some spiffy

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.

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