India, week 1

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Monday 2/4 evening

First day of work here! I had breakfast at the hotel and the owner came over and chatted with me a bit, which was neat. Then it was time to drive to work during what I can only hope was rush hour, because…wow. The office is less than 2 miles away and it took 20 minutes to get there and it seemed like we nearly got in 5 accidents. At tricky intersections you basically have to almost cause an accident to get anywhere. I was talking about this with people at work some – it sounds like it’s mostly because Bangalore has grown so much in the past 7-10 years (there was very little SW industry here even in the 1990’s) and the infrastructure hasn’t scaled with it. Apparently the traffic is less crazy other places in India.

The NI office is nice – it’s less than two floors of one building, but there are neat dance-related things on the walls, and the conference rooms are named after famous Indians, including Ramanujan! The power blipped out a few times during the day, but all the computers are on a UPS.

I had some problems with my work computer, but I did manage to get some work done. Unfortunately I haven’t totally beaten jet lag and got pretty tired in the afternoon…

Now I’m back in the hotel room and in addition to the usual honking there’s some seriously thumping bass that’s been going on for an hour or so. Not sure what that’s about. (Ed: I think there was a banquet going on downstairs or something. It stopped before I went to bed…)

Wednesday 2/6 evening

Yesterday was fairly boring: get up, have breakfast, nearly get in accidents on the way to work, do work, nearly get in accidents on the way to the hotel, eat, relax, sleep. I did give a talk at work which I think went decently, although I realized afterwards I omitted a key point. Oh well!

Today was mostly the same. After work, though, I walked to a nearby park. I’ve been planning to do that for a few days now, but my plan had been to wait until the traffic died down so crossing the street would be less scary. Of course, by the time that happened I would be tired and not excited about leaving the hotel. So, today I went out right after getting back. The traffic was heavy, but the only street I had to cross has a traffic light that is mostly obeyed, and I crossed with a crowd of people.

It took less than 10 minutes to get there (although I walked around three-quarters of it looking for the entrance), and it’s a nice little park! I walked around it a bit and sat on a bench and read (on my phone Kindle, the best thing ever for reading on the go) for a bit. It’s well-lit and there were lots of people walking and sitting down.

Today’s random India topic: ever since I got here, everyone in the service industry (hotel, car, restaurant) has been extremely friendly, sometimes to the point of making me uncomfortable. The first time the driver met me at work to drive me back to the hotel, he took my backpack and carried it for me. All of the drivers I’ve had open the door for me when I enter and exit the car. The security guard at the hotel opens the door for me. After bringing me a bottle of water, the waiter at the restaurant pours some into my glass (and refreshes it when it gets low).

I’m not sure what to make of this. Is this a cultural thing? Am I getting special treatment because I’m American? (or, at least, clearly not Indian) I’d rather open my own car door, but I don’t want to give offense and I’m new here and when in Rome, etc., etc.

Friday 2/8 late evening

Let’s see: work over the last two days has been good. I feel pretty settled in now, and I was actually able to fix a bug this morning! (although the lag on remote desktop is somewhat painful) I gave a presentation today that went pretty well, and I had something that wasn’t Pizza Hut for lunch. (ordered from a local Indian place, although it’s possible I’m starting to get tired of Indian food…) Yesterday was their version of Snack Thursday, at which everyone had some Taco Bell.

Thursday evening I went out walking a different direction (south!) and almost had to turn back – I was waiting to cross the street to come back, but there was 0 chance I was going to do that at anything but a bonafide stoplight. Luckily I eventually encountered one and crossed, and my reward was eating at a KFC on the way. It was…well, a lot like American KFC’s. Except the drink I got was tiny (which was fine!), and the menu seemed to have some vegetarian options.

Tonight I went out with Rakesh and played some pool, then went out to a nice restaurant. To get to these places I rode on the back of Rakesh’s motorcycle. I was a bit hesitant about this, but the places weren’t far away and he gave me a smooth ride!

Random: there’s a mosque near to work, so we hear the calls to prayer around lunchtime and early evening. The sound is quite beautiful – reminds me of music from Battlestar Galactica.

Random India topic: I happened to see the new version of the Big Mac Index…and look, India’s at the very bottom! According to the index, things should be around 60% cheaper here, and that seems about right. Entrees at the hotel restaurant are around $4. I can get a Coke from the minibar in my room for $1. Tomorrow we’re going to Mysore, and we’re renting a taxi to drive us around all day for a total of $60. I guess the price of travel and difference in GDP can keep things this way, but it’s still surprising.

Somewhat related: apparently it’s not uncommon for bachelors to have a part-time cook service, where someone comes and delivers you home-cooked food every day. One person even has a full-time cook who lives at his apartment (although he does live with several other people), and the cook does laundry, cleaning, etc. I’m guessing this is related to the Big Mac Index…

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