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Updated: 2015-09-16T11:42:09.292-07:00




Back and browner than ever.

Apologies for taking so long to get back in the blogging saddle, but the two weeks in Thailand, the last hectic week in Bangalore and the move back Stateside and other travel really tapped my pith. As soon as I arrange these last few pics and thoughts, I'll post a better entry that'll bring a close to this first (of many) Indian experience!



I'm leaving on a jet plane...

for two weeks in Thailand! Just a heads-up to all of my adoring blog-fans (both of you)... expect radio silence until the week of 5/21. Stories promised upon my return!



A thousand words...

Now this photo may just look like two dogs sniffing each other's butt... and yet it illustrates volumes about life here. I took this shot at a very fancy house party last weekend. The dog on the left is an extremely expensive, pampered and purebred Dalmation, whose life is cradled in luxury. The dog on the right is the poor, homeless and starved mutt of a street dog (he comes around whenever there's a party because he knows there will be better scraps in the trash afterward). And the white line in the photo is the solid steel gate that divides their worlds...

You can tell which was my favorite (he was a super nice dog, and even had this little doggy smile). I think I got pretty far in convincing the owner's wife that all he needed was a bath and some shots and then the dogs could be best friends.



My favorite childhood superhero is coming to India!

"Dressed in a flowing dhoti, or a sarong, pointy shoes and a familiar red mask, he will swing between three-wheeled auto rickshaws and scooters down crowded Indian streets to take on the evil Rakshasa, or demon.

Creators of India's Spider-Man, who is called Pavitr Prabhakar, hope he will soon be as well-loved as the original one, Peter Parker.

Like Parker, Prabhakar is an orphan who lives with his aunt and uncle in Bombay, India's answer to New York City.

And like many residents of India's film capital, he dreams of becoming a movie star. The source of his powers is a yogi, or an ascetic, not a radioactive spider, and his enemy is a business tycoon who turns into a rakshasa, or demon, with a magic amulet." Full article.

Hmmm. Okay, I was all on board until the "dreams of becoming a movie star" quip and bit about where he doesn't get bitten by a spider... I mean I'm all for local adaptation, but no spider?! Sacrilege! :-)

I took a look at the sample sketches, and this new Spiderman is of a noticably smaller build. But I think the costume actually looks pretty cool... yay for cross-culturalism!



(She's going to kill me for bragging, but it's for a good cause...)

This weekend, Sonia is going to again prove her athletic prowess... by competing in her 2nd Wildflower Triathlon. This time, she's doing the olympic distance course: 1 mile swim, 25 mile bike ride, 6 mile run... in 65 degree water and 100 degree air. Above, you can see the elevation change during the ride. I fancy myself as being in good shape, but wow... I stand in admiration.

And speaking of admiration, my good friend Raj and his wife Sejal are also doing the tri this weekend, and up until two months ago, Raj was terrified of water and didn't know how to swim! They are part of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team In Training, raising funds for cancer research. They're almost at their goal of $2900 -- so, if you're inclined, I strongly endorse a small donation on their site here -- it's like sending a good luck wish to all of the participants!

Good luck, Sone! LYSSSSM

Post-Race Update: Sonia kicked major tail -- finishing in 3:04, 73rd out of 339 in her age bracket!



I went to get my haircut yesterday. I may be inviting the ridicule of my friends, but this was a big deal for me, as I'm super picky about my hair. (Yes, I really do get my gel imported from Japan.) Anyway, I had a recommendation to go see the "stylish Burmese guy" at this salon called Spratt. So I called them up and wanted to see when I could make an appointment... "Pick anytime tomorrow," the receptionist said. Hmmm... ordinarily, I would be skeptical of any salon whose schedule seemed so empty, but I took the first morning slot anyway.

I showed up and was pretty impressed with the salon. I met Thundu, who turned out actually to be a Tibetan refugee, not Burmese. He also turned out to be a great hairstylist, and he was excited to cut my hair because he got to practice texturizing instead of the regular "formal cut" that he said all of the men usually requested. He lamented the fact that Bollywood stars were finally getting cool haircuts while the Kannadan film stars still only wanted "the poof." The reason this was troubling is because the film stars pave the fashion path for the population, and until they start getting more stylish, he'll be stuck doing the same old hairstyles.

After finishing, he recommended a spray wax, which I purchased. The total? 850 rupees. That's 550 for the wax and 300 for the cut. Only 300 bucks ($7) for a 45 minute haircut at Bangalore's best salon?! Wow.

Of course, the engineers back at the office almost laughed me out of the lunchroom, saying that they rarely paid more than 25 rupees ($.50!) for a haircut. But I figure you get what you pay for... here's the before and the after. :-)



Every now and again, I'm reminded just how many people live in this country. Of late, I've been noticing how many are employed doing the most inefficient things.

Take for instance, this Shell station. First, this thing was built in a matter of roughly 2.5 weeks, which is a testament to the manpower they could employ quickly. Second, you'll notice a ton of people at the station but only one car... that's because almost everyone else in this picture is an attendant! There are about 12 people on staff 24x7, including the guy to the lower left who motions cars in with his light-up wand as if they're taxiing aircraft, two guys who handle the fueling, and one guy who mans the little stop sign and tells you how far to pull forward. It's like an F1 pit crew!

Oh, and if you're wondering, gas is roughly 40 rupees per liter -- or $3.45 a gallon -- including taxes of 35%. Let me put this is perspective... PPP shows that this would be like Americans having to pay $13.27 a gallon. Think about that the next time you're griping at the pump!



Last week, we were called into a meeting by the Secretary of E-Governance for the Election Commission. When we arrived, we were shown to a couch & chairs in his office to wait for a while, as he was stuck in traffic on his way there. A few bits of hilarity ensued.

First, there was a full-blown committee meeting in progress in the other half of the same room. Ten people yelling and shouting and getting overly animated about some strange drawing on a whiteboard... it made it very hard to talk to prep for the meeting. As soon as the Secretary walked in, that group exited, and the room returned to its quiet state so that we could begin our meeting.

However, literally the minute the Secretary (a rather soft-spoken man) started talking, a protest started outside the window... there must have been a hundred people chanting and yelling in Kannada about who knows what. We were on the ground floor and couldn't close the windows because it was too hot -- it was maddness!

Then, he handed us all these glossy brochures his department had made about Bangalore's electronic goverment initiatives... I read the tagline and almost burst out laughing: "Bangalore on e." For anyone not part of Gen X or Y, the term "on e" is slang for "on ecstasy," the hallucinogenic drug. Hip hop stars use it in their songs, as in "trippin on e." Hilarious.

Anyway, I give the Indian government major props for pouring so much money into e-governance initiatives. The nice thing about not having a lot of technology to begin with is that they can more quickly adopt the state-of-the-art stuff that's out now. The US, by contrast, has a lot of path dependence on very old infrastructure that needs to be junked and replaced, but there's too much valuable data to do that. Most records here are still in paper (or don't exist, in the case of black-money land ownership), so the transition will be much easier.



Illustrating my below point, check out this stainless steel bowl I picked up for about $20; that's very expensive for India, but about half of what I'd expect it to fetch in the US. It's made by this company called Magppie (yes, that's two P's), which was started by two young brothers in India from their family's steel business. I thought I had the first scoop on a huge export market opportunity, but it turns out that they already have Karim Rashid designing for them!

But my favorite part about the company is the small tagline they put on their box...



I will never be the same... being in India has changed me.

Before you get carried away thinking about the profundity of that statement, let me clarify. Specifically, I mean that I will never again be able to shop in the US without thinking I'm totally getting ripped off. :-)

Browsing a design site the other day, I came across these pillows. $89! Are you kidding me?! I can go to a designer home furnishings store here and pick up amazingly beautiful embroidered and beaded silk casings for around $7! I could name a hundred other instances of amazing stuff you can get on the cheap here: great shirts, furniture, cards, custom woodworking, candles, curtains, etc. If you wanted to outfit a new home, I bet the entire plane fare (roundtrip from SFO: $1200) could easily be made up in the price differences.

On one hand, I know that I'm going to be disappointed when I go back to paying US prices. On the other, an experience like this puts the concept of "willingness to pay" in perspective, and I'll be a more thoughtful consumer because of it.



I have to admit that I had a secret agenda in coming to India... to be discovered as the next Bollywood star! At the very least, I wanted an item number or the chance to be a recognizable extra. Little did I know that my name, at least, had already surpassed superstardom!

"Josh," pronounced jōsh, is acutally a Hindi word meaning inner strength, determination, or chutzpah. Regardless, I have to admit that it's pretty cool to see the equivalent of my name in Hindi in giant flaming letters on the screen.

What's more is that it stars Aishwarya Rai -- hands-down Bollywoods most popular actress -- who was recently declared the most beautiful woman in the world! (I would actually beg to differ, but there's no accounting for taste.) The male lead, Shahrukh Khan, is kinda cheesy, but I'm seeing that's a theme in Bollywood: beautiful women and their machismo/mustachioed counterparts.

While the plot might be a little predictable, the dancing rivals that of N*Sync in their heyday (and I do have a fascination for boy bands :-) And Mumbai Central says, "Josh is Definitely worth seeing." So if you anticipate a free Saturday night, throw this on your Amazon wishlist (Blockbuster and Netflix have yet to get with the times.)

P.S. I have now taken to pronouncing my name with a long-O. No autographs, please.



Hey kids! It's raves & rants time! Just a quick one each:

No guns! I haven't read a single story that I can recall about someone getting shot here. Most of the police don't even carry guns. Senior officers can carry pistols, and the night officers who stroll the neighborhood streets carry these single-load old school rifles, but that's about it. Everyone else speaks softly and carries a big wooden baton called a lathi. I have read a couple of articles where the police have had to subdue large crowds, so they do this maneuver called a "lathicharge" where they make a line and rush forward thumping everything in sight. Sounds harsh, but it works pretty well. And worst case, even a broken arm is better than a hole in the head.

No change! This one I still can't understand... The exchange rate is ~44 rupees to the US dollar. That means that having a 100 rupee note is about the same as $2. Most ATMs spit out Rs. 500 & 100 notes -- completely reasonable denominations. What's maddening is the number of times that I've had to go around to strangers and ask them to break my 100 rupee note because the register doesn't have enough change!

Example 1: I buy a cold coffee from Barista (the Indian Starbucks) for Rs. 60 and hand them a 100... sorry, not enough change. Example 2: I take a rickshaw for Rs. 20 and give him a 50... he's not carrying *any* change, so I have to go ask the watermelon cart for change. Example 3: I was at a very nice restaurant/bar last night and wanted to take a rickshaw home, so I go to the bar to get change for my 100, knowing the rickshaw driver won't have change. What?! Even the bar of this upscale establishment doesn't keep enough change on hand! Example 4: I'm starving at work the other night, so I consider ordering a pizza. I continue starving because all I have is a 500 rupee note, the pizza only costs 250, and there's no way the delivery guy is carrying any change.

Does everyone have metathesiophobia? (Fear of change -- bad pun :-)

A helpful hint for future visitors: if you get currency converted in the airport, make sure they give you small denominations too!



Adding to the list of birthdays, Google Bangalore turned 1.0 yesterday! We celebrated by going bowling, which was "too good." And forget the jackets... we need sateen bowling kurtas!


My mom -- Miss Fire Prevention 1962

People say that I look a lot like my mom. As you can see, I consider it quite a compliment. :-) I can only hope that they also see her character and kindness in me...

As boys get older, we get distracted by other girls and eventually find the One... but none of these other women can ever take the place of our moms. My mom is my confidant, my advisor, my rock, and she will always be #1 in my book.

I love you, Mom! Happy birthday!



Ever seen a tanker just 50 meters off shore? Neither had the good people of Goa until about five years ago, when a huge storm embedded the 266 meter River Pricess in about nine feet of sand. You can see it quite well in all of my beach pics -- remember that this is right off the beach of all of Goa's most luxurious resorts!

The original owners got in a huge legal battle with the Goan state government, and the state passed a law which allowed them to assume ownership of the vessel. Then they did nothing for a few years except infight about what to do. But now they've reached a resolution that should have the ship out within 30 days.

CrossChem (a salvage company) will pay the state government Rs 85.41 lakh (USD $20k) for the vessel whose scrap value is estimate at Rs 3 crore (USD $685k -- after removal costs).




And while I'm on the topic of earning my stripes toward the full Indian experience, I have another I can now check off my list: my first cricket match! And not just any match, either -- India vs. Pakistan in the last day of the third test match (kinda like the playoffs)!

So what are my first impressions? Well, the first two hours in the morning were fun and lively, but come on -- 8 hours a day for five days for just one match?! You've got to be kidding me. India's target score for the day (what they needed to win) was 383 runs. Even this guy had trouble keeping up his steam for the whole day. But if there's one thing that the people here have, it's patience.

Also, I noticed that I was the only person around with a beer (and I bought that because I thought it would be part of the experience). Turns out that they usually don't sell alcohol within the premises, but Vijay Mallya (owner of United Breweries, the world's second largest beverage company based in Bangalore) had strong-armed the govt. into allowing it.

I was also surprised to see that there were no vendors selling anything within the regular part of the stadium -- no tzotchkes, no memorabilia, no food, nothing. Our section was like the upper deck in baseball, so we had a catered lunch and the one Kingfisher stand, but that’s it. So much for my Sachin Tendulkar jersey.

Speaking of Sachin, the game was especially noteworthy because he became India’s highest run-scorer in Test cricket after scoring run number 10,123, which I got on video! Hmmmm. I was there when Barry Bonds hit his 72nd & 73rd homeruns in the same season (he’s at 703 for a career total) but they seem to sort of pale in comparison to numbers that cross the 10,000 mark :-)



Apologies for being remiss in my blogging, but I'm just now getting back in the saddle after trips to Hyderabad, Goa, and a 36 hour bout with a brutal case of Delhi Belly.

Yup -- I feel like I've earned my stripes as an expat in India now. After two months here without issue, I was beginning to feel like I was missing out on a crucial part of the prototypical experience. I should learn to be careful what I wish for... within an hour and a half of eating Thursday's dinner (Chicken Murg Masala from a reputable nearby hotel restaurant), I was doubled over on my bathroom floor -- the place where I would spend the majority of the next day and a half.

One more testament to the kindness of people here -- our driver, security guard at the guesthouse, and housekeeper all were very concerned with my health and kept offering to take me to the hospital or call for the doctor. All's well that ends well, though, and I'm almost back to feeling "fully good" or "100%," as folks here like to say. :-)



These guys were the most *incredible* cover band I've ever heard... perfect renditions of Elton John, the Cars, the Police, the Eagles, etc... and yet between sets, they'd dedicate the songs in thick Indian accents!



While resting between sets the other day, 'the guy I pay to workout with me' asked me to tell him a joke. Now, I'm not really the type to have a lot of jokes at the ready, so what do I do? I throw an old one from my dad at him:

Me: See, there were these two men going down the street, right?
Venky: Yeah, okay.
Me: One guy walked into a bar. The other one ducked.
Venky: [blank stare]

Nuance is almost always lost in translation, and that doesn't bode well for a sense of humor like mine. I realized long ago that this was the reason I could never happily date someone whose English wasn't native... there's too much involved in the intonation, delivery, and slight-of-humor that I enjoy in conversation. Especially in romance, it's important for me to find that someone with whom the laughs flow naturally in everyday discourse without having to pause for effect or secretly hope the other person isn't just laughing along... that someone who is not only witty in herself, but is the cause that is wit in other people.*

With a bit of a charade and my use of the squat bar as a prop, however, Venky was soon
(genuinely) chuckling along. I tried to think of other trusty old standbys - blonde jokes, knock knock jokes - but they all failed me in their inability to span cultures. Perhaps I should've just stuck with the world's funniest joke.

* paraphrase of Shakespeare's King Henry IV part ii, where Falstaff quotes, "I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men."



Wireless Internet Kiosk in a remote village outside Chennai

At first glance, perhaps the above picture doesn't impress you. Look closer... you'll see a self-contained power supply consisting of a UPS and a car battery, a functioning printer, webcam, speakers and microphone, and a cable leading to a 64kbps wireless link. Now look beyond... you'll see that this equipment is situated in a tiny building in a remote village, about two hours from the nearest major city. Yep - you got it - a fully functioning internet kiosk in the middle of nowhere!

Now what's really cool is that this is part of a project that's being run out of IIT Madras, where the goal is to make these kiosks financially self-sustaining. That means the kiosk owner essentially buys into a franchise of sorts (about Rs 10,000) and then charges for usage according to preset rates. Take this woman, for instance, who runs this kiosk as part of a self-help group that has secured microfinancing from a nearby bank. After being put through a training course, she now serves as the accountant, computer expert, and technician for her little business. She makes about Rs 1000 per month; this is more than she used to earn as a field worker, and this job affords her the ability to keep an eye on her 1 year old daughter at the same time.

So for what do people use the system? Mostly the stuff that we (Americans) did when computers first came out -- games and tutorials (learning computer skills and English), as well as chat and some word processing. The latter category of online communication is limited to a small percentage of the population, however, because it's incredibly difficult to find an interface that allows users to type in their native languages; almost all keyboards in India are in English, and there's no easy method of transliteration.



Let's get something straight. My dad is cooler than your dad. I mean seriously, can *your* dad even weld, much less pull off a custom-painted, auto-darkening, self-recharging welding helmet?! I didn't think so.

So here's a happy birthday blog post to my pops, a man who commands respect for his intelligence, wit and kindheartedness, the man who has taught me the ins and outs of being a good human, and the man who has shown me that you can do pretty much anything with common sense, hard work and a few good power tools. :) Love you, Dad!



Whenever it hits me, I think I'll start posting a few rants & raves. A quick couple that are top-of-mind:RAVES:The Food: almost all of the meals I've eaten here have been outstanding. Growing up in Wyoming, I never acquired much of a taste for spicy food, in fact, I usually stayed away from it. Now I get disappointed when meals aren't spicy enough! It's funny -- everything I eat (besides bran cereal and powerbars) is spicy hot -- the breakfasts (upamaas and dosas and iddlies), lunches, dinners, even the snacks - Lays even makes special spicy versions of their chips called Chaat Street - will make your tastebuds snap to attention. :-)The People: man, are people friendly here. There is such a sense of hospitality and approachability, and everyone seems so sincere. There has not been a single time (yet?) that I've felt awkward or threatened in any way. It has made it very easy to feel really settled here.RANTS:Pollution: To be completely honest, the air here in Bangalore (far worse than most of India) is terrible; my eyes burn and my sinuses start to hurt if I spend too long near a crowded street. As I mentioned before, it always smells like theres a fire burning somewhere nearby. Something has got to be done.Everyone is angry at America for not signing the Kyoto Treaty to limit greenhouse gas production... but one of the main reasons for the refusal of the Bush administration is that the Kyoto Treaty puts no restrictions on developing nations -- particularly India and China. And I agree that is a death knell for the world. Technologies have come so far; there is NO reason, for example, that the thousands of rickshaws here should be running two-stroke engines. (Two stroke engines burn a mixture of oil and gas, making them constantly spew a toxic bluish smoke.) Developing countries need to be held to a correspondingly higher standard -- one that's correlated to both today's anti-pollution technologies & fuels and their current/projected contribution to world GDP per capita.Trash: There are practically no public trash cans to be found *anywhere* in this city, even in the most developed areas. So everyone is forced to litter. Every few days, women come along and sweep the trash into piles. Then the garbage trucks come and a whole crew of people pour out to pick up the trash *by hand* into baskets and load it onto the trucks. Or the piles get burned right there in the street. So much of this filth and energy could be spared by having a dispersed network of trash cans and dumpsters like we do in the US. Given that there are no real constraints to implementing this, I hold this to be a major shortcoming of the government here.Don't get me wrong, of course -- I've found it quite easy to adapt to everything here... I just think it's important to realize that it doesn't have to be this way as India plans its future.[...]



On the catwalk of the Blenders Pride Fashion Tour 2005.

The pics don’t even come close to doing it justice, but you can see the whole gallery
here, including a fun one of me with Malini Ramani – one of India’s top designers. I think we’ll really start seeing much more of the Indian-fusion styles come to Western markets – note that it would be exceptionally rare to see any of the racy outfits from the show on display in real life here in India itself…

For women, at least, India has some great fashion. The colors are brilliant, and there has been a lot of innovative design on even the traditional outfits. The sari – which is most readily recognized as that of a traditional Indian woman’s - is made of a short blouse and petticoat and six meters of fabric that’s
wrapped in an intricate way. Many of the women here (40%?) wear these on a daily basis. The fabrics come in amazing patterns, weaves, and colors – Bangalore is famous throughout India for its Mysore Silk – a gorgeous, lightweight soft weave that often includes intricate patterns made of real gold thread.

And some might remember the
dress-over-jeans look that was popularized by the New York fashionistas and Sex in the City… hello – have you seen a Salwar Kameez? Let’s give credit where credit is due!

Men and boys, on the other hand, almost exclusively wear slacks and button-up shirts everyday; aside from any reflections I pass by, I can go an entire weekend without seeing a pair of shorts or a t-shirt. I have seen really small children in shorts (part of their school uniforms), but that’s it. Note that it’s getting quite hot here now – 85-95 degrees F. I would think that the necessity to stay cool would have already outstripped the cultural norms of having to wear pants every day. I, for one, have long since given up trying not to look like an outsider… being white and 6’2” doesn’t afford me much of a disguise anyway. :-)




A warning to moms everywhere: you might want to skip this post :)

Yes, despite the most sincere attempts to dissuade me by both Sonia's mom and mine, I took a (short) ride on a motorcycle yesterday. Jagadish, Google's cleaning manager, and I had been talking for sometime about how he was finally going to get his bike (a
Bajaj Pulsar - slogan: "Definitely male. Fully loaded at all the right places."), after two-years of saving! This puppy retails for about Rs. 60,000 (US $1375) , with 150cc of pure power. He was stoked! He even bought special sweets for the occasion and handed them out to everyone at the office and guesthouse.

I met him at the office on Saturday afternoon, and he wheels it out in the sunshine... I have to say, it's a good looking bike. He fired it up and tells me to jump on the back... um, okay. I mean, motorcycles outnumber cars here probably 3 to 1 and very few people wear helmets, so odds are I'll be just fine, right? Right. Next thing I know, we're zipping down the middle of the road (very common to drive in the middle instead of your lane), and he asks, "You like crash driving?" Crash driving, as I already knew, is the common term for dodging in and out of traffic, which is the way everyone drives. Lanes are optional, signaling unheardof, and the thought of yielding to pedestrians is downright laughable. As long as you've got a good horn (this bike does -- it's as loud as a car's) and quick reflexes, you're set.

I don't think I'll be taking another ride soon, but I have to admit it was fun. I took a few small videos to try and capture the experience. Click on these links to view:

Note: if the videos are choppy, stop and replay after a second or two.

"You like crash driving?"
"So this is crash driving"
"Hello, bus!"
"Right at the Y... no, left!"
and a fun video of what it's like to
try and cross the street



So many things about this place will make you re-assess what you've heretofore perceived as normal... one eye-opener that has continued to surprise me is how comfortable men and boys are with their other male friends. It's nothing to see two grown men holding hands walking down the street, and teenage boys can often be seen with arms around necks, waists, or just walking together in really tight groups. Note that this is *completely* platonic and shouldn't be given a second thought. You would think that someone who's lived in San Francisco for the last five years wouldn't even be phased, but truthfully, I'm still working on it...

In particular, my trainer (hate that word... how about "the guy I pay to workout with me?") at the gym here frequently insists on taking me by the hand as he leads me from machine to machine. Now you have to believe me that this guy is the straightest arrow imaginable. He's 22, about a foot shorter than me, and he's a damn good spotter. But he does insist on straddling me and sitting on my stomach when I'm doing dumbell flys because it helps keep my form in line and makes it easier for him to help with those last few reps. No one else in the gym gives us a second glance, so I just roll with it.

I wonder if any of this has evolved because, traditionally, men aren't supposed to touch women in public... so this would fill that need for physical contact. Though nowadays, you'll see young couples holding hands at the movies and such. In any case, I'm really impressed with the lack of stigma around this -- let's hear it for brotherly love! Seriously -- at the very least, why should I be given to any awkwardness when hugging male friends hello/goodbye? As for holding hands, well... baby steps, people! :-)