woensdag 14 oktober 2009

And now... the end is near (well technically it did already end...)

"Fair autumn, your days grow shorter and your meals heavier. What’s an ex-traveler to do?"

Reminisce back to brighter days... The Indian summer.

Once upon a time... It seems like only yesterday I was struggling with to-do lists, my lady-lion-friends said goodbye to me on a terrace in Leuven and I shut the office door behind me.
Yesterday, that very door swung open again. A very rude awakening.

So my dearest readers, with great regret, I have to announce that the end of my blog is near.
But before diving back into every day life, all aboard the Memory Lane Express!
Now departing for India with stops at the idyllic places called Religion, Food, Berries and People.

Choo choo!
Leaving the station.

First stop: Project "berry"
We finished our Sales and Marketing plan with flying colours.
Not without some final obstacles to conquer though.
Our last day proved to be quite a challenge.
The abundant travels had eaten up a lot of our valuable project-time.
While our colleagues were working the graveyard shift to create their reports and presentations,
Team Berry was off exploring India's boundaries.
For the project of course.
But still, all fun and no play makes Jack a dull boy. And no one ever died of having some fun along the way.
Back to the last hurdles in the project delivery.
We felt our deadline breathing heavily down our necks.
Luckily my partner in crime was named "Clai the Undismayed".
He consulted our loyal Roja, Professor Parasuraman's assistant. Roja always seems to be in a good mood, always kind and funny and praying for our lost blackberries or safe journeys (or urging me to eat more!)... Roja was the mold for creating 'the genie in the bottle'. She's our genie in the office and constantly made all our wishes come true: ice creams, food, flights, meetings and in this case, a person working in the Publications department who worked on the structure, lay out and orthography of our document.
Result: The TATA institute and the Director were pleased with the plan we presented and the concrete sales meetings we initiated to start putting the plan into practice.
Next steps were discussed and to top it all off, His Holiness the Dalai Lama got mentioned in our final discussion.
Where and how he would come into the picture?
Allow me to keep that a surprise.
But I promise you: IF this plot thickens, Clai and I are invited back to India.
And I will act as your humble flying reporter once again. My pleasure!

Next up: "Understanding Indian food"
Some Indians don't eat chicken.
Du-uh! Some Europeans don't eat chicken either so what's the big deal?
It's the reason why they don't eat chicken that makes all the difference.
Chickens are vicious, cold blooded killers. They eat other animals: bugs, worms, other things that crawl the dirt.
And killers, my friends, are not fit to be eaten.

In the Himalayas (Ladakh and the likes), people don't eat fish.
Fish cannot be cultivated. At least, that's how they see it. Fish are free. Fish belong to nature.
And man is not entitled to nature's own. It's not man's possession so it's not theirs to eat. (And oh yes, fish don't have a tongue either, another very good reason to strike it off the menu. Hmm.)

Arriving at stop "Miscellaneous":
  • The ladies are probably all very familiar with pashmina shawls. The new men too for that matter. Allow me to share some Pashmina insights: Pashmina comes from the goat bearing the same name. They only produce pashmina (their woolen coats) when they feel cold enough. Way up in the Himalayas during winter.
    And when spring arrives: 'Feel free to slip into something more comfortable Mrs. Pashima Goat' and 'Can I take your coat please?'
    Before you know it another pashmina shawl is born.

  • We spent a 3-hour face to face with our own private Buddhist monk to get some insights into mediation and Buddhism. Besides "detachment", not "clinging" and "impermanence", he told us about every form of life deserving respect. Even the smallest of animals.
    That means that in India, people don't try putting you in a straight jacket when you're diligently trying to save a bug from drowning in your cocktail. So feel free to go on saving them!

------- NEWSFLASH --------

Ladies and Gentlemen, we're interrupting this blog entry for the following breaking news: We found a flaw in Buddhism. Ladies and gentlemen: we have a flaw! A flaw in Buddhism seems like a contradiction in terms, yet, one has been identified. During the private monk face to face, we learned they too, do not respect the boombos (Ladakhi word for donkeys that is). Shame on the Buddhist monk community! All forms of life remember?

BTW - You too can help the world become a bit more donkey-loving by adopting your own private one. Don't worry, it doesn't get delivered to your doorstep.
I've adopted one too: 50 measly dollars for a fluffy pet donkey.
Go to http://www.donkeysanctuary.in/how.html for further information.
I'll post the pictures of my newly adopted pet soon.

Next up: "People"
OK, blame me for generalizing but Indian people are entrepreneurial, friendly, hospitable and accept their faith.
They share everything. They even want to share if they don't have anything.

The multitude of religions is also overwhelming. It's amazing to see how inviting and open each of the religions are, welcoming strangers like us that have no clue what they're supposed to do with the apples they've been given (Should we eat them? Should we offer them to Ganesh? Should we throw them over our shoulder?)
All religions co-exist harmoniously. Although there have been some issues over the years, overall, as an outsider, you get a true feeling of mutual respect.

And then there's this other species called 'the IBMer'. Can also be categorized under the "People" section. Meeting inspired and inspiring IBM colleagues from all over the world in a new setting is simply refreshing: from the Mexican Latin Lover over the giant Canadian woman to the Chinese German wikipedia moghul and the good-hearted, gentle Brazilian.
And more breeds crossed my path: the more than talkative NY/Bostonian, that other Canadian nicknamed 'run Forrest run', the disarming and ever smiling South Korean and the friendly Hungarian.
And then there's Clai. A species on its own: a caring, hilarious and undismayed bee-keeper.

So all in all, did I make a difference in India?
I think I did.
We listened to the Ladakhi people, lived with them, ate on their floors, slept in their houses.
We took everything into account that matters to them and acted accordingly.
I promised to check in with them to see how things progress and hope to find them Fair Trade certified and in better shape by the next harvest and having sellers and distributors for all their derivatives. I think we gave them a good head start.

And if I didn't make a difference to the people, at least I adopted a donkey...

dinsdag 13 oktober 2009

Deutsche P├╝nktlichkeit

And now we come to the forbidden (and therefore alluring) use of the F-word, whose sheer profanity makes you want to curse whatever or whomever crosses your path.

Flight from Mumbai to Frankfurt: had a royal sleep on 3 seats again, I love flying Air India. (And did I mention they didn't charge excess baggage?).
Arrived in Frankfurt with a slight delay. But luckily, when leaving the plane, the stewardess checked my next flight and did her walkie talkie thing.

Then my getting-to-the-gate-in-time-journey started:
  • flight to Brussels scheduled at 7:20
  • passport control - check (busload of Japanese tourists were kind enough to let me pass)
  • security scan - no check: no mercy from the German butch that told me to wait in line
  • arriving at the gate after a 5 kilometer walk at 7:21: no one to be found
  • went to next gate asking where they parked my plane: Flight to Brussels is gone...
  • OK, I managed to keep calm my entire vacation -excuse me mission (hard work!)- but this was the final straw
Needless to say I'm not a big fan of German punctuality...

(btw - my motto: punctuality is the virtue of the bored)

Can you click it?

If a picture's worth a thousand words, I think I can say I wrote an entire book.
So, if you're more the "gimme pictures no text" type, you'll find some more visual support on:

donderdag 8 oktober 2009

Excuse me while I entertain these people

Last Wednesday, after another hard day at the slave pit (just kidding), 10 nationalities were invited to experience Indian hospitality hands on.
Virginia Sharma, marketing manager Software Group India and her husband Sameer opened the doors to their posh Bandra appartment to show us 'Mumbai's other side'.
Virginia, Indian by descent but having lived in the US for the past 11 years, is currently on assignment from our NY office.

As experienced numerous times over the past couple of weeks, they too showed that living together with family, opening your house to friends and even strangers are a very normal part of Indian culture.
They kept thanking us for our presence while we were more than happy being invited to this lovely home with ocean view, getting stuffed with Mumbai delicacies and drinks by the friendliest caterers ever while having a great party.
Music and cricket (India's favourite) in the background.

Fascinated by a picture of two very colourful, brightly decorated people (Virginia and Sameer in wedding disguise), we convinced them to show us all their wedding pictures.
India is the country of arranged marriages and dowries but the so-called "love marriages" are gaining ground.
V&S's marriage falls in the second category.
So we got the complete 101 on Indian weddings: Celebrations filled with rituals and food, festivities that continue for several days (about 4 in their case), bride and groom first having a couple of days of parties in their respective corners, bride being decorated brighter and more elaborate than your average Saks Fifth Avenue Christmas tree, jewels being thrown all around (and at each other of course), groom wearing an impressive bling-adorned turban and arriving majestically on a white horse, between 400 and 1000 invitees at each of the
8 parties, more than 100 (!) dishes being served... quite the event.

Time flew by (that's how it goes when you're having fun) and soon our carriage morphed back into a pumpkin.
In other words: in a rick back to our hotel.

woensdag 7 oktober 2009

A city tale of Dabbawalas and slumdogs

You venture into international territory nearly every day. (Watching the Discovery Channel with Spanish subtitles while eating Chinese take-out totally counts, right?)
So, another lovely monsoon-filled day in Mumbai makes you feel right at home.
Time to discover some more of this city's specifics.

First up: the Dabbawalas, the tiffin-box carriers (see the tin box I posted earlier).
A Dabbawala is a person in Mumbai whose job it is to carry and deliver freshly made food from home to office workers in in lunch boxes or tiffins. More than 175,000 to 200,000 lunches get moved every day by an estimated 4,500 to 5,000 dabbawalas. Indian people prefer home-cooked grub over fastfood take away any day.
According to a recent survey, there is only one mistake in every 6,000,000 deliveries. An exemplary system...

We were slightly late to witness 'Dabbawala rush hour' (tens to hundreds of Dabbawalas jumping on an off the cargo cart of the train). We did however manage to catch some of them who slept in late themselves (or were already on their way back).
The Dabbawalas won an award in time management, Harvard Business dedicated a case study to them, they're mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records and were featured in Ripley's Believe it or Not...

Next up and slightly more controversial: the slums.
Since slum-life is such an intrinsic part of Mumbai's every day scenery, it's something one shouldn't be ignorant about.
Still pouring rain. But then again, this helps to wash all undefined (or defined but unpronounced) dirt away so is being seen as a blessing by people.

Mumbai or Bombay: 14 million inhabitants, sometimes referred to as Slumbay. Home to the largest slum in Asia: Dharavi: 1 km² in surface, over 1 million inhabitants.
1 public toilet for approximately 1000-1400 people (and still there was no queu when we passed by. Hmm...).
In Mumbai, there is simply not enough space to house everyone. Hence, the slums provide a solution. An 8m² space, can easily provide a home to 6-7 people. Some with big dreams: The children we met want to become teachers, doctors and IT specialists.

But, truth be told, it's not all agony, struggling and misery in the slums.
The small operation we joined (an organization whose proceeds go back to NGOs present in the slums), aims to show another side of slum life.
Because the slums are also big business: about 15.000 single-room mini-'factories' operating in a variety of industries: pottery, textile, recycling waste (paper, cardboard, plastic, tin cans, metal paint drums,...), literally everything that is being dumped in India (also by neighbouring countries) finds a second life through the slum activity.
Average earnings per month: Rp 2-4000 (USD 50-100).
Turnover coming out of the slums: estimated to 656 million US dollars per annum.

No pictures allowed but I'm sure you can imagine what the addition of 1km², 15.000 mini factories and 1 mio people equates to...

zondag 4 oktober 2009

Hot and sweaty

When I tell you it's humid, I mean it's Humid. Capital H.
And mind you, it's not just me complaining about the humidity in Mumbai.
Even the sugar can't stand it. This is what happens to it, just laying there.

Never alone with an Indian mobile

A couple of things I learned so far (the list goes on...): Indian people are friendly, helpful and only tell you things you want to hear.

And if you have an Indian mobile, like we do (the CDS all gave us one), you even get messages from friendly Indian people you don't know. ALL the time. Literally all the time.

Whoever can give me the right answers to the questions, wins a prize. Cause, admit, who wouldn't want to know?