Archive for the “India” Category

Tonight it rained in Delhi. In the US we take so much for granted that is a luxury in other places… drainage, like a constant supply of electricity….like paved roads….like traffic laws. Wow, that’s crazy. The power just went out as I was writing this……ok. It just came back on.

So the town flooded. My feet were wet in the front seat on the way home as water came up through the floorboard. People were everywhere…wet, dirty. I saw someone’s bed actually on the side of the road. There were three of them and people were just lying there….they weren’t even beds..they were like chairs you could lie in. George in the back seat said he saw a dead person today.

From the 6th floor of my swanky office building I can see a migrant worker camp maybe 50 yards away behind a dull cement wall. Its like a concentration camp. Low square huts of baked clay brick with rusted tin corrugated roofs….bricks on top to keep the roofs from blowing away. People, all dirty and skinny, moving about, carrying buckets of water from a dirty pool.

Even from the 6th floor you can see rats muddling about behind the huts, scavenging through the trash. The rats look in better shape than the people to be honest with you. I’m sipping a cappucino and discussing cross-cultural business challenges while I’ve got a virtual time warp going on outside. They are living some 2000 years in the past….minus the rusted tin roofs…and hopefully the rats aren’t carrying the plague.

And now I’m back at my 5 star hotel eating a 10 dollar hamburger in a country where cows are sacred. Its a damn good hamburger too….room service rocks.

There are cows all over the roads in India. They are usually white, with humps on the back like camels. In Atlanta, there are always traffic jams because of car wrecks or construction. In India, its a herd of cows blocking traffic….and everyone just goes around them.

And the cows just sit there….unphazed by the 1500 pound cars barreling at them at 50 miles an hour. They don’t even move. Maybe they ARE gods and know something we don’t. If you are a cow, why lounge on the cement road when you could lounge on the side of the road….which is probably nearer to grass and less likely to get you killed??

So, actually, all the cows are a problem. The city is overrun by cattle. There is a reward of approximately 50 dollars for rounding up a cow in south Delhi.

I really wanted to go do it for kicks…but everyone from the office thought I was nuts….and I’ve been sort of sick anyway. I mean really….how priceless would a check be from the Indian govt paid for rounding up cattle in the city???? Talk about a great bar story!!!

So India is crazy anyway. I saw a guy washing a plant in my office on Friday. Is there really so little to do?? There are three people who loiter in the coffee station….I assume one is paid to make coffee and tend the supplies. But what the hell do the other two do? Stand there…..that’s all I can work out.

There is a person on my floor at work whose sole job is tend office supplies. That’s all anyone can figure out he does. So I asked him for some stuff, including post-it notes and some highlighters. I worked for a whole week and got nothing. The dude gives me like one pen (which I immediately lose) and a notebook. I could’ve borrowed that off the person that sits beside me.

I’ve joked that I came to India to outsource my own job. So I was helping this guy…who has exactly the same job as me (and they know it)… 30 minutes later I solved his problem and said, “Wow….that was really tiring. I think I’m going to go get a cup of coffee now.”

No shit….the dude goes, “Please sir, let me get that coffee for you. How do you take it…cream, sugar???” I told him to fucking sit down and do his work.

I’ll go ahead and tell you…….I’m not fucking getting coffee for anyone at the office….even if the Pope visits. That dude has lost his mind.

I admit I’m having some flashbacks to Taiwan. The irreality of it all got to me after my year was up. Of course, in this case I will not have to live in an apartment with a crazy person like I did there so I think I will survive.

But it is so weird sometimes…..everything….like the whole day.

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I had never been in a 5 star hotel before a few days ago. All 4 of my grandparents worked in mills and live/d modestly. My parents did not have much money while I was very young. By the time I finished High School I was probably middle to upper middle class. My father is an obsessive planner and saver, so even when we had more money, I always felt that it was an issue.

Luckily, by personality, I never really wanted that much. I have a few nice things and that has always been enough. Even if I have more money, which I sort of do now, I don’t really know what to spend it on. I have been working a year and a half and haven’t made one major purchase in that time….nothing over 100 bucks or so other than my vacation to Peru. I spend most of my money on frivol, like alcohol and going out to eat. (Perhaps I should buy more stuff….at least then I’d have something to show for my expenses.)

So now I live, comparatively, in the lap of luxury. I can’t count the number of times in a day that someone asks whether or not I need anything, if there is not something they can do for me. Labor is cheap in India. The hotel employs dozens of people to do essentially the same job…and not even that well by my reckoning.

Let’s take the hotel entrance for example. There are several gentlemen that always stand outside in bellhop outfits and turbans. There are greeters to ask you how you are doing, different people who open the door to your taxi (which the taxi driver will try to do as well, so its like a competition), someone whose job it is to call you a taxi if you need one, and several people to open the door to the hotel for you while bowing deferentially.

Then we go inside…..where there are several more greeters to ask whether anything has changed or if you need anything additional since the last person asked you that question several seconds earlier, and at least one very young girl in a green sari whose job it is to look pretty and bow graciously to foreign businessmen as you walk up the stairs to the lobby.

If that weren’t enough, once in the lobby there is guest services, guest relations, a concierge, the desk manager, and two check-in desks. I cannot figure out the difference between guest relations, guest services, and the concierge other than that guest relations is usually staffed by one of the young girls in the green saris.

I asked one of the pretty young girls what the difference is between all that stuff: In the US, If you nod your head forward and backwards it means ‘yes’

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I am alone again on the other side of the planet…at another nameless airport…off to find out something new and surprising, but not necessarily good, about me.

There is a random stillness to being tired and hungry 5000 miles from home…watching people pass in and out of your life like drops of water on a still pond.

The guy I sat next to on the plane for 8.5 hours to Frankfurt looked like an Italian gangster…complete with slicked back grey hair, open shirt with gold chain, and a thick Yankee accent. He said he lived in Vidalia, GA on a 300 acre onion farm that he sublet. The onion revenue helped pay for the house.

He drank 2 glasses of champagne and 7 scotch and waters in the span of about 2.5 hours while we chatted.

He started talking about how close Hitler was to taking over the world, how he used to steal a few things as a kid, and how we don’t know how good we have it in the US. Then he had another drink.

He travels 42 weeks a year with his job and I noticed his carry-on had platinum status tags for almost every major airline. His partner from Cuba was with him. At one point I heard him say something about a number of “units” that just had to happen.

I told him about my job (which bored him to death) and he offered nothing except that he was going to the jungle north of Jakarta on this trip and that he has “operations” in Banglore, India too.

He said you couldn’t trust Indians. I told him my story about the Chinese hoping that he would trust me enough to tell me what he did. He ordered another drink instead.

We got to talking about travel and he asked how I’d gotten to see so many places. I couldn’t resist asking how he’d gotten to see so many. “For work,” he replied vaguely and ordered another scotch and water.

He said his wife doesn’t like him to drink Scotch so he drinks Miller Lite at home in Vidalia…”10 cans a night usually. I prefer Johnny Walker Blue Label though.” Right at that moment, and I shit you not, the Duty Free cart comes by and he orders a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue…..and another scotch and water.

Right before we landed he started asking about security at the airport and if he’d have to pass through any on his connection to Jakarta. When the stewardess said yes he shot a bunch of strange looks to his “business” parter.

His name was Nicolas Marsicone. He probably dealt in human organs or something. Drop….ripple.

Then I wander around Frankfurt airport and talked my way into the First Class Lounge because I wanted somewhere nice to sit (my ticket was only business class) and check my email.

I couldn’t get it to work and the guy next to me was complaining about the same thing so we started talking….for like 2 hours.

He’d just come from Badhdad. Only two airlines, Royal Jordanian and Iraqi Air, fly in and out of Iraq these days and sandstorms often close the airport. He showed me a video of one of the sandstorms he was in. It is like the fucking Ten Commandments. (click here)

He said he was doing contract work…helping rebuild the country.

I’d always heard these was great money in contracting in war torn areas. I remember in Istanbul this Aussie said he was a carpenter for the King of Nigeria or something like that, making 10,000 bucks a month and was on his way to Afganistan next (this was right after 9/11).

me: “Why’d you leave then if you were making so much?”
him: “The king was assassinated and the government overthrown by the military.”

So…this guy coming from Baghdad made 250,000 bucks last year, which explains why he was in the first class lounge.

me: “Why’d you leave then if you were making so much?”
him: “The convoy I was in got blown up, so I decided it was time to come home.”

I was going to ask him about it but he had the whole fucking thing on video….and I watched it.

“I was in that car,” he pointed at the screen, “see that other car, they call it a “blocker”, pushed us to the middle of the road and then they detonated. Luckily the car was armored or we’d be dead. It was heavily damaged though. We actually burnt it after that was over so no one would try to salvage it”

I swear to you this video looked like fucking Black Hawk Down. There was shouting and gunfire and broken windshields and exploding vehicles. (Sorry I didn’t get a copy of it. I should’ve.)

And this guy had been everywhere. He was in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Afganistan and Iraq. He expected to be called back to active duty within six months. He’d killed people and been a courier for top secret packages. He had so many stories about being shot at or almost killed I told him I’d be happy to go to the ATM machine and get some money so he could bet it on whatever game he liked because he was obviously the luckiest son of a bitch on the planet. He laughed.

I learned that there are about 10,000 soldiers in Baghdad and that the insurgency is worse now that it was right after we took the city. He said on average 2 soldiers a day die and maybe 10 are wounded.

Baghdad has a big problem staying lit up. There isn’t enough electricity. Saddam used to pump it in from other cities (which left them without it). The US isn’t doing that so there isn’t enough to go around anymore and they haven’t been able to build more stations.

The Iraqis are puzzled that we just don’t go ahead and rebuild the country. They have such a reverence for US know-how that they mistakenly think we could just put up a power plant in a day if we really wanted to.

There are postings throughout Baghdad for soldiers to take cover during soccer games as victory brings “celebratory fire”. The bullets go up….then they fall somewhere else in the city. People are regularly injured.

In fact, I’m looking at the flight map right now (on my way to Delhi) and we are just about over Iraq. I hope there are no soccer games today.

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Last night was very strange too. Sort of abrupt and then all of the sudden I was asleep and late for a meeting today. I walked in the conference room 15 minutes late and never said anything. I just looked at everyone and nodded my head. I’m not sure what they thought.

I did alot of actual work today trying to wrap stuff up to leave for India. They had a going away luncheon for me. I was all giddy and said whatever came into my head. People said some nice things about me.

I coach this one guy on my team and he never says anything. I can’t tell whether he likes his job or if he will quit tomorrow. He is very quiet and from some Asian descent. I can’t read them as well.

He leaned his head over my cube about an hour after lunch and says, “I just wanted to say that you’ve been a really cool coach. Its been a lot of fun working with you and you’ve taught me a lot. Thank you and I will miss you.”

I’m guessing I had a look of mild surprise on my face, but I just said, “Thank you, I appreciate that,” and then a bunch of other stuff about how I will still be available by email if he needs anything. It sort of threw me off guard coming from him. I admit.

On the subject of how you affect people and never realize it, I got an email from one of my favorite business school professors today. He said he’d stumbled across my website doing research for something. That sort of scared me as I say stuff that really isn’t meant for public consumption. In fact my last few posts have said some pretty rude (but funny and largely true) things about women.

He was very positive though and told me that if I ever needed any help with anything that he’d gladly give me a good recommendation. Hopefully, he did not bookmark my website, otherwise he may eventually withdraw his goodwill.

Then I was at the store after work and looked at my watch and it said 7/25, and I thought that I was supposed to leave on the 26th. I went home and looked through the stack of papers I’vw printed out for work about India and didn’t have not one printout of my flight itinerary.

So I got all busy and frantic about myself, wondering where my head is, went back to work and had to call around to a bunch of places that were already closed until I re-found out that tomorrow (actually today now) is my flight.

So I started laughing at myself in an empty office building and called a couple of people to tell them how ridiculous I was for not even knowing when I am going away for the rest of the year.

I didn’t laugh for too long because I did about 3 and a half more hours of work that I thought I had one more day to do…….then I had to go back home and pack. I hadn’t packed not one thing and I was leaving in less than 24 hours for 5 months to go to the other side of the planet.

Then I started laughing at myself again and almost made some more phone calls. I called Peter instead since he’d just sent me a bunch of free stuff from Patagonia and I wanted to thank him.

He is going to Sri Lanka to prepare them for the next tsunami or something like that, so he called Patagonia out of the blue and asked them to sponsor his trip. They didn’t officially sponsor him, but they did send him a bunch of free stuff. He sent some of that to me, which I am now packing……or will as soon as I finish writing this.

So I was talking to Peter on the phone about this girl I’ve been seeing and he is laughing at me for acting like I’m in college and I am throwing stuff into my dad’s old navy duffel bag thinking of how I am supposed to be an adult. I think some of the stuff I packed is actually dirty. I don’t even know anymore. I am too emotionally spent to worry about something like clothes.

I’m actually still not packed. Instead of finishing I’m writing this post. My eyes hurt and I know that I will feel like shit tomorrow. Actually I do feel a bit more relaxed now. Maybe it was a good idea to write something?

Actually…I take it back. I am not relaxed at all. I am just really tired. I should finish packing before I lose my mind completely and somehow miss my flight tomorrow.

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