First Impressions of Taiwan

Reached Taipei today for presenting my paper on Tactical Networks, in IEEE-VTC 2010 Spring.  After arriving Taoyuan International Airport about 3:30 pm (Local Time), I was took a TowardYou Airbus to reach the place where I would be staying for the next week. This time, inspired by other travelers, instead of checking into a hotel, I thought of staying at a hostel. The airbus took me to Far Eastern Plaza Hotel from where I reached the hostel on foot.

All through my journey in the bus and on foot, I was trying to observe and absorb as much as I can about Taipei. Being popular as a safe city (apparently safer than Seoul), I was looking forward to meet the local people and taste the local food. After quite a few traveling experiences, I have came to believe that, in order to taste authentic local food, street food is the way to go..  Though I spent today for rest and recharge before I go for the conference registration tomorrow, I plan to delve into the vastness of Taipei Night Markets after that.

I must admit that the hostel which I had checked in to, is much better that what I had thought.. Located next to Taipei 101 (The ex-tallest building in the world in terms of occupiable floors, a record recently broken by Burj Khalifa) this hostel is in fact located next to a night market. Though I admit that the facilities are fewer when compared to expensive hotels, I have already found three things which is unique to such places.

  1. Friendly host: If you do your research right, you can choose a hostel with a very helpful host. In my case, thanks to the reviews from hostels.com, I was not disappointed. Vanessa is a very friendly person, who waited for me for about 3 hours (Thanks to the delayed flight). She lives in the building and is incredibly friendly.. First thing what she did was to introduce me to the facilities and was more than willing to help me plan the rest of my trip. And most importantly of all, her English was flawless.
  2. Common room activity: The hostel has a common room where the people who stay here come for meeting others. Today, there were so many university students who had come for an overnight stay as a part of their club. I found that Taiwan stresses on English education and as a result, I found that 100% of them spoke English, something rare in the Asian countries. I also heard from Vanessa that another Indian is going to check in tomorrow. Eager to meet him.
  3. Cheap Washing ‘n Drying: For as low as $1.5, I can wash and dry all my clothes at one go.  This is something I have missed in all the hotels I have stayed, each time I traveled abroad. Most of them charged me $5 upwards for a shirt/trousers.

On my way from the airport, while turning around a corner, I found something like an outdoor fashion show with models wearing “strange” (I fail to appreciate the FTV-type hairdoes!!) hairt syles standing in front of a COACH showroom with lost of people photographing them.  While walking along the streets, I saw a woman (in her late 20s) pushing a buggy. Familiar with the sight in Korea, I looked for the cute baby sleeping comfortably inside. There was a baby alright, but it was a puppy. Resting comfortable on the cushions, there it was.. Small and cute..  Dog Walking.. Taiwan style??

With a growing interest in cars these days, I also observed the trends of car brands.. As expected, Toyota and Nissan were the majority with a speck of VW, Benz and Lexus here and there.. There was even a KIA but not a single Hyundai.. Quite Surprising for someone coming from Korea..  There was also a Samsung Anycall showroom (did not know that they used the anycall brand outside Korea)..  The most striking this about Taipei roads was the cleanliness and the thick lush of green trees separating the lines. Though the traffic density was quite high on the roads, the breeze smelled fresh, probably due to this green magic. There was a really large number of motorcycles on the road (A sight common to India, but quite rare in Korea).  The apartments  crowded the street sides, but were not very tall though. The people were quite kind when I was asking for directions.. On the whole.. The first impression is quite good and I cant wait for delving more deep  into this vibrant city in the coming days..

Tomorrow, I plan to board the Taipei Metro for the first time and go to the most popular attraction in the city: The National Palace Museum (with 677,687 artifacts, it is one of the largest museums in the world). Then I would go to the conference site for registration and welcome reception followed by a visit to the local night markets for a taste of Taipei night life.

Chao..

Kiran

Naga Naresh Karutura: How did he get from Godavari to Google???

This is an inspirational story, where a student faced umimaginable hardships and faced them all inspite of his physical handicap to end up as an engineer in Google.. Read on.. Its bound to inspire you for sure..( Source: Rediff.com)

Naga Naresh Karutura has just passed out of IIT Madras in Computer Science and has joined Google in Bangalore. You may ask, what’s so special about this 21-year-old when there are hundreds of students passing out from various IITs and joining big companies like Google?

Read why Naresh is special and what makes him feel that he is lucky.

Naresh is special. His parents are illiterate. He has no legs and moves around in his powered wheel chair.

(In fact, when I could not locate his lab, he told me over the mobile phone, ‘I will come and pick you up’. And in no time, he was there to guide me) Ever smiling, optimistic and full of spirit; that is Naresh. He says, ‘God has always been planning things for me. That is why I feel I am lucky.’ Read why Naresh feels he is lucky.

Childhood in a village
I spent the first seven years of my life in Teeparru, a small village in Andhra Pradesh, on the banks of the river Godavari. My father Prasad was a lorry driver and my mother Kumari, a house wife. Though they were illiterate, my parents instilled in me and my elder sister (Sirisha) the importance of studying.

Looking back, one thing that surprises me now is the way my father taught me when I was in the 1st and 2nd standards. My father would ask me questions from the text book, and I would answer them. At that time, I didn’t know he could not read or write but to make me happy, he helped me in my studies! Another memory that doesn’t go away is the floods in the village and how I was carried on top of a buffalo by my uncle. I also remember plucking fruits from a tree that was full of thorns.

I used to be very naughty, running around and playing all the time with my friends. I used to get a lot of scolding for disturbing the elders who slept in the afternoon. The moment they started scolding, I would run away to the fields! I also remember finishing my school work fast in class and sleeping on the teacher’s lap!

January 11, 1993, the fateful day
On the January 11, 1993 when we had the sankranti holidays, my mother took my sister and me to a nearby village for a family function. From there we were to go with our grandmother to our native place. But my grandmother did not come there. As there were no buses that day, my mother took a lift in my father’s friend’s lorry. As there were many people in the lorry, he made me sit next to him, close to the door.

It was my fault; I fiddled with the door latch and it opened wide throwing me out. As I fell, my legs got cut by the iron rods protruding from the lorry. Nothing happened to me except scratches on my legs. The accident had happened just in front of a big private hospital but they refused to treat me saying it was an accident case. Then a police constable who was passing by took us to a government hospital.

First I underwent an operation as my small intestine got twisted. The doctors also bandaged my legs. I was there for a week. When the doctors found that gangrene had developed and it had reached up to my knees, they asked my father to take me to a district hospital. There, the doctors scolded my parents a lot for neglecting the wounds and allowing the gangrene to develop. But what could my ignorant parents do?

In no time, both my legs were amputated up to the hips. I remember waking up and asking my mother, where are my legs? I also remember that my mother cried when I asked the question. I was in the hospital for three months.

Life without legs
I don’t think my life changed dramatically after I lost both my legs. Because all at home were doting on me, I was enjoying all the attention rather than pitying myself. I was happy that I got a lot of fruits and biscuits.

The day I reached my village, my house was flooded with curious people; all of them wanted to know how a boy without legs looked. But I was not bothered; I was happy to see so many of them coming to see me, especially my friends! All my friends saw to it that I was part of all the games they played; they carried me everywhere.

God’s hand
I believe in God. I believe in destiny. I feel he plans everything for you. If not for the accident, we would not have moved from the village to Tanuku, a town. There I joined a missionary school, and my father built a house next to the school. Till the tenth standard, I studied in that school.

If I had continued in Teeparu, I may not have studied after the 10th. I may have started working as a farmer or someone like that after my studies. I am sure God had other plans for me.

My sister, my friend

When the school was about to reopen, my parents moved from Teeparu to Tanuku, a town, and admitted both of us in a Missionary school. They decided to put my sister also in the same class though she is two years older. They thought she could take care of me if both of us were in the same class. My sister never complained.

She would be there for everything. Many of my friends used to tell me, you are so lucky to have such a loving sister. There are many who do not care for their siblings. She carried me in the school for a few years and after a while, my friends took over the task. When I got the tricycle, my sister used to push me around in the school.

My life, I would say, was normal, as everyone treated me like a normal kid. I never wallowed in self-pity. I was a happy boy and competed with others to be on top and the others also looked at me as a competitor.

Inspiration

I was inspired by two people when in school; my Maths teacher Pramod Lal who encouraged me to participate in various local talent tests, and a brilliant boy called Chowdhary, who was my senior.

When I came to know that he had joined Gowtham Junior College to prepare for IIT-JEE, it became my dream too. I was school first in 10th scoring 542/600. Because I topped in the state exams, Gowtham Junior College waived the fee for me. Pramod Sir’s recommendation also helped. The fee was around Rs 50,000 per year, which my parents could never afford.


Moving to a residential school

Living in a residential school was a big change for me because till then my life centred around home and school and I had my parents and sister to take care of all my needs. It was the first time that I was interacting with society. It took one year for me to adjust to the new life.

There, my inspiration was a boy called K K S Bhaskar who was in the top 10 in IIT-JEE exams. He used to come to our school to encourage us. Though my parents didn’t know anything about Gowtham Junior School or IIT, they always saw to it that I was encouraged in whatever I wanted to do. If the results were good, they would praise me to the skies and if bad, they would try to see something good in that. They did not want me to feel bad.

They are such wonderful supportive parents.

Life at IIT- Madras
Though my overall rank in the IIT-JEE was not that great (992), I was 4th in the physically handicapped category. So, I joined IIT, Madras to study Computer Science.

Here, my role model was Karthik who was also my senior in school. I looked up to him during my years at IIT- Madras. He had asked for attached bathrooms for those with special needs before I came here itself. So, when I came here, the room had attached bath. He used to help me and guide me a lot when I was here.

I evolved as a person in these four years, both academically and personally. It has been a great experience studying here. The people I was interacting with were so brilliant that I felt privileged to sit along with them in the class. Just by speaking to my lab mates, I gained a lot.

Words are inadequate to express my gratitude to Prof Pandurangan and all my lab mates; all were simply great. I was sent to Boston along with four others for our internship by Prof Pandurangan. It was a great experience.

Joining Google R&D

I did not want to pursue PhD as I wanted my parents to take rest now.
Morgan Stanley selected me first but I preferred Google because I wanted to work in pure computer science, algorithms and game theory.

I am lucky
Do you know why I say I am lucky?

I get help from total strangers without me asking for it. Once after my second year at IIT, I with some of my friends was travelling in a train for a conference. We met a kind gentleman called Sundar in the train, and he has been taking care of my hostel fees from then on.

I have to mention about Jaipur foot. I had Jaipur foot when I was in 3rd standard. After two years, I stopped using them. As I had almost no stems on my legs, it was very tough to tie them to the body. I found walking with Jaipur foot very, very slow. Sitting also was a problem. I found my tricycle faster because I am one guy who wants to do things faster.

One great thing about the hospital is, they don’t think their role ends by just fixing the Jaipur foot; they arrange for livelihood for all. They asked me what help I needed from them. I told them at that time, if I got into an IIT, I needed financial help from them. So, from the day I joined IIT, Madras, my fees were taken care of by them. So, my education at the IIT was never a burden on my parents and they could take care of my sister’s Nursing studies.

Surprise awaited me at IIT

After my first year, when I went home, two things happened here at the Institute without my knowledge.

I got a letter from my department that they had arranged a lift and ramps at the department for me. It also said that if I came a bit early and checked whether it met with my requirements, it would be good.

Second surprise was, the Dean, Prof Idichandy and the Students General Secretary, Prasad had located a place that sold powered wheel chairs. The cost was Rs 55,000. What they did was, they did not buy the wheel chair; they gave me the money so that the wheel chair belonged to me and not the institute.

My life changed after that. I felt free and independent. That’s why I say I am lucky. God has planned things for me and takes care of me at every step.

The world is full of good people
I also feel if you are motivated and show some initiative, people around you will always help you. I also feel there are more good people in society than bad ones. I want all those who read this to feel that if Naresh can achieve something in life, you can too.