Friday, July 20, 2012

India!

Well, as some of you (and the chances are, if you reading this, you'll know) I've spent this past week on a Business Trip to Ahmedabad, India. I've been emailing around some thoughts to interested parties, but here they are, collected for wider amusement.

Day One

It's about 7pm here and I'm close to finishing up for the day and heading back to the hotel to collapse in a heap. I've been in the office since about 10am local so its been a long day, and apart from about 40 minutes keep on the floor in Dubai transit and a couple of uncomfortable hours between there and Ahmedabad, its probably not a lot of sleep for me to keep making any sense much longer.

The flight was pretty good, although data/phone connection has been patchy or expensive throughout. The A380 is lovely - roomy modern and the sort of lumbering behemoth that really shouldn't get off the ground all. I did watch "John Carter" on the way over, which is not the disaster it's painted as, and a load of episodes of "New Girl", which is no "Community" but kept be entertained as we passed over Iraq and the Persian Gulf in the looming dark.

Dubai is pretty horrible - a sort of souless strip mall in the desert that maskerades as an international transit hub. Its all about the shopping - generic shops selling branded products in glaring, characterless stalls. Uck.

Ahmedabad is much more charming - hot dusty and bustling; ringing to the sound of drivers haring around the road in some semblence of British Bulldog but played with motorbikes - so many motorbikes! - cars, tuk-tuks and people. The hotel and the office is pretty nice but i'm slightly freaked out by the attention you get - i'm simply not used to having a driver, and a bag-carrier, and an office boy that brings you drinks and lunch and i seem to get all flustered and terribly english about it. but at least i can add "tipping the bellboy" to the list of my new experiences!

Day Two 
Its about 5.30 here and i'll be in the office for about another hour, after which I have an exciting trip to a Shopping Mall planned. it means another jaunt around the roads, of which, it cannot be overstated, it is a constant adventure to drive on. The sound of India, it seems, is "beeeeep". There are a lot of pedestrians on the roads, too, which at first felt really odd but i noticed this morning that a lot of the pavements are new, or underconstruction; there are piles of bricks and unfinished sections everywhere and the shops/houses/walls obviously just used to butt onto the edge of the roads in a lot of places. The Walls start to become noticable after a while too - everything seems to be gated, a lot of places hire security.

Sunbathing Monkeys outside the office
Its not hard to see why because for all the modernity there is a lot of poverty. You sort of "know" it from the news and so on but it's harder to really see it - kids moving up lines of cars queing for the lights asking for food or cash, the little streets of tents built on the (new) pavements with people living off the roadside selling pots or charms to passers by. when we talk about "millions in poverty" in the UK it may be a real issue for those people, but it's nowhere near as real as this; and this isn't some third world forgotten wasteland. Sobering thought.

Still expecting rain here, apparently the Monsoon has swung further south than normal and Gudjarat hasn't has as much rain as it should. Mostly it's hot and dry, although its kind of pleasant, like a a Sauna heat. Glad the office and hotel are air conditioned though because I suspect the novelty will wear off quick. The other big novelty is the office culture, which takes a bit of getting used to; having someone who brings you water (or coffee, or lunch), on top of the driver, and hotel busboys, starts out feeling strange but very, very quickly you can fall into the trap of "wonder where my drink is?" rather than walking the short distance to get a new bottle.

But, generally I'm in the office working. Thanks to "science!" i have all the access to my work in Skipton, so really apart from the contant reviews and meetings I don't really feel out of touch, apart from when I go home to an empty hotel room where the TV is subtitled and the bed is too hard. Still, over half way through.

Day Three
I've probably got about an hour left in the office and I'm writing this in-between running down my check-list to make sure I've not missed anything. Then I'm off back to the hotel, to try and get as much sleep as I can before getting out to the airport for a 4am flight as the start of my long haul back to the UK.

From the Hotel Window, across the city
Someone asked me if i'd had fun over here and for a moment I was stumped. Mostly I've been working or sleeping - the most free time I've had was last night at the hotel when i spent a couple of hours sat on the bed re-writing my pages of notes from two days of meetings into a more legible and ordered format. High Times indeed. Still I think on balance it has been fun - a work sort of fun, but still fun. I've learnt an awful lot about the IT/Development side of the business and the challenges they're facing, certainly spent a lot of time with people really only knew previously over messanger and email, and if nothing else having the opportunity to brainstorm out solutions for issues that been lurking around for months in some cases has been pretty satisfying.

I did get to go shopping last night, which was another slightly jarring mix of the familiar and the alien. The Mall is very modern, the sort of place you'd find anywhere, but there is security everywhere. On the gates, in the car park, on the enterance to the Mall itself, and on the larger shops they check you in (no bags!) and then out again (check the receipt to whats in your bag!). Its a fairly lacksadsiacal, casual form of checking but its everywhere, but given that right outside the gates of the Mall is another cluster of tented street-dwellings you can start to understand why. Crime is, have been assured by more then one person here, endemic.

My only real regret so far is that I've not really eaten anything local. In fact, I've not really eaten anything at all. Mostly I think the anti-malarials I've got, added to the heat, have totally killed my appetite. I'm getting a reasonable breakfast, then get into the office about 9.30, haven't had lunch before 2 yet and by the time I've got back to the hotel after leaving work between 6.30 and 7 I'm still not really hungry. Drinking a lot of water though, and the coffee from the office is good, the Hotel, less so.

Right, I'd better get finished off.

Day Four. 
Racing the Dawn along the Pakistani
Coastline
I awoke from a dream I remember clearly in which I was telling a bunch of people I'd not seen since University that I was just back from India but i couldn't remember anything about the trip. I was woken, of course, by the Hotel ringing me to tell me it was 1am, and I needed to get up, check out, and go home. Frustratingly, my attempts to go to bed early had failed due partly to jetlag and partly to the guy next door playing the local version of MTV just loudly enough to disturb me. So I didn't really start refreshed.

Ahmedabad at 2am is a totally different city - so quiet its hard to believe its the same place. All the hustle and bustle of the daylight hours is gone and the roads were still and quiet, and the whole city felt dark and still and slightly eerie. Still, getting through the airport security made up for it, I counted seven different stages through check in, immigration and security before we got boarded and on the way to Dubai for a thankfully very short stay.

Now it's the hard part of Jet-lag, where the clocks keep going back and they just gets longer and longer. In UK terms, my 1am wake up call was 9.30pm on Thursday, and it's now nearly 7pm Friday and I've had maybe two hours kip on the A380 to Manchester on top of the two hours before leaving. Holding out as long as I can, so I can see the kids, who I've missed terribly, and so that I can force my body clock back to normal as fast as possible.

Its been a great experience - I'm concious I've not "experienced" India, really, - and I think if i'd tried to just wander off and have a look around the guys from the office would have forcibly restrained me - but just going there, and seeing it first hand, and meeting and spending time with so many people I work with, every day, has been totally worth it. I hope work agrees!