that I can’t believe is part of any wedding ceremony, but is still kinda awesome.
Dinner was served around 10:30 PM, and the traditional South Asian-style dancing started just before midnight. Everyone partook, and the image that you see at the top of this post is from this part of the wedding. That’s my uncle and my grandfather on my mom’s side having a blast.
Once the dancing had died down, I thought that things were wrapping up. After all, it was around 2:00 AM and we were out in the middle of the apartment complex. I was sure that people must have been getting annoyed at us (I eventually asked about this and was told that, in that complex, there’s a pithi almost every week, and it has come to be tradition to hold such events late into the night).
However, things were not quite finished. After the dancing, we started the symbolic ceremonies, where first the women, then the men, of the family approached the groom to offer their well wishes. The women performed a process of dabbing his forehead with saffron for good luck, anointing him with oil for shiny hair, giving him money for prosperity, showering him with rice for abundance, and feeding him sugar for sweetness. Every woman did this. It takes a while. Eventually, all of the blessings had been offered, and we moved on to the most ridiculous part of the whole night.
Our culture has added a new tradition to the whole process, and I can only classify it as assaulting the groom with food. For whatever reason, we’ve adopted the process of breaking eggs all over the groom’s body, followed by emptying the contents of any available condiment bottle onto him (note, this doesn’t happen on the bride’s side). My cousin’s family was especially fond of this tradition, and they so classily turned it into not just a breaking of eggs on the groom, but an all out food fight amongst themselves.
I was caught in the crossfire.
To be fair, it was kind of fun seeing all of the chaos ensue. I felt bad for my cousin, but he knew what was coming. After the food fight finished, though, it was 4 AM, and we were all ready to head home so we could rest for the next day.
The next day of the wedding was a little unique. Traditionally, we’d only have 2 days of ceremonies (3 if you count the first mendhi night), but for some reason my cousin and his wife decided to extend those out by a day, so the next day was a joint pithi for both the bride and the groom, but it was slightly different.
There was still dinner, but the dancing was limited to coordinated dances (and yes, I took part in one); no freestyle dancing for everyone this time around. Also, all of the blessings and the chaos of the previous night were removed, so it was slightly more low key, and significantly more classy, especially considering the larger hall and the way they decorated it. The only other thing to report besides my turning into a Bollywood star that night was that the food was so spicy my sister almost choked, and couldn’t stop coughing for a good 10 minutes (not joking). She turned red.
Ugh. South Asian food.
The next night was the last and final night of the wedding. The main ceremony, called the Nikkah, was actually held in the afternoon. This is where both the families witness the signing of the marriage contract (which, apparently, even includes what the groom will provide for the bride in cases of divorce). The ceremony itself only lasts about 10 minutes and is done with nearly no pomp or circumstance, but it is the actual marriage. That night, we had a dinner to celebrate the Nikkah, but that was also relatively short and there was no dancing. After that ceremony, the wedding was over.
After the wedding was over we still had several days in Karachi to fill. As it would turn out, I’d spend the last two of those trying to recover from a bad stomach virus caused by “Barbecue Tonight”. It wasn’t real barbecue.
But the first couple of days were pretty interesting. There isn’t much to see in Pakistan, though there a few things that really interested me. The first is the beach area. It’s not a typical beach. There were no sunbathers that day, nobody really lounging around. But there were camels. And horses. And ATVs. It was kind of cool. My cousins and I spent half a morning riding them around the coast, which was pretty fun.
The second interesting site is the Quaid-e-Azam tomb, which is a large domed monument that houses the tomb of Pakistan’s founder. It’s probably one of two locations (the other being the Aga Khan Hospital, which I’ll talk about next) in Karachi that isn’t covered in dust, is actually quite clean and spacious, and could pass for a nice tourist spot in any country. It’s a truly beautiful site to see.
The third cool thing was the Aga Khan University and Hospital. For those that are unfamiliar with the Aga Khan organization, it’s an Ismaili organization dedicated to helping the human condition around the world. However, since it’s Ismaili, it focused a lot of its efforts on Karachi and Pakistan as a whole, which has the largest concentration of Ismailis. The hospital was immaculate. The entire thing was made out of red swirl marble and red sandstone. The entire thing – pillars, staircases, walls, even the trashcans! It’s a truly gorgeous site to see, complete with extreme serenity and an escape from the noise and chaos of the city outside its walls. It could be the campus for any university in the states.
The final cool site that I saw was the Garden Jamaat Khana (Jamaat Khana being an Ismaili mosque). It was three stories of white marble with a beautiful interior. My mom was telling me that when she was growing up she’d spend 12-16 hours a day at that place. She’d study there, volunteer there, pray there, it was essentially her life. I could tell that being back there was hitting her hard.
After all of the activities of the wedding, the pollution in the air, the food, and the stomach issues, I was just about ready to head home, but I think that even with all of that, I could have been happy staying there a few more days, maybe more. Even my sister, who, for the longest time, rejected her fobbiness (now she has full embraced her brown side), was extremely happy there.
The trip was great. I saw relatives I hadn’t seen in 21 years. I got to hang out with my cousin, the groom, again after seeing him in Dubai earlier this year (also, for the first time in 21 years). I had a great time. The hotel where we stayed was nice.
Could I live there?
Not a chance. It’s too much, and without a proper public transportation system, or nutritional resources, heck, without proper stores or even normal cars, life would be illogically full of hassle, and I hate illogic. Interestingly enough, I asked all of my aunts and even my parents, who all grew up there, if they could live in Karachi, and not a single one of them said they could.
Karachi’s the type of city where you’re blissfully ignorant, but once you find out about the rest of the world, you can’t go back – particularly after not having been there for more than a few years. Apparently, not all of Pakistan is like this. Lahore, and Islamabad in particular, are supposed to be very nice, Westernized cities. They even have lanes, and traffic violations! With that said, though, there’s still a cultural gap that’s evident in every nook and every corner in the city, and I think that cultural gap may have a long way to go before it’s small enough where Westerners could survive, long-term, in the country. It was nice to go, but unless there’s another wedding, I’m not going back any time soon.
If you want to see the rest of the pictures from the trip, you can go to my Picasa album here: https://picasaweb.google.com/115138297640686378184/Pakistan. Now that I don’t use Facebook anymore, I’ve moved all of my pictures over to Picasa, which means there are a ton of other pics you can see there if you’d like.
Anyone that knows me knows I’m not a very good Indian. Actually, my friend Prat pretty much calls me the worst Indian ever. So it’s strange for me to be posting this, but I have to say that I came out of this trip with two new favorite songs on my playlist. The first, “My Desi Girl” is actually one that I first heard at my friend Anand’s wedding. I loved it immediately. It’s incredibly catchy and upbeat (as most Indian songs are). I heard it again at my cousin’s wedding, and now whenever it plays, it just brings a feeling of happiness. I always smile when hearing this. The second song, “Main to Avi Avi Lut Gaya”, is the song that I danced to at my cousin’s wedding, and it just brings a rush of excitement when I hear it now. Here they are (fair warning, they are super fobby):
Warsaw and Rome
Looking back on Poland
After my last post, where I told you about the amazing salt mines near Krakow, I left off by saying that I’d be heading to Warsaw and Poland next. Since that time, Gowri, Oat, Caroline, and I were able to head to Warsaw and saw its reconstructed old town square – a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was very cool to see.
Overall, Poland was a pretty interesting place. We ate very well. In fact, I ate much better in Poland then I did in Milan. And the portions were huge. Probably bigger than what you get in the States. We spent most of our time in Krakow, and only a night in Warsaw, which was what every single guide and site on the Internet told us to do. In retrospect, though, I wish we had done it the other way around.
From what I was able to see in Warsaw, things were a lot more lively, and it just had a better vibe. There were more young people, lights decorated every street, people were out, about, and more attractive, there was more culture, more things to see. I wish I had more time there.
Be careful what advice you take
Interestingly enough, I felt the same way about my trip to Morocco. All of the guides suggested going to Fes, possibly Marrakech, and avoiding Casablanca, which we did. Strangely enough, though, I liked Casablanca a lot, and wish I had spent more time there and slightly less time in Fes and Marrakech (on the other hand, the desert tour was awesome, and I wouldn’t have changed that at all).
It’s interesting to note that both cities that others have suggested staying away from had the feel of more modern, 21st century cities, whereas the cities that others suggested visiting all had more of an old world feel to them. I wonder if I’ve just gotten so jaded by all my travels that I don’t appreciate historical value, anymore, or if I just really like being in a modern city. In any case, just keep this in mind if you ever decide to visit Morocco or Poland.
After leaving the freezing cold temperatures of Poland, Oat, Gowri, and I flew to the temperate climate of Rome, while Caroline flew back home for Thanksgiving and a high school reunion. It’s too bad, too. She got us through Poland, she was a blast to hang out with, and, not least of all, she was our 4th for spades.
The eternal city (Rome)
I must say, I wish Bocconi were situated in Rome, instead of Milan. The weather here is really nice, it just feels like there’s more to do here, and there are more Americans around, which, after four or five months of living without, becomes a very nice thing to have.
When we got in, Oat, Gowri, and I checked out Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. The last time I was here, I don’t think I went to see the fountain, so that was a nice sight. Today, we met up with Anthony (another friend from Stern who happened to be in Rome), and took a tour of the Colosseum and the Emperor’s Palace. The tour was great, and both of our guides were awesome. The first one had an amazing ability to tell a story such that you could visualize yourself in its settings.
The Colosseum was truly impressive, and I was surprised to learn just how advanced the Romans were in their mechanical engineering capabilities. After the tours, we went to see the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon (this time, from the inside). After an unsatisfyingly small (but tasty) dinner, we went to a small pizzeria, where Oat got a second meal, and the rest of us played spades once again, followed by a card game called golf, which Gowri taught us how to play. Once again, I was completely satisfied sitting there, trying to figure out which card to play (in my defense, spades is an awesome game).
Tomorrow, we’ll all head over to the Vatican to see some of the great sights that they have there. Right now, I should probably try to get some work done.
Before I sign off, though, I have to say how nice it has been to be able to hang out with some of my true Stern friends on this trip. The Bocconi exchange crew was awesome, but we didn’t have the same amount of time to bond as the Stern crew. Hanging out with them brings a certain level of comfort that I haven’t had on this exchange (which is good, considering I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone to see how I’d react). It makes me want to get back to New York even more.
Until then, though, ciao Ciao ciao.View comments →
Founded an investment club focused on generating consistent, periodic income by using the aid of custom-developed analytic methodologies and computer programs to trade options
• Generated an average annualized return of 40%
• Coordinated the research and analysis efforts for myself and two partners
• Developed and automated several quantitative analysis algorithms that assist in the investment process by providing rankings of publicly traded companies based on financial fundamentals, listings of stocks with the highest options premiums, and predictions of stock movement based on trending and momentum criteria. Created the algorithms using the fundamental principles of weighted trade studies and later automated them using Ruby on Rails
• Created a website that enables the publication of investment articles and provides access to the aforementioned automated algorithms, a portfolio management tool, and educational resources
• Performed market research on publicly traded companies, focusing on industry standing, historical performance, competitive advantage, and future prospects
• Managed legal, financial, accounting, logistics, long-term strategy, and investment objectives
Software developer and member of founding teamoGolf
Member of the management team on an early stage startup that developed technology to provide data analytics and game management software for golfers.
• Created a website allowing golfers to review a comprehensive set of analytics about their game
• Developed financial projections and investor presentations, presented the new business and software at conferences, pitched to potential investors, and demoed the product to customers
• Developed strategy and marketing plans for growing the business
• Recruited new talent to assist with software development, marketing, and operations
AssociateBooz Allen Hamilton
Provided information and communications management solutions to public and private organizations as an IT consultant at a large, multi-national consulting organization.
• Managed timelines, resources, and a staff of up to 10 software developers and testers in the technical implementation of a project management application that allowed over 4,500 users on 500 projects to easily collaborate on key deliverables, organize project schedules, review budgets, and create financial projections. Coordinated the efforts of staff from multiple departments across the firm to implement a new development process that reduced the number of hours needed to create and test new software by more than 50%, eliminated the need for overtime work, and ensured the timely delivery of new functionality. Received a performance award for ensuring product quality, meeting deadlines, and effectively managing personnel
• Led and managed the technical implementation, logistics, timelines, and activities of myself and two other developers in the delivery of a web-based traffic simulation engine that provided a testbed for industry-specific application developers to test their proprietary algorithms. Received a performance award for “leading the team and ensuring critical deadlines were achieved without sacrificing quality.”
• Assisted in domain administration for a server farm consisting of SharePoint front-end web servers, Microsoft SQL Servers, domain controllers, and a SAN
• Lead developer for a Ruby on Rails and Flex-based application designed to automate the deployment of SOA-based military service offerings. Implemented a RESTful methodology for saving and delivering data to a Flex front end
• Participated in university recruiting and interview efforts for the firm. Provided recommendations that led to the hiring of approximately one-quarter of the total staff on sub-team, as well as the hiring of approximately 30 junior staff straight from college
• Progressively increased managerial responsibilities over the course of two promotions in three years
Software DeveloperWamily, LLC
Member of the management team on an early stage startup that developed web-based group communication, management, and coordination software.
• Worked with a team of web developers to create an Internet business centered on a website that would allow its users to easily manage and interact with their real-life groups in an online setting
• Developed widgets for communication and collaboration, permission models and security implementations, and user interfaces for site features
• Assisted in recruiting 500 alpha users and raising $20,000 in angel investments
• Participated in board meetings to determine long-term strategies
Intern Research AssistantBooz Allen Hamilton
Provided research and development support as a technology intern to a large, multi-national consulting firm.
• Provided a fully functional, database-backed web application for use by overseas military personnel in a shortened timeframe of 3 weeks as part of a 3-person development team
• Created a collaboration site that provided Navy leadership with near-real time critical information to streamline the decision making process in the Navy Gulf Coast Region in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
• Designed and created several web part solutions using APIs from Active Directory, Microsoft MapPoint, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Microsoft SharePoint
• Created a Macromedia flash proof-of-concept dashboard for a status reporting application integrated with SharePoint
Researcher and Lead DeveloperUniversity of Virginia
Developed software, created algorithms, and analyzed information management processes that would optimize the battery life on micro-sensor hardware devices as part of a university thesis project.
• Coordinated the efforts of a five-member team focused on developing an approach to optimize the use of resources on wireless sensor networks
• Designed, implemented, and maintained a simulation engine capable of simulating enemy solider movement and sensor network functionality in customized, loadable, user-defined scenarios. The application was written in C#, supported XML-based loadable scenario files, and utilized various optimization algorithms (such as Dijkstra’s algorithm and A*). The simulation engine provided users with an intuitive graphical user interface for simulation control as well as the ability to view and report on simulation progress
• Performed statistical and quantitative analysis on results to determine optimal resource allocation policy for the tested scenarios
• Lead author and presenter of a paper at the IEEE Systems and Information Engineering Design Symposium describing results
Researcher and DeveloperPersonal and Academic Projects
Developed a variety of software for a myriad of purposes on several different platforms and programming languages.
• Developed and tested a C# desktop weight management application using Access as the database backend, and later migrated it to the Internet using PHP and MySQL
• Lead developer on a team that created, documented, and tested robot control and communication software for the Evolution ER1 robot. The software allowed users to remotely control the robot by way of a specially created communications protocol
• Developed a prototype for an interactive Macromedia Flash map that retrieves external data and allows users to easily view them in a geographically organized format
• Created a discrete event queuing model simulation of a dining facility located on campus using Rockwell Arena, based on data gathered and interpreted by the project group
• Created a prototype Peer-to-Peer application based on the Gnutella search and communication protocol in Microsoft Visual Studio .NET using C# and TCP/IP socket programming
Branch ManagerCollege Works Painting
Participated in an internship designed to hone and cultivate the entrepreneurial skills of college students by allowing them to run their own local branch of a large, nationwide business.
• Operated a local house painting business, which generated over $15,000 worth of gross revenue in contracts with 25+ clients
• Responsible for sales, payroll, recruitment, operations, customer relations, and marketing
VolunteerAmerican Red Cross
Volunteered as a member of the executive management board of the youth community service organization of the Washington, D.C. chapter of the American Red Cross.
• Served as president (2001-2002), vice president (2000-2001), and member of a local youth community service organization as part of the National Capital Chapter of the American Red Cross
• Managed and coordinated the execution of various community service projects and their logistics, including fund-raising, logistics, marketing, and management of personnel
• Served as one of five United States youth representatives to the international Youth Exchange in 2000
• Received various formal volunteer recognitions
• Gained skills in leading multi-person projects, effective communication, and time management
Master of Business AdministrationNYU Stern School of Business
Completed two years of a rigorous MBA program at a top business school, focusing on acquiring the skills required to improve my trading activities and start a new business.
• Graduated with specializations in Quantitative Finance and Entrepreneurship and Innovation
• First Year Activities: Associate Vice President of Technology for the Stern Hedge Fund Association and Associate Vice President of Communications for the Entrepreneurs Exchange Club
• Member of the Technology and New Media Group and the Association for Investment Management and Research
• Completed one course on Doing Business in China at the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University
• Studied abroad at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy
Bachelor of ScienceUniversity of Virginia
Completed four years of study in the engineering school, focusing on acquiring software development, statistical analysis, modeling, simulation, and data analytic skills.
• Received a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and double majored in Systems and Information Engineering
• Received a minor in Math
• Part of a team-oriented effort to improve resource usage in sensor networks. Main author of a paper published at the IEEE Systems and Information Engineering Design Symposium
• Graduated with distinction
• Achieved Dean's List in 3 different semesters
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