Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Just another day in India

Today I worked another long day. I stayed late many days because I spent time not working! I don't have a computer back at my place so I have to book any travel arrangements at work. Plus I have people at work to help me figure out what I want to do. So today I spent a good chunk of the day planning my trip to the "Golden Triangle" with Ruchi. I booked some hotels and got really nervous about embarking on this adventure by myself, but I am stoked! I had booked my flights last week so I was almost all set for my 5 day trip.

I came home and just wanted a lazy night, so I cooked up some ramen noodles I got at the market and they were terrible! They even were surprisingly more expensive than the 10 for a buck ones in the US! I did really like the biscuits I got for 10 Rs though. They tasted very similar to Vanilla Wafers, but I like these more.

Flipping through the tv I stumbled upon Crorepati. This is the Indian version of "Who wants to be a millionaire". A crore is 10 million. The top prize on the show is 2 crore rupees, which ends up being around $450,000. The whole show was in English, although when the host chatted to the contestant it was in Hindi. He would answer in English though. You HAVE to be bilingual if you grow up in India! I couldn't answer a single question. Not even the first round, which in the US they ask stuff grade schoolers can answer!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Tour of Mumbai

Today Wilmer and I went on a tour of the downtown area of Mumbai. Prabhav and Snehal, two of the coordinators were our awesome tour guides. Our office area is in the northern suburbs so it is about an hour and half drive to get to the heart of the city where all the touristy stuff is.

We started off at 8am. On the way there we stopped for a quick breakfast of some rice cake kinda snack things that are pretty good. Our first stop was Dhobi Ghat, which is the famous washing district of the city. Here there are 5000 men who live here and wash clothes for a living. Many of the hotels and even hospitals bring there laundry here to be washed since it is cheaper to do that than to use a washing machine! It was a pretty spectacular site and it was surprisingly well organized with actual concrete channels running through the whole place carrying the water.

We next stopped at Crawford market and just walked around checking out the sites. Lots of fruit and vegtables, but also pets, toiletries, candy and clothing was sold here. It was a cool feeling walking through the market place. I got lots of curious stares since people like me don't often appear in such places I guess.

Next we went to the Gandhi House museum where Gandhi stayed when he was in Mumbai. They had a series of plaques and little scenes constructed to depict the major events in his life. I was ashamed I did not know more about what an amazing person he was. His face is on every form of paper currency.

Then we went to the Prince of Wales museum. We made a rather rushed trip through it since by now everyone was getting very hungry. The had many old stone carvings and sculptures of various Hindu gods. There is something like 10 MILLION gods in Hinduism. A god has many different forms, usually various animal representations. They also had an interesting natural history section that had some stuffed tigers, monkeys, and other native animals. It was sad to see the stuffed tigers knowing how rare they are becoming. They sure looked impressive though. Much bigger than I had imagined.

After the museum we went to the Taj Hotel for lunch. This is one of the most famous hotels of Mumbai. It is a known to be frequented by many American movie stars. While I was there I was hearing about how Elizabeth Hurley and Arun Nayar were staying there while enduring the wedding traditions of India.

Then we drove around Marine Drive and did a bit a lounging in a park. Here you could get some really great views of the city and the bay. Then we went back to the Gateway of India, which is a giant arch built facing the bay. Here there was tons of people walking about and taking in the scenery. We took a boat cruise of the harbor from the Gateway. This was a nice relaxing trip. This allowed me to get some good shots of the gateway with the Taj Hotel.

Then we went to another good lookout spot on the bay and took some photos. All along the bay they have the entire coast protected by these concrete blocks. It was rather amazing how many of them there were. Going to this spot we passed a film shoot with a huge crowd standing around watching. Then on our way back we saw another crowd standing in front of a what was apparently the home of a movie star. Indians love the movies! On our way home as the sun was setting, so we stopped to watch along the coast where many people were doing the same. Is was a nice peaceful view and I was able to get a couple of good photos.

Finally we got home from an exhausting day and I fell asleep on the couch!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Friday night at Rock Bottom

Tonight I went to a bar called Rio after work with some co-workers. It was a really nice trendy place. Looked just like some places in LA that I have been to. Nice seating areas, flat screens tv's on the wall. We had a hard time finding it though since they aren't very keen on addresses in India! There are street names but not many signs and no numbers on the buildings. Thank God for cell phones, but even with that it still took us 15 minutes of circling in the rick (Mumbai slang for auto-rickshaw) to find it.

After we had a couple drinks we went to a club called Rock Bottom. There we met up with a bunch of others from Rhythm. This place was pretty awesome. It was packed with people and everyone was having a great time. At one point there was a couple of Ukrainian girls came out and were dancing on stage. It cracked me up! At one point there was a beautiful girl going through the crowd with a mic and a camera guy following her. She interview Serkan my coworker and his wife. Then a guy from work nudged me forward to her and she pulled me aside and was trying to "interview" me too. I could not understand anything she was saying because the music was so loud. So I just looked at the camera and shouted I love India! :) Later I found out that she was from Channel V, an Indian music channel.

I had a blast tonight. Something about India is just making me come alive. I haven't had this much fun in a long time!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Wedding and resort

Wilmer and I left a little early form work today with Prashant and Vani. They wanted to take us to a resort outside of the city for dinner. It was a bit of a drive but it was nice to get out of the bustling city a bit. The resort was very nice and overlooked the ocean. There was a wedding going on so we got to see what that was like. We only just watched the groom arriving. He was riding a horse and there was a crowd of people surrounding him and dancing in the front. We watched for about 15 minutes and they moved maybe 20 feet. They were lighting off fireworks too. We had been seeing fireworks nearly every night so far and now we realized that they were all for weddings, which in a city of 20 million, there's weddings all the time.

We ate at the restaurant at the resort, which there was barely anyone. It was a nice peaceful dinner where we all chatted and talked about the overload of things we had been experiencing in the last few days. I was surprised to see a beef burger served here, so I ordered it since I was craving. Note to self, don't expect the best cooked beef from a country that doesn't eat it! Haha well it wasn't bad, just not that impressive :)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Partying with the Matchmovers

Wilmer, the other guy from LA that I flew to India with, is the supervisor for the match-moving department. Tonight they all got together to go out for Bowling and dinner. They were kind enough to invite me along. I had a blast!

The bowling alley would have been impossible for me to ever find on my own. It was off of some side street on the third story of a building. It had 4 lanes, which I guess is the usually size of bowling alleys in Mumbai. There was a couple of pool tables and video games too. I guess bowling has starting getting rather popular in Mumbai so alot of places are getting lanes. Places like the one we are in swap around to whatever is popular at the time. In a couple years bowling may have fizzled so they will reinvent themselves to whatever new thing comes along.

There ended up being about 25 or so of us total. Many people had never been bowling before, so everyone had alot of fun. There were waiters with bow-ties going around with little cups of different colored sodas and appetizers like fish sticks and indian spiced chicken. I ended up talking quite a bit with Prashant and learning how he came to Indian from LA to start up R&H India 5 years ago.

After bowling we went downstairs and had dinner which was very good again. Then we had our own private dance party with a DJ. It took me a bit to get warmed up to dancing, but it was hard not too with the enthusiasm of all the matchmovers. Eventually nearly everyone was dancing and having a great time. You can pick up alot about the Indian culture just by watching them dance. It is really all about just having fun! No inhibitions, no phobias, just pure fun.

By the end of the night I had pulled a tendon in my knee from dancing so much. This also set the stage for friendships that I could build on throughout the rest of my stay.

Monday, February 19, 2007

City of Duality

Mumbai is a crazy city to say the least! Every where you look there is contradictions. Skyscrapers next to slums, 30 year old shacks next to trendy western style shops. Movies have descriptions on the back of their boxes written in English yet the movie is in Hindi. Classes in school are taught in English, yet many still only know Hindi. Many stores and restaurants have English names. There are people wearing clothing just like they would in the US, then there are others wearing colorful traditional wear, and still others wearing clothing that is no more than a cloth.

We went to the mall and I bought some Tradition shirts called "kurtas". They are very comfortable and light. We were sort of getting our fill of Indian spice for the moment so we Prashant and Vani, the two managers of R&H India, took Wilmer and I to Pizza Hut :) It was similar to American only everything tasted a bit different. We got some Indian style pizzas, like chicken tikka pizza. There is no pepperoni or sausage or anything because almost all restaurants do not server beef or pork due to religious beliefs. No beef for Hindus and no pork for Muslims.

In this mall there you could get practically anything you could in the states. There was a bookstore that sold all the same best-sellers the states had and all the same movies. In addition though they had lots of great stuff written by Indians and of course a huge selection of Bollywood films. If you didn't know, Bollywood (Bombay Hollywood) produces more movies than Hollywood does every year. Indians love movies!

People in the mall walk just like they drive. No messing around, no waiting for you to go first, no hesitation. If you try to be polite and let others go first, you won't get anywhere! That is NOT to say they are rude about it, as I never encountered anyone at the mall that was rude, only that is just the way life flows here.

One other thing to mention. In India there are people working everywhere. With so many people and the ability for people to get by on so little of wages, there is person assigned to everything. For example in the mall there is an automated pre-paid phone booth. Yet someone there stands there and presses the buttons or whatever for you. Similarly there is a guy at the apartment that just stands at the bottom of the elevator and if he sees you coming he will walk over and press the button for you.... and keep pressing it until the elevator comes down... that is his job. I wanted to say seriously dude, I can press the button, but if that's what feeds him, so be it.

Work in Mumbai

I'm Exhausted. Jet Lag Sucks! I woke up feeling refreshed off of an 8 hour sleep. By mid-afternoon I was whipped. Trying to talk technical was terribly difficult. My brain felt like mush. I thought people complaining of jet lag were just being wusses about it... Now I get it! I hope I didn't embarrass myself or say something foolish!

Ruchi, the guest relations contact for R&H India picked me up this morning in an auto-rickshaw. Sort of like a 3 wheel motorcycle with a shell build around it to resemble a car. It costs me 9 rupees (the minimum fare) to get to work. Thats about 20 cents! (44 rupees to the US dollar).

The building our office in is awesome. It is only about 5 years or so old, so it has a very modern curvy-glass design. It has waterfall-walls in the entrance even. It is hard to believe that this building is on the same street as decrepit shacks built out of leftover construction supplies.

The people at work are amazing. Everyone is so friendly and curious about me. Lots of questions, smiling faces, and genuine humanity. I never felt so welcome. They have catered food everyday for lunch, and everybody eats together. It gets pretty crowded but no one is afraid to cram together. I get some special treatment because I am a guest... sorta felt odd though. There is an older lady that was almost like the company mother, she brought me water at lunch and a bowl of pomegranates in the afternoon. At lunch they had a "salad" sort of thing that was basically just chopped up veggies and onions. I was sitting with Serkan, a Turkish guy from LA who will be working in India for a year, when I happened to eat a whole chili from the salad mistaking it for a green bean! haha I seriously should have known better :) Serkan never let me live that down!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

First Impressions

I arrive in Mumbai on Sunday morning around noon, even though I left at 9pm on Friday night! Prabhav, one of the coordinators from work, is waiting at the airport with a driver. Stepping out past the crowd hanging around the airport exit and into the humid air brought a rush of emotions. It was hard to believe I had made it this far. A whole new world awaited. Now if only this kid trying to carry my suitcase for me would take no for an answer and let me get on my way!

The drive from the airport to the apartment where I will be staying is about an hour and a half. I luckily sit in front and continuously snap photos of everything. I get some smiles and laughs by the driver and Prabhav, but every normal part of their lives is this crazy new experience for me. I feel like an alien that has landed on Earth for the first time.

We stop at the Marriott hotel for lunch. WOW from the dirty city streets we walk into paradise! An amazingly huge lobby with curvey wooden walls. As we cross the lobby to a staircase leading down to the restaurant we can see a beautiful river-pool surrounded by palm trees through the 2 story glass windows. The crowd here is definitely high society. There are many younger people wearing trendy Western fashions and women in the most bright and beautiful flowing clothing I have ever seen. The food was just as amazing.

Afterwards Prabhav drops Wilmer and I off at the apartment where we check out our pad for the next 3 weeks. It has white marble floor everywhere we some great views out the windows. It has a washing machine and dryer that we discover takes 3 hours to wash and 3 to dry! The bathrooms all have this funky side room with a door in the shower. I guess it is for plumbing or something, very odd. There are tons of switches everywhere. Every outlet has a switch with it. There is a switch to turn on the water heater even, which luckily we figured out was off in time for the morning!

Later on that evening we headed to Hypercity, which is basically like a Super Walmart. It was crazy to see a place like this in India, but the area we are in is an outer suburb of Mumbai so many of the buildings are brand new. There also is an amazing 3 story mall, but we decide not to go there today. Instead we head back to the apartment and I pass out on the couch watching Indian Mtv!

Friday, February 16, 2007

To the Other Side of the World

Back in December, or so, we were in a Video Conference at work with the guys in India. We were discussing the various problems that we face trying to tightly integrate the office in LA with the one in Mumbai. Afterwards, my boss mentions, somewhat in passing, that it was probably time for me to go to India. The manager of R&H India was in LA that week, so we stopped by and mentioned the idea to him. He was enthusiastic about it, as was my boss, so that was it. I was heading to India in 2 months!

Now I am watching movies on my way to London for the first leg of my two 10-hour flights to Mumbai, India. I was terribly nervous leading up to this day, but the nervousness fades away as the exhaustion and boredom of the flight kicks in. I am ready for the trip of a lifetime.