On Feb 11th, I returned for another
Click on the button below for my log of the second trip:
Below are my reminisces of the first
|In November of 2005, I took a business trip to Bangalore,
India. This webpage contains notes and photos from that
trip, kept mostly as a way to communicate with Jane, but
others may find this interesting, too.
Please enjoy my adventures!
You may reach me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Today was picture-postcard perfect, so I played with my new digital camera a bit:
Told you we could see the Statue of Liberty outside our apartment!
This picture was taken 206 paces from the front entrance to our building.
(I cheated a bit by crossing
a street diagonally, but hey, this is New York City. Everybody jaywalks here.)
The four domed towers on the left are Ellis Island, and the big ugly white water tower is, well,
a big ugly white water tower.
I never get tired of this view of Lower Manhattan, especially at sunset.
Boy, is my butt ever sore. And I've got the frequent-flyer miles to prove it.
Getting to India isn't easy, what with it being on the opposite side
of the globe and all.
If a direct New York-to-Bangalore flight existed, it would mean spending sixteen hours
on one aircraft. Mercifully, it doesn't - my routing took me through Paris.
The first hop was a Delta flight, and while I often comment on how far
domestic air travel
has declined, this leg verified that for international travel as well.
The Delta terminal in JFK was crowded, noisy and dingy, the furnishings
had seen better
days, and the lighting was dim and institutional. Once on board, things didn't improve much -
the carpet in the plane was peeling and dirty, the pilot apologized several times for his inability
to adequately regulate cabin temperature, and people in the rows behind me complained that
their reading lights and sound systems didn't work. And the worst part of all:
"For those in the main cabin, beer and wine is available for five dollars or five euros. Exact
change is appreciated."
Damn. I really needed to sleep, but all I had were twenties, and four drinks would have been
a little much ... so, I popped on my headphones to exculde the squalling kids and chattering adults
and managed to get an hour's nap.
At Charles deGaulle airport in Paris, we had to disembark via stairs
onto the tarmac, where we
boarded waiting busses to take us to the main terminal. To their credit, the Air France personnel
that met the plane handled us with remarkable aplomb, considering that they (and I) were beset
with a nonstop litany of complaintsfrom the Ugly Americans getting off:
"The Air France planes get a jetway."And most of them were STARTING their vacations...
"Why'dya have to make this damn airport so big?"
"Does the driver know where we're goin'?"
"Are we there yet?"
My expectations for the Paris-Bangalore leg thus having been set sufficiently
low, I couldn't have been
more pleasantly surprised. It was an Air France flight (Delta codeshare), with a meticulously maintained
Airbus, gourmet-quality food (the cabin attendants even came around with baskets of rolls!) and, most
importantly, all the beer and wine you could drink. That last bit made the long flight time much easier
to take. Glad to see that overseas carriers haven't gone nuts on cost-cutting.
We arrived in Bangalore about 1 AM. Customs and immigration went
smoothly - getting our bags, however
took another hour and a half. Bangalore airport was built before the outsourcing boom hit, and it's facilities
weren't designed to handle jumbo-jetloads of passengers at once. The arrivals area has one doddery baggage belt,
and, I suspect, one baggage cart servicing it. Fifteen bags would appear, then, a few minutes later, fifteen more, and so on.
I'm glad the India folks hired me a driver. Nice guy - Mani is
his name, and I'm glad to have him around.
Not only do they drive on the British side here, but traffic laws are rather, er... flexible.I haven't seen any accidents
(so far), but driving here would be well beyond my skill set. Heck, crossing a street as a pedestrian is dangerous enough.
And, yes, on the way in from the airport we DID have to go around a cow sleeping in the road.
Everywhere here it's incredibly humid, and the hotel is no exception.
The room is nice, but it is so humid that the
bedclothes feel wet to the touch. I turned on the A/C and went to sleep.
I awoke a couple of hours later, shivering uncontrollably. My
sleep-addled mind went all over the place: I'm sick,
in an alien country with no one to turn to, and I haven't even checked in with Jane -- I'm gonna die.
Turns out the explanation was far more prosaic - I had turned the A/C
down too far, and the dampness of the
bedclothes (and my body's normal thermal shutdown during the later hours of sleep) caused me to wake up
shivering. I adjusted the temperature and a half-hour later, was quite cozy. By this time, however,
the sun was coming through the curtains, so I switched on the TV.
They have HBO India (!) and CNBC in both English and Hindi, but I settled
on an old friend, BBC World.
The top story was the aftermath of the Pakistani earthquake, and suddenly my problems all seemed rather trivial.
If cities were movies, Hong Kong would be Blade Runner. Bangalore, on the other hand, would be Brazil.
It's very bureaucratic, and everything is slightly crumbly and in seemingly
a permanent state of disrepair.
Haven't seen many ducts yet, but I do have a bundle of electrical electrical cables hanging vertically
outside my window.
Autorickshaws puttering along (I later found out that they are cabs, and not personal vehicles)
It's noisy and congested, and this is a Sunday morning. The preferred
mode of transportation here is motorcycle, or
autorickshaw - a hybrid three-wheeled contraption that runs, seemingly, on a motorcycle engine and is only partially
enclosed. They must not have noise standards here, as most vehicles seem to have marginally functional mufflers, and
they can't be too big on clean-air either, judging from the exhaust smoke belching from some vehicles. Add to that
the horns: not exasperated long blasts, but little toot-toots to indicate one's presence, and it all makes for a continuous
cacophony. I'm glad my room is on the seventh floor.
Took a long walk to get my bearings this morning, during which I was
engaged four times: twice by children trying to sell me
stuff, once by an middle-aged fellow who (I think) was trying to get me to come to his church, and once by a group
in the park. I had stopped to admire a statue of Ghandi in a nicely manicured garden, and several men in robes
approached me and explained that, instead of going to church, they come here on Sundays to pray for world peace.
Whenever those kinds of folks ask me where I'm from, I say Canada.
It's truthful, and nobody dislikes Canadians.
The Ghandi contingent brightened and listed all the Canadian cities they or their relatives had visited - Toronto,
Edmonton, Vancouver . Kinda half-expected them to ask if I knew their cousin Sanjay in Saskatoon ...
Went out for an afternoon walk, and found several shopping districts.
First place I've been where I saw any
non-Asian faces - kinda telling, isn't it? This being Sunday, most shops were closed, but still there was an incredible
amount of activity. I'll have to come back and have a look on a working day.
Ordered dinner as room service today. Didn' t see anything interesting
on my walks, and I don't think I'm quite
ready for street vendors yet. The fish in the fish & chips was different - more fishy - but otherwise the main course
was unremarkable. The highlight of the meal, however, was dessert. I ordered vanilla ice cream, and have
never tasted a richer, more intense vanilla flavor.
Staying on the subject of food, hotel has a breakfast buffet included, and it's really quite the spread.
There's all usual Western fare - breads, bacon, eggs (although their scrambled eggs are mixed with a
cereal filler that gives it a mildly spicy flavor). Then, there are a half-dozen chafing trays with uniquely
Indian dishes - breads, curries and sauces. I can't even remember their names, let alone sample them all,
but I think there are enough possible combinations to keep me going for a while.
Mani, my driver, met me at the appointed time, and took me to the
office where I would be teaching.
The morning class went well - I had some fears about cultural and linguistic differencess, but the
students seemed to understand me and get along well. I think any language issues will be from my
end anyway - I can't listen with the local accent, and often ask to have the simplest things repeated.
|Priji, my contact, took me to lunch today, and I
got my first taste of REAL Bangalore traffic. Organized
chaos is a good description - huge waves of motorbikes,
autorickshaws, and the tiniest of cars ebb, flow, and
trickle down practically any level surface. A small
car by American standards would be as huge as a
battleship here, and couldn't negotiate the tight turns
and narrow passageways. Priji threaded his car through
this with ease, laughing and merrily toot-tooting his horn.
In my hotel, there is construction going on, and I often
On our way back from lunch, we passed a construction
Priji, smiling as always.
|again, until it was cut through. What would be short
work with a power saw or hacksaw was done in a
tedious (to me) way. Where there is an abundance of
labor available, there's no need for labor-saving devices.
Got an ominous call this evening, saying that class was cancelled tomorrow
"the office was closing as precautionary measure due to political unrest."
Oh dear, what have I gotten myself into? A call to Priji cleared up the matter:
apparently, the government had demolished several illegal structures near the office
over the weekend, and local merchants and homeowners were staging a one-day protest.
Very localized stuff, and since my hotel is 12km from work, nothing I need to worry about.
Curious domes on the horizon, visible from my hotel room.
The view from my hotel window, while not particularly panoramic, does
have several domed structures
in the distance that I've been curious about. What were they - palaces? temples? This morning, I
decided to find out.
Getting around in Bangalore can be challenging, even on foot. First
of all, maps are a bit difficult to
come by. Then, once you get a map you have no idea of the scale. And if it has a lot of detail, the
street names aren't marked, and if street names are marked, then there's little other detail. Come to
think of it, that last one isn't really much of a problem, because street signs are few and far between,
and often they are in Kannada (the local language).
Fortunately, I have a decent sense of direction, a spirit of adventure,
and a secret ally: The tall lighting
arrays on a cricket field near the hotel act as guideposts, and are visible from most open spaces in the city.
Shrines everywhere: this is one atop a bus stop
Religiously, as in most other ways, this city is incredibly diverse.
Take a Hindu base, throw in
various Christian sects, add Muslims for sound effects and Buddhists for color ... let's see, did I
miss anything? If I did, I'm sure it coexists peacefully with everyone else somewhere in Bangalore.
As with any large city, space is at a premium, and many spaces serve
double and triple duties.
On my way to explore the domes, I saw a colorful shrine fronted by a bus stop.
Walking further, I went through Cubbon Park, the Central Park of Bangalore,
out of the forest to see the Vidhana Soudha, the massive government building that houses
the State Legislature. (It was a dramatic reveal: one moment, nothing but trees and shops,
then you turn the corner and see the building in its full glory.)
Dorothy, we sure ain't in Kansas no more: The government State House
The building's architecture is beautiful, and it's sheer size is overwhelming
-- it feels like it covers more
ground than the US Capitol in Washington. And lest you think it's the symbol of some bygone colonial
era, there is another equally beautiful building under construction beside this one.
The complex is surrounded by a black wrought-iron fence, but the guards
at the openings didn't seem
perturbed by my entering with the stream of government workers, so I entered the grounds.
The building is impressive from every angle. Upclose, however,
the scale is much more human: manicured gardens,
statues, trash cans clutched by rabbits, and official cars with drivers waiting to be summoned. (The particular
car seen below is called the "Ambassador", and is manufactured solely in India. It's still being produced and is available
for public purchase, but most people now prefer the fashionable imports as well as the sleeker natively-produced
hatchbacks. Ambassadors for government use have a white post in the middle of the hood, visible below.)
Whimsy on the state house grounds: a rabbit trash can and official state cars.
While on the grounds nobody paid me much heed (and I do stand
out here - tall, pale, and geeky) so I was able to
wander completely around the building and view it the building from various angles. And it is stunning, no matter which side
you view it from. Getting ready to leave, I was fiddling with the camera to take one last picture of the front facade when a
large man in an official uniform and had approached me.
"Please, sir, no pictures permitted on the grounds."
Oh. I'm sorry, may I take pictures outside?
"You are from...?" he asked intensely.
USA. (In this situation, it seemed best not play the Canada card.)
"You have any ID? Passport?"
Gulp. I had left my passport in the hotel, and my wallet only contained my New Jersey driver's license, so I produced it.
He studied it carefully, comparing the picture to me.
Handing the license back to me, broke into a broad smile and shook my
"Thank you. Please look all you want, but take pictures from outside the grounds"
So the photo above is officially contraband. Please don't report me.
(On a more serious note, I later found out that terrorists responsible
for the Oct 29 bombings in Delhi were
tracked to Bangalore, and it was feared that they may strike here next.)
A sign above the main entrance to warm the hearts of GS9s everywhere
From the Vidhana Soudha, I worked my way southward to the Lalbagh Botanical
Gardens. I stuck to the main roads
(because they were the only ones marked on the map I had) so I probably inhaled the equivalent of smoking ten packs
of cigarettes, but I had no trouble finding my destination.
A few blocks before the gardens, I witnessed a curious sight: A large
police truck, carrying a load of people in the back
was preceeded by a flatbed truck with about fifteen men standing in the bed. The men had armloads of flowers and as
the procession moved slowly along the street, they would peel off petals and toss them in the path of the police truck.
Everyone stopped to look at this procession -- even road workerd stopped their digging. I later found out that I had
withessed a Hindu funeral procession, and the scattering of petals is a way to purify the path for the deceased.
Lalbagh Botanical Gardens
Lalbagh is a real treat. Even in the late fall, the gardens are
a beautiul display of plant life. Coming
from the opposite side of the globe, I recognized nothing of the flora - but enjoyed everything .
Unfortunately, being there on a weekday also meant that the touts had
fewer marks to attach to. In what
turned out to be the most unpleasant interaction of my entire trip, a "tour guide" glommed on to me and
wouldn't leave me alone until I agreed to his "tour". After seeing a number of places he thought I was
interested in (and haggling about the price), we parted company. I then wandered and saw what I
really wanted to see.
After the long walk there, and the wandering through the gardens, I
sat down on a bench for a bit of
rest. Three teen-age boys approached me:
"Hallo sir, where are you from?"
Canada. (I was a bit gruff, still smarting from the previouis interaction.)
"Ah, WWF! World Wrestling Federation!"
I explained politely that I don't watch wrestling.
They walked away puzzled, and left me confused about the whole interaction.
Hi Mom! Me atop the temple mount in Lalbagh, with Bangalore in the background
A watch-crow atop an unreadable sign in Lalbagh
On the way out of the Gardens, I walked beside a young couple hand-in-hand,
obvoiusly out on a date.
The boy was idly kicking an empty can ahead of him as they walked. When I was parallel to them, a
misplaced kick put the can directly in my path. I gently kicked it back in the path of the boy. He didn't
even look up, just resumed kicking the can. The girl, on the other hand, flashed me a warm, genuine smile.
Some things, I suppose, are the same wherever you are in the world.
After a my third day in India, I was feeling disoriented -- not
physically, since I was beginning to get the
lay of the land, but mentally, because everything was different. Driving, signage, food, religion - it's almost
like landing on another planet.
So, it was with great relief that, while walking back from the Gardens,
I stumbled upon a Western-
style supermarket. It wan't exactly the same, of course, but similar enough that it seemed as if I'd
found an anchor point from which the rest of the trip went much more smoothly.
'Don't worry, I won't let it go to my head
Apparently, the anticipated "unrest" was a fizzle. Still, most of my
students stayed home yesterday, so we'll all
come in Saturday for the last day of class.
I'm glad things turned out the way they did. Having a Saturday
on a Tuesday let me see the city on a workday,
visit places far less crowded, and most important, it let me get comfortable with my surroundings earlier in my trip -
which means I can enjoy the rest of it that much more.
Unfortunately, a full work day means there's not much to write about.
Nothing wrong, mind you, it's just that,
well ... a class is a class. The students here are a bit brighter and more motivated, I'm speaking more distinctly,
and lunch with Priji is always an adventure, but the flow of the day is basically the same - we're even in the same
spot in the curriculum that we would be in a stateside class.
I wish I had a way to make high-quality recordings of the sounds here.
It's a layered symphony of ambience.
(pretty highbrow, eh?) As I sit in my room writing this, the traffic noise and toot-toots of horns is a constant
rhythm track, but other lines come in and out: songs of tropical birds, a mosque nearby issuing its calls to
prayer, clangs of construction, and punctuating roars of heavy trucks and busses - all the sounds that give any
city it's vitality.
A city bus with just a few tiny bits of decoration. (by the way, it's moving to the right - look at the palms!)
A lot of vehicles here are personalized. Cars, yes, but also autorickshaws,
trucks and even city busses have
elaborate paint jobs, shiny tinfoil cutouts, garlands, statues, cattle horns... anything to make the vehicle unique.
Some cars have backup beepers. But I haven't heard an ordinary beep-beep yet -- these play musical
melodies, or make elaborate electronic sounds.
So, to the symphony above, throw in an occasional strain of christmas
carols, Fur Elise, and rock tunes.
|Varun came bouncing into the room.
"Hey Rusty, you've gotten grayer since the picture."
I, um, well ... Huh?
"The picture on your website. You look older."
Uh-oh. They've found my website.
I decided to come clean and show Varun this journal.
So, Hi guys! (and ladies!) Happy reading!
Men in white hats - the Bangalore Traffic Wardens
Bangalore has grown so rapidly that traffic signals haven't been able
to keep up, so the city hires traffic
wardens to direct traffic. What started as a rush-hour-only job is now on duty during daylight hours and
well into the night. These people have their hands busy with vehicular traffic and pay no heed to pedestrians.
Traffic in Bangalore is always dense, at any time of day or night, so
crossing the street is an adventure
not for the faint of heart. Here, then, is Rusty's procedure for crossing a street in Bangalore:
Following these rules, I spotted an off-duty traffic warden waiting
to cross a street. There was vehicular
signal, but not a pedestrian one, so I sauntered up beside the gentleman. He made his move while the
cross traffic still had the "go" signal, and I followed in lockstep. Halfway through the street, I ran ahead of him.
To my horror, I heard him yell loudly behind me. Omigosh, I thought,
I'm about to get a jaywalking ticket in
Bangalore! Safely on the sidewalk, I turned around and looked - the warden wasn't yelling at me, but at a
motorcyclist who had cut him off.
Because it was a Saturday, it was more laid-back.
And because I was confused, I did not have the opportunity to take a
posed class picture.
Instead, I took the three snapshots below:
A "composite"class picture - I only remembered to take it after students started leaving!
|Mani offered to take me on a tour of Bangalore
on Sunday. There are a number of museums
near Cubon Park; unfortunately, they don't
allow photography inside, and weren't particularly
photogenic from the outside.
The Art museum had sculptures and carvings
We also went to Iskon, a beautiful, modern
Temples, big and small, to the pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses are the most interesting architecture. One can find glass office buildings anywhere in the world, but when you see the intricately carved stonework and bright colors of the towers, you know you are no longer at home.
Mani, my driver
A temple to Kali
I usually get in early. The traffic is lighter, and Mani seems
to appreciate that. It also lets me set
up and review for the day's class. Most importantly, though, I get to talk to Jane.
Last week, Priji showed me how to use the VOIP phone in the office.
It can take five or more attempts
before a connection is established, but once set up, the voice quality is excellent, and we can talk for
a longer time than if I had called from the hotel. (Don't even ask about calling cards - apparently
there are multiple phone providers with incompatible calling cards and you have to make sure that
you are calling from the provider's network. And the hotel isn't compatible with anyone.)
One morning while talking with Jane, I heard a blast of trumpets from
outdoors. Sounded like
a Mariachi band tuning up. After we finished our conversation, I went downstairs to investigate,
and found that the entrance to a building down the street had been transformed with a archway
made of live flowers.
Preparing for the wedding (the marquee is made of real flowers!)
It was an Indian wedding.
Nuptuals in the US must seem very spare to immigrants from India.
Here, the celebrations last three days
(at a minimum), bring in extended family from around the world, and involve late nights and lots of alcohol.
In short, a truly proper celebration.
Mani takes the same route when he takes me in to work. About the
third day, I noticed a snow-white
donkey (with two foals) tied up by the side of the road. It's common to see animals here (dogs, and the
odd cow) but this donkey was immaculately groomed and always tied up at the same spot. Mani said
that each state in India has it's own set of customs and rituals surrounding the birth of a baby. In some
states, they put a drop of honey on the baby's tongue, while here, in Karnataka State, the tradition was
to give the child donkey milk "for strength".
A snow-white donkey
Another aspect of Bangalore life that I've almost got used to is the constant presence of other people.
We have a residence in Canada, and drove there in late summer.
This class came up on such short
notice, that Jane had to drive back on her own. Not really a big deal - it's about 900 miles, on excellent
roads, and she had no problems. When I talked to her today, she said that, at one point, she was on the
road for over an hour without seeing a single car in the opposite direction.
I mentioned that to my class today and their reaction was shock mixed with disbelief:
How could anyone go for a whole hour without seeing another person?
|A lot of people here are looking out for me.
Priji, Mani, Varun, and, in this class, Ashwin.
Now, Ashwin is a very intelligent man, and I
In the second week, we got more adventurous
There is a statue of him at in the lobby of the building where I teach,
with oil lamps burning,
and on certain days, flowers decorating the statue.
A shrine to Ganesh
When Mani picked me up on Friday morning, he noticed a difference.
"Anything wrong, sir? You're very quiet today."
I just realized that today was my last day.
"I would think you would be happy - going home, seeing the missus and all."
Well, yes, I'm certainly happy to go back home to my family, but ...
it's a little more
complicated than that. For two weeks, I have had a truly unique experience, made
new friends, and have lived someplace where everything is different, and frankly,
I was sad to leave.
Say "cheese". My second class, this time properly posed.
We properly concluded our class on Friday and even had the time to pose a class picture or two.
After class, Ashwin asked me upstairs to the Micromuse office area.
There they presented me with
four beautifully carved stone elephants, fitting mementoes of my trip.
Goodbye, new friends....
Since my flight wasn't until 2:00 am on Saturday, I decided to spend
my evening back in the
Central district (the area of my hotel) getting a last walk around the area. Ashwin suggested
that I check out Gangaram's, a bookstore near my hotel.
My only regret is that I didn't find it sooner! What an interesting
place - four levels, crammed to
gills with every imaginable book, magazine, and journal. While there, I saw something interesting:
One employee walked down the aisles holding a dish with a small flame burning, and other employees
took turns passing their hands through the flame. I looked around and noted the location of
fire extinguishers and exits - there was a lot of paper around, after all - but no one else seemed
to pay any attention.
I found out later that fire is a purifying force in the Hindu religion,
and I had witnessed a
Hindu purification ritual.
Walking out of the subway near my house, I was struck by how quiet and
empty it was.
Food I've eaten since coming home seems bland by comparison.
My time in Bangalore was an incredible experience, filled with many
memories, and I am forever
thankful for that.
Indian Elephants in their new home.
The elephants survived their journey unscathed, and look southeastward,
no doubt wondering
exactly what to make of the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan.
And waving goodbye to India.
A week ago, an email came asking if I would be interested in teaching
another OMNIbus class in Bangalore.
I, of course, replied with a most emphatic "Yes!". So maybe, hopefully, I will see you again soon...