You know, getting a business visa for India is kinda bothersome. Special photos, invitation letters, both on- and offline forms are all stupidly over-bureaucratic, and the promised ten-day processing time is a best case scenario. You got your visa 2:20 before your scheduled departure.
Flying Swiss business class to Dubai was nice. Dubai was a little confusing at first with its signless kilometer long walk down the terminal, but the lounge had showers at least. Your Emirates connecting flight to Ahmedabad was irritating; the cabin crew were determined to interrupt as often as possible, usually when eating or otherwise occupied.
You arrived at Ahmedabad airport in India just before 3am and took a taxi to Vadodara. Even at night, Indian traffic was crazy - honking and flashing through the dark city in heavy rain for over an hour was a rough introduction to the country. Some places smelt so bad the driver sprayed air freshened into the car's vents to mask the stink. In India the fundamental road rule right of way didn't seem to exist. Vehicles just go where they please with an ample serving of honking and flashing. Incredible... India.
At the hotel in Savli you napped a for a few hours, then went to the production site with your German colleges. Obviously, the factory wasn't in the nicest end of town, so you passed lots of slums, cows and beggars on the way. While stopped at one traffic light a girl carrying a baby tapped on the taxi's window one too many times for the drivers liking, so he got out to wack her about the ears.
Your first impression of the site was that more care was given to the gardens than to their product. An example welded frame was being displayed proudly affront hall 13; the problem being every weld was shitty, and no one had yet noticed. Inside hall 10 a free-standing oxygen cylinder sparked your party's attention, shortly followed by lacerated welding cables repaired with paper, rubber bands and sticky tape. When you then observed a welder performing acetylene preheating on a major connecting joint by guesswork (150°C - 200°C critical), it was time to explode.
The next day went much the same. Dodging pedestrians, cows and stray dogs on the way to the factory with a total disregard of road rules was becoming quickly normal. Still, people eating and pooing side by side on the street would take longer. The factory heads of department were quite smart and worldly blokes, but their surroundings were more reflective of Indian culture. When ten Indians are needed to answer one question, the working mind-set is obviously localised and not yet international. "Can we make it? Yes yes!" *wobble wobble*
That night you dined in a restaurant recreation of village food. You ate standing, mostly finger food, from small stalls and carts under a fake-foliage roof decorated with colourful flags. It was confusing and loud but rather nice. After watching a round of musical chairs, the boys performed a Hindu dance - three steps forward, two steps back - normally performed in a festival mass of 40,000. Everyone chewed sweetened fennel seeds after dinner to freshen up.
Vadodara airport seemed the kinda place you'd find cows on the runway. Although it boasted to be an international airport, in reality it was just a disorganised squalor. From there you took an inland flight via Mumbai (thankfully without change) to Hyderabad, India's IT boomtown.
Gachibowli, Hyderabad sits atop a 550m high plateau in the middle of India. Its winter is a mild 30°C, up to a dry 45°C in summer, and the whole place is rocky desert. Upon arrival it was clear Hyderabad is a money town: shiny new highways, tended gardens and no slums. Hyderabad is called "The City of Stone" since everywhere you look are huge boulders. You immediately regretted not bringing your climbing shoes.
You dropped your bags at the Hyatt and headed over the road to the Infotech Campus - a huge complex of IT and engineering outsourcing services - to chat about next week's lectures. The campus was beautifully landscaped into open lawn spaces, flower beds and trees with little plaques (looked like graves) dedicated to CEOs. Your company employed a few hundred Indian staff divided between various divisions, of which you had about forty. The learning centre at the bottom of the campus was impressively large, and bordered a hospital construction site. In the empty space workers had erected a shanty town of tin sheds; no quite a slum, but you could feel the division.
After a chat with management, everyone went out to dinner in a shopping centre balcony bar. There was kingfisher beer and lots of finger food. In the dark it all looked the same, and you accidentally ate a whole chilli, breaking in your taste buds for the rest of the week.
The weekend was relaxed and slow. Some of the guys took you to the Salaar Jung museum - a historic treasure trove of shitty souvenirs, lightly diffused with actual relics. This bloke had money and clearly wanted to spend it. His collection ranged from walking sticks to model trains, modern art to ancient stone sculptures, heaps of tacky trinkets and some obviously fake paintings. It was, you suppose, more interesting to see what rich Indians value rather than the objects themselves.
On the way home your compatriots explained why all vehicles have tinsel hanging from their mirrors or handle bars. There's apparently a hindu god of safety everyone worships and has bless new vehicles. You'd pray to him too on Indian roads... They also explained that Hyderabad was going nuts about their new metro network plans. You ended up in an underground metro carriage restaurant for lunch.
Sunday was India's Republic Day, celebrated with military parades and flag waving. Your hotel staff kindly informing you of this with a friendly note, explaining why no alcohol would be served. After breakfast, you wandered off along the nearby roads. It was dry, dusty and empty. Some businesses were playing Indian music loudly from their car parks, but there was no sign of life. There were a few open areas, most home to rickety tin sheds between the construction sites. One man was washing himself from a bucket of flithy pond water. You followed the main road for an hour, passing sections of great riches and utter poverty. India sure has some jarring social transitions. On the way home you passed some cyclists sweating it out in a special ride. Some commissioned tuk-tuks to pull them up the hill.
Indian TV was pretty much, as expected, classic Bollywood. Lots of over-acted singing and dancing, and strange subtly-sexist drama shows. An action movie was playing, full of laughably bad stunts and explosions. On another channel, a man sat reading a book while a herd of people wobbled their heads in continuous agreement to whatever he said; too deep fo' you. Finally, it was time turn it off when you found the Quake channel: a TV show dedicated to live-streaming quake battles, and Skype interviewing the utterly uncharismatic British players.
Cultural Awareness Training
Monday's training dived right into welding. Deep into welding. So deep, that you had to nudge your college and tell him the audience was overloaded and no one was listening anymore. The second session was a little lighter and more culture-focused. Basics like raising your voice, giving direct criticism/feedback, nodding means 'yes' and not 'maybe', and answering the phone with more than just 'hello...' were covered.
Your college often used a banana during training as a prop, and as such had become famous for his welding banana. He used it to demonstrate welding access and manipulation procedures.
"Sometimes you have a big yellow American banana, and sometimes you have a small brown Indian banana. Whatever the equipment, you have to handle it well. You must be able to get it into any box section, or otherwise risk lack of penetration."
He was seriously oblivious to what he just said. Our Indian colleges were not. He went on...
"Now, everyone raise your arm in front of you. Hold it still. Now imagine you were holding something heavy. Yes, now stretch out straight ahead... A little higher..."
From your side, it looked like he was teaching how to hail Hitler; the whole class doing the salute while Herr German-Welding-Banana demonstrated out front. Again, utterly oblivious. You weren't quick enough with your camera unfortunately. He went overtime into both of your afternoon sessions, leaving you only 15 minutes of your allocated 1.5 hours. A little grumpy, you gave the the gist of it anyway.
Tuesday was a mostly training-free day scattered with chai breaks. The canteen was a multi-story building, each level with varying small foods and beverages. Level one had two tea carts where chai was prepared with showmanship. The two-man operation ran in harmonious syncronisity, allowing one to mix tea by pouring mid-air between two cups while the other juggled orders. Your mate even said they remembers peoples' orders; impressive considering their customer base. Indian tea was very sweet and served in shot glass sized cups.
Time during lectures was half spent on technical topics and half on cultural exchange. Basics, like nodding means 'yes' and shaking means 'no' were actually relevant teaching topics. It still didn't stop one bloke form shaking his head to everything you said, even if he was agreeing. Speaking about family and kids in the work place was normal. At the suggestion of Meike, you mentioned you lived with a girl and weren't married - the scandal! The audience seemed almost uncomfortable with this revelation. They explained that Hyderabad was a modern city and that it may have one or two similar unmarried couples, but probably not.
That evening the management team invited you all out for dinner. The restaurant was nice and the food was amazing, but was still not traditional. No matter where you went or who ordered, being white meant getting the soft treatment; ie: no spices. You went through about ten entres before mains, by which time you were exploding. Something Indians need to learn about westerners is "I'm full!" means stop putting food on my god damn plate! One India bloke tried ordering off menu, and asked for a 'piint' (said like tint). The waiter had no idea he meant a pint of beer. Poor guy. All you could think of was Russel Peters' comedy skit about the Indian in a hardware shop: "Hello, I'm looking for paint... paaaaaint." Indian English is fun.
Apart from some broken VGA cables and DSN adress issues, everything went smoothly for the rest of the week. The Swiss chocolates you brought - four bags worth over 100 chf - were snapped up quickly, and everyone participated. One afternoon one Indian bloke too you to the Brahma Kumaris centre near campus, and a friend of his gave you a complete tour. Brahma Kumaris is a spiritual organisation which offers all kinds of courses. When you were there, the local police doing deescalation training - ie: how to calm people down. The facility had a museum to help people grasp spiritual concepts. A mobile phone sim card was used as a metaphor for the soul in one exhibit. It was a bit wonky but they generally seem like a nice organisation.
Another dinner invitation was extended, but you were getting a little over being force fed. One bloke really didn't undersand what 'no' meant, and went ahead and ordered mains after fifteen starters. He had to deal with it himself, while his more culturally-aware colleges shook their heads... which could have just a well meant good job. The funny bloke tried ordering off-menu again; this time with more success. You had chilled condensed milk and pistachios in a little ceramic pot.
City of Rocks and Tuk-tuks
By the end of the week there was time to get a closer look at Hyderabad's rocks. You headed into the city with your mate and went walkabout over a large vacant quadrant, currently being used as a quarry. The scrub was thick and spiky - really similar to South African vegetation. Through the middle of the area was a crudely made wall of stones and rough cement. You climbed on top and walked along the it past all the spiky plant, and quickly came across some huge boulders. They were big, had nice and clean holds, and were interesting shapes: perfect for bouldering. It was a shame you had no equipment to actually give it a go; maybe next time. During your stroll you cam across a millipede, a small snake, a peacock and some green parrots.
After work everyone drove into town for another sight seeing tour. First up was the Charminar - a muslim monument and mosque in the middle of the old town, just past the shoe shops district. It took a while to get there with the insane Indian traffic; there were tuk-tuks and motorbikes zipping everywhere. The area surrounding the monument fulfilled your expectation of India: overcrowded, filthy, noisy and smelly. It was good to finally see some real India. The Charminar stood in the middle of the road and acted like a roundabout of sorts. It was smothered by people and choked by circling traffic, with the two weaving together all directions while honking and shouting. There was not path and no traffic rules. To move about you just had to fend for yourself and walk between the oncoming bright yellow three-wheeled taxis.
You escaped the pandemonium of the old city and drove to the Birla Mandir - a Hindu tempe on a hill made entirely of marble. You were allowed to enter only barefoot, following the walking loop up and around and through the building. It was probably very meaningful - the walls decorated with marble carvings of various Hindu gods - but it was all lost on you. You were just glad to be somewhere clean with a nice view.
The last stop for the evening was the Buddah statue of Hydrabad. It stood on a little island in the middle of lake Hussain Sagar, in the middle of the city. At the order of some Indian bloke who saw the Statue of Liberty and thought "I want one too", it was created from a single 350 ton slab of marble and transported sixty kilometers to the lake. At the lakeside it was loaded onto a barge, but after only 91m travel it rolled promptly off the side into the lake, where it stayed for two years until salvaged. When they finally got their shit together, the Dalai Lama came and blessed it. You visited the statue's little island by boat, then went back to the hotel for a night without dinner - thank god.
The last day of training was a team building day at an old amusement park. You made some speeches and played some typical team building games (some cheating), then went on some rides. The place was pretty run down and a bit worrying in terms of safety. Had you been there at night you'd expect to be murdered by some kinda fairground monster. One highlight was watching your European colleges ride the teacups while all the Indians screamed with delight.
You joined the guys for some water slides at the lower end of the park, which was crawling with school kids. You were careful where you stepped, considering how filthy the place was. The ground was slippery everywhere, one pool was green with algae, and the water slide tower was so rusty they covered it in blankets to hide the holes. One uniquely Indian part of the waterpark was the rainy dancehall. One roofless building had been strung up with sprinklers above and a rope hung through the middle (men and women strictly separate) for people to dance in the rain. The Bollywood music was blaring as your team pulled you into the room to shake it all about. It was silly but part of the Indian experience you guess.
Just before heading to the airport you saw a family of monkeys climbing on the old amphitheatre structure. You watched the for a while until it was was time to drive into the sunset and fly home.