31 May 2011

India experience - Week 1 - Mumbai

In which I arrive in this beautiful disaster* called India, get to know I got a servant and stare death in the face (or more like in the armpits).

I arrived in Mumbai Airport at around 23h. Waiting for my 60 kilos of bags to come, exchanging dollars to rupees and waiting in the wrong line for a cab that AIESEC should have arranged took approximately FOREVER, so I started roaming around the airport exit to see if someone from AIESEC was there to pick me up. The heavy air heat at post-midnight something impressed me. In fact, everything impressed me: the incredible amount of people waiting for other people in the airport at this time, the noise of the comings and goings and horns and hell raised by the old cabs, the craziness everywhere. I definitely was not in Norway anymore.

When I go around 2 or 3 times the airport exit without finding anyone holding a sign with my name, I decided that I would have to go on my own. But I was one of the (few?) blessed and the moment I am exiting among the, literary, hundreds of people waiting for others to arrive, someone says my name. This guy, Keenan, from AIESEC Mumbai recognized my AIESEC t-shirt. Ok, that was a relief. Other 2 AIESECers from Mumbai arrive and they give me to eat a candy (in just one bite). The thing tasted like eating anis (and if I am not mistaken, it was blue also) and I almost throw up.  I took approximately 30 minutes to chew it all. In the meanwhile, while I was with my mouth full of anis tasting crazy candy, we made small talk about who I was, what was going on, etc.

We went to a line to get a pre-paid cab. Pre-paid cab? Yes, no one trusts taxi drivers, so you go to the counter, say where you are going, pay, get a ticket and then find your driver to take you there. Clean.

When we finally found the cab, it was more or less like looking at a mobster car - after it has taken a heavy bullet hit. Only one of my bags fit in the trunk, the other one is also put in the trunk with a ROPE to keep it in place. I can only HOPE for the best. Oh man, India.

When we leave the airport, it is approximately 1h30. We drive to insanely heavy traffic streets (considering the time and that is Sunday). The 3 AIESECers tell me that Mumbai never sleeps. I think "yeah, we the amount of cars horning, I imagine no one really can sleep". Everything is novelty, even though I don't see much because it is dark. The taxi driver creates his own lanes. Rules are for the weak. The AIESECers are nice people. I like them. They went through a lot of effort to be late at night to pick me up and take me to where I should go.

We arrive at this place which would be my transition quarters (TQ). An apartment with 2 rooms with 2 beds each that TCS offers to the newly arrived for a couple of weeks. It was already 2h when I arrived at the TQ and I was greeted by Mr. Pruna (or Purna?), the Indian servant with a big smile and tentative English. He brings me cold water and call me Sir. I got shocked at first. Wow, he is serving me. After Norway, that is not a common thing at all.

Mr. Pruna demands remarks on his own: he was always there and basically fixed everything for us in the TQ. Every time I arrived from the office, the first thing was "Welcome, Sir" and the 2nd would be to bring me a full bottle of cold water. We spoke about some random stuff sometimes, more out of curiosity to understand where he was from, but mostly he would spoke with us like this:

- Breakfast, Sir?
- Yes, Pruna, at 7h30 tomorrow.
- Ok, Sir. Omelette, Sir?
- Omelette, yes.
- Ok. Toast, Sir?
- Yes. That is good.
- Yuis, Sir?
- What?
- Yuis, Sir? (More emphatically)
- Yuis? What is that?
Mr. Pruna would then mimic like drinking something from a glass. It should be really good, because he was always with this big smile on his face.
- Ah, yes, juice, yes, please.
- Ok, Sir.

And, of course, at breakfast he would ask us about what we want for dinner.

On the TQ, there was another AIESEC intern that had arrived one or two days before me, his name was Narcisse and he was from Ivory Coast. Me and Narcisse understood each other right away. He was one of those guys that you really like quite quickly. Me and Narcisse exchanged a few small talk and suddenly Mr. Pruna put a bed sheet on the floor and sit there. "Oh, no" I thought, "he sleeps on the floor - and there is an empty sofa just by the side where he is putting the bed sheet". Another shock. I took a shower and fell asleep in my (and Narcisse's) room, with the soft cover of the air-conditioning (which obviously the living room where mr. Pruna was sleeping, ON THE FLOOR, didn't have). I felt pity for the man.

Another shocking thing with Mr. Pruna is that he ate on the floor (using plates, yes, but on the floor). The thing is that since he is a servitor, he should not use the table (or the sofa), because it "pollutes". Crazy stuff, I just can't understand. But in the end, we made friends with him and he even sat on the table with us, proving that things are not so black and white.

Next day, me and Narcisse gear up for the first day at the office. We needed to get a rickshaw (or simply "auto")  to the Bolivari train station and from there get a local train to Churchgate. Easier said then done. Narcisse approaches one of the rickshaw drivers. He offers to take us to the train station for 40 rupees. Narcisse thinks it is too much, but goes in the polite approach, something like "It's too expensive. Can you do better?", noticing the soft approach would go nowhere, I stepped in and said "10". The guy said "11", I insisted on the "10", he agreed. We boarded the rickshaw and I noticed the driver smiled. I thought "hm, I think he ripped us off anyway". I was later informed by the locals that the lowest rickshaw drive is really "11". So maybe the guy just thought it was funny that such random people would be bargaining so hard.

The train station was a mix between fish market and dumpster. Too many people and no apparent way of figuring out which trains go where, we went for the asking approach. We were redirected here and there and finally we got to the platform where the train to Churchgate would arrive. When it did arrive, nothing can really translate the shock of seeing a crowded train, with no doors and with people ranging outside of it. This is the picture you see:

But it really does not translate the horror it is the first time you see it. And then you think "I have to ENTER this? I am going to die, that is it." People at the platform started to run to try to get inside the train. Everyone managed to get in (probably even before the train stopped to a complete halt), the exception being me and Narcisse. The men in the train (where, not exactly IN, since they were ranging at the doors) started shouting and making fun of us. Narcisse and I look to each other in despair and talk about tactics. A young Indian guy, out of pity, show us the place where the slow train goes. Typically less crowded, the slow train started in our station, so it would be possible to sit. We follow him to the platform and manage to sit. But the train anyway gets really crowded really quick and soon there are people ranging at the doors again.

The slow train takes around 2h to Churchgate (not so different than its counterpart, the "fast" train, that takes around 1h30min). You have no idea what is 2h in a crowded train full of sweaty people. Not people, men, because there are special wagons only for women. It was hell, I tell you. Every day, to and from the office, at the peak time. We were thankful when we managed to sit. But even though, that was not a great thing. Because it is so crowded, Indians have a very peculiar sense of personal space (or lack) , so it is very common to be squeezed with 4 people in a bench designed for 3 or to have someone gently sleeping and using you as a pillow. The smell was the worse, since after the 2nd time in the train, I got used with the amount of people and didn't mind the lack of space anymore. After the 4th time, I started to be able to read in the train (using the Amazon Kindle app in my Android). That was a very nice thing and more than one Indian approached me to ask about what was the phone about, what I was reading and such.  In the end of the week, I was able to enter and leave the train without it completely stopping. The civilized metro in Norway looked impossibly calm and was far away in my mind. Humans are so adaptable, I concluded.

The amount of adaptation (especially considering my gentleman ways learned in Norway) can be described in this (real) story:

Indians have allergy towards organization, in special in regards to queuing. Anyone attempting to queue will be faced with people cutting in front straight to the counter, people on the back breathing at half a centimeter of your neck and all this. On the train ticket counter, I was waiting for some time in the queue, I was the next customer after a man, when suddenly an old lady comes in front of me straight to the ticket window. I gently, but firmly, push her aside and point to the back of the line. She says something like "mahaba ragata jahlaputamadre", I answer in Portuguese "yeah, whatever, go to the end of the line". After I buy, she sneaks again and buy the ticket. But I was not the sucker. I was re-learning my Brazilian ways of fighting for survival.

I think what shocked me the most in Mumbai (and probably in all the little I know of India) is that poverty is absolutely everywhere. Not like most countries I know that had poverty concentrated somewhere and the rich neighborhoods looking very fancy and nice. No, in India, the fancy building is just by the side of a slum and trash is absolutely everywhere. A friend of mine is working in waste management in Delhi. Before coming to India, I thought this was cool. But after getting to know India and how much litter is everywhere, I just thought "wow, this guy is really making a difference. Waste management should be a top priority in this country".

Since I was in Mumbai only for some contract signing and other random stuff, I felt quite happy when I got my ticket to Chennai on the Friday. That is the city where I was going to live and Mumbai was just a transition. Since I was tired as hell of the trains and all the bla bla bla, I got very happy to go to Chennai, to my new home.

But that is another story...

* Beautiful disaster is what Pamela, my Mexican flatmate, calls India. She can say it with passion in her eyes.

21 May 2011

Ha det bra, Oslo (Goodbye, Oslo)

I started writing this inside my head a few days before I left Oslo, while I did some things over there for the last time (like the path from my old job to my old flat), then I handwritten it in the plane using the amazing notebook Deniss and Albina gave me, now I am re-writing it on my PC, at the 3rd day in Mumbai, but I will only post it when I have internet, which means when I get to Chennai, in  a few days.

I have reached the point of no return: I am at the Amsterdam airport and it finally hit me, I am going to India, most importantly, I left Oslo, where I lived for 3 years. Good part of those years thinking I was going to live there. So it was just like home for me, at least in feeling. Schiphol airport was the same airport I used to come for the first time to Europe. It felt right to be the one I would be leaving it too.

I consider myself a strong fellow, but when I get emotional, I cry just like a little girl. So while I am writing this (both at the Amsterdam airport and at the my room in Mumbai) tears lick my face like a dog's wet tongue would. Humans are animals of habit and I am crying because my life will not be the same now. I already miss even the things I didn't like or even hated in Oslo. But of course, I miss much more the things I loved, like my girl, friends, spring weather, sitting at the park and have barbecue and beer, read under the sun, my flat, kebab... all the stuff that is gone when I boarded the Delta flight to Mumbai.

My last day in Oslo was one of running around and goodbyes. I finished giving away my furniture, and the last piece was given to an international couple which fell in love with the apartment. I loved the idea of such a nice international couple living in my place. It felt right for that flat. I have been very happy there and I know they would too. I gave the phone number of the landlord and they said they were really going to call at that very day. I hope they get it.

The last day was of goodbyes: as meals, I obviously had Bislett Kebab and Burger King. I got a haircut at the same cheap place I always went in Grønland. I walked through Slottsparken and Aker Brygge. And then, when everything was done, I came back to the apartment, where only my bags remained. I looked around at the completely empty flat and I remember releasing a big sigh. I was going to miss that place. I got my bags, left the flat and put the key at the mailbox. It was over, I was homeless.

I went to Sveinung's place, where I would stay until my flight very early in the next day - which means we would not sleep. We went with my best friends (still) in Oslo to the Eurovision party, it seamed a pretty reasonable way of saying goodbye not only to my friends and Oslo, but also to Europe. Azerbaijan won the contest, which for me sounded as an indication of what was to come in my own life: Europe was not my place anymore, I was going to live in the East.

At that night, it started raining. I hated Oslo for that, such a bad way of saying goodbye. But then I started to believe it was crying too because I was leaving. Walking around wet, looking for busses and cabs to go from one place to another was very stressful. I didn't want to miss my flight, or, well, maybe I wanted, by I decided I couldn't. Unfortunately Oslo was not my place anymore, I had to move on.

When finally we managed to get cabs to the places we needed to be, I said a cold goodbye to my best friends. I suck at goodbyes. I don't like to say bye to the people I love. I feel uncomfortable and stressed and I don't know what to say.

Since I haven't slept in that day, I slept the whole way to the airport and the whole way from Oslo to Amsterdam. This soothed my tight heart. But when I got to Amsterdam, it really hit me that I was not an Osloner anymore. I felt sad, but the sadness had to wait, because on the way to the flight to Mumbai I had the toughest security check ever. 2 guys interviewing me and asking the same questions over and over again. Very annoying. I wanted to throw at their faces that I lived legally in one of the richest countries in the world and certainly I had better options than India (including staying in Oslo) if I was trying to move somewhere illegally. At some point, when I showed the invitation letter from Tata, the guys finally believed I was for real and let me go with a somewhat apologetic tone. Buggers.

When I boarded the plane, I was in tears. I was completely scared, which rationally felt good, since I would be leaving my comfort zone to grow and develop. But even though my mind knew it was a good thing, my heart was heavy like Indian food. More than once I thought of turning around and catching a plane to somewhere else. I kept walking, found my place at the plane and got my notebook, where I finished writing this text. I remember wishing very strongly that I would not regret this step in my life, both professionally and personally. I still hope I won't.

To finish, for those that didn't see my video where I gave away my books to strangers in Oslo in a way to say "thank you" to the city, here it is:

06 May 2011

Why China copies and India invents

I was on bed and I had to get out of it to write this. I was reading the first paragraphs of White Tiger, specifically this part:

Apparently, sir, you Chinese are far ahead of us in every respect, except that you don’t have entrepreneurs. And our nation, though it has no drinking water, electricity, sewage system, public transportation, sense of hygiene, discipline, courtesy, or punctuality, does have entrepreneurs.

And it hit me. I understood everything (as much as you can understand everything while on your bed). One of those eureka moments came to me and it was clear as water why China is a copycat machine, while India has the IT sector of the world in its hands. I might be very wrong because I haven't visited BOTH countries, but I am also an entrepreneur and I am not afraid to fail tonight. I am cocky enough to think I will succeed.

The thing about China and India are essentially about organizational culture. Well, culture, not "organizational", but if you would think both States as "organizations", then it would be organizational culture. 

In China, the government restricts information, tells you how many children you can have, tell you what is right and what is wrong. It holds the truth in its hands, people have to comply. This approach has its merits: efficiency. The well-oiled Chinese machine outproduces the whole world. It is a factory. But only a factory, as in the Apple's products labels "Designed by Apple in California." while somewhere hidden it says "Assembled in China." California has the brains, China is just a glorified tinkerer. Also no question about who gets the biggest share of the money: always the brain.

In India, on the other hand, it is a land of very few blacks and whites: everything is grey. It depends. And it depends a lot. Like Brazil, the government in India is not the most trusted entity: you have to make a living yourself, because suddenly your slum might be erased from the map because of a new government program. No job? Use your imagination and generate some sort of money. Old taboos, such as "girls should not work", are easily forgotten for the sake of practical survival. To hell with the rules, says the Indians, we will do our own stuff. And here they are, the biggest entrepreneurial nation in the planet, where almost anything is up for negotiation. Yes, there are draw backs when everyone is doing their own thing: chaos, organizations (enterprises or government) have more leverage over the disorganized society of the individual. But it teaches you a hell lot of initiative. It teaches you, like a shark, to never stop swimming. It gives you faith in yourself - because if you don't trust yourself, no one else will.

So if China wants a bit more entrepreneurship, it will have to let the danger of freedom enter its doors, because that is the only way innovation can come in too. And if India want some order, might be interesting looking to... hm, not China, please. Maybe Norway?

Again the phrase "culture eats strategy for breakfast" makes a lot of sense. I am fascinated by organizational culture and its influence. Maybe that is what I need to do. Maybe that is my leverage to change the world. Culture change & management. 

Oh, men, just having my trip to India next week is already putting me in a very different mood than the stiff and anti-entrepreneurial organizational culture in Norway.

Good things come to those who act.

[No revision. That is the way I am. Leave me be.]