Monday, October 02, 2006

A Trip To India

I've been meaning to blog about a trip I took to India a few months ago, and I finally decided, "Matt, just get that sucker done."

My employer sent me to Bangalore, India for a week at the start of the summer on a training engagement. Whether we should have gone is not really the subject of this blog. I know it was really expensive.

I remember the day my boss came to ask me to go. I suspected I would be asked to go, since I am the newest member of the team (and the least important). Most everyone else had already been to India before, and of those of us that hadn't, some were already booked to go to China the week prior to my trip. The ones that had already been weren't too keen on going again, and since they are more important, they could make me go instead. If you think I'm being mean to the people of India, I'm not - read on and you will understand.

Here are some of the things you have to deal with in order to take a trip to India.
  1. US Passport. Apparently, this is to convince the United States that they can let you leave. I don't quite get that. But I do know that if your employer is short-sighted enough as to not really plan well for your international voyage, it will cost somewhere around $185 to get a passport in a timely fashion (like, about 1 week).
  2. Indian Visa. This is where you try to convince India that, since the United States is convinced that they don't care whether you leave, India should be happy to take you.
  3. Shots. I had shots for diptheria, tetanus, hepatitis, polio, etc. I can't remember them all. I am still having follow-up shots. One has to ask, how is it that the Indian people seem to survive just fine, but us Westerners have to get completely medicated in order to survive? My guess is, they are tougher than we are.
  4. Medication. I had to get some anti-malarial horse pills, along with a prescription to Ambien to try to help me adjust to the time change (more on this failed experiment later).
  5. Entertainment. I bought a 30Gb Creative Zen Vision M just for the occasion - and I used it, buster.
I was starting to understand why people don't want to go to India. Then the travel began, and I really started to understand.
India is a long ways away. I know you know that, but if you've never gone that far you don't quite get it. It is so far away, in fact, that if you go any farther you are coming closer to home.

Here is how the trip to India went:
  • Fly from Salt Lake City to Cincinnati. Actually, we had the choice of Cincinnati, New York, Newark, Atlanta, etc. It doesn't really matter. This is an inconsequential portion of the trip.
  • Fly from Cincinnati (or wherever) to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. Try to sleep, since it is nighttime in India, even though it is just the afternoon in Salt Lake City. Take an Ambien, wake up four hours later, and feel groggy for four more.
  • Oh, by the way - if you ever have to fly through Charles de Gaulle, DON'T. What a nightmare.
  • When you land in Paris, you are just over halfway there!
  • Fly from Paris to Bangalore. Try to stay awake since it is daytime in India. Suffer from lack of thirst. Resolve to take bottles of water in your carry-on luggage next time (and then, months later, wonder if you will be able to due to new flight regulations and the potentially explosive properties of water).
  • Land in Bangalore - and be amazed.
Truly amazed. Not repulsed. Not shocked. Amazed.

Don't get me wrong. Bangalore is not really all that much like Provo, Utah. For one thing, Bangalore has much fewer Suburbans, Excursions, and 12-passenger vans. Bangalore also has many more auto-rickshaws than Provo. Also more motorcycles - but most of them are smaller and less powerful than even my Kawasaki KX 250. Traffic is insane. Traffic laws seem to be more like guidelines or suggestions. People are everywhere, even in the middle of the night.

You may ask, is it dirty in India? Yes, it is. But it is also very beautiful. Sorry, you will have to go there to see what I mean.

We checked into Le Meridien, which is highly recommended, if you can afford around $300 per night. I hooked up my laptop and called my family via Skype. They asked why I waited so long, and I explained to them that I had just barely arrived (some 30 hours later).
I then tried to sleep. I learned the hard way that my antimalarial medication has a side effect of keeping you awake. So instead of my Ambien keeping me blissfully asleep for 8 hours, it had the effect of causing me to sleep for around 3 hours, and then I would be groggy for the remainder.

This is how most of the trip went for me. I was always tired during the day. Horrifically tired. Taking microsleeps in class, unintentionally, when I wasn't doing the training. Then nighttime would come and I would struggle to get any sleep. By Thursday I had completely given up on trying to adjust my schedule and was just trying to get sleep whenever I could.

So far the trip sounds mostly like torture. It wasn't. It was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. I would not trade it for anything.
The singular biggest reason for this is the people. The people of India are simply great people. I could not believe how polite, friendly, and kind they were. This was true with hotel staff, restaurant staff, people in the training sessions, taxi drivers, shop employees - they were all very helpful and polite.
Of course, some readers would say that these people were all like this because I was their customer. This is not an untrue statement. However, I have also been the customer of similar people in the United States - I've stayed at hotels, gone to restaurants, ridden in taxis, etc. Rarely do I get this kind of service here.

I also got some great mementos. I picked up some jewelry for my wife - true amber jewelry along with star sapphires - some knick-knacks for my kids, and a hand-carved sandalwood chess set for myself. I will probably never play chess with it. It is great to look at.
I'm well aware of the concept of negotiating price in India. I saw hand-tied silk rugs that I could buy for $200. I was told that they take three months for one person to create. I did not take economics in college, but I'm no idiot. I know that you can't have a business if you pay your employees more than you bring in revenue-wise. So I know that person who ties those rugs is making less than $800 a year. Considering the amount of money I make, I simply lost the heart to negotiate price. I felt I shouldn't do that when I've been given so much.

I can't explain what an awesome experience it was to go there. I will never forget it - ever. The people were amazing to meet.

And the travel is the absolute pits. I am a large man - 6'2" and about 215 pounds. Not enormous, but large. I'm not really fat either. I mean, I have some extra insulation in certain regions, but mostly I'm just broad-shouldered and big. Cramming me into coach is simply inhumane. I was shoved into a seat against the side of the plane all the way from Paris to Los Angeles on the way back. The only thing more uncomfortable than sitting there was trying to get out. I had literally no legroom - my knee was crammed up against the seat in front of me. I stayed there, getting warmer, getting smellier, starving to death because they are feeding me this crappy French food.

Being in India was an experience I will never forget. I will always be grateful for that opportunity. Travelling to and from India was also an experience I will never forget. It was torture.
Overall, my trip to India was an unforgettable experience that I will always be grateful to have had, and one I don't look forward to repeating. At least not in coach.