Friday, March 23, 2007

Mumbai Misadventures



Disclaimer- Absolutely do not read if you are INDIAN. I have no intention of pissing off all 1 billion of you.

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I've always been intrigued by India ever since I read Thomas Friedman's popular take on globalization- "The World is Flat". Basically, the whole book preaches that because of technology and the fast commodization of many of today's products, countries like India and China are poised to take away most of the world's jobs and production... In other words, the whole book was more than hinting that very soon, all manufacturable products will be made in China, and all IT related products will be done in India.

The way he described it, India was a country of a billion knowledge workers who pound-for-pound are superior to many inhabitants of First-World countries. (He actually does go on and on about how Americans are getting too lax and defocusing on science and technology). He also glosses about how the infrastructure in India can match many of Silicon Valley's own technology centers. Because of this, he argues, India should be the first country of choice in any IT outsourcing initiative.

Of course it didnt help that during this time, I was passionate about how the Philippines is actually a leading candidate in this sector and that Thomas Friedman gave only little mention of our country...

So when I first heard there was a possibility of going to India for a business trip, I just took it. Never mind everyone's warning that Mumbai was such a backwater hellhole with 70's style taxis running amuck and cows shitting with impunity in the streets. Nope, it wasnt mentioned in Friedman's book. Sorry folks, I just wanted to see it with my own two eyes.

Damn. Nothing prepared me for what I was going to go thru.

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Mumbai, the city formerly known as Bombay, is the financial capital of India with a population of around 13 million. The first thing you would notice is that its damn hard to book a room in a decent hotel. The next thing you notice is that these decent hotels charge an exorbitantly indecent rate- roughly $200-$300 a night for a single room! This is Mumbai, a third world country... not Paris!

Actually I asked around after. Apparently, because the power infrastructure in the city is so bad, building owners have coped by limiting the number of floors in each building so that they wont have too many issues with failing elevators. So then it became supply and demand-> short hotels lead to lower capacity, and since a TON of foreign investors drop by on a regular basis, lower capacity means the hotels can charge more for each night and these guys would have no choice but to suck up the extra cost.

Anyway...

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I was introduced to Indian-style traffic at on my first night. I thought traffic in Manila was bad... but nothing, absolutely nothing prepared me for the traffic here.

After being picked up from the airport by the hotel car, we slowly made our way to the hotel, which was quite far from the airport.

The whole time I was on heightened alert! Each road was either a dark sidestreet or a 2-lane main road. The dark sidestreets were a perfect setting for any kidnapping/carnapping operation, while the mainroads were in absolute chaos with pedestrians crossing the street (who for some reason DO NOT look at the incoming cars), auto-rickshaws (or Tuktuks if you've been to Bangkok), 70's style taxis (more on this later!), tons and tons of motorcycles, mega potholes and finally, cows that just really felt they were gods.

Oh and did I mention that the drivers there DO NOT step on the brakes. They just keep their horns blaring at full blast. All the time.

Within 30 minutes of driving that way (the hotel was actually 1 hour away from the airport), i guess it inevitable that we just had to smash into a motorcycle! One actually got too close and our driver, keeping a straight path just mowed into this little obstacle...

Lets pause for a bit. Here in Manila, whenever something like that happens, both drivers would be fighting in the middle of the street waiting for the police to stop them, unheedful of the growing traffic and the angry mob of drivers right behind them... Well, at least if both are full blooded testosterone-high males.

If there are beautiful females involved, the male would graciously pull over to one side to allow traffic to resume normally (and try to get their numbers). Of course, traffic will still continue because all passing vehicles will slow down to check out the hapless female. But i digress...

Anyway, continuing my story... The motorcyclist picked himself up, then drove at full speed towards the hotel car. Here's how it happened... All while driving at full speed (relatively) and without pressing any brakes.

Note as well that its RIGHT hand drive in India...

Soloflite's thought bubble: Oh shit, here it comes!

Motorcyclist: Rides along the LEFT side of the vehicle. Gives the evil eye to the hotel driver

Hotel Driver: Looks to his left side. Complete 90 degree head turn. Gives the Evil eye right back to the Motorcyclist.

Soloflite's thought bubble: The road, driver, the road! Why are you not slowing down?!

Motorcyclist: Narrowly avoids and incoming car. Gives the evil eye back to the hotel driver.
Hotel Driver: Hits a pothole but doesnt even slow down. Gives the evil eye back to the Motorcyclist.

Soloflite's thought bubble: WTF is happening?! Suddenly notices that ALL the other cars have dents... (Cheesy Horror music suddenly plays in the background)

Motorcyclist: Avoids ANOTHER incoming car AND two pedestrians. Gives the evil eye back to the hotel driver.

Hotel Driver: Gives the evil eye back to the Motorcyclist. Still does not look at the road. Which is actually an intersection. He beats a red light AND almost gets sideswiped.

Soloflite's thought bubble: "Inquirer headline: Pinoy killed in India traffic accident." and "Mumbai Daily footnote story: One down, a billion to go."

Motorcyclist: Obviously realizes hotel car isnt going to stop anytime soon. Gives the evil eye back to the hotel driver and veers off in another direction.

Hotel Driver: Tries to give the evil eye back towards the Motorcyclist. But he isnt there. Looks to the front again and blares his horns at another lunatic on the road.

Normalcy returns.

So there. The entire thing lasted less than two minutes, but was enough for me to suddenly miss the traffic back in Manila. (And for days after that whenever someone told me "Shit, ang traffic!" I would smugly reply... "Nope. You havent seen REAL traffic yet.")

I wonder how insurance is doing in that country.

(To be continued)

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3 comments:

Alina said...

wow, isn't this a complete raise from the dead :) Glad to see you back, Solo! As for prices, yes, that happens. And the relative lack of elasticity for business travel and you get prices going sky high. Sorry you had such a rough time. Though I am sure there was an enjoyable side to all of this :)

solo flite said...

Haha quite an experience! :)

bayi said...

Your picturesque description is just perfect. I have a friend in the telco industry who has to go to Mumbai on a regular basis and he is now quite numbed to all that you have described! In fact has has an issue with the way Indians do business. Promises may not mean anything much. Did you have a similar experience?