Thursday, November 27, 2008
After not much sleep from receiving and placing phone calls, answering and drafting emails, and then a 4:00am call from my concerned sister, another call to Linda and an alarm set for 7:00am to make it too a Breakfast Meeting with a client.....I was honestly not thinking much of Thanksgiving.
Our breakfast meeting had lasted until almost lunchtime and I arrived back at the Home Office to a desk filled with flowers and a card from the staff wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving!
They had also asked Hiralal, my cook, to do his best to make a traditional Thanksgiving meal for me.......it was a wonderful surprise and another example of how well I have been being treated and cared for by everyone. I have been truly blessed by being surrounded, in a foreign country, by such truly caring and hospitable people.
The meal was delicious as usual.......Chicken, Mixed Vegetables, Potato's in Brown Gravy, Garlic Bread, Green Salad & Dressing and Fried Potato Wedges.....followed by a cake with a Happy Thanksgiving message.
It appears that yesterday, while I was out of town, they planned this special event for me.....and as none of them have ever celebrated Thanksgiving I received many questions about the Holiday. I was also able to clear up some misconceptions about the holiday as well. These misconceptions typically emerge as a result CALL CENTER TRAINING SESSIONS....a phenomenon that is unique to India. Due to the vast amount of jobs in the Call Center industry, Indian employees are constantly receiving "culture training" about our holidays and events, so that they are able to make small talk and be sensitive to people they are dealing with in the United States. If you haven't seen the movie "OUTSOURCED", rent it....Linda and I rented it just before I left in September. Lorraine, our newest addition to our staff (she replaced my Indian wife, Jeshri)was not here, but one day she explained why I saw Halloween Costumes at the market a few weeks ago, as Call Center Employees are encouraged to DRESS UP for each Holiday to help them remember the event. (Lorraine is not in the picture, as she was injured in a car accident on the way to work yesterday)
I reminisced about Oyster Dressing, and Smoked Turkey......Stuffed Merliton's, Creamed Spinach and Sweet Potato's topped with Pecan's...and all of the other YUMMY THINGS that will enjoyed in New Orleans by my family.
I was even describing how to "Smoke a Turkey" and even contemplated how we might be able to SHIP IT with our household items to India.....they do have CHICKEN!!!!!!!
As I am writing this blog entry at 12:00am my time, it is 12:30 in the afternoon in New Orleans......just about the time food is making its way on silver trays, in covered containers from Maw Maw's house over to my sister's for the big gathering.
I am hopeful that they consume more food and less news of the tragedy that unfolded in the past 24 hours in India.
I shared with my staff that this will be a Memorable & Meaningful Thanksgiving for me due to their outpouring of kindness,warmth and friendliness.....although we celebrate the act of giving thanks once a year......if you go through a day like yesterday......you realize that it is something that should be done daily and never taken for granted.
I wish and urge everyone to have a MEANINGFUL THANKSGIVING.....this year, and be Happy and Thankful everyday for the blessings we have received.
The two paragraphs in quotations are not my words, but words of a journalist from India describing the Taj Hotel in Mumbai.
"Anyone, anywhere who has visited Mumbai will be gasping at the sight of a burning Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel. That is because it is not your average hotel.
If a momentous infidelity is being committed on a given night, or a billion-dollar business deal being inked, or a recklessly brilliant idea being hatched, there is a fair chance it is being committed,
inked, hatched at the Taj. Mumbaikars who can afford it have their most romantic meals at its Wasabi restaurant, accept marriage proposals in its Sea Lounge, land job offers in its coffee shop."
Just three and a half hours before this tragedy began to unfold, I was interviewing a candidate, in the very same coffee shop mentioned by the journalist, for one of our most senior positions in our company, our Director of Finance. To me, there was not a more fitting place to conduct such an interview, and the location was convenient to another appointment I had in the city.....actually just right around the corner from the hotel.
I arrived at the Taj at 4:10 in the afternoon and was dropped off by our Chairman H.P. Rama. I have become accustomed to the heavy security at the hotel, and after making my way inside the lobby, introducing myself to the candidate, I suggested the coffee shop, as the lobby was packed with guests and there were no empty or conducive places to speak. Although I had been in the hotel once before....(see my earlier blog entry on Mumbai)I was not aware of the location of the coffee shop and I stopped at the front desk to ask directions. After finding our way, I asked for a quiet table in the corner and after purchasing some bottled water, we settled in and discussed the details of our company, it's strategy, our needs and he discussed his background and how he felt he could contribute. Any of my former colleagues would tell you that my interviews are traditionally marathons for a candidate, but today I was racing against time and the horrendous traffic in Mumbai.....and I glanced at my watch twice.....as I needed to allow ample time to catch my flight. Our meeting concluded after an hour and a half or so, and after paying for the bottled water, I strolled out of the front of one of the most elegant hotels in India, in my suit and tie feeling great about the candidate and knowing that I could still make that flight in time. As I was walking, a young Indian girl, a street beggar, took notice of me and began walking along my side and making conversation...she was just one of the many that wait for tourists and beg for money, i was pulling my computer bag in one hand.....put my hand in my front pocket to avoid being a victim of a pickpocket scam, and chatted with her as I walked. She asked where I was from, and I stated "Delhi" and she said she didn't think so, and I was joking as I walked along, asking her if she could tell by the color of my hair or my skin.....until her proposition...."I do not want any money from you sir, but could you please buy me something to eat". I asked her how old she was as I neared the office I was heading too, passing up the street she wanted me to turn down; she stated she was 18 years old.....she looked 13 or 14, and she was street smart, confident and articulate.....I told her I didn't think she was that old, but I enjoyed the conversation, and I reached into my pocket and pulled out a 100 rupee bill, said goodbye, and disappeared quickly upstairs. I checked my watch....5:45pm; if we got going by 6pm I would be in good shape.
This was not just any flight......but it was a flight that earlier in the day I was complaining about. Amit, Director of Technical Services and I were traveling together from Delhi to Mumbai, but I had opted not to stay the evening; my original plans were to fly in early and leave as late as I could. In order to accomplish this, I had originally scheduled myself on two different airlines.....I was told that my morning flight had been changed...and my departure time shifted by only a half hour, so I was not concerned, but I wasn't informed, nor had I realized that my departure time had changed from what I originally had requested. I was trying to pack in as much in one day as I could. With that said, my original plan was to conduct the interview in the evening at the Taj, as I thought my day was mostly going to be spent at the office of the architect for the hotel in Vizag, with Amit.
As a matter of fact, our Deputy HR did not confirm the interview until almost 8:00pm the night before I left, because my plan was to have the candidate meet between 6:30 and 7:00 and get started.
I was actually upset, because this interview was important, and I even told the Managing Director that I didn't think I was going to be able to conduct the interview as planned. I reluctantly told Ranjeeta to schedule the appointment at 4:00pm, and in the back of my mind I had planned to call and cancel if it became necessary.
My plane took off at 9:15pm.....and I was in the air about 30 minutes when the terrorist attack took place;not having any idea as to what was taking place. I learned about it from Ranjeeta, who sent me a text message that I responded too that I had just landed, and then she called concerned and told me what was going on and that she was watching the events unfold on TV. She had arranged my meeting at the Taj and knew I was at the hotel earlier that day.
Had my flight not changed, I would have more than likely been at the hotel, waiting for the traffic to weaken, while interviewing the candidate.....I had no luggage to check, and I could have pushed it. But it did change...a change I was upset about....I can't explain why.
And I will never know, if the attack was actually planned earlier in the day, and that they were delayed and the plans changed on that end....pushing the planned attacks to later.
I took a picture of the receipt for the bottled water and I grabbed a picture of a burning Taj hotel from the Internet.....the first two pictures you may recognize from my earlier blog on Mumbai; a picture of the cupola of the Taj towering above some typical buildings in old Mumbai, and a picture I snapped from the car as I was driving past marveled by the beautiful architecture of the building.
Since arriving in India I have never felt unsafe, but then again, I have not placed myself into situations that were dangerous. I have avoided crowds, and gatherings of large numbers of people,etc.
A brush so close to harm such as this, and the odd circumstances with my flight, affirms my faith that I have an angel or two watching over my well being. Yes three and a half odd hours is certainly TOO CLOSE, yet I have a sense of COMFORT knowing that I am being well looked after from above.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
The weather has changed in Delhi....there is a bit of a nip in the air, much like the weather change that is taking place in Texas right now so I am told.
After being here for over a month and a half, it was time for a haircut.....when I arrived in Delhi on October 1st, I got my first haircut at the ITC Maurya Hotel where I was staying. It didn't occur to me until today what an extravagance my haircut at the Maurya seemed to my driver Ramesh.
I remember Linda asking me how much my haircut cost when I spoke to her that October morning, and told her it was about the same in the states, $10.00......or 500 rupees....When Ramesh asked me how much my haircut cost.....I paused before I said the price....and made the statement " Too much....500 rupees" to which he replied....yes alot of money.
I had seen a very nice Barber Shop at Khan Market, but they were closed on Sunday, but I have the feeling that my haircut today would have only been about one-fifth($2)the price of what I paid today.
After leaving the Maurya, I asked Ramesh to take me to Old Delhi, which is unbelievably crowded at the Chandni Chowk...the market area near Red Fort.
Red Fort was built in 1638 by Shah Jahan, who erected the fort to defend the capital city, which was called,Shahjahanabad. Pretty creative oh him naming the city after himself! The fort took only 10 years to build, and the walls are some 110 ft tall....eleven stories.....the picture that has the bus in it will give a good perspective. Like any ruler, there was opulence built into the palace, one such example was a pavilion that was used for special occasions and meetings of the high court which had a ceiling of pure silver inlaid with gold. I believe that, like my haircut, this is a bit extravagant also! This ceiling, so I have read, was replaced with one of painted wood. The fort was invaded by the Sikh's in 1783, seven years after our Revolutionary War where we gained independence from the British. Then, in 1857, the British took over command of the Fort, this was during our Civil War in the United States, and occupied it until 1947 when India gained it's Independence from Britain, and the US had just ended WWII. Interesting parallels.....but the big question is.....who plundered the silver and gold from the ceiling; was it the Sikh's, the British or the Indian Government? I couldn't find the information in anything I read.
Isn't it a shame that after so many examples in history of unrest and war, that we would have all learned our lessons by now.
Red Fort was once the home of some 3000 people, today it attracts 3 times as many people each year. The Indian Army turned the Fort over to the Tourism Commission in 2003, and they have a nightly laser light show which I have yet to see (I'm saving the tourist stuff for when the gang arrives).
While making our way back, I finally had my camera ready and had the chance to take some pictures of an elephant walking on the opposite side of the road. Ramesh turned the car around and we caught up with them and I was able to take a much better picture.
It was a relaxing day here in Delhi......extravagant by the perspective of many here in India.....I'm saving my elephant ride for this summer when we are all together as a family!
Saturday, November 15, 2008
This week took me traveling south again to the cities of Chennai and Cochin....... My day started early.....4:30am for my flight to Chennai. This was my third trip to this city as we have two different clients there. This trip was to visit the actual site of the Hiranandani site with the representative from Wyndham Hotels, Sunil Mathur. By the time we landed at 9:30am.....it tool us almost 1.5 hours to reach the project site..that we spent just about an hour at......I was back in the air at 1:55 after a very, very, very speedy trip to the airport to catch my flight to Cochin.....which was late anyway! While Chennai sits on the southern East Coast of India, Cochin or Kotchi, as it is also known, sits even further south on the west coast. I arrived at 4:00pm and dropped my luggage off at the Le Meridian hotel.....and was whisked to the site of a 25+ story tall hotel project.....it can be as many as 319 rooms, but we will more than likely cut that number in half, and the rest would become residential. Chennai reminds me of Florida or South Carolina....the weather is very warm and humid....just like home minus the palm trees. I didn't get a chance to see much, as it begins to get dark here early now. However, I had a window seat on the plane and I was sharing with Linda that Cochin seemed to have a very high concentration of Christians, as I could church's nestled between palm trees while I was flying in......so, every few miles as we were coming in for a landing, I could spot a church. Saturday morning my phone, which doubles as my alarm, seemed to go off rather early....and it was Parker calling me. He and I had a nice chat while I was waking up....then I called Maw-Maw to see how she was doing......the my lovely wife. I was just waking up and it was 7:15pm in Houston...... While on the phone with Linda, I could hear this rooster outside my window....so I wanted Linda to hear how loud this rooster was, and I opened my curtains to a truly beautiful resort that I had no idea was back there. It was a nice surprise. After a breakfast meeting with the Architect who fed us the lead for the hotel, we again met with the owner...and then a tour of a new Ramada Resort and then to town. Cochin is a very interesting city, and has a huge amount of activities to experience as a tourist....there was a huge tour group from the US staying at the hotel and seeing the sites of Kerala, the State in which Cochin is a city. The Seafood Restaurant at the hotel was very good, I had a "spicy prawn dish"....I didn't write the name down,it started with a "T" and had about thirteen letters most of which were consonants! Like it's name.....the dish was a local specialty. South Indian food is much more spicy than North Indian food......and the word for spice in India is MASALA.....most of the spices used throughout the world are grown here in India....remember the "spice route" and the East India Company owned by the British, that was part of the colonizing of the New World! Well, here I was standing in the land where it all began.... it is difficult to describe how a trip to the spice shop was....no little bottles or tins with the name McCormick on them......jars and sacks and boxes with fresh cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and other things I have never heard of much less seen in their raw form....no bottles, no shaker tops.....the spice aisle at the store is boring compared to this. It is a very interesting city with a great deal to see and experience...men who wear very strange clothing....the Chinese Fishing Nets, the backwater boats tours.......and the vendors that dot the side of the road....selling fresh coconut water....they have a sharp machete like knife and cut off the husk then with precision and not spilling a drop, they cut off a small portion of the top and you drink the fresh water. They grow very small banana's here that are supposed to be wonderful. It is definitely a nice place on on the list of places to visit when the family gets here.....enjoy the pictures......and the video of my "snooze alarm"!
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Purchasing a car in India is a much different experience than what I am used to in the United States. Totally different.....if you want to test drive a car, they bring the car to your home or office, the paperwork is crazy (duplicates of duplicates, and if it is a business purchasing a car, it is necessary to provide two pieces of stationary (to prove that you are indeed a business and not a terrorist)......and then they deliver the car to you at your home or office. And trying to accomplish all this with a semi-language/accent barrier is even more interesting.
But, the most interesting thing the custom in India of having your car blessed....yes....another PUJA.....Ramesh, my driver explained that it was a necessary thing to have done......so who am I to argue....especially when I am trying to coax him away from his current job at agency he works for to come and work for Linda, Preston and me. So the car HAD to be blessed. We agreed that we would have it done on Sunday.
There is also another custom....when someone purchases a new car, it is customary for them to share their "good fortune" by giving small gifts of cash to those who help them......yes....the owner has to pay his/her helpers.......not much...just a little something to the Security Guards at the gate to the Home Office and of course...the driver. And the priest that performs the blessing.
This is also time in my life that I get a new car for my use......and I can't drive it on the streets.....not legally anyway....and I have not been tempted in the least to even break the law and jeopardize my employment status or have to pay a fine. Not to mention the crazy way people drive and on the opposite side of the road...shifting the gears with your left hand instead of your right.....it is different....NO THANK YOU.
The car/crossover vehicle is a Toyota Innova.....with a 2.5 liter Diesel Engine......chosen for it's spacious interior, comfortable A/C,smooth ride, it is economical to operate and it will be virtually maintenance free. Linda chose the color.....Champagne Metallic...very classy! And it seats SEVEN Passengers.....so we have enough room for our friends when you come to visit.
While Ramesh shared the custom of the blessing, I shared a bit of cross cultural knowledge with him...our practice of naming our cars!......So...our vehicle has the best of both world's/cultures......meet INDY!
Indy has a 20 gallon tank and received his first FULL tummy on Sunday......1600 Indian Rupees.....$33.33 US.....not bad for a vehicle that will get about 32 miles to the gallon!
It was a very auspicious day...and as is customary.....we had to remove our shoes and socks and stand in the street next to INDY while the blessing was being performed.....I taped the entire thing...and tried to attach the file on the blog...but I think the file is too large....I can send it via email to any of you who are interested.
The Puja was performed at the Rama Mandir Temple which was a small temple.....Ramesh asked for 100 rupees and ran down the street to go and purchase the fruit, flowers and the coconut....necessary as offerings...the coconut was cracked on the ground and the milk was sprinkled on INDY.....at the end of the ceremony, a lemon from the offering is placed just in front of each tire and the priest, after he is paid for his services, instructs the driver and passenger (me) to get into the car and pull forward until the lemons are smashed...I wanted to get a picture but I was rushed into the car!
Although Ramesh speaks English very well, I did not try and explain that in the US we refer to cars with chronic mechanical and quality issues as LEMONS......isn't it interesting that they were used in such a fashion for the ceremony!
Enjoy the pictures and IF any of you are interested in the file containing the video, please let me know...I will be happy to share it with you.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
This past week was busy again as usual. On Tuesday I flew to Bombay to meet a well know developer that builds entire communities..including hotels..it was just a day trip.....left at 6:00am returned at 10:00pm.
Wednesday, it was a trip to Karnal, a city about 100 miles north of Delhi, to see another hotel project under construction and to meet with the owner for a potential management contract. Along the way it was rice field after rice field.....and trucks packed with sacks of rice. This is the area where BASMATI rice is grown.....and lots of it.
Then it was back to Bombay/Mumbai on Thursday for a meeting to wrap up some "loose ends" with the architects that designed the Vizag property.
I have been to Bombay/Mumbai at least 5 times since being in India, and once on my visit in August......and each time was to visit the developer I mentioned at the start of the blog......I never had been to "old Bombay". I have only been surrounded by skyscrapers and High Rise Apartment Buildings.....brand new developments as land is scarce....the only place to build is up!
This visit changed that......as the architects office was in the "old" section of town.
It reminded me so much of New Orleans.....the architecture, the smells, the horse drawn carriage's, the weather, it is surrounded by water and there is no more land to develop on.....it was amazing.
India is such an incredible country, and each city that I visited thus far has been different. I was so amazed at the similarities to New Orleans that I called Linda on the phone to tell her about it. This will definitely be a city we visit with Parker when he joins us this coming summer.
This is just a small sampling of pictures.....the old....the new.....and one of these incredible horse drawn carriage's that are gilded in silver. I took most of these while driving, as we did not have a chance to stop.....it is always...go go go! There is so much more that I wanted to capture.....but I have a good excuse to go back and play tourist.
One last INCREDIBLE thing about Bombay.....traffic....like nothing I have ever experienced...anywhere!
At the conclusion of our meeting on Thursday, Amit and I left the architect's office at 5:00pm for the hotel we were staying at.....a distance of about 26 miles.....it took us 3 HOURS to drive 26 miles.
Unlike Delhi, Bombay/Mumbai,there are no subways....they have trains, but not enough of them.....the roads are very narrow in most of the city, as land is scarce......There is virtually no such thing as a FREEWAY or INTERSTATE system like a major city would have. No "loops" or bypass....and we were in a car smaller than the smallest car in the US......just think of something small in the US and shrink it.....to give you an idea.....My rolling garment bag could not fit in the trunk, it had to ride in the front passenger seat...it was too large for the trunk...my rolling computer bag and Amit's small suit case barely fit in the trunk. Three hours in a "matchbox" on wheels, but I was reminded that it was better than walking!
Last Saturday I finalized the apartment, and I asked Ramesh to take me furniture shopping......there are so many options, but nothing like the traditional style furniture we have in the States. My goal was to take pictures of some things I thought Linda might like so that she could help me furnish our "home" long distance.
A few days earlier, I had mentioned to Ramesh that Preston had asked me if I had seen any monkey's since living in Delhi. We had read some funny stories about monkeys in India on the internet, but since living here I hadn't seen one.....well Ramesh remembered and said "Sir, today I take you to see monkey's".
On the way back from furniture shopping, he drove through a wooded area, or green space, and the monkeys were everywhere!
I took several pictures, but I am only able to share five with you at this time.......
I am sure that this will be a drive that gets taken very shortly after Linda and Preston get to India......it was amazing to see so many just at the side of the road.
My first Diwali was spent doing a market study for a hotel project in Gurgaon (during the day) followed by dinner at the "Home Office" with Ramesh and Hiralal.......then I asked Ramesh to take me out so I could get some pictures to share with everyone.
Along with the lights and festive atmosphere, India has it's way of keeping your thoughts grounded, as it is hard to escape the poverty that surrounds you. While stopped at a traffic signal on the way home, the car was quickly surrounded by kids either selling something or simply asking for a few rupee's. This young girl, despite the hardship she faces, shared her beautiful smile with me so that I could share it with you.
I was a fairly quiet day until the evening. Linda can attest that the fireworks are so loud, that she could even hear them while talking to me on the phone.
I fell asleep finally sometime after 1:00 am.......
Linda, we can have all of our Christmas Lights shipped to India if you would like to use them for Diwali 2009!