Welcome Home

I’m woefully delayed on this post, but I figure better late than never. Made it back to the United States a few days ago, and Wow. What a trip. If you read my post earlier on how the voyage over went, I can tell you that this one went a lot smoother. No terrible illnesses. No deadly silent drivers taking me through some of the seediest places in India on my way to who-knows-where. Just a straight-up trip back. Watched some movies (Star Wars, Deadpool, Kung Fu Panda 3), avoided eating, and then got the great joy of hugging my wife and kids in the airport.

Some closing thoughts:

1) We truly take for granted the luxuries we have in the United States, and we’ve somehow lost some qualities of compassion along the way. Example: I went out to eat with some of the co-workers… I had way too much food. It was delicious, but I was stuffed. I planned to pitch it. One of my co-workers grabbed it and had it boxed. He said he’d give it to somebody, and I thought he meant take it back to the office. Instead, he handed it to an elderly lady (either homeless or at least jobless) on the steps outside the restaurant. It really makes me think back to the “What We Throw Away” post I put up on the Perfect-The-Days blog. Over here, we’d pitch it to the trash. This is just one example, but there were so many more. Children digging through the endless piles of garbage along the streets. Even the idea of government assistance for those who cannot provide for themselves. The man who drove me around had a monthly salary of less than what it cost me to stay in my hotel for two days… And he was the primary income for his family. And yet, when I tried to tip him, he was embarrassed and a few days in started turning it down (truly insisting, even saying “Please, no more tip.”). I continued to offer each day, and he eventually accepted… But the difference is staggering.

So many luxuries that we don’t think about… I won’t say if it’s right or wrong, but I do think it’s important for us to think about them.

2) I did in fact find something to eat. I’ll have a whole post up later about food. But I surprisingly didn’t lose the kind of weight I thought I would. I guess enough rice and chicken to keep me “healthy.” More than just the food, the attitude towards eating. In the US, eating is often a chore we fit around other things. The idea of drive-thru’s came about because we are always hurrying from one place to the next, and it was convenient to grab and go. In Hyderabad, there were only two places with Drive-thru’s at all, and both were American restaurants.

The difference comes from how they perceive a meal. Some is immediately noticeable in the way the dinner menu works: You have soups. You have starters (which seemed pretty granted that you’d be getting). You have a main course. And you often don’t order each until you’ve finished the prior. This is because conversation is the most important part of every meal. You eat as a way to connect with your colleagues. Even breakfasts and lunches were communal gatherings where a dozen people from the office (and often mixings of different group members) gather and go off for a while together to eat.

Another difference here would be the hours people eat. In the US, breakfast is typically around 7-8, lunch somewhere inside 11-1, and dinner (supper) is almost always over by 7 except in weird “working late” situations. In India, the breakfast might start around 9/9:30, lunch didn’t usually start until 1, and supper isn’t until 8 or 9. Restaurants won’t even open until 7 in most cases. Bizarre!

3) Traffic. I mentioned this when I first arrived, but I wanted to add to it. A friend of mine in India told me that there’s one big difference between US drivers and Indian drivers. In the US, we drive watching to make sure we don’t hit anybody else. In India, you drive watching to make sure nothing else hits you. The difference sounds funny, but is a huge distinction. For example, in three weeks, I didn’t see a single accident. In the US, I often see 3-5 accidents a week, and I drive a lot less here than we did there. This is because in India, people are constantly aware of things going on around them. You never know, somebody could come burrowing up from the Earth, and as a driver, you want to watch for it (and check to see if this new tunnel gets you around the giant congestion just ahead). In the US, you can put the car on autopilot… Check your phone. Read your email. Text you girlfriend… Get into a wreck.

Additionally, the roads in India did not have the same kind of planning around them. Religious structures are protected, so roads often zigzag around structures declared to be a temple (for any number of the many faiths present in India). Drainage is a huge problem. Lakes formed on common roads because the water had nowhere to go. This certainly made drives interesting.

4) I had never truly felt homesick until this trip. I’m a home-body by nature. I don’t like going out. If you read my first India post, I’ve never had much interest in seeing the world. My home is my castle, etc, etc. I write this just to say that I’m almost always ready to go home as soon as I get out. But even with this being the truth, I had no idea what homesickness truly felt like. Everything I had felt before was just an annoyance. After around the two week mark, I learned this truth. True homesickness is when you can’t stand everything around you… from the smell of the laundry, to the view out your window, to the taste of the air. I was fed up with the politeness and courtesy. All of the meals had begun to taste exactly the same (which is really just not true!). I didn’t want to leave my hotel, and I hated staying in it. It was really bad.

Overall it was a great trip. Eye-opening and an exceptional opportunity that I wouldn’t trade.

And yes… It was hot.

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8 Differences between US and India

I’ve been here almost a week, and wanted to take a minute to talk about some big differences I’ve already noticed.

0) The Temperature.

This one’s obvious, so it warranted a 0 instead of a 1… But ugg. The heat! It’s really hot here.

1) Transportation.

Lots of things here. Multiple languages on the road signs. Additionally, I knew people drove on the left here, but I didn’t realize that philosophy extends to walking as well. In the US, we naturally (or maybe unnaturally) walk on the right side of the road.

The traffic is unbelievable. It feels like we’re constantly a moment from death as the cars ignore all lines drawn on the street as well as all traffic signs. A week of being here, and I haven’t seen a single accident, so I’m left with the feeling that Indian drivers must be the best in the world because the way they drive is intimidating and incredible at the same time. The awareness is profound.

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Another interesting thing: The maintenance vehicles have interesting colors of sparkling lights on them. Greens, and blues, and purples.

In the rare times you are stopped at a light (most lights seem to be ignored), there are children or other people who come to your car looking for change. Occasionally, someone will bear a rag to wipe your hood, but they aren’t shy about pounding on the window for a good solid 30 seconds.

2) Drinks

All restaurants I’ve eaten at you pay for each drink rather than have “unlimited” refills. Maybe it’s just my choice of restaurants since I’ve been here. Also interesting, when ordering water, you often get the option of “sparkling or still.” And you always get the choice of ice. Very different. In the US, still water and ice are a given.

3) Power Outlets

The power outlets initially freaked me out. They are very different than the ones we have in the US. Turns out the US adapters will work in them, but I was very intimidated (since they look nothing alike).

4) Email

This is a work specific one, and also is obvious when I think about it. During the work day here, I had very few emails. I typically get 200-300 emails per day for my job. I had maybe 20. The problem is, as I get ready for bed tonight, I’m suddenly inundated with hundreds of email. It is night here, and feels like night… Yet the reality is that on the other side of the world everybody is waking up and getting to work. Makes it hard to get to bed.

5) Security

Everywhere required the car be checked for bombs, and I had to walk through a metal detector to enter. I heard this is a more or less recently development as the new government is trying to build a lot of security. I’ve also heard he’s done a lot to reduce corruption among the police force, so that’s very inspiring!

6) Housekeeping.

In every hotel I’ve stay in within the US, toiletries (shampoo, soap, etc) are over-provided. IE: If I unwrap the bar soap and leave it in the dish, there will be a newly wrapped version nearby when I return to the hotel. No regard for whether I should finish using the existing or not. Here, no new toiletries were provided. Which is actually fine. I didn’t need more and wouldn’t have used them anyways. Hopefully I’ll see new ones when I run out.

The second thing is a little more unnerving. Housekeeping feels obligated to touch my stuff. I’m curious how much of me being bothered is an American thing versus a me thing versus just a personal space thing. Clothes that I had left stacked (more or less) neatly on the couch had all been picked up and folded. My shoes (which weren’t in the way) were moved to a cozy position near the bed. My papers, spread about on my desk had all been pulled together and stacked in a neat pile. Even my dirty socks had been pulled from my planned pile and stacked. I would have been fine with no service at all, and at most, making the bed. This bothered me because I felt there was no need to touch my stuff. Housekeeping being nosy, or is this a way to illustrate that service is being provided? I don’t know… But it’s my stuff, and I’m not sure how I feel about it being bothered.

Additionally, turn-down service comes in the evening as well as morning. That’s different.

7) Intermissions

Went to go see the Jungle Book in the theater. Great movie. Right at one of the intense moments, the screen froze and went dark. I thought something had gone wrong… But nope. Intermission. I’m familiar with this in stage plays, but never had that experience in cinema.

8) The People

The people are incredible. I’m from the southern United States, and in the South, we take pride in our hospitality. We’ve got nothing on India. Everybody I’ve met is warm and friendly, good-natured, and open. Initially, I held this to just my co-workers, but even at the movies, the people sitting next to me were genuinely interested in me, what I was here for (and strangely wanted to take a picture with me). At lunch, people offer up their food to each other. “Want to try this?” It wasn’t just a thing done for me to let the American taste… They frequently offered to each other. I’ve been overwhelmed by the hospitality.

Welcome to India

I’ve now been in India a day. I really would like to share a bit of this journey. Skyline

Skyline from view from 25th floor lounge

I promise some of the later blogs will have more pictures of things, but I wanted to get this post out. Today’s post will focus on my trip.  First things first:

Business Class Rocks.

My company is paying for my trip so they sent me Business class, and I’m not going to lie… It’s awesome. Lots of leg space. Roomy seat. Personal movies programmed into the TV in front of me, fully reclining seats (turn into beds). Table-cloth treatment at meal times. Lots of overhead bin space. A care package. Real white glove treatment.

That was one of the only two highlights of the trip. Everything else about the trip ranks in the bottom 10 experiences of my life.

Back to the trip. It begins where life got complicated because of a friend of mine in India wanted me to bring a toy for his boy’s birthday. It was purchasable on Amazon in the US, but he couldn’t get it in India. I agreed to transport. I didn’t realize the luggage allowance for an international flight was lower. US Standard linear size is 62 inches… International flights (at least Emirates) cuts that to 59. That means my large luggage is oversized, and work isn’t going to pay the $175 (each way) for the oversize. So I had to take two smaller suitcases, one of which contained only the toy for my friend.

Next problem came with my luggage locks. Something weird happened and the combinations changed after I locked them (I promise I didn’t just forget them!). I had to get two cut off at the airport, in a miserable wait at security because I couldn’t get my laptop out of the bag.  Even after getting here, I had to go through one combination at a time until I found the right one (Only took 185 tries… Literally). Annoying, but bearable.

Got on the flight, and it had all the amazing-ness above. That was a 16 hour flight from Chicago to Dubai, which brings me to the second highlight. Dubai has an amazing airport. I think it’s the largest airport in the world, and it really is incredible. It’s like a mall… more than a mall inside an airport. Amazing.

Everything went downhill from there.

I wanted to eat in Dubai, but my work was covering via American Express, and none of the shops accepted it. So I’m stuck eating a bag of snacks I bought in Chicago. Miserable dinner. And things got worse.

I think I must have gotten food poisoning from the airplane food… I was worried about food/water problems (brought Pepto bismul tablets and immodium), but I expected that to start after I got to Hyderabad. This hit me right after Dubai… So about 16 hours into my journey. Nausea overwhelmed me, cold sweat, dizziness. Horrible Diarrhea. I won’t disgust you with the details, but if you can imagine it, I probably dealt with it. Terrible.

Got into Hyderabad at 2:45 in the morning. After some quality time in the bathroom, the trip through security had turned into enormous lines. Got through those, and found out I need to fill out a form. Filled that out, and then had to go through again.

Oi. Got out of the airport, reclaimed my bags, and then went to find my driver. After ignoring the throngs of people trying to sell trinkets or services, I made it to the exit, where a dude with a piece of paper with (I think) my name on it was waiting. I wave him, he wadded up the paper and shook my hand. Then he grabbed my bag and ran. Not in a thieving way… Just set a wicked pace. With each step, I worried whether or not I had the right guy.

Even worse, as he begins to drive, we take some of the seediest, darkest roads in India (I extrapolate this; I don’t have those facts… But man it looked pretty scary). Got to the hotel. Next post: I’ll share my first five impressions of the differences I’m seeing.

What’s the worst trip you’ve taken?