04 September 2009


I love flying. Not just traveling, I think the act of flying internationally is an amazing thing. You go to this weird building in one world, strap yourself into an aluminum tube with a couple hundred other folks, pop an ambien or two, sleep for a few hours, get a stamp in a funny book and then are in an entirely different world. It is not a drive through a gradually changing landscape or a slow cruise into a harbor, you step onto a plane and in a matter of hours absolutely everything about your surroundings can be different.

IMG_0205And so after two months in India, a last night riding around in an old Ambassador car and ten hours on a British Airways flight, I found myself in London on a beautifully sunny afternoon absolutely blown away by the contrasts. A population that (kinda) speaks English! Taxi drivers who know where they are going! Fauna that are leashed and cared for by their owners! Girls in skirts! Clean and maintained sidewalks, streets and gutters! A three day weekend! Leavened bread! I could go on and on, pretty much around every corner I saw something that was (until the next corner) the most amazing thing ever*. I liked London after two months working in Germany. I loved London after two months working in India.

Spent most of Saturday hanging around, checked out some performances in Trafalgar Square then wandered through covent garden, the strand and the riverbank. Met up with Jeff Colson who was a rugby coach of mine in high school and quickly found myself on Brick Lane which, as those of you from the wrong side of the pond will know, is London's Little India. Mother of god. Luckily we dodged the curry houses, grabbed some greasy burgers, drank some ales and ciders (relieving the ole aussie snakebite), bar hopped a bit and then navigated the tube back to my hotel. Started off Sunday with a traditional English brekkie of sausages, bacon (english bacon = fried ham), fried egg, grilled tomato, baked beans and toast, which was followed shortly thereafter with a traditional English lunch of fish and chips and ale. I also managed to knock around in the Tate Modern (favorite piece: meat joy), check out a cool press photography exhibit in the National Theatre, venture down the south bank and check out some cool street performances including bellydancers and a daytime rave on the edge of the Thames. From there it was back out with Colson to a friend's dinner party (replete with copious amounts of Big Kahuna Red Wine) and then off to shady bar (replete w ith copious amounts of Jaeger Bombs).

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Monday was a bank holiday which was a good thing considering the night before. Threw some stuff in a backpack and headed up to Oxford to finish up a bit of work. I didn't actually see any of the colleges, but Oxford was a nice little town with lots of old looking churches and pubs set amongst the rolling green English countryside. Finished up there yesterday, made it back to London just in time to have some nice drinks with Rob and Becky of Nairobi fame, caught up with the ADP HQ team and am now procrastinating packing for my flight back home in three hours. I like to end these trips with some numbers, so here's the rundown of this trip:

  • Number of days: 76
  • Number of exclamation points in this post: 8
  • Number of Chicken Tikka Masala's ordered: 0 (!)
  • Number of times I was called Mr. Steve: 56
  • Amount, in pounds, of peanut butter I consumed: 3.75
  • And most importantly, the final score: Steve 13, India 15**

Till next time,
Steve Gore 


*:  Although there were also open air urinals that they put out at night which was hauntingly familiar
**: I'm quite happy with this number, India does in fact always win but I think I put in a good showing

27 August 2009

Jobs? This is my job?

So believe it or not, for the one and a half years I've had this blog I've also been paid to work with a pretty impressive group of NGOs on four different continents. I've been setting up a shared IT help desk for four of the NGOs, starting with the initial analysis in BsAs then the design in Nairobi then the actual development back in Denver and finally the long term support here in India. Working with our outsourcing group, we've identified a group of five people, trained them in what we have created, shown them how to do further development and worked out the processes by which they will support these NGOs. In the last weeks they have started to take over the project which has been pretty personally satisfying but also comes at a great time as a fifth NGO is joining and the existing clients are looking to expand beyond the original design. We also just wrapped up two days of clients visiting us in Bangalore which was a good (if exhausting) chance to show them what we have setup and the huge range of other things we could provide (and get some good dinners / t-shirts in the process).

When I heard I was coming out here, one of the things I was looking forward to was seeing what it is like to work in India. In some ways it is very familiar, there are some very bright people and we all speak the same consultanteese: leverage, methodology, SLA, metrics, engagement, etc. There are the same Cisco IP phones and the same system for reserving conference rooms, but the break rooms have a tomato soup dispenser and the women are wearing saris. There are 10,000 people that work on 7 floors in 3 towers in just one of our 6 locations in Bangalore, the scale of the offices is incredible. Rhere obviously are a lot of qualified people, but there is nowhere near the vast ocean of IT experts I was expecting (probably less than 1% of India's population is involved in IT), generally they don't talk so good English (even at some of the higher levels) and hiring people is still a pain. Perhaps the most surprising difference was the unhelpfulness of support staff and general mentality of following the rules (or "process") rather than actually getting things done. Case in point (after I was chased off the lawn by a whistle totting security guard):

The Lawn

So like everything else in India, work has been an experience. I'm very happy with team we have set up here and think they will be able to do a great job, but man I really wanted to have lunch on that lawn.

-Mr. Steve

22 August 2009

Slaying the Taj Mahal

Arriving in New Delhi last Friday morning was a particularly pleasant experience. Luckily for us, Lord Krishna was celebrating his 5,237th birthday and this combined with India celebrating its 67th birthday kept the streets free of the much feared Delhi traffic. And what streets they were, wide English styled boulevards lined with trees, paved sidewalks and (relatively) free of litter. Things were going quite well until we pulled over to ask directions and a crazy drugged out beggar ran into our car, created a huge commotion that caused about thirty people to gather around the car (with us inside) and wasn't resolved until a cop and a few cool headed cows came by to sort things out.

PICT0025 Delhi has a pretty amazing mix of old Islamic architecture mixed with colonial British buildings and a crush of new construction in preparation for the commonwealth games in 2010. We saw some distinctly British government sites like the India gate and President's House (interesting note: India has a president) and then hit up the Ashkerdam temple. Ashkerdam seems to be dedicated to a person (rather than a god), but people still pray to him, so once again I am completely clueless about hinduism. But it is an impressive, gigantic complex with ornately carved exteriors, marble paths, 200 gold cow head water fountains and some crazy guy from Chicago who gave up all his possessions, moved out here, told us about the history then took us to chant and pour water over a golden statue of a boy. Totally, completely clueless. Following our confusing, but fun, temple experience we hit up the QBA restaurant for what will undoubtedly be my favorite and most authentic meal in India: jumbo Thai shrimp and a Mediterranean mezze (and not a small amount of Kingfisher).

PICT0030 While we really wanted to take an Indian train to the Taj, apparently we were not the only ones with this idea and you cannot reserve them the day before. So we hopped in Tata's finest, cheapest Indica and hit the road for Agra. While parts of the drive were the expected congested and chaotic roads, parts were absolutely beautiful with lush green rice paddies dotted with 20m tall chimneys for firing bricks. After a few hours (and a few monkeys at a toll booth doing tricks), we arrived at the Taj Mahal. It certainly is an amazing place, built in the lets say 1500s by an Islamic emperor (Shah Jahan) for his wife as a symbol of his undying love (ironically , it was his love, and the 14 children that came with it, that actually killed her). The palace houses the tombs of the emperor and his wife and is made out of marble inlaid with stones and the text of the entire Quarn (without being garish like so many things here), surrounded by gardens, symmetrical mosques and a giant red sandstone wall and is really pretty beautiful.

This seemed to be the general feeling amongst the 5,000 other people there that afternoon who stopped shoving each other just long enough to take a silly picture of them pulling the Taj up or ask Ashley to take a picture holding their baby (smartly, they did not ask me to do this). People will say that it is so beautiful you won't mind all the other tourists and I could not disagree more. So the next morning I got up 7:30pm eastern time (you do the math),walked back up as the sun was rising and was the fourth person to see the Taj that Sunday morning. The difference was striking, the entire place was incredibly calm and (for a moment at least) all the craziness of India melted away. Within thirty minutes it was crawling with tourists again but I was happy, grabbed a 10 cent cycle rickshaw back to the hotel for some breakfast and hit the road.

PICT0252 The drive back was a combination of whirlwind sightseeing and funny stories from our awesome driver, Surienda. While I'm not quite sold on his idea that India had monkey soldiers (with guns, grenades and ranks) during one of its wars with Pakistan, I am a strong believe in his three keys to driving in India: a good horn, good brakes and good luck. We hit up the Agra Fort (another Shah Jahan Joint), Akbar's Tomb, the Lotus Temple and then spent some time relaxing on the walls and gardens of Hanuyman's Tomb (still more of a palace) back in Delhi. From there it was a quick ride past the impressive embassy row and then a three hour flight back to home sweet home, Bengaluru.

Steve Gore

17 August 2009

Indians: You Disgust Me

While I normally try to keep this pretty upbeat and fun (and parenthetical), I've decided to give myself one post per trip to get up on a soapbox and post about something that I think is important. This is it for this trip but if you're not inclined to read the whole thing, here is the short version: don't litter.

So it really annoys me back home when I see smokers just toss their cigarette butts on the ground, maybe grind them out (to ya know, not start a fire) and then walk away. What is it about cigarettes that makes this acceptable? These exact same people would never just drop an empty bag of chips or bottle or water. The difference in India is that people absolutely will, and do, throw empty bags of chips, bottles of water and just about anything else they are done using onto the nearest road, sewer or creek. Mounds of stinking trash line almost every road and clog almost every river I've seen in India. The sight and smell is disturbing. Watching yet another Indian throw another piece of garbage onto the street is disgusting in the most literal sense.


So what? Why should people (other than Indians) care if they destroy their own environment? One answer is that India can be a beautiful place, and you might want to come here one day. But the real answer is, of course, there is not a separate Indian environment compared to 'our environment' and the actions taken here have far reaching implications. Lets look at a few:

  • Rivers Flow: All the trash that is being dumped in sewers and blown around the city that ends up in a river doesn't just sit here in Bangalore. The next time that river floods (say with a seasonal monsoon), all that trash gets washed downstream where it will eventually end up in one of the world's oceans. From there it is just a matter of time for that trash to circle the globe on ocean currents, slowly releasing toxins and chemicals that end up in our food and the water that evaporates to form rain and snow (as in, our drinking water).
  • H1N1: Walking past piles of slowly rotting garbage, it is hard to imagine that they are not festering with all kinds of bacteria, viruses and generally nasty stuff. All it takes is one of those things hopping into one person, then another, then a daily non-stop to London or Dubai and we've got ourselves global pandemic. Its probably worth pointing out that the only beneficiaries of the trash are the city cows and pigs (as in, swine).
  • A Mentality: Back in the day when everything was made out of bamboo and coconut leaves, not caring about the environment had pretty minimal effects. Nowadays with plastic everything, not caring about the environment has some fairly serious consequences. In the future, not caring about the environment will have disastrous effects. With a rising middle class and plummeting car prices, India is poised to add millions of cars (and TVs and refrigerators, etc) to the road each year. How can we even start talking about conservation, alternative energy or sustainability when over 1,000,000,000 people cannot fucking throw things away correctly?

What can be done? Unfortunately this doesn't seem like a particularly easy one to solve (and admitted it may not be the most pressing world issue) but there are some things that I think are needed:

  • Role Models: This one is super easy. Don't litter, even cigarette butts. Don't be part of the problem. Talk to those you see that are.
  • Infrastructure: India's government (like all developing governments), needs to remove trash as part of the basic services that it provides to its citizens. This needs to be something more structured than the women pushing carts of trash I see randomly around the city. Given many governments' rather poor record at basic public services, this is not something to hold your breath for. However, a motivated government could easily tax producers or importers of disposable goods to fund the necessary infrastructure. (An interesting point: most developing countries are prodigious recyclers; glass and aluminum are too valuable to throw away)
  • Culture: There is evidently a culture within India that says it is ok to simply throw your trash wherever you see fit. This must change. I think the most effective way to change culture is through education, both formally in schools and informally through the media. This would not be particularly hard, we're not talking about rocket science and even the simple murals Delhi has at street corners seem to be reasonably effective. But to really be effective, this push for change must come from within the existing culture. Despite the soaring readership of this blog, this type of change is not something I can reasonably expect to influence, it must be done by Indians for themselves, and the rest of us.

11 August 2009

The 57th Annual Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race

Thats right kids, this past weekend I ventured down to Kerala to witness the spectacle that is India's largest semi-professional snake boat race. And what is a snake boat race, you might ask? Well it is an Indian version of an ivy league regatta crossed with an Indian version of Preakness with just a little bit of Indian pomp and circumstance thrown in. In short, it is awesome.

PICT0002Got down to Kerala (a state just south of Karnataka, home to Bengaluru) Friday afternoon and started the long, long drive to our place in the Aleppy backwaters. Aleppy is located in a delta type area that is criscrossed with rivers and canals and bills itself as the Venice of India. We stayed at the Coir Village which is about 35km outside of town right on some rivers (in fact, you have to take a little boat from the car to reception and then another one from reception to our room). We hung out in hammocks, took a sunset cruise on the water and amazingly actually had a relaxing, peaceful night in India.

The next day was the big race and we headed back to Aleppy and jumped onto our boat for the day. We motored out of town and quickly were at the course: a kilometer long stretch filled with thousands of people lining the shores and on thousands of boats all vying for the best view. Settled in for the afternoon, snuck through the cockpit to get to the front of our boat, watched the racing boats warm up but generally drank watered down brandy, ate mystery fish stew (side note: Indians - stop trying to feed me, seriously, it is not cool) and generally tried to avoid getting pushed in the water.  The actual boats were pretty incredible, there were a few different sizes with the biggest (the snake boats) taking six month to build and seating upwards of 120 rowers (plus drummers, yellers, umbrella holders and steerers). Watching 120 folks (there were female, aka kitchen, boats as well) row in synch lifting these massive boats of the water was quite impressive.

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Around 2pm Sonia Gandhi, who is not related to the Mahatma but is the president of the ruling party but is not prime minister of the country, kicked off the actual races. A somewhat interesting fact: the race is named in honor of Jawaharlal Nehru who was the first prime minister of India and Sonia Gandhi's grandfather (in law), but this was the first time someone from the Nehru-Gandhi family (kind of like the Kennedys and featuring four prime ministers) actually attended. This was celebrated in what I imagine is traditional south Indian fashion: having a navy diver wearing flippers lowered and raised a few times from a hovering helicopter (not lying).

IMG_0074 As the races got going the scene turned more and more to a Pimlico on water. Way too many people crammed onto the boats closest to the race, little skirmishes breaking out between Indians on neighboring boats, kiddy pools full of beer (kidding), clothes coming off (admittedly just guys jumping into the water), and at some point someone broke out a bottle of White Mischief Vodka. After a handful of races (which like Preakness most people didn't pay attention to) the crowd of 40 or so boats was whittled down to 4. With the sun setting, Champakulam defeated twelve time winner Payipad in a scintillating final that (that I'm told) was one of the best snake boat races in history.

Capped off the trip at our new hotel on the beach, making some friends and hadving a bonfire where I once again found myself trying to explain s'mores to foreigners. Spent the next morning on the beach and enjoying an open air shower then cruised back to Bangalore to enjoy a fantastic evening of beer, hookah and french fries.

Steve Gore

06 August 2009

Jaipur: The land of the kings, the land of the Steves

Last weekend I grabbed my backpack, ducked out of work early and caught a quick flight up to Jaipur in Northern India.  Jaipur is known as the Pink City (painted that way when some Brit visited in the 1850s), the capital of the state of Rajasthan (the Land of the Kings) and is an interesting mix of hinduism, muslim-ism, history, architecture and heat. Accompanying me this little sojourn was Katie, a Yale lawie out in Bangalore for a two month summer internship.

PICT0031 After an inauspicious Friday night (involving first wandering, then rickshawing around lost until 1am) we hit the ground running Saturday morning. And by that I mean we jumped on a cycle rickshaw to the old city, a partially walled section of Jaipur where almost all the buildings are painted pink. Walked around a bit, hung out with our first snake charmer then explored the city palace which is a fairly impressive complex of buildings set in the middle of the packed city. From there it was off to the Govind Devji temple which I believe is the first giant tented evangelical Hindu temple (most Hindu temples have room for like 7 people, this one probably sat 700 with tvs and speakers to broadcast the action) and the Hawa Mahel, an amazing palace created with tons of tiny windows so the muslim chicas could look check out the city without the city checking them out. After a much need shower, we headed to Katie's co-worker's friend's house for a nice, if somewhat awkward, meal. The best part is a tie between a crazy mother telling us how afraid she was of the witches in Salem, Massachusetts because "those people look like they know magic" and listening to Bob Dylan while driving home which was one of those odd yet thoroughly enjoyable moments in a different country.

City Palace Hawa Mahel

Sunday we organized a car to explore the surrounding sights but no sooner had we started than we ran smack dab into the middle of a giant hindu parade complete with a brass band, decked out elephants and about five hundred people in bright orange dancing to drummers and bringing water the Shiva temple. Pretty cool way to start the day, then we headed out to Amber and its humongous old fort. It was super impressive, surrounded by 25 miles of boundary walls (the great wall of India) and totally open on the inside so you could wander through everything including the ramparts, turkish baths and of course, the "pleasure palace". From Amber we checked out the 16th century Jaighur fort which houses the world's largest cannon and took six elephants to aim (accurately I'm sure) for the only time it was ever fired, though it did shoot over 20 miles. Following lunch we hiked up to the Temple of the Sun God, ran into some more singing Hindus, wondered if there are any calm, relaxing places in this country (I think this is why meditation started), dodged the requisite beggars, camel ride touts and dude selling sandalwood Ganeshes, shot some photos of a palace built in the middle of the lake and concluded our weekend of being super tourists.

Or so we thought. After dinner we searched for a place to enjoy a Kingfisher and randomly wandered into the Hotel Sahn's pretty fantastic rooftop bar. It had a neat view over the old city and a giant outdoor TV playing a very Indian mix of wet t-shirt and pelvic thrusting music videos (though without any kissing - heaven forbid) followed by commercials for Unwanted-72, India's very own morning after the pill. Ultimately, we were the real highlight of the bar with Indian after Indian coming over to us, trying to literally put food in my mouth (wtf, mate?), hitting us with pickup lines ('I have a bet with my friend I can't talk to you'), talking about Woodrow Wilson and asking us random questions. By far the best was the dude who asked me what Steve meant, the best I could come up with (while keeping a straight face) was the King of Horses and then reassuringly told him that "a long time ago, back in England, the Steves used to have huge armies of horses". He accepted this, smiled and bobbed his head... India.

Amber Fort 
Great Wall of India
Jai Mahal

05 August 2009

Whats up, Bengaluru?

India is a country where you just have to accept things the way they are. Mail room won't accept your mail? Accept it. People say yes when they mean no? Accept it. Major capital cities change their names in the past three years? Accept it*, and welcome to Bengaluru ("beng-a-loo-roo"). 

So things have been going alright down here in the last few weeks. Bengaluru actually has a pretty decent collection of restaurants and bars, though they close at the barn burning hour of 11:30pm. Two Fridays ago we checked out Purple Haze, a local "rock and roll bar" which means a place blasting (and I mean blasting) rock music with TVs showing recordings of rock concerts and about a hundred people cheering, screaming and generally pretending they are at said rock concerts. Accept it. Another interesting place was The Beach where they have combined almost every possible bar theme: sand on the floor, shots in test tubes, sheesha and pub trivia with a guy who thinks he is the host of Who wants to be a Millionaire from Slumdog. A few other good places I've been for anyone coming out here: 13th Floor, Aira and Via Milano.

There aren't a ton of touristy things to do here, I did check out the ISKCON (Hare Krishna) temple which was, in a word, confusing. I expected some sort of big, elaborate temple that you could wander around, instead it is this massive production that is closer to waiting in line for a ride at Disneyland than anything remotely religious. After negotiating the mazes you see three temples, hear some people chanting "hare krishna" (apparently that is all there is to salvation), get some pure veg snacks then make your way through a massive gift shop. Very odd.


Otherwise, work has been a pain. We are trying to find some people to join the team here, and let me tell you that I no longer have any concerns whatsoever about everyone in America losing their jobs to India. 'Nuff said. In more exciting news, I've finally got my hands on some postcards and stamps, so if you want a card, you know what to do (send me your address).

Mr. Steve


*: You can chose to accept it or not, but as the maxim goes: India always wins.

22 July 2009

The Unfortunately Named Mysore

This past Saturday found me hopping on a bus for  Mysore, a former royal capital of these parts that is about 3 hours south of Bangalore. While I initially had my doubts about the Indian bus system (in this case the Karnataka State Road Transportation Company - a brand only a government could love), I was thoroughly impressed. The central bus station was pretty organized, the employees were really helpful, the bus was clean, comfortable and conditioned (air that is), I got a printed receipt for my $3 fare, the bus left pretty close to on time and, it being a non-stop, only stopped about 5 times. Way better than Greyhound (not that I've ever ridden Greyhound) and certainly cheaper than Vamoose.

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Mysore is a pretty small town centered around a palace built in the mid 19th century by the dude who ruled this part of India. After the palace burned down, it was rebuilt in the early 1900s in a weird mix of hindu, english and islamic styles, so it is a pretty interesting building on the outside. On the inside it is like walking into Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory without all the candy, which is to say it is over the top with lots of little dancing people everywhere. Huge reception halls in bright colors, giant stained glass roofs, intricately carved teak ceilings, marble floors peppered with jewels, rosewood doors inlaid with ivory, silver chandeliers, thrones made of glass and a fun house mirror (which must have caused great amusement according to my audio guide). It alternated between garish and awe inspiring but either way you look at it, it was impressive. Unfortunately no pictures in the palace, but they did light it up at night which was  nice.  

The palace puts Mysore pretty solidly on the south India tourist route which had some plusses and minuses. On the up side, I met some interesting other travelers and the locals were pretty friendly and interested in tourists. On the down side, the locals generally wanted you to either buy their pot, buy oils from their auyervedic / witch doctor friend, or see some women making incense sticks. Not sure about the last one, but probably fifteen people thought my visit to Mysore would not be complete until they had taken me to see this. 

I also checked out the local market which turned out to be awesome. There were probably three hundred people all trying to sell heaps and heaps (literally giant piles) of all sorts of fruits, vegetables and flowers. From  the supper pungent durians to huge cucumbers to scary dried peppers, there was something for everyone. And apparently someone had told everyone that white people like mangoes because that is all anyone tried to sell me, it was like I was in a weird Chris Rock routine.

In the end I grabbed a pomegranate, snapped a few photos and headed back to B'lore just in time to grab some Sunday drinks at the 13th Floor lounge which is actually located on the 14th floor (they start with G, not 1).




P.S. If you think Mysore is a bad name, check this out.

17 July 2009

The economics of shaving, surviving the escalator and other random musings

I've had about ten days in this "town of boiled beans" (aka Bangalore aka Bengaluru) and while things continue to go well, there are more than a handful of "interesting" things I've experienced:

  • If you factor in the cost of shaving cream and assume that you use a new razor blade every 7 shaves, it costs the same amount for me to go to my friendly barber, have him lather me up and give me a ridiculously close straight razor shave (this actually gets done twice in each sitting) for 41 cents than it does for me to shave myself. I also happen to love wet shaves.

  • As anyone who has talked to an Indian call center can attest, they have their own special version of Ingles. My favorite new phrase out here is "please do the needful" which I've seen in no less than 8 emails and is probably the most roundabout way of saying "get this done".

  • I would rank Bangalore as a 4 on the SSDI, the Steve's Sidewalk Development Index which I'll argue is as good a method of measuring development as anything else. That puts it strongly ahead of Nairobi and its meandering dirt trails, but well behind Berlin with its bike lanes and ramps.

  • They say necessity is the mother of all invention, so during a recent bout of Delhi Belly (or a new allergy to Vodka, not sure, only more Vodka will tell), I have developed perhaps the most amazing drug cocktail known to man. 250mg ciproflaxin, 440mg alleve, 500mg pepto, 1000mg vitamin c and then the magical part, if it is day time about 5000mg of chunky peanut butter, if it is night time about 5mg of sleeping pills. If that doesn't make you feel better, you're a goner.

  • I saw two camels all decked out for princely riders in the middle of the street today. I'm not sure what else to say about that, other than it proves I should always, always carry my camera with me.

  • I guess the camels shouldn't  be surprising, India was described to me as the original melting pot and it is amazing all the different people I see on a ten minute walk to work. Religious hindus with their hair stained orange from mehndi, business men with ties and briefcases, Syrian nuns wearing the full frock, beggars in rags, women in floral print saris and muslims decked out with the most fashionable burkas (black is the new black).

  • So far I think the most amazing thing about India is not the mystical spirituality, but that there are adults here who cannot ride escalators. I can sympathize that the first time on an escalator can be a discomforting experience, but come on, they are not a giant man crunching machine of Satan and you know that because you just watched eight thousand people ride the moving stairs. The approach seems to be, wait at the edge for 45 seconds trying understand the complex timing of the stairs (think Sean Connery in The Rock) then either step out with one foot while leaving the other foot on solid ground (causing you to fall backwards) or break out your iron grip on the handrail while leaving both feet on solid ground (causing you to fall forward). Seriously, I've already seen this like 4 times.

  • Lastly, the worst part of Bangalore are the tons of stray dogs everywhere. They  are heartbreaking.

On the way home from work

12 July 2009

Zen and the Art of Driving in Bangalore

Hey, at least the tuktuks have meters! Meet Munish. Munish is a guy in his late 20s from a town just outside Bangalore. His job is to help "mobilize" teams of Indians to perform outsourcing work and also includes coordinating / entertaining the silly Americans that decide to come stop by. Over a beer or two last Friday, after a ride on the back of his motorbike to a bar, he laid out for me his philosophy that "Driving in Bangalore is like Zen." Now its true, a zen master I am not, but if you asked me to describe the exact opposite of Zen, driving in Bangalore would be pretty high on the list. The first thing that hits you is the cacophony (1) of horns, all of which seem to have the same meaning of "get the fuck out my way, I'm not stopping". The next is the mix of 'vehicles' on the streets: hulking fifty year old busses, belching Tata trucks, fleets of three wheeled tuktuks / rickshaws, motorbikes carrying at least two people, dudes pushing carts of fruits and your usual smattering of dogs, goats, chickens and (of course) cows. Finally, there is the driving style: a combination of kamikaze swerving, aggressive honking and obeying traffic signals (which is without a doubt the strangest part). "No," Munish agreed, "driving in Bangalore is not a state of Zen, it requires a state of Zen." And that seems like a pretty good intro to India.

PICT0003I arrived here last Wednesday after a tumultuous (2) flight and things have been going really well. Outside of the traffic, Bangalore is a pretty decent city. The weather is great for India, a very comfortable 60-70 degrees with minimal monsooning (knock on wood). There's a lot of hustle and bustle with tons of little shops selling everything from chips to walkmans to ironing (done with an actual block of iron). There is a dizzying array of food places to try (from street stalls to serious 5 star tasting menus) and the central area sports a number of bars and pubs (which for all the night owls out there, are open till a whopping 11:30pm). The place I'm staying is a pretty nice serviced apartment featuring something approaching high speed internet, something approaching a shower and best of all its only about a 15 minute walk to one of our six palatial (3) offices here.

Had a few good days in the office here and am trying to come up with a coping mechanism for these 11pm conference calls (smart money is on booze). Wandered around Bangalore this past weekend, checked out some decent temples which were cool, though the Hindus' idea of what to do with cows and my ideas are starkly, starkly different. Also visited a few cool parks which featured both cricket and an Indian wine tasting (what's that? haven't heard of Indian wine? there's a reason for that). Had drinks at a 5-star hotel on Mahatma Gandhi road which was a pleasant, if expensive, affair. But most importantly, got an Indian cell phone (+91 974 019 9983) so fire up Skype, Google Voice or your work phone and give me a call.

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Its like baseball, but not The whole family: Timmy, Papa Mike, Susie and Buster* "Government work is God's work"


*My mistake, that's actually Ganesh, Shiva, Parvati and Nandi

07 July 2009

29 hours in Dubai, or, You're hot then you're cold (then you're hot), or, We built this city on air conditioning and imported labor

I've had some interesting layovers, from sleeping on the floor in Atlanta to a Facebook spree in Seoul to the Lustparade in Geneva, but the 13 hours (plus a few last night) I just spent hitting the pavement (and slopes) in Dubai (in the middle of their 110 degree summer) has got to take the cake.

IMG_0032I think coming into Dubai from anywhere is pretty impressive, but coming in from Nairobi it is doubly so. Not only does it have metered taxis, four lane paved highways and a humongous LED / water feature in the airport, its actually safe to walk around in the dark. It is also, incredibly, ridiculously, sweat through my shirt at 1am, hot. But ventured out anyways, checked out the Dubai Creek which is much closer to a river and is pretty cool to see the old dark boats against a very modern lit up skyline.  At least I thought they were old boats. In all likelyhood they were newly constructed boats that had been built to look old. Dubai doesn't seem to have a lot to offer in the historical / authentic / cultural departments but what they do (building shit and giving you ways to spend money), they do well.

IMG_0037After a nice cold shower and a night in my lowly 4-star hotel, I headed back up to the creek and took a little abra, a 30 cent boat to the other side. Once there I went to the gold souk to peruse some authentic Chinese plastic markets, have an authentic breakfast of omelette, french fries and ketchup in a hot dog bun and try to keep from melting. Then hopped on a nice air conditioned bus (in fact, even the little bus stations you wait in were air conditioned) down to the Jumeirah area and the self appointed 7-star Burj al Arab. I got within 1000 feet and was told that I'd need a reservation to have the privilege of spending $100 on a drink, which I actually considered until I was ever so politely informed that I also did not meet their dress code of "elegant attire" (I probably also didn't smell particularly nice). So I snapped a photo, wringed out some sweat and headed off to the Atlantis.

The Atlantis is modeled off the one in the Bahamas, except this one is at the top of a giant fucking man made palm tree island (The Palm). It is amazing driving out there, the streets are named "Frond A" - "Frond R" and the whole thing is one big construction site (including the monorail). The Palm is either the most amazing or most atrocious, or both, thing ever built. Got into the Atlantis, walked around a bit, had a great moment where 5 Islamic women in full burkahs and 3 ugly British chicks in bikinis were staring into the same window of the giant aquarium and then had a delicious crepe. Seemed right.

IMG_0066From there headed off to the Mall of the Emirates which is a mall about the size of the United Arab Emirates. It has a ton of stores and pretty much every chain you can think off: McDonalds, Starbucks, Cinnabun, Cosi, Krispy Kreme, Cold Stone, Seattle's Best Coffee (everything except Chipotle which is naturally what I wanted). It also has a giant indoor ski slope where $40 bucks gets your three hours plus all your rental gear. Hit it up and was actually pretty impressed, the snow was decent, there were some fast parts and this big ass jump into an airbag. The runs lasted about 25 seconds, but all in all I would say it was better than east coast skiing.

Skipped the apres-ski and jumped into a big ole landcruiser for some dune bashing fun. Dune bashing consists of driving about 30 minutes outside of Dubai to the desert and holding on while a fair maniacal Indian guy barrels up 40 foot dunes, jumps the car over the top of them, slides down the other side, guns it to 100kph and turns as hard as he can to kick up sand. Good fun, doesn't quite top the ATVs in Namib but it was great to see the desert and get a feel for what Dubai is authentically like. And the desert sheesha / shwarma they served us didn't hurt either.

IMG_0084 IMG_0090  IMG_0097

Then it was back to the hotel, a much needed shower and off to the airport for my lovely 3:30am flight to Bangalore. So there it is, a taste of the old Arabian souk, a view of some of the most opulent hotels in the world, some quick runs down a ski slope and a bit of off roading in the endless desert, all in 12 hours, all in Dubai.

05 July 2009

Heri ya Siku kuu America!

IMG_0021 Edit There were two things I learned this past weekend. First, Africa has no shortage of Jello or Jello knockoffs. Second, Bill Cosby and the gang have not yet figured out a way to make white Jello. I tried vanilla (brown), peach (peach) and pineapple (yellow), but could not find a flavor to round out my red, white and blue jello shots. In fact, the blue turned out to be more purple so the bad news was I had red, purple and red jello shots, but the good news was that in the middle of east Africa, 15,000 miles from the US, I had jello shots to help celebrate the fourth.

The jello shots were for a barbeque being thrown by an ex-ADP guy who now works directly for an NGO and lives in Nairobi. There was a good mix of thirty to forty folks, NGO workers from Nairobi and Juba, embassy employees, journalists and a smattering of Kenyans. There was an equally good mix of food: burgers, sausages, kebabs and ribs (goat ribs, but still) that were a nice match to the copious amounts of beer (and jello shots). Capped off the party with some dodgy Indian fireworks, a bit of Wii and a game of Kings. If I hadn't known better, I'd have thought I was back in the US.

Otherwise it was a pretty low-key weekend here. Watched the British Lions beat South Africa in their last test (but lose the series!), watched Federrer beat Roddick in 8 sets and watched a super bootleg version of The Hangover. Planned to go to the horse races today, but the jello (or the later tequila) shots, put a stop to that idea, so instead got all packed up and ready to head out for Dubai tomorrow.

America, fuck yeah!

30 June 2009

Fishing, Frost and Fat Tire

In a slightly odd turn of events, last weekend we decided to forgo the lions or nice warm beaches for two nights camping in the Aberdare mountains, in the middle of the Kenyan winter. Now I know, Kenyan winter should be an oxymoron, as it is an African country located on the equator. But Nairobi this time of year can be pretty chilly which is really nothing compared temperatures in the Aberdares at 10,000 feet. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The trip started with a visit to the US embassy housing compound in Nairobi, a place called Rosslyn Ridge. After getting lost with the first taxi, a quick matatu ride, a second taxi, a bomb residue scanner, the obligatory mirror to look under the car and a set of massive gates between the perimeter and outer walls, I found myself in a perfect replica of an American suburb. Tennis courts, manicured lawns and even street signs with the familiar white on green lettering. There I met Craig and Doug, two US embassy employees (technically diplomats) who were also coming on the trip. Craig works for the counselor division in Nairobi and Doug does physical security for embassies all over Africa. They were both really cool and had some amazing stories to tell.

IMG_0498 We drove the few hours up to the Aberdares, spent another few hours waiting for the park rangers to try to figure out their smart card system to charge us (supposedly to cut down on corruption, because the park rangers are at the heart of the government's problems) and eventually made it to Fisherman's Lodge. The scenery was gorgeous, driving up out of the Rift valley into a pretty lush high country with lots of rolling hills. As the temperatures went down and we huddled around a fireplace and kerosene lanterns, the place felt more like a rustic ski lodge than anything I'd expect to find in Kenya.

The next morning we woke at 5:45am (probably the earliest I've woken up since the sunrise balloon ride in Masai Mara) to try our hand at a little fishing. But first we had to get to the river, which involved putting on every single piece of clothing I had brought with me, chipping the frost off the windshield of the car and cranking up the defroster. Eventually the sun came up (cannot believe I just wrote that) which made everything better and while I caught zero fish and lost two lures, I did get to practice my fly casting and didn't lose an eye to a wayward hook, so all in all I think it was a success. Spent the rest of the day doing a game drive, hacking our way through bushes, spotting elephants and collecting firewood for the second night.

IMG_0504 The second night was spent in the Sapper Banda, Banda being the Swahili word for "crappy shack". It had two beds and a fireplace, and no sooner did we have the fireplace lit then the entire place was engulfed with smoke. Obviously something was wrong with the chimney (a rusted out metal pipe) so we decided to jam a broom handle down it to clear out anything that was blocking it. This proved ineffective, so the next idea was to drop a rock down the chimney. Do not, let me repeat, Do not drop a rock down a chimney to try to clear it out. It will get stuck, and you will spend the next thirty minutes fastening together some sort of contraption to jam down to try to clear out rock, literally and figuratively becoming a chimney sweeper. We eventually got the fire sorted, cooked a delicious meal of corn, fish (store bought) and mac'n'cheese and hung out with these duikers (deer like things) that were super tame and would come within about two feet of us.

Survived another cold (and carbon-monoxide-ey) night, failed at fishing again and cruised on back to Nairobi. On the car ride back we were discussing the perks of working for the embassy: free housing, all sorts of tax free stuff and Fat Tire beer. Thats right, Fat Tire beer, which cannot be purchased on the east coast of these United States, is sent out by the State Department to embassies all over the world and is available for purchase (tax-free) at the comissary in the US embassy. WTF mate?

Just like Crested Butte except with Acacias instead of Aspens

28 June 2009

Karibu Tena

I got into Kenya about five days and so far things are going swimmingly. A year ago I titled my first post "Nairobi... woah" and strangely now I couldn't feel more differently. Not a lot has changed in Nairobi, the main road is better paved, there's a new casino in Westgate and a new sushi restaurant (?!?!) but otherwise I'm staying in the same complex, my DVD guy recognized me and the traffic (otherwise still known as "the jam") is as maddening as ever. The lack of infrastructure, people of all walks of live walking everywhere and the incredible contrasts are still here, just a little less surprising the second time around.

Anyways, things are good. Had easy flights out here and a great layover in London with Salvador, who regular readers will remember from last year as the intern that got us invited to the Mexican embassy bash. The new team out here seems good and we are working out of the NGO offices that is a three minute walk from the apartments. Been back to some of the favorite spots for dinner (2-1 pizza, diamond plaza), just got back from a fun weekend in the Aberdares and am off later tonight to watch the US beat Brazil in the Confederation Cup Final. 


IMG_0448 Edit 
Brits apparently love sushi trains, this one is in Paddington Station, London


A faluda (fruit juice, tapioca, ice cream, wafers and sprinkles) at Diamond Plaza


The fiber optic construction on School Lane outside our apartments in Nairobi

21 June 2009

Oscar Miked

My flight to merry ole England leaves in about 8 hours and its been pretty interesting to see how differently I prepared for this trip than my first backpacking trip to Asia. Four years ago my last week consisted of a daily trip to REI, a cover to cover reading of a Lonely Planet, currency arbitrage at the forex and some pretty frantic packing, unpacking, organizing and repacking. This time I've taken a markedly different approach, partly because I already have a lot of stuff but more because I've realized that they do in fact sell shoelaces in other countries (in fact they are made there!). So instead I've focused on something far more important: food. In the last three days I've hit a sushi place, mexican restaurant, smoked a turkey and of course grabbed a burger at the Cricket. I've also picked up what I now consider to be an essential (over say a mosquito net): a 4 pound jar of chunky peanut butter. So armed with that, my passport, Visa card and trusty hammock (same one from Asia), I'll talk to everyone from Nairobi.