India–The Final Blog

February 25, 2011

I almost got in trouble for taking pictures outside of the Olympia Technology Park, where I’ve been working for two weeks.  The guard came over as I was taking a farewell picture with the HP Storage Team.

2011-02-25_16-49-30_728I’ve definitely made some friends here.  Navaneeth (in the middle) took me to see his wife, and daughter in their home.  I was part of a joke about an after-class party the other day when someone left their laptop unlocked.  We’ve had a lot of laughs, and I hope made their jobs easier, and better understood.  I’ll be talking with them, I’m sure.

2011-02-25_16-44-34_509Some other observations I’ve not yet recorded:

They don’t like to use cash in the food court of the office building.  You pay cash at a counter and get a cash card, and use that at the food vendors.  To prevent stealing, Navaneeth said.

The security is since 26/11, or November 26th.  The Mumbai attacks that were quite shocking to the Indian people.  Maybe not equal to September 11th in casualties, but it has resulted in a lot of changes.

2011-02-24_17-28-39_277I hear the planes roaring over-head and soon I’ll be on my way to the airport to climb aboard one.  About 3-4 hours to Dubai, and then a long 15 hours to Houston, and then another 5 hours to Atlanta.  Or something like that.  Hard to tell with all the time changes.  See you soon, America!


Day 10 … During which I buy a bag

February 24, 2011

When I say I’m growing familiar with India, I really mean it.

That’s what I was thinking today as I was riding on the back of a motorcycle with no helmet through the streets and markets of Chennai on the hunt for a duffel-bag to carry stuff home.

It isn’t that I’ve bought a duffel back worth of stuff.  Maybe a half a duffel.  But I do plan on doing some duty-free shopping on the way home, and my suitcase was rather over-stuffed to begin with.

Chennai from behind the window glass of a taxi is different than Chennai on the back of a motorcycle.  You feel much more a part of what you see.  You smell much, much more, from the whiffs of rank standing water, to the spicy rich food smells, to the sweet aromas of the sugar cane drink carts, to the cows and bulls roaming the streets.

How’d I get on the back of a motorcycle? 

I told my HP host, Navaneeth, that I needed a bag.  He explained the types of bags available, and I said nothing fancy, just a duffel bag to carry extra clothes.  He said no problem, lunchtime we’ll go get one.

Lunch-time came quickly today.  We’re running pretty free-form in the training class right now letting the students get a lot of hands-on work with the software and I answer beckons to walk over and explain something.  In the meantime I’m working doing some validation reports on their production servers.

You have to schedule taxis in advance.  From an hour to two hours, preferably, especially during high demand hours.  Our options were an auto-rickshaw (they’re motorized now, but I don’t know why it wouldn’t be a moto-rickshaw since it’s half motorcycle, half rickshaw, but I didn’t ask), waiting for a taxi, or riding Navaneeth’s motorcycle.

Like I said… I’m feeling much more familiar with Chennai, so I chose the motorcycle.

“Have you ever ridden on the back of a motorcycle before?”  “High school,” I said remembering the days of riding on the back of Mike Insua’s motorcycle through Babe Zahara’s Golf Course, shooting cap-guns whenever a golfer was on his back stroke. “Very long time ago,” I continued.

You have to lean forward a little, otherwise when the driver changes gears you might fall off the back.  I didn’t fall off… even once, but it felt like I almost did a couple times.

I saw more of the side roads of Chennai than the main roads that I had been on.  Not the behind-the-hotel kind of side roads, but real side roads, that the residents use to travel between work and home. 

Even the leather goods store we stopped at to purchase the bag was really an open air stall on the first floor, and the only windows that served as a store front were on the second floor, where the bags and more shoes were.

On display were many bags, mostly luggage and some purses.  I saw one duffel and said I wanted one like that.  The salesman went in the back and brought out several, different sizes and styles.  I picked the one I liked best, and he took the rest back.

Navaneeth bought three pairs of shoes.

2011-02-24_14-22-41_942We stopped for lunch at a Domino’s.  Stopped for coffee at a restaurant (restaurants are called Hotel’s here).  We stopped at Navaneeth’s house where I met his wife and his beautiful baby daughter, and dropped off the shoes. 

We then returned back to the office through the Chennai markets, where stalls seem very specialized. I saw one stall that sold the hardware for hanging shelves, and another that had many curved PVC elbows hanging on chains in the front. I didn’t see any straight PVC, but it might have been in the back. These markets covered blocks and blocks.  Right next to a store selling items would be a stall where motorcycles were being serviced.

But at the risk of repeating myself too many times, it all seemed familiar even while I was trying to see it all at once.  It just .. was.

There are quite a few Westerners here, in the hotel.  I see many in the office building as well, mostly in the food court at lunch.  On the streets, and certainly in the markets I saw none.  On the way out from the restaurant where we had coffee was a brown man wearing only a sheet around his waist.  He had been drinking his coffee while standing on one leg.  The other leg tucked and resting on his knee like a flamingo, or like the stereotypic ‘yogi’  position.  This amidst men in suits, women in traditional sarees, women wearing jeans and a shirt… so many different cultures and traditions.  He stared at me as we left.  Not really stared… just watched.  I guess I was something unusual to him.


Malaria! – Not really – Day 9

February 23, 2011

Life in India is becoming routine.

Sleep for three hours at a time (okay, once I slept 7 hours), work when I’m not sleeping, have the cricket channel playing in the bedroom, ride a taxi, spend the day in the training room, ride another taxi.

Yesterday when I got back to the hotel I ached all over.  With the recent eyewitness encounters with mosquitos I thought for sure I had contracted malaria.

In hindsight I think it was nausea from eating so @%!^# much at the Indian buffet that afternoon.

I ached so bad that I actually got up out of the bed, and walked downstairs to the shop to get some pain reliever.  They had none, although I was tempted to buy the condoms because there were very pretty ladies on the boxes.

I held another nondescript box in my hands studying it for a while.  It was about the size of a small pill bottle box.  It was yellow.  It had some words on it… 35mm … oh, it’s film.  Honestly, I barely recognized it.

The shop owner told me three times, “Concierge” but I wasn’t catching it.  With the Indian pronunciation sometimes I don’t get it the first 5 times it’s said.  I still chalk this up to my lack of hearing… but the word ‘concierge’ was not a word I expected to hear that that point in time so there was no recognition.

I asked at the main desk, they pointed in a direction and said “Concierge” again.  That one I recognized, and I felt bad for not understanding the other guy.

Past the Starwood Preferred Guest desk, past the travel desk, ahh, concierge.  I asked for “pain reliever”.  They said, “aspirin?  Yes!  We have something, called DART.  It’s very good.”  I was achy sore all over and wanted a pill, so I said, “Sounds great.”

He started to give me one… I insisted on two more besides.  He told me to be very careful, not all at once.  It was about this time I realized that I had been without my normal over-the-counter pharmaceutics for more than a week, and marveled how long it took before I actually needed some.

I got back to the room, threw one down, and then Googled it.  A thinking, rational man would probably do that the other way round, but I wanted relief.  Turns out it’s very similar to Excedrin, with caffeine, acetaminophen (thank you spell checker), and some other ancient analgesic discovered in the 1800’s.

I love Google.  No really.  Sorry Teresa.

Oh, and acetaminophen isn’t called acetaminophen (now I’m just showing off) in India.

I started to pack tonight.  How exciting!  With my purchases I need another bag, like a duffel bag.  I need to run out at lunch tomorrow and get it, I think.  This whole week I had been wishing for more jeans, and while checking the bottom drawer of the dresser, whaddya know, two pair of jeans.  I heard that eyeroll, Teresa.

So after I took my DART and felt better, I ordered a club sandwich and only ate half.  Was up early but took a nap which made me too late to hit the breakfast buffet, but I was fine with that.  Lunchtime came (which is 1pm here) and I still wasn’t all that hungry, but I ate out of duty.  Tonight dinner is chicken nuggets and a couple of beers from room service.

I’m almost surprised these chicken nuggets don’t have bones in them.  Indian cuisine generally lacks the term ‘boneless’, and it’s eater beware.  I’ve been eating chicken pieces the size of wings with a knife and fork.  Sorry for teasing you about that, Veronica.

Had the chattiest cabby ever today.  He loves America!  Freedom!  He said it many times.  He said he loves our President, too.  I tipped him well, despite that.  Smart guy.  He plans on coming to America some day.  I wished him good luck.  I should have given him my card.


Laugh, and the world laughs with you–Day 8

February 22, 2011

I made the class laugh today.  And finally I feel like I’m accomplishing something.

I hope the last few posts weren’t too whiny.  India is very beautiful.  There are exquisite architectural details, even in what could be taken as drab buildings from a distance.

There is something to be said for growing accustomed to the environment, as well.  I honestly saw nothing on my ride to the office this morning that made me want to report it.

My host, Navaneeth, took me to another hotel for a buffet containing traditional Indian dishes.  “Would you like to try some of this?” filled my plate to the brim.

At home I eat at 9am, and am hungry by noon.  Famished.  Here I eat at 7am, and we don’t break for lunch until 1pm and I still really not all that hungry, but we go eat.

Today, also, I was not very hungry but the others wanted lunch and Navaneeth wanted to show me this buffet.

“This is very spicy, would you like some?”  would normally elicit a “Umm, no, but thanks" from my lips.  I couldn’t refuse, however.  I had been wanting someone to show me India.  Introduce me to India even if it is only through food, and here it is.  I couldn’t say no.

2011-02-22_14-07-31_950So I ate.  And ate.  Chili Eggs (hard boiled eggs, floured and fried with a spicy chili sauce, although they spell it “chilly sauce’).  Chicken kebab that reminded me of jerk spices.  Another chicken dish swimming in orange sauce (“very spicy” Nav. said).  Lamb and rice, that has a name but even though I repeated it three times in class I still cannot remember it.  The food did have a spice to it, but it wasn’t unbearable spice.  It was spice with flavor.

The class asked me if I had the curd rice when I explained what I ate.  I didn’t explain how the word ‘curd’ doesn’t inspire me to eat it.

The after lunch banter was inspired by the morning laughter.  One group of students was working on a server I have been using for months, and it was broken.  I accused them of breaking it, and told them as punishment they had to fix it.  The quiet and serious class laughed! 

Later a class member asked if he could have my external HD, which has the install files on it.  I remarked without really thinking, “You can’t HAVE it, but you can borrow it.”  Again, laughter.  More than I expected, but what a great feeling.

My taxi driver back to the hotel was much more creative than my previous taxi drivers.  He took me through an interesting route through some side-streets on the way home today and I saw people living in thatch huts in what used to be the courtyard of a building. Shops with pre-packaged snacks added color to the corners. Bicycles, rather than motorcycles, lined the streets.  Roofs repaired with old political banners.  And in the middle of all this a sign that says, ‘Internet Café’. And I shouldn’t forget the food stall proudly proclaiming “Homely food” (I do not think that word means what you think it means).

Another thing I noticed today is that native Indians use the english word ‘take’ in many ways.  Today I noticed it being used in reference to ‘My wife wants me to take a car” when meaning, I think, “My wife wants me to buy a car.”  Or perhaps there is a government subsidy and you take the subsidy to assist you buying a car.  Later he asked if I would like to take some coffee, too.  I don’t hear the stereotypical “would you like to be taking”, though.

This afternoon clouds rolled in, and it cooled off considerably.  I’ve not seen rain yet while I’ve been here.  I wonder if tonight will be the first.

Yesterday I saw a mosquito on the door of the bathroom.  I smashed her.  I saw another in the elevator today.  And then, when I got into the taxi cab this morning 5 were flying around.  I smashed what I could, and rolled down the window.  That’s all I’ve seen since, but I wonder where they suddenly came from.


An entire night’s sleep – Day 7

February 21, 2011

It is one thing to be given a topic to teach to 15 people in a foreign country that you have spent years working with and developing an intimate knowledge of it.  My last employer had threatened to send me to talk to customers about the product I had worked on for 3 years, but never followed through.

Now two months after I first laid eyes on the bits and bytes of this software I am teaching Indian nationals during the day, and German engineers in the evening, trying to sound like I know what I’m talking about.

But don’t tell them that.

Elevator MarbleI’ve not yet mentioned the marble floors of Chennai.  They are everywhere.  I don’t think I’ve been in a building yet that didn’t have marble floors.  Beautiful, inlaid marble in the lobbies, elevators, and yes, on the wheelchair ramps.

Check  back, I’ll take some pictures today.

Unfortunately the shoes that served me so well on Massachusetts ice don’t fare nearly as well on Indian marble floors.  I could pull a “Risky Business” while keeping the shoes on my feet.

Lobby MarbleA ramp + slidey shoes is trouble, so I take the stairs now.  I never hit the ground (thank goodness, it would be hard as … well, marble), but memories of trying to remember how to roller skate after a few decades hiatus comes to mind.

I counted my clothes today to make sure I had enough to last.  Hotel laundry is very expensive.   I think I’ll make it!  I have laundered my underwear though (and they stitched up the seams of my running shorts, which were coming apart!).

One other thing I’ve not mentioned yet is the random power blinks.  They can last from 2 seconds to 40 seconds, but the power will just go out.  Nobody reacts or says a calming word. They just go about their business, and the power soon comes back on.  Only rarely does it happen long enough for the emergency lights to go on.

Zzzzzzz…

I started this blog last night, but could no longer keep my head up around 10pm or so and went to bed.  I actually slept EIGHT hours!  Unbelievable!

This word just in on the bindi:  Its not the dot that says if they’re married or not… … every indian women wears the dot (bindi).. its the red line or was it yellow above the dot on their forehead right under hair line….. thats the line that signifies if their married….. 🙂

Dinner last night was right under the a/c vent.

My internet ran out this morning.  When I arrived I had to pay for room internet and there were several options.  An hour, a day, a week, or a month.  Of course I chose a week… but that means that I’ve officially made it to the week mark, with four days (actually, 3 days and a dinner) left.

I’m feeling a bit anxious to get home. 


The Chronic-(what?)-les of Art In India–Days 5 and 6

February 20, 2011

It’s Sunday afternoon right now.  I just got back from a shopping trip and they knocked on my door to clean my room, so I came down to the lobby to have a couple drinks and type up the blog.

2011-02-19_11-55-42_501Yesterday I worked from my hotel room, ordered lunch and hung out in the room until the Cricket World Cup started.

I ordered the club sandwich, which I had the first day I was here.  The club sandwich at this hotel consists of a fried egg, coleslaw, and bacon on brown onion bread.  They are always sure to ask me if I want the bacon.  Everything’s better with bacon!

I ordered two beers, too, but I didn’t finish the second.  Instead I fell asleep.  I thought I would be in trouble sleeping from 3pm until 8pm yesterday, but as it turns out I was tired again by midnight and fell alseep until around 7am.

Perhaps I was wrong the first day trying to stay awake, and I should have just slept, and slept, and slept.  Maybe when I get home I’ll try that.  Right Teresa?

I had to look up the score of the India / Bangladesh cricket match since I didn’t stay awake for the entire thing.  I barely stayed awake for the first couple overs (similar to an inning I think).  I was aware enough of what was happening that I knew India was having a pretty good time of it.

I had dinner, worked some more, and then went back to sleep.  Barely left my room.

2011-02-20_10-54-37_963

This morning I was determined (mostly by Teresa’s prodding through IM last night) to do something more.  The breakfast buffet had a bunch of flight crews.  Not an Emirates flight, though.

I looked up the meaning of the bindi last night.  That’s the dot between the eyebrows, and it signifies the woman is married.

 

My host from HP here recommended against scheduling a car from the hotel because they were so expensive, but I hadn’t heard from him and didn’t have a number to call so I scheduled a car to take me to Spencer Plaza, at one time the largest mall of something or another.

It was rather disappointing, actually.  Narrow, maze-like corridors and an atmosphere a lot like a flea market, or a K-mart on the bad side of town.  The shops I did go into were high-pressure sales, and I’m a stupid American that doesn’t do well with that.  I haggled as best as I know how, “ten for that you must be mad!”  I cut maybe 10-15% off the prices.2011-02-20_11-23-22_859

2011-02-20_11-38-37_303The taxi driver insisted I stop at an “Indian Cultural Shop” on the way home, and who am I to refuse.  I tell you, I wouldn’t mind some of these Hindu god sculptures.  I just like them.  First they tried to sell me rugs/carpets (“I don’t need carpets” “Just look, perhaps you will see one you like” “No, really, I don’t need them” x 4), then they tried to sell me shawls (for $50 each!) made from the wool that comes from the chin of goats.   Anyway, high pressure stuff again.  Meh.

2011-02-20_11-36-14_113On the way back the taxi driver did a whirlwind 30 minute tour of Chennai, driving past the governor’s palace, Gandhi’s memorial (I might have liked to stop there, actually), India national park, a large dirt park where locals were playing pickup Cricket, a huge hotel complex being built…

2011-02-20_12-09-12_860I couldn’t get any pictures.  He would point, say it, I’d say “What?” (India drivers on on the right, my deaf side), he’d repeat it, I’d say “Oh, I want a picture,” struggle with my phone and it would be too late since we would be going about 40km/hour past it.  I got two pictures of my legs and shoes.

It was interesting.  I saw more of Chennai.  My impression of this city is a stark contrast, between very beautiful, artistic, and colorful sense of beauty and something very, very old.  The carvings you see on older buildings and the temples are intricate, and done with care, but they stand next to (and can be overshadowed by) square, mildewed, utilitarian concrete buildings.  Signs for pedestrians and motorists are scrawled on the sides of buildings.  Street gutters have mounds of dirt and refuse in them.  Motorcycles are parked everywhere.  Every inch of space along the road, and off the road like sidewalks.  Most entrances to places have two, one for 2-wheelers and one for 4-wheelers.  3-wheeled auto-rickshaws are out of luck, I suppose.2011-02-20_12-18-11_614

Traffic police are very visible, every two blocks or so, standing next to their motorcycles.  Nobody pulled over.  I wonder what constitutes a traffic violation.

Great buildings are being built, but each one has a wall and a gate around it.  Even the library.

At one point we drove down a road and the taxi driver said it was the rich section of Chennai.  Large walled houses with a lot of landscaping was all that I could see of them.  Houses almost a block in size, with three people living in it.

That is a very big deal in a city of 4 million, where in other sections of the city stalls selling produce and cellphones are in spaces no bigger than a display window.

I read on a website regarding India that you either fall in love with India, or you leave it running and screaming.  I’m definitely not running and screaming, but I’ve not fallen in love, either.  I’m intrigued at the contrasts and the beauty, but I don’t think it is for me.  I think I am too set in my American ways, with sports bars, fast food, no haggle prices and super stores.

If I felt I could venture out, and not pay too much for the cab, or the shawl or even the Diet Cokes, I might feel different, too.


Day Four–Cricket, Diet Coke, Beer!

February 18, 2011

Day four was the first day that I didn’t get home from the training session and collapse on the bed.

The women here often ride side-saddle on the back of motorcycles.  I guess it depends on what type of outfit they are wearing, because I see them driving motorcycles a lot, too.  There are still all the narrow misses while they sit calmly on the back of the motorcycle.

FxCam_1298038738095Since I didn’t come home and crash I was hungry a bit earlier tonight.  I decided for the first day that I was up for an adult beverage and I ordered a Kingfisher, a local brew.  It was very tasty.  It came in 650ml bottles.  For comparison a Diet Coke comes in a 333ml can.

The buffet theme for the night was japanese, I think.  Most of the dishes looked similar to chinese dishes.  I had some shrimp, beef and peppers, and some grilled chicken with a yellow paste on top that wasn’t anywhere close to mustard.

It’s now the weekend, but it is a big Cricket weekend.  The Cricket World Cup is starting in Bangladesh, and my host here that has been graciously ordering and arranging all the cabs for me offered to arrange a cab for me for the weekend, but said he wouldn’t be able to join unless it was Sunday, because of the cricket match.

It’s the first round, and India plays Bangladesh.  India is a top seed this year.  There is controversy from one of the practice rounds where one of the Indian players misbehaved in some way.

I need to make sure I watch the cricket match, but do have some continued work to do today, so I’ll probably hang close to the hotel.

Fell asleep around 11pm local, and woke up around 5am.  That’s the longest uninterrupted sleep I’ve had so far.  I’m extremely hungry.  Breakfast buffet doesn’t open until 6:30am.

Since I don’t leave the hotel much I’ve not been to a supermarket to stock up on things like sodas.  I’ve been hoarding Diet Cokes when I can.  When I order room service I order 3 at a time.  They are cheaper at a small stall in the business office where the training is, but they don’t sell it by the 6-pack, and if I bought 4-5 at a time there it would clean them out.

I made a video of my cab ride into the office.  But I was holding my phone as I normally would as if it was a phone, rather than sideways as if it were a camera.  The video has come out sideways, so I need to find a utility to rotate video before I can post it.