Archive for August, 2005

new photos

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

Because I’m a saddo and have nothing better to do I’ve put a bunch of photos up. Here’s a bunch of great new pics of Toby and here are a few more of India – Bangalore specifically. Hope you like them.

Update: Just found out that I have to give someone a phone interview at 11pm. I wish I’d known that before I’d had those two beers. Room service biryani was excellent too.

laundry

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

It’s our company’s policy that if you’re away for more than three days for business it’s OK to expense getting laundry done in a hotel, and I was running low on clean clothes so thought I should get some done. It’s quite reasonably priced in this hotel, plus I spilled some curry on my sleeve last night. When I handed in the shirts and t shirts I checked the box on the laundry form asking for it all to be folded, rather than coming back on hangers, because it’ll make it easier to get packed if I don’t get around to wearing something before I go back. So my stuff was delivered to my room tonight on a wicker tray, all stacked up and with an orchid flower on top:

Everything is immaculately ironed and folded so will indeed be easy to put in my case – for the first time ever I might not mind packing. I could get used to this. Also each article is in an individual kind of fabric bag which has a label on the front: EcoTaj – 100% biodegradable.

service, continued

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that the service is very good indeed here, at least when you’re at good hotels and restaurants. I’ll amend that slightly – it is indeed very good but in some ways is somewhat stressful. I think it’s because it’s almost like going back in time to having like a servant class. Here’s an example:

Last night Bob (another manager who is here to hire people) and I went out for dinner to a place which had been highly recommended as having very good Indian coastal cuisine. It really was damn good – I had Goan fish curry which was outstandingly delicious. When we got there we saw the outdoor patio which was surrounded by palm trees, banana plants and tons of other plants which back home you only see in conservatories or greenhouses. Very nice. However the fumigator guys were out with their smoke/chemical machines getting rid of mosquitos so the whole place was in a fog. We sat inside for a bit till the air cleared, then went out to have a couple of drinks and starters – also very good. When we were ready to move back in to have proper food I made the huge faux pas of carrying my own beer glass – the waiter seemed very agitated that I was doing this and fussed around me. Later Bob wanted some more rice from our rice bowl and was about to reach over to get some when I reminded him that we should have the waiter do it, so I called over the waiter so he could spoon the rice onto Bob’s place. The waiter seemed overjoyed to be of such service.

Then tonight I had to go down and sign a form for my driver to say that he was done for the night. He’s a decent seeming guy, and possibly the best driver in the world, getting us through the mad traffic. However he seems uncomfortable if we’re too friendly with him and doesn’t seem to know what to do when I say “have a good evening”. It feels a bit odd.

Yesterday at the office I was speaking with a younger guy who has been working as an admin assistant for the last few months, between finishing school and starting an MBA. He’s super-keen and does everything he can to get things right. I noticed he had a nice pendant on his necklace of Ganesh, the Hindu god who has an elephant’s head. I said that it was a cool Ganesh pendant and he was just thrilled: “Oh, Mr Andrew how do you know about Ganesh?”. I told him that I had read things, and also there are a lot of statues of Ganesh at the Prince of Wales museum in Mumbai, and in the audio tour there was a lot of information about him, including how he got his Elephant head. Vinay said “Oh Mr Andrew you are a very good man sir” which isn’t really true, but I guess I pay attention sometimes.

hard to imagine

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

It’s hard to imagine what the people of New Orleans are going through at the moment. Do save a thought for them, please.

america the completely imbecilic

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

Sometimes I wonder why I live in America, and at the same time I wonder about whether America will stay as a major power. Both wonderings come to the same conclusion. There are too many nutjobs in the country, and if it keeps going along this track it’s going to fall very fast. From our local paper (and New York Times):

“In a finding that is likely to intensify the debate over what to teach students about the origins of life, a poll released Tuesday found that nearly 66 percent of Americans say that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools.

The poll found that 42 percent of respondents hold strict creationist views, agreeing that ‘living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.’

In contrast, 48 percent said they believed that humans had evolved over time; of those, 18 percent said that evolution was ‘guided by a supreme being,’ and 26 percent said it occurred through natural selection.

In all, 64 percent said they were open to the idea of teaching creationism in addition to evolution, while 38 percent favored replacing evolution with creationism.

The poll was conducted July 7 to 17 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The questions about evolution were asked of 2,000 people; the margin of error is 2.5 percentage points.”

The italics are mine because I just can’t believe that anybody could believe that. I just don’t understand how. And as for the first line of the report, it should have nothing to do with any debate about what to teach students. If it’s a science class, teach science. Simple as that.

some spiffy

Tuesday, August 30th, 2005

One of my favorite bloggers, Joel Achenbach with the Washington Post, is currently in Japan and writing about his experiences. M’friends will know that I was in Japan almost 7 years ago, it was quite the experience. I’m happy for him that Tokyo is so shiny, and in his word, spiffy. It’s the anti-India. Here the office is nice, pretty much like the office at home (except they have a gym here! Grrr – why don’t we?? Oh, and the palm trees outside, but more about the outside later) and we’re right next door to a huge and expanding Accenture office. The scaffolding for the expansion looks like it’s made of logs.

But as soon as you leave the office you’re right in the thick of mad traffic – cars (none of them big which is a good thing), motorbikes, some with multiple people on, mopeds, ditto, and auto rickshaws. All honking their horns all the time. The multiple people on bikes thing ranges from charming and slightly foxy to alarming. On the charming/foxy side you see guys driving the bike with their girl sitting sidesaddle behind them, holding on to them round their waist. It looks really sweet, a very romantic way to travel and like I said, a bit foxy. I’ve even seen older couples doing this – in Mumbai I saw a guy who must have been about sixty with his wife of around the same age riding with him – both seemed very happy and were smiling and laughing. You don’t get that in your fat-assed Chevy Suburban where you’re more than arm’s length away from your spouse. On the alarming side is the dads taking their kids to school, which I mentioned yesterday. I saw a guy with three kids on his bike yesterday and he was the only one wearing a helmet. The expression of determination on the face of the two year old who was sat at the front was hilarious and frightening.

So you come out of the office onto a regular two lane road. Our driver merges right into the traffic without even looking so there are bikes etc almost driving into us. More traffic mayhem later you’re suddenly on a dirt road with concrete buildings and people in loincloths and no teeth and dogs and goats and cows ambling along. Interestingly no matter how ragged the men look the women are still wearing beautiful colorful saris. Saw some yesterday carrying bowls on their heads as they walk along.

Basically what I’m saying is that it’s such a crazy mix of almost-first and almost-third worlds here.

Where it is the same as Tokyo is the amazing level of service. I’m probably not seeing things the way most regular Indians do – staying in a pretty top level hotel and all – but they are so polite at all levels.The room-cleaning guy in the hotel this morning saw me walking down the hallway, stood up and smiled and said, “Good morning Mr Mogendorff, how are you today?”. When we went for lunch yesterday the servers were right there all the time making sure we were OK. It’s almost oppressive – at the hotel they’re always calling to make sure I’m OK, like someone calls two minutes after I get my wake up call, just to make sure I got my wake up call. Or five minutes after my room service meal arrived last night someone called to make sure it was OK, and then called later to make sure my tray had been taken away OK. When I get out of my car at the hotel the parking attendant salutes me. But really, it’s great that they care and it shows in the excellent service.

Other little nuances – I’m learning that when I pass someone in the hallway at the office I should pass on the left. This was something it took me about a year to learn to change when I moved from the UK to America, where they pass on the right. But at least I have some context. What’s more difficult to learn is when you’re talking to someone and they’re shaking their head. It seems to mean “I understand” but it’s a little distracting.

beware the salad

Monday, August 29th, 2005

After a long trip and day and not much sleep last night, followed by a busy day at the office today and a crazy car ride home I didn’t feel like going out tonight – just need to recharge. So I got a delicious potato curry and naan from room service. I’d been warned about eating salads here, due to the fact that the water in which salad leaves are washed can be less than sanitary which leaves the nasties on the leaves. There was a little salad with the room service food, and I thought what the hey it’s a nice hotel, how bad can it be. So I picked up a green bean from the top of the little salad bowl and popped it in my mouth. Interesting seasoning I thought, a spicy dressing – Oh my god it’s a raw green chili. I’m OK though.

Now I’m about to shut off the computer and go to bed. There’s a rather boring documentary on TV about Churchill (although here’s his personal secretary saying he didn’t have a problem with drink – he just had a couple of whiskies with soda after breakfast, oh nothing much, a half bottle of champagne too, then after lunch a little couple of goblets of brandy, then whatever then whiskies and soda till bedtime), spiced up somewhat by the ad breaks. My favorite so far is an ad for flavored Tetley tea bags with a guy shouting excitedly in foreign followed by a picture of a smiling man with a beard, a cup of Tetley tea and what looks like a rifle over his shoulder. The tagline “Chai me life, Spice me life”.

photos

Monday, August 29th, 2005

Not as easy as I’d hoped – it seemed that I couldn’t upload the photos from the office, but I’m plugged into the hotel’s network now so have uploaded a whole bunch of India photos for your enjoyment. Hope you like them.

collapse

Monday, August 29th, 2005

I have to say that having just been in Mumbai and seeing the state of the buldings, it’s kind of unsurprising that some of them are falling down. Even the more expensive apartments looked like they were on their last legs. I’m guessing that the monsoon flooding may have weakened the foundations also.

in india start of day two

Sunday, August 28th, 2005

Can�t believe it�s only the start of day two. Yesterday was quite a day. Right now I�m at the desk in my insanely overpriced room in Bangalore. The room is $220 per night, considerably more than the $150 at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, and so far not quite as nice. The hotels are in the same chain but I guess this is a business hotel � the Taj in Mumbai is real touristy and very swank. They did make up for the prices in the coffee bar where I had a snack yesterday afternoon after an exhausting tour. I wasn�t too hungry but at 5pm I thought I should have a wee something to tide me over, not having eaten since breakfast. So I got a coffee, a couple of San Pelligrinos (Pelligrini?) and a dosa: a lentil pancake, which came with a veg curry sauce and a sweetish sauce. It turned out that the dosa was pretty big, with a diameter of around 15�, and the lentils in it made it very filling so I could only manage just over half. That wee snack came to about $28.

After having had the tour I can safely say that coming from serene and quiet UK/USA, Mumbai is totally mad. I�m certainly glad I wasn�t driving � even walking down the street is exhausting. The tour was quite a good deal actually, and I recommend it highly if you�re ever in Mumbai. The hotel provided a car and driver, the hotel cars all being little wee things, but very comfortable. A little smaller than a Prius but that�s just fine in a city where it�s every vehicle for itself, the markings are pretty much ignored and you just push through, honking your horn all the way. The guide was excellent, and four hours of tour was around $10.

The first thing I noticed and continued to notice all day is that if you�re a tourist someone�s always trying to fleece you. I went to the ATM in a bank just round the corner from the hotel and outside a boy tried to sell me a peacock feather wand, and a guy tried to sell me a bizarre five foot long balloon � what the hell would I want that for? They were pretty good when I said no though, and left me alone OK. I think you have to just say no up front. Also every time the car stops at traffic lights, if it�s actually paying attention to the traffic lights, someone knocks on the window to ask for money. That was quite distressing as some of those people were clearly very destitute, but to be honest I didn�t know what to do and was kind of paralyzed into doing nothing and ignoring them, which I feel very bad about. What do you do?

What was more pushy was on the way to the airport in the evening. To get there (and more on the journey later) you go through a suburb where I suddenly saw, amidst the sprawl and shanty town storefronts, a couple of smarter looking stores. The driver had been putting pressure on me to go to Saga, a v posh department store. I�m convinced that he gets a kickback for delivering tourists there, but there we go � capitalism for you. So I got in the store and immediately a couple of workers are all over me: �Hello sir, how are you sir, what will you be looking at sir, just follow me sir�. So I looked at some pretty amazing jewelry, some clothes, all the while with the assistants coming up and asking me how I was, if I wanted to see something else. Then I went past the rugs section and was made to sit down while a guy gave me some Indian tea (very nice) and gave me a demo of how the Kashmiri people make rugs by hand, and how amazing the rugs were. They certainly were, and I must admit I was quite tempted to get one, but didn�t in the end and he seemed kind of mad, even though I�d said up front that I wasn�t going to. Oh well. I did however get a present for Emma at another part of the store, and a pretty awesome present too though I say it myself.

So the tour. It�ll maybe make more sense once you can see some photos, and I�ll try to post them tomorrow once I have an internet connection. At the Taj Mahal hotel you�re very central in the old Fort part of the city. There are lots of English buildings around � I mentioned the church-type building I could see from my room, which turns out to be a college. First we saw the train station �Victoria Terminal. Seriously impressive English/Indian architecture. Then I was taken along the seafront (the Arabian Sea front) through a rather nice part of the city to a Jain temple. Jainism is an offshoot of Hinduism and apparently was partly a reaction against the animal sacrifices, and in its strictest form is very self-denying and respectful of all life. For example, they do not eat vegetables from under the ground, no meat of course, and are careful to brush the street in front of them to move ants etc out of the way. In the temple in the holiest areas the people wear cloth over their noses and mouths so as not to breathe in and kill microscopic animals or insects. It certainly is a beautiful temple � lots of marble and statues, a lovely smell of incense and a sense of calm. We then went to a very nice park � the Hanging Gardens � with some interesting topiary, which is near to a Parsi burial place. The Parsis don�t bury or cremate their dead (so I�m trying to work out how to change that previous sentence to call it something other than a burial place but can�t work it out without making it sound gory or disrespectful) they believe that you give back in death so they have tall towers on top of which they leave the dead for the vultures. There are five towers, two for men, two for women and once for children. We only caught glimpses of the towers through the trees, not anything near close enough to actually see anything happening, which to be honest was kind of a relief. And if you�re not Parsi you can�t go near either.

After that a very moving trip to the Gandhi house � a museum in the building where the great man used to stay when he was in Mumbai. The museum is very simple, as you would expect, and features a library of books on Gandhi and the Indian struggle for independence. Never having read enough about him before, or seeing the movie (that sounds kind of crass doesn�t it?) I had no idea quite how bad India had it, so it was a good education for me. And with all his talk and living of peace you just wish that someone would take the same stand today. There was also a simple display on his life, featuring photos and letters and press cuttings, then some representations of important scenes from his life, done with dolls and models. Again that�ll probably make more sense once you see the photos, and like I said the whole experience was very moving.

The guide next took me to the Prince of Wales museum which contains some very impressive pieces of sculpture and paintings from India. As a foreigner you are herded towards a different admission window from everyone else, and it costs considerably more to get in, but you do get an audio guide included in the price. This was hilarious � the narrator was very informative, but also a real smoothy with a kind of Indian thespian voice and an extra-chummy script. Examples include at the start of a clip �Ah, here we are, in front of�� and at the end, �Now you�ve heard my prattling please take a look around and we�ll meet again at the next stop�. The museum was very warm even with big fans set up all around, but worth seeing. Again with the guys with their arms around each other, or holding hands. I don�t believe that being gay (at least outwardly) is the done thing here, so I think these guys were all just friends but it was like being in a massive gay hangout or something. I�m just imagining if a couple of British or American guys were to walk through a museum and one was to start holding the other�s hand.

Almost forgot � a pretty amazing stop on the tour was the washing area. Again it�ll make more sense with the photos, but we stopped on a bridge to look down on a neighborhood where there were hundreds of people washing clothes in open sinks, where I couldn�t see where the water comes from or goes to, and the water looks quite dirty. These people were working like crazy, scrubbing and wringing the clothes and hanging them out to dry, and the clothes looked amazingly clean. My guide said that these folks are dhobis (interestingly the spell checker knows that word) and they have a home pickup and delivery laundry service. Most people don�t have washing machines because they probably don�t have space, so they get their clothes washed very cheaply by the dhobis.

Last stop was right outside the hotel to the Gateway of India, built in commemoration of the King and Queen (probably in their capacity as Emperor and Empress) visiting in 1911. It�s also where the last British troops left Mumbai (and maybe India, I forgot to ask) so very important to the people of Mumbai. It�s a pretty impressive building and by that time, around 4:30pm, there were lots of people around as folks started to go out for a Sunday night stroll or whatever.

So after my snack it was off to the airport (and I also had rupees by that point so could actually tip my driver). The journey was crazy, apart from the driving and the other vehicles � I saw a guy on his motorbike with one son sitting behind him and two between him and the handlebars, one kid must only have been about two � we saw some huge contrasts in neighborhoods and people. You go from the swankiest apartments on the seafront to total tumbledown shacks, some not much more than tarp tents, in minutes. Past a Hindu temple which was packed with people and had a few cows wandering about outside. Past people sleeping on the sidewalk, next to goats eating trash. Past more and more and more storefronts. It was quite bewildering. Then finally to the airport where as soon as I got in this guy who had an official pass helpfully showed me where to go and how to check my bags, which to be honest I could have done myself but thought it was part of how the airport works, to have people to help tourists. I guess it is but wasn�t expecting (although I should have done) him to tail me to the bathroom to ask me for a tip. I only had 20 rupees, about 50 cents, in my pocket and to be honest couldn�t be bothered looking for more so told him that was all I had. What a huckster. Speaking of the bathroom, for some reason while the hand dryer was running it beeped Jingle Bells really loudly, for obvious reasons. By this point I was pretty wiped and felt hot and sticky and generally in need of a shower. However there�s a fairly pervasive overall body odor here, so I don�t believe I was all that bad in comparison with some guys. The flight was fine, apart from riding right through a thunderstorm which was v bumpy. Cool to see the lightning flashes through the window though, if a little scary. And then to the hotel where again I finally had 100 rupee notes to tip my driver and the bellboy (referred to as a bellperson at the hotel I sayed at in California last week). Had a shower and a beer and called Emma and Toby who are doing really well. It�s really nice to speak to Tobe on the phone and I�m missing them a lot. I�m sure time�s going to go by a bit more quickly now I�m here in Bangalore and it�s a bit more of a business trip. Just about to go down for breakfast, summoning up the nerve to be at a table on my own, before the car picks me up to take me to the office, where hopefully I�ll post this as soon as I get hooked up.

UPDATE: clearly I was brave enough to have breakfast – what a wuss I am sometimes – and I’m now in the office. Where everyone has a newer laptop than me.