Friday, September 25, 2009

Trip to India - Entry 26 - Back home!

I know I told everyone that I wouldn't have any group withdrawal, but that's not true. The first day, I kept looking around, waiting for someone I knew to appear, but it was just back to the same old daily grind.

I also got sick on the flight back. I am quite thankful I avoided any sort of colds, flu, serious stomach ailment, or fractured bones while in India (unlike some folks...), but now I get to pay for it.

I find myself feeling as though I understand India much more, and yet it's almost as opaque as it ever was. While I think I was one of the few people on the tour who know what the Gupta period was when our guide told us about it in the Elephanta Caves, Indian culture is still far more difficult for me to comprehend than European culture, for example, which I spent years studying, along with European languages. I feel almost at home in Europe, based on my knowledge of the culture, the history, the language, the wars, the customs. I honestly do not understand how someone could do business or live for any length of time in India without making the effort to learn at least some of that, but I'm sure many do.

I once read that a culture without history is an amnesiac culture. Thus, history and culture shape the way that a people describe and feel about themselves and their place in the world. If one doesn't know, understand or appreciate that history and culture, how could they possibly hope to interact with or do business from someone of that culture? I feel like this trip has helped me fill in the gaps to some extent, and has made me more respectful and appreciative of Indian culture and where Indians are coming from as people.

Trip to India - Entry 25 - Leaving Bangalore

Last night, I completed the rest of my shopping and we had our Farewell to India! party. At which Indian food was served... I just can't win. I keep telling people that I don't hate red curry... red curry hates me.

All of us had to wear some Indian item that we had bought while in India. Most people just bought a simple long tunic or something pretty laid back, but a few of the ladies went all out and bought saris, and Sarah bought the most hilarious hat ever. I also find it highly amusing that Vikas, one of our resident Indians, had to rush out in a hurry to buy "something Indian" because he didn't have anything for the farewell party.

This morning is a lazy morning, as some of us are definitely slower after having fun the night before, and some of us elected to get henna, and some went shopping for one final time. I don't think anyone is looking forward to the 36+ hour trip back home, but it will be nice to get back onto a normal, crazy spice free diet.

Trip to India - Entry 24 - Last Company Visit!

Today, we visited GE Healthcare, our last company visit here in India. During the presentation, I have to admit I was shocked at what was developed here in India, both in the complexity of the item being made, and the size and breadth of the GE campus in Bangalore. The office we were in was actually incomplete, the whole campus having been conceived under Jack Welch, which gives you an idea of how long this construction of the campus project has been going.

I really enjoyed the part of the lecture where we learned that items being developed and intended for rural India - which in general has no electricity or running water - are being snapped up like hotcakes by people in rural India and around the globe, because they run either on batteries, or using no running or electricity. For example, the water purification system runs on reverse osmosis, making it the most eco-friendly product possible. I am reminded of the Lowe Lintas presentation, in which the second presenter said that India is one of the greenest countries on earth per capita almost by accident, due to how many people are simply too poor to afford pesticides, use fossil fuels, or electricity. I am interested to see in the future if India can use this opportunity to simply leap frog the developmental pattern of the West and skip traditional forms of infrastructure and energy usage altogether.

According to the CIA, Indians make, per capita, $2900/year. Divide that out, that's $7.95/day on average. As some people make quite a lot of money, that would mean that there are a lot of people making less than that. US per capita income? $46,900, or $128.50. Of course, these are straight per capita numbers, meaning that the wealthiest people in both countries skew the results, but I think that sometimes our complaints seem a lot more trivial when compared to some of the people we've seen here.

One last item of note at the GE company visit - the preemie baby warmer sold in India and other parts of the world meet US regulations, but it isn't sold in the US. Rather, a much more expensive version with lots of bells and whistles is sold in the US - at a much higher cost, of course. And we wonder why our healthcare costs so much.

Trip to India - Entry 23 - Bangalore reflections

Tonight, I met my colleague from Amazon here in Bangalore, Sangeetha. For the first time since I have been here, I paid a fair price for the items I wanted to buy. Juliet, my roommate also came with us. We went out for some dinner, and by the time we were ready to order, the smells of the Indian food at the table next to me had turned my stomach to the extent that I ordered a mushroom pizza.

When Sangeetha and Juliet got their dosa (a large fried crispy crepe style bread, stuffed in this case with potatoes and onions), Sangeetha gave me a small bite, saying that it wasn't at all spicy. It was SPICY. I think that Indians don't have a functional spice-o-meter, and everything that is made in India seriously has such a huge pile of spices that even smelling the food caused my poor stomach to start jumping from fear that I would eat anything.

I feel like, on this penultimate full day in India, that I have not only learned a lot about India on this trip, but also about myself and my preconceptions of outsourcing. Everyone I've met here has been optimistic, hopeful about the future, hardworking - some to a fault. If I were to use only two words to describe Indians, I would use hard-working and optimistic. From the slum SGH women, to the Christ U MBA students, to the workers at Hero Honda, the young man at Expeditor's with the two hours each way commute, and the managers at Hewitt - Indians seem to have no problem with working hard, and what's more - they seem to have a hunger for the future.

I honestly don't think many Americans do. I think Americans realize quite well that for the average American, this current generation will not be as well off as the previous one, and that continued upward mobility - the American Dream - which was always rather a pipe dream, is even more out of the reach of ordinary Americans than it was before. I remember teaching undergraduate history courses at the UofO, how many of my students had been out partying most of the week and weren't prepared, and how the Christ U MBA students put in hours of preparatory work and competed for the opportunity to have a joint class with us. Indians want it more. So I don't feel like many Americans can honestly complain, when I don't think that as many Americans have put in the kind of effort I am seeing people putting in here.

I think I am also beginning to understand how to approach certain issues with training and culture that I otherwise wouldn't have known how to address. I will certainly be able to address them with more knowledge and cultural sensitivity. I still think that Indian IT workers are replaceable, if someone more shiny and interesting and cheaper comes along, like the cheap bangle bracelets we bought. All that's important is that it is a circular bracelet and it's shiny and cheap; the quality of construction is irrelevant, and I have no concerns over the welfare of those producing it. So one thing I do think is that while India is seeing the benefits of global outsourcing now, I feel like they'll be in our position in a decade or two (or less, in certain fields which are already being outsourced to the Philippines instead), and lamenting the loss of those jobs.

The most interesting and valuable insight this trip has given me is that economic prosperity almost forces gender equality. Many of our speakers were women in significant posts in the organization, and women are dominant in call center work. The women in the slums gained greater value in their homes because of the value of the micro-lending program in their daily life. When the women are empowered, child birth rates go down, education and health spending goes up, and society in general benefits. I read an article that in rural India, only 12-18 months after seeing shows where women had greater equality and value in the household, women in rural India were demanding the same for themselves. Certainly there have been losers in the recession and during globalization in recent years - but I would venture to say that the biggest winners in the past two decades of globalization since the fall of communism and end of the Cold War are women, especially poor women who basically started at the very bottom. And I don't see that as a bad thing at all.

Trip to India - Entry 22 - Boeing

I finally learned at Boeing how it works when an American company wants to sell/do major business in India. Boeing, if it gets certain contracts, incurs contractual counter trade obligations. So, if they get, for example, a contract to make fighter jets, a certain percentage of the jet (or increasing numbers of parts of the jet, or all of it) will be made in India.

Some interesting points of note:
- In 2008, India's airways sustained a loss of $2billion (compared with $9billion worldwide)
- The air freight market is so tough to get into that the big players essentially have it sewn up in India, and trains are considered good enough. This reminds me of the difficulties that air freight is having in the US - people have decided that the boring old Postal Service can get their packages delivered just fine, even if more slowly
- The India center is an R&D center - thus, if something is developed entirely there, then it falls under Indian regulatory laws, not US law about exporting certain sensitive information
- The Boeing representative who spoke to us was very positive about the future of air travel in India, although I doubt that it is as rosy a picture as he would like it to be. Right now, because of the recession, demand is down in the US and Europe for fossil fuels, leaving more room for growth in India and China. As soon as demand goes back up, so will price, which makes alternatives to air travel more attractive

The Boeing 787 is an example of global outsourcing. The floor beams are made by Tata in India, which are then shipped to Romania to be put into the body, which is then flown to the States to be assembled along with all the other parts from all over the world. I think that this is an interesting case study (as is the A-380) why outsourcing everything is probably not the most effective and efficient solution to a problem. I thought it was funny when one of my colleagues asked about the quality of items arriving to be used in the airplane, and the speaker said, "Oh, you mean how many parts get "dropped in the ocean" on the way over?" I can understand the desire for a very lucrative deal, but it seems like there is a lot of cost incurred when you're paying for the same part multiple times because your outsourcer messed it up. It would also seem to me that you would have greater difficulty monitoring the quality controls if you have to travel to a plant to check up on them, as I've heard that this gives them time to prepare the "visitor" version of the plant and materials. I'm sure that outsourcing the initial production would save money. I can't imagine building something twice saves anyone money.

Trip to India - Entry 21 - Accenture

This morning, I woke up itching like crazy due to the many bug bites that appear to have been multiplying on my legs in the past couple of days. As I am one of those who elected against taking nasty malaria pills, I can only hope that I do not get the still nastier reason for taking those pills, malaria.

Today, we have Accenture in the morning and Boeing in the afternoon. Never say we didn't get to visit some significant places of business while here in India - when I signed up for the tour, I didn't even realize how much we would be doing and seeing.

There were two significant parts of the Accenture visit - the first was the talk given by the Managing Director of Accenture India, Sandeep Arora, and the second was meeting the mid-level managers and speaking with them.

Sandeep's message was that the growth of India means good things for overall economic growth in the world, and that thinking with an attitude of scarcity is a negative course of action whenever it is chosen. However, I think that this attitude is quite understandable, given what I've seen here in India. At Hewitt, Indian managers were discussing how best to move the non-entry level positions to India after having moved nearly all entry level positions - other than governmental support positions which couldn't be moved - from North America. At Accenture India, Sandeep took over a group of 15,000 employees in 2006, and in 2009, Accenture India employs 40,000 people. As an American, one who is working in a department where more than half of the operations staff are in India, how am I supposed to look at this as an opportunity? This is a time of opportunity for Indians and for upper level American managers; I do not see this as a time of opportunity for the average American wanting to get an entry level job in HR - because those jobs don't really exist anymore in the United States.

However, I noticed the same problem with the person who spoke before Sandeep that I noticed with the Christ U MBA students. One of our group asked a big picture question, and the speaker went off on a tangent filled with interesting data tidbits that really had nothing to do with answering the question. I was honestly surprised to see this tendency with someone who had so much experience at what is, after all, a global company. My colleague asked his question three different times, with different phrasing each time, and still got the same non-response. I also found it interesting that this speaker was so convinced that India will continue to be a low cost leader. It would seem from what we've learned on the trip, that cost of living and wages in India are rising at exponential rates. In light of this, it would seem odd to suggest that the cost of doing business in India will remain the same without some sort of significant change in the status quo. One final question which was asked was regarding intellectual property laws. India has great intellectual property laws on paper, but truly lax enforcement of those laws, which places the onus of protection of IP upon the business itself.

It actually seems as though this is a common story in the Indian businesses we visited - they were all very independent in their development - choosing generators and their own developmental structures over reliance on existing infrastructure (because the existing infrastructure wouldn't be able to handle the need), and treating it as simply a by product of having to do business in India. While that is obvious, it begs the question - can a business which must act like a self-contained capsule actually be a cost-savings model for the future? Or are the cost savings achieved by outsourcing to India merely a short term window of opportunity which will be over within the decade before companies move on to cheaper and cheaper destinations?

We did get some great book recommendations from Sandeep, however: Innovator's Dilemma, Driven and Tipping Point.

The meeting with the mid-level manager was also very interesting. She was surprised to see all the notes that Kyle and I had taken during the lectures, and said that while her team used to be all entirely in the US, now there's a whole team in India, and one contact point person in the US who continues to lead and direct the team at the wishes of the client. If India is ever to break the mould of just being the "go-to" person for cheap, intelligent English speaking labor, it would seem to be necessary that the leadership on these projects move to India, otherwise, the entire Indian team is just as replaceable as the entire US team was before it. Again, as an American seeing a massive recession in the US that isn't likely to recover soon due to a lack of jobs, I don't find any of this particularly comforting, in spite of being told that an attitude of scarcity isn't helpful.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Trip to India - Entry 20 - Christ University Joint Courses

When I arrived at the Taj hotel in Bangalore, I went with some of the other students to the small cafe which also had books, magazines and Western goodies. One of the magazines had Hrithik Roshan on the cover... and I finally understood who my colleagues had been stalking in Goa. Had I realized who they were stalking, I might have joined in.

This morning, we went to Christ University to spend the morning learning about CSA (Center for Social Action), visit a slum, have lunch, then spend the afternoon in a joint session with the MBA students at Christ University.

The first thing I think we all noticed about the university is that there weren't any western style toilets. This is fine, generally, just not entirely expected at a university campus.

The visit to the slum was both heartening and disheartening, simultaneously. I think I left with more positive feelings than when I arrived, however, and noted the sheer amount of dirt and filth all over the roads, with children running around in bare feet in the same mud the cows and chickens and goats and dogs were running around. It also looked as though many of the older people squatting on the side of the road wearing cheap sandals had eye damage and ringworm in their toenails and feet. We were visiting the slums to see a waste reclamation project. As I understood it, women were paid to gather waste, it was treated, then used for compost. This not only created something useful, but it prevented the waste from polluting the slum (in which children ran around barefoot, and ringworm appeared to be ubiquitous).

While we were waiting with the students who came with us outside the project building, we were taking pictures of the kids. They were so joyful, even in their incredible surroundings that you couldn't help but smile when you looked at them. We ended up taking a lot of pictures and showing them in the viewfinder what the picture looked like. I think my favorite was a little boy wearing a pink Minnie Mouse sweatshirt (yes, sweatshirt) in the heat of the day.

I think by this time, I was thoroughly depressed at the thought of how many children there were, and the conditions in which they were living. It is do-able to help one child; even a dozen; even one hundred children. But there had to be a few dozen just in the part of the street where we were. I wasn't particularly excited about whatever was coming next, because the part that we'd already gone through was such a harsh dose of reality.

We went to the St. Sara's School to speak with a SHG (Self Help Group) that the CSA had helped to set up and finance. These are micro-lending groups - but the unique thing is that they are not for the wealth of a bank or individual, but the interest on the loans goes back to the group so that it can make more and bigger loans. The Q&A with these women showed me how to help all those kids - empower their mothers. It was absolutely amazing, the stories they had to tell. One used a loan to help her husband open a welding shop. One of them used it to open a shop, and now her husband helps the kids get ready for school in the morning, something really unusual for a lower-class, conservative male in India to do. Another used a loan to lease a house instead of renting, so now she basically pays rent, with interest, to the group, rather than to a landlord. The way they spoke, and the animation and hope and optimism in their faces and smiles made me realize that this - not the fancy glass buildings we'd seen plenty of - is the future of India. More than that, it *has* to be the future of India, or India has no future at all.

They also brought their little children, and this little girl was just the sweetest, cutest little one I saw the whole trip.

We had Indian food for lunch... I and a few others I noticed (I won't name names), picked through anything with color and mostly chomped on rice and naan. Such is the state of my poor stomach.

Our afternoon session was a very interesting experience, and I think helped me to understand where some of my Indian colleagues are coming from. All of the Christ University MBA students arrived with multiple pages of notes in hand, completely prepared and well thought-out, and some even had charts and other articles to reference (our topics of discussion were Shopper's Stop Group and Tata Consultancy Services). However, while one of the guys in my group had well organized notes, my colleagues reported that some of the members in other groups had a pile of information, but poorly organized notes, and they couldn't track down their information quickly, or quote it off the top of their head. The group I was in was also unusual in that we moved to big picture questions fairly quickly (I am convinced this is actually due to a lack of preparation on the part of some people in our team), while other groups reported being bogged down by the numbers.

The members of our group (Seattle U students) who weren't as well prepared actually asked the most salient big picture questions, while the highly prepared Christ U MBA students had the data to support the eventual conclusions we reached. I found this difference in styles - immediate movement to big picture thinking vs. taking refuge in the hard data - actually resulted in a very interesting and useful discussion which would have been either missing significant hard data were it just the American students and missing a generalized, big picture viewpoint were it just the Indian students. I think this was my most useful takeaway from the discussion with these students, and it shows the weaknesses in both systems of education on their own. Americans often feel very comfortable making choices and decisions with little data and gut feeling, which can sometimes have disastrous results; while getting bogged down in the data can end up paralyzing people in other cultures who are more data-centric.

After we finished the scholastic portion of our day, we were treated to a truly amazing display put on for us by the university. I am quite certain that Seattle University would not go to such an expense for a visiting group of Indian MBAs - or anyone else, for that matter. Maybe the Albers school would put up a dinner, but probably not the display of traditional dancing and the band that played for us, and the choir that sang the introductory song - they were all really good, too. Christ U also provided us dinner... more spicy Indian food. However, there was this amazing dry fried chicken that was SO YUMMY, but other than that, I stuck with the rice and naan.

In the evening, we went out to hang out with the Christ U students somewhere along MG Road, and much fun was had by all. Maybe it's just me... but we're packing a lot into two weeks.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Trip to India - Entry 19 - Arrival in the Silicon Valley of India

Bangalore’s airport is significantly nicer than New Delhi’s airport. I believe we also got our bags the fastest here. However, any time made up for at the airport was long in Bangalore traffic. We heard this saying here, “In India, people drive on the left of the road. In Bangalore, people drive on what’s left of the road.” I definitely can see this.

After arriving and checking in and drinking a red drink that tasted like jello, Madhu suggested walking to Brigade Road. He said it was within walking distance. Finally, on this fourth leg of the trip, I understand what “walking distance” means to Madhu – it means that if he says five minutes, it will take fifteen, and if he says fifteen, it will be more than a half hour. The sidewalks in Bangalore are really horrible, worse than New Delhi. It appears that half the city is in a state of construction.

At Brigade road, we all separated to go shopping. I chose to go with Sarah and Carlos and we went to Cauvery Emporium to look at various items. Some of the little carved statues were truly ridiculously expensive, and I had no idea why we should be induced to pay so much for the statues, but Kyle said that, according to Madhu, some families have been in that particular business for generations, and thus charge more. Me being an ignorant Westerner, all I know is that this elephant is three times the price of that elephant, for no apparent reason.

I have decided that bargaining is very stressful. When I went to buy some shawls from one of the stores on Brigade road, I accepted the price quoted to me without any complaint (which you should NEVER do, especially on Brigade Road), and the guy said, “No no! You offer me price, I offer you, you walk out the door, that’s the way.” So yeah, I got schooled. Sarah, however, is an excellent bargainer, so I got the overall price down by including a beautiful black paisley shawl along with the plain shawls I had already chosen. I probably still paid too much.

Our dinner choice for the evening was Pizza Hut. Again – no judging until you eat spicy Indian food for almost two weeks straight. I am definitely very careful around Indian food, and don’t eat more than one meal per day now. Otherwise, I am just asking for stomach upset.

Our last stop on the shopping expedition was a Kashmiri handcrafts shop. It had the normal carved items, inlaid marblework, etc., but I’d seen some crochet crewel work at a previous shop on one of the seat covers, and was trying to find it. I saw some crewel work on one of their shawls, and asked if they had any wall hangings in that style, and one of the guys (who had apparently lived in Canada), came over and said he would bring the wall hangings from upstairs.

These crochet crewel work hangings were seriously one of the most beautiful items I have ever seen. As an avid crocheter who knows quite well just how much time it takes to make something like that by hand, I was so excited to have the opportunity to buy an item like this. When Kyle bought his beautiful marble inlay plates in New Delhi, he said that the only reason he bought them was because they really grabbed his attention, and he had to have them. I definitely felt that way about these beautiful wall hangings. The one I bought was listed at 6800 INR, and I paid 6000. Clearly, I did not do a particularly good job of haggling. In my defense, though… it is quite possible one of the most beautiful pieces of hand crafted crochet work I’ve seen in a very long time.

Sarah, Carlos and I took a tuk-tuk back to the hotel, me with my giant bag of stuff in my lap which Sarah called my “shopping baby.” My original goal was to do nearly all or all of my shopping in Bangalore, so I appear to have gotten on a successful start for this endeavor.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Trip to India - Entry 18 - Such sweet sorrow...

Today is our final full day in Goa, and it is really quite sad.

At breakfast, Rico came over and Juliet and I decided to go with him to Old Goa. This is the first actually “tourist”-y thing we’ve done so far on the trip. We went down to the Basilica of Bom Jesus (the Christ Child) and were completely mobbed by old women attempting to sell us candles and marigold chains. I appreciate the need for such items – candles for the prayer offering, and the marigolds are a traditional offering in India – but I really, really hate being mobbed like that. We have been working on understanding Indian culture and what works here in India, I just wish that Indian salespeople in general had someone to tell them that most foreigners *really* dislike the in your face sales style. I’m sure this would only be important to actual shopkeepers, however, as I would be willing to bet that sales of these candles and marigold chains are all that supported these old women.

The square is a revealing glimpse into the practices of Catholic missionaries in non-Western countries during the early modern period (1450-1789) and beyond. The Basilica we visited was built by the Jesuits, an order started in the mid-sixteenth century in Spain by St Ignatius Loyola. Across from the Basilica were a church and Cathedral, one built by the Franciscans (founded by St Francis of Assisi in the early 13th century) and the other built by the Dominicans (founded by St Francis’ contemporary, St Dominic).

One of the most destructive aspects of missionizing in this time was the competition for converts between the various orders. Mission work had two different aspects: the spiritual and the physical. Spiritually, many of these missionaries sincerely believed in the need to save heathens and provide them the opportunity to choose Christ and go to heaven. However, the corollary was that these missionaries were very far away from home, and needed money and resources to support themselves and their flock wherever they happened to be. Poaching of flocks became a financial hardship and thus competition between the orders became the norm. Thus you have three very nice, very expensive large churches built within a short walk of each other.

The competition between the orders actually grew so fierce in Japan that the government there threw out all the Catholics and only the Dutch, being Protestant and uninterested in converting anyone, were allowed to trade on a remote island in Japan for nearly three hundred years until the United States forcibly reopened Japan in the mid-19th century.

I really enjoyed this part of our trip, though with mixed feelings. The architecture and statuary design were completely untouched by the influence of the high Baroque that changed the face of so many churches in Europe, but the very existence of the churches represented centuries of subjugation by the Portuguese in Goa. In fact, although India gained its independence in 1947, Goa only gained independence from Portugal in 1961.

After visiting the church square, we visited the ruins on the hill of the church of St. Augustine. This church had become a fulcrum point of tension, and was destroyed in the mid 19th century. Only one tower was still partially intact, but even from that tower, you could see the immense size of the structure, which would have been visible upon entrance to the harbor. Rico and Juliet decided to climb the old tower – which, as I just pointed out, has been in ruins for over a century and a half – as I watched from below, praying very hard that there would be no broken bones or scrambling to run for the driver in Goa. However, they both made it safely… and complete with some pretty cool pictures.

The control of Goa by the Portuguese actually reminds me of Lord Bevin’s famous quote to Mahatma Gandhi upon the departure of the British from India – that India was ungovernable due to its large size, multiplicity of languages and religions, and so on. I find it ironic that the local flavor of Goa is very Christian and Portuguese in general (the local folk songs are very Iberian in style), but everyone still speaks English. The very thing that Lord Bevin and the British gave to India – the English language – is what makes India governable. In India, no ethnic group or language can be valued in total above any other language group (even though Hindi is privileged), because English cuts across all boundaries. I compare this to my experience in Myanmar, where the Burmese people form the largest ethnic group, but there are multiple large ethnic groups in Myanmar which are essentially marginalized, both deliberately by the government and by default through the official use of the Burmese language.

In the evening, we arranged a great game of cricket. The rules of cricket as I know them – there are five overs with six balls each for each side. There can be only one bowler per over. If the ball hits the wickets, the batter is out. If the ball is hit and immediately caught, the batter is out. You can achieve runs by actually running, by being thrown a wide ball by the bowler, or by hitting the ball a distance far enough to achieve an automatic four or six runs. Apparently, the proper way to play cricket actually takes five days. And we thought baseball could go long!

For our final evening in Goa, many of us chose to go to Caravela restaurant again and linger over dinner. It was international night, so I was very happy with the food selection. By this time, nearly everyone on the group has had some sort of digestive/stomach upset, with various levels of severity, so I think nearly everyone was happy with the selection. Derrick has decided that naan and beer is the way to go for the remainder of the trip. Our group clearly isn’t accustomed to the volume of spices that are used in most of the food here.

We fly out in the morning to Bangalore, our long weekend being over. I expect Bangalore to be more developed than New Delhi and more shiny and less colonial looking than Mumbai. We’ll see if I am correct. I also understand that Bangalore is cooler than our last three destinations (meaning about 80’F), and I think all of us are ready for that after three days of near 100% humidity. I know that I am personally interested in seeing Bangalore as it is in the south of India, and I am curious to see what is different here than in the north and on the coast that we have already seen.

Trip to India - Entry 17 - Big Plans

Today, I plan to go to the pool and to the spa. That is all. Those are my only plans. You may be jealous if you wish; I would be jealous of me if I weren’t me right now too.

My morning, I spent sleeping in, then having breakfast. After that, I helped my roommate, Juliet, get set up on Skype so she could call and talk to her family and boyfriend, then we got ready to go to the spa and have a massage – I got the massage plus mani/pedi, she just got the massage plus pedi.

I am sure there were great restorative and healing properties in this fancy wrap thingy I got – but all I know is that a) it smelled like pumpkin pie, and b) it BURNED. A LOT. I didn’t actually make it through the whole process, and had to ask her to take off the towels so I could shower earlier. Once the cooling oils were put on for the massage it was all good, and no further problems, but my poor skin was so mottled and red I was worried there would be more permanent damage, such as hives or extreme sensitivity, but there wasn’t. Juliet made it through, but Sarah also reported not being able to make it through the entire process. I am very pleased with my mani/pedi, though, way more relaxing.

For dinner, nearly the entire group went and had this amazing Thai stir fry. I have decided that I love Thai stir fry… it also didn’t turn my stomach like Indian food is now doing. Just to be random, there was whole wheat bread pudding for dessert. In the evening, we stayed in and hung out on the overlook at the water. The Arabian Sea really is quite beautiful.

My plans complete for the day, it was time for bed. I love Goa.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Trip to India - Entry 16 - First night in Goa

Let me preface this by saying that Goa ROCKS. That is all.

Now I will describe it to you so that you can be properly jealous too.

The airport upon arrival is highly unimpressive, especially since we arrived late in the afternoon after a long, hot muggy morning at Elephanta, considering Goa’s reputation and the people to whom it caters. The bus also was poorly air conditioned and small, so we went to the resort hot, sweaty, and a little grumpy – or at least, I was a little grumpy. I’ve never been too hot on resort vacations, as there’s not all that much to do there.

I have now decided that is why they are AWESOME. After dumping our luggage, we meandered over to the Caravela Restaurant, which was labeled as serving “modern Mediterranean cuisine.” Given my current aversion to anything spicy, I decided that farfalle in garlic parmesan sauce sounded *wonderful*. The view from the restaurant is of the Arabian Ocean breaking against the beach to the right side, and to the left, Fort Aguada. Surrounding the restaurant were palm trees – or what looked like palm trees with coconuts, so maybe they were coconut trees.

That evening, we went to Tito’s, a club we are told is frequented by movie stars. It was not on that particular evening, however. What is amazing is how many times you have to tell people NO ICE before they realize that means, NO ICE. Not, I’ll fish the ice out of your drink, or, I’ll just blend it all together, but NO ICE. After we left, we got caught in this crazy traffic jam that really I’ve only ever seen in this form in India. All sorts of vehicles all stacked up against each other, and only mopeds or two wheelers can make it through. When we got back to the hotel, we went down to the beach in the dark and got our toes and feet wet in the squishy sand.

As I said…. Goa ROCKS.

Trip to India - Entry 15 - Elephanta Caves

One of the benefits of traveling in a large group is that the expense of hiring your own boat instead of bothering to wait for a ferry is really not a problem at all. We didn’t even fill our boat to get to the caves, and I doubt it was significantly more than going by public ferry would have been. The energy level was amazingly low…. I blame the energy level from the previous night.

Elephanta Caves are on an island which used to be the entryway to Mumbai, when it was still islands. The people living here have no running water, and subsist mainly on fishing and fathering, and what tourists visit. To reach the caves, you have to go up stone steps to the top of a hill. Generally, steps aren’t a problem – but in 100% humidity at 32’ Celsius, it can be a bit more of a problem, especially for yours truly, the delicate English flower. Anyway, we all made it to the top without incident, and Sarah actually took the human conveyance, thereby bringing her list of conveyances to include: auto rickshaw, bicycle rickshaw, train/metro, car, plane, boat, elephant, and now “Indian.” I think next we need to find a water buffalo taxi.

The caves are carved out of a single large granite rock, probably by monks during the Gupta period (5th-7th century), also known as India’s golden period. The cave was dedicated to Lord Shiva, known as the destroyer of evil. He is part of the Hindu triad of Rama, Vishnu and Shiva, who create, guide, and destroy life together. All of the statues in the cave depicted Lord Shiva in various poses and stories about him. One of the most infuriating aspects of visiting the cave was seeing the rampant destruction of the carvings done by the Portuguese when they first entered Mumbai in the sixteenth century. While I realize that, because the Portuguese were Catholic, they had no interest in or respect for the religion of the Hindus in the area, and to them these statues were an affront, they weren’t their statues to destroy, and the defaced structures represent the arrogance and lack of concern for the history and culture of others displayed by Westerners traveling east or west for many hundreds of years. To be fair, I don’t think this is necessarily a Western thing, but a human thing, and we Westerners just happened to have benefitted from a confluence of historical factors placing us in a position of dominance globally.

In any case, the remaining parts of the statues and stories are really quite beautiful, and one in particular – a trinity-like view of Lord Shiva – are stunning in their simplicity of design and elegance of form. Our guide said that the sculptors were more than likely Buddhist or Buddhist-influenced sculptors based on the stylization of the figures.

On the ferry on the way home, Rico had the brilliant idea of recreating the scene from Titanic on the front of the boat (and no, there were no safety ropes or any such thing like that), an idea which was eagerly pounced upon by Andy and myself. The first two to test the idea were Vikas and Rico, who make a charming couple… Andy and Lauren then went to the front of the boat. It is amazing how free and invincible one feels with a camera in front of the face. Rico took a picture of me while I was photographing Lauren and Andy, and I am literally leaning completely over the side of the boat with my hips nearly over the side. Then, we decided that me being on the ground in front of them at the bow would make a much better picture, so I shimmied out to the front of the boat, with my head over the front. Did I mention carrying a camera makes one feel invincible? Oh, and that I also don’t know how to swim? Got some great pictures, though…

After returning from Elephanta, we all prepared to leave for Goa, something for which we are all very excited – an excitement that for me has heightened since seeing everyone’s jealous reaction when we say we’re going to Goa!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Trip to India - Entry 14 – Marketing master classes

This morning, we went to visit the Times of India, a newspaper. The way in which the presenter from the marketing department discussed the newspaper was a completely different way of approaching the print media than we are used to here, especially in Seattle since the Post Intelligencer went out of business. Overall, even though we saw her perspective as admirable and certainly appropriate for the current reality in India, we agreed in the debrief that as soon as Internet penetrates deeper into the Indian market that print media will decline as it has for us.

At the beginning of the session, we had a moment of silence for 9/11. Even though it happened eight years ago now, and I know no one who was there, and don’t actually know anyone who knew anyone who was there either, I still get a visceral reaction in the pit of my stomach when I see photos or am reminded of the towers collapsing. It is literally painful to think of how significantly that one act shifted not only our own view of the world, but how the actions resulting from this changed the world’s view of us. 9/11 isn’t just the “new Pearl Harbor” – it is also the date which marks the beginning of cowboy diplomacy and the beginning of one of the more shameful chapters of our history.

After that rather depressing moment of remembrance, we spoke with the editor of features about the attacks in Mumbai last year, in which one of their good friends at TOI died. When she finished her story, there was simply silence.

After TOI, we went to Lowe Lintas, an Indian advertising agency. A few interesting points of note:

- Rural India makes up 65% of India, and farmers don’t pay taxes. This means that there is actually quite a lot of wealth in rural areas
- The CEO was British, but had spent quite a lot of time in Asia. It was interesting to see how he defined his role – bringing value through worldview and process – when so few Indian companies are led by expatriates. In fact, he said that there are actually only 1200 expatriates in all of Mumbai.
- The tea with milk and sugar was delicious
- The ads produced for Tata Tea and Bajaj were very clever and culturally relevant – I am at a loss to think of something similar for the United States. It would seem that humor is the primary method in which advertisers grab our attention, rather than these culturally relevant issues used by Lowe Lintas

Being a Friday night, many in the group are going out and making a night of it. In the morning, we head to Elephanta Caves and fly to Goa (everyone is jealous when we tell them) tomorrow afternoon. I am very much looking forward to the massage opportunities in Goa.

Trip to India - Entry 13 – Jawaharlal Nehru Port

The port is probably the most complex to plan visit we will have on this trip. Just to get approval to go onto the port, we had to fill out a complex form detailing such things as our blood type, some sort of personalized identification mark (a scar, for example), blood type, and for the women, the name of our father or husband (Madhu tactfully left off the husband part on the form). The Expeditors representative who greeted us apparently was highly amused by the pictures we were also requested to provide. We were, of course, happy to amuse.

The initial prepared presentation ran a little long, but the content wasn’t really a problem – the primary problem was actually the heat. Somehow, the Expeditors guys manage to work in the heat and humidity wearing suits. I was wearing a light shirt and a skirt and still managed to overheat to the extent that the rest of my day was ruined and I had to sit in the bus for the remainder of our time at the port. It is an unfortunate circumstance to be in a country in which one must drink lots of water… but in which bathrooms are rarely regularly available.

On the way back from the port, we were able to stop and check out a mall. While I realize the importance of malls in terms of Indian development – it was still just a mall. And, I must admit, the volume of Indian food we’ve been eating took its toll and I gorged on McDonalds. But, before you judge me – the potato wedges are almost as good as Jojos. A lot of us also checked out the Shopper’s Stop – which, contrary to what one might think, is a high end store. It just reminds me so much of a Stop and Shop that it’s hard to take it completely seriously.

I was much too tired to do anything and have no idea what anyone else was doing, because I was sleeping. And so goes another day in Mumbai.

Trip to India - Entry 12 – Paani Nahin!

Arrival in Mumbai was entirely uneventful – the best kind of flight arrival. The ride to the hotel demonstrated how completely stir crazy all of us were getting. Paul and Vikas got into a tickling/wrestling match, Carlos was filming everyone with his camcorder topped with the crazy looking rat thing that I’m told has something to do with the sound, Becky was showing off her (actually quite impressive) guns, and the rest of us were either restlessly moving around in our seats or attempting to doze.

Mumbai’s colonial past is one of the most immediately apparent aspects of the city, after one gets past the immense length and size of the skyline. There are tall buildings yes, but there are a *lot* of buildings. Anyway, there are entire buildings that look as though they could simply have been plucked from some European city and dumped in their entirety here in Mumbai – minus the restoration efforts Europeans have put into their old buildings in the past thirty to forty years.

Upon arriving by air, one of the most visible items from the air is the vast quantities of blue tarps which are used to block the rain in the slums. There are a lot of slums. What I think is most odd about the slums is that some of them are actually made of brick. That is not what I think of when I think of slums.

On the bus to the hotel, we watched a number of Bollywood music videos – I can see where Shahrukh’s appeal lies – dude is seriously ripped. I can’t decide if it would be a blessing or a curse to have to constantly worry about my body as the currency of my career.

This evening we ate more delicious Indian food – the kind of food that tastes great going down, but you know will cause problems later…. Afterwards, we celebrated Carlos’ and Tara’s birthdays downstairs, but everyone was still lacking in energy, and the day was then done.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Trip to India - Entry 11 - Racial Profiling

Today, I was racially profiled. Instead of having my water bottles (three of them, I forgot about the two in my backpack) taken away, I was waved through by the very nice man with the gun at the security checkpoint. Just as an aside – the number of security guards with big scary guns is actually pretty alarming here.

We are now riding on Spice Airways instead of Jet Airways. Apparently, there was a pilot’s strike, which makes me happy that we’re not riding on the airline with the angry pilots. I am reminded again however, how completely antiseptic and smell-o-phobic we Americans are. The sheer volume of *scent* that one encounters nearly everywhere here in India can feel like a literal assault, so unused to it most of us are.

The stewardesses on this airline are young and pretty, which has been my experience everywhere in the world except the United States, where you have either a variety, or all veteran stewardesses. I was told in Statistics by Prof. Rex Toh that stewardesses are retired on Singapore Airlines when they reach the age of 25. Based on my experience with airlines in this part of the world, I can definitely see that in practice. I remember traveling back from Myanmar a few years ago, and knowing that I was on an American airline again on the arrival from Tokyo to Seattle when a flight attendant literally yelled at the passengers, saying that if they all didn’t immediately sit down, she was going to tell the pilot not to open the gate until they did. Very few of the passengers were actually ten years old – but this was clearly no matter to this veteran flight attendant.

Still, putting up with rudeness and a lack of real customer service is better than simply accepting a world in which sexist ageism is accepted as a matter of course.
It just rained – for five minutes, the heavens poured forth and the rain gods got into a spat. Then it stopped. Very, very odd.

And on that note – we take off for Mumbai.

Trip to India - Entry 10 - Checkout/Leaving New Delhi

After disputing the charges for internet today with the front desk lady, I ended up paying 1200 rupees for the privilege of uploading this blog and using Skype to speak with my husband and the sweetest little girl in the whole world. So, in spite of my annoyance that such an expensive hotel which caters to business travelers has lousy, expensive internet – a note on infrastructure to mention in my post tour write up paper - I can still justify the expense. Plus, the front desk lady was nice, so thanks to her and Hotel Lalit.

I feel completely outspent by my colleagues. Kyle bought some incredibly beautiful marble inlay plates at the Cottage Emporium (after being accosted in Agra, simply going in and buying was a relief, I’m sure). Subroto also bought a beautiful marble inlay plate… and a terribly expensive silk rug – which, to be fair, would have cost well over twice as much at home in Seattle.

The story of the Ganges – Ganga was asked to provide water for the people on earth. But Ganga said that the earth would split from the impact if Ganga fell directly to the ground. So instead, the Ganga came down to earth by filtering through Shiva’s hair, and thus the holy Ganges came into being.

The Ganges is now polluted almost beyond repair, which is slightly ironic considering its significance for India and Indians.

The first leg of our trip is now over as we take our yellow “TOURIST” bus from Hotel Lalit to the airport. I have fully enjoyed my time here so far, and am really looking forward to the coming three cities. I do have to admit feeling slightly homesick for my husband and daughter and kitties… but I just tell myself that two weeks isn’t really a very long time.

Trip to India - Entry 9 - Deutsche Welle

Our flight was cancelled due to a pilot’s strike. Apparently, this strike has affected thousands of travelers. However, we have apparently gotten a new flight causing us to leave only a half hour later.

I am using the time to relax a bit and watch some BBC and DW. Well, mostly DW. One thing I love about traveling anywhere outside of the US is the ready availability of German language TV which simply isn’t available without spending a lot or Netflixing everything in the US. The BBC, I changed fairly quickly because it was quite depressing, talking about how an increase in energy consumption as we come out of the recession could have a severe correcting effect which causes the world to drop into a true depression as oil exceeds $100/barrel.

So I switched to DW and am watching Projekt Zukunft (Project Future) and the first topic…. was about harvesting oil from plastic trash to prepare for the future expected extreme price of oil. One simply can’t escape.

So, this of course, reminds me that we took two very long flights to get here, will take two very long flights to get back, and we’re flying between New Delhi, Mumbai, Goa, and Bangalore here in India… thus helping to contribute to the worldwide usage of oil. One simply can’t win.

But hey…. At least I get to watch some interesting German language TV in the meantime.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Trip to India - Entry 8 - Full day in Delhi

Yesterday was a less early morning than the morning before, with a wake up call at 6:30 rather than 2am. That’s always good.

In the morning, we went to Hewitt, an HRO – Human Resources Outsourcing – company. I found their optimism and can-do attitude particularly worthy of note. All of us found a great deal of negativity in the readings we had about India for our papers before arriving. For example, comments about the infrastructure, which is to our minds quite terrible, or about a lack of potential qualified workers for the BPO industry. And yet, the speakers mentioned oh yeah – we do have to have our own generators and we do need to provide a shuttle service for our employees, or yes, it takes four years to fully train someone on our system, so it’s a really big deal if someone is lost due to attrition – which would all appear to be huge issues, but the attitude was that it was no biggie. If I were in the position of deciding where to open a new call center, I believe that the additional cost of running my own generators and shuttling my employees around would be a factor – it makes me wonder how long India can maintain cost leadership when wages keep rising and infrastructure is still such a huge issue for new ventures.

Another aspect of the company visit I found to be very interesting were the people we got to talk to. One of our speakers, Akshay, is head of global talent acquisition – not just Indian talent, but ALL talent acquisition globally. That guy is pretty high up, and he showed up and was like hey… what’s up? It’s really quite amazing, the kind of people we’ve been given access to here in India.

One of the items I found very interesting from the Learning & Development manager who spoke was the training program they have for new associates. This reminds me of the training that is necessary for associates in my department in Amazon. American associates can get by on minimal training and reliance on “tribal knowledge” – and while I personally feel that this is not ideal, most associates will do fine on this model. I have yet to meet a German or Indian associate who can manage without significant written material and clearly drawn out SOPs. I find this cultural difference in terms of training and individual expectations regarding self-sufficiency to be fascinating. Indian associates at Hewitt also have their career progressions mapped out for them by their managers. Those of us speaking about this at our lunch table agreed that one of the primary factors in our career development was our own engagement in the process, and willingness to both manage up and manage down in an effort to make our own career progression happen. It is interesting to me to speculate on the value of engendering such intense self-driven attitudes in one’s American employees, while other locations worldwide are far more paternalistic in nature.

Our second visit of the day was to the Gurgaon manufacturing plant of Hero Honda, a joint venture between the Indian Hero group and the Japanese company, Honda. Their sales of 100cc two wheel motorbikes in the past decade have been astounding, and the growth has simply been exponential since the effects of 1991’s liberalization policies began to have an effect on the disposable incomes of Indian workers. The ability of even relatively poor people to purchase these items now was my personal major takeaway from this presentation – it took Hero Honda 20 years to sell 10 million bikes (they began their venture in 1984). They sold another 10 million from 2004 to 2007, and sold 5 million from 2007 to 2009. That kind of growth is simply mind boggling.

The visit to the manufacturing floor was amazingly impressive, as there are three production lines producing a bike every eighteen seconds, thus the plant produces one bike every six seconds – there are three plants doing this, and thus Hero Honda produces a motorbike every two seconds. It was incredibly noisy, busy and fascinating – and I couldn’t hear a word our guide was saying. One item upon which nearly all the females in the group agreed – the guy at the engine room assembly line putting on the green squares was definitely hot.

Since our company visits took so much time, we didn’t have much time for shopping as planned, but instead went to the Cottage Industries Emporium to check out some of the items there. There was some pretty amazing stuff there, but what in the world I would ever do with a life size wooden carved statue of the Buddha, I have no idea.

We then went traipsing through Delhi on our empty stomachs to get to our restaurant. It is amazingly dirty. The smells, the general state of disrepair throughout much of the city actually reminds me quite a lot of Yangon, Myanmar. The major difference is that this is ALL that Yangon is, while Delhi is also high rises, Mercedes, and Hero Honda. You would never see such an incredibly complex and high quality manufacturing venture in Myanmar. Also, I think the attitude is a major difference – most Burmese people I met had a very laissez-faire attitude and didn’t think twice about toilets not functioning, or the fact that half the sidewalk had been torn up months before and nothing had been done about it – in India, the toilets sometimes don’t work and the sidewalks are torn up – but I get the impression that when asked, someone will attempt to fix the toilet, and the sidewalk will eventually get repaired.

The food, once we finally arrived… was quite good. I really love the naan and the sauces – those seem quite safe and delicious to me. The meats, I’m very leery of, and am unable to eat more than a few bites before caution takes over. I feel the same way about any dairy or water. I have only two weeks here – the last thing I need is to be puking and or on the toilet for a significant part of it.

We finally made it to India Gate – a tomb of the unknown soldier sort of affair – around 10pm. The hawkers there weren’t quite as insistent as the ones at the Taj Mahal, and generally responded well to a firmly spoken NO. They laugh if you say Nahin, in case anyone tries to get you to use that if you ever visit India. A firmly spoken NO will get you much farther than a polite Nahin. Anyway, it was a lovely monument, and a fitting end to a very long day. I think most of us passed out pretty quickly last night – at least, I know I did.

This morning, shopping is planned, as well as checking out and flying to Mumbai. Our airline is on strike, so we might be having to travel on another airline. Apparently, this is also a frequent issue in India – lot of strikes. A lot of Indian culture reminds me of southern Europe…. And striking at the drop of a hat reminds of nothing so much as Italian train employees.

But for now… getting ready for a new day, and giving thanks for a healthy stomach, clear head, and healthy nasal passages…. And we all want to keep it that way.

p.s. The internet here.... really, really really REALLY is lame. I have no idea how people deal with this.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Trip to India - Entry 7 - Taj Mahal and Agra

The sun is setting in a haze of gray, which changes the otherwise plain sky to a purple/pink mist as the day disappears. It was a long day, and I, being utterly exhausted and not wanting to get sick at the beginning of the trip, have decided not to make it longer.

This morning, the phone rang at 2am. That is early by any standard, but given that we’d all gotten to bed no earlier than 10:30pm the night before, we were all slightly zombified on the bus ride to Agra after the initial calorie rush from breakfast.

Highlights from the bus trip:

-Madhu had not yet called his mother. Every single one of us had made the effort to let our mothers know we had arrived safely… and Madhu’s mother lives in Delhi. This required poking fun, there was simply no way around it

-Primate references – Vikas mentioned clubs in New Delhi in which men danced with each other, presumably to impress each other. This, of course, reminded me of Bonobos (look them up, they’re fascinating) and the male Bonobo proclivity for – literal – penis fencing. I personally find that a much more honest approach than the way we humans approach the issue. Then Madhu mentioned the monkey at our bathroom break stop was female, and you had to be careful if you were female, because she would get jealous if you got to close to her male handler and slap you. So I guess there are a lot of things we can learn from our primate cousins about humility.

-Nifty Travelmasti gifts – a pen and a set of coasters

-The amount of garbage you see on the sides of the roads is appalling. I don’t mean, the highway patrol girl scouts of whomever need to come out – I mean, literal piles of garbage. I think that even seeing the humans digging around in these piles wasn’t nearly as pukifying as seeing the white cows which roam everywhere delicately picking through the trash.

-Traditional dress in India allows women to freely let their belly fat hang out! I love this! I wish that I were comfortable enough with my body and my own belly fat to wear an outfit like the ones I saw today – a short silk top, long bottoms, and a beautiful flowing scarf that covers only your middle while the sides of your tummy show for all the world to see.

The Taj Mahal was definitely impressive – once we finally got there. All the jokes you’ve ever heard about Indian roads and traffic? They’re all true, and then some. I saw a variety of beasts of burden dragging carts, bicycles in various states of repair and style, mopeds, motorcycles, tuk-tuks both motorized and non motorized, small cars, nice cars, trucks of all shapes and sizes, buses, and pedestrians. It is a madhouse.

A few years ago, people started to notice that the Taj Mahal was beginning to turn slightly yellow. This was determined to be due to pollution, and all factories within a certain radius were closed down, and to get close, one must ride in an electric car. We were also told that certain items weren’t allowed inside due to the practice of stealing the semi-precious stones from the walls. Seriously, what kind of jerk pries off semi-precious stones from the interior walls of the Taj Mahal??

The Taj Mahal is a lovely building, rivaling any of the truly amazing structures I’ve seen in Europe in beauty and symmetry. I think the marble inlay was the most impressive part of the decorative aspect of the building. The amount of effort it must have taken to create something like this is really quite mind boggling – and we were treated to a visit later to a marble inlay cottage factory to see how it was made, which made it even more impressive.

Although we had left so early, it was still amazingly hot outside. All of us were at least pushing the seriously uncomfortable level on the misery scale, and some of us were edging on towards ‘acting like a toddler’ on this scale. By the time we finally made it across the large piazza to the Taj Mahal itself, I was hearing bees in my head and was concerned over my ability to keep my breakfast down. Luckily for me, there was a step to sit on inside. The last thing one needs is to be the idiot American who pukes and/or passes out in the Taj Mahal. Lauren also ended up sitting on the floor next to me, feeling quite similar, as I fanned us with the fan the nice army man with the giant scary gun had given me when I sat down with the gray face and shallow breath.

When we finally got back outside, Lauren, Elizabeth, myself and Sarah (all of us quite pale) were mobbed in various places by other tourists wanting pictures with us. This I don’t mind so much, as long as no one is trying to steal my stuff or give me lice.

The trip back was even longer than the trip there due to the traffic. I have also realized that I should have brought my coat…. JUST for the air conditioning in the bus. I was so cold I had goose bumps – the same day I almost passed out from the heat in the Taj Mahal. Someone should turn down the A/C when you have to pack a coat.

So now, I’m done for the day. I’m quite happy to be preparing to make friends with my pillow again – and an awesome pillow it is! If I had no shame, I would stuff it in my suitcase.

Trip to India - Entry 6 - Up too early

This morning our phone went off at 2am. I have since showered (because somehow I managed to continue sweating even after coming inside and even after my shower last night), put on my SPF 30 foundation to cover up the purple smudges surrounding my eyes that make me look very much like I got into a fight, and inspected the state of my swollen ankles. In general, I don’t have a problem flying – I am comforted by statistics, and statistics tell me it’s the safest way to travel. I also rarely have problems sleeping on the plane, and the food is (generally) satisfactory as long as I don’t think about it too deeply. What I hate about flying, however, is that my ankles always swell to twice their size for a good 24 hours after touchdown, both directions. You know all those articles about how unattractive cankles are? These are like the Godzilla of cankles, except that I’m also still hot, so they’re now like enormous, pink fleshy cankles. For this reason – and this reason primarily – I dislike flying.

There are a couple of items that I forgot that would have been good not to forget. These items are sunscreen, deodorant, and my pashmina scarves. Thankfully, I have tiny travel items for the second, my roommate has the first, and India is full of pashminas. But still… I knew I would forget something.

After arriving at the bus at the airport, we started loading our bags into the back. A pushy man tried to grab my bag and said, “You give me paper money!” Madhu told us he was hoping to get American dollars from us. Good for me, I had used almost all of my American dollars, and my stash of cash is actually euros. I don’t think the guy ever got a tip for lugging all of our heavy suitcases into the back of that van.

The ride to the hotel has got to be one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had. We drove on a “special” lane for the first part of it because Delhi is building a metro to the airport for the 2010 Commonwealth games (hear that Seattle?? Delhi, India almost beat you to Light Rail!). As I looked out the window, I saw pedestrians, auto rickshaws (those who have visited Thailand know them as tuk-tuks), people riding bicycles, people riding sidesaddle on said bicycles, hand-drawn carts, bicycle-drawn carts, bicycle-drawn carts with people pushing – and yet, I saw only one car on the side of the road, and it appeared to have had a flat, and not an accident. This is, I am convinced, a miracle, and I don’t know how they do it. I have seen similar visions of mayhem elsewhere in SE Asia, especially Myanmar, but typically pedestrians and mayhem don’t go well together, so I think that’s what really set this scene apart – there are a LOT of people just ambling along on the highway into Delhi.

I must say I am quite pleased with the hotel. Cool hardwood floors, a “marble” bath and “marble” accent items throughout the room (it looks like marble, but it can’t be – these rooms aren’t *that* nice), and a giant wide screen TV. The blow dryer actually managed to dry my hair in under a half an hour, and my new adapter has successfully charged my computer in spite of being only two prongs.

So far… a successful beginning to our trip. Today, we see the Taj Mahal, and I have to admit – even though it’s the first full day in India – this was the main reason I wanted to go on this study tour aside from my professional reasons for wanting to go on a study tour. The Taj Mahal is, quite simply, COOL.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Trip to India - Entry 5 - Arrived

I have only a few moments before my internet runs out - but we have arrived!

It's a very nice hotel - but we're all quite tired, and have a 2am wake up call to head to the Taj Mahal in the morning. So for now.... goodnight!

Trip to India - Entry 4 - En route

Today is a huge blur. We are now getting seated on our flight from Newark to Delhi. I am told our plane seats 500 people. As always happens when I must confront the reality of the vast sea of humanity outside of my tiny little world in Seattle, my brain hurts a little to think of all of the lives, all of the hopes, all of the stories surrounding me, crammed into tiny economy class airplane seats.

The trajectory of our flight will take us over the north Atlantic and northern Europe, something I try not to contemplate, as even thinking too hard about the concept of flying so long and so high in a metal tube kicks my latent motion sickness into overdrive. So far, I’ve had only a mild headache, for which I am thankful.

Remakes of a popular pop songs are playing on the player (currently Chicago’s “If you leave me now”) while I inhale the scent of sandalwood and other smells so familiar to me from traveling to Myanmar.

In my IT paper, my summary argument was that the crushing pressure of extreme water shortage and the eventual depletion of the world’s inexpensive source of oil will put such extensive pressure on the very poor in India that the government will be too unstable to effect the kind of reforms it would need to enact in order to continue to progress towards development. I find it highly ironic that, in light of this argument, I am now participating in the burning of jet fuel to take me halfway across the planet for just two weeks before doing it again to return. Somehow, I think such activity in general is not sustainable on a regular basis for the entire population of the planet. For now, however, I am going to take advantage of the small window in history in which someone of my limited means has the ability to travel the world, learn about other places and cultures firsthand, and have a few small adventures.

It’s dark now, and the captain has asked for us to put on our seatbelts. Ahead of us is a 12 hour plus plane ride and a whirlwind two week tour of India, its people, businesses, and culture. I can’t wait!