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July 29, 2011

Well I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the corruption in India in at least one of my blog posts.  Today is the appropriate choice because of what has happened in Karnataka(the state where I am living) just this past week.  The story, here, in brief is that the chief minister of Karnataka has been implicated in a scandal where he and a few others stole about $3.9 billion dollars that was supposed to go to the government from mining revenues.  The reason it has been an especially big scandal is because the chief minister is from the BJP party (maybe my next post will deal with parties).  The BJP party has been criticizing the Congress Party(the party in power) for corruption and then here they are with a major corruption scandal, uh oh!

Unfortunately, corruption is pretty widespread in India.  Fortunately, I have not personally been a part of any corruption(that I know of).  Everyone talks about it though.  There is a site, here, where people can upload their bribe stories, etc, as you saw with the story above it is a huge political point, but it also affects the infrastructure(as in the less than adequate roads), tax collection, licensing for businesses, and then overall lack of respect for the rule of law.  People know they can get out of any petty crime (like littering, speeding, etc) either because they know someone higher up in the gov. or because they can pay.  There are organizations that are attempting to fight back…but most of those are governmental organizations or are set up by the government and hence have a conflict of interest.  Corruption is a hard thing to fight back against, but some people in India are trying.  In Gujarat (a state in Northern India) the chief minister is a man named Narendra Modi who all the people(here in South India) will tell you is the least corrupt person in government.  He has done wonders for Gujarat(in infrastructure, tax codes, corruption, and prohibition–i don’t know if i agree with that one), and even though he was partly responsible for the riots that killed hundreds of Muslims, the Muslims even respect him now.  Even he is not exempt from corruption according to some.

Fighting against corruption is extremely difficult, especially when the people(who are being hurt by corruption) are attempting to fight those that have the most power and money in India.  The thing that I do not understand is that even though all Indians will acknowledge that their government is corrupt and is hurting them, they all still want more government.  Many that I’ve talked to think the government should give more subsidies to developing industries, should nationalize things like mines or oil wells, in addition to providing them with national defense, police, courts, and infrastructure.  I just can’t get why when the government has mismanaged everything they touch, the people want them to touch more instead of going out on your own and doing it yourself like this city(this is a very interesting article about lack of government in this city), Gurgaon, in India.

Anyways, India functions, but could function so much better.  It reminds me of Atlas Shrugged where the looters(gov’t) keep making it harder for those who are productive to produce.  How much can India take and still grow at 8% a year?  Without the looters(gov’t) how fast would India be growing, how fast could they grow if they had the infrastructure of the US, if they didn’t have to bribe officials for licenses, if they had the rule of law and knew that all their contracts would be backed up–many South Indians don’t want to make deals with North Indians for just that reason.  India is great and improving a lot, but they are getting handicapped from their government instead of getting a helping hand.

In other news: I’m sorry I haven’t been doing daily posts, I’ve been a bit busy trying to ready up final reports and a final presentation to give to the big wigs here.



Almost to Bangalore

July 27, 2011

So to add to my traveling, yesterday I traveled about 7 1/2 hours to meet three more charcoal manufacturers.  We still haven’t found what we’re looking for, but I did get to see some beautiful views on the way.

We left Mangalore around 5:30 in the morning and made it to about 100 km from Bangalore, so I may not see Bangalore while I’m here-oh well.  On the way we went up a mountainous area called Agumbe(I think that’s how it’s spelled) where we had some great picturesque views and some got to see some monkeys!  Then we also went through an area almost covered by farmland–there was sugarcane, sunflowers, coffee beans, mango trees, rice, and coconut trees of course.  Unfortunately, we also had the drive back so we didn’t reach Mangalore until around 2am and I am still very tired.  Sorry for getting out of the normality of daily blog posts and odd timings, it’s just been crazy around here! and only a week left!


July 25, 2011

Well this weekend Amanda and I visited Goa.  We left Thursday night on an all-nighter bus and returned this morning again on the bus around 7 o’clock.  It was quite a weekend and I guess I’ll just highlight some of the things we got to see.  But first a brief description of Goa:

Goa is the smallest state in India, but is also the wealthiest in per capita GDP.  This is because it has a huge tourism industry, meaning it takes in a lot of money and there aren’t that many locals counted in the census.  The main road where we had our hotel also had about 15 other hotels in the span of 2 miles.  Unfortunately, or fortunately in some aspects we were not there in the peak season, meaning a lot less people, but also many stores were closed and the beaches were muddy from the rain, etc.  There was still plenty to see though as Goa has a very rich history as it was first a Portuguese colony before the Goans reclaimed their independence.  The effects of that are still seen in many of their food items and other historical sites.

Where we went:

Churches:  SE cathedral, Basilica of Bom Jesus–which houses the remains of St. Francis Xavier(who cofounded the Jesuits), and Church of St. Francis of Assisi.  All these churches are extremely beautiful on the outside and inside.  They have huge altars, sometimes more than 1 and ribbed vaulting.  The real amazing thing about these churches/cathedrals though is how close they are to each other.  They are all within about 250 feet from each other and all were built within about 100 years of each other so it’s not like they were expanding or one had burned down or anything.  Anyways, I haven’t really looked into why they were built so close together, I’m sure there’s a good explanation.  I was just happy I didn’t have to walk very far.

Temples:  I’m sorry, but I couldn’t pronounce the names of the Temples, therefore I cannot now remember how to spell them.  Regardless, we went to three or four temples and it is just much harder to appreciate them.  Their main draw usually is the idol of the god inside the temple and it is extremely hard to get a good view of it.  In addition there was one temple that didn’t even let foreigners inside, so needless to say we had less success with the temples.

Beaches: The beaches were just ok.  We visited two: Baga beach and Calangute beach and both were not crowded at all by Indian standards, but I would say it was about how many people would be on the beach at Myrtle in Summer.  All parts of the beach were marked with red flags–meaning you can’t swim anywhere, and everywhere you turned there were people attempting to sell you jewelry or a tattoo.  The great part about the beaches is that they are lined with restaurants where you can sit and enjoy the view and get some food.

Other:  We went to a spice plantation and had a tour and lunch.  The lunch was a pretty standard thali, which is the same thing we have in the canteen every day.  Then we had the tour which was pretty short, but informative (for me since I know nothing about spices).  Really it was just a pretty place to relax for a while–it had the look of a tropical rainforest.  We also went to these old portugese battlements and lighthouse which had great views.  I don’t know what they were called, but we were very grateful to our taxi driver for taking us there.

The last thing I want to mention are the two most prevalent things in Goa.  Crosses and Kingfisher(the Indian beer) signs.  The crosses were painted on some buildings, some were on churches (which there were a lot more in Goa than I mentioned), and some were statue-type monuments.  The Kingfisher signs were on billboards, painted on stores, and on the bottles of Kingfisher that were littered everywhere.  I just felt I had to mention that juxtaposition.



July 21, 2011

One of the most interesting things about India is their language and so I want to educate you about its importance and implications if I can with my still limited knowledge.

One of the reasons I felt comfortable coming to India was because I would be able to converse in English.  Only about 12% of Indians speak English, but that puts them as the second largest English speaking population in the world.  English is the second official language of India and is universally really the language of business, so I have had no problems whatsoever at work.  I have had a few problems outside of work, such as when getting an auto rickshaw(taxi) and not being able to communicate the name of the place I want to go (hand signals and pointing are very useful though).

The first official language of India is Hindi.  It is the most widely known language and virtually everyone in North India can speak it, but according to some estimates only about 25% can speak it in the South, which is why English is still one of the official languages (it was supposed to be an official language for only fifteen years after India’s independence).  I don’t think English will be going away very soon, it is one of the main reasons for India’s booming economy.  When you think about Indian businesses, you think IT and call centers.  Well, the call centers were made possible only because of India’s English speaking ability, and now so many businesses are integrated with Indian ones that speaking English really is a top priority if you want to go far in Indian business.  However, there are those, especially the yogis and babas, who feel the English language is a legacy of colonialism and that it may “Americanize” Indians and therefore possibly lose their own culture.

India also has a few other languages:  according to the 2001 census India has 29 languages spoken by more than a million native speakers and 122 by more than 10,000–that’s a lot and to me thinking about the US and Spanish or other countries, like the Baltics, I would think it would be an extremely divisive characteristic and sometimes it is.  The people of Tamil Nadu (a state I visited actually) attempted independence, but the movement wasn’t widespread.   On India’s currency there are 17 of the 22 languages are listed, a picture is below showing the official languages(English and Hindi) on the front saying it’s legal tender, and on the back left are the other 15 accepted regional languages.  

Why is having all these languages not a divisive influence?

I think the first reason is that most are determined from a single source–Sanskrit.  It is very similar to Latin in that many languages are derived from it, it is basically a dead language, and the holy book (The Vedas) is written in it.  So while there may be hundreds of different languages, they really are close to each other and even overlap with the same words sometimes, but not enough to be a unifying language.

The second reason is every Indian knows 2 or 3 or 6 or 10 languages.  RR, the person who takes me to work is a classic example.  He speaks Hindi, English, Kannada( the state language of Karnataka), Tulu, Tamil, another language from his village that I can’t remember, and Arabic (which is more unusual, but he lived over there for a year or two).  Knowing that many languages is extremely common and most feel that it is important and that the many languages are part of the cultural heritage of India.

The last thing is that it may be divisive, even though most Indians will tell you it is not.  One thing I’ve learned here is that many have a culture of elitism.  They feel they know how to do things best, and take offense if you mention otherwise.  This permeates within their state and within their language.  They believe whatever language they speak is the purest, or sweetest, or simply best.  There especially is a division between North and South, i.e. because the universal language in the North is Hindi, and in the South is English.  This affects business deals between North and South, traveling between North and South, and idea transfers.  Anyways, just a few thoughts, mainly that language is very important.

A picture!

July 20, 2011

Amanda and I at Kateel temple

Planes, trains, and automobiles

July 20, 2011

Riding on a train allowed me to see a part of India that I never would have otherwise.  I mean this in terms of location, but also of the transportation system itself and the people that use it.

So first outside of the train: yes I saw some great scenery.  The train at many points was right by the coast of India so I could see the beaches and the tributaries that fed the sea.  Also, the states that I went through:  Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu are the three largest coconut producing states in India.  This means there were lots of coconut trees.  In Kerala the trees were very unorganized and they would be planted every which way and mostly were in people’s back yards.  In Tamil Nadu, there were coconut plantations, meaning all of the coconut trees were spaced evenly and were very close together.  I was also able to see the whole range of houses in India.  There were what looked to be colonial type houses—painted white, sometimes with some columns—and then there were houses that were made entirely of dried coconut leaves and palm fronds, even the roof—and then there were the more normal house of cement with the typical red tile roof.

Inside the train we were in the AC three tier car.  There are at least six different types of cars: AC/non AC three tier sleeper, AC/non AC two tier sleeper, AC first class which is bus seating, non AC second class which is bus seating.  The train has no closed compartments; the whole car is open.  In each compartment there would be six bunks, two tier would have four, all about 6 feet by 3 feet with about 4 feet in between the right side and left side bunks.  It was a little tight, but it was manageable.

The most interesting parts though were the stations.  Every station was extremely crowded with people from all walks of life.  There were the beggars who were carrying their babies and asking for money.  There were the yogi-type villagers who wore the traditional dress and brought only a laundry bag of luggage and sat down Indian style on the cement.  There were the businessmen whose ears were glued to their cell phones—and they talked as loud as Americans, quite a feat.  There were also Indian tourists who brought twice the luggage I did to India.  There were Hindus, Muslims, and Christians—though it is hardest to tell who is Christian.  All these people were catered to by a hundred little stores offering American like snacks like popcorn, Lays original potato chips, and cokes or the Indian snacks of ground nuts, Lays masala chips, and fruit and fruit juices.  There were also places selling tea, coffee, or just warm milk.  For a dinner they had plenty of biryanis, my favorite.

I have to temper all this because I think the transportation system is one of the things holding India back.  As I’ve told you before the roads are crazy, but also not very wide in most places and usually full of potholes.  The top speed they reach on their highway is around 45mph.  The train is about the same speed. They have no high speed rails and the express trains only go marginally higher.  The transportation costs within India are extremely high in terms of time and money, which has hindered growth in many of the cities not near ports.  That’s why on the business trip we went almost exclusively to port cities—that’s where all the manufacturing is also.  So to develop India has to continue to develop infrastructure-something they are not doing so well at right now.  Anyways, the trip on train was delightful and insightful and I hope my retelling has been so as well.

Some more books

July 19, 2011

Dexter in the Dark, Dexter by Design, Dexter is Delicious- Jeff Lindsay:  Most of you know how I can get into a series or author and want to read it all, well that’s what happened with the Dexter.  They are very exciting, interesting, and also very clever.  Even though it is about a serial killer, you relate and pull for Dexter.  They were good and shorter than the Larsson books I’ll talk about next.

Love Wins- Rob Bell: I can’t say enough about this book.  It’s only about a hundred pages, but in it Bell challenges many things about the contemporary Christian faith especially as regards Heaven and Hell and what role we have in this world.  Even if you don’t accept all that he says, he makes you think long and hard about what you do believe and sometimes you just find yourself nodding in accordance with him.  I thought it was exceptional and I really recommend it.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo-Steig Larsson: There is a ton of hype over these books, but I really thought this one was just ok.  The first hundred or so pages go extremely slow and after that I still thought it was a bit slower than a Ludlum.  What added to my distaste were the sexual preferences of the major characters-it was unneeded and I thought detracted from the book.

The Girl who Played with Fire-Steig Larsson:  This second book in the Millennium series was much better and much more entertaining since we didn’t have to get reintroduced to all the characters, which was a reason the first was so slow at the beginning.  Right now I think the end was a little too farfetched, but I’m guessing it was necessary for the final book, I’ll refrain from too much judgment.

Adventure Capitalist- Jim Rogers:  Jim Rogers is an investor who made a ton of money for the Quantum Fund with Soros then got out.  He traveled around the world in a motorcycle investing and wrote a book about it.  This is his second trip around the world, in a car with his wife this time, and does a great job of telling a few little stories or tidbits about each country he passes through—is great to learn a little bit about those countries you may never go to in the Middle East or Africa or even somewhere like Iceland, he also mentions a few tidbits about investing.

Outliers- Malcolm Gladwell:  I don’t know whether it’s because this book is old now or what, but I had basically heard all of his arguments before in other books I’ve read, etc.  He definitely proves his premise which is that a person has to be more than good to get to the top—meaning they also need luck or to be in the right place.  It was decent, not earth shattering, I’d recommend Blink or Tipping Point before this one.

Beloved- Toni Morrison:  Was one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read.  While I think the author did exactly what she set out to do and did it well, I just didn’t find it that appealing.  It definitely has a lot of symbolism, (I went ahead and read all the analysis on sparknotes to make sure I didn’t miss anything), it just didn’t have anything redeeming in it.  It was also sometimes very hard to read because of stream of consciousness and some graphic images.  Won the Pulitzer prize though.