Monday, October 15, 2012

Day 5 - The Neverending Dinner

The work weeks are tough to deal with. Right after work at around 5:30am, the Indian team usually goes to sleep since all their family is also sleeping when they get home. After they get their 7-8 hours of sleep, they wake up and run errands, eat, or do normal daily tasks that we Americans probably do after work. Then after dinner, they head to work, when they aren't the most refreshed from a full night of sleep. I finally experienced this today, and boy was it tough to finish the work day today.

Still trying to adjust to the difference in schedules, I woke up around 11AM, getting about 5 hours of sleep. I spent the next couple of hours working and surfing the web. At around 4:30pm, my colleague picked me up so I could meet with the rest of my Accounting team for a dinner prior to work. We got there at around 5:30pm. Unfortunately, I came to town during a very important local election, which would occur tomorrow. Due to the importance of this election, alcohol was not served yesterday, today, and won't be served tomorrow. They declared it a dry day when we got to the restaurant - no beers or cocktails for me!

The dinner was a buffet, but it would only start at about 7:30pm when everything was set up. We ended up having some mocktails, sheesha, and pre-starters. The first question a waiter usually asks is "Veg or Non-Veg?" to accommodate for the strong practicing Hindu or more lax worshipper. Half of us decided on the Non-Veg while the other half opted for the Vegetarian option. While I was eating, I assumed the pre-starters were the appetizers, and the starters were the actual "buffet" we were paying for. I stuffed myself only to realize at 7:30pm that the real buffet started. Everything looked good, but unfortunately, I couldn't get myself to eat more than a couple bites of the actual meal.

Work was terribly difficult to get through, as we all had food coma by the time the shift started. I definitely caught a couple of my colleagues dozing off... I guess that's the difficulty of working a grave yard shift, here in India, and also anywhere else in the world. 

The Neverending Buffet with my colleagues

Lebanese Prawns

Vegetable Starters

Local Peanut Vendor

Local Fruit Vendors

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Day 4 - Delhi to Dehradun

Since I got an abundance of sleep over the past few days, it was effortless for me to wake up at 7am in the morning, something I am not usually able to do during the week. The hotel provided a continental buffet of breakfast items from India as well as the West.

Afterwards, I headed to the Radisson hotel near the airport to have a short meeting with one of our Chartered Accountants for my company, who work on our India side of our business. Man, does it get confusing trying to learn about the India governmental restrictions on operating a business in the country! But I guess it would be the same for an Indian to learn about our procedures here in the USA.

My flight was soon after the meeting, and I headed to the airport to catch the flight to Dehradun. It took 30 minutes to fly to the city located north of Delhi. I arrived at the Jolly Grant airport, which was about 45 minutes drive away from the heart of Dehradun, or the "Doon Valley." My colleagues were there to greet me, and we drove through the only highway to reach the city. Along the way I saw a vast network of forests (or what they call 'jungles' in India).

We reached town where I had some South India cuisine, called Masala Dosa. It resembled a quesadilla, but with peas, potatoes, and spices mixed together to comprise the inside, instead of the cheese you would get in a quesadilla. It was a simple, but delicious first meal here.

I checked into my hotel at around 5PM, which was not very kempt, reminded me of my backpacking days... and three hours later, I was at work! My Indian counterparts work the night shift to allign with Los Angeles working times. Although I was tired from the travel and lack of sleep, the first working day was not to difficult to get accustomed to, probably because I was excited to meet everyone.

Touchdown Dehradun!

The Surya Namaskar - a series of yoga positions to salute the sun.

Masala Dosa, a South Indian dish.

My Accounting Team!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Day 2-3 Revisiting India

I forget how exhausting long travel can be. These next few days were a transition day from NY to Delhi. I took a flight at 3PM Saturday in New York, and arrived in Delhi at 2PM. The flight was surprisingly hiccup-free and pleasant. Air India has some spacious economy class seats, and it was easy to rock to sleep to the vibration of the airplane, but that's about as much as I really did for the next 14 hours - sleep, eat, work a bit on the laptop, and watch "Dark Shadows," which was surprisingly mediocre from the expectations of a Johnny Depp/Helena Bonham Carter/Tim Burton flick.

Upon arrival in Delhi, I almost forgot that I would have to stay thick-skinned against the scammers. I inquired about getting a SIM card and were quoted high prices for hefty "minute" packages, but all I wanted was an emergency 100 minute plan. Even though this would be covered by my company, I still felt like I had to just walk away and go somewhere else to get a better deal. Saving money for the company I guess...

Walking out and hiring an airport taxi was also an ordeal! I thought that getting a "licensed" taxi from the airport booths would be hassle-free, but of course, the taxi drive drove away from the airport, didn't turn on the taxi meter, asked me if I'd pay a flat 1200 Rs fee instead, and tried to drive me to other hotels, in hopes I'd switch rooms and he'd get a commission! I refused, instead demanding that he turn on the meter, pretended I had a phone with service, played a couple of my voice messages to provide a little leverage in power, and he still drove to other hotels, asking me if I had already paid for the hotel I was going to. He ended up pretending not to know where the hotel was and had to call them to get the directions. After a waste of another 15 minutes and extra mileage on the meter, I finally arrived. He printed a receipt for the mileage with the airport fee of 80 Rs. I paid a little extra for tip, and he still tried to scam me another 80Rs as if I didn't read the receipt which clearly charged the fee already. I called him out about it and he acted dumb.

I love you New Delhi!

The rest of the day was spent at the hotel, which was close to the airport, but really not near anything worth exploring. People stay at these airport hotels for any layovers before heading to other areas in India. I felt out of touch with the real India, since it really just accommodated the business traveler, but I'll get my share of real-er India soon.

Always loved the welcoming decor upon arrival at the Indira Gandhi Airport in Delhi!

An edible Air India Meal

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Day 1 - the Big Apple (NYC)

Setting out one more time for an international trip around the world, with major differences from my last trip:

1) This trip will last 3.5 weeks, as opposed to 7.5 months
2) A majority of this trip is for business.
3) I have a bigger budget this time, and a per-diem stipend!
4) All flights and locations of travel have been predetermined and pre-booked.
5) I will have to lug around a large roller suitcase, instead of my beloved backpacker sack.
6) This is more of a vacation than an adventure.

I was lucky enough to find a job quickly after I settled back in Southern California, and even luckier to find a position with a global company with offices in Brazil, India, and China. After eight months of working, I was given the opportunity to travel to our India and China offices for a couple weeks to meet the team and provide operational solutions to some of the inefficiencies we face as a small company.

Since I would already be in the area, I decided to take an extra week off to visit SE Asia once more, and also see the Taj Mahal in India, one thing I missed last year. I should knock on wood... Trains have been booked to and from Agra, and it's on the itinerary, but travel in India can be sporadically inefficient and unreliable, so who knows? I booked a flight on Kingfisher Airlines, but the bankrupt company kept revising my departure time that I finally had to rebook a flight at the last minute. Employee unrest has prevented the company from operating effectively...

The first leg of my trip was a quick stop in New York to visit my friends in Brooklyn. I hadn't been back since New Years, and I still have dreams of living in this city one day. Plus, a flight from Los Angeles to India would be too much for me to handle, from one side of the world to the other. The flight from NY to Delhi alone is already 13 hours! LA to Delhi would be 18+ (including a guaranteed layover somewhere).

I packed last minute, reusing some of the travel supplies that I brought along with me last time. Just looking at some of these items that were tucked away in my backpack behind all my other crap in my closet brought back wonderful memories of my last trip.  There were still a couple things I had to purchase though, including another travel adapter, new backpack (my durable North Face backpack finally ripped at the zipper), and some toiletries.

Took a Thursday Red-eye straight from work to the Airport and arrived in NYC at 5:30am next morning. It took about 45 minutes to go through security at old, reliable, LAX, and everyone had to go through those full-body scans, something new to me. I thought it was a "random" lottery, but I guess TSA is getting a little more voyeuristic these days.

I met up with my good friends Eric and David and just reconnected for the next 24 hours. Surprisingly, I stayed out and about until the AM, something I didn't think my 26 year old body could do these days. We dined, walked around Williamsburg, shopped in Soho, dined, shopped some more, dined, and had a couple cocktails by the end of the night. As long as I'm staying active throughout this trip, I'll be happy!

JFK Airport - New York

Union Station - Los Angeles

My good buddies - David and Eric