18 March 2012

Bangalore or Bust: A Travel Log (Day 3)

Author's note: For the next several weeks, I'll be posting tidbits of a travel log, which I kept during a two-week business trip (the reason I was in sporadic contact with the world recently). Enjoy!

For those who haven't yet seen the other posts in this travel log, check them out:

Day 1
Day 2

(And again, if you're interested in seeing more photos than I'm providing, check out one of my co-workers' blogs from the same trip)

Day 3, Saturday (2/25):

The arrival into Bangalore was my first international experience ever, so the number of times you had to go through lines and show your papers was mind-boggling. There were machine-gun toting guards, but only at the front doors (that I could see). Otherwise, there were lots of people in suits carrying walkie-talkies telling you to move this way or that. Trying to stick together as a group was a challenge when we ended up taking two different lines. Then, as we were exiting the airport, we gained the upfront experience of walking past a pay-to-use toilet building, although it didn’t smell like many had been paying for the experience.

Our Indian teammates (and the company) had pre-arranged transport with a pair of hired drivers. They indicated that traffic was rather light at this time of the morning (around 1:30 AM), and even then, it was like something you’d see in a sit-down video game. I’d been forewarned that traffic rules were non-existent, but little could I have imagined to what extent. Drivers would randomly change lanes whenever the mood suited them and perhaps honk or give a high-beam flash to the people behind them (figure that one out) for warning. The road we took was under construction about every mile or so, so they’d have a “diversion” that went around a small section of roadway being worked on. Trucks all ran very slow, and cars would whip around them. Motorcycles were perhaps an afterthought for the bigger vehicles as they switched lanes around the diversion. And then, red lights only meant you had to stop if there was someone coming along from the cross-direction. With this being “light traffic” I was not looking forward to the ride in on Monday. All said and done, there was approximately 20 hours sitting on airplanes and another 10 or so sitting in airport terminals, and this didn’t even account for the time changes. A long day, indeed!

After a brief three or four hours of sleep, it was back up again (still Saturday, though). Trying to navigate around the hotel was a trip, with the lobby, pool and restaurant all on different levels. Also did not realize that a breakfast buffet came with the room, so I’d have to rectify that tomorrow. I did catch up on some international (and India) happenings via a local news network. It was a bit disheartening, as they have been running stories about child sex abuse and trafficking, which apparently is a rampant problem over here. Between that and government corruption (which is not merely limited to Republicans and Democrats), it truly is a mystery how society continues to function.

A gratuitous hotel room shot...with the desk I did a lot of work (and phone calls home) at
(and through the curtains, a view of the pool and its flock of birds)

Gratuitous hotel room shot #2

The niece sent this pair along to remind me of her and "Auntie" back home.
(No doubt resting comfortably after a long journey in several cargo holds...)

Onto happier tales, a pair of team members came by today and give us a small walking tour through the city around the hotel. Yet another eye-opening experience. Traffic was what one would expect out of a city with ten million people, and running across streets in fear of our lives was a bit hard to get used to. This area around our hotel was filled with plenty of high-end, name-brand shops, many of which we recognized. We’d been told about the extreme poverty, but having a mother with child in hand accost members of your group for a full half-mile (whatever that may end up as in kilometers) for a handout is rather heart-breaking. Street vendors were equally persistent, and would wait for you to come back out of each store to resume their peddling (likely only because the vendors had security guards that would chase them off. This too, seemed to last even longer than the impoverished mother.

Some shots of Brigade Road, near our hotel...

Most of the main roads had sidewalks, but with no building codes to speak of, you had to dodge areas where blocks had fallen into the drainage area below. Sometimes the hole was filled in with sand, but often times it was just there for you to dodge. Wiring was also a trick, and was not run through poles, but instead existing trees were enlisted to serve as a tie-down and distribution point before being jumbled into a massive snarl at the buildings. Poles did exist, though, just not where they already had trees...

Watch your step! (A common sight around Bangalore)

Poles? We don't need no stinkin' poles!
Wire routing 101: An example of how *not* to make it work in an airplane.

Hospitality was one of the Indian cultural traits that we were told about ahead of time, for the Indian people, and this was definitely the case here. Without prompting (maybe they could see how ragged we all were?), our guides took us to a small vendor where they then purchased drinks for all of us (canned, for those who were wondering). And lo and behold (and praise His name), they had Pepsi. Whew! (I later discovered they also have these in the room…this may be my downfall)

They claimed it had a different taste than the States...I couldn't tell much difference.

We shopped in a few spots, one of which was a hand-crafted goods store in which I apparently violated the rules by taking photos of an intricately painted table (apparently, the staff do not subscribe to the same theories as I do with my writing, of providing samples of their work to entice people to visit).

My illegal photo, just before they threatened to arrest me (not really)...shhhh! Don't tell anyone!

The second major shop we went into was a “Central” store, which as best I figure is a cross between a mall and a Wal-Mart. This had all sorts of designer merchandise (like a mall), but from what we were told by our guides for the day, they have set prices regardless of which Indian state the store is in (whereas the small shops discriminate in pricing for those not from the local state). Doing some quick price comparison, apparently the trend toward commercialization has made many of the prices rival those in the states on most goods. There were a few bargains here and there, but nothing that I couldn’t live without.

Finally, it was time for a late lunch. This would be my first official meal here in Bangalore. I didn’t catch the official Indian name for the food, but in essence, it was cooked lamb in a green chili curry sauce. I did ask if there was something less spicy, and they proceeded to fix a special plate without so much of the spice in the sauce. Delectable! Our server (Meena) was extremely helpful, though I think she may have seen this green (no pun intended) American coming, as she kept suggesting additional food items and I happily went along with the plan. 1200 Rupees (or about $26 based on this day’s exchange rate at the hotel…something that doesn’t show on the bill) later, I was stuffed and happy.

And then it was time to visit the home of one of our company’s employees currently stationed full-time in India. This entailed another trip through the (far-busier than the early morning hours) streets of Bangalore. I’m not sure how anyone could keep track of how to get where they’re going around here, to be honest (especially in the dark). All the roads appear to twist and turn every which way, and with the aforementioned lack of lane control and turning priority, there’s a high likelihood one would get lost. Add on top of that the fact that no one ever seems to take the same route back that they took to get anywhere, and it makes for confused Americans. That said, our drivers all seem to do an expert job in both directional acuity as well as accident prevention.

The complex where one of our co-workers from Wichita lives...roughing it!

Didn't try out this pool...which didn't have a flock of birds drinking from it
(as our hotel pool did, daily)

Sadly, because of my late lunch, I was unable to finish some of my dinner, but it was extremely delicious, albeit parts were a bit spicier than I cared for (this, after our host acknowledged that the ladies preparing the meal had probably “toned it down” some for us). And then, after some regaling of stories and conversations on work and personal life, both back home and India, it was time for another round of risking our lives in (even heavier) Bangalore traffic.

I still find myself baffled by the half-hour increment on the time change. India is eleven-and-a-half hours ahead of Kansas, and all the time, I find myself swapping that and inadvertently thinking home is at a time that’s actually twelve-and-a-half behind us here. Thankfully, my netbook’s clock is still showing the time back home, so it helps keep me honest.

And that's all for today...be sure to come back for the next installment...