Archive for the “India” Category

I occurs to me that I live in India for a fair amount of time. I am here longer than most people. I know something about India and life as an expat.

I said when I lived in Taiwan that “This is probably the best I’ll ever live, the richest I’ll ever be.” Teachers are well respected in Asia, and so are foreigners. I made good money; I lived like a king. I worked 25 hours a week or less and had no real responsibility. Its hard to compete with that.

I think India is better though, or at least as good. I work more here, but I make more too. I do better work and help more people. I am still very well respected and I definitely live like a king. Work is fun because I do lots of stuff, but I have no real accountability….so I can make up whatever I like, whatever I think is useful. That makes it both lazy and super productive at the same time….depending on what I like.

For the first, and perhaps only, time in my life I don’t think work sucks. Work is just a part of everything else I do and as long as its useful….then its worth it. I like living at a 5 star hotel and I like the weekends where I sleep till noon and call room service to serve me brunch in bed…..but I also like going to work for the most part. Its well worth the money I make to do it….which isn’t that much.

Pete tells me that it loses its draw, the whole travel thing. I agree and disagree. It isn’t the same….but it is always different. Take today for instance. I was out and passed some shops, some grocery-type stores, and I thought “You know, I buy alot of the same shit back home…..but its somehow more interesting to buy it here.”

Just walking down the street is different…educational, entertaining. You see hundreds of small nuances that make you more aware of where you are…more present in what you’re doing.

Take last weekend, my last post. I could’ve gone rafting in Atlanta. But on the Ganges you wash your sins away, you see hippies leftover from the 60’s in Rishikesk, you see the Himalaya….and you see dead people. Its the same as Atlanta….but different.

I keep thinking that somehow I have failed to understand the draw of the US…..why I can’t seem to stay. There is my answer: Everything…even going to buy groceries, is somehow more than it is back home.

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They say if you bathe in the Ganges that all your sins are washed away. This guy/gall must’ve needed a lot of forgiving. We found him/her on the banks, apparently buried under/crushed by a large rock.

This is the first full-on dead person I’ve ever seen. We were taking a little walk and Situ said, “Hey. Is that a dead person?” I thought for sure it had to be fake or something, but in India why fake a dead person when there are plenty of real ones to save yourself the trouble?

We showed two Indian guys. They weren’t impressed; in fact, they just shrugged their shoulders and went about their way like it was a non-event. They commented on the green sweater was all.

I honestly wondered about the person. How old? A guy or a girl? Buried or accidental death? Why is there no tissue? How long has it been there? Were they wearing any jewelry?

Everyone has a story…..and human skulls make you ponder, you know? I considered taking a rib or something as a souvenir until I realized no one wants a human bone as a present….not even me.

But I did want a picture:

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I really don’t enjoy starting any conversation with “No one can understand….” but really, unless you’ve lived here you can’t possibly imagine the inefficiency, the madness, the illogic of India.

If in America our motto is “In God We Trust” or “For Money We Slave Away”, in India it is certainly “Let’s make this as complicated as possible and have 8 people do the job of 1 to the point that nothing will every happen,” or “If there is a pothole in the road, don’t fix it, drive around it until that becomes a pothole too, then hire someone to stand in the road and direct the traffic jam that resulted from not fixing the pothole in the first place.”

Ohh India….how I love thee.

Here is India’s archetype conversation. Put this on repeat everyday and you will begin to glimpse what it is like to live here.

Me: What time is it?
India: Thank you, Mr. Dykes. I hope you are enjoying your time here sir.
Me: Uhh….its fine, thank you. What time is it?
India: Yes sir, sir. (nodding head profusely in deference)
Me: No, really. What time is it?
India (digging in its disorganize mess of papers): Here is you calendar. Thank you Mr. Dykes. Is there anything else we can assist you with Mr. Dykes?
Me: hehehehehehehehehe. No seriously, what time is it?
India: Let me check with my colleague. He will be in shortly with your answer. Please have a seat sir and we will be right with you right away.
Me: I have to go to work. I’ll be back in the evening though. Please just send a note with my answer up to the room so I can have it when I get back.
India: Yes sir. We will get that for you right away. (smiling as if they had just handed me the keys to a new car).
Me (later that evening): Ahh…what a day. Do you have an answer for me?
India: Of course, sir. My colleague informed me of your query.
Me: So the information is up in my room?
India: Here is your calendar sir. Is there anything else we can assist you with Mr. Dykes??
Me: You can tell me what time it is like I asked in the first place.
India (shuffling through its desk for a mess of notes): Yes sir. We have that information for you and will send it up as soon as my colleague gets in tomorrow.
Me: But you said that yesterday. I keep asking the same question. Why can’t you just tell me what time it is? What is so hard about that? Why do you keep giving me everything I DON’T want and nothing I DO?
India (always smiling): I am very sorry Mr. Dykes for the misunderstanding….
Me (interrupting India): And why didn’t you send a note up to my room like you said you would??
India: The note is in your suite Mr. Dykes (holding up an indecipherable mess of Hindi).
Me: Let me check (I walk up to my room and find there is a note waiting for me. It says “Guest Services would like to see you about the information you requested. Please see Guest Relations at your earliest convenience.” )
Me (back downstairs with steam coming out my ears): What time is it?
India (eager as ever): Did you get your note Mr. Dykes? I hope you found it to you convenience sir, please, thank you.
India: Yes sir, sir. I have the clock you requested right away and we will send it up to your room.
Me: Arghhh…..this is worse than Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football.
India (blank stare and sideways head nod): I am not sure I understand sir. Would you like a Charlie Brown DVD? The concierge can arrange that for you immediately for tomorrow.
Me: TIME…..WHAT TIME. PLEASE. I’M LOSING MY MIND. I’m going to the bar to get a drink. When I get back, please have an answer to my question.
India: Yes sir Mr. Dykes. Thank you and we will have that for you right away Mr. Dykes.
Me (after a few beers): Ok…what do you have for me? A watch, a clock, a calendar, TV Guide, a fucking solar dial and a little Indian guy to follow me around holding up a flashlight? What?
India (beaming like the dawn): I was able to speak to my colleague and she said it was 10:45am on 9/26.
Me (on the verge of insanity): Yes. That is right. When I originally asked, it was 10:45am. That was yesterday. What time is it NOW?
India: Yes sir. We will get that for you right away Mr. Dykes. Please have a seat.
Me (huddled in the corner in a fetal position): I give up. I’m just going to sit here for a while and collect my thoughts while I am still sane enough to have some.

India: Yes sir, Mr. Dykes. Would you like anything while you are waiting??

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I figure the Golden Temple is the World’s Most Practical Holy Place. I think that is a great distinction and says a lot about Sikhs, who are some of the most successful folks in India.

Sikkhism was a warrior club that eventually turned into a religion. To be orthodox, you must 1) wear a turban, 2) never cut your hair/beard, 3) wear long underwear (I haven’t the slightest idea about this one), 4) wear metal bracelet/s, and 5) wear a sword (however small) at all times. The Sikhs were incredibly nice people, rather tall for Indians, and very interested in foreigners.

So I’ve been to the Dome of the Rock in Jeruselum. It is a very pretty building; inside there is a rock surrounded by an altar. You can walk around and pray. That is pretty much it. At Mecca, you can walk around a big square and pray too. At most churches, no matter how holy, you can really only sit and pray. Walk and pray or sit and pray. Those are your only two options. Religion has never been known for its practicality.

The Golden Temple though is made for using. You can sleep for free at the Golden Temple in dorm-like rooms in a surrounding marble building which is itself part of the temple complex, so its not like they put you up on the other side of town in a crappy hotel. You can also sleep on the floor of the temple surrounding the lake. It is made of inlaid marble, so is quite hard, but they’ll let you sleep there all the same. Imagine if the Cathedral of Notre Dame allowed people to sleep in the aisles?.?.

You can eat for free at the temple too. They feed an estimated 30,000 people a day from steel bowls. The food is dispensed from a large machine brought from Italy that they are very proud of. There is also a dishwashing facility in the temple where pilgrims volunteer to wash the dishes they just ate from with rock powder. Of course, water is free too and available to everyone.

You can bathe at the temple. There are shower facilities. There is also a beautiful lake that you can take a dip in which is said to wash away all of your sins……and yes, you can still walk around and pray.

Another curious fact about the Sikhs is that they still have their original holy scripture, which is kept in the golden building on the lake. So the Sikhs are a very conscientious people too.

I mean, think about the Jews. They lost the Ark of the Covenant. In essence, they lost the vessel that housed God… do you lose God? What day do you wake up and say, “Oops, hey guys, we forgot God and that big gold box that shoots lightning bolts that we’ve been carrying around for centuries and is the single most important item to our people.”

And the Christians…..its hard to lose what we never had in the first place. We don’t have the cross, never did. The Holy Grail is a legend. The Shroud of Turin is a fake. It is debated whether the tomb of Jesus at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the real site or not. The Bible was compiled centuries after the fact.

So, all in all, I am very impressed with Sikhism. I haven’t the slighest idea what the tenents of the religion are, but I can say they are a practical, friendly bunch with a very beautiful Holiest of Holy sites. And yes, the walls of the temple are said to be made of real gold.

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Remember the Challenge of the Superfriends cartoon? Well, there was a character, Bizarro Superman, who reminds me a bit of India.

In my ongoing and likely futile attempt to document the subtleties of India, I will share these pictures of my bizarro universe. The pictures don’t really need captions, as they are funny on their own…but I will add them anyway.

India must be very proud indeed of the Army Man who would steal a gold medal off a Greek guy at gunpoint. It doesn’t say much for his marksmanship either that he would need to aim so intently from point blank range.

A winner for life huh?? What do they win? A year’s supply of cotton candy and an oversized pink bunny rabbit that starts leaking styrofoam pellets before you make it to the car?

What do circus skills have to do with being in the Army anyway? I am unaware of the deadly art of fitting clowns into a Volkswagon. I guess the knife throwing could come in handy though…if your enemy happens to be on a spinning wheel.

Everyday may not be a pleasant day in India, but it is always an amusing day if you’re observant.

And yes, just in case you were wondering: There are cows in the streets. And the guys who drive my car look like the crew of the Love Boat.

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This is an excerpt from an email I sent today. I’m going to post it because it sums up pretty well how a lot of my days go. Life here is really good…if it doesn’t drive me crazy.

I finally talked to the treehouse people today after like 6 calls and 2 emails. They were useless. All the guy said was “sure we’ll reserve a room for you.”

I asked him where the resort was. “In the middle of the jungle”

I asked him how to get there “From calicut by train or bus or taxi.”

I asked him how to get to calicut from delhi “By plane.”

I asked him about how much the plane ticket was “Don’t know, I just make reservations.”

I asked him which airlines flew to Calicut. “Don’t know, I make the reservations.”

I get really frustrated here by stuff like that.

I called the US embassy again today too. First they transfered me before I had a chance to even say anything…then they hung up on me.

My taxi service is late or doesn’t show up, or sends us 1 car for 8 people, or won’t leave when we tell it to, then they don’t know how to get to the office and drive like race car drivers in monsoons rain…….and it happens every single day.

Last night I asked for the FIFTH time about my rewards points at the hotel and blew up at the little guest services girl. I thought she was going to start crying. She said, “Yes sir. I will certainly get that for you right away,” and I fucking lost it and went on at her about the 4 other people I talked to that had said exactly the same thing, given me exactly the same sideways head nod, and vacant, smiling stare. Why was she any different? Why does nothing ever get done here?

The sad part, is that after 2 weeks of asking….I finally got my points like 30 minutes later. I am learning, in India, you don’t get shit unless you lose your temper and make people feel bad.

I don’t want to learn that lesson.

You know what’s really fucked up?? My points are wrong. I have almost none even though I’ve spent a sickening amount of money at the hotel. It’ll take me two more weeks and another busted blood vessel in my head to clear that up.

And then everytime I sit down and try to do something at work there is like a line of people at my desk asking me questions, half of which they already know the answer to. Today I told someone, “Can’t you people just make a decision on your own?”

Just as I finished “talking” on the phone with the US embassy I hung up and said to myself something along the lines of “blah, blah, blah……%$#*&^% idiots.” And this Project Manager (Indian) who actually has his shit together sat down right at that moment and laughed, “India is getting to you huh?”

I just said, “Yes. I am sorry. I get frustrated.”

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Time management in India is almost an oxymoron. There is very little conception of time in the Western sense…..which begs the question: What is the Western conception of time?? Well…if you’ve never lived in the Orient, perhaps you’ll never have to think about it.

I could probably, given enough time (no pun inteneded), come up with a fair description of the differences…but really I want to talk about MY time management in India, or rather my lack of need for it.

I enjoy a lateral sense of time. I always have. Lateral time is not meant to accomplish anything. It simply comes and then passes….it is the gathering of a storm that may never actually happen. The clouds swirl, the wind picks up, the sky darkens, and there is a great anticipation….and then the weather packs up and decides to go home and try again another day.

I remember when I was young and my family was at Lake Hartwell. I was lounging on the dock enjoying time, and my father was mulling about doing something, fixing something, planning something, asking everyone if they wanted to DO this or DO that. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t just sit down and enjoy the day. It was magnificent and he was making me nervous.

His answer was typically vacant, but probably largely true. He said, “I don’t know. You just get used to doing things, and I guess its hard to stop.”

Having lived in Atlanta the last year, I totally understand that. One should never have to plan to relax. If you have to schedule “do nothing for two hours”…’re likely not really doing nothing. You’ll just be thinking about what you have to do in an hour and 59 minutes….58 minutes….57 minutes.

So, to come a little closer to my point, I will have a hard time going back to the US. I don’t need to come to my point too quickly though because in India “to beat around the bush” isn’t a negative….its a way of life. To ramble isn’t rambling. It is simply a regular conversation. This frustrates me to no end at work….however, outside of work or if nothing needs to get done, its sort of endearing.

So, even though I work a good bit here…..and my commute is an hour (on average) both ways each day…..I have tons of free time. I didn’t realize why until I started thinking about it this weekend.

The biggest time saver here is that I live in a hotel. I never make my bed. I never pick up my clothes. I never put out my trash. I never clean anything. I just go away in the morning and I come back home and everything is just how I left it before I made it all dirty….like that movie Groundhog Day. There is a fruit bowl on my coffee table that always has fresh fruit in it….whether or not I actually eat it or let it all rot. It just reappears….always perfect.

I don’t check mail, because I don’t receive any. I don’t ever need to go to Target to get new toothpaste or towels or razors or shampoo or anything. It all just reappears perfectly, as if I had never touched the room.

I don’t go to the grocery store. I have 3 five star restaurants within a minute of my place. If that is too far away I can just call room service. I can get the concierge to bring me pretty much anything I can think up….24 hours a day.

No need to get in the car to go to the gym. I have one where I live….30 seconds away. There is also a sauna, hot tub, and massage parlor. Hell, there is even a salon downstairs if I want to get my hair cut.

No need to ever stop to get gas. My car will never break down here because I don’t drive one. Work pays to chauffeur me back and forth.

Friends?? They all live with me at the hotel. I don’t need to drive across town to go hang out with someone. They all live an elevator’s ride away. Need to go to a bar or club. There is already one here.

Imagine a world where you never did laundry, never stopped for gas, never cleaned or straightened anything, never checked mail, essentially had an army of errand boys if you ever needed anything, and was never able to stay late for work because the car was there to pick you up so you MUST leave.

Now imagine that you live in a 5 star hotel, work in office where everyone is amazed by your expertise (which isn’t all that great in my opinion), are surrounded by lots of other people that have plenty of free time, you’re living a foreign country that is amusing to no end, are essentially richer than you will ever be in your entire life……and that is getting close to what it is like to be here.

I mean……I might go crazy because India is still India….but….shit….even I can’t complain about this.

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I am drinking over-priced Indian red wine from the mini-bar with left-over room service on the couch. I’ve slept about 14 of the last 24 hours, I eat all my meals at various 5 star hotels around town, and Lost in Translation is on TV.

I always thought the movie was funny and oddly like a travel documentary, but it is even more surreal when I am here in the Far East, watching it from a hotel room not much unlike the one they stay in. Its like seeing my life and wondering how I have not caved under the irreality of it all.

Joseph Conrad is one of my favorite authors. His self-proclaimed task in life was “By the power of the written word, before all, to make you SEE.”

That isn’t my task in life, but I understand it and want for it as well. I have said before “Science will put an astronaut on the moon, but only a book can send a janitor.” I think there is some magic to writing, because, when done well, it can make you feel something that perhaps your own life will never afford.

If you asked me what one simple thing could help us make the world a better place, I would reply, “Read a book.” In our lives of increasing specialization, we don’t know how to help each other, because we don’t understand each other. A book, written well, can help us see….it can move us to India.

Sadly, I don’t think I can write that well….or at least I don’t have the time to devote to it. People at the office ask me about India, people at home want to know too……what the hell is going on over there?? What are you doing? What’s it like?

I was out at a goodbye dinner the other night with all the other Americans. We were at one of the nicest restaurants in Delhi, passing the normal Indian amount of death, disease, and deformity in the taxi on the way.

We all took millions of pictures and commented on what a surreal experience this is….and someone said, “Yeah, its like Real World Delhi….all we lack are the confessionals where we all talk about how much we secretly hate each other. If only our company knew how much of our per diem is spent on alcohol and 5 star dining.” And it is so true.

This whole thing is like one long soap opera disconnect from real life. Except in my case…where I’ve done it so often that it actually IS my life.

So Lost in Translation is actually an immensely sad movie. I feel like both Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanson…both like a lost young traveler and a beaten old man.

Hmm….so as I live out my own version of the Real World India bouncing from one 5 star hotel to the next, I am reminded of Conrad, of poverty, of our inability to understand each other, and of my own shortcomings. I am thinking of you.

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I admit I love to be amused. I don’t use the words “happy” or “fun” because those are harder to come by and mean different things to me than most people. I just like to be…..well, amused….you know, slightly entertained.

Life in India is certainly amusing, even entertaining. So often I get that grand, far off, once-in-a-lifetime feeling…..even when I’m being swindled for money or waiting an hour for something that would’ve been automatic back home…I just feel, at that moment, I’ve seen something I’ll never see again.

Like last weekend:

We left 3 hours late after 2 hours sleep on a 5 hour trip that took 12.

The wrong car came. The air conditioner broke halfway there and it was 100 degrees. The reservation we had at the hotel got somehow cancelled and it was Indian Independence Day weekend, which meant there were no rooms available anywhere.

So we’re 6 hours into a 5 hour trip and the Indian guy loses his iPod at a small village and they are calling around frantically to find a hotel to sleep in. The only thing worse than 7 people for 12 hours in a car with a broken air conditioner is then having to sleep in the damned car too.

Its late, and the girls are all complaining and I’m telling the driver to pull over and get me some beer, all sweaty and shit…..I couldn’t take it anymore. If I was going to put up with whiney women and sleeping in a cramped car when its 100 degrees trying to remind myself that its “all part of the experience”…..I need to drink.

We finally found a spot that said they had a room……one room, for all 7 of us. Fine, we’ll take it….and then there was no water in the bathroom.

So they came out and installed a hot water heater and we went to dinner (which was pretty decent). I went to bed early because I’d been drinking earlier and was asleep when they got home.

So Meenal was using the bathroom and the hot water heater breaks, and scorching hot water starts gushing out. I am asleep and only vaguely aware of what is going on.

By the time they finally get me up, my mattress-on-the-floor is almost floating and the entire room is ankle deep in water. A few more minutes and I would’ve drowned in my sleep.

So we now have like 12 Indians running in and out of our room all waiting for someone to tell them what to do. And, of course, we tell them how to fix it and… everything in India…it never really happens just the way you want.

There is no other room for us to stay in….so they are mopping up the one we almost drowned in. There was so much water in it they used up all the towels and most of the sheets at the resort trying to get it dry.

But we needed the sheets, especially when they brought in the new mattresses and dragged them over the still wet floor. Now we had two sets of wet mattresses and needed lots of blankets and more sheets to make sure we weren’t sleeping in a damp bed.

But they couldn’t get the number of sheets and blankets right. 4 mattresses = 4 sets of sheets right???? Not in India.

So we just went to sleep….and at this point we were all loopy and wondering what else could possibly go wrong.

Just at that moment, when I was expecting the roof to cave in…..we hear someone throwing up in the bathroom. One of the Indian girls had gotten sick off something we’d eaten at a rest stop.

Of course, the night did end. We all slept on damp mattresses and persevered to find amusement another day.

The rest of the weekend turned out really well. The next day we went back to the village where the guy thought he lost his iPod, which I thought was a fools errand….after all what are the chances of finding a lost iPod in the foothills of the Himilaya…..but he found it.

He asked around the village and some kid had picked it up and given it to his Dad because he thought it was a pack of cigarettes. The Dad actually had no idea what it was either, so he just returned it….and we bought the kid all the candy and chocolates in the town.

And then we got drunk down by the river.

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Hmm….I haven’t said anything in a week so I should give an update. I am actually going to write a great story about the Black Taj Mahal when I get around to it….but I’m going to do a bunch of great stuff when I get around to it. I won’t hold my breath.

So life as an expat is a lot like life at summer camp. At camp you meet a bunch of new people and do everything together because you don’t know anyone else….it is the same here. We stay in a cabin too…its a just a 5 star cabin with a spa and pool….although I guess you had a pool at camp too.

At camp you get poison ivy; in India we get malaria. At camp you find a dead rat in the woods; in India you find dead rats in the streets. Same same….but different, except for money. As an expat you get paid while at camp you pay. I guess that is altogether different….not same same a bit….but someone always pays still. We know that.

A lot of people have left this week to go back to the real world. It is sad to see people go cause you know what they’re going back to. Our company just announced all these benefit changes (where of course we get the shaft) and people are angry back in the US.

I see it from such a different perspective over here. They see benefit cuts as a profit hungry Corporation looking to transfer costs to us while they put it in their pockets. People are mad…..but they get over it eventually and its back to business as usual.

There is a hiring freeze in the US while they’re bringing on people in boatloads over here in India. A coworker told me (which could be all bullshit), that we will have 3000 employees in India by the end of the year…triple the number we have now.

And the Indians are smart too, at least in their own way. The average Indian in one of these oursourced IT jobs makes about one fifth what we make. We aren’t 5 times as productive as they are.

I’m working with new hires mostly. They suck….but in 6 months they’ll be just as far along as someone at home….they’ll just cost a fifth as much.

So the benefit cuts that seem so selfish and out of the blue at home make perfect sense to me. Not only do they want to hire people faster here…..they want people in the US to quit faster as well.

It isn’t enough to hire people in India and let attrition and a hiring freeze in the US reduce American headcount……they want to speed it along….so they cut the benefits.

I say “Oh Well”. I knew it was coming anyway. People back home in Atlanta know it too….they just thought it was way off….”a few years” they always say. A few years is today. Dust off your resumes….or learn to speak Hindi.

So life as an expat is good overall. We are living the high life. It is what’s happening back in Atlanta that is killing me. It is sad.

Of course I am just guessing. I could be wrong. It happens every once in a while.

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