Thursday, November 10, 2011

BGV Blunders

In India, if you're going to list a company on your resume as a place you've worked, you need a few documents to back it up. Namely, the original offer letter they provided, and two letters upon your leaving the company; one to outline the work and experience you gained there (how long you were there, what kind of responsibility and role you played) and you need a relieving letter. This is a letter stating that they accepted your resignation. Apparently the fact that you no longer work there isn't proof enough in the Indian job market.

I've seen a handful of folks be forced to resign as a result of having forged one of these letters or not being able to provide them to their new employer within the stipulated time frame. For the most part, I just shook my head and thought - darned their luck. In many cases I had felt that the person being forced to resign wasn't all that effective anyhow and deserved what they got as a result of providing false documentation. You see, forging doesn't mean they were lying about their experience, it just means that they maybe lost, or never got a document upon leaving a company. Depending on the resignation period stated in your employment contract and the reason you plan to leave, companies will actually hold these letters over your head, dangling them like carrots - refusing to give them to you up on your departure if your leaving doesn't fit whatever conditions they put in place.

In the States they just take your word for having the experience you state on your resume. If you tell them you were a Master Black Belt and get hired on in such a role and don't know the first thing about Six Sigma, sure it will come back to bite you and you could be out of a job, but on a smaller scale I'm sure we've all fluffed a resume a time or two and things have worked out fine.

The unfortunate thing here is that even if you're amazingly effective at your job, meet all deliverables and prove yourself to be dependable and trustworthy, but perhaps misplaced an offer or relieving letter you were given a decade back - you're out. That's it.

Today I lost a very good friend and colleague and the rumors are flying that he was forced to resign as a result of something in his back ground verification check. Not from the legal or drug test perspective that you might expect in the States, but most likely because a document was forged or something was missing from the myriad of documents required when he joined the company. What wasn't taken into consideration was the effectiveness to which he delivered. He ran his team flawlessly. He proactively provided data and took on extra work to benefit the entire department, not just his own process. He was an amazing sounding board, always making time for his peers and helping sort through issues whether they were work or personal in nature. None of this mattered in the absence of some lousy documentation. It just doesn't seem fair. It doesn't seem logical. Now we have to find a replacement. Someone who doesn't know the process. Someone who doesn't know the team. Someone who can't thrive in the insane atmosphere the office delivers. It's a shame if you ask me. Exceptions are not made.

Why these types of checks aren't done prior to someone joining is beyond me. Certainly it would save everyone the headache, and in my case the heartache, of losing someone that has proven themselves based on their contributions. Regardless of the reason, I wish him the best of luck and know that my time in office is certainly going to be dim lacking his presence. All the best, Buddy.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Divali: The Festival of Lights

[Diya or oil lamp]
[Clay pots are filled with vegetable oil or ghee and a wick is placed inside]









Divali, known as Diwali, Devali, and Deepavali may possibly be considered the most important holiday amongst Hindus. Divali means: Row of lighted lamps. Candles and oil lamps are lit to burn off evil and welcome to Laksmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. In India, if someone is wealthy it's often considered to be a reward for good deeds they have done in a past lives.
[Laksmi -  Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity]
In an effort to welcome the Goddess, homes are cleaned, and sometimes even painted (as in the case of my neighbor) in preparation. Special sweets are prepared that you often can't find any other time during the year. New clothes will be purchased and worn and special prayers said. The objective is the offer special prayers of thanks to Laksmi for the riches you incurred in the past year and to pray for riches in the coming year.
Fireworks are also a big part of the celebration. Not only can you buy just about anything to blast off on your own, but villages put on their own displays that go on for several nights The streets are littered with firecracker wrappers and sparkler sticks in the days leading up to and following Divali. No one is immune from the celebrations happening and it's a festive atmosphere everywhere you turn. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Why I love Indian Children

Compared to the US, so many people in India are going without. Without many things we consider basic essentials. Adequate water supplies. Electricity. Needed medical attention. If the rules of the jungle apply anywhere, it's here. India is the jungle.
That being said, I'm not sure I've ever seen happier children. Rather then being plugged into computers and gaming systems, they find creative ways to spend their time. Utilizing household items to entertain themselves, they stay busy for hours. Here are some recent examples.
Dhoni (Ramu and Lakshmi's son) had a blast playing with a homemade kite constructed of string and a plastic shopping bag. He wasn't the only one who enjoyed it!

Keeping a tire rolling by hitting it with a stick is something I'd only seen in the movies. I figured it was a game played before the invention of matchbox cars and barbie dolls, but alas, it's alive and well in India, and clearly a lot of fun!


On every lane, you'll find pick up games of cricket, each child dreaming of becoming the next M S Dhoni or Sachin Tendulkar. The other day the kids in my lane were even playing a game "frisbee" using a rubber gasket. The creativity seen is inspiring. These kids are enjoying life to the fullest without the need to be plugged in to the latest gaming system, blasting away at their opponent. There's no feeling of going without, or jealousy over who has what. At least not from what I've seen. These kids are genuinely happy.
Maybe it's true that less is really more.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Jai Hind - Indian Independence Day

Taken from www.india.gov.in here are some interesting facts about India that you should be aware of on Indian Independence Day:

  • India never invaded any country in her last 100000 years of history.


  • When many cultures were only nomadic forest dwellers over 5000 years ago, Indians established Harappan culture in Sindhu Valley (Indus Valley Civilization)


  • The name 'India' is derived from the River Indus, the valleys around which were the home of the early settlers. The Aryan worshippers referred to the river Indus as the Sindhu.


  • The Persian invaders converted it into Hindu. The name 'Hindustan' combines Sindhu and Hindu and thus refers to the land of the Hindus.


  • Chess was invented in India.


  • Algebra, Trigonometry and Calculus are studies, which originated in India.


  • The 'Place Value System' and the 'Decimal System' were developed in India in 100 B.C.


  • The World's First Granite Temple is the Brihadeswara Temple at Tanjavur, Tamil Nadu. The shikhara of the temple is made from a single 80-tonne piece of granite. This magnificent temple was built in just five years, (between 1004 AD and 1009 AD) during the reign of Rajaraja Chola.


  • India is the largest democracy in the world, the 7th largest Country in the world, and one of the most ancient civilizations.


  • The game of Snakes & Ladders was created by the 13th century poet saint Gyandev. It was originally called 'Mokshapat'. The ladders in the game represented virtues and the snakes indicated vices. The game was played with cowrie shells and dices. In time, the game underwent several modifications, but its meaning remained the same, i.e. good deeds take people to heaven and evil to a cycle of re-births.


  • The world's highest cricket ground is in Chail, Himachal Pradesh. Built in 1893 after leveling a hilltop, this cricket pitch is 2444 meters above sea level.


  • India has the largest number of Post Offices in the world.


  • The largest employer in India is the Indian Railways, employing over a million people.


  • The world's first university was established in Takshila in 700 BC. More than 10,500 students from all over the world studied more than 60 subjects. The University of Nalanda built in the 4th century was one of the greatest achievements of ancient India in the field of education.


  • Ayurveda is the earliest school of medicine known to mankind. The Father of Medicine, Charaka, consolidated Ayurveda 2500 years ago.


  • India was one of the richest countries till the time of British rule in the early 17th Century. Christopher Columbus, attracted by India's wealth, had come looking for a sea route to India when he discovered America by mistake.


  • The Art of Navigation & Navigating was born in the river Sindh over 6000 years ago. The very word Navigation is derived from the Sanskrit word 'NAVGATIH'. The word navy is also derived from the Sanskrit word 'Nou'.


  • Bhaskaracharya rightly calculated the time taken by the earth to orbit the Sun hundreds of years before the astronomer Smart. According to his calculation, the time taken by the Earth to orbit the Sun was 365.258756484 days.


  • The value of "pi" was first calculated by the Indian Mathematician Budhayana, and he explained the concept of what is known as the Pythagorean Theorem. He discovered this in the 6th century, long before the European mathematicians.


  • Algebra, Trigonometry and Calculus also originated in India.Quadratic Equations were used by Sridharacharya in the 11th century. The largest numbers the Greeks and the Romans used were 106 whereas Hindus used numbers as big as 10*53 (i.e. 10 to the power of 53) with specific names as early as 5000 B.C.during the Vedic period.Even today, the largest used number is Terra: 10*12(10 to the power of 12).


  • Until 1896, India was the only source of diamonds in the world
    (Source: Gemological Institute of America).


  • The Baily Bridge is the highest bridge in the world. It is located in the Ladakh valley between the Dras and Suru rivers in the Himalayan mountains. It was built by the Indian Army in August 1982.


  • Sushruta is regarded as the Father of Surgery. Over 2600 years ago Sushrata & his team conducted complicated surgeries like cataract, artificial limbs, cesareans, fractures, urinary stones, plastic surgery and brain surgeries.


  • Usage of anaesthesia was well known in ancient Indian medicine. Detailed knowledge of anatomy, embryology, digestion, metabolism,physiology, etiology, genetics and immunity is also found in many ancient Indian texts.


  • India exports software to 90 countries.


  • The four religions born in India - Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, are followed by 25% of the world's population.


  • Jainism and Buddhism were founded in India in 600 B.C. and 500 B.C. respectively.


  • Islam is India's and the world's second largest religion.


  • There are 300,000 active mosques in India, more than in any other country, including the Muslim world.                                             


  • The oldest European church and synagogue in India are in the city of Cochin. They were built in 1503 and 1568 respectively.


  • Jews and Christians have lived continuously in India since 200 B.C. and 52 A.D. respectively


  • The largest religious building in the world is Angkor Wat, a Hindu Temple in Cambodia built at the end of the 11th century.


  • The Vishnu Temple in the city of Tirupathi built in the 10th century, is the world's largest religious pilgrimage destination. Larger than either Rome or Mecca, an average of 30,000 visitors donate $6 million (US) to the temple everyday.


  • Sikhism originated in the Holy city of Amritsar in Punjab. Famous for housing the Golden Temple, the city was founded in 1577.


  • Varanasi, also known as Benaras, was called "the Ancient City" when Lord Buddha visited it in 500 B.C., and is the oldest, continuously inhabited city in the world today.


  • India provides safety for more than 300,000 refugees originally from Sri Lanka, Tibet, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who escaped to flee religious and political persecution.


  • His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, runs his government in exile from Dharmashala in northern India.


  • Martial Arts were first created in India, and later spread to Asia by Buddhist missionaries.


  • Yoga has its origins in India and has existed for over 5,000 years.                                           

  • Sunday, August 14, 2011

    Raksha Bandhan - The Bond of Protection

    [Examples of rakhi]
    Today India celebrates Raksha Bandhan, or Rakhi. Rakhi is a festival celebrated primarily by Hindus, to honor the relationship between brothers and sisters, whether biologically or symbolically. The "sister" will tie a sacred thread (rakhi) around the wrist of her "brother" to symbolize her love and prayers for his well being. In exchange, the brother must vow to protect her lifelong. Generally there is an exchange of sweets during the tying of the bracelet as well.

    In traditional ceremonies, prayers are said before and after the tying of the bracelet as well as a special meal prepared for the brother.

    There are many possible origins for this holiday, here are a few:

    Draupadi (Wife of Pandava) and Lord Krishna:
    In the fight between Lord Krishna and Shisupal, Lord Krishna's finger was found to be bleeding after he defeated Shisupal. To stop the flow of blood, Draupadi tied around a strip of fabric taken from her Sari to the wrist of Lord Krishna. In exchange, Lord Krishna vowed to protect her and promised to repay his debt. He spent the next 25 years of his life doing just that.

    Lord Vishnu and Demon Bill:
    According to this legend, the Lord Vishnu, with the extreme devotion of his devotee the demon Kang Bali, promised him to serve as guard in the Mahal. Lord Vishnu left his Vaikunth and began to live in Bali's palace. Goddess Lakshmi wanted Lord Vishnu back in her Vaikunth. She went to the King Bali disguised as a Brahmin and sought shelter, telling that her husband had gone away on long journey. On Shravan Purnima, she tied a thread on the wrist of King Bali wishing for his wellbeing. In return he granted a boon vide which Goddess asked him to send her husband back to Vaikunth.

    Lord Yama and Yamuna
    It has been found that Lord Yama and his sister Yamuna also celebrated Rakhi. Yamuna tied sacred thread on Yama's wrist. Since then, Yama promised that whosoever gets a Rakhi tied by his sister vows to protect her.

    Alexander’s wife and Porus
    A battle was fought between Alexander the Great and the King Porus. Fearing for the life of her husband, Alexander's wife approached Porus and tied a Rakhi around his wrist. In return of that, she got blessings from Porus that he will never kill Alexander. During battle when Porus lifted his hand to kill Alexander, he saw the Rakhi and refused to kill him.

    I've been told that on this day in schools many of the boys will stay home or skip class to avoid having a bracelet tied on them. Their biggest fear is having a girl they have a secret crush on present them with a bracelet, thereby dashing any chance of the two of them having any sort of romantic relationship and him instead being looked upon as her brother.

    Although I'm not Hindu, I did partake of this holiday and present my good friend Rupert (also not a Hindu) with a bracelet. Rupert's been an amazing friend to me for the past year and I'll always consider him my brother from another mother. Here's a photo of us taken in Delhi last fall. I was forturnate enough to see him  today as well and spend time with his real life sister and brother, Anna and Richard. Thanks for everything, Bhai!

    Saturday, August 6, 2011

    Mirror Mirror On The Wall....


    ...who's the fairest one of all?

    In the West, the focus has historically been on tanning, whether through natural sun exposure, tanning beds, or tanning sprays and creams. I spent countless days in my youth worshipping the sun in the hopes of capturing a darker, even toned complexion. I had even prayed that at some point, after spending enough time lounging in the sun, my freckles would some how unite and provide me with a darker overall look. People with that natural "sun kissed" look are often seen as healthier then those of us on the fairer side.

    In India, the opposite is true.

     
    My first experience with this mentality was back in January when I visited and needed to have some photos taken for identification purposes. I had some Indian friends along and we thought since we were there, it would be fun to do a little photo shoot so we could all have a souvenir of the visit. When we returned to the studio to pick up the photos I could hardly recognize anyone in them. The studio had digitally lightened their skin to the point that rather then the picture being comprised of a fair skinned westerner and three Indians, it instead looked more like a family from Woodbury. There was no differentiation in our skin tones what so ever. No one in the states would ever believe that those appearing in the photo with me were my Indian friends.

    It's estimated that Indians spent over $432 million dollars in 2009 on skin whitening products. These products are geared towards every demographic, with the industry more recently focusing on products for men. The products range anywhere from face creams to deodorant, and are available in all the major brands. Each television commercial break results in exposure to at least two commercials for products that promise to give you a more desirable appearance in the form of a lighter complexion. It's really sad to see blatant racism being propagated by the media.

     
    I was at first shocked by the brands offering these types of products. Nivea. Dove. Olay. Garnier. What happened to "Love the skin you're in?” At the end of the Garnier ad in India, the spokesperson (always a top Bollywood star) says "Take Care." As though not using their lightening products and instead, embracing your genetically disposed darker complexion, somehow implies one's not taking proper care of themselves. Product lines for Men, Women, and Teen fill the shelves of every grocery and convenience store on every street.

     
    It's most disheartening to see products such as these geared towards the teen population. Girls in India are trained at a young age through the media that if they are on the darker side, they are less desirable and may even find it harder to be matched with a husband. There is a perception that if someone is darker they are of a lower class. Fair skinned Indians are revered and admired, regardless of their actual accomplishments in life.

     
    I still hold the mentality that a little color is nice. What can I say; it's been ingrained in me my entire life. I imagine it's no different for the Indians who keep these product lines profit margins fat.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011

    Laundry Day

    Some days, living in India feels like camping in the outback. Many modern conveniences just aren't that common. The electric washer and dryer is one of them. The majority of homes don't employ such luxuries, mine included. Most have maids that come a few days a week and wash clothes, towels, and bedding. Anyone thinking of saving a few rupees a month and doing laundry themselves is out of their mind. Here I'll walk you through the standard Indian laundry regimen and you can decide for yourself how much your time is worth.
    Two days per week, Lakshmi comes to do laundry. She starts by sorting clothes on the basis of light versus dark. In the wash area, which is just outside the second bedroom, there are two medium sized tubs that she piles the clothes into and adds detergent. Sounds simple enough, right? The fun begins when she begins hauling buckets of water outside one by one to fill the larger tubs as the outside spout doesn't work. She makes 6-8 trips from the kitchen to the wash area with these buckets of water until she has the tubs full. At that point she lets them soak for 10-15 minutes while she sweeps and scrubs floors and toilets inside.
    After the clothes have soaked for some time, she begins hauling more water out to the wash area, does a brief swirl of the clothes in the soapy buckets, then start rinsing them in the fresh bucket she has just hauled out. Lakshmi then becomes the manual spin cycle. This is my least favorite part of the process because it involves her twisting my clothes into obscenely tight rope like objects and beating them against the ground in the wash area. It's as though she's taking a weeks worth of aggression out on my clothes and slapping them against the marble slab as though she's trying to beat the last inch of life out of them. I've asked her many times to take it easy during this part of the process, and even bought a bunch of extra hangers asking her to dip them nicely in a bucket of clean water and just hang them to dry, but old habits die hard and my clothes see their brief lives flash before their eyes each time they are in her hands.
    Once she's satisfied with the "wringing" she's put them through, they are hung on the line for drying. Although she dedicates time and energy to abusing my clothes, she is extraordinarily efficient and can have all the laundry done in about an hour. Her fee for all of this work? Just rs100 per month (that's $2 USD).
    After taking a beating from Lakshmi and even spending a few days drying on the line, I'm left with a pile of incredibly stiff, impossibly wrinkled pieces of cloth that once resembled department store purchases. I can promise you, every bit of it needs ironing, and there isn't an iron on the market that will take those wrinkles out. So what's a girl to do?
    Let me introduce you to the ironing box. The ironing box is a mammoth beast of a "machine" that is filled with hot coals, only adding to the already impossible weight of the contraption. Ironing stands are every where on the street. They are typically make shift little shacks, with just a few sticks holding a tarp or a dilapidated billboard or other sign above a homemade table. This is not a glamorous job my friends. Imagine having to handle a 10+ pound iron contraption full of hot coals and spend all day in the 100+ degree Indian heat pressing clothes for others. It wouldn't be my first choice for a second career, but these stands typically have so much business that the pile of clothes yet to be ironed is taller then the person doing the ironing.

    While they are generally successful in getting the wrinkles out, there is risk involved. It's not uncommon for the ironing box to get dirty and that dirt or soot or whatever it might be to transfer onto your clothes. It's also common that a piece of coal or other debris might fly out of the box and burn a hole in your outfit. But for the price of just rs4 (that's like 2 cents) per piece, it's worth the risk. And really, after the human spin cycle that is Lakshmi (and every other Hindustani I've seen washing clothes), it's your only option.

    Friday, July 22, 2011

    Customs in Chennai

    After almost four months of waiting for my cargo to arrive from the US, I finally got the call that the ship had docked in Chennai, approx 514 km from Hyderabad. In order to schedule the customs inspection, I was requested to send my passport and residence permit to Chennai for review. Not wanting to let my passport out of my possession, I opted instead to fly to Chennai to attend the customs inspection. I was advised the entire process should take about three days and would cost me rs12500. So Zia and I took leave from the office and booked tickets to Chennai.

    The one way flight to Chennai took just under an hour and cost somewhere around rs2300 per person. We arrived early Monday, around 11:30am, made our way to the hotel recommended to me by my contact (Ramesh) in Chennai and opted for a suite for a per night cost of rs2000.

    The two things that immediately struck me about Chennai was the heat/humidity and the smell. Everyone stated it was because of the Bay of Bengal waters that boarder the city. I'll buy that for the humidity but unless the city is draining their toilets into the Bay, there has to be another source of that smell. It saturated every restaurant and every cab. Everywhere we went, we were inundated with the awful smell that is Chennai.

    After checking into the hotel, Ramesh met us to have me sign some paperwork and hand over the documentation I had carried so that the customs inspection could be scheduled. He collected the rs12500 he told me to carry and expressed concern over my US passport. He stated the visa was issued back in May and in order to clear customs, I should have at least one year left on my visa. Considering I arrived in India the day after my visa was issued, and the ship took an extra two months to get here, I wasn't sure how that was my problem. He explained that with a US passport, I would need to get clearance from four different customs departments in order to attend the inspection of my own shipment. He suggested I sign over Power of Attorney to Zia and let him attend the inspection on my behalf to help expedite things. He also advised us to bring an additional rs4-5000 to the inspection to ensure we could "secure" everything and that there would be no issue regarding the dates on my visa. He stated that because it was already so late in the day on Monday nothing could be done that day so we should just relax and enjoy the city. That night we visited a mall, and just roamed around for a few hours, already tired from the day and hoping things would be settled quickly.

    On day two Ramesh returned to the hotel with the Power of Attorney paperwork for both of us to sign and said he was 90% sure he could get the customs inspection scheduled for the next day. He said once the inspection was initiated, he could return my documents to me and we could be on our way and were not required to stay in Chennai during the entire inspection process. He requested that Zia attend the inspection alone and that I stay back at the hotel to avoid any confusion on behalf of the agents. After a 10 min visit with Ramesh, our business was concluded for the day and again we were left to enjoy the city. That night, after finding what may have been the only Hindi speaking auto driver in the city, we took a brief tour of Chennai, spent a few hours at the beach, then again ended up at a different mall where we went bowling, and did some window shopping.

    Day three in Chennai arrived and Ramesh called around 9am to say he was sending a car for Zia to take him to the port. He reminded us that he should carry some extra cash in an effort to expedite things. Zia arrived at the port after the car he was travelling in was in a small accident and a fight ensued in the street over who should pay who for the damages. Luckily no one was injured and in the end no one paid anyone for the damages. After arriving to the port, Ramesh handed him over to a colleague of his who took him to the inspection office.

    At the inspection office, again the concern regarding my visa having been issued a few months back came up. Certainly for the right price, things could be over looked. The customs officers began inspecting my totes, passing up anything that was marked "kitchen items" or "clothing" and going right for the craft stuff. All five totes of it. They stated that because they couldn't determine a value on it they were refusing to clear it. Zia explained it was paper, how much value could there be? He told them fine, keep the craft totes, just clear the rest of the shipment. They refused saying it was all or nothing, and if we wanted it all, we needed to pay rs2000 per tote (remember a few months back when I mentioned there were 17 totes). At this point, Zia was able to appeal to the female inspections officer and convinced her to explain to her boss that the craft totes didn't contain rs2000 worth of stuff. She agreed, convincing her boss, and they lowered the "price" from rs34000 for the shipment down to rs10000 to clear everything. Zia refused this as well, and and told them to go back, think it over, and let him know if they could do any better. They did this over their hour long lunch break, while he sat there waiting and I sat in the hotel room anxiously hoping things would be sorted out so we could leave.

    While I was waiting to hear from Zia on the status of the inspection, the concierge notified me that unless I was out of the hotel room within the next 30 mins, we would be charged an additional nights stay. So I packed our bags and headed down to the lobby to wait.

    After their lunch break, and inspection of a few other shipments, they returned, saying they would clear my shipment for an additional rs1800. Zia gladly paid them and five hours after leaving for the port  on day three, my items were cleared, my documents returned to me, and we were on our way to the airport to catch a flight back to Hyderabad.

    On Saturday I'm expecting my shipment to be delivered to my flat. It's a good thing I took a two bedroom place as one entire room will be stacked floor to ceiling with these totes. But alas, it's finished. For as much work and expense as it was to get things cleared, I don't even plan to unpack most of what is coming. I'm hoping to move in the next few months and rather then unpack then repack everything, I think I'll just leave it toted. I know at the time of packing I thought all of these items were so important to have along. Most have sentimental value and nothing more, but looking back, had I known what a hassle it would be to get my things here, I likely would have left all of it behind. We'll see if that feeling changes once I open a few totes and am reunited with some familiarity. Hopefully I won't be reunited with the smell of Chennai.

    Sunday, June 19, 2011

    Healthcare in Hyderabad

    While sitting through on boarding last week I was shocked to discover what my company sponsored "insurance plan" did and more importantly, did not offer. I put "insurance plan" in quotes because there were no mentions of well visits or preventative care. No annual physicals covered or vision and dental plan. They way I understood it, I was getting 1.5 lakhs (approx $3300 USD) of coverage that could be used only in the event of a 24+ hour hospital stay. On a bright note, the "plan" also lacked monthly premiums.

    I admit, I panicked. I've never been one to run to the doctor at the earliest sign of a sniffle, but having good insurance coverage is peace of mind. I've always availed the buy-up plan, the extra add-ons, and any other extra cushion offered. It didn't look like there were any other cushions being offered here.

    A co-worker had been experiencing some stomach discomfort and mentioned going to the hospital this weekend. I was shocked thinking how awful the pain must be go to the hospital instead of just visiting a Dr's office. What about the cost? He explained because the hospital had walk-in care, there was no reason to worry about scheduling an appointment or the severity of the condition and availing walk in care was certainly a convenient option. I asked to tag along.

    We visited Image Hospital, located in Madhapur. They advertise that no one is too poor to avail their extensive list of specialty care options, which range from Dermatology to Orthopaedics and everything in between.

    We walked into a huge and rather barren seating area. We approached the main desk next to which was a chart clearly stating all of the standard fees associated with the various services offered. To the left you'll see the fee schedule for an overnight hospital stay based on the type of room you'd like.

    The clerk took only the necessary information: Name and Phone number. There was no mention of seeing an insurance card or verifying a referral. They did, however, ask if we could pay the consultation fee for the Emergency Care doctor. The fee was Rs 275 ($6.00 USD). Upon paying that, we were issued a receipt and immediately taken back to see the doctor who was waiting in the room for us. There was no 20 questions game played with the nurse, no describing the symptoms to her only to have to describe them to the doctor later. The doctor asked a few questions followed by a full physical examination then provided some recommendations as well as a few meds to get my friend back on track.

    Leaving the exam room, we walked just ten steps to the pharmacy where we were immediately given the meds the doctor recommended which came to an additional Rs 200 ($4.50 USD) and we were on our way. The entire visit from walk in to walk out was short of 30 mins and cost just over $10.00 USD with no insurance necessary.

    When I returned home, I visited the hospitals website and was shocked to see a scroll bar on their home page listing prices for many of their services. They put it right out there for you to see. Nothing hidden. No fear of how much the bill is going to be. Just an easy to follow, clearly labelled fee schedule. See for yourself here: www.imagehospitals.com

    I must say this eased my mind regarding my current "insurance plan." The facility was excellent, the exam thorough, and the entire experience convenient and worry free.

    Celebration Traditions

    In the US, if you're celebrating your birthday, it's anticipated that you friends and family will treat you. Maybe a lunch date, or some cake and balloons, or perhaps even gifts.

    In India, it's done the opposite way. While I was still stateside and celebrated my most recent birthday, my Indian friends inquired as to what I was treating my friends with. I was completely puzzled. "What do you mean what am I treating them to? It's my birthday, shouldn't they be treating me?" Here, if you are celebrating an engagement, or a birthday, or promotion, you are responsible for treating them.
    [Photo courtesy of panchamrutsweets.com]
    The standard "treat" is any assortment of Indian sweets. There's a huge variety of unidentifiable things to chose from, and you'll find a sweet shop every few feet. I must admit, the Indian sweet is an acquired taste. I accepted them only out of sheer politeness in the past, but over time, they've grown on me. I've even identified a few favorites such as Gulab Jamun (which I've even helped make).

    Not only is it customary to provide the sweet if you're the one celebrating, but typically, you'll also place it in the mouth of the person you're offering it to. I've been scolded a few times for not doing so.

    When celebrating a birthday, you'll find the standard delicious cake (although the Indian's really do an amazing job of decorating them).
    What happens with the cake, however is a bit of a "sticky situation." After the singing (yes the same birthday song we all know) and blowing out of the candles, the individual celebrating will cut the first piece of cake, and hand it to an elder or boss. After receiving the piece of cake, the elder will then smear the piece of cake on the birthday girl/boys face. Several other folks joining in the celebration may also do the same.
    As you can see, it turns into quite the sticky situation. Everyone always takes it well and it can be a lot of fun provided you're the one doing the smearing!  

    Friday, June 3, 2011

    Finalizing Employment In India

    Monday June 6th will mark the end of my employment hiatus and have me reporting to the office. In the past month since I've worked, I've certainly taken boredom to new levels and I'm looking forward to working and getting into a routine not to mention having some money coming in.
    As per the eight page employment contract I was required to sign upon accepting my position, there is a long list of items I need to arrive with the first day I report to the office. I thought I'd share this with you, as well as a few comments on what is being requested.

    Highest Degree Certificate     
          Easy Enough. I had to provide a copy of my college diploma and transcripts in order to be considered for this position, so although they've already been provided to HR, there's no problem providing them again on my first day of work.

    Document Showing Date of Birth/Passport
          I have copies of both my Passport and Birth Certificate so this is no problem, and completely reasonable.

    Class X Certificate
          I have no clue what this is. If anyone can clue me in, please feel free.

    Photocopy of PAN ID
          I equate this to a Social Security Card. I have applied for a PAN card online, but need to submit my Resident Registration and copies of my Passport in order to complete the application process, except no one can tell me where to send these documents. Even on the website I filled out my PAN application form, there are no instructions on where to send the remaining documents.

    2 Passport Sized Photographs
          Indian society is so big on having a photo in order to make any document legal. I've had to provide photos for my apartment lease, my cell phone, and Internet service. Any legal contract or service requires this. There are photo shops everywhere that can do this for you, and once I realized how often I'd need to produce these photographs, I just went and had several printed up and carry them with me every where I go. It seems to be an expectation that you'll be able to produce one any where at any time.

    2 Copies of Relieving Letter/Experience Certificate From All The Previous Organizations
          That's right. India requires that you produce a letter showing that every former organization you list on your resume has accepted your resignation. Thankfully I only listed two on my resume, however with as young as we start working in The States and the number of jobs most Americans have in their lifetime, can you imagine having to produce a letter showing that each organization accepted your resignation?! My thought is, the fact that I no longer show up to work there is proof enough of their acceptance.
          Additionally, they want a letter detailing your experience at each of your past employers. They won't simply take your word for what you have listed on your resume. I've been told that if you leave an Indian company without putting in the proper notice period, they will refuse you the Experience Certificate/Letter basically nullifying your time spent at that company. I've heard it's virtually impossible to get hired on anyplace without having these certificates/letters from your former employers.

    Copy of Latest Salary Slip From All The Previous Organizations
          Since the dawn of direct deposit, I have never printed a pay stub unless I was applying for a loan. I don't have a single one of these from my most recent employer, and certainly not from past employers.

    Copies of Requisite Approvals and Work Permits/Visas for Continued Residence and Employment in India
          This makes sense. Of course you only want to hire people legally allowed to work in your country.

    So I'll be able to show up my first day with a few things, but will have to talk to them about the other items they are requesting that I might have trouble getting. The company I worked for prior to this one no longer even exists so hopefully they'll go easy on me over some of these items.



    Sunday, May 29, 2011

    The Price of Familiarity

    Following up on my last post in which I stated the grocery stores sell what, to an American, appear to be very mismatched items, I wanted to share the result of my recent shopping trip to the "white neighborhood" as I call it. It's Banjara Hills, located just five kilometers from where I live, and home to a large population of expatriates. It is where everyone recommended I live due to the posher area and stores selling items more familiar to me. Driving through it though, it appears to be a total bore, as there are lots of high walls and gates, a lack of fruit stands and street vendors, and you never see anyone out just loitering, no kids playing in the streets, and no auto rickshaw drivers shouting at you.

    Banjara Hills, however, is home to Q-Mart. It's a grocery-type store I can find those missing puzzle pieces like sliced cheese, Prego pasta sauce, ground coffee without chicory in it, and some ready made food items (ie: heat and serve). I've made stopping there a weekly affair, at least for now, until I get settled in a bit more and my things arrive from the states such as microwave safe cooking dishes and kitchen utensils.

    This weeks visit to Q-Mart can be classified as both a success and a failure. I picked up a bread pan, a cake pan, and a casserole dish all microwave/convection oven safe. I also picked up a few other items out of sheer excitement for seeing them on a store shelf but should have checked the prices first. Here is a sample of what I purchased and what I paid:

    24 oz Prego Traditional Flavored Pasta Sauce - Rs210/$4.64 USD
    500g Light Brown Sugar - Rs149/$3.30 USD
    17.5 oz Betty Crocker cookie dough mix - Rs205/$4.53 USD
    1 pack of Orbit Gum - Rs120/$2.65 USD

    And the most ridiculously inflated item of all

    5 oz can of PAM cooking spray, butter flavored - Rs415/$9.18 USD



    Not everything is cheaper in India and convenience certainly comes at a price. A price I don't think I'll be paying in the future. And yes, Q-Mart prints your credit card number, minus the last digit on your receipt.

    Monday, May 23, 2011

    The Comforts of Home

    The past 13 days have gone by both at a snails pace and like greased lightning. I've mainly spent my time foraging around for creature comforts such as coffee, styling products, and liquid soap. These are things I previously considered essential to my survival. They are things I took for granted. Not any more.

    Compared to US meal planning mentalities, the grocery store would appear to sell very mismatched items. I found pasta noodles but no tomato sauce, pancake mix but no maple syrup, coffee grounds for an automatic coffee maker but no filters, and fruit jam/jelly but no peanut butter. I've since taken a trip to a posher neighborhood and shopped at Q-Mart, who's slogan should be "Where white people shop" and found everything from sliced cheese to jarred Alfredo sauce. I had to hold myself back considering I took an auto-rickshaw to get there which has limited "trunk space" for such items.

    This past weekend I also got to the mall to restock my make-up supply. I found my brand, but not the entire line, and of course it wasn't in my shade. Still I was unable to find any styling products for women. Not even leave in conditioner. The heat and humidity have me looking like Medusa and I can't find a drop of smoothing serum anywhere yet I see Indian women everywhere I look with shiny, frizz free hair. I can't say the same for the Caucasians I saw shopping at Q-Mart though so perhaps women's hair products really don't exist in India.

    All of the items I once considered "basic essentials" have been replaced by what is true necessity. Namely, water and electricity. These things can no longer be taken for granted. Daily we experience power cuts, which can be grueling in 100+ F temperatures. During these dry summer months we also go for hours daily without running water. Our apartment building which consists of 5-6 units share a relatively small water tank, about the size of 5 standard US home hot water heaters, and we take turns paying to have it filled once per day. The cost to have it filled runs approx $12 USD. When the water is gone, you wait.

    Let the foraging continue, and let us never take anything for granted.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011

    The Concept of "India Time"

    Prior to my first visit to India I was made aware of something called "India Time." It seems that although Indians are mad for a good wrist watch (they love Fossil) they don't use it as a tool to ensure they are on time. For anything...

    A good friend of mine from India initially explained the "India Time" concept with the following example: "If I call you and tell you I'm in the lobby of your hotel, that means you should start getting ready because I haven't left my house yet and I should be there in 1-2 hours." My response "Why don't you just call me and tell me you're leaving your house and will be to my hotel in 1-2 hours." His response: "This is India."

    While spending time there I quickly adapted to this concept and loved the laid back approach. If I told someone I'd meet them at 1pm, I'd leave the hotel at 1pm and begin my long trek across the city. If I was an hour or two late, no one called demanding to know when I'd reach my destination. If you approach it correctly, it can be quite relaxing.

    Pairing the "India Time" concept with "Instant Gratification" expectation in the US, however, can be quite unnerving. My most recent example involved a communication roadblock between myself and the individual providing me with the documentation I needed to file my Visa application. She told me repeatedly "I have sent your documents and you should be receiving them accordingly." To me, that means she sent my docs and I should have them. Now. To her it meant something else. I may never fully understand what that phrase means to her as several days passed in which I received that very same message yet no documents appeared. Additionally, when I asked when I should expect to receive my documents, the answer was always "Shortly." This went on for weeks. I compare it to someone telling me they are in the lobby of my hotel, then not even having left their house yet. Why would you say that, if it's not true? Conversely, I'm sure she was wondering what this rude American was up to being so demanding. Hadn't she made it clear that my documents would arrive "Shortly?"

    I think either side of the equation is perfectly acceptable, as long as the other party is on the same side of the fence. From my current American perspective, it was maddening. I am happy to report, however, that today I received the documentation necessary to complete my Visa application, and in turn immediately shipped it off for processing. Now let's just hope the Indian Consulate has adopted an American approach of instant gratification rather then operating on "India Time."

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011

    Losses and Gains

    Several people have asked me what I will miss upon my departure from the US. I set out to develop a Top 5 list, and conversely, a Top 5 list of items I will not miss upon leaving. Here is what came to mind:
    Top 5 things I will miss:
    1. Live Music. Growing up with a father in a band and musically inclined siblings and friends, many a night has been spent in local watering holes enjoying the sounds of a live band. It's a great opportunity to hear a friend's interpretation of a song or something completely original and of course a great gathering of people.
    2. Organized Traffic Flow. Give it up to the City/County/State planners in this country and the State Patrol as well I guess. We have a delectable traffic system. Roads are well maintained and orderly. Drivers respect their fellow commuters and for the most part obey traffic laws.
    3. Adult Size Beverages. For those of you that followed my blog from last fall, you'll recall me pining away for a Venti anything. I'm a gulper and the free refill is my friend, as well as the super sized fountain Coke, the Big Gulp, and the Mega Buddy. When ordering food at a drive through, my standard comment is "give me the biggest bucket of Coke you have."
    4. Shoes. Indeed they sell shoes in India, however finding them in my size is not the easiest of tasks. I don't have abnormally large feet, just abnormally larger then most Indians. Shoe shopping can be a bit of an embarrassing feat (pun intended) when I have to straight away ask for the biggest size they have which is followed by the clerk coming out of the back room dusting off a box they clearly got by accident and handing it to me with a smirk.
    5. Music. Yes it always comes back to Music. This time, I mean the music I can find on my favorite FM station. American Music. Hindi music, with it's overdone male vibrato and Mini Mouse-esque female crooners is headache inducing at best. I've been diligently loading up my ipod in preparation.

    So there you have it, my friends. For those curious about what I will miss.

    And now, onto the items I won't miss.

    Top 5 things I will NOT miss
    1. Snow. Enough said.
    2. Price of Produce. We are very fortunate in this country to have produce flown in year round from all over the world, but we sure pay for it! With India's warm climate, they have year round access to all kinds of wonderful organic fruits and veggies, at wicked low prices. Street vendors are selling everything from oranges, to coconuts, to mangoes on every corner. I'm hoping that's a good incentive for me to get back on and adhere to a better eating regimen.
    3. Absence of Bacon. I've never been a pork fan, and browsing through the menu at any local establishment you'll be hard pressed to find a salad, burger, sandwich or wrap sans bacon. Seeing as approx 45% of the population of Hyderabad is Muslim, bacon is scarce and having a menu lacking bacon makes me very happy.
    4. Chores. It's common place in India to have a housekeeper and my home will be no exception. I'll have someone coming in daily to do the laundry, dusting, and sweeping, and of course she'll wash the dishes she dirties while cooking my meals. All for price of $20 USD a month!
    5. Toilet Paper. It might sound strange, but I will not miss toilet paper. Indians prefer rinsing with water after using the potty and in my experience I feel this is the much cleaner option, and therefore preferred. Certainly I can buy toilet paper there, but each of my washrooms has an attached sprayer to use in place of TP. Not only do I find it cleaner, but environmentally sound as well so it's a win-win.

    I'm sure both sides of this list will grow over time but for now, these are the things that come to mind. I hope you enjoyed this preliminary list.

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011

    Finally Some Movement

    Today I finally received my formal compensation and benefits package offering from HR. While I won't post it here, I will say I am very pleased with the entire package and have accepted it. The team working on my transition did an amazingly thorough job to ensure I would qualify for all of the same benefits Indian Nationals receive. Such benefits include food vouchers for the office cafeteria, a flex account that let's you draw for everything from medical to fuel for your car, and a Savings and Retirement plan with a hearty company match.

    The offer roll out and acceptance is done a bit different there then we do it here. First they disclose the financial package to you, then if you accept it, they make a formal job offer. In the states you first find out if you're offered the position, then upon acceptance find out the pay and benefits (at least that's been my experience). So it's nice going in knowing what I'm making and not having to accept an offer without knowing if it's going to work for me or not. I should have the formal offer letter tomorrow.

    Additionally I received the Visa Application form and a list of required documents necessary in order to secure my Employment Visa. There is a law firm in Mumbai working on all of these things for me, for the nominal fee of $1350 USD (Visa and lawyer fees combined), which was not included in my benefits package. I was able to complete the application without any trouble, but the list of documents needed was pretty vast and might take me a day or so to compile. They are asking for everything from birth certificates to college transcripts. I am hoping to have everything sent to them by tomorrow on the off chance they can get it filed this week. Once it's filed, it will take approximately 2 weeks to be approved and I'll be on my way!

    I'm just hoping I arrive in India before my belongings do, as I don't believe customs will release them to anyone but me and I dont' know what will happen if I'm not there to receive them!

    Saturday, April 2, 2011

    My Life in Totes




    The shipping company came yesterday to pick up my belongings. Thirty two years on
    this planet and I've been reduced to 17 plastic totes. I've always hovered somewhere between an organized hoarder and a minimalist. I love procuring things.....but very few things have sentimental value to me and I end up giving much of what I buy away or tossing it. In that sense, much of what I packed will probably seem foolish to many of you. Still, it will be nice to look around my apartment and see items I've had for years or that I can recall the level of excitement I had when I purchased them. 
    
    All my wordly posessions - toted
    
    The largest quantity of anything I packed was my scrap booking supplies. I'm guessing I won't find a Happy Stamper or Archivers in Hyderabad, and I've been hoarding supplies for years so I used that to my advantage and packed 6 of my 17 totes full of my favorite scrap booking/card making supplies. A few totes contained my full GardenLites collection from Party Lite, some fabulous dishes and glassware made up another 1-2 totes, and of course I need a few clothing items.

    The company I hired to ship my items is Ocean Star International (http://osishipping.com/). According to Kevin in the sales department, India is one of the top countries they ship to, so they are very familiar with the rules and regulations related to such a shipment. They gave me a phenomenal price and offered door to door service. All of the reviews I found online about them (on sites other then their own) were phenomenal.
      
    The local company they contracted to pick up the items at my house was fantastic to work with. Mike, the driver, took very special care to stack, wrap, and load my items and was courteous and professional each step of the way. He'll haul them out to California, where they'll be put on a boat and floated over to India, for the bargain price of just $1700 USD. I did take  insurance on the shipment, which only covers catastrophic issues such as a boiler blowing up on the ship or the ship sinking, and was a little disappointed to discover that I was not being protected against pirates. I'll be mad if they steal my great grandmothers hope chest and use it to store their buried treasure.

    I'll be curious to see how they deliver my items to my Madhapur flat, as I don't think there is a truck on the Indian continent big enough to handle 150 cubic feet of cargo. Lucky for them I'm on the ground floor and they won't have to haul them up multiple flights of stairs!

    Now I can only hope I get shipped there in time to meet my things. So far I have not been given a departure date, but need to be there in order for them to deliver my items as they will not allow them to be signed over to anyone else.
    It was a little sad seeing all my things roll down the road. But being reunited with all my stuff will be a joyous day indeed!

    Wednesday, March 30, 2011

    India's National Sport - Cricket

    Today India advanced to the next round of the 2011 Cricket World Cup, beating Pakistan by 29 runs. The India/Pakistan rivalry can be compared to that of a Packer victory over the Vikings. Here is some info on the great sport of cricket. If you can read and understand the rules, perhaps you can explain them to me! I've been trying to follow but find it much easier to get caught up on the high spirits of those celebrating the victory, then to worry about pitch, wickets, and creases.

    Read more about cricket here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cricket

    Monday, March 28, 2011

    Home Sweet Home

    Lease papers will be drawn up this weekend for what I'm told is a very nice flat in Madhapur, Hyderabad. It's a little unnerving signing a lease on a place I've never seen but it's short term, only 6 months, so if I don't like it there are many more to chose from.

    Hall (nice storage if you're a giant)
    The apartment is a two bedroom, two bathroom, with kitchen, living room, and den. It has air conditioning units in both bedrooms, hot water heaters in both bathrooms (they're called geysers in India (pronounced geezer), which makes it sound like I have an old man sitting in each of my bathrooms), and comes fully furnished. It has underground parking, so although my place is on the ground floor, I'm not actually on the ground. That helps relieve some anxiety I have over the bug situation there. A snow-free climate allows insects to grow QUITE large.

     
    Master washroom - note the bucket and spout
    You'll notice in the pictures, that the set up is a bit different then what we are used to seeing. The bathroom is basically like a big shower stall with a toilet. There isn't a tub, just a spout on the wall. The objective is to turn on the geyser, let the water heat up, then fill the large bucket you see pictured under the spout. You then take your bath out of the bucket. If you're using the bathroom for potty purposes, you have the option of either washing your hands in the bathroom using the shower spout, or you can use the sink positioned outside the bathroom.

    
    Hall (living room) with sink.

    I've never seen a sink actually inside an Indian bathroom. They are typically situated right outside the bathroom door and sometimes an additional one is found in the Hall (living room) or dining room.









    In the dining room pic, you'll notice that the refrigerator (also an Indian luxury item) is located next to the table rather then in the kitchen. This is also common.

     







    Kitchen - note the tile and burner
    Surprisingly the kitchen has, what I consider to be, farmhouse-esque tiles, versus what I would call Indian style tiles. Note the little flour canisters and fruit baskets on the tiles in the kitchen. Also in the kitchen you'll see a canister with a burner on top. Stove top cooking is how most things are prepared, minus the stove top. So you just get a series of burners and cook using those. Baking is done in bakeries and not in the home (at least not in my home it would seem).


    You also won't see an electric washer and dryer. That's something I'm going to have to work on. Instead there is a small patio like thing that clothes can be washed on using a bucket and detergent bar. While I don't see myself returning to my colonial roots and washing clothes by hand, the apartment does come with maid service so I can have them take care of washing and cooking, until I can sort things out and get situated. It would seem the current tenants are not utilizing all the maid has to offer. 
    
    TV room and a clear indication the current tenants are not utilizing the maid service
    The apartment is just 10 minutes drive from the office which I'm thrilled about. It's common for employees to spend 1-2 hours going each way to and from work daily. I don't see that in the cards for me. The area around the apartment is very bustling. I'm told the gym is just a few steps from the front door, as is a good salon, a grocery store, clothing stores, etc. So everything I need should be in walking distance, minus the office, which provides transportation at no charge to it's employees.

    Here is some info on the neighborhood (Madhapur) I'll be staying in courtesy of wikipedia -  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madhapur

    Friday, March 25, 2011

    The decision to move to Hyderabad

    The decision to move to Hyderabad, India wasn't a difficult one. Just after my 30th birthday I found myself at a crossroads and knew I had to make a change. It just took me awhile to identify that change. In the spring of 2010 - I jumped at the opportunity to spend 5 weeks training new hires at our Hyderabad office, and quickly realized that is where I needed to be. Many things intruiged me about India. The diverse culture, the amazing work ethic, the excitement of an intense population of individuals in a single geographic location, and the mix of old tradition and emerging ennoblement. It had always been a dream of mine to live abroad. Naturally that comes with many expenses, both emotional and financial. 

    My first goal was finding employment. While I had a little bit in savings, I needed to ensure my financial security long term, so the great job search began. After several month of scouring job ads and sending out resumes, I decided to pursue opportunities within my own organization. Fortunately, the fairytale experience I've had over the past five years with my current employer, extended across the ocean and I was welcomed with open arms at our Hyderabad office. 

    The process was a long and slow one, and even as I write this, there are still outstanding pieces. Learning to navigate the laws in terms of employment, establishing residency, and obtaining the appropriate work visas is not an easy task. Luckily I had an amazing team working to make the transition happen.

    As always my family was very supportive. In situations like this, all of the missed communication opportunities are brought to light. Since announcing my decision to move, communication increased as did visits. Although we'll be further apart geographically, I think living abroad will enhance our dedication to keeping in touch and probably result in us being closer to one another. I'm experiencing the same with my friendships. Every weekend is filled with visits and talks and catching up with folks previously taken for granted.

    I hope you'll join me on this life changing journey. I welcome your comments and feedback each step of the way.