A Semester in India – Poem

•December 15, 2003 • Leave a Comment

I had heard legends of natural wonders and manmade chaos
I found enough people to populate not only Jupiter but also Laos
I shall miss Mumbai with its art and coffee scene,
But remember the Gateway and beaches awaiting Ganesh’s new dream

From Valuation, I know that what matters are the margins
And Ethics reminded me that it was Mr. Gandhi who had the best of noggins
For all I learned in Corporate Finance, I’d better hedge my futures with a glass of wine
Like life on the Bombay curbside, scraping by means being able to dine

The Welingkar men greeted me with firm handshakes and sincere questions
Then they tried to make me into a cricket fanatic shouting ten crore suggestions
I tried to hold out but who can withstand Tendulkar’s charm
Every single one will get a placement worth a darn

I had crushes on all the women, and will remember the refined elegance and electric smile,
Black pinstripe pants and graceful saris for every while
As to coffee, they said they would think about it, just maybe, someday
Rain checks may be available until I find my way, perhaps before doomsday

In Kerela, I found a paradise of palm trees & cliffs
I tasted Tandoori Tuna and by an angry elephant was given a lift
In my next life, in Vakala Beach will be my cabana
Because nothing compares to blazing Arabian Sea sunset nirvana

In Hindi class I learned thoda sa and in Japanese class not a ream
Thankfully, I supplemented the college canteen with tasty ice cream
Few hereto knew like I now do that Dr. Salunkhe has the most comfortable chair
But everyone knows about the hostel girls with sparkling eyes and silvery silky hair

My hostel mates introduced me to Aishwarya
And told me how paneer ensures gravy bohot acha
Yet I can’t help but think of those whose stomach is empty
The hunger etched on their faces pangs me more than mightily

Political progress may seem the most romantic notion
But India’s promised prosperity is begetting quite a commotion
The decency and character of those I have met ensure there is a chance
To create justice for those who now merit hardly a glance

Crossing Sion Road each night is fun when the lights are out
That in many taxies I almost lost my life, you believe me no doubt
Highlights of the past 4 months include high art theater and a Dandiya dancer
Adventures aplenty enough for any gentleman lancer

I returned to school hoping to collect an acquaintance or two for my little red book
Instead warm generosity and hospitality drew me out of my nook
Academics may stimulate the brain
But I shall fondly remember most all the people who contributed to the contours of memory lane

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Mumbai Express X: Semester in India Wrap Up

•December 15, 2003 • Leave a Comment

Dear Everyone,

I hope you are enjoying the holidays. I’ve been busy for the past two months but in a week I go home. I’m really glad I came to India and am sad to be leaving.

My last note is a long one but my travel updates are done until July, when I’ll be in Japan for a month. With any luck, I may go to Southeast Asia next August but we will see how long the loans last.

Wishing you all the happiest of holidays,
Mike


Almost four months gone in the blink of an eye. Summarizing what it’s been like to live in India is difficult. It’s not like when you travel for two weeks and every day is an adventure offering a thousand flashbacks. Life settles down into a routine in which everything is the same and seemingly, hardly worth noticing. School has kept me so busy that I have hardly even scratched the surface of Mumbai.

Yesterday, I saw my first shoeshine boy since I arrived. At the train station there are men but never boys shining shoes. My classmates laughed at me that I was so happy to see a shoeshine boy, understanding only vaguely of my affection. All the kid had, was a brush and a little piece of wood for me to rest my shoe. No rag, no polish. I let him shine my shoes and gave him a few rupees even though he did a horrendous job. Then he followed me a block asking for money. It seems that the set up was barely more than an excuse for begging, or maybe he was just trying to get some money from the foreigner. I turn down way too many beggars, probably ten a day, feeling conflicted about giving money and about not giving money, about reinforcing the stereotypes that gringos—although they aren’t called that here—have money and about turning down so many people, most of whom must be really desperate for a meal or two.

During my stay in Mumbai, I have seen my Penn friend Shivani four times. She is trying to make it as writer and currently is directing and producing plays. Each of the three theatrical productions was marvelous, asking intellectually challenging questions about relationships, humanity’s idiosyncrasies and the crazy world in which we live. My favorite production was entitled Help Desk, in which God is a telephone operator who grants people all their absurd and terrible wishes, like the death of despised in-laws or a teenager’s desire to have a gun so he can go on a rampage. At the end of the play, the pregnant guy—yeah, that’s intentional irony—asks for a peaceful world for his daughter to grow up in and ends up getting clubbed to death by the other moronic characters. Being in India and seeing Iraq on TV 24-7, I certainly can relate to Shivani’s acerbic commentary. India has its share of intellectual artistic firepower.

Attending each of Shivani’s plays has also allowed me some insight into life among the upper crust of Mumbai society. At one place where one of her plays was put on, the Athena Night Club, there is a $20 cover charge on Friday and Saturday nights and the place was so exquisitely refined and upscale that it would put any club in Philly to shame. At another place, an Italian restaurant named Olive where we had red wine and Cuban cigars, I had a good meal. It was $30 all included. For me, I’d rarely spend that kind of money even in the States at a restaurant, but for a meal at a restaurant of the quality of Olive, it would easily cost $150 a pop. So I’ve been privileged to see how the good life is lived in Mumbai.

I have not written much on my trip to South India but the trip was spectacular. Recurring nightmares I’ve had during the past month about my computer going kaput and me losing hours worth of schoolwork on my computer prevent me from remember all the details about my trip but I shall try for some of the highlights.

Ben and I left on a Saturday morning for South India. We flew from Mumbai to Trivandrum on the South West Coast. Immediately walking out of the airport, the touts started in on “good price” rickshaw rides that of course cost 4 times what the locals pay. We avoided getting charged too much and managed to make it to the town bus station for a 3-hour ride to the southern tip of the country, Kanyikumari. The air in South India is completely different from Bombay, we could breathe and green palm trees and grass abounded on the muddy roadsides.

The bus station was an experience, even for a well-traveled person like me who doesn’t mind roughing it. By now, however, bone-rattling butt bruises lose their novelty after about an hour. Here, the bus station is an open-air market with about fifty large red buses in their slots. In India, many people speak English, but I believe I understood Portuguese better in Brazil than the heavily accented language we heard in South India. Finally after a lot of motioning, we settle for a bus to some town we’d never heard off somewhat more than half way to our destination.

I thought Ecuadorian buses were bad. Here, the buses are mostly government run twenty-year old red buses, with none of the subtle refinements in style found on your local Greyhound. No glass in the side windows, a very thin aisle with a 3-person bench on one side and a two person bench on the other. If it rains, you pull down the metal slats in the window so that the bus becomes a heat trap. I’m awfully glad it didn’t rain during our travels. As one bus was about to pull away, Ben and I hopped on. Like always, in this country that mints people like the US mints pennies, within a minute, every seat is filled with 1 and a half the people meant to sit there. The aisle is packed too. An hour into the ride, after some people get on and off, Ben and I are told that we are seated in the womens’ section of the bus. But since there are no other seats and since there aren’t any women who need our seats, we stayed where we were. The 3-hour journey half way to our destination cost 27 rupees each or about 50 cents.

Kanyikumari is not a place that I would ever recommend that you visit. It’s basically an old India fishing village that has gained popularity over the years as a pilgrimage site famous for its Buddhist, Muslim and Hindi shrines situated at the southern most tip of India and the confluence of three large bodies of water: the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean. Ben and I joined the masses of Indian tourists and a handful of westerners in the town. Thus far in my stay in India, garbage collection has not been one of the strong points of the subcontinent. It wasn’t in Kanyikumari either. The waters and beaches around the town were in serious need of a good community-cleaning day. We spend our most expensive night during the trip at a halfway decent hotel that charged 600 rupees or $13 for the 2 of us. Finding a good restaurant was just about impossible and we certainly didn’t. One of the reasons people go to Kanyikumari is too see the different colors of the three bodies of water coming together. For the record, it all looked kind of grayish blue to me.

The main reason people go to Kanyikumari, however, is to watch the sun rise. Therefore, Ben and I set our alarm for 5 in the morning. We woke up in the dark. Immediately upon exiting our hotel, we joined about 10,000 other people hurriedly walking to the beach. On the shoreline facing east, the day gradually brightened and it became clear that the horizon was cloudy. Still, Ben and I waited. We waited some more. We couldn’t even see the sun after half an hour, although the view was mystical as the dawn colors of pink, orange and yellow touched the cloud tops. An island with a giant Hindu statue sat half a mile offshore in shadows. An hour and fifteen minutes after sunrise people were still arriving at the beach, I couldn’t believe that people considered this a great sunrise and wondered why they continued to arrive but we stuck around. Suddenly, the sun burst through the clouds, in that bright orange color that is so strong it is impossible to look at directly. It was quite beautiful.

Other highlights of our week and a half sojourn included a riding an angry elephant, riding a ferry for an 8-hour cruise through the backwater swamplands of Kerala, seeing some magnificent Maharaja Palaces near Bangalore and attending a friend’s Indian wedding. The absolute highlight of our trip, however, was Vakala Beach in Kerala. Ben and I thought the place was paradise and we stayed for three days, not wanting to leave. It is the one place in India that for tourist purposes I would actually return to see again and if you are here in the next 2 to 3 years, before the town becomes too commercialized, you must visit. The tiny town is located on a cliff overlooking a beach that’s about 2 miles long with golden sand and palm trees. You can get a hostel for $2 bucks a person, eat at the bamboo restaurant huts on the sand and watch the local fisherman row out to sea in their palm tree canoes each morning. In three days, we saw three indescribably beautiful sunsets over the Arabia Sea. Each evening, we had fresh tandoori (barbecued) seafood that was out of this world.

I wanted to travel to the Taj Mahal in Delhi before coming home but it’s not going to happen. We end meetings with only four days until I pull out. I definitely shall have to return. I want to go to Rajasthan, in the north where camels room the desert and palaces abound. I want to go to Nepal and see the Himalayas. Apparently, you can see Mt. Everest on infrequent days when the clouds clear. Mumbai is certainly not India.

On one of our corporate visits, we learned about marketing in rural India where over 70% of the population lives on subsistence agriculture. Generally, the people are distrustful of outsiders and often worship hundreds of local deities. Men vastly outnumber women because families don’t want to have to provide dowries for girls when they get married so they practice selective infanticide. It used to be in India that if a women’s husband died, she was burned in his funeral pyre. Now, she is merely expected to live in mourning for the rest of her life, even if she is a teenager when the husband dies. Personally, I think Sarees are among the most oppressive forms of dress ever invented. Needless to say, life for women can be really tough.

I’ve not only learned about India culture but also about how it is modernizing. Today, barely over half of all Indians have access to television—and less own a television, although ownership is skyrocketing. Ads must be made with the fact in mind that many people will only see them Black and White. The country’s road system is primitive at best. It’s not uncommon to take 8 or 10 hours to what would be the equivalent distance from Philadelphia to New York. Literacy rates are fairly abysmal too, with about 65 percent of Indian men and less than half of women being able to read. Over 17 major languages are spoken throughout the country but less than 3% of individuals speak English. I could go on about trucks that travel cross country without radial tires, meaning they have treads that peel off easily and so much else that would appear so beyond antiquated to us. One of the problems with rural India is that agriculture can’t compete internationally with US prices since we provide $160,000 subsidies to each of our farmers. The subsidies distort economic advantages and increase poverty in India.

This rural scene is contrasted by the IIM’s and IIT’s, institutes of Management or Technology located throughout the country that offer a heavily subsidized education equal to that found anywhere in the world. Most of the graduates flee to the US as soon as they can. Something like 20% of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and 10% of the engineers at NASA are from India. Just about all of the students at Welingkar where I attend have family or friends in the US. The wealthy may compose less than half a percent of the population but they number about 25 million in total, enough for many a multinational to consider the market a worthwhile target.

Even though India is a democracy, so entrenched is corruption that political progress is considered the most romantic of notions. Most people get along fine but there is a large undercurrent of religious Hindi and Islamic fundamentalist ideology that divides the country and inhibits rational conversation let alone progress. Like we are finding out in Iraq, often times people really do see the world differently and gun aren’t going to change those convictions although in calmer times, it is possible to hope that words and economic incentives might.

Of all the things that I have learned in India, what is most apparent is that both India and the world are changing incredibly fast. Foreign investment is flowing into the country in record amounts. A recent Goldman Sachs report estimated that by the year 2050, China is going to have the world’s largest economy. The US will be second and India will be 3rd. That would be quite an amazing and interesting world certainly, with many more people than today having a higher standard of living, even if we’ll still have more than our share of environmental and other challenges.

I really can’t say that I’ve been impressed with the academics here. One of our guest lecturers, however, stated that what most employers really want isn’t someone who knows their finance backwards and forwards but someone who can carry on a conversation about art or culture or know what bottle of wine to order at a nice restaurant in Spain on the banks of the Mediterranean to finish off a business deal. With an intentional effort to look on the upside, I simply going to say I’ve got enough stories to keep the chatter going and I’m going to start reading up on my wine.

Mumbai Express IX: Letters from a Semester in India

•November 25, 2003 • Leave a Comment

Dear Immediate Family and Everyone,

Things in Mumbai are going well. I can’t believe that I have only three weeks left here.

This week, I went to the 3rd theater production of my Penn friend Shivani, since coming to Mumbai. Each and every play has been great. Yesterday, she and her family had me over for a home cooked meal and then she took me out for coffee. I guess that’ll have to suffice for my Thanksgiving dinner.

As always I have lots to share and little time to write. We actually have had some school work lately, and nonetheless life outside the classroom monopolizes all my thinking. Like no place I have ever been, Mumbai is a giant organic living being the second you walk outside. You know from my descriptions that it’s a crowded, dirty, traffic jammed and hot enough that you can barely stay awake sometimes. It’s also vibrant and real. Certainly, the people I have met (as is normally is the case) in my classes, at the college and other where have been the highlight of my trip.

On this Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for many things. I suspect I will be especially so when I arrive home to clean air and quiet streets and everything else that we take for granted. Life everywhere seems to have its rewards though, and I’m glad I’ve gotten to experience more than my fair share.

Have a great Thanksgiving everyone!
Mike

Mumbai Express VIII: Letters from a Semester in India

•November 15, 2003 • Leave a Comment

Hey Everyone,

I haven’t had any time to write since returning from my trip. We’ve had a ton a work. Besides, sometimes my computer is on the brink and other times I have to lend my computer to classmates who don’t even have one.

Some of the highlights of my trip to Southern India included:

Seeing the sun rise with 10,000 people at the southern tip town of Kanyikumari over the India Ocean

Going to Vakala Beach and watching 3 sunsets in 3 days over the Arabian Sea. I also swam one day in the ocean for 3 hours. It was heaven at about 78 degrees. For dinner each evening, we had barbecued fresh sea food of which the highlight was a Tandoori Tuna cooked immediately after being caught at a beach hut restaurant.

Riding an Elephant for a half hour until he became unhappy. You really don’t want to be near an elephant if he’s not happy so we ended our ride early and gave him some bananas

Going to one of my classmate’s wedding in Bangalore, where all the women wore beautiful sarees and the music was incredible.

Visiting a palace in Mysore, near Bangalore, home to a family that has ruled that particular area for most of the past 700 years. The palace put the places I have seen in Spain and elsewhere to shame with the incredible artwork and furnishings.

Classes are going O.K. I’m pretty sick of restaurant food. All in all, however, things are great. I’ll be home in month.

Write soon,
Mike

Mumbai Express VII: Letters from a Semester in India

•November 3, 2003 • Leave a Comment

Mumbai Express 7

Dear Family,

Hope all is well. I’m finished the costal leg of my trip in South India and am in Bangalore. This morning we attended a wedding that was beautiful. I’m going back to Mumbai on Thursday and will write. I have stories, lots of stories to share.

Belated Happy Halloween.

Talk soon,
Mike

Mumbai Express VI: Letters from a Semester in India

•October 25, 2003 • Leave a Comment

Dear Everyone,

India is treating me well after six full weeks. We’ve got a week left to go before we get a week off to travel. We’ve had classes or corporate visits for the past 15 days I think. It seems that most of the time, the day is over before it has even begun. Getting into a studying rhythm is just about impossible.

Officially, English is a national language. Communicating with our professors, however, suggests that we think in completely different languages. Last week, for instance, one professor told us that we had an hour quiz. After it was over, he told us that it was worth fifty percent of our grade. Ouch. Indian English tends to be rather flowery. Instead of saying ‘Good Afternoon,’ addressing groups they will say ‘a warm welcome to you all.’ Instead of signing letters with ‘Sincerely,’ they write things like ‘Very Truly Yours’ for closings that we would consider less than personal. Just about everyday, idioms bowl me over. The other day, a group of students told me that they were putting on a presentation to ‘felicitate’ guests at the college. What they meant was they were honoring the guests. In some way the vernacular is to British English like Ecuadorian Spanish is to proper Spanish, degenerate in the sense that people got things wrong from the beginning and it became right by virtue of habit. In America, if you don’t answer a true or false question on a test, since it’s not right, it is wrong. In India, if you leave a true or false question blank on a test, since it’s not wrong—and they use negative marking like on the SATs where right answers minus a portion of wrong answers—it’s almost right! I wish I had known that before I took the ‘quiz.’ The language also has a touch of Victorian gauche that sometimes makes me want to say, colonialism ended fifty years ago and it is time to throw off the yolk! How American of me.

Actually, what really gets to us IMBA students is the lack of organization. We could care less if classes are at all hours of the day. What we’d really like is a syllabus with some suggestions of what we should be studying—but alas, I forget, this is India. Nothing is written. Everything is oral. Nothing is concrete. Everything is a hazy fog. Ask what will be on the test and you are told, read the book (never mention the fact that it’s 1200 pages long and the test is tomorrow). On a side note, we have all but given up on our Japanese class. Although the opportunity to begin learning the language was incredible, being in class we got a peek in the horse’s mouth and it wasn’t pretty. We didn’t have a book and teaching consisted of a lecture of random Japanese words for 3 hours with no conversation or context. Now, I understand why when we explain that we are studying in Mumbai, fellow conversationalist explain that people (and by the look on their face you can tell they mean rational ones) go to study in the States. So much for rationality… In all seriousness, we’ve got a few good professors but the chaotic schedule makes it difficult to study and get as much out of class as we should. Then again, since we eat out 3 times a day, we often spend 3 or 4 hours a day in restaurants. When you throw in a trip to the gym here or there, it is no wonder there is never any time to study. Well I could give up dinner at the restaurant and order a bland mystery meal of sorts to my room, but can you blame me if I’d rather not?

Last week, we went to visit Siemens for five days. I will spare you the business gob-a-junk and share the more interesting part of the visit with you. Besides getting an overview of how a large company functions, the visit to Siemens showed some of the ways in which doing business in India is starkly different from what occurs in the United States. Each morning, we were picked up for the hour-long ride to the factory by the company bus along with the majority of Siemens’ employees. Since the factory is so massive, relatively isolated and the 2000 employees do not have independent means of transportation, breakfast and lunch are provided in the cafeteria each day on site. Furthermore, the cafeteria was segregated with engineers and managers eating in a slightly nicer seating area than that where the shop floor workers ate. While I would not be surprised if upper management at a factory in the US eats apart from most employees, I suspect the division between employees and managers at lunch would be in different cafeterias altogether so that disparities in treatment are not so obvious.

The head of Siemens’ Personnel Department, the forth most important person in Siemens’ India, explained that the company faced a constant balancing act between allowing its workers to have a decent quality of life and being competitive globally. One example of this is found in the company’s support of a cooperative that Siemens’ helped formed for ex-employees who where brought out in the late 1990s. Most of the formers works were 40 or 50 often with 25 years experience. They would have been unemployed for the rest of their lives without the cooperative. Some of the company’s electrical component manufacturing is now outsourced to this cooperative. We had the opportunity to visit the cooperative and it was incredible. About 30 guys squeezed into a little garage-sized sweatshop putting bolts on screws with fans overhead for comfort. Apparently, most places where outsourcing is done don’t even have fans so cooperative members consider themselves lucky. The cooperative has a formal accountant and last year made a $1,400 profit after paying for labor. Labor amounted to $40 OR $5O a month for each of the 90 member workers and we are talking compensation for working 10 hour days, six days a week. $1,400 may not sound like much but considering it represents almost 3’x the annual average earnings for most Indians, it is quite a substantial sum. Since dividends are taxed, i.e. the $1,400 profit can’t be distributed without giving a bunch to the government, the members of the cooperative decide on something they all want like backpacks and the cooperative buys every worker a backpack representing their portion of the profits.

Siemens finds it difficult supporting ex-workers in the cooperative who are lower paid than they used to be but at least have jobs and satisfying the requirement of the union who represent current workers, especially since the union knows that layoffs will be the result of the next investment in automated mass production technology and continued outsourcing. Nonetheless, the company has made an effort to ensure that the cooperative members have steady work for the foreseeable future.

One of the highlights of visiting Siemens in India was the opportunity to work on the shop floor for a couple of hours. We assembled electrical relay switches along side the workers, putting in screws by hand and winding wire and snapping together plastic parts. The work was not hard although I would imagine that it would quickly become monotonous. Most of the gentlemen on the assembly line had 15 or more years of experience repeatedly performing the same task. The semi-skilled shop-floor workers in the assembly line were all amazingly open and generous with their time teaching us numbskulls how to do their work. Walking past the different tables or assembly lines, I got a sense of how all those little fixtures at Home Depot and probably of how most of America is made in some greasy third world warehouse.

Undoubtedly, the highlight of my visit to Siemens was a visit to the computer classrooms at three schools that were set up by the employee union in order to allow children in extremely poor schools to learn how to use computers. The classrooms each had six or seven computers and thirty children. Teachers are paid through funds that the union raises in an effort to improve the communities in which they live. While I’m not sure how effective the computer classes ultimately are, the children were simply beautiful and delightful. Having foreigners visit the schools was a big deal. I used my 10 lines in Hindi to communicate with them and they gave us flowers. Visiting the children reminded me of Ecuador so much that even thinking about it makes me all misty eyed.

Thanks for reading. Until next time,
Mike

Mumbai Express V: Letters from a Semester in India

•October 21, 2003 • Leave a Comment

Dear Family,

Excitement for the past few weeks has consisted largely of the innumerable pleasures and surprises inherent to life in Mumbai rather than any singular adventures that inspire me to write. Classes are going well by Indian standards. Somehow twelve hours a week in class, half of which is taught by professions who present material haphazardly at best is considered progress towards getting an MBA. Sometimes my classmates and I are bored out of our minds and other times we are trying to complete 3 projects in a day. As long as we work out in the gym and get our daily allotment of ice cream, I am not complaining.

When I lived in Ecuador, the volunteers used to feel that common sense was pretty much an oxymoron since no one ever had any. Well, it appears that there is little common sense in India either. I frequently wish that I could impose order on India society. Even if I suffer from a cultural relativism of sorts, not having to struggle to survive everyday of my life, rampant individualism in Indian daily life makes the US seem like downright placid. Here, crossing the street is like playing frogger, but you only get one life to do it right. In the US, even if you are jaywalking, cars are going to give way for pedestrians. That doesn’t happen in India, not even when you have the right of way, ever.

Then there are the habits of waiters in the respectable restaurants we four MBA hostel students frequent that serve good food for better prices. Labor is so cheap at 40 cents a day at most that there is no reason for owners to skimp on service. There is always a surplus of busboys and waiters. If it looks like you have less than an inch of soda in your bottle, it is quickly whisked off before you can grab that last sip to wash it all down. Heaven forbid that one of the other busboys get that bottle and prove he is doing his job better. I end up just ordering another soda for 20 cents so I can’t say I’m that much worse for wear but still you can never let your guard down. In the US, the customer is almost always right. In India on the other hand, the customer is always a sucker. Taxi drivers and barbers get what they can for today without regard for pissing you off so that you never patronize them again.

Thanks to the constant assault on your senses, Mumbai is a really tiring place to live. Traffic jams are horrendous meaning that going anywhere other than school located a mile away from the hostel is a real production. Taking the train offers some respite from sitting still in traffic if you enjoy being treated like cattle. We have only taken the train three times and thankfully only once at rush hour. Basically, in order to board or leave the train it is necessary to get down in a three-point stance like you are going to try and sack the quarterback in football. Then you push into the crowd and use your elbows ferociously. I’ve heard that Italian and Japanese subways are murder. Well, here, so many people board the trains that they don’t even shut the doors and sparely-placed small wire circle fans suffice for air conditioning.

Looking out the door of the train, trying to catch a breeze, you see and smell the real Mumbai: acres of decrepit tenements and shacks with piles of garbage along the rails. (As a side note, I would like to report that although it took 3 weeks, we found the business district and Mumbai does have skyscrapers.) The city rarely overwhelms me except when the stench of excrement becomes too much—and then the immensity of the poverty and struggles really get to me. I could run a marathon in the States and still be cleaner than I am after a ten minute walk or 15 seconds on train. On the bright side, at least riding the train gets my adrenaline pumping. I can totally understand why life expectancy in Mumbai at 56 is a full six years shorter than India as a whole.

This past week, I went to see one of my friends from Penn’s play that she directed in Mumbai which was excellent. Between visiting the nightclub and going to a jazz bar last night, I have been able to see some of Bombay’s upper class art scene. It surely offers anything as good as what we have in the US as long as you pay western prices. For what it’s worth, although I did not try it, the jazz bar had a Philly Cheese steak on the menu. In other news, M. Night Shamylan’s donation to renovate houses in South Philly made the society news page of the India Times. Mayor Street was quoted saying Night’s generosity was wonderful etc. Of course, EPOP wasn’t mentioned since it’s so far away but I hope EPOP is getting some press in Philly.

While I don’t have a lot of good things to say about the Indian system of education but yesterday, we had a lecture on the intricacies of exporting from India that was quite fascinating. Venky, the coordinator of our program is part time and he is a merchant exporter full time. In the course of his exporting, he needs to have various documents and he always needs to be present in person to load goods into shipping containers. Thus, each Tuesday, Venky goes to the port and waits for the government shipping inspector to show up to get a certificate that says he is really exporting what he says he is exporting. Each Tuesday, he is scheduled to meet the inspector at 8am. Each Tuesday, the inspector shows up at lunchtime with a grunt that he gets off the street. The grunt is given a clipboard and told to watch the shipping container while he and Venky go to lunch. Venky has to buy lunch and laugh at the idiot inspector’s jokes or he doesn’t get the certificate he needs. Apparently, from the sound of it, Venky has been meeting this same inspector for years every Tuesday and he has no way of conducting business unless he goes along with the demands of the inspector. Since the container of the day is never actually inspected, Venky could smuggle all sorts of stuff if he wanted to although he never has. There is no doubt, however, that lots of other people do smuggle stuff. If Venky were to put up a fuss or say that he doesn’t want to waste so much time going to lunch or doesn’t pay for the lunch, the inspector would take two days to do the inspection on some pretenses and Venky would not be able to load the ship and send his goods on time.

Without more to write, I’m signing off to go find some more reasons why I should be thankful I live in Philly.

Mike