Friday, December 11, 2009

Lost in Translation

My return trip from Goa to Bangalore was quite adventurous. My bus was supposed to leave Panjim, which is about 2 hours by car from Palolem Beach, at 6:15 PM. In order to arrive on time and plan to find my bus, I left Palolem at 2:30 PM. I arrived in front of the bus stand at 4:00 PM, earlier than expected. The bus wasn’t there so I decided to go on a little exploration of the surrounding streets. At 5:00 PM, I returned to the bus stop and asked everyone around where I should wait for my bus. After 3 consecutive confirmations of the location of my stop, I proceeded and waited. I realized that I was probably one of 10 white people in the immediate surroundings of about half a million Indians and about 500 buses. It was an impressive sight. And then I wait, I wait…5:45 PM, I wait… 6:00 PM…I wait…6:15… I keep waiting hoping the bus is late. At about 6:20 I get a phone call:
ME: “Hello?”
Voice: Hindu language that I can’t understand
ME: “Hello????”
Voice: Aggravated Hindu language that I still can’t understand
ME: “I believe you have the wrong number, sir!”
Voice: “RONG NUMBA” And more Hindu…
ME: “Yes, WRONG NUMBER!”
I hang up. And I continue waiting.
I still don’t see any buses with the logo of the tour agent. 6:30…7:00… I keep asking people around for the Seabird Tourist bus to Bangalore. Same answer: “Wait here Sir, it will come!”
At about 7:30 PM, finally the beautiful Seabird Tourist branded bus pulls in front of me. I’m the first one by the door and ask the driver: “Are you going to Bangalore?” He nods (Indian style, which is almost like a NO nod, but not quite so as to say that it’s a YES… I’ll explain later with drawings!) So I jump in and make myself comfortable. Before the bus has to leave the controller verifies everyone’s tickets, so I hand mine over.
Controller: “You’re in the wrong bus, Sir!”
Me: “What? Are you not going to Bengaluru?”
Controller: “Yes we are, but your bus left at 6:15!”
Me: “No way! I’ve been here since 5:00 PM looking at the lady making omelet sandwiches and there have been no Seabird Tourist bus coming by!”
(The omelet sandwiches looked delicious but I was not so adventurous as to try something from the street when I was about to be on a bus for 14 hours with only one pit stop!)
Controller: “Did someone call you?”
Me: “Yes… Someone speaking Hindi called me about an hour ago!”
Controller: “And you said rong numba!”
Me: “Of course I said wrong number! I get 3 calls like this one everyday with people trying talk to someone else! And unfortunately I don’t speak Hindi! Was the person speaking English?”
Controller: “No, we were just looking for you on the bus area!”
This is were I realize I could either keep my cool and try to get on the bus or make a scene and be stranded in Panjim for the night. I thought that if they were REALLY looking for me, they could have found me. I don’t think Charles Danguy is a very Hindi sounding name, therefore look for any of the 10 white people standing there and ask them if they want to go to Bengaluru.
Anyways, I kept my cool and pleaded to get on the bus but he told me that it was completely full (that means really full in India, not like the “The flight is full, sir” they give you at the Delta counter and you walk in the plane with 10 business class seats open). So I had to wait for the manager to make some calls and right when the bus was about to start, he motioned for me to jump in because someone had just cancelled. So I left Palolem at 2:30 pm on Sunday only to arrive at my apartment at 11:00 AM the next day. (Only 380 miles away!)

Palolem Beach, Goa

Couple weeks ago on a Sunday I was watched reruns of the Bourne movies. The first scenes of “The Bourne Supremacy” are set in Goa and since it was so pretty I wanted to find out the exact location of the set. The answer: Palolem Beach. So I decided to go check it out over one week-end. After much discussion with my driver and some of the employees, I decided to take the bus and bargain my way into a little beach hut in Palolem.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Visit to Bannerghatta National Park

2 weeks ago, I went on a little Safari trip west of Bangalore. Yeshwant, one of the drivers, accompanied me there. He came to pick me up at 8 am and we were on our way. It took us about 1.5 hours to get there. I wanted to be early to avoid morning traffic and be on time for the park opening. Once we arrived, we stopped at a little “shack” to grab some breakfast. I was a little apprehensive to grab something from the street and eat it but I figured that was my only option this far away from town, so I jumped right in. I ordered a plate of fried noodles and Yeshwant and I waited under this huge tree for our food to be served. After couple seconds, I felt like things were moving over my head. I looked up and sure enough, a family of monkeys was staring at us. I had never before seen monkeys in the wild. When our food arrived, they acted like dogs begging for food. After our little breakfast, we got some tickets to get in the park and got on with our safari. We jumped into a reconverted school bus with fences welded on it to protect us from the dangerous animals. Yeshwant had a little talk with the driver and got us “special” seats up front were we had a really nice view. We saw some himalayan bears, lions, tigers, white tigers, deers, and some other creatures. I think part of the discussion Yeshwant had with the driver included them taking pictures for me with my camera. It was perfect because it allowed me to spend more time admiring the animals. Of course I had to give them a generous tip at the end but I didn’t mind because I really enjoyed it. After the safari, we went inside the zoo to check out more of the local fauna. We saw some more bears, giant squirrel, crocodiles, monkeys, birds, and my favorites: the cobras. We saw a king cobra. This snake is absolutely terrifying! It’s about 15 feet long, black and apparently if it bites you, you’ll die within the next 10 minutes. We also saw an Indian Cobra. That snake was beautiful. We were lucky enough to see it open its head to reveal the beautiful design on its back. Another man killer but absolutely gorgeous! We finished the visit with some cheetahs trying to chase monkeys of their cage.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pete's Visit

Pete has been in Bangalore for couple days now and we finally got the chance to meet. After work, I went to pick him up at his place. It was only 10 miles away but that means about 1.5 hours because of traffic. And I thought Orlando and Atlanta traffic were bad!


We went to Hard Rock Cafe were they serve the best american food in Bangalore.

After that we took a stroll down Brigade Road and MG Road (The Time Square of Bangalore)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Q-Center

It's been two weeks now that I have started working at the Q-Center. It has definitely been a great learning experience. I'm the only expatriate of my unit so everyone is always asking me questions and involving me on their projects. I hope that by the time I leave I will have learned all the skills necessary to make full use of the Q-Center back at home and share that knowledge around. It really makes a huge difference to actually work face to face with the people. My typical day starts around 8 am with all the login procedures and a quick inbox scan to see if any projects need immediate attention. Then I have a quick talk with the Q-Center manager and South East Business Unit lead. Since there's a 10.5 hours difference with the East Coast (India's ahead!), we usually try to have a quick call with the Senior or Manager from the US Office to get updates and resolve any outstanding issues before 8:30am. After that, I usually go and observe (and assist if necessary) the new hire training. They have two groups so I spend about 30-45 minutes with each. Then I get back to the Q-Center floor and make a quick round of the floor to see if anyone needs help (Someone almost always has a question). I usually spend couple hours helping with miscellaneous issues on different project and different software platforms. Lunch is around 12:30 usually (except when it's delayed, like today because of bad traffic or something). The typical lunch includes rice (of course!), some sort of curry, yoghurt, cucomber, chipatas (a sort of rice flour tortilla), and chips. One of the lessons I learned with indian food is not to associate color with spiciness (Red does not always mean spicy and white is most of the time NOT mild, except for yoghurt!). I always eat lunch with the Q-Center employees and bombard them with questions, usually about Cricket, Indian culture, or places I should be going on the week-end. These guys are very nice and helpful and I'm really enjoying working with them. After lunch, I go and spend some more time with the new hires and then do one more run on the Q floor. In between I spend some time preparing some training material for the experienced employees that I present on occasion. Since we're really busy these days, around 7 pm we try to have a call with the US offices and plan for the next day. Usually, employees leave at 4 pm (they arrive at 7am) but now it's more like 6pm or 8pm or 10:30pm (These are the times when the buses come to pick up/drop employees) Yesterday, I had brought some treats for the SouthEast team (they always works late!). They love anything with chocolate! I had brought a big bag full of candy from halloween in my suitecase and they've been enjoying the occasional snacks! (No M&Ms, Crunch, KitKat in Bangalore!)
About twice a day, everyone takes a 5-10 min break for tea. I usually get a small bottle (20 ml...very small) of Pepsi (9 Rupees which must be about 20 cents). Today I gave the guy 10 Rupees but didn't have the change so he gave me a Vicks cough drop...Interesting... I wasn't sure what to think. Maybe he though that I looked so white that I was probably sick, not sure...
Well, last night was the second leg playoffs of the World Cup qualifiers. I stayed up until about 4 this morning to make sure the French would qualify...and they did! YEEPEE! Now there will be something worth watching this summer on TV. ALLEZ LA FRANCE!
This week-end I plan on going out to a Safari Zoo natural reserve. It should be fun. I was promissed to see tons of monkeys! I'll take pictures and post later!
Also, Pete is in town Friday so we're going to go out Friday night. Probably to some Western Restaurant (Hard Rock Cafe is in Bangalore and they have BURGERS! which is a rare feast in India...Do I have to explain?)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Blitz Visit of Bangalore

Last Saturday I took about half the day to to a quick visit of Bangalore and try to understand the city a little more. I definitely got a better idea of what was in store for me for the next couple weeks. My first stop was the Bangalore palace. It's kinda nice but it seems like they're commercializing it for weddings, so there is a lot of unauthentic additions.


At the Maharaja of Karnataka's Palace... Yes, it used to be alive!


This is the current King of Karnataka. It's just a province, they don't really have a king in India just a whole bunch of Maharajas (Means "Great King" in Hindi, I think), usually ne for each province. This guys is a fashion designer also, although I wasn't too impressed with his collection of Saris and Kurtas.


And yes, this is a Royal Stool, made of real elephant's foot. The highlight of my visit to the palace.


The guide told us that this was Bangalore's "Mona Lisa". If you look closely, you can see that from either angle, her torso faces you... I'm not too much of an art person but that's still pretty cool.

After the Palace, we visited a place called the Bull Temple. It's a Hindu Temple with a massive granite stone bull that is about 500 years old. The "priest" gave us a short visit, showing the proper manner to worship the Bull and then gave us Jasmin flowers and "Dotted" us on the forehead for health and good luck.

Bryony (From KPMG UK)and I in front of the BULL.

My favorite part was the travel in between sites. In India, people travel by auto rickshaw. They are small covered three-wheelers that sound like mopeds. Traffic in India is sort of an organized chaos. Rules seem more like suggestions, and apparently it is possible to fit 3 cars, a motorcycle, and a rickshaw on a two lane road. It's kind of scary at first but after driving for a week an not seeing accidents or many dented cars, I start to trust a little more.

video
Watch the road driver!


Pretty close...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

First Day in India

I made it!
After all my Visa trouble and a deserved vacation in France, I finally set foot on Indian soil early this morning. My first impression of India was the airport. Wow, can you say efficiency! My flight landed at 12:35 AM, we got to the gate at 12:40, I got off the plane at 12:45, went through immigration and health control at 12:50, got my suitecases and went through customs at 12:55 and at 1:00 I was in the car riding to my new abode in Bangalore. Let's talk about the drive for a minute. I had heard about the drive so I decided to be brave and sit the the passenger seat up front (which is the front LEFT seat in India!). It was interesting, but not as interesting as my ride back from work tonight. It is chaotic driving, pure and simple.Immagine trucks, tractors, cars, rickshaw (I'll explain this one in a later post), bikes, motocycles, and pedestrian trying to share a road without lines (or rules it seems!). There is a lot of honking going on and a lot of cose calls. Interestingly enough, our driver's car doesn't have one scratch. I think he probably was a stunt driver in Bollywood at some point because he passes everybody without touching anybody, just like a Fast and the Furious, James Bond, or Jason Bourne. I'll have to document this at some point.
So after couple hours of sleep I got woken up by the neighbor's phone @ 6 AM(thin walls!) and got ready for work. I was so excited to finally meet the people I've been workig with for the past couple months. They are all very nice people. I got to meet Shashi, Bavesh, and KK (the 3 names I remember) and the whole floor (that's about 100 people, with names that I'm not used to hear so It'll take time). I also met Bryony from London this morning in the car ride. She's doing UK taxes for the next 3 months and landed about 2 days before me so she knows way more than I do already (supermarket, bank, atm, etc...) and since everyone from KPMG US has left, she'll show me the ropes for the next day or so and I don't have too feel too left out.
I ate lunch at the cafeteria today with people from my team. I ate real indian food. It wasn't bad for cafetaria food, and seemed pretty healthy (no meat here!), but it was HOT. My nose started perling after just a couple bites. I bet I gave a laugh to quite a few locals who could spot the steam coming off my head! I should have stayed away from that red stuff!
Nonetheless, it was a good day. I need to got to the grocery store tonight to get some supplies and some food. I need to start taking pictures!