Monday, August 13, 2007

India, Week 6: Taj Mahell

India has a population of 1.1 billion people. Of these, roughly 1.1 billion want to sell you something. Though the quantity of goods is incredible, the variety is not, and your options are limited to postcards, tours, and shiny rocks. With the markets glutted and supply far exceeding demand, touts turn to hard-sell techniques.
The tout will first try to initiate a bond with you, often by telling you something you already know ("The entrance is under that big sign that says ‘Entrance,'" "You buy your tickets at the ticket window for the price specified by the ticket seller," "Your president is George Bush"), whereupon they hope you will confuse them with someone helpful and procure their service. If you say anything other than yes, they assume you didn't hear correctly, which leads to conversations like the following (I quote verbatim):

Tout: I sell postcards.
Greg: No, thanks.
Tout: Would you like to buy postcards?
Greg: No, thanks.
Tout: I also sell postcards.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

India, Week 5: Currying Favor

This may come as a surprise, but, in India, they serve lots of Indian food. The following will not come as a surprise: I detest Indian food; it falls in the category of things that aren't bagels, cereal, or Angela Lansbury. Fortunately, before Gandhi started the "Free India" nonsense, the East India Company had sufficiently colonized most of India to include Pizza Huts, McDonalds, Subways, and other civilized eateries, making it possible for me to avoid Indian food or anything that might dare expand my palate over the first four weeks of my travels. And then I got to Goa.

Goa is India's smallest state, nestled on the western coastline a fifteen-hour train ride south of Mumbai. It is beautiful! Luscious forests, crystalline waters, and a gorgeous, temperate climate prevail. There isn't a lot of traffic, and, unlike much of coastal India, Goa keeps its beach and toilet facilities distinct. (The Portuguese liked Goa so much that they conquered it in the 15th century, built a slew of cathedrals, and declared it a second Lisbon. The city proved less popular than they hoped, however, due to high taxes and bubonic plague.)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

India, Week 4: Soft News, Sharp Elbows

I've made international news.

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, though I hoped the lead photo would be Angela Lansbury presenting me with a Tony or Mayor Bloomberg presenting me with Angela Lansbury. Instead, if you look at the front page of The Times of India on Sunday, July 22, 2007, there I am at six in the morning at Hyderabad's Himalaya Book World, exhausted, irate, and cross-checking a little girl to get my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

India, Week 3: Sari Grateful

I'm not sure whether India attracts a small number of tourists (those diehard few who view hot water as a superfluity and E. Coli as a seasoning) or if tourists come in swarms and (a) due to the size of the country, they're spread out to a density of roughly 0.1 tourists per square kilometer (that's 0.28 tourists per square mile in non-communist units) or (b) those tourists don't work for my company and therefore congregate in parts of India other than Hyderabad. Whatever the case, every time I've gone sightseeing here—no matter how touristy the sight being seen (as gauged by the availability of pizza)—the other visitors have consisted entirely of locals. In Manhattan, this is unheard of. Tourists outnumber New Yorkers five-to-one and can easily be identified by their tendency to come to a dead halt in the middle of thoroughfares (the majorer the thoroughfare, the deader the halt) or, in my aunts' case, to ride in horse-drawn carriages.

During prior travels, I had viewed tourists as a bad thing. These were the people who crowded the museums, filled the hostels, and made an effort to speak the local language, thus putting my spastic pantomime to shame. I had not realized, however, the valuable role my fellow tourists played: that of buffer. Because there are so few tourists in Hyderabad, the touts, taxi drivers, and would-be scam artists have a minuscule target market, and their efforts to capture it are correspondingly fervent.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

India, Week 2: Corporate Culture Shock

The corporate culture in Hyderabad seems much more to-the-point than its New York counterpart. The New York office provides motivation by convincing us that we care and that, by performing our hedgefundly duties (in my case, telling people to reboot), we make the company, nay world, a better place. The Hyderabad office doesn't bother with such subtlety. Management has postered the walls with blatant aphorisms like "Are you a good match?" (with a picture of a lit match) and "Knock the T out of CAN'T!," whose advice once followed still leaves a trailing apostrophe.

This mode of inspiration extends to the bathrooms (which boast air freshener in both "jasmine" and "sandal" flavors) and even the cafeteria, which doubles as the venue for staff meetings/dance contests. (Yes, that's a slash.) Figuring that employees might overlook inspirational posters while eating (or meeting/dancing), the decorators opted for inspirational murals instead. Across the walls, windows, and awnings, billboard-size prints of sporting events proclaim "Be a sport!" and "Go team!" However, the events which the murals depict are jai-alai (a Basque sport where you hurl a ball at your opponent's head) and bull fighting (the same principle with the ball replaced by a charging bull), both of which seem less about building teams than whittling them down most bloodily.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

India, Week 1: The Curse of the Business Class

I've been in India for about a week now, and it's pretty crazy. First off, I must mention that I flew business class to India. Business class. To India. The ticket cost as much as my college education but provided far more bang for my (well, my employer's) buck. Benefits included waiting for my flight in the "President's Lounge" (where the staff gives you free food and drinks and asks "How can I help you?" without meaning "I hope you die"); an airplane chair with controls outnumbering the cockpit's; champagne instead of peanuts; hot towels instead of screaming children; and two meals with so many courses that they lasted literally 1/3 of the 15-hour flight. I spent the remaining time asleep while reclined a full 90 degrees. I must go to India more often.

But why India? About a month ago, my manager asked me if I'd spend four weeks in Hyderabad training the helpdesk there. I agreed and bought my (business class!) ticket before he could realize (a) he was making a grave mistake because (b) of the two words that constitute "helpdesk," I generally offer neither. Over the next four weeks, I played vaccination bingo (polio, measles, tetanus, hepatitis A through L), started taking malaria medication (Larium…it's a hallucinogen!), and replaced the contents of my wallet which was conveniently stolen. By a Larium junkie, no doubt.