Sunday, December 31, 2006

Bambolim Beach Resort - Part II

I had a brief post on our stay at Bambolim BeachResort back in November. I wrote at the time, "The place hovers between elegant and shabby" and always felt guilty about using the word shabby. It isn't shabby. But it is the difference between the antiseptically cleanliness of American style hotels and the more relaxed Indian style of doing things. Everything isn't perfect. On the other hand, the staff were incredibly friendly and we learned a lot about India and Indian life when we talked to them.

The view from our room. The Arabian Sea is that grey area in the background.

I also promised some pictures of the Resort. The first three and the last picture in the post Goa Pictures are from right around the hotel. But here are some more.

The pool.

This is the Banyan Restaurant, anchored by this enormous tree. The main part is under the thatched roof behind the tree.

In the distance you can see a point. The Resort is there behind the trees. This beach was basically sand and shells, no rocks. The water was calm. I would have preferred some surf, but the beaches we saw with surf were extremely crowded and having the beach here to ourselves was great.

Again, you can see a point in the distance. Here we are on the beach on the other side of the point in the previous picture. Again, a quiet picturesque beach. The shells in the Goa Pictures link (link above) were from here.

There was another restaurant, totally out in the open overlooking the rocky beach in the previous picture.

Raiendra was one of the waiters we became friendly with. He's from the North. His family has a farm - goats, cows, water buffalo. He has been working on a plan for his life. He worked in Nepal for a number of years. His wife is going to nursing school, while he is here earning money. When she's done, he'll go back to school.

And while I said this resort was not as antiseptic as the typical American style hotels, there was someone spraying pesticide regularly. While this keeps the rooms pretty much free of ants and other insects for now, I can't help but think about a) the insects developing immunity to the spray over time and b) all this pesticide washing down into the beach just below where he's spraying.

Note: See also Goa Pictures

Christian Heppinstall

I met with Christian about a week ago to talk about India, particularly our visit with Winnie Singh. Christian had emailed her that we were coming and we had a very enjoyable lunch with her and her husband and daughter and another friend of theirs at their home in New Dehli. Christian met Winnie through an AIDS prevention chat room. Christian developed an AIDS education program that used high school students to write a play about AIDS. The students then performed the play at a number of high schools in Anchorage. The play would be followed up with questions and answers about AIDS. Christian is hoping to replicate the program in India. Winnie is the director of a non-profit organization that works to prevent AIDS in India -
Maitri. Maitri means something like 'loving kindness." There are some pictures of our visit to Winnie's in one of the early posts from India.

Christian is an actor, theater director, and general activist. He has a masters degree in Theater and directed Rocky Horror Picture show and Little Shop of Horrors here in Anchorage this fall. He also lived in Budapest for a number of years where he worked on AIDS prevention. I met him when he took a couple of public administration classes at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA). He's won a number of awards recently for his AIDS education program - from the Municipality of Anchorage, from Planned Parenthood, and from an association of volunteer organizations in town. You can get to his website by clicking the title of this post.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gaining Light

Sitting at latitude 61, we tend to notice the soltices more than other folk. For us it means it is no longer getting darker. So, even though it is the official first day of winter, it is a day of hope - each day it starts to get lighter. And here that difference is significant.

On December 21 we lost 7 seconds of daylight (for a total of 5 hours and 27 minutes from sunrise to sunset)

On December 22 we gained 5 seconds of daylight.
On December 23 we gained 17 seconds
December 24 - 29 seconds
December 25 - 41 seconds
December 26 - 54 seconds
Today - 1 minute and 6 seconds

By the spring equinox (March 21) we'll be gaining 5 minutes 45 seconds of sun per day! That means we gain an hour of sun in 11 days. You really notice that kind of change. Right now, the rate of gain is significant as you can see in the chart at the bottom.

Diagram above from the BBC

This is all happening because of the tilt of the earth - 23.4 degrees. Now, the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, so it rises to the south, stays close to the horizon all day, then dips back down in the south.

In the summer it will tilt toward the sun. So for us, the sun will rise in the northeast, circle around to the south and then head back up to the northwest to set. On June 21, 2007 - the summer solstice the sun will rise at 4:20 AM and set at 11:43 PM. That's 19hours 22minutes from sunrise to sunset. But it isn't far beyond the horizon, so we have a loooooong twilight. At the summer solstice in June, it never really gets 'dark,' though it gets to be dusk.

Date..................Sunrise....Sunset......Hours Sun Up......Loss(-) or Gain(+)
Dec 16, 2006....10:10 AM....3:40 PM ....5h 29m 34s..− 1m 08s
Dec 17, 2006 ...10:11 AM... 3:40 PM.... 5h 28m 37s.. − 0m 56s
Dec 18, 2006... 10:12 AM... 3:40 PM.... 5h 27m 53s.. − 0m 44s
Dec 19, 2006. ..10:13 AM... 3:40 PM.... 5h 27m 21s ..− 0m 32s
Dec 20, 2006... 10:14 AM... 3:41 PM.... 5h 27m 01s.. − 0m 19s
Dec 21, 2006... 10:14 AM... 3:41 PM.... 5h 26m 54s.. − 0m 07s
Dec 22, 2006... 10:15 AM... 3:42 PM.... 5h 27m 00s.. + 0m 05s
Dec 23, 2006... 10:15 AM... 3:42 PM.... 5h 27m 17s.. + 0m 17s
Dec 24, 2006....10:15 AM... 3:43 PM.... 5h 27m 47s.. + 0m 29s
Dec 25, 2006... 10:16 AM... 3:44 PM.... 5h 28m 28s.. + 0m 41s
Dec 26, 2006... 10:16 AM... 3:45 PM.... 5h 29m 23s.. + 0m 54s
Dec 27, 2006... 10:16 AM... 3:46 PM.... 5h 30m 29s.. + 1m 06s
(Source: sun calculator)

Another way to envision all this is through a daylight map.
For more on all this - like the perihelion (day the sun and earth are closest which will be January 4 in 2007, and why the perihelion regresses in the year over time), Milankovitch cycles, and other astronomical phenomena that affect seasons and climate visit the US Naval Academy site or About's Geography site.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Jodie and David

Jodie was a student of mine as well as a graduate assistant in the program, and along with Linda did an incredible job helping (well I did the helping, they did the work) organize an international conference we hosted. They were spectacular in everything they did from answering calls and emails from around the world and giving advice on what to do in Anchorage, where to email copies of their presentations, and what clothes to bring. She also helped haul kayaks and canoes for the picnic, marked arrows on the ground to guide participants to the main building, raised thousands of dollars in grant money, helped convince the Native Mask makers who gave our opening presentation that we could be trusted, and more and more.

After she graduated with her Masters in Public Administration (MPA) she was getting ready for a second masters at the Northern Royal College of Music in Manchester, England (She's also a very talented clarinetist). But the funding for that fell through, so instead she flew to Colorado, then got on a bike and headed for Tierra del Fuego. A year and a half later, after biking to the southern tip of the Western Hemisphere, she flew home and got a job with Out North as their fund raiser. But she got married to David and they moved down to Seattle where he is an attorney - working on conscientious objector and other military cases. He was in the military and has been the equivalent to a public defender. Jodie is working for npower, a non-profit that helps "Puget Sound nonprofits use technology to better serve their communities." (Hey Jodie, you better tell them to add your name to the staff page on the website.)

They were over for breakfast Saturday during their Christmas trip home to Anchorage.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Why I Live Here

The snow has stopped falling. There was even some blue in the sky and glimpses of sunshine. Off to Campbell Airstrip ski trails. Then into the winter wonderland.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Just watching the snow fall



just spending time watching the slow progress of snowflakes piling on snowflakes



Naked Conversations

Before we left for India, I posted about going to the Alaska Apple Users Group (AAUG) and starting to read and review the book Naked Conversations by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. I finished the review in that hectic week before we left and never got to post the review. Actually, I just give you a little synopsis here and there's a link to the full review below.

Basically the authors are arguing that large companies need to get into the blogosphere for two reasons:
1. People are blogging about you. You need to subscribe to service (such as that emails you when your company is blogged about. Then you can jump into the conversation - get good feedback, answer questions, clarify misconceptions, etc.
2. Companies should let employees blog about the company as a way of engaging all your stakeholders - customers, suppliers, employees, etc.

They also give tips for small businesses (and this could apply to non-profits). Basic advice is not to 'sell' on your blog, but to show your expertise by talking about your business, giving information that would be interesting to people.

All this advice is based on the notion that old style marketing is out, that nobody trusts the hype that comes out of big business. Rather, the essense of the market, they say (citing the Cluetrain Manifesto that I've had up as a link since I first mentioned this book review) is conversation between buyers and sellers. Blogs give this opportunity to have such direct conversation between the customers and businesses.

I think this is something marketing folks and CEOs ought to read. They give lots of examples of how organizations have blogged successfully and not so successfully. It isn't a technical how-to book as much as a 'why you should' book. For the whole review, click here.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Helsinki Complaints Choir

There's something about the contrast between what the music sounds like and what the words mean, that captured me here. Also, the universality of modern problems. Listen a little bit without reading the subtitles. Then start reading.

For more info on the choir itself, and others like it, go here.

Blind colors - What food is like blue?

We went to dinner and the opera last night with our friend Lynn and her seeing eye dog Mary. We got into a discussion of colors and what they mean to Lynn. She knows all the names but doesn't really have a sense of them - contrasts, bright and dark colors, the emotional impact of colors on others, etc. So we tried to find a way to share that. We came up with two different tracks by comparing colors to things she knows:
1. Trying to think of tastes, or foods that would have the same effect as a particular color, or foods that might have the same relationship to each other as different colors
2. Doing the same thing with sound.

So, what do you think? Red seemed to be the easiest - clearly it was hot peppers, not because they are red (the hottest seem to be green) but because when you taste them you really notice them. They stand out. But the various blues, greens, and even white were more difficult. She wanted to know if purple was like red? How was lavender different from purple?

Sounds weren't so easy. A loud, brassy trumpet seemed to be like red, but we weren't real happy with that.

So, my challege to any readers out there is this:

Make a list of colors and the foods/tastes that would help a blind person
a) understand the individual color and
b) understand the relationships between colors

The other approach is to use sounds to do the same thing.

Or if you have a suggestion for a totally different way of getting colors across to a blind person, send it in.

By the way, Lynn is an incredible person. She grew up in New York and says from early on she was not going to sit around and be blind. She insisted on exploring the streets of New York. Her son turns 32 today - Happy Birthday Dimas. She has an undergraduate in Psychology from Cal State Northridge and a Masters in Social Work from the University of Southern California. She came to Alaska on Dec. 27, 1991. She had gotten a job as peer counselor coordinator and older blind Alaskan coordinator for Southeast Alaska Independent Living (SAIL). She came to Anchorage in 1993 after getting colitis. In Anchorage she got a job with Alaska Information Radio Reading Education Service (AIRRES), where she was program coordinator. She was president of Alaska Independent Blind 1997-2003 and she's been a participant in Leadership Anchorage 2003-2004. She has traveled frequently to conferences and to visit relatives and friends. She has a incisive intelligence and a strong sense of rights and standing up for the rights of those who are different from the norm.

Maytag fixed - thanks

I have to give another thank you to for a) convincing me that our 32 year old Maytag was worth repairing and b) walking me through the repairs. I was able to get a new 'water injector kit' - Part No. 204660 - here in Anchorage ($60 at Harold's Appliances) and we leak no more. The insides of the washing machine are also very clean now. You can compare this picture with the ones on my earlier post.

As some people (like the author of "Bowling Alone") lament the loss of community groups and organizations, this experiencs reinforces for me that we still have community, it's just shifted to the internet. I had people all over the US helping me fix my washer and giving me encouragement when I was about to quit and call the repair man. If you want to see how the process worked go to the link (click on the title of this post) then go to "Imperial" and my thread is #9522 (first post 12/18/06).

May 31, 2007 update
This story has, unfortunately, been updated several times. Later posts are

May 22, 2007 and May 30, 2007

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


The backyard this morning.

The front yard.

Since then it has continued to snow all day.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Words Indians don't translate when speaking English

These are words I noticed at the conference and later on tv and in newspapers. (There were several earlier posts - poverty conference,, , other conference shots. conference) These are Indian words (I guess Hindi, though the same or related words show up in other Indian languages.) I'll try to give a little explanation, but my knowledge is scanty and these are based on what I understood people to be explaining and some internet checking - mostly on wikipedia. So don't take any of this as absolutely certain, but rather as a starting point.

Lakh (sounds like 'lock')= 100,000

Crore (rhymes with 'roar') = 10,000,000 (100 Lakh)

Panchayat - Village council - elected by the villagers. They make decisions about village matters, including settling disputes. This came up in the conference because many Indians go through the Panchayat instead of the court system because, as we were told at the conference, the court system is millions of cases behind. One speaker said that understanding Eternity was easy once you've been through the Indian court system.

Jirgas - The Pakistani equivalent of the Panchayat, though I think these are made up of village elders who may not be elected. While some cases have brought international condemnation of jirga decisions, conference attendees argued that millions of decisions are made regularly that generally satisfy both parties. Some conference presenters talked about restorative justice as an alternative to retributive justice. Instead of punishment being the object, making the victims whole is the object. However, when the discussion got to Jirgas, making the victims whole included things such as: A male member of the family has murdered someone. To make the victim's family whole, a sister of the murderer is given to the victim's family. One presenter, a very articulate Pakistani attorney, argued that this does not come from Islamic law, but from tribal law. Such verdicts have caused Jirgas to be outlawed, but they still exist and fill an important need.

Dalit - A members of "backward castes" including untouchables and some low caste peoples. The caste system continues to survive in people's minds and while there are affirmative action type laws that set aside seats at universities,etc. for dalit, there is still a long way to go.

Goa Pictures

These are just some pictures from Goa I didn't have a chance to post.

It wasn't until I looked at the picture that I realized how closely the butterfly matched the flower.

I didn't compose this picture, There were large piles of shells on the beach.

The beach next to our hotel. Quiet, no one around. This cove had the rocks. The one right in front of the hotel was just sand.

Colva Beach, not so quiet.

src="" border="0" alt=""id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5010489497682217490" /> The peppers and lemon on a string are to ward of evil that might otherwise come to his new car.

Look carefully to see the sandcrab so well camouflaged.

See also Bambolin Resort.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Power of Old Maytags and New Websites

There was water under the washing machine the other day. Change is hard. Maybe it will just go away. But when my wife watched another load, there was more water. Not a lot, but enough.

We got Consumer Reports from the library. Their advice - any top loading washer older that 4-6 years is better to replace than repair. Our Maytag is 32 years old. We bought it when our son was born.

The Maytag repair number in our local book suggested we have the repairman come look. They don't build them like they used to. All our calls are for new ones, and they don't last very long.

A quick Google search got me to I found the Discuss-o-mat page and went to the Imperial link (machines built before 1985). There I added Thread #9522 Maytag A207 - purchased 1974 in which I put a picture (above) and asked the world if we shoul repair or replace.

There were 8 responses by the time we got home from the movies (Factotum.) Not only were they unanimously for repair, but they suggested what the likely problem was, told me how to get the front and top panels off, and gave me a diagram of the insides of the washer.

To see this amazing example of community recreated on the web, hit the link above, go to the Imperial link, and then click on Thread 9522. Thanks to all the guys - I think they were all guys - who helped diagnose and give me great instructions.

On top you can see pictures of the Maytag as it normally looks. Then there's the picture of the top panel lifted up. Finally, we have the fill-flume that was suggested as the culprit and so it appears to be. Lots of calcium build-up. There was a lot more gunk where the screwdriver is, but we cleaned it up a bit. But most likely the water that deposited all the gunk, was the water that was leaking.

[for later post on this topic click here.]

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Blood Diamonds - Give a cow not a diamond

After talking earlier this week about how difficult it is to explicate the links between events in the US and events in other countries, I saw Blood Diamonds. Certainly movies can get one closer to other realities quicker than most other media, and while it still isn't the same as actually being there, this movie makes both the beauty of Africa and the horror of anarchy much more real than reading about these things in the newspaper. Or even seeing short clips on tv. Here, the movie is trying to connect the buying of diamonds in the US with the kidnapping of child soldiers and the weapons that cause such massive violence. Anyone can find fault with details in the movie - DiCaprio certainly manages to run through flying bullets without getting hit through most of the movie - but what was important to me was the whole general sense of what is going on in parts of Africa. (It is also important to recognize that as bad as the violence is, it doesn't represent Africa any more than the murders portrayed in television cop shows represent the US.)

Add this movie to Hotel Rwanda and The Constant Gardner and we have a trio of powerful films showing the links between the worst of Africa and the Western world. In Hotel Rwanda, the links aren't quite so obvious. While the pull-out of the UN troops plays a major role, the role of the colonial heritage in setting up conditions ripe for violence is not as obvious. Constant Gardner does clearly show the Western drug company using Africans to test their drugs in drug trials that would never be allowed in the West. Tsotsi is another film for people wanting to get a sense of Africa.

But how does one respond to all this?
1. One can simply block it out of one's mind on leaving the theater, or at least some people can.
2. Or one can throw up one's hands and say, "There's nothing I can do."
3. Or one can become more conscious of the links between the violence and Africa and Western exploitation of Africa's natural resources - like the oil in Nigeria. Then join organizations that fight these things.
4. Or one can just write a check to one of the many, many organizations that work to improve the lives and living conditions for people in places like Sierra Leone where the events of the movie took place.

The picture above is DiCaprio at the SOS orphanage in Mozambique where some of the actors were recruited.

Another such organization is Doctors Without Borders. which gives medical assistance in war zones.

Before you give to any charity, though, you should check it out at a site like
Charity Navigator which evaluates a charity's efficiency and effectiveness.

You can give directly to an organization, or you can make donations as gifts in the name of someone you love. It's a great way to teach children about the world and about helping other people. Heifer International makes it pretty easy for kids to understand. At Heifer you can give a cow or rabbits or other animals for a family to raise. They'll send you a card for you to send to the person in whose name you donated. So give your love a cow or a goat instead of diamonds this year.

I would also note that the film does a good job of portraying what happens when government fails. Good government tends to be invisible. We enjoy the benefits - clean water, good roads, regulators that keep banks honest and enforce safety standards in the workplace - without even realizing that government is what makes them possible. It is only when they screw up - when potholes don't get filled, or when hurricane victims don't get rescued - that we realize government's role. So we often get a distorted picture of government as ineffective, because we only notice it when it is. It's invisible most of the time, because it works. Movies like this one remind us what happens when law and order are not upheld. It isn't a pretty picture.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Muslim + Jew + Black = Great Music for All (Ahmed Ertegun)

There are examples of successful cross cultural collaboration. The NY Times obituary of Ahmed Ertegun today offers such an example:

"Mr. Ertegun’s music partnerships, he sometimes pointed out, were often culturally triangular. He was Turkish and a Muslim by birth. Many of his fellow executives, like the producer Jerry Wexler, were Jewish. The artists they produced, particularly when the label began, were black. Together, they helped move rhythm and blues to the center of American popular music."

Click on the title to see the rest of the NYTimes article.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Amritsar Street Scene

Here's my first video post. This was 11 November in Amritsar, Punjab, India.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Vandana Shiva on Farmer Suicides and other troubling issues

Lots of things entered my brain while we were in India, and got lost somewhere in the mass of new data. Farmer suicides was such an item. This was mentioned in the conference - there was some debate whether it was really higher than in the past or whether it was just getting more attention; whether the media attention was spurring more suicides - but I didn't really understand the issue. It was also mentioned in the press. (India has a lot of English language newspapers aimed at Indians, not foreigners.) This morning I heard Vandana Shiva on Democracy Now, talking about Farmer Suicides, which she linked to farmers going into debt buying expensive, genetically modified seeds from Monsanto and others. These seeds are non-renewable, they must be bought each year. US subsidies for US cotton farmers also plays a role here by keeping the price of cotton, a major Indian crop, low. And farmers can't pay their debts, can't buy (before they could have harvested) new seeds. It is easy for us in the US to be blind to the impacts of our multi-national corporations, of the various world trade agreements. We don't see the impacts, they aren't covered in the mainstream media. So I invite readers to check out this particular interview on
Democracy Now and to listen to other interviews on Democracy Now and other alternative media.

There are no easy answers, but at least we need to know the questions, and I think most Americans, me included, are woefully unaware of how our country impacts the rest of the world. Yes, we're starting to get a clue about Iraq. Linking war to dead bodies is fairly easy, but understanding the links between trade agreements, copyrights and patents, and poverty and farmer suicides is far more difficult.

Who is Vandana Shiva? From the Democracy Now website: Vandana Shiva, world-renowned environmental leader and thinker. She is also a physicist and ecologist and the Director of the Research Foundation on Science, Technology, and Ecology. She is the founder of Navdanya -"nine seeds", a movement promoting diversity and use of native seeds. Dr. Shiva was the 1993 recipient of the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize -the Right Livelihood Award. And she is the author of many books, her latest is "Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace.",

Note on the pictures: Obviously, the interview has a different impact on me since I was just in India and drove through some of the states mentioned in the interview, and have images to connect to what she is saying. To give you a little sense of this I've added two pictures. The first is from the car driving through rural Maharashtra State. (Mumbai (Bombay) is the capital of Maharashtra). I'm not 100% certain, but I think this is cotton being taken to the market. The ox carts carry the bags to the road, to be loaded onto trucks. We saw this also with sugar cane. The picture at the bottom is from the plane, landing in Mumbai. It's of one of the many shanty towns as rural people, some because they've lost their land, move into the cities. If you click on the pictures, you can see them a little larger. Hit 'skip this ad' in the upper right corner to get to the article faster.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Alex and Neetu - finally

I mentioned
Alex and Neetu a while back. We met them at the Kochi airport getting on a flight to Bangalore. They were headed on for Delhi and we for Goa. They are an Indian-American couple from the Chicago area. They were in India to visit relatives all over India, including Kerala, Punjab, and Delhi. So here's the picture I took of them after we landed in Bangalore.

And this is Rameez and his friend. They began talking to us on Fort Cochin Island while we waited for the ferry. They are both studying English at Calicut. When I asked whether his clothing meant he was a Muslim, he said yes and promptly asked if I was a Christian. When I said "No, I'm a Jew" he smiled and asked if we had visited the old Synagogue in Kochi. We had that day. Although his very first question had been, "What Country?" (one of the common questions Indians ask foreigners) and he knew we were from the US, he now checked that again and ask if we were Israeli. When we got off the ferry on the other side, there was a swarm of his friends who'd been on the ferry with us.

Dan Moore - Comedian and Film Maker

While in Seattle we got a chance to see Dan perform. In the interest of full disclosure, Dan is my daughter's boyfriend. And I had never seen him perform. That night he was part of a lineup of about seven comics at the Comedy Underground. It was a benefit performance for the Cascade Land Conservancy. I was rather pleasantly surprised by all the performers that night - they were all good. Perhaps this was a result of this being something of a political event, so the routines had a political focus rather than the more common jokes about various body functions. Dan really stood out. He took on a totally different persona as he did his routine - different voice, different accent, pacing, everything. It was more like acting than normal stand up comedy. It was a polished piece with a rhythm and a structure that had it ending in the same vein that it began. And he was funny.

Is this review biased because of the relationship? I don't think so, though I might not have posted it if I didn't know him.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Cross Cultural Divide: Tips for Indian salesmen working with Westerners

In Jaipur we talked with a young man with green/grey eyes. It was in one of the big bazaars inside the walls of the old city. Not far from this picture. See more about the picture at the bottom. He was trying to sell us something, but not too hard. We started talking about Indian salespeople and foreign tourists. He pointed out a foreign couple in a shop and said, "Why are they so rude? No, not really rude, but very cold?"

We'd been thinking about this topic since India day one, but the other way around. What is it that Indian salesmen (not women) do that is so very annoying? I'm only going to speak for the two of us, though I suspect it can be generalized to other Americans and maybe even Europeans to some extent. Well, here's what we came up with:

1. Private space - We have an invisible private space at least two feet around us. Indians trying to sell us things move in way past that invisible line, automatically making us unconfortable. So stand back. Don't push things into our hands, right in front of our faces. Don't stand right up next to us if you want us to be comfortable. (I'm assuming that if we are comfortable we are more likely to listen and perhaps buy. You may have found if you make us uncomfortable, some Westerners will just buy to get rid of you and their discomfort.)

2. Initiating the interaction - We are used to going into stores to buy things, not being accosted on the street by people selling us things. When we are in the stores, we are used to being asked something like, "May I help you?" We've even had laws past to stop people from phoning us at home to sell something. We like to do the initiating. In India, the salesmen do the initiating combined with #1 above. We immediately get uncomfortable and defensive.

3. Strangers in a strange land - We are in a place where everything is new and different from what we are used to. We don't know the rules. We don't know how to read people. Are they being genuinely nice or are they just trying to sell me something. We had a number of people come up to us offering help ("Can I help you find something?"). They were charming, but eventually it became clear they had an ulterior motive - something they wanted to sell us, a shop they wanted us to visit.
We really didn't know how to distinguish between those who were being friendly and helpful and those who were hustling us. So when people came up to us, we were automatically suspicious, because the others had come to us in the guise of offering help, but really to hustle us. In addition, if we are possibly interested, Indian Rupees still don't mean that much to us and we are still having trouble figuring out how much things cost in US dollars. So we are possibly not saying anything because we are trying to calculate. Some of you have figured this out and have calculators all ready.

4. Persistence - At home, if I say, "No thank you" the salesperson generally backs off, or at most might ask, "Is there anything else you might need today?" In India, it seemed that "No thank you" meant "Yes, please show me more." "No!!! I'M NOT INTERESTED, LEAVE ME ALONE" seemed to be translated as "OK, I'm establishing a bargaining position, what's your next offer?" etc. We weren't speaking the same language.

So, it isn't that the foreign couple is being rude or cold (well, some may be), but they are going through a cross-cultural confusion. The messages they are getting - 1, 2, 3, and 4 above - are all building up to make them very uncomfortable and suspicious. They are pushed into a defensive mode. Meanwhile, the Indian salesmen (except for those who are intentionally exploiting this discomfort) feel the foreginers are rude or cold.

And on the other side, I recognize that foreigners often have more money in their pockets (or money belts, and certainly on their credit cards) than the average Indian makes in a year. And we don't have a good sense of what things cost in India (much less for most things than they cost back home) and so we are likely to spend more. People who don't have shops for us to go into - children and adults selling toursit items and the guides at every tourist site, rickshaw drivers, and street vendors - are for the most part not making a lot of money and have to compete with all the other people after our money. Being aggressive may be the most successful strategy, even if it irritates lots of foreigners.

I can give you a view of what it looks like from our side, but I can only guess at what we look like through your eyes. I'm sure, for instance, that when you offer us tea in your shops, it is part of traditional Indian hospitality. But we can't help but think, if we take the tea, then we have to buy.

Photo notes: This was an interesting situation. The tie dye process was so colorful I asked if I could take a picture. When it was done, the kid standing on the right started to ask for Rupees. He did it in a way that I knew he was playing around - but the tie dye guy really told him to stuff it and not act that way. So, this is an example of the opposite of everything I'm talking about above.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Books - One Night @ the Call Center and Ancient Promises

Jaishree Misra's Ancient Promises tells the story of a Delhi girl who spends summers with grandparents in Kerala. Although she goes to an all girl parochial school, she manages to fall in love with a boy from the connected boys school. When he leaves for three years in England, she is sure she'll never see him again, and acquieces to a proposal from a 'good family' in Kerala that has been looking for a suitable wife for their son. The marriage doesn't go so well in this beautifully written story about families in India.

One Night @ the Call Center by Chetan Bhagat was on the India best seller list. It follows several characters one night (with flashbacks to other times) at a call center in Gaurgon, the tech suburb of New Delhi. It's a glimpse of those now infamous call centers from the other side. While there are comments about the American callers on the other side (they use a 30:10 ratio in the training class to remind the workers to be patient because a 30 year old American has the intelligence of a 10 year old Indian) much of it is about the relationships of the workers, working for a stupid, ambitious boss, and how the good salaries they make entices them to put up with all sorts of humiliations. (Note, this seems to answer a question I had in an earlier post about how much call center workers make. In the book they make 15,000 Rupees per month (about $336).

Bhagat's first book - Five Point Someone - follows three classmates at India's extremely hard to get into Indian Institute of Technology, where students' status is based on the grade level. If you are a Five point something, you are definitely lower caste. This book is less polished than Call Center, but it is an interesting glimpse at life in this exclusive university.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


This is a follow up on the earlier post "Blow Horn" While driving back from Ellora Caves we saw AWAZDO on the back of a truck. I asked Surendra, the driver, what it meant. He said, "Awaz" - horn. "Do" - and with his hand gesturing palm up fingers curling toward him - 'give me.' So there it was in romanized Hindi.

And then there was this one - a combination of Hindi and English! (The 'de' is part of the 'do' from what I can tell)

And just as proof that the world works in mysterious ways, while looking for blogger help (I'm back on Safari browser on Mac and blogger doesn't have an automated link insert for Safari) to do the link, I peeked at their highlighted blog -