Monday, December 04, 2006

It has been almost a year now since I took my trip to India. I still think about it a lot, and hope to return there someday. One interesting aftermath from my trip: After each meal there, I ate a handful of fennel seed. This is used to help control the stomache to not get sick from the spices and such. Since coming home I and my wife have been using fennel seed regularly (you can get it in an Indian grocer) and my wife no longer needs to take her stomach medication. My doctor was impressed and mentioned that a product 'GripWater' that is used in Europe for cullicy babies he believed used fennel extract (it does).

I'm currently thinking what I want to write about next. My brother is currently contributing to a very popular political blog ( and is writing one (, but that's really not my cup of tea. I'm thinking about one focused on food since that really is my greatest love of life.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Also, I've taken a lot of pictures. Once home I will try and post a few links to the various entries to try and give some color. I'll also try and find some links for the sites I saw.
People who know me well probably are surprised that food hasn’t been a bigger topic in my blog. I’d actually been waiting until the end to post anything as to not jinx myself. The food here has been fantastic! Every meal has been wonderful and interesting. The meat is so tender; the vegetables so fresh, I even ate beet root and things raw. The spices are also very good, and nothing was as hot as I was expecting. The Naan is also much better than you get in the states, not exactly sure why. I’m also happy to say I did not get ill even once. In fact, I only got one upset stomach the whole time.
This weekend I took a trip to the ‘nearby’ (300km) city of Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. This was my first time outside a city in India, and it certainly gave me a very different perspective of the country.

First, let me say something about driving in India. The cities I’ve already described, but that is highly organized compared to the intercity roads. The country is currently developing a network of expressways between the major cities, but at this point the roads were only halfway constructed. The expressway will be a 4 lane divided highway (two in each way), but for now everyone shares a road. I learned that two lane roads actually have a third lane, because we commonly passed someone forcing the driver in the other direction to go off the road into an imaginary third lane. The driving outside the cities is something like a rugby match, each side forming flying wedges to control the road. Horns are also used all the time. I learned there are four times using a horn is appropriate:
1 – When letting a person in front know you want to pass
2 – When you are passing a person in front
3 – When the person in front is going to slow
4 – All other times
I mean, I would say 10% of the trip the horn was on. They even have an upgraded horn that sounds like a siren.

The roads are also not limited to any speed or transportation type. You have cars trying to go 80 km/hr, trucks at 40, small cars at 30, horse drawn carts, bicycles, and people walking; plus the occasional herd of goats being led across the road. The end result is you are constantly speeding up or slowing down. I don’t think we maintained constant speed for more than two minutes.

I’m also proud to say, I now saw a modern Indian music video. The van had a DVD player and we had some of them. I have to say they are just as provocative and skin bearing as anything in the US; Perhaps even more so. I have no idea what the words to the songs were, but I’m pretty sure I could figure out the ‘story’. Some of the costumes and moves were directly copies from stuff in the US (school girl outfit waving the arms). I was glad to see US culture going abroad.

I grew up thinking India was a desert, but the whole road was surrounded by farm with the lushest green I’ve ever seen. All sorts of crops are grown there. You saw shepherds tending their flock, just like you’d imagine it. It really was very quaint, except you realize it’s not for show. We stopped at a few roadside restaurants (it’s about 8 hours each way) and the food was really good. Also the vegetables and fruit were fantastic. I was told you cannot get fresher fruit than from a roadside in India.

There are Animals everywhere, in the farms and the cities: cows, bulls, goats, pigs, horses, donkeeys, and dogs. It’s like someone decided to make a country-sized petting zoo. Sitting outside a store, a goat will walk up and start eating some leaves around you. It seems so odd, yet so normal at the same time.

There are these giant beehive looking things everywhere. These are in fact cow dung patties piled up. They are dried and used as heating fuel. Cows are sacred in India (there is no such thing as beef), they provide milk and fuel (such that it is) and are the symbol of the Hindu religion.

On our way to Agra, we also crossed a railroad track with the gates down. There was a train coming so we took a break to walk around. I watched the gatekeeper use a manual wheel to raise and lower the gate and a bar switch to turn the lights on. It was really then that it hit me the effect of labor cost. There is no reason the government couldn’t have put electronic signaling in. It is not a cause of lack of understanding (they have more engineers than the US I’m sure) or a lack of money (now the third largest economy in the world), but rather the fact that it makes no economic sense. In the US, because of our high labor cost it’s traditional to use technology to substitute for labor. But when labor is cheap, there is no need to make such choices.

After a long trip, we reached Agra and went to see the Taj. I’m not going to go into a big description of it, you can read about it a million places, and any words I give would not to it justice. It was the first place I saw non-Indian tourists, and there were a lot of them. You saw lots of Australians, Brits, French, and Asians; Almost like Disney. The one thing that I thought was the most amazing is how they made color in the Taj. Since it was made purely from white marble, there was no paint. All the color in the Tag is actually made from precious gems and semi-precious gems. The green is from cut jade, the red citrine, etc…. The marble then causes them to glow from light. The monument was also designed with very advanced engineering, even by todays standards. The pillers are all angled outwards slightly so if a quake hit, they would fall away from the monument. The foundation is built such that, even along the river, it does not sink (despite being very heavy). Also, the metal links used to build the top actually all interconnect and act as a lightning rod, protecting the monument itelf. We also saw a couple forts nearby. They were very nice, and I’ll try and dig up some links to them.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Stray dogs really are everywhere. I asked if there were any health concerns (rabies, etc...) but I was told the person had never heard of one of these days biting a person. In fact, they are not completely stray; neighborhoods tend to adopt dog packs, leaving food for them. He even said that it is considered good will to make extra food while cooking and leave it out for the neighborhood dogs.
Metals and stones here are a big part of society. Each stone has a certain attribute they are supposed to help with (health, luck, etc...) Silver for instance is supposed to be very healthy for you, so upperscale food will have a very thing sheet of this silver metal on it (think goldschlager). You will see it on candy, Galub Gamon, Meat, etc.... It has no taste, and you don't even notice it's there other than looks. I actually thought it was tin foil at first and tried to remove it. It makes things look very elegent.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

If I had to pick the two biggest differences between the US and India it would be the Rich/Poor gap and Infrastructure.

Like a lot of developing countries there is a (relatively) small group of wealthy that live very well (servants, drivers, nice houses, etc...) and really have all the modern conveniences American's are used to (even DSL in their home). However, the poor live in extreme poverty. This is very challenging for the government, as they have to make policy to support both these groups. Schooling is really the big thing they push to try and get the rural areas more educated. There is an emerging middle-class, but it is really an upper-upper middle class, not what we consider middle-class. It’s a bit weird to see such wealth and poverty so close together. A picture down the main street will see crippled people begging for money, a farmer selling fruit, cars driving, a cow chewing its cud, and a cell-phone company store all in one scene.

Infrastructure is really the other thing. Power goes out regularly; people don’t even really pay attention to it. Happened to be in an elevator once, which was a bit disconcerting. In fact, it least to the only time I’ve heard sarcasm here, an elder Indian said ‘Oh, Wonderful!’ Water is available, but it not safe to drink in general. Phone service seems to be semi-reliable, but cell-phones are quickly replacing them it seems. By American standards the infrastructure here would just seem cluttered. Streets are disorganized and unclean; you’ll se exposed wires attaching a phone to a line, etc….

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Last night I had dinner in the Taj Mahali resort in Lucknow. It was very nice food, though actually I liked the hotel I'm staying at better. Taj is a chain of 5-star restorts in India (and around the world) An interesting story about how the hotel came into being. Supposedly the to-be owner tried to check into a fancy British hotel and was told Indians were not allowed. He then told them that he would build the most luxurious and perfect hotel to put them out of business. The hotel was originaly called 'The Indian Hotel', and the original one on Mumbai (Bombay) is in the book of 1000 places to see before you die.

Also, learned that one of the girls on the development team met her finance in school. So this is an example of the changing culture in India.
The CEO Forum I attended got a writeup in the Lucknow paper, and my name was mentioned as one of the 'like minded people'.

You can see the scan at:

Monday, January 30, 2006

The beer here is quite good. It would be light by US standards, but it comes in a 750 ml bottle (about 25oz). Goes nice with the spicey food. Also had some 'Chinese' food. It's very interesting, an odd combination of Chinese style with Indian spices. Actually, everything in Indian'ized. Even pepsi has a spice to it (I'm actually not a big fan). They do however have this wonderful drink. It's soda water, but then they mix in lemon juice and simple syrup. Tastes something like Sprite, but so much better.
I have just been informed by my mother, they have been married 42 years. I am a bad child for not knowing that.
Joke I was told today (after a discussion of how bad British food is):

Heaven is a British home, Japanese food, an American salary, and an Indian wife.

Hell is Britsh food, an Indian salaray, a Japanese home, and an American wife.
For those asking, I have been taking pictures, but I don't have a way to upload them to my computer here. When I get home I will post some.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Last night I was with a colleague and his wife. It was very interesting learning their perspective of Americans. For one thing, they assume we all have affairs and don’t stay married. His parents were celebrating their 27th anniversary, and asked ‘does that happen in America’. I mentioned my parents have been married almost 40 years, and he seemed very surprised. His wife was also very surprised that I missed my wife back home, and said the impression there was Americans were not very romantic and didn’t really love one another. It was kind of depressing that this was the image we projected.

I also had to explain that she could not wear jewelry like that in certain parts of the US. She thought I was joking, but her husband explained I was serious. It did then dawn on me, you saw lots of women walking around with a lot of jewelry on and there seemed to be no concern of theft. Crime just didn’t seem to be that persistent, or at least not in the way we think of it. Guess it would be hard to do a back ally mugging when the back ally probably has about 200 people in it.
You know, with all the trouble with network infrastructure here (power goes out a lot, networks go down, phone lines can't carry data well, etc...) I asked why they don't blanket the city in WiFi. Well, apparently, they did try that in part of Lucknow. However, the usage was so low, they stopped. There are a good number of computers, but very few with WiFi capabilities.
In the hotel I've been watching some Indian videos. Laugh at sterotypes all you want, but they all seem to have that high pitched sterotypical singing voice. But the images are just like US videos (scantly clad hot women gyrating). I'm sure the songs are all differnt, so it makes me wonder, does this mean this is how country or rap sounds to them?
Okay, not to betray my fellow tri-pods, but we cannot complain about what we are expected to buy our wives. An engagement ring? Bah! A pair of diamond earings? No problem. A few braclets maybe? You can afford it. Try visiting an Indian gold store and seeing every married women in there draped in gold and gems. I’m not talking a few chains, I’m talking Mr. T would be jealous. And not 14k gold either, that is for costume jewelry; it’s 22k or 24k. I stopped by the store to pick up a piece I had been deciding on, and my colleague’s wife was with us. I somehow think I really screwed him over by not getting it yesterday, because I think he’s now on the hook for a small fortune in new items.

We did some sightseeing today, in particular going to a palace/fortress of a famous Muslim king. The palace is a network of stairways and hallways that go every which way. Imagine MC Escher with no light. No one fully knows the labyrinth really, and you have to be very careful about following the guide. Literally at one moment I had five or six routes I could take and only one goes out. Many people have died in the labyrinth below the fortress, including (supposedly) a British regiment of 4000 men. There is also a tunnel system under it leading to Delhi, Agra, and some other city. This was for the king to run away if he was being invaded. This part of India originally was ruled by the Muslims (until the Brits came) so there are a lot of Mosques around. There used to be a lot of silver and gold, but the British looted most of it. You can go see the originals by visiting the British Museum in London. One of the palaces’ gates was made out of pure silver and the doors were pure gold.

We also visited a very large monument to a political figure. Think Jefferson memorial, but half the size of the Washington Mall. Just like the US, each group in power gets monuments to their leaders built. So since the other party is now in power, a new moment is being built across the street, at another small fortune.

There are stray dogs everywhere. I saw two packs argue over some land. You could tell 4 came one way with their tails up, two others tried to stand their group, but their tails went down and they ran. The 4 then quickly marked their space. I found this incredibly ironic that this was happening between two political monuments. There are also cows and donkeys (or mules) walking all over the place.

Oh, I learned the rules of cricket; kind of. I was able to watch a bit of a match on TV (India vs. Pakistan) and follow it a bit. But I’m not sure I could get into it. The length of the game is crazy (there are a 1 day version and a 5 day version). The pace is actually not that slow, it’s just the outs are so very rare.