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Archive for February, 2014

Monday 24th February 2014

Kites

I’m not sure how much of this I will get to finish before we set off home on Wednesday, but I need to mention the Kites. I’m not entirely sure what it is I want to say about them, but each day their presence amazes me.

I am talking about the birds, not the ‘go fly a‘ kites. These magnificent birds used to be a rare site in the UK, Red Kites in Wales were especially rare, but here they are everywhere. There must be hundreds overhead, constantly swooping and surfing the thermals. This entire area is urban, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of open land, yet here they are over India’s third largest city in numbers matching the starlings I remember from my Huddersfield youth.

I think they are Black Kites, but I think I’ve seen red ones amongst them. The are beautiful. There is a flock of them (do kites flock?) over UB City, just a short way away.

Disparity

There is obvious disparity between this magnificent edifice (I suspect there are places like it in Dubai, I’ve certainly seen similar in Muscat) and the surrounding area. [read] Where we are based is not one of the rougher areas of Bangalore, yet the pavements are cracked, broken and dirty. The roadsides are dusty and often piled with rubbish, the odd beggar appears from nowhere when we walk past, but as we walk closer to UB City, the pavements improve (a little) and there is less evidence of obvious poverty.

The 10-20 minute drive to our training venue takes us through some of the more ‘Indian’ areas and these seem to be vibrant places with roadside stalls, small businesses, banks, shops and animals. We’ve seen monkeys, cows, squirrels and chipmunks around here, something we never see around our hotel.

No matter where we are though the roads are a thrusting river of noise and chaos.

Wednesday 26th February

I’m up now and almost ready for the car to take us to the airport for our return flight. The last two weeks seem to have flown past quickly and in some ways it would be nice to stay on longer and learn more about Indian life. My abiding memory will be the traffic noise and chaos, describing it really is beyond words. You need to experience it – do it if you can.

I am looking forward to getting home and to having a proper cup of tea however 🙂

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Friday 21st February

I’ve been in Bangalore for a week now. It really has been a new cultural experience for me.

This is the third biggest city in India by population, with between 4.29 and 8.5 million inhabitants and the fourth wealthiest by GDP: (both counts depending on which dodgy site you take to have the most up to date and reliable information).

“It is popularly known as the Silicon Valley of India [..] With an estimated population of 8.5 million, the city is the third largest in terms of high net worth individuals.” From

The city is an exciting buzz of constant movement, traffic noise and the shrill of motor-horns, with a visible range of wealth indicators sitting (apparently happily) side by side. From the rooftop garden here at the hotel we can see that there is a fair amount of building work going on, but doesn’t seem to have improved the lot of many local inhabitants.

Transport

We always take the hotel car to our workplace and they pick us up when we’ve finished. But for shorter, more ad hoc trips we have used one of the many Auto’s to be seen flying around the city at all times. These operate something like a cross between good old London cabs and the dolmus you see in Turkey. Except that the maximum load they can take is four (if one person shares a seat with the driver!), but the comfortable load is two. The approx. cost (I think) is INR20-50 per kilometre (20p-50p). But several drivers have simply said ‘pay what you want’ – which I think means ‘Indians pay 20 rupees but you can give me more!’

There seems to be several means of them attracting customers:

a)   Sometimes they will follow you up and down the road entreating you to let them take you to your (unknown by them) destination,
b)   Sometimes, they will be parked and wave at you from somewhere to try and attract your attention,
c)    Sometimes they simply drive by where you walking and say “auto?”

Mostly, they take “no” for an answer but can be quite a nuisance ((a) above especially). They all have ‘family’ who have an ‘emporium’ somewhere (or government shop) and despite your protestations, they want to take you there. So far we’ve given in to one such entreaty only and I ended up buying a lovely silk bed set – but at more cost than I would have paid on Commercial Street.

Employment

There does seem to be a good deal of employment here, but at what rate and at what level we don’t know. There seems to be a lot of standing around, sometimes in-uniform and sometimes in-mufti. [ http://www.flickr.com/photos/dsugden/12638130204/ ] There are many men at the training venue who seem to just be there. I’m sure they have a role (maybe they clean the toilet in between our sessions, maybe they walk up and down the stairs to make sure the lights stay on), who knows? At the hotel there are (mainly) young men in various colours of uniform simply smiling at you and saying hello sir. There is even a doorman in full and colourful uniform who simply smiles, nods and says ‘good morning/afternoon’ as appropriate.

Yet, what training goes into that employment, it’s hard to tell. The waiting staff are obsequiously polite and will do anything for you, except notice when you DO need their attention. I suspect they have a fear of the head waiter, who does keep telling them how to do this, that or the other – except notice when you DO need service. It has got so bad in the restaurant here that we no longer go there and choose to use the bar (now there’s another story) where we can easily catch the young waiters’ attention.

All in all the people here are lovely. Our group are amongst the most homogenous groups I’ve ever dealt with. There is an even mix of men and women and all interact in a friendly, often humorous, even-handed way. On the face of things at least, men and women here treat each other as equals.

Also see:

http://www.nriol.com/india-statistics/biggest-cities-india.asp

http://au.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080407040625AAUQLfV

http://www.mapsofindia.com/top-ten-cities-of-india/top-ten-wealthiest-towns-india.html

http://goindia.about.com/od/greetingscommunication/a/head-wobble.htm

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Wednesday 19th February 2014

Motor Horns

Cow and Car

One of the things I’ve noticed being here in India, is how driving skills are so much different to ours in the UK. When I say driving I mean anything, anything at all: Auto-Rickshaws (TukTuks), motorcycles, scooters, buses, trucks, cars – even peddle bikes; anything.

All of the above vehicles share the roads with men and women pushing handcarts laden with anything from single to multi-coloured fruits or vegetables, handcarts laden with every other sort of merchandise you’d never think would be transported in this way. And cows!

To cross these rivers of mayhem I was told on day one … “you just go for it”, and sure enough, the only way to safely (sic) cross the road is to ‘just go for it’. We’ve watched the technique for almost a week now and even on the busiest junctions, where simply going for it would result in certain death; an added wave of the hand (more of a firm flutter really) towards the oncoming traffic seems to do the trick. At the halfway point of crossing the road you have to remember to wave your other hand at the opposing traffic, but even then you have to keep going for it. Don’t falter, don’t stop.

Chipmunk

Of course, none of this would ever work without the horn.

Unlike the UK where horns are merely seen as often unused, misused and unnecessary accessories, here in India they are an absolute essential. Without a horn on your vehicle you cannot drive for more than a few yards.

There seems to be an entire horn language.

There are single beeps, double beeps, long beeps, short beeps, loud beeps, quiet beeps, deep-note beeps and high note beeps – all of which are used in a variety of combinations that say “excuse me sir, would you please be aware of my presence”, or “excuse me sir, I’m coming through whether you like it or not”, or “excuse me sir, have you noticed that truck about to cut you up? or “just eff-off out of my way” …

Motorbike and scooter riders must have specially developed thumbs to enable them to both reach the horn and to exercise the horn so much and so well.

The roads are a cacophony of noise all day and all evening. Without the constant beep of horns you would think you have gone deaf.

Blood pools

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Friday 14th February 2014

Motorbikes

Well, I’m here now.

We arrived this morning about 20 minutes early, just after 4.30am. The airport here in Bangalore is half new and half not-so-old, so you are not overly aware that you have arrived in India for a while. Quite a while as it happened, because the luggage was only very slowly sent up to the baggage collection area.

We finally set off into Bangalore (via hotel car) at 6:00am.

My room is gorgeous, yet by the time we got to the Hotel St. Marks, all I wanted to do was unpack very very slowly, and to sleep – and not too soundly – for a while. Following a light buffet lunch in the restaurant (we’d wanted snacks but … well, an Indian buffet was all that was available) the rest of our afternoon was spent exploring the locality, planning and training (me) for tomorrow. We stayed in-house for our evening meal – another Indian feast and the odd Kingfisher Beer.

Saturday 15th February 2014

We’d had a couple of walks yesterday, so actually starting work today wasn’t too big a shock. I did get to see more of the city though, as the journey to our training venue was about 20 minutes long. I didn’t see too many of the expected cows or monkeys today but there were a couple just outside the venue – which is just a little more suburban (run down).

Our trainees are young (compared to me 🙂 adults, all wanting to mark exam scripts for the host company here. Alison and I are tasked to train them in the use of specific online marking software and all associated skills. They are a lovely bunch of people with excellent English and a very cosmopolitan outlook. We have tried to help them understand the learners who are being tested – in this case level 1 students studying FS ICT. We have explained that the students do not always have the best numeracy or literacy skills in the world and that it is just as likely that English is not the student’s first language. Hence, there are lots of things to explain, which we suspect will take all of the time we are here.

Sunday 16th February 2014

Today was much the same as yesterday except I saw a lot more cows, and a chipmunk! The cows are amazing. Traffic gives way (mostly stops) for them, which is something it tends not to do for other traffic – see this video clip. They just wander around where they like and no one bats an eye. The biggest surprise to me is that they look exactly like the cows we see in farmers’ fields (rather than ones like this).

Saturday night’s food was amazing. I had a vegetable talis (Alison had chicken tandoori) in the hotel restaurant – both were excellent. Two colleagues arrived from England today too – to cover English. We all enjoyed yet another Indian meal (buffet this time) in the hotel restaurant.

The packed lunch on both days was a vegetarian curry box – more curry! They were nice, but I’m already a bit overfed with curry right now.

We’re avoiding the salads and some fruits but right now I’d love a nice juicy steak with chips.  Mmmm.

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Thursday 13th February 2014

Photo on 2014-02-13 at 10.44So, I’m en route to Bangalore now. I’m sat relaxing in the BA ‘business’ lounge at Manchester Airport. I’ve got a coffee, an apple and a packet of crisps to tide me by and all is well with the world.

It wasn’t like that yesterday though.

I’d left it until yesterday to do some last minute form filling, updating my accounts and, well, packing J. It wasn’t the nicest of days – in fact it was amongst the worst this country has seen http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-26169252 and there was a real fear that simply getting to the airport would be impossible. Alison, with whom I’m travelling and working  over the next two weeks, was even more affected than me.

I spent the day switching between packing, office work and thinking. I was thinking about what to pack, what I’d forgotten, what the next two weeks would bring, and after Sharon rang about 9:15am, about how it never rains but it pours (no weather pun intended). Someone wants to view our house at 9:00am Thursday (today). Exactly the time we need to be on the road to the airport. The same thing happened in summer, just as we’d left for our trip to France. What is it with people searching for houses (especially those few that are interested in our magnificent 4-bed detached in Golcar)?

So that left another thing to stress over – Grrr.

I packed a medium sized case (I’m allowed 2 x 23kg – thank you City and Guilds) and two on-board bags, so I put my hated PC laptop in one on-board bag and my Mac in the other: Sorted. Then I thought better of that and put the hated PC laptop in a laptop bag and moved EVERYTHING into one big suitcase (thinking it would be easier) until I weighed it (approx 23.25kg). Then (remember that besides packing, I was ‘thinking’) I decided that my original plan of medium case plus on-board bags would be better because A) – it’s bloody cold here and (apparently) bloody hot in Bangalore – so I need somewhere to put my hat, coat and wellies once I get to Heathrow J and B) – there is no B.

So – I’m on my way.

Now, there seems to be a fully stocked unmanned bar available just over there – do you think it’s too early?

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