Friday, December 31, 2010

Pictures of India…

Ok, final India post (I think).

If you want to see some of the pictures, here’s the link to the 2 albums.



Thursday, December 30, 2010

Electric Reaction…

One of the little quirks of visiting India comes in the form of electricity.

There are periodic power failures. The lights just go out suddenly.

What’s really interesting is how people react.

They don’t.

In the US, we all say “Aaargh! The power is out.”

We get frantic (or at least a bit) and we take notice.

In India…nothing.

Conversations just keep going as if nothing happened at all.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mobile Innovation? Look to India

Tom Friedman had a great article a few weeks ago asking: “What if we are only at the beginning of the technical revolution?”

(no link, sorry)

The examples were of innovation in mobile banking in India.

Only 20-30 million Indians have Internet access, but there are 20 million new cell phone activations EACH month.

You see people dressed in rags…holding a mobile phone.

While there are certainly barriers to innovation (corruption being one of them), I’m going to keep an eye on the types of services that evolve there.

It’s one area where they could possibly lead the world.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

India and Sustainability…

I’ll say this…after seeing the traffic, trash, and pollution in India, it’s more clear than ever that our consumer habits are just not sustainable.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Inches Away. Worlds Apart…

As I write this, I’m sitting in the back of a hired car on the road from Agra to New Delhi.

Using my laptop, moving pictures from my digital camera, creating blog posts, access to the world via my cell phone, and thinking about my kids using Xbox Kinect.

At the stoplight, a young boy comes up to knock on the window, asking for a handout.

He’s 8 inches away from me, but it feels like I’m in a different universe.

Taj Mahal and Agra0113

Sunday, December 26, 2010

British Retrospective…

The period of British rule in India has traditionally not been viewed positively by Indians.

On the other hand, India has more English speakers now than the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand combined.

And, because of the British Empire, they have been positioned to create much of the economic growth over the past 20 years.

It seems that Indians recognize this.

Proof (again) that sometimes judgments change over time.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Separate Subway Cars…

As I rode the Metro into Delhi around 11am, I spent a lot of time looking around, just watching the people.

At some point, it hit me: there we NO women in the car with us.

I couldn’t figure out why. I thought it had something to do with gender roles. Women not being in the workforce or what not, but it didn’t make sense.

I changed trains at the Central Secretariat station and grabbed a strap from the ceiling.

The subway in Delhi are multiple cars, like any other subway system, but they are more like those extended buses, where there is an “accordion-like” structure connecting each one, so it’s kind of like one really long train.

My car was pretty full which, given India, wasn’t a surprise.

I looked to the next car and it was sparsely populated.

I kept looking, wondering why no one from my car went into the next car, to get more space.

Then, I saw that every single person in that car was a woman.

In fact, the first car of EVERY metro train is for women only.

The lines at many public places (Red Fort, Taj Mahal) are also segregated and there’s a partition for when they do the full body pat-down as well.

India may be modernizing, but tradition is alive and well, too.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal and Agra0105

Over 22 years, 20,000 different artisans worked on creating the Taj Mahal mausoleum to Emperor Shah Jahan’s third wife.

While the hype is huge, obviously, I didn’t walk away disappointed. Its beauty is exquisite.

Shah Jahan’s son had him imprisoned in a quest for power (the same son also had his 3 older brothers executed) and claimed that his father was wasting the money of the Indian taxpayer with a frivolous monument that was so expensive and ornate.

Taj Mahal and Agra0108My guide and I joked that the son may have thought he was wise, but didn’t have the foresight to understand the international tourism business.

Perhaps Shah Jahan wasn’t just lovestruck, but had a keen insight of the long-term Return on Investment he would gTaj Mahal and Agra0109enerate?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Corruption and Growth…

A few days before I left, there was an article in the New York Times about corruption in India.

So, I decided to investigate.

Turns out, it’s an even bigger problem that the article let on

And, I concluded, it’s what’s holding India back.

One refrain I heard was that “innovation doesn’t happen in India.”

Whether that’s true or not, the perception is that innovation happens in the West and then, when it’s mature, it comes to India for support and maintenance.

Then, the dots were connected for me.

As much as we like to make fun of lawyers, etc., the rule of law, property rights, contracts, etc….without these, you can’t reward and encourage innovation.

I knew that, of course, but it was reinforced.

An educated Indian here with an idea has too many levels of bureaucracy, graft, greed, and corruption to navigate in order to make his/her dream come true.

Ok, maybe a slight exaggeration, but from what I was told, you have to “pay to play” a lot and, even if you do, you still remain exposed.

However, it seems like corruption is endemic. The sense of “justice” that pervades in much of the West doesn’t exist in the same form here.

One Indian told me that there’s a connection to the Hindu concept of reincarnation. “If you do something wrong in this life, your payback is in the next life.”

What’s more, it’s clear to everyone that your first obligation is to your family…you need to protect and take care of them so, who cares if you take a bribe along the way?

That being said, there’s increasing frustration with corruption and the term for anti-corruption is “Vigilance” which seems to be picking up steam (albeit slowly).

Apparently, the Nov. 26 Mumbai attacks infuriated people (not just b/c of the terrorism), but because some suppliers of bulletproof vests to the police had cut corners thus causing unnecessary deaths.

Every now and then, I suppose it’s important to be reminded of the things we take for granted.

In this case, respect for the law.

So, go hug a lawyer. Lucky for me, I live with one.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Poverty and Numbness…

The poverty you see in India is heartbreaking.

Next to the 2 billion dollar metro system, there are people living in tents (if you can even really call it that).

People sleeping on sidewalks.

Kids covered in dirt, grime, filth coming up to you, asking for money or a handout.

You want to help, but after a while, you realize that you alone can’t solve the problem.

You have no idea how the problem can even be solved. (Of course, this assumes that poverty is a problem).

Hundreds of vendors, all selling the same thing for small amounts of money. Dogs (and people) scrounging through garbage.

You just wonder how it all works and how people make it from one day to the next.

I’m not a naturally empathic person (a blog post for another day), so maybe it was easier for me to step back and not let every image go direct to my heart.

Instead, I kept defaulting to the macro.

How does this society (assuming it wants to) begin to go about raising the quality of life and healthcare for its members?

What can we, as members of the global community, do to contribute?

What are our obligations?

But you keep coming back to the scale.

And you feel really small and insignificant.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Security in India….

One thing that surprised me in India was the amount of security…EVERYWHERE.

I need to ask if this is a result of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks or existed before that.

But, for EVERY hotel, every museum, famous location, etc., you walk through a metal detector, can be frisked and, in many cases, put your bag through an x-ray machine.

A veteran of Israel, I’m used to a lot of security, but this amount even surpassed that.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Unexpected Hotel Guest…

I had just checked into my hotel in New Delhi after a 15 hour flight.

After showering, I quite naturally sat down to check email, etc.

Sitting there in only pajama bottoms, I was surprised to hear my door unlock.

It was so unusual that I didn’t even move. Also, I was so tired, it probably didn’t even register.

The door swings open and there is a woman standing there.

No, she wasn’t naked or anything, but she was just as surprised as I was.

It turned out that the reception desk had told her the wrong room and miscoded her key card.

She was embarrassed. I was pleased that the hotel thought enough of me to send a woman to my room.

Just kidding.

She was also upset (understandably) about the security lapse.

The next evening, I got in the elevator and looked at the woman in it with me. “Hey, was that you last night?” I asked (sounds more X-rated than it really was).

Indeed it was.

Diane Mancene is a Senior Designer for Macy’s and comes to India to help get her designs manufactured.

She also is the newest member of the “FOJ” club (friends of Jeremy) and may, arguably, have the most unique “how we met” story ever.

Friday, December 17, 2010

New Delhi-No Expectations, No Objectives

In the month leading up to my visit, I tried to “get my head” around India, or as my dad might say, “India of the mind.”

I couldn’t.

It’s too big, too vast, too complex. The scale is just so massive.

Still, I had 3 days on the ground (one of which was work-related), so I figured I’d just make the most of it.

To do that, however, I had to bring my longtime travel philosophy back and recognize that, even if I were in India for 2 years, I wouldn’t “see it all.” Instead, whatever I saw, I saw. Whatever I did, I did.

What’s more, travel is less and less about the sights for me and more and more about the people I meet and learning their perspectives.

This post will be a bit more of “what I did” and expect a few future posts will be thoughts and observations.

In a unique twist of events that proves my quarterly email to my “FOJ” list is actually a good idea, I discovered that a former neighbor of my parents, Katrin van der Vaart and her husband, Bert, were living in New Delhi for 6 months and would be there when I arrived.

She graciously offered to be my companion for the day and arrange for a driver. What’s more, she put together an itinerary for me, but her sole conclusion was “you’re going to run out of time.”

I resights and sites of New Delhi (11)plied that this wasn’t possible, since I had no expectations and no objectives.

I was staying in a part of Delhi known as Guragon, which one of the centers of the “new India.” 

From there, I was able to take a subway into central Delhi and it’s phenomenal. It was completed within the past few years and it’s immaculate (unlike much of the rest of India), efficient, and modern. My favorite part?

They have outlets on the train for charging your laptop or mobile device.

sights and sites of New Delhi (5)Speaking of mobile devices, there’s something like 20 million new cell phone activations PER MONTH and it shows.

Everyone has a phone or so it seems.

And they LOVE using them.

Meeting Katrin in Khan Market which, I’m told is the 19th most expensive real estate in the world (though you wouldn’t know it from looking at it), we did a whirlwind tour of a few of the highlights, including India Gate (which is the World War 1 memorial to the 90,000 Indian soldiers who died fighting in the British army) and the Red Fort which was built by Akbar the Great in the 1500s (he, being the hero of India for his “modernization” efforts and the egalitarian way in which he treated Hindus—he was Muslim, among other things).

The Red Fort then was taken over by the British and symbolized the Raj period that followed.

On August 15, 1947 when India gained her indepensights and sites of New Delhi (15)dence, it was there where the flag of India was raised for the first time.

(No links on this post since I am writing it in the car as we drive from Agra back to Delhi prior to my departure and while I have secured mobile Internet on my phone a few times—mostly for fun—connecting my laptop seems to be too ambitious!)

India is made up of many different religions, including 150 million Muslims, so we stopped at the Jama Masjid which, I’m told, can hold 20,000 worshippers at one time.

Completing our religion theme, we stopped at the Haym Judah Synagogue where I met the curator who told me that the Jewish population of New Delhi stands at about 50 people (those of the Bene Israel) and another 100-150 expats.

They have services weekly and were preparing for Hannukah celebrations at the time.

sights and sites of New Delhi (6)

My final activity was a “Marketing Meetup.” Through the power of social media, I had reached out and with the help of some locals, was able to have a 2 hour conversation with some very bright minds in the Indian marketing community at the Taj Mansingh Hotel.

sights and sites of New Delhi (1)Not only was it fascinating, but it gave me some great insights which I was able to integrate into my presentation the next day.

As you make your way through Delhi (actually all of India), you are doing it among an absolute crush of humanity. There are people everywhere. There are cars and vehicles everywhere.

There’s also dirt…a lot of it. And, an environmentalists’ nightmare…trash everywhere.

You see wealth and modernity sitting right next to abject poverty.

There was a guy on his knees in the middle of a main thoroughfare, begging for money. How he didn’t get hit is beyond me.

There is a love affair with the horn on the car as well. Close your eyes and it’s like a symphony (well, not really). More like a cacophony.

The movement of traffic is like a lava lamp. It flows, but there’s no real order to it. People and vehicles are  going in every possible directions, like a miasmic soup.

I’m sitting here, trying to think about how to do India justice in a blog post (or 20) and I find myself frustrated.

I keep thinking how, like Warren Buffet said, “I won the birth lottery” and how fortunate I am that my grandparents immigrated to the US.

I wonder about the challenges ahead for India. A country with so much potential in terms of human capital, but with hurdles the scale of which defy my limited brainpower.

Infrastructure, health, education, environment, waste collection, water. All of these things which are basically taken for granted in the US are very real and very pressing here.

My head hurts just thinking about it.

Which, I guess, is one of the reasons why you travel, isn’t it? Expand your mine.

Sorry. I feel like this is jumbled, but it’s just such a massive shock to the system that I can’t fully process it.

Still, I have to say, there’s something about Indians that I really love. The ones I’ve met (granted not at EVERY level of the socio-economic ladder) have a great attitude.

A great sense of humor, a willingness to chat and engage, a desire for knowledge, and a helpful kind spirit.

I feel so blessed that I had the opportunity to see this part of our ever-shrinking world.

What happens here in the future is going to impact ALL of us, so having a small clue as to what they are going through is something that I believe is critically important.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

In the land of Outsourced

During my recent trip to India, I had to deliver a webcast at 11am EST. That’s 9.30pm in India.

To obviate any technical issues, I decided to go to the Microsoft office in Gurgaon (a suburb of Delhi).

Gurgaon is one of the hearts of the “New India.”

Driving down its streets, you see the names of pretty much every major foreign corporation that you can imagine.

When I emerged onto the street at 11pm, instead of a quiet area, I saw a bustling commercial area.

I met a guy who works at IBM and answer tech support for US customers.

This is where the call centers are. These are the people we all call during the day and who answer our questions (some better than others).

They are laughing, smiling, smoking, walking, talking…real people just doing their job.

It put a unique face on the whole Outsourced phenomenon for me.

Now, I can picture the people and the places of this globalized world.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Travel Made Easier…by Skype

It’s never easy being away from home, but now that my team knows how to set up Skype on their own (no help from NFO), it’s a bit easier. And fun.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Doing What You Love…and Getting Paid

Long time readers of mine (pre-dating the blog) will remember the guiding principlce of my two years in Japan and one year in Germany.

“Try to get people to pay you what you want to do anyway.”

It’s no secret that I love travel.

Love meeting new people and seeing new things. It’s a HUGE adrenaline rush for me.

And, while I could only spend 3 days in India (barely scratching the surface), I smiled as I thought “hey, I’m getting paid to do this.”

I’ve seen a lot recently about how values are changing and people are taking comfort in the simple things, plus reconnecting with their passions.

In reading a book called “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs,” the author claims that one of the reasons Job’s has been so successful is because he isn’t in it for the money.

Do what you love and the money will follow.

I know it’s a hard leap of faith, but I’m believing in it more and more.

Monday, December 13, 2010

“Business or Pleasure?”

A number of people on the flight to India asked the same question: “Are you traveling for business or pleasure?”

I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to be able to say “both.”

And not just “both” as in I have time for both (though I do), but “both” as in “I love my job.”

I am very, very grateful for this time in my life.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Training for Jet Lag…

I resent all of those times when I was awoken by the scream of  a child asking for something and I would stumble out of bed to get it for them.

(Let’s not pretend that the NFO did it 10 times more often, shall we? I’m trying to make a point and be the hero here.)

On the flight/arrival to India, I realized that those nights of zombie-like sleep had prepared me for jet lag quite well.

I guess I resent them less now Winking smile

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Your iPad…at any angle

It’s really more than a stand and case, it’s a flexible rotational system. Ok, enough with the mumbo-jumbo.

Here’s the video, if you don’t see the embed below, but what you’ll really like about this product is not just that it’s a case, but that it allows you to position your iPad in almost any angle imaginable. Typing, planes, looking at recipes in the kitchen, business presentations, drawing. That flexibility to optimize your interaction with the device is what sets it apart.

Disclosure: I did receive a complementary copy.

They have cases for a whole slew of devices at their website:

Great holiday gift for the iPad-lover in your family.

Just some thoughts on the Zerochroma iPad case…

Friday, December 10, 2010

Charity Pitch on a Plane?

I was on a flight from Chicago to Delhi on American Airlines.

About 1 hour before landing, someone gets on the PA system and makes a pitch for UNICEF.

It lasted about 3-4 minutes.

Now, on the one hand, I don’t want kids to die of preventable disease.

On the other hand, this pitch struck me as a bit interruptive of my flight and certainly not inline with expectations.

Just not sure how I felt about the whole thing.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Power of Facebook…

If you are still skeptical of the power of Facebook (and social applications, for that matter) to help bridge connections, here’s one small anecdote.

I didn’t connect with Jeremy at the airport, but I made plans to see Jon (who lives in Seattle) in Delhi.



Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Security at the Airport….

I used to resent the PLO for the advent of airplane terrorism and the requisite long lines of security at the airport.

I seethed at the indignity of the world they had created.

Now, however, I have a different attitude.

I still am resentful, but now I suppose I have moved into “acceptance.”

I also realize that the wonderful technology which I love so much has its uglier side.

And, I have to recognize that this is the cost.

I don’t know if this is a good or bad development, but I noticed the change in my mentality during my most recent jaunt through TSA-land.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Getting Old…or Responsible?

Every year on Thanksgiving Day, I play in a football game.

This year, a few days after Thanksgiving, I was slated to go to India for 5 days…for a (what I considered) pretty big business opportunity.

With the forecast of cold weather and rain, I wondered if the risk of illness or injury was worth it.

I’ve been sick on a 12 hour flight and it was a terrible experience.

I couldn’t decide if my debate about whether to play or not was being responsible or silly.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Am I missing the roses?

I really love my job.

A lot.

Love it so much that I enjoy doing it whenever I can.

Yes, I know it’s crazy and maybe difficult to believe.

I’m also lucky.

It’s like a painting on a huge canvas that I want to keep improving, tweaking and beautifying.

Every now and then, though, I wonder if I am missing something?

Is it worth spending all of that time on something that, when all is said and done, is ephemeral?

Should I be spending more time with my family? With my community?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Home Ownership Anniversary…

One of the dates that I mark in our family history is the date when we bought our first house.

Different than the birthdays of our children, at least for me, it represents a concrete, unchanging (for the most part) fixture representing a transition to adulthood and responsibility.

The other day, we hit 6 years in our home.

Just made me ponder the passage of time.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

How much should you control creativity?


On the one hand, I want to encourage my kids’ creativity.

I don’t know many 5 and 6 year olds who know how to use Canola Oil, baking powder, sugar, and salt to make perfect cookies with NO adult supervision.

I’m at the point now where I can take a nap (while Nadia takes one too) and leave Paco and Tonka on their own.

More often than not, I wake up to some culinary concoction having been put together in the kitchen.

They cracked the eggs, put in the vanilla extract, mixed the batter…everything.

IMG_0003All they need me to do is put the stuff in the oven (they’ve already put it on a baking sheet-and applied the non-stick spray).

Truly remarkable.

On the other hand, they tend to leave a mess and use a ton of confectionary items (choc. chips, M&Ms, etc.) The floor is, shall we say, not the cleanest.

And, it’s up to me to clean it up.

I’ve told them that “clean up is part of baking,” but that doesn’t always work.

What’s the right balance?