Saturday, February 20, 2010

More Mumbai

The reason for my second trip to India was to find a job in Mumbai. I knew that it would be hard and it would take much persistence on my part. I have been here in Mumbai for 18 days and counting, I have had many job interviews and many meetings with little success up to this point.

This is the longest I have ever lived in a city outside Canada. The temperature hovers around 27, 28 degrees everyday. It’s always beautiful and I just think to how the weather is in Montreal.... and I smile!

Most of my meetings/interviews are in Bandra which is 1.5 hours from Coloba (where I’m staying in Mumbai). To get to Bandra I have to go to Churchgate station which is a 25 rupee taxi, and from there I hop on the city train to my destination. I usually get the oddest stares because I am in my suit on the train; I find it extremely funny. All businessmen and women have drivers and that how they get from their house to their work (unlike me who is on the local train). The train is 4 rupees and I never pay, the line to buy the tickets takes way too long. It’s incredible how Indians are so frantic getting on and off the train. You need to cover your face getting off the train because people are trying to get on and off while rushing like a heard of bulls.

Once I arrive in Bandra I have to find an honest rickshaw driver. HAHAHA....There are none to be found ever! I am like a walking gold token for all the drivers waiting. I have a method which I think is very clever. The rickshaw drivers say a price which is 100 times the real price. I tell them yes I will pay that, but when I arrive I pay them what I think they deserve. The drivers are in heaven wondering what they will buy while they’re driving me to the location but when I give them what the fare is actually worth they become very very angry.

The new complexes in Bandra would make Dubai blush. The buildings are magnificent and very elegant with all the newest amenities. It is truly incredible; you forget you’re in India for awhile. As well the security to enter the buildings would make Fort Knox proud.

I have met with RBC, KOTAK, CNBC, UBS and several Consulting Firms. They all tell me the same thing; that they are all walking on egg shells right now. They will be hiring in April and I need to call them then. The positive thing is that I am meeting face to face with the firms which are important in India. I have a follow up meeting with CNBC, they want me to do an internship for a month to see if I fit in well with their team. They want me to go on TV and stuff which is crazy because I have never been very good at public speaking but I guess I can learn.

I realize now that my initial diagnosis of the Indian market may have been false. I thought that within 5 years India would be following China's economy. The more I stay in India and the more that I have meetings I realize that it may take 15 years for India to have the necessary infrastructure in all facets of life to be as powerful as China.

1) The corruption in India is ingrained in the people. It’s incredible how you have to pay people off to do anything. This is a side story that may describe to you the corruption in India. I was playing basketball with two Iranians one of them has a business in exporting. He tells me wild stories how he has to pay around every corner in order for his business to run well. We were getting kicked off the court and the Iranian who has to pay everyone off runs to the security guard and puts a 100 rupee note in his pocket. The security officer then turns around and it was like nothing has happened.

2) You will see the separation between China and India this October at the Commonwealth games in Delhi. Remember the Olympics in 08 in Beijing? I remember amazing structures and a flawless ceremony. I don’t think India can come close to what China did. We will see soon enough!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bombay Beginnings...

When I arrived in Bombay it was very hot. I didn’t realize at the time that it was uncharacteristically hot for Feb. The hot weather actually scared me because I didn’t know if I could handle the summer heat which reaches about 50 degrees Celsius. At 32, I was sweating from head to toe. Wearing a suite in hot weather is also not very comfortable. I noticed that the uniform here in Bombay is just a shirt and pants, no tie or jacket. Since I was having interviews I had to wear the full attire and it was stinking hot.

A few observations from Bombay are as follows:

1) During a job interview I have never been asked about my family background. I was asked without a smile on the man’s face if I could describe my family in detail. Once I had done so he looked satisfied and moved on to more traditional questions.

Family history matters in India. It shows that you’re a credible candidate for the job and that you are a trustworthy individual.

On the same subject of interviews, referrals are very important. It is very difficult to get attention in Bombay without knowing someone else. One of my ideas for getting a job was to hand out my resume everywhere. I was instructed by recruitment agencies and people in business that I would not get a nibble of interest because I was not referred to them. It is very important that they know you are trustworthy and that you come from a good background.

2) Indians hate disappointing. If you are looking for something and you ask an Indian where to go they will instruct you 2 blocks then take a left. The thing is they have no clue and are just trying to be friendly. Getting to Bombay I feel like the same thing happened with my recruitment contacts. They had told me for months that they knew many people and that I should come to Bombay to meet and that I would have many meetings.

This has not really come true. The meetings that I have had did not come from the recruitment agencies but through various other networking avenues. I guess it’s just the Indian way to be over friendly to the point of falsifying the truth.

3) The Indian markets are walking on egg shells. This observation is important because firms are scared to hire at this present moment. In the end the interviews are turning more into face to face meetings where I am being short listed for the hiring process in Late April or early June. The short list comprises of only 3 individuals including me so I am optimistic on that point. As well firms will do their interviews via phone once the hiring starts so I am not at a disadvantage.

4) I have had a very hard time finding Ex Patriots here in Bombay. I have looked online to find how I can meet anyone or if Ex Pats meet at any one location to hang out but I have come up with nothing. My strategy is to go to bars where I know Ex Pats frequent and start a convo with anyone that looks foreign. This strategy is a dodgy one at best but I think it’s the only way to really get in contact with an Ex pat.

The reason that I want to meet Ex Pats is because I want to know certain answers to my many questions. Such as:

How hot is it really in Summer?

Do you like living in Bombay?

How much is rent?


5) It is impossible and I mean impossible to watch the Superbowl in India. I had met 2 Americans and we went to every bar in Bombay and not one bar was showing the SuperBowl. That was very discouraging because I love the Saints, the Saints are my team!! Well I missed the SuperBowl and my team won. WHO DAT NATION!

As well on the same topic the Winter Olympics are just as hard to find. I tried to watch the downhill skiing last night and no bar would let me stay that late. I even called the Canadian Consulate pleading them to have a TV on at all times for the Olympics but they told me they wouldn’t do it.

I’m going to keep trying…

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kajuraho & friends

The temples in Kajuraho are absolutely splendid. The sculptures and temples were beautifully displayed. The temples were set upon a path around a loop, in the middle was a vast field of lush green grass. The tantric aspect to the temples was underwhelming. And I say this because there were in reality 3 actual carvings that were of the tantric nature. It reminded me of an "action flick" where the pre views showed many action scenes, then when you watched the movie you already seen every action seen already in the previews for the movie. That's how I felt from the temples I felt duped. In any case it was a beautiful day and I enjoyed the walk. The weather was finally turning hotter. In Delhi and Lucknow the weather was bitterly cold especially at night, but in Khajuaraho the weather was warm and very nice with a slight breeze on occasion. There were two sets of temples the west and the east. The west temples were 250 rupees and the east temples were free. Roaming around the east temples I was swarmed by kids. Usually they would ask for money and be on their way, not these kids. They were aggressive and were very rude. Throughout the days sightseeing I would get numerous calls from Kallu wondering where I was. It was incredible how persistent he was! One man while I was in Delhi called me 77 times in 5 hours! Needless to say Indians are very persistent!

Later that day Kallu told me to get on his bike. I had read in Shantaram that Indians often don’t tell you where their going. I had to trust him, he brought me through some mustard fields for about 2 km I seriously thought to myself that he was going to kill me, but I kept my calm and we rode on through the fields. Women were holding large baskets full of vegetables and fruit on their heads as we passed them and kids were playing in their little huts. We soon arrived to a little place in the fields about 4 km in. Men were playing cards sitting on a bright yellow tarp. To the right of them was a little hut created in the same yellow material. I looked over the shoulder of the group of people and saw that people were gambling. A huge man had a stack of 1000 dollar rupee bills in his hands and pocket. I figured he was the banker. I was told that the game was called in or out. Someone picked a card from the deck and set it aside. Then two piles were formed and the men who were betting against the banker had to pick in our out. The odds are 50/50, Kallu had told me he has lost 100 Euros that day. I was perplexed how can you lose that much money if the game is 50/50? The banker looked up at me with a huge grin and told me to sit down. I hesitated and thought I would just put a large sum on one hand. In the end I decided against it and the game ended right then and there.

Everyone around the huge banker had lost money, no one was a winner. The banker was a generous man and he needed his cliental to come back the next day. The banker would give 500 rupees to everyone that lost money, this money was their gas money or whatever they would use it for.

We drove one of Kallu's friends back with us and we had 3 people on the motorcycle. He was a short dark man and his name was Uncle. He was always smiling and even though he couldn’t speak English very well we became good friends. He owned a shop in town that sells school supplies for little profit. Since it’s the only shop in town he makes good money. I respected him for doing that and he was very good with all the kids that came by. He left the shop and put Kallu and I in charge. We had a hard time finding the books and pencils people needed but we managed. One family didn’t have enough money and I paid for the kids’ pencil and sketch book. It was a good feeling to help someone out, and they were very happy indeed.

That night we partied in Uncles hotel room. Drinking and they were smoking. Its crazy the amount of cigarettes they smoke, they spent close to 500 rupees a day just smoking all day and night. That night I met another fine fellow, I couldn’t pronounce his real name so I called him superman. He really enjoyed that, and I had given it to him because he would always wear his superman shirt. The thing I noticed most is that the men I hung out with that week never changed. It was crazy how they would wear the same thing everyday for the whole week.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Kajuraho Social

Khajuraho was much hotter than Lucknow and my first impressions were very good. The cold of the north was terrible because I didn’t have the right attire. This new found warmth was very welcoming and I was happy that I made the decision to come Khajuraho. I stayed in a place for 150 Rupees. It was a big room with a double bed and a bathroom. The bathroom was disgusting but that’s why I brought sandals. Right away 2 guys showed up and I guessed that the hotel attendant had called them to show me around and he would make a commission. After much talk about finance and the import export business I had made 2 friends. One of the guys, Kallu, owned a gem shop in town and frequently visited Europe to do business. He rented a loft in the Netherlands which was his base in Europe. The other man made money off tourists. I hadn’t noticed but there were many tourists around, mostly in their 40's or 50's. He had bought a bike with the money and brought tourists to the near by waterfalls or the mountains for a price. His name was Lucky and he was a slim guy 20 years old and at the beginning, didn’t talk much. Kallu was bigger with a belly and spoke excellent English; he had just arrived from a stint in Europe and was excited for the partying ahead. We stood outside his gem shop and had a chai. He was telling me the intricacies of the day to day life in the small town of just of 20,000 people. He was basically my first Indian friend in India and I really appreciated the warmth he displayed to me.

That night we stayed at his shop and drank upstairs. He had a TV and a DVD machine. The only CD's he has were Janet Jackson old school music videos and a movie that was made in the town of the tantrik nature. We bought Old Stag Whisky mixed with water. I didn’t feel threatened and I eased into the conversation that was mostly in Hindi.

The shop was interesting in itself. Kallu the shop owner had servants. He paid them to do what he wanted. The servants would touch our feet and stay in the shadows of the conversation. I made it imperative to include them and show them the same respect that I showed Kallu and Lucky. We ordered food at 11:30pm. It seems that Indians eat very late which was different from what I had been accustomed to all my life. We ordered mutton (sheep) and other delicacies and I paid for the meal.

Lucky, being younger than Kallu had to respect him always. It seemed that the older the more respect you got. Lucky would do anything Kallu said out of respect and admiration for the older person. If someone older than Kallu came into the room he would get up and the older person would take the seat. I found this very interesting and very admirable that in a time of today traditions such as these are still practiced. I also came to learn that family does not drink together. It’s a respect thing as well. For instance Lucky does not drink with his father or any of his brothers; it would be an insult if you showed up at the same party or social event.

R Day & Lucknow

The Polish woman never had time to visit the mosques in Lucknow. We decided that we should go and see them. We took a cycle rickshaw to the mosques which were 5 km away from our hotel. A cycle rickshaw is a bike with a bench on the back for people to sit. It costs significantly less than a motor rickshaw and you get to experience more of your surroundings on a bike.

The mosque was spectacularly large. The entrance fee for the mosque was 300 Rupees. Inside was a vast courtyard with little shrubs leading to the monuments. They were beautiful and sunset was arriving quickly, the sky was shimmering red. We had to take off our shoes and head into one of the mosques. There was a sign and it read labyrinth. I was very excited because I thought it would be refreshing to get lost in a sacred mosque. We climbed up a set of steep inclining stairs until we reached the top. I could see there were many rows and rows of archways which the Polish woman told me were Mogul style. As we snaked through the maze of the mosque we ran into archways that were designed with an Indian style and an Islamic style.

The following day was Republic day or R day (Jan 26). I was told and I read that it was not safe to be in crowded areas with other foreigners. As I left Delhi throngs and throngs of foreigners were pouring into the streets to witness the celebration. I thought it would be best if I stayed away from Delhi. R Day is when India gained Independence from the rule of the Brits. R Day was especially significant in Lucknow because that is where Ghandi and his followers devised a plan to overthrow the British rule.

The parade started early and my hotel and was 500m from the procession of music and laughter. The parade started out very good and well planned. This parade had many gaps of 10 minutes where no parade person was in sight, unusual when thinking of the typical parade.

Then I figured I had enough of Lucknow. Its tourist infrastructure was low and there wasn’t much to do. I hopped on a train to Khajuraho the land of the Tantric Temples. The train ride would take me to the state of MP which is just south of UP. The train would take 10 hours this time and I bought a ticket for 91 Rupees. Once I bought the ticket I was informed that there was a 2 hour delay because of the fog. I decided to go to an internet cafe and just hang out.

Getting on the train at 7pm I didn’t realize that I had bought a boarding pass for the general class. As I walked I could see there was no way in this world that I was going to subject myself to the cruelty of general. No room, super crowded, and dirtier then dirt. I then secretly jumped into 2 AC and awaited my fate. I took out my book Shantaram which I had bought in Delhi and casually read it hoping no one would sit in my seat. 5 minutes into my journey I was approached by the ticket master. He looked at my ticket and then gave it back to me without an expression on his face. I thought I was home free. He then started calculating numbers and asking others how much their tickets were. I was busted, I had to pay the difference and in the end the ticket was 645 Rupees. I figured that he had taken a little icing off the top of the price but I didn’t mind, this is India!!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Fog, Travel, in India ... don't mix

Since the last time I wrote I have been on many adventures and wonderful journeys through the heart of India. My time in Delhi was great and I left with a better appreciation for the capital than the last time I left.

The stifling fog that wreaks havoc upon India in Winter does just that. The fog throughout my 4 nights there canceled as many as 100 flights and led to many train delays. I was taking a train at 10 pm at night in the sleeper class for 232 rupees. 1 Canadian dollar equals approximately 43 Rupees. Sleeper class is the 3rd class out of 4 on the railway system. Sleeper is very cheap and noisy but I love it all the same. The last class is general which I would not do. Its very crowded and very cold.

Foreigners are allotted 10 percent of all seats on the train. Therefore, its easy for us to make last second plans. My train to Lucknow which is the capital of the state of UP, was suppose to take 9 hours and i reiterate suppose to take. Lucknow is South West of Delhi and 4 hours West of Varanasi.

For the train it is very important to get snacks and lots of water because its not recommended that you leave your bags alone in Sleeper Class. I brought 2 servings of momo's, a Tibetan delicacy which is very good. It is basically a dumpling like noodle with anything you want inside accompanied by a delicious sweet or spicy sauce. I also brought 2 bottles of mineral water for the trip.

Once on the train I opened my momo's and ate silently on the top bunk. There are 3 bunks one on top of each other like a bunk bed. Its important to get the top bunk because the bottom and the middle bunk can be accessed by anyone. My first time around I never slept on the train, this was a new experience for me and one that I was looking forward to. I had spent way too much money on the hotels in Delhi and a free nights sleep made the trip that much better.

On the top bunk adjacent to me was another foreigner from Poland. She looked like she was in her mid 30's. I sparked up a conversation with her and she told me that she was a teacher in Poland at University. She taught students Indian Art History. I didn't realize at the time but she was basically a free encyclopedia on the many mosques archways and carvings that we visited in Lucknow.

As I mentioned earlier the Lucknow train was suppose to take 9 hours and we were suppose to arrive at approximately 7 in the morning which is not a very good time to arrive anywhere. I made a little fort on the top bunk with my three bags and I felt that the bags were safe. It was very hard to get comfortable and it was very cold that night. I quickly fell asleep in my silk sleeping bag with my head on the bags. I woke many times during the night and the train was usually stopped. The snoring around me was terrible. It was a symphony of agony to my ears. As well I would wake up and the side I had been sleeping on would be very sore and I would have to change positions often.

I woke up at dawn looking at my cell phone and it was 7 am. I was distraught and thought I missed my stop. I looked across to the polish women and she was still there as well as everyone on the bottom bunks that were heading to Lucknow. I got up and went to the bathroom. The bathrooms on the train are nice enough if you hold your nose. The hole which you use goes straight onto the track outside. It smells terrible if you are stopped. I looked outside the train and the visibility was 50 feet maximum due to the pea soup fog. I asked one of the guys on the tracks outside the train how much longer we had. I figured 1-2 hours max. He told me 5 more hours. I knew I was in for the long haul because when an Indian says 5 it usually means double that.

In the end a 600 km journey took 15 hours. I figured Lance Armstrong could have got to Lucknow faster. I arrived at 2 pm the 25Th and set off with the nice Polish women. She had visited Lucknow before because she has to do her situations for school. She visits a museum in the middle of the zoo.