Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Industrial City

On the way to our first stop, Sam explained to me that Jodhpur was one of the newer industrial towns in India and that the city had established a relatively new industrial area that was improving the local economy. I kept looking for large buildings and warehouses, but didn't see any. Eventually we left the hustle and bustle of the city and were on a narrow 2 lane road, hurtling through rock strewn barren fields occasionally inhabited by poorly constructed tents and tin shacks or the occasional herd of camels or stray cows. As usual, piles of garbage would appear intermittently, I could only assume someone had dumped them out here in the middle of nowhere.

Soon we turned off the main road and started seeing some signs of life. We were still cruising through the barren wasteland, except large gated areas began to appear regularly. We turned down a side road and suddenly there were a number of large brown buildings. Rocks and litter covered the road and our driver took it slowly with great care. We turned down a tiny street and stopped in front of a large metal gate.

"Are we here?", I asked.

"This is it", said Sam.

Part of my job is about factory safety and security and I had come to ensure that this factory was compliant with our many safety and security procedures as they had claimed. The gate opened and the guard there checked us in.

The front of the building was a mixture of brown and black, brown being the color of just about every building I saw in the city and black from the kiln drying process they used in the wood there. I was ushered into the office.

The office was a large room with a long table, a number of plastic chairs, piles of paperwork, a couple of telephones, and a single ceiling fan barely turning about 10 feet above my head. The temperature inside the office was barely cooler than outside - somewhere between 100-110 degrees. And the factory manager was in LONG SLEEVES. He was dripping with sweat, as were we, but it didn't seem to bother him. I was having a hard time understanding how anyone could work in heat like this, since there was no AC to be seen anywhere, but when in Rome......

We proceeded to take a tour of the "factory" which was basically giant open rooms with plenty of ventilation and fans in a desperate attempt to keep things cool while various teams of workers assembled furniture.

I would quickly find out the main work to be found in the "industrial area" of Jodhpur was indeed furniture manufacturing. In fact, there is nothing industrial about it, really. In the outskirts of the town, which is just barren rock and sand, they have thrown up large buildings, thrown some equipment in there for sawing and drying, and started making furniture. For a city like Jodhpur, that is real industry, and employs thousands of workers from neighboring villages who would have normally been unemployed and struggling to feed their families. Small furniture manufacturers is not what we in the Western World would consider big industry, but for these people it was a big deal.

We left that factory for another factory right down the street which also made furniture. Again, no AC. This office actually had a computer covered in dark spots from too many factory hands working the computer. I found it hard to believe that the computer didn't crash often from the incredible heat. Again, it was about 100 degrees INSIDE the office.

By this time it was around 4pm and we did not feel we would have enough time to finish the next factory before they closed so my buddy Sam decided to take me to one of the old markets in town, where people had been buying and selling for hundreds of years. I took a couple of pictures, one of them of the old tower that had been there for who knows how long. There were tons of shop owners trying to grab my arm and pull me into their shops, but Sam fended them off quickly. I eventually found a store with hand woven table cloths and table runners and bought one for my parents. The young gentleman who owned the store said he had a lot of American buyers. I expressed skepticism as it seemed that Jodhpur was not the hottest tourist destination in India, although I had seen a few tourists staying at my hotel. He said "no no, not tourists, eBay, eBay". He posts the items on eBay, shipping directly from India to the customers in the U.S. "I can make 2-3 times what you paid from eBay shoppers.", he proudly told me. "eBay buyers are the best because they often bid well beyond what we would already charge tourists and other foreign visitors." Other than a few nice fabric stores, the market was mostly for locals, selling fresh vegetables, grains, cooking utensils, etc. We decided to head back to the hotel.

By this time it was 8pm and I was dead tired, not having slept hardly at all the night before thanks to jet lag. They told me to take a shower and get some rest so we could go out to eat around 10pm, but I told them if I took a nap I wouldn't be getting up again, so they laughed and left me alone, agreeing to meet me at 8am sharp the next morning.

To be continued......

Monday, May 22, 2006

Jodhpur - the beginning of the desert

Flying into Jodhpur all one could see below was a see of dark brown sand, interspersed with sparse settlements and the occasional cluster of green trees. Jodhpur is not actually the desert, but sits on the edge of the beginnings of the famous Thar desert of India. Kind of a no man's land between the moderate climes of eastern Rajasthan (the province/state that Jodhpur resides in) and the harsh western desert that borders Pakistan. Flying in kind of reminded me of flying into Las Vegas, where vast reaches of flat scrub land extend for miles before you reach the city.

Jodhpur is not a small town. More than 800,000 people reside in Jodhpur. Like almost all Indian airports, this one too was shared by the military. Soviet style fighter planes and helicopter gunships lay baking in the hot sun on the tarmac. We came in for a smooth landing, much to the relief of the other American passengers, and we taxied to a small 2 story white building with a single entrance. The ramp was thrown down.

"Is this the gate?", I asked Sam.

"No, this is the international airport of Jodhpur." He replied.

"No, I know this is the airport, but is this the gate? I don't see where the airport is."

"You don't understand. That building IS the airport".

This simple airport building, which was quite nice and appeared rather new, was THE international airport of Jodhpur. It had 1 main entrance out front, 1 "gate" to the tarmac, and 1 luggage carousel. Picking up luggage was easy, it was out of the plane and waiting for me by the time I walked into the building. In less than 60 seconds, we were outside and into the car. Hey! This is great, if only all airports were like this!

Travelling in the hot sun in Jodhpur I realized that Delhi was nothing compared to this. While in Delhi the temperature was at least 100 degrees it was a minimum of 115-120 degrees in Jodhpur. While I was pleasantly surprised at the number of thin green leafed trees in and around the city, anywhere there wasn't a tree planted was barren dirt and sand. The buildings, the ground, and the hills were all the color of rust, a deep reddish brown that seemed to reflect the heat back to you in ever greater waves.

Once again, honking was the preferred method of driving. But in Jodhpur we had to share the roads with camels, carts, bicycles, and pedestrians wandering the OPPOSITE direction of traffic in the middle of the road with total disregard for their own safety. Everyone drove too fast and too close together.

As in Delhi, trash was everywhere, only here it was much worse. Jodhpur is fast becoming an "industrial" city, although not the kind of industry you are thinking of, which I will explain later. Due to this, there is a lot of new construction going on and lots of open fields next to new developments. The fields and roads are often plagued by piles of trash left there by God knows who, and once again the desperately poor are living side by side with the rich and middle class. It is a clash of socio-economic levels, but apparently the locals simply accept it.

I had my first taste of Rajasthan Indian food and I must say it was some of the BEST Indian food I had ever tasted. Absolutely amazing. Spicy, full of flavor, and nothing like what I had eaten before in the states. They also often accompany their meals with a cucumber, onion, green pepper salad that was just delicious.

We eventually made it to the hotel and checked in with just enough time to throw down my bags before heading out to work.

To be continued.....

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Welcome to Indian Time

The ride to the domestic terminal of Delhi was much like the one from the night before. My friend from my company's Indian agency - let's call him Sam - was quick to point out the parliament building, the US Embassy building, and other key landmarks. The embassy areas are very nice with tree-lined streets and green lawns dividing the road. With the exception of several grown men openly urinating on the walls, it was a pretty sight.

We made it to the airport in one piece, my knuckles white from gripping the door handles. If I thought the international terminal was a mess, I was in for a shock. The domestic terminal was 100 times worse. Again, for a city of over 13 million people, the domestic terminal had only 4 gates and one tiny entrance. The terminal looked like it had been built during the era of the Wright Brothers and was in bad need of repair, decay was everywhere. The sun was out and already it was over 100 degrees. Inside the airport it was marginally better, about 85. We checked in - our airplane tickets were not computerized, the airline issued HAND WRITTEN TICKETS - yes, that's right, hand written. When we got up to the check in desk - more like a badly beaten metal table with a circa 1982 computer on the top - the gentleman very kindly explained that my ticket had been "cancelled". A heated argument ensued between my Indian friend Sam and the airline agent and finally he accepted my ticket. He did not ask for my ID. We went through security. No one asked to see my ID. There was no place to sit down, all the broken and torn waiting seats were occupied. But luckily they boarded quickly enough. We went outside through one of the 4 gates and got into a bus which took us out on the tarmac to our waiting 737-200. The plane was easily 30+ years old. I looked for the manufacturer stamp which is a habit of mine when I enter into airplanes, but it has been wrenched off. Rivets were missing in certain places and the seats were worn and thin. Some of the plastic tray tables were broken. The inside of the plane was unbearable as we were still on the ground, at least 90 degrees. 2 other Americans were on the flight as well and they look terrified. Finally we taxied down the runway where we could see the second runway being built. They actually had women laborers carting sand and concrete in baskets on their heads! These poor women formed a giant chain of labor from the construction area to the supply area. No bulldozers, no forklifts, no machinery of any kind, it appeared that the entire paving of the new runway was being done by manual labor.

We got into position only to be told by the pilot that we were being delayed for 10-15 minutes. Sam smiled grimly and said "welcome to Indian time, where nothing is on time." We sat in the unbearable heat for more than 1 hour. Sweat streamed down my back and soon the entire plane began to smell funky. Finally we took off and the air conditioning was turned on mercifully. We received a warm sandwich (warm from sitting in the heat too long) which I refused to eat, but plenty of delicious fruit juices. The 2 other Americans on the plane kept looking around nervously, wondering if the shuddering plane was going to fall apart. I eventually fell asleep and an hour and a half later we landed.

to be continued......

It's About Time

Via Yahoo, A quick post on the strong language that the new PM is using against the bombings in Iraq. I really believe that the new government and the work of the coalition forces will do wonders now. I imagine things to begin wrapping up there, though I may be overly optimistic.

good grief what next?

wow, between my compadre's visits to India, my computer's power supply having a meltdown last week, getting it up and running then being laid up with a nasty intestinal virus the next day, to finally feeling better than my new CPU crapping out and leaving windows hanging in the wind(damn you Bill!!), blogging has been far from stellar. My apologies to the loyal readers and visitors to the blog, I'm currently blogging on my wife's university system, as my computer now needs a reformat and re-install, and hopefully the seller will warranty the CPU. Anyone know how to extract the windows files on the hidden partition of an HP Hard drive? anyone?

Welcome to the Third World....

I have been travelling which is one of the reasons for light blogging. I am currently in Indonesia and spent the past week in Western India. This is the first in a series of travelogues which I hope you will find interesting.....

I arrived in Delhi about 9pm off of American Airlines direct flight from Chicago. Immediately coming off the airplane you notice some stark differences from other international airports: the walkway from the aircraft is in poor condition and there are dark stains marking the floors and walls. The international terminal is tiny considering the size of Delhi (13 million+ population) and compared to just about any other airport you have been to. The terminal is supposedly air conditioned, but you could have fooled me as the humidity hits you walking in and the temperature was at least 80 degrees. The bathrooms look like they are 50 years old. Mold stains, broken tile, and dirt spots are everywhere.

The Indian customs agents were extremely friendly and polite and quickly I was on my way to get my luggage. There was no one in the airport but those of us off of the AA flight. I asked one of the Indian passengers from my flight why that was. He said most of the international flights arrive late in the night, around 12-1am, only AA and CO arrive earlier. Once I got my luggage I went out to look for my ride, which had been prearranged. Sure enough, the driver was there with my name on a card.

We walked outside and WHAM! the heat hit me like an open oven. I guess the airport was air conditioned after all! It was humid and hotter than anything I could remember. Even hotter than when I was in Thailand in April 2005, and remember, this is 9pm at night! The air was thick with humidity, exhaust, and pollution from coal fired energy plants. You almost drank the air instead of breathing it. I remember from my travels in Southern China that burning, acrid smell from dirty coal fired energy plants that used to annoy me so much - the same exact smell was here in India, same as I remembered.

They call India a "developing country" but I think that's being a bit over-optimistic. There is extreme poverty everywhere, especially so in the big cities such as Delhi. Entire families, including infants, live on the streets. At every stoplight they rush the cars, banging on the car windows begging for money. You will see large, rich, Indian homes complete with Mercedes Benz and Lexus parked in the driveway and in the empty lot next door will be tents made of plastic garbage bags where the dying poor live. It is a crowded country where the extreme rich and extreme poor live practically on top of each other. While I am sure India has garbage collection services, they either don't get paid much or simply don't work very hard. Trash is everywhere. And I mean everywhere. Not just litter scattered here and there, I am talking mountainous piles of rotting garbage just stacked helter skelter. Sometimes you will see children or the elderly sifting through the piles - in bare feet - collecting scrap pieces of plastic and metal to sell to recyclers. Shiny new building structures stand next to broken decrepit buildings. Welcome to the third world.

The drive to the hotel was terrifying. In India it seems nobody obeys any traffic laws, signals, signs, or even lane dividers. Quite the contrary, as most cars simply straddled 2 lanes. Nobody looks or signals when turning or changing lanes, just flashing lights and horns. Horns, horns, and more horns. Driving anywhere in India is nothing but a cacophony of horns. My skillful driver weaved in and out of traffic, avoiding numerous near collissions and completely ignoring pedestrian rights. He cut through parking lots and gas stations with complete disregard in order to avoid traffic.

Finally we arrived the hotel, fully alert and awake thanks to the insane Delhi traffic. The hotel was beautiful - better be for $200 a night and thank goodness my company paid - and I settled down for a good night's rest before I had to work the next day. Unfortunately, my body was still on USA time and I had a hard time getting to sleep.

I woke up very early, got ready and went downstairs for breakfast. The food was wonderful. Fresh tropical fruits, including mangos, my favorite. Fresh squeezed watermelon juice, different kinds of Indian yogurt, etc. I quickly ate breakfast and checked out of the hotel, waiting for my company's Indian agent to meet me in the lobby. While we had been conversing via e-mail for many months, we had never spoken or met in person before. He was a friendly, but quiet man, all business which I preferred, and we were quickly on our way back to the Delhi airport for our first destination, the desert city of Jodhpur.