Posts Tagged ‘traveling’

Out of Town

Working remotely full time has its distinct advantages. But it also has disadvantages. The primary one being traveling. Thankfully, I’m not on any type of strict, routine travel schedule. I normally spend a week working at the office in Virginia every 6-8 weeks or so. Last year I spent a total of 41 days away from home for business travel. That works out to spending about 10% of my the year out of town, which isn’t too bad compared how often a lot of other people have to travel.

In 2009, my hope is that number stays the same or, even better, goes down. However, it doesn’t look like that will be the case. I’m already on pace to surpass 10%. So far this year, I’ve spent 22 out of 141 days out of town to date. That works out to be about 15%.

Hopefully that number will trend downward as the year goes on. That’s a lot of time away from my favorite people. :)

Adventures in Chennai, Day Five

Today was my last day in India and even though I’ve had a good time, I am ready to come home! This has been an experience of a lifetime and I’d prefer if I only experience it once. :) Read the rest of this entry →

Adventures in Chennai, Day Four

If you own a car in India, you are considered wealthy. A few of the people at the office have cars – the VPs and Directors. The vast majority of the rank and file only own a motorcycle or scooter. And really, motorcycle is probably the best way to get around in this traffic. Much faster than bikes and more nimble than a car.

Today I got to experience first hand what its like to be on a motorcycle in this crazy traffic. Bala gave me a ride back to the hotel after work today. It was a short trip, but definitely intense. The horns are louder, the dust and smog more suffocating and the other vehicles – so much closer! It was pretty fun, but I definitely had to hold on tight. I had my camera with me but as I was taking my first picture, the bike lunged and from that point forward I was locked down with both hands.

It seems like my sleeping patterns have normalized. I’m able to fall asleep right away at night and sleep soundly all night. Last night, I actually dreamt – the first time since I got here. So, my body is adjusting just in time for me to come home and get everything out of whack again.

When I was talking to Gavin on the phone tonight he asked me what my favorite food has been so far while I’ve been here. Besides the breakfast buffet at the hotel and the room service french fries, I can’t really say. Not because there wasn’t one, but because I don’t know remember the name of it. It was a sauce over some rice. It was at a place we ate at in Pondicherry. All the sauces and rices seem to blur together after a few days, although many of taste really good. I will be glad to get home to some home cooking soon, though.

Bennett blogged about me earlier today. That makes me miss home even more. I love that Bennett.

Some guys were telling us that national security in India isn’t really up to snuff. Proof of this is the odd security measures we face every time we come back to the hotel. Before entering gate to the hotel parking lot, the driver has to stop and turn off the engine. Then two guards do a bomb sweep, which consists of a flashlight/mirror combo to look under the car. He also pops the hood and looks in the engine. Another guard opens trunk or back hatch and has his police dog sniff all the luggage. Seems like pretty good security, right?

Well, the next step is when we get out of the car, we have to hand our backpacks, hand bag, camera bag, etc to a guard and then walk through a metal detector while the guard “inspects” our bags. Every time I’ve walked through that metal detector, it has beeped and they just smile and wave me through. Also, the baggage guard opens the zipper of my backpack, but doesn’t even look inside, then closes the zipper and hands it back to me.

It just seems odd that they would go to great lengths searching for a car bomb but then not be concerned at all with items being brought into the hotel. I can remember what it was like a week after 9-11. It doesn’t seem like there’s much panic or urgency, even given the attacks in Mumbai last week.

Speaking of last week. It has been exactly one week since we left. In many ways its seems like it was just a day or two ago and in other ways it seems like I’ve been here for much longer than a week.

This evening, we did some team building activities. We had a conference room at a hotel reserved and we had some food and played games. I wasn’t sure what type of games to expect when I first heard about the idea, but turned out to be really fun – we played Pictionary and Guesstures. Most of the Indians I have met while I’ve been here are very quiet and reserved (except for this one guy, Rajesh – he’s the class clown). But getting them all together and breaking them into teams to play Pictionary, that’s a different story. They really opened up and were loud, animated and raucous. It was a fun time.

I’m trying to get this done before midnight, but it doesn’t look like I’ll make it. I’m really looking forward to sharing pictures. When I get back home and get settled, I’ll definitely post several pictures on this blog and maybe even a couple of the short video clips I’ve snapped with the digital camera. That way, everyone can finally associate an image with the scenes I’ve been describing.

Adventures in Pondicherry, Day Two

Today started out great by being able to talk to Cori and the kids. Its been very hard only talking to them in the morning and at night. Those little chats are priceless.

Before breakfast I went down to the front lobby/patio area and sat outside and read a book for a few minutes while I waited for the others to show up. It was a nice morning and it was neat to sit and read while watching the people walk by. The hotel was righ off the beach, so there was lots of busyness going on. Anywhere you look, you’re likely to see a rooster, a dog, a goat, a cow, a water buffalo, a bicycle, a rickshaw, a scooter, a motorcycle, a car, a bus or a person. And many times you can see all of that in one camera frame. Its almost too much to take in sometimes, like sensory overload. If you like to people-watch, this is a great place for that.

After breakfast, we walked about a mile down the seawall road and walked out on a rock pier and watched the waves crash in from the Bay of Bengal. I could have sat there for hours watching the power of the sea. As we walked back to the hotel, we managed to find a couple of places to buy some souvenirs. Traversing these markets is crazy. So many people come up to you and want you to buy what they’re selling. And they’re so relentless its maddening. You try to be polite, but they are unphased. There are two guys in particular that have found us on both days and continued to push their products on us. Its funny, the guy selling laminated maps of India for some reason always spots Dave and won’t leave him alone. For me, its the guy selling the hand-carved bongo drums. He has about 10 of the tied around his neck and walks around playing one. So it turned into a joke about Dave and his map guy and me and the little drummer boy.

Dave’s a great guy and this trip wouldn’t be nearly the good experience if he weren’t here. Dave and I started at Rosetta Stone at the same time back in 2006 when we moved to Virginia. He, too, moved there from out of state (Rochester, NY) and so we both were living in Harrisonburg without our families for a period of time and and friendship grew out of that commonality. He’s a bit older than me, but he’s about the nicest guy you could meet.

We packed up our stuff and checked out of the hotel and met our driver to take us back to Chennai around noon. Just outside Pondicherry, we stopped at another temple, that was located on a huge estate of thousands of acres. We spent a couple hours there I think and finally started the long journey back to Chennai. This trip was probably the most stressful road trip I’ve ever been on. For some reason, our driver seemed to be overly agressive today; not sure why. Again, if wasn’t passing someone, he was honking, if he wasn’t honking, he was flashing his brights. It exhausts me to just sit as a passenger in the back watching it all, I can’t imagine how exhausting it is to be the driver. Maybe that’s why he was in a hurry just to get the trip over with.

The familiar combo of rooster, dog, cow, person, bike, motorcycle, rickshaw, car, bus are very prominent on the highway as well. They are all competing for their piece of the road and it is just crazy. There was one point today that were were going a cross a large marshy area on a long two-lane bridge. For some reason, our driver was not deterred in his affinity for passing slower cars, etc. in front of us. As we’re going across this bridge, the car in front of us starts to pass the bus in front of them. I guess they were both going too slow for our driver’s liking, cuz he started to try passing both of them at the same time. So here we are three abreast going across a two lane bridge at about 50mph and nothing but oncoming traffic coming straight at us. In addition to the bus and two cars making a moving wall across the road, there were bicycles trying to squeeze past in the very small “shoulders” and refuse to stop, they just keep moving. Today for about 5 hours, I sat in the back seat and witnessed this maniacal driving – wincing and gasping and covering my face at just about every turn. Crazy!

We actually made it back to the hotel at 7:00 tonight. I may actually get to bed before midnight for the first time on this trip.

Adventures in Pondicherry, Day One

This morning I woke up and took in the view from my room. I could see the beach less than 100 yards away. After talking to Cori and the kids, I got dressed and ready to go meet the others for breakfast. I started having a minor panic attack because I couldn’t find my passport. I was so freaked out! I even went down the front desk to see if they found it. I took everything out of my suite case and my backpack. I tore apart that room looking for it. Finally, I remembered it was under a stack of books right there on the desk. I’ve been keeping it in my back pocket with my wallet. Last night I noticed that it was starting to bend and conform to my pocket so I decided to try to flatten it out by putting it under a couple of books. I wish I would have remembered doing that before I ransacked everything trying to find it. :) What a scary 20 minutes that was! Read the rest of this entry →

Adventures in Chennai, Day Three

We went into the office today for about a half day and then started our journey to Pondicherry. Before leaving Chennai, we drove around for quite awhile and took in a bunch of different sites. Driving seems to be a great way to see a lot of areas and get a sense of the culture without actually getting in it. When you walk around, you stand out like a sore thumb, but observing everything from the car allows you to almost be like a fly on the wall. Read the rest of this entry →

Adventures in Chennai, Day Two

Today was a much less eventful day than yesterday, thankfully. However, I have spent most of the day trying to keep my eyes open. I think the jet lag and lack of sleep and just the difference in time zone are starting to catch up to me. Read the rest of this entry →

Post No Bills

Yesterday as we were driving to lunch, we passed this one area that had a long stucco wall along a sidewalk and on the wall there were all these special sayings, some from Ghandi, and some from the Bible actually. Some were very random like: “God first!” and “You never get a second chance to make a last impression.”

About every 50 feet or so there was a saying, “Post No Bills”. I could not figure out why that one was so popular. I thought for sure there was some neat meaning behind those 3 simple words. It had to be significant, otherwise why would it be so prominent on this “wall of important sayings” or whatever it was.

After spending a good 5 or so minutes taking turns guessing what significance this could have and probably making complete fools of ourselves, the driver told us that Post No Bills means “Don’t write or post anything here.” Duh. They just wanted to leave some blank areas every 50 feet or so and didn’t want it covered up with ads, playbills or posters, which seem to cover so many public areas like wallpaper.

We found it funny that we thought this was some deep cultural meaning and it was just a notice to “keep this area blank”. Are we trying too hard to get into the culture or what? :)

Adventures in Chennai, Day One

We were allowed to come into work late today – around noon – so that we could catch up on some sleep and some emails before going into the office. So we all met for a late breakfast at around 10:00am this morning.

The breakfast was a buffet. The selection was interesting. Ever get the craving for some good baked beans for breakfast? Well, you could get that here. Also there were all kinds of cereals and yogurts and juices and muffins. I didn’t have the guts to try the Mango Flakes cereal – or any of the cereal for that matter, because I wasn’t 100% sure that it was cow’s milk. :) I ended up eat some good hashbrown potato-like things with some muffins and juice. I also had some rice and potato sauce stuff that was very spicy and more suited for lunch or dinner.

After breakfast, the day got real interesting in a hurry. Our driver wasn’t schedule to pick us up until 11:30am meaning we had about an hour to kill. So Dave and I decided to take a walk around the block. Bad idea. It started out fine. We were walking along some type of sidewalk along this really busy street. Cars, rickshaws, motorcycles and bikes all coming and going buzzing past made it very crazy. We walked along crumbling “sidewalks”, stepping over trash, sleeping dogs and even some downed power lines that only we seemed to be worried about.

The abject poverty is striking. I’ve never seen so much trash and rubbish – its everywhere. It collects in gutters, in bushes and accumulates in large heaps every now and then along sidewalks and sometimes even in the street.

As we continue our walk, we thinking it a good idea to turn off on a less busy street and start heading back toward our hotel, thinking we were going “around the block”. As if there are blocks. :) We walk along and take pictures. I started feeling very awkward with my camera out, so I put it away. I felt like I was intruding into their lives and taking something from them, even if it was just a digital image. I felt like I needed to explain to them that I am not looking down on them, I just want to take a picture to share with my family and friends when I get home so they can see what I saw. Instead I feel like they are thinking that the purpose of me taking a picture is only to have proof that they are poverty-stricken.

It was around this time that I realized that Dave and I are really not blending well with the environment. How could we? I’ve got on my Adobe Creative Suite shirt and jeans and tennis shoes, sunglasses and “orange hair!”. No one else has orange hair, pale skin or even clean clothes. There is no blending in. No ability to be a fly on the wall.

As we take another turn to head back to the hotel, we realize that this street is even smaller and is getting narrower by the step. Its turned into just an alley really. I walked past maybe 30 stray dogs along the way. Stray dogs are everywhere and they all look alike. There seems to only be one breed of dog in this city – except for the police dogs that sniff for car bombs every time we are stopped and inspected as we enter the hotel gates. Yeah, nice.

Back to the alley. More trash. Shanties line up and down both sides of the alley. There is no way these places have electricity or running water. At one point, I walked past an old lady that must have been in her 60’s or 70’s curled up in the fetal position laying right on the ground in front of her shanty. I assumed it was hers, maybe not.

Around this time, I start realizing that we just need to get the heck out of there. Maybe it was my imagination, but I got the distinct feeling that we were not welcome there. One teenage boy, maybe 17 or 18 was riding his bike down the alley and when he saw us coming he stopped and turned his bike sideways in the alley to block our path. As we got closer and he could tell we were going around him, he moved it in front of us again. I had to literally grab his bike tire and move it out of my way. Everything in me was screaming, “Run!” The hamstring I pulled playing football on Thanksgiving day wouldn’t have let me, but I felt the urge for sure.

The odd thing is that all along our walk we have not ventured further than a half mile from our hotel. And we could see it most of the time, just not sure which road or alley way would lead us back there. Finally, Dave spots the main road that goes in front of our hotel. The only problem is that its not really very accessible. There is a small walkway that many people are walking through that would normally be a piece of cake to walk through and get back on the main road. Only because of the many days of rain they had here last week, this little dirt walkway is now a creek. That does not prevent the locals from just sloshing through murky water and mud. But, um, I’m wearing my tennis shoes. I really like these tennis shoes and really don’t want to get them muddy. Dave and I try to traverse the edge of the water where its not muddy but the weeds and reeds are so tall, its impossible.

We had to try both sides of the “creek” and finally make our way through some tall grass without actually walking in water. As we get back out on the main road I realize our shoes are completely muddy and even our pant legs have splatters of mud all over them. So we’re muddy and our feet are wet and its very hot and humid. I’m really trying not to let the muddy shoes thing bother me as we walk back to the hotel. Suddenly, I get this idea in my head that people are saying, “You think you can come to this city and not get dirty? We live in this dirt.” After thinking that, I didn’t worry as much about the muddy shoes and just became very thankful for everything I have.

Keep in mind I haven’t even gone to work yet. My day has only begun. Thankfully, the rest of the day was pretty tame compared to that experience.

We arrived at the Lister Technologies, Inc. offices to meet the people doing all of our offshore development. I’ve talked to some of these people on the phone and have had IM and email conversations with them. It is nice to finally meet them in person. They are very happy to see us. Again, I am surprised by the poor conditions of the building, the restrooms and the cubicle area. We have so much to be thankful for. After a few meetings, lunch, more meetings and working awhile, we finally left work at around 8:00pm.

One of the guys offers to give us a driving tour of the city. So all 5 of us pile into his little hatchback car and he drives us around for over an hour. Its already dark but very interesting to see the sights. I see more stray dogs everywhere and traffic is in peak chaos mode. If I had to drive in this traffic, I know I would cause many accidents. I don’t know how they drive in this traffic and really don’t seem to really be bothered by it all. We also counted at least 5 people that were going to the bathroom right there on the side of the road. Not in a dark alley or in a ditch somewhere, but right out there in the open standing maybe 3 feet from speeding vehicles and thousands of people on foot everywhere.

We were told that Chennai has over 5 million people. I don’t how they ever get an accurate number given that so many people seem to just live on the streets and in little shanties that cannot possibly have addresses – I cannot fathom how they go about getting a census, but I’ll take their word for it. This city is huge, sprawling, crowded, chaotic and dirty.

After driving around the city, we are dropped off at our hotel and can again enter an oasis of marble floors, rich food and clean rooms. We ate dinner at the hotel restaurant and then I came up to my room finally at 11:15pm. What a day! Talking to Cori and the kids on the video chat after a day like that was definitely the highlight of the day.

Now I’m ready for bed and Day Two. I think tomorrow I’ll steer clear of those back alleys. :)