Archive for October, 2005

So everyone knows that Delhi got bombed. They blew up 3 markets and my inside connections at the embassy told me that they averted 1 other one (which didn’t make the news). The bomb squad guys staying at the Taj have been very edgy lately.

The markets they blew up actually weren’t particularly frequented by foreigners. These nuts weren’t targeting any group. They were looking for shock value. It is Diwali in India, which is the Indian equivalent to Christmas, so everyone on the planet was out at these markets shopping for presents.

I get confused by these terrorists because I don’t understand what they want. In Latin America it is common for the children of rich folks to be kidnapped for ransom. Ok….I get that. The kidnappers want money. But the terrorists don’t want anything. They don’t have any demands. How do you deal with that??

I’m not sure if it made the news in the US, but the president (or whatever you call him) of Iran made the comment that Israel should be “wiped off the map”. And the comment was made at a “World without Zionism” conference….which to me is the most bizarre part of it.

“World without Zionism”?? Substitute “Blacks” for “Zionism” and you’ve got the fucking KKK. The Iranian president spoke at a KKK rally??? I can’t even compute that. Should we get him a white hood?

So let’s envision that they get their way….that the US and Israel are wiped off the map. What then? Iran is still a minor backwards ass country filled with sand, a bunch of oil, and crazy sex-starved Arabs. They will not suddenly rise to prominence if we disappear.

That’s what I don’t get. Destroying us will gain them nothing. The standard of living for Iranians will not suddently rise to Israeli or US standards if we are destroyred. This is not a zero sum game. They will be saddled with the same poverty, the same insanity, the same reliance on oil, the same poor humanitarian record.

I simply do not understand other than to say these people are crazy and that the Crusades ended 800 years ago….get over it.

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Nothing particularly funny or interesting has happened in the past few days. If I were feeling creative I’m sure I could come up with something I could write about, but I think I’ll pass.

It strikes me right now that I haven’t spoken to anyone all day, other than room service for food and the guy who stepped into the steam room while I was leaving. I slept till noon almost and took a nap by the pool for an hour this afternoon.

I watched Castaway with Tom Hanks, or at least most of it. I watched the Aviator too….what a crappy movie that is. I tried to make some phone calls to the States as it feels weird to talk to no one, but no one is answering.

Whereas at home I would’ve had things to do that I was blowing off to do nothing on a Sunday….here I just do nothing and it seems fine.

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I’m losing pretty badly to India. It is a tough competitor, difficult to pin down exactly the strategy its using to humiliate me over and over. Everytime I think I score a small victory, India finds a way to snatch it from my grip.

Take today for instance:

Everyday we are driven to and from work. Everyday I wonder whether someone will be there to pick me up. We all complained because very often we get left without transportation, so (to my company’s credit) they changed our transportation vendor after many useless meetings and broken promises. Regardless, I was rid of Routes (the name of the vendor)……..but then India stepped in to thwart me.

Before it was just Routes, so if anything went wrong I could call them and lose my temper…not that it did any good since they still never showed up, but there was at least the illusion that it might have an impact.

The new arrangement is that if you are on a fixed schedule you go through the hotel, if you need something different you will get a spot rental through a new vendor. If you need to get yourself on a schedule you send an Excel spreadsheet to either the secretary, or one of the two travel desks, who then communicate the information to people at the hotel or new spot-rental vendor. Thus far there is no way to contact the car companies directly so outside of business hours if your schedule changes you just need to pray that a car shows up. And remember, this is the IMPROVED way of getting to and from work.

So we complain that transportation sucks and it gets changed, but then India steps in and ensures that the new arragement is actually worse than the original. But the real kicker is this: The hotel actually subcontracts its transportation as well…….to Routes.

So we replaced Routes with Routes and added a few layers of complexity and more points of contact in the process. Now I don’t even know who to yell at when things to go wrong…and they always do. Like this morning: 1 car for six people.

On the way out the door I give detailed instructions to the smiling vacant faces at Guest Services on where I want to redeem my Taj Inner Cirle Rewards points. I could write a whole book on the Taj points debacle. By the way, debacle and fiasco have become my new favorite words.

The girl promises me everything and I tell her in advance, “Don’t call me and tell me that you’re sorry, but X or Y and Z. That’s all you people ever do is tell me what you CAN’T do. I have like a billion Taj points but I can’t redeem them anywhere. What good are they then??” My ire is already up. That is before we fit into the car like clowns into a phone booth.

We stop at Citibank at the ATM. It is out of money. We stop at a different one. It asks you to swipe your card and then you put in your pin number and then at the end right before the money comes out, it asks you to swipe your card again. Why??? Has my card somehow changed in the intervening 13 seconds since I inserted it the first time?? Did it expire maybe? India….that’s what it is. Complicating everything, with cable TV in the ATM booth but no trash can to put your receipts in, so everyone just throws them on the floor.

I have alot of papers on my desk at work in a very Elliott-centric filing system that works for me, but falls apart if someone moves my stuff… I got someone to write a post-it note in Hindi for the cleaners that says “Don’t touch the papers on this desk while cleaning.” All the cleaners know how to read Hindi….I asked.

Every flipping day my papers are moved, stacked neatly in weird places, far away from where they were the day before. They even pull up the post-it note from where it is taped and stack that too, so they obviously look at it. I got someone to write the note on a large piece of paper too and highlighted it with stars and tacked it up on the wall of my workspace….no dice. It isn’t the cleaners that move my shit everynight…..its India. It sneaks in and mocks my puny efforts to get something done……and it steals my damn pens.

So a Fortune 500 company should have more right?? Nope. We’ve all got great new computers and videoconferencing and ergonomic chairs….but nothing to write with. Pens are like currency in the office they are so scarce. I’ve only found one place on our two floors that has them, and they are locked up. They used to be in a different place when I first arrived, but India moved that and now I have to find someone to unlock the secret Pen Cabinet.

You think I’m making this shit up, but I’m not.

So they give us cell phones too. Mine sucks and the battery dies after less than 24 hours, so I can’t ever call anyone at night to fuss when my car doesn’t show up. I just borrow someone else’s phone. So I asked about getting a new battery thinking I would get the upper-hand, you know, score 1 for Elliott……how do you think that ended up? I got the battery….but it dies in a day too. They just replaced one old crappy battery with another one. I know how they got the replacement battery too. It was one another person had given back to them after making the same complaint I just had. Score another one for India.

Then there is the meeting room fiasco. You’re supposed to reserve your rooms in advance through this computer system we have that is fairly easy to use. Indians don’t do well with the concept of “in advance” so they just squat the rooms, or put a post-it note on the door saying its reserved like 2 minutes before they’re about to use it. This adds to my general feeling of panic during the day when I know nothing will ever happen in India.

Since I coach lots of people, I need large rooms…usually with projectors. I schedule these meetings days in advance and prepare and everything is ready, but then some group is in our fucking room when the time comes. It never fails.

So I started reserving through computer and with a post-it note. They don’t care about the computer reservation and they remove the post-it note….smiling the whole time like they’ve accomplished something just because they were able to get everyone together in one place, never mind they stole my room.

Then I got someone to be accountable for the rooms, so I would have someone to yell at when stuff went wrong. It doesn’t matter though, people are still there. They were there today too…..and the projector didn’t work. Nothing ever works. These rooms have hundreds of plugs and outlets….all useless. They like run an extension cord from the utility closet next door, and want you to thank them when they drag in a ten pound voltage converter from 1950 to help you plug in your American laptop, when the entire room is wired with American plugs….if only they worked.

So I kick the other people out of the room, and we start and then my phone rings. Everyone leaves their cell phones on in India, even in meetings, and they always answer them, no matter what. So I’ve started doing it too.

Its one of the Guest Services minions. They are useless, so I brace myself for what I already knew was coming: They cannot book my room with my inner circle points. That hotel is booked till next year. Which is complete bullshit.

Its like when I went to Amritsar and tried to buy a train ticket back to Delhi and they told me every train was sold out….impossible. We were booking two days in advance and Indians never do anything in advance. Of course we did catch the train back to Delhi….and of course it wasn’t full. India had temporarily bought all the tickets and was laughing at me. India squats my rooms too, and is hoarding my pens. I bet it runs Routes as well.

I “talk” to the Guest Services girl for a while and give her more detailed instructions which I am sure she then promptly forgot….I’m still waiting to see what happens. I can already say for certain though that Taj Inner Circle is the devil and I’m not even sure the program really exists. Last Saturday we were out at a bar jamming to a techno version of Livin’ On A Prayer by Bon Jovi with the guys from the bomb squad and we met a girl that had just been hired by Taj Inner Circle. I could not laugh hard enough. I told her to run…quickly.

So I’ll skip stories about my actual work day…which should be the most stressful time of day….but it certainly isn’t. Work is easy compared to everything else.

Its time to go home then….so I get on the elevator. The elevators are great. Like everything in India, there are a great many of them, but which one will actually get you what you want?? There is the rub.

There are 8 elevators but the buttons to call the elevators do not call ALL the elevators, but just some of them. So you have to go press all the buttons. The elevators, in true Indian fashion, are spaced in such a way that you can’t see them all from one location, so you never know if one of the doors is opening or not. You have to keep turning around and walking back and forth to know if something arrives.

Well…the bell dings if a door opens, but it also dings if the elevator changes floors, and the walls are thinly insulated so you can hear the bells dinging for the floor above and below….so basically the damn thing dings all the time and never know if an elevator is there or not.

Also, only 4 of the elevators go to the parking garages, but everyone gets picked up/dropped off on these floors, so really only 4 elevators are useful. I find it quicker to take the elevator to zero, get out, walk outside, and then down some stairs to the parking levels. Score another one for India.

But what good does it do me to get to the parking level, because the car is never there. So you have to start making phone calls to all the foreigners and then the car people. I don’t even know who to call about the cars anymore….and my battery is always dead anyway and recpetion is shit on the parking levels. I usually just take my anti-seizure medicine and rock and back and forth in the corner like an invalid. Score some more for India.

Today the car actually showed up, but there were three of them instead of one. And one of them was for a girl at another hotel, but they called us to say the car was here…..or maybe India called.

Yeah…the ride home. That’s great too. No one obeys the traffic laws. No one drives in the lanes. Indian drivers seem to think its some kind of race or video game. They have these nifty street signs that say “Lane Driving is Safe Driving”, as if people need to be reminded that it is dangerous to fit 4 cars across on a two lane road.

And all the trucks say “Please Honk” on them. That is how they keep from hitting each other when they drive with a death wish. They constantly honk as if to say “Hello, my horn still works”. I saw two transfer trucks hit each other tonight in a fit of glass and bent metal. It was a non-incident. No one cared.

To give an idea how bad it is, you just have to look for the puke. The driving is so erratic, so stop and go, the roads so full of potholes….that people often get carsick, and they just puke out the windows and you see it on the sides of cars, buses, and public transport. Unless the view is blocked by the cows, or people peeing on the side of the street, or the family of 5 balanced on the scooter beside you all staring like they’ve never seen a white person.

When I get back to the hotel the girl who is now working at the Guest Relations desk knows nothing about the conversation that happened earlier and asks that I wait till tomorrow. Tomorrow I bet I get told the same thing. India is stuck in an eternal present.

Then I go back to my room and the Internet is out…again. Guess who I have to call to get the IT guy up??? Guest Relations. After calling them two more times, them replying “The guy is there” or “He already called you” when obviously nothing has happened….the guy finally shows up.

Its the same dude from yesterday and he immediately offers me the same crappy temporary fix he did yesterday with great satisfaction. I say, “So am I supposed to call you everyday for the next two months to come up here and rig my internet to work? Wouldn’t it make more sense to REALLY fix it?” I guess not though. He is definitely in cahoots with India. It is useless to resist. I am beaten again.

I know it seems like I am making all this up, but I’m not. I will get the upper hand eventually though. Even a broke clock is right twice a day…except in India.

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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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