Archive for February, 2006

bangablog 5

Monday, February 13th, 2006

Just had a bit of a trip over the weekend to nearby Mysore. It’s quite a touristy place compared to Bangalore, in fact we saw a lot of tour buses from here. The drive was an experience in itself – it took over an hour to get out of Bangalore and on to the open road. I say open – it was of course quite chaotic, being India and all. A lot of the road is dual carriageway, but there are parts where one side is under construction so with no warning whatsoever you suddenly have diverted traffic coming the other way at you. No cones or anything to separate the streams. And by traffic, this could be cars or maybe motorbikes or regular bikes or ox carts. On the motorbikes you frequently have 2+ people – a number of times I saw dad on the front, mom on the back and a child fast asleep sandwiched between them. So even though it was open road, the drivers still drove the exact same way as in Bangalore, pushing their way in and out of traffic, literally inches apart, with overladen vehicles (a truck packed to standing room only full of people going to a wedding party), just at considerably higher speed. Randy, who travelled with me, commented, “I think I have seen every single moving violation possible today.”

The scenery was, er, scenic – rice fields and palm tree plantations for a long time, with the occasional small town or village, where the road often became a dust track. Lots of market stalls and huts – many of the huts were walled and roofed with thatched with palm leaves, some were only tarp tents. We didn’t see any western faces at all for the whole drive, so it felt like quite an adventure. Interestingly even in the worst looking villages the women were wearing bright colored saris. It was made even more of an adventure by the fact that we got a flat tyre about 70km before Mysore. We pulled over and our driver made short work of putting on the spare, but unfortunately spare tyres aren’t that sturdy, so that one punctured as we got into Mysore. Our driver, Prashanth, told us he’d be back in five minutes, got into an auto rickshaw and zoomed off, so Randy and I were left sitting in the car on a busy shopping street with lots of people walking by. It crossed our minds that it was a good thing we weren’t in, say, Iran – we felt quite conspicuous, but actually nobody seemed to care particularly that we were there.

We were recommended a lovely place to stay – the Green Hotel in Mysore. It’s worth a look at their website so you can read about their mission – they’re run by a charity/non-profit and try to keep everything ecofriendly and use local workers. It also happens to be a very relaxing place and it’s an excellent deal. The only downer was that Emma wasn’t there – I spent the whole time vowing to take her there one day. The rooms were nice, kind of basic but that was fine. They were also quite close to nature – Saturday morning Randy was woken by the sound of two monkeys outside his room – his neighbors had left their used room service tray on the balcony so the monkeys came to eat the leftovers. On the Saturday night I noticed something moving on my room’s ceiling. I can’t stand bugs so I was ready to freak out, but it turned out that it was a couple of two-inch-long geckos – kind of cute, and also useful because they eat bugs.

Our driver took us to a few tourist spots on Saturday – on this page look at the sections for Chamundi Hill (where we were somewhat fleeced by an unofficial guide but were blown away by the crowds, the architecture and the experience of seeing people doing puja – blessing ceremonies), Mysore Palace (which is phenomenally opulent), St Philomena’s Cathedral (where there are gigantic bees’ nests under the eaves) and Brindivan Gardens. The Gardens were quite relaxing – apart from the fact that it was nice to stroll in a park, we didn’t get hassled by anyone trying to sell us stuff. It did get kind of old having kids and trinket sellers calling at us and bugging us, but I worked out that you just have to be very firm when you say no, and don’t explain why, just say no and keep walking. At one point a bunch of these people strangely passed us by without a glance, and when I looked round, noticed that they’d totally swarmed a group of Japanese tourists, who I guess might be a better financial bet than Americans or Europeans. The Palace and Gardens were very crowded, but again most people didn’t particularly seem to care that we were there and just treated us like any other local tourist, which involved cutting in line in front of us and shoving us out of the way. Randy said that the Gardens were a bit like a state fair, but without the fat people.

On the Sunday we spent some time comparing sunburn and I bought some presents for Emma from the shop in the hotel. Then we went to the Mysore Art Gallery in Jaganmohan Palace. There was some beautiful art work there, but it was so different from a Western gallery – no climate control, wide open windows with direct light on the paintings, no particular security and not much plan in the way the art was laid out. But because of that it was very charming and interesting, and also not very crowded so we could spend a couple of hours wandering around. After that we headed back to Bangalore, quite tired and but feeling like it was a worthwhile weekend. Just in case you think I was just lolling around, I also got some work done while we were there, which was good. Apart from slight sunburn the only problem was that I wasn’t with Emma – I’m sure she will love it when I take here there, one of these days.

One final note – I saw a billboard yesterday for a stockbroker company whose mascot is a tiger – the company is called Share Khan. Ahahaha.

bangablog 4

Friday, February 10th, 2006

I took my team out for dinner last night which turned out to be great fun. They’re a really good bunch, but in the morning I was feeling a bit of inward discomfort and was nervous about eating later. I skipped lunch and had a couple of pepto bismol tablets (I took Emma’s advice to have tablets rather than liquid – one dose of which is two tablespoonsful, after which you feel totally bloated) which seem to have done the job. The event was good fun and there was lots of joking around, but it was also pretty exhausting – being on the spot and expected to be gregarious and keeping up with the accents for three hours straight is quite tiring.

I gave three of the team a ride home which was fun – it meant that I got to see a couple of other parts of the city. One of the women lives in the very old part, so she directed the driver through progressively narrow streets – it was quite exciting and what you expect several hundred year old Indian streets to look like. Lots of market stalls and people around even at almost 11pm, kids playing cricket, dogs running about or sleeping, cows loping along and lots of creaky buildings looming in. A different world for sure.

bangablog 3 – tech and not tech

Wednesday, February 8th, 2006

Had a really good work day yesterday and got lots done. It was long though – left the hotel at 7:45am and got home at around 10:30pm. I had an interview from 7-8 in the evening, after which I went out for dinner with my counterpart here, who is a really good guy. We went to a place here in the Bangalore suburb of Whitefield, called Herbs and Spice. There’s another resaurant in Bangalore with the same name, serving European food, but I’m glad we went to this one. Herbs and Spice Whitefield was outstanding. It’s in a converted 19th century mansion, along a short driveway from the main road. It’s very peaceful and surrounded by greenery – flowers and palm trees – with a couple of ponds in the gardens. The house itself has beautiful wood carved doors, and lots of ornate features. The dining room is two storeys high with a balcony and iron chandeliers, and the floors are colored tiles. We ended up sitting outside – to get there we walked through a room with a patterned painted ceiling and kind of parquet flooring where the pieces are actually loosely placed wood blocks, I would guess for ventilation and to allow for expansion in damp weather. Food was very good. We started with toasted blocks of cheese curds containing mint relish and topped with roasted peppers, then had daal (lentils), a chicken dish with mint and melon seed sauce – lightly spiced and creamy with just a hint of melon – and a stir fry thing with onions, peppers and little pieces of cheese. Total bill was 500 rupees, about $11.

On the way there we went past the enormous International Tech Park Bangalore, or ITPL, which is next door to my office. It’s a gigantic complex, and is still expanding. After lunch yesterday a couple of the guys took me for a walk where we saw some of the construction. It’s such a contrast (as is so much here) – right next to these gleaming buildings there are roads with dust and potholes, and the laborers all around. Many of these workers were taking lunchtime breaks, lying on piles of sand and rubble while two or three were making food in pots over fires. They look like the opposite of your typical American builder who is broad and beefy, with hard hat, big boots etc – these guys are rake thin, wearing threadbare shirts, sarongs hitched up to their knees, sandals and loose turbans.

bangablog 2

Tuesday, February 7th, 2006

A couple of great signs I saw today. Firstly the name of a roadside cafe which was something like Hotel Sri Annaswamilnathalan. The lettering started really large, with plenty of space between the letters, and got more and more squashed as it went through the long name. Great planning ahead there. And another sign was a place belonging to someone called Anu but unfortunately painted with a very small apostrophe between his name and the possessive s.

When I call home I have this deal where I call the office here on my mobile and ask them to connect me to a US number. They’ve got a dedicated link to the US so it’s basically free. Whenever I set up the call, the operator asks me “what is your good name sir?”. I love the term “your good name”.

Another guy arrived from Minneapolis yesterday – he seems really happy to be here and is even out-enthusing me. When we went out to eat last night it was to a newish place – very modern and funky clientele of all ages. We sat at an outside table listening to traffic noise and looking at palm trees. It was about a four block walk from our hotel which was great to do. Last time I was here I just took the car everywhere and felt way too insulated, so it was great to get out and about a little.

Tonight I have to interview someone, otherwise I would totally be going to see Uriah Heep, who are somewhat surreally playing in town. Maybe the fact that Jethro Tull played two weeks ago is more surreal.


Monday, February 6th, 2006

Sorry about the title, couldn’t resist it.

Things are going quite well here in Bangalore so far. Although I’m missing my Emma and my Toby. Here are some random thoughts and observations:

I have my own office here which is really nice. It looks out on to a bunch of trees – one of the few green areas in this technology park area. Having a window with sunlight is really helping me avoid jetlag, especially considering that I’m 11.5 hours different from home. I woke up at 5ish this morning and stayed awake, and I’m feeling pretty good considering.

Commute is pretty mad – like before the traffic is just insane, Bangaloreans are the worst (at keeping in lanes and obeying the rules of the road) and best (at incredibly avoiding accidents) drivers in the world. Despite all the honking of car/bike/rickshaw horns people generally stay incredibly calm through the madness. We almost got sandwiched between trucks several times on the drive in today.

People watching is also incredible. The mix of people you see waiting for buses is mind-boggling: middle aged men in turbans, sarongs and sandles with stick-thin legs, thin faces and intense eyes; young professional women either in brightly colored saris or modern office clothes, hundreds of young men with moustaches, pleat front trousers and short sleeved shirts with pens in their chest pockets; cooler young men in jeans and sweaters who look almost Italian; tiny schoolkids in uniforms looking street smart and confident as they get through the dust and noise.

Three of us went to a really good place to eat last night – a Goan style restaurant with delicious fish curry. It was quite a smart place where we sat outside surrounded by greenery. There was a party going on in the hotel next door, so loud Indian dance music which was kind of cool and kind of annoying. Kamal said that she, her husband and kids use it as their cleaning music. On the way home a woman knocked on the window of our car when we were stopped at lights, asking for money and pointing at her mouth. All the advice says that you shouldn’t give beggars money but it’s difficult.

wish i’d seen it

Monday, February 6th, 2006

Wow, this might give even the dourest Scots a smile: Scotland 20 – 16 France. Sounds like an awesome match. I remember clearly the last time Scotland beat France 10 years ago – Gavin Hastings scoring that incredible try, which gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. I really miss rugby in the States – American football just isn’t a patch on it.

back in bangalore

Sunday, February 5th, 2006

I’m writing this on Sunday afternoon, although I won’t be able to post it till Monday morning at work because after about 40 minutes of trying to get the hotel’s internet connection to hook up I can’t get it to work, so I’ve given up.

Anyway, I’m here in Bangalore for the second time in six months. It’s kind of strange to be back. It’s certainly nice to have warm sunny weather in February, and it’s quite nice to smell the semi-tropical smells of plants and flowers. Also I feel a little more confident about being here, and going out and about. However maybe the semi-familiarity makes this feel a bit less of an adventure than last time and more of a schlep. Plus I’m going to be here for a week and a half so I’m missing Emma and Toby very much. I spoke with Em after I arrived last night, and contrary to our expectations, Toby had slept all night in his bed again, which makes six nights in a row. Each night he manages to do it he gets a sticker on his calendar, and when he gets ten stickers he’ll get an as yet unspecified treat. I hope he keeps this going.

The journey was very long indeed. I left the house just after 1pm, to check in for a 3:30 flight from Minneapolis to Chicago, where I arrived at 5pm. It was a bit of a race across O’Hare airport to make the 6:30 departure of the flight to Frankfurt, but I made it just fine. It was the first time I flew United in ages, and I was very impressed. Very friendly, good food, including fresh mixed salad leaves and fruit, and a nice plane with individual monitors for each seat. I saw Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, and also Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash story, both of which were really good, in quite different ways, and passed the 8 and a quarter hours nicely. We had an hour and a half in Frankfurt airport, the on to the 8 and a half hour Lufthansa flight to Bangalore. This was on a great big Airbus plane, which was much quieter than the United Boeing 777, but a little more cramped, certainly way in the back where I was sitting. Food was OK – less good than on United – and the movie was the rather sappy but quite fun Elizabethtown, after which they showed some really cheesy Indian music videos and a movie, so I used my DVD player to watch The Big Lebowski. Then at Bangalore airport all the passport control, customs, drive to the hotel, check in (where they weren’t expecting me till two days later, but fortunately had a room), shower, call home and spend another hour trying to get to sleep. I think it was about 24 hours total travel time.

This morning, Kamal (a work colleague who is here at the same time as me) and I thought we should go and get some air and sunshine to help with the time change. She arranged for a hotel car to take us around, and we set out about 11:30. The driver took us to a smallish palace, then to the Bull Temple, then to the government buildings which are seriously impressive. Then of course he took us to a fancy shop – all the drivers get commission on bringing tourists round to the stores – where I got a couple of wee things for home. Unfortunately Kamal didn’t tell me till afterwards that it was a few times more expensive there than it would have been on Commercial Street. Speaking of which, the entrance fee to the palace we saw was 5 rupees for Indians, 100 rupees for foreigners. It’s about 45 rupees to the dollar, so still not very expensive, but that’s quite a price difference.

We weren’t very hungry, even by 2:30 in the afternoon and even though I didn’t eat much breakfast, but we went to a restaurant the driver encouraged us to go to, where the waiter seemed to think we were rather strange for just having lentil soup and naan bread. Even though it wasn’t much, it was just right for what I needed. The sunshine helped while we were out too – it’s a beautiful day around 27C (80F or so), mild in the shade and warm in the sunshine. There’s the usual non-stop racket of cars and honking horns, and the smell of the traffic fumes, but I suppose that’s all part of the atmosphere. I think it’s good for someone from northern wintery climes to go somewhere warm in the middle of winter – I did the same thing years ago when I went on a Christmas trip to Israel with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra Chorus. Great to see palm trees and all the exotic flowers. I hope it’s going to make it easier to get through the rest of winter.

Tomorrow is the start of a very packed work week. I’m looking forward to finding out how everyone’s doing in the team I hired last time I was here – I’ll be doing some teambuilding and training and interviewing to hire more folks.

mr boing

Wednesday, February 1st, 2006

Paul put up a great post about his little boy Sam naming toys. Toby, similarly, hasn’t really been into giving his toys names – his wolf, for example, is called Wolf. When we’ve named them then the name has stuck after a while – a great teddy bear (the New Yorker of course would call it a Teddy bear) which my brother David got for him is called Finchley, because David lived on Finchley Road in London at the time. However Toby has started naming a couple of new toys – my favorite is a monkey he got over Christmas which he immediately called (and continues to call) Mr Boing.


Wednesday, February 1st, 2006

I’m off to India again on Friday – looking forward to it mostly, but feeling odd about being away from Emma and Toby for a week and a half. I’m sure it’ll zoom by, but even so.

Also I just took my first weekly anti-malaria tablet. I’m trying to weigh the benefits/risks of this. Malaria is clearly a pretty bad thing to get, but of course it’s not guaranteed that you’ll even get bitten by a mosquito. And the possible side effects of the medication are: nausea, vomiting, stomach upset, cramps, loss of appetite, diarrhea, tirednes, weakness or headache, at least for the first couple of days while your body gets used to the medication. And even though I just took the tablet less than a minute ago, I feel shaky about it already – I’m such a hypochondriac.