San Francisco Days – Experiences @ Oracle Technology Conference

Oracle OpenWorld In San Francisco USA - Lessons for Pune cityI am writing this column from the Oracle OpenWorld conference in San Francisco on an Internet connection that’s as fast as the Internet speed of half of Pune put together. It’s strange how fast Internet connections always put me in a good mood. Anyway, talking of OpenWorld, it’s an annual event that has over 40,000 people coming to San Francisco from over a 100 countries. It’s amazing that the city can pull off such a mammoth event fairly easily and the infrastructure doesn’t collapse under the load.

The city administration seems to go the extra mile to ensure that delegates have an enjoyable and safe visit to the city. Although OpenWorld is the biggest, it is just one of the many events that happen all year round at the Moscone Center. Each event not only gets people to San Francisco and works as a great public relations exercise for the city but also pumps millions of dollars into the economy of San Francisco.

The Moscone Center has 10s of halls and exhibit areas that can have many thousands attending sessions all day. On seeing such places one feels the absence of infrastructure in Indian cities. Only a few months back I was hunting around Pune for a location to host the Conference On Java Technology; a location that had decent ambiance and at least two good session halls that could hold 150+ each. I found just 2 places that had such capacity.

The International Convention Centre (ICC) on Senapati Bapat road seemed exciting when it was announced, but it never materialized. It has been in the works for ages. All the offices, shopping malls and encroachments sure have come up in quick time but where’s the convention centre? One only hopes that a convention centre where international conferences can be held does eventually emerge in Pune and we don’t just end up with more offices, shopping malls and hotels.

Talking of hotels, we had also looked around for hotel rooms to house delegates and speakers at the IndicThreads conference. We found that rooms in Pune are more expensive than those in most developed cities and yet provide nowhere near that quality. The reason I guess is the obvious short supply.

Having mentioned some of the good things in San Francisco, I also need to mention the thing I always struggle with during my visit – vegetarian food. At every conference I have attended at the Moscone Center, the vegetarian food’s been awful. Vegetarian food here is for some unknown reason equated with eating raw vegetables. You get the most horrid combinations of cut raw vegetables served up as lunch everyday at the conference. I dread that some day the organizers will just point me to a lawn or garden and ask me to eat whatever greens I feel like.

Fortunately there’s an immense variety of food from all parts of the globe available in the restaurants of San Francisco. Although vegetarian in many restaurants is also equal to eating raw vegetables, there are cuisines other than Indian who believe in cooking the vegetables and not consuming them directly from the farm. However always notice that irrespective of cuisine, the staff is always all Mexican or Chinese. I particularly enjoy the Naans in Indian restaurants as they for some reason seem better than the ones you get in India. Maybe it’s the wheat being used or maybe the Mexicans making the Naans have worked some culinary magic and enhanced the Indian Naan. Then again, maybe in my excitement on seeing good veg food, I like everything served to me, even the humble Naan.

Mexicans making Naans and Chinese serving them to Indians in the US, is just one example of the amazing mix of cultures that the US enjoys. Despite being a mix, it’s strange how the US also has a culture of its very own. Americans speak their own version of English, play sports that hardly any other countries play and have customs that are uniquely American. Customs like smiling and saying “Hello” or “Good Morning” to strangers are good, but sure take some getting used to. You also rarely hear any news about the outside world, except from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Better rush, have to get to the Billy Joel and Lenny Kravitz concert. Don’t get me wrong I am at the conference for business and this just happens to be a part of the conference. Cool huh! By the time my next column appears, I should be back home in good old Pune. Looking forward to it.

(Published as “Oh! San Francisco” in my fortnightly column for the Maharashtra Herald)