Worker Efficiencies in India

By: sachilefever on April 6, 2006 - 1:20am

Worker Efficiencies in India Originally uploaded by sachilefever_twinf.

One of the obvious contrasts to India, here in Bangkok, seems to be the efficiency of least in larger businesses than a family run food stall. Yesterday we walked by two men laying down a pipe in a small ditch across a road and then cementing it over. Two hours later the job was complete. In India, it would have taken at least eight men and several days.

One example is when we arrived at the domestic airport in Delhi, there were, I counted them twice, 15 baggage handlers waiting for our plane of 120 passengers. I'm not sure what they all did. I wish we were allowed to take pictures of their airports.

On a similar flight with 11 baggage handlers loading the plane, I watched one guy throw a bag on the conveyor belt and press a button to watch the single bag ride alone to the top. Then he threw a second bag on...Five others were squatting in the baggage carts watching him do this until a supervisor came up and scolded them. The scene was very entertaining.

At each hotel reception desk, five people check in one reservation at a time. Each of the five seem to find a time to point at the paperwork and mumble something before the transaction is complete.

We passed a gas station in Delhi that had 3-4 uniformed attendants for each of the 4 gas pumps.

I'm not sure if it's a statement about the low cost of labor or inefficiencies of service or a motivation to employ as many people as possible in the country, but it seemed to be the way of doing business everywhere we went. Again, I qualify my statements by saying this doesn't apply to small entrepreneurial shops and stalls, which were almost too efficient, never giving you enough time to count your change.

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10 Reasons Street Hawkers are like Email Spam

By: leelefever on April 2, 2006 - 2:40am

One of the most striking things about being a westerner in India is the aggressiveness of tenacity of touts or hawkers - people who approach you on the street wanting to sell something or provide a service.
Indians are very enterprising and given many of their situations, it's no surprise that they really want to do business. Unfortunately their methods do more to repel business than attract it for people like me. The touts are a lot like email spam, or as Sachi says, pop-up windows. We call it "sidewalk spam".
First, they are selling something you don't want or need and never asked for.
Second, their message is indescriminate -we often hear offers to shine our shoes, which are usually sandals.
Third, they will not take "no" or "nahin" for an answer, ever.
Fourth, they are inexhaustable. Behind each tout is a line waiting (or not) for their turn.
Fifth, they do not speak English very well.
Sixth, the majority have hidden agendas and their only goal is to extract a maximum amount of money, even through dishonest means.
Seventh, responding in any way only encourages them. Showing a bit of interest causes a feeding frenzy.
Eighth, they interfere with the messages you want to hear. Well meaning individuals are often lost in the melee.
Ninth, it is a numbers game. Their MO seems to be tenacity and bombardment. Sending the message repetitively to 1000s of people is how to get one to bite.
Tenth and finally, they are learning quickly. Recently I saw two interesting products from the touts
- Foreign newspapers including USA Today
- SD memory cards

This is a vast improvement over faux wood carved elephants, postcards and bracelets.

Unfortunately, like email spam, the ignorant and naive folks make the sidewalk spam business model work. So, the message here is to do your part to fight sidewalk spam - ignore it completely and hope that it goes away.

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New Video Game Idea - Driving in India

By: leelefever on April 2, 2006 - 2:33am

The goal is to deliver passengers from one city to another, where the players tip (based on speed, # of accidents and near-miss bonuses) will be the measure of success.
It is a driving game with the most skillful players will use quick reaction times, the horn, the brake and some yelling out of the window to proceed and win.
Each course will be between two destinations in India and include likely scenarios from that route.
The driver will be tested in navigating the real obstacles on the streets of India. Some examples:
Animals will constantly appear in the road, including Brahma bulls, dogs, goats, camels, water buffalo, boars. Elephants and monkeys. Hitting a bull or cow in India kills the driver ends game play.
Since there are no sidewalks, people will constantly appear in the road and show little respect for a vehicle. Again, skillful use of the horn will ensure safe navigation through masses of pilgrams, farm workers, beggars and pedestrians.
The other vehicles on the road represent the most dangerous objects. Freight trucks, buses, rickshaws, motorcycles and bicycles appear constanly. The driver will have to contend with sudden stops, constant passing, vehicles going the wrong way on a one way street, aggressive merging and general unpredictability. Full concentration is required.
The road itself will change often. Large potholes, unmarked speed bumps, construction areas, sudden detours, and one way bridges are to be expected and navigated skillfully.
In some cases, the driver may have to make stops for the passengers to be sick, eat or take pictures. The driver may make extra money by picking extra passengers, but this reduces the tip amount. Answering stupid questions is optional.
Ultimately, it is a game of speed and survival in a place where rules of the road do not apply. It is every driver for himself and the one who finds the most creative and death defying way to safely deliver his passenger(s) to their destination wins and advances.
As an experienced driver in India once put it, "To be able to drive in India, you need 3 things: Good brake, good horn and good luck".

This game could be applied to several other destinations around the world.

Tech Report: Mobile Phone Networks in India and Sri Lanka

By: leelefever on April 2, 2006 - 2:18am

Dear normal readers, this is a post for folks interested in the geeky aspects of using mobile devices internationally. Please excuse the jargon and acronyms.

A big part of our trip is experimenting with mobile phones in each country. Specifically, we want to be able to post to the TwinF site using our Treo 650 Smartphone. When we arrive in a new country we get a new SIM card and a prepay account, which gives us a local phone number and a non-roaming connection to the local network.

It's likely no surprise that the world, what we've seen anyway, is mobile crazy. Surely one of the most pervasive products in any village is prepaid recharge cards. We've found that coverage is generally strong and there are multiple networks in nearly every location, including the high country of Sri Lanka. Below are our experiences in India and Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka:

Sri Lanka has GSM and CDMA is apparently "coming soon". The major networks are Mobitel and Dialog GSM on the bands of 900/1800 & 850/1900. Both GPRS and MMS are available. To get started with a new SIM card and 400 rupees of prepaid service costs about $20US. We could not get the Treo 650 to connect to GPRS, though it is supposed to be possible. If you have problems, you must go to a phone store in either Colombo or Kandy. My advice is to make sure you get the GPRS settings when you get the SIM card. It was frustrating and time consuming to try to get GPRS settings to work in Sri Lanka.


India is pretty advanced with mobile technology. They have both GSM and CDMA and the networks support both MMS and GPRS using the bands of 900/1800 & 850/1900. The major networks are Hutch and Airtel, with Airtel being the first and biggest. It costs about $15US to get started with a new SIM card and prepaid minutes. India has some of the cheapest phone rates in the world with calls costing less than $.02US per minute.

In India, note that if you travel across state lines, you may not recharge (top up) your prepay account with a voucher from a store- you must visit a phone store. This was the case with the Hutch Network. Also, I had to visit a Hutch store in order to get GPRS set up properly.

SMS is very popular in both India and Sri Lanka- and is the cheapest way to communciate. By providing our mobile number to the airline, we get flight status updates via SMS for free. One of the drawbacks of it is what I would call SMS spam from the networks who constantly send offers for new services and plans.

Anyone with an unlocked GSM phone should have no problem using a prepaid account in Sri Lanka or India.

Darjeeling in Pictures

By: leelefever on April 1, 2006 - 9:38pm

We had so many expectations about Darjeeling- a cool mountain town inhabited by Tibetan and Nepalese people with awesome scenery and even better tea.  Our expectations were partially fulfilled.

I was most looking forward to the scenery- the Mount Kanchenjunga
range of the Himalayas specifically.  In this respect, we were a bit disappointed. We did see it for a bit one morning, but for the rest of the time, the town was shrouded in a mist/fog, obscuring any view.  Apparently this is the norm except April/May and October/November.

We did enjoy the daily life aspects of the town. The people were very friendly and it was MUCH less of a hassle than Delhi or Mumbai. Here are some photos to tell the story.

One ofthe most famous things in Darjeeling is the "toy train" on the Darjeeling Himilayan Railway- a train that runs on a narrow gauge track (about 2 feet wide) that has been designated a World Heritage Monument by UNESCO. 

 There seemed to be school kids everywhere, all in their very neat uniforms, complete with vests, ties and even sport coats. Here are a couple of small ones on their way home.


 Tibetan prayer flags are also very pervasive in the area, being that Darjeeling has a high population of Tibetan refugees.  Here is Sachi at the monastary on Observation Hill.

We found the people od Darjeeling to be the most friendly and curious that we've met in India.  The Tibetans have a very soft and peaceful manner that is in sharp contrast to the touts in Dehli.  Here is a nice couple we met- though I'm not sure about their ethnicity.

India is filled with contrasts. The Lloyd Botanical Garden is one of the most beautiful, peaceful and quiet places in the town- a nice place to get away. Yet, each grove of trees is surrounded by rusty, tangled, barbed-wire.  The wire's don't even encircle- they just block. We were left wondering about the reasoning.

 We had experienced enough squalor inthe cities and hoped that Darjeeling would be different. It was less polluted, but unfortunately, still pretty sickening for us Seattleites. 


 But in the end, it was worth the trip to Darjeeling. I want to go back sometime in better health and do a multi-day trek into the woods.

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Updated: Coming Home (April Fools!)

By: leelefever on April 1, 2006 - 6:05am

Coming Home, originally uploaded by LeeLeFever_TwinF.

After dealing with so many issues in India, we need a break. We're headed home to Seattle in the morning to recharge for a while. Mark, don't tell Amos- we want it to be a surprise. :)

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Sunrise over Mount Kanchenjunga at Tiger Hill, Darjeeling

By: leelefever on March 31, 2006 - 4:02am

Tiger Hill is about 12km from Darjeeling and is a mecca for tourists visiting the mountains.  You have to get up at 4am to make it there in time for sunrise, over the Mount Kangchenjunga range.  As the sun appears, the mountain changes color in what is a pretty darn amazing sight.  It is the third highest mountain in the world and Everest is viewable in the distance.

Here are a few sequential panoramas from the event...

This one is of Darjeeling Town, outside of our window at the Dekeling Hotel, which we love for about $25 per night (off season). Notice the mysterious, view obscuring and ever-present haze.

Waiting It Out at the Darjeeling Roadblock

By: sachilefever on March 29, 2006 - 9:37pm

I am feeling better! Finally. It's been too many days - though not unexpected here. On our way up to this mountaintop town of Darjeeling, I had some time to recover a little from the rattling jeep ride (Lee mentioned the strike). The word was out that at 6:00 the road would be opened, so we waited it out below the road block on the side of the road with hundreds of others.

I'm getting used to all the stares and Indian men trying to bump into me all the time (bumpers up - I say). But yesterday one man who looked intent and unfriendly walked by our sitting Jeep a few times after Lee had gotten out to stretch his legs. The man stared the entire time. I had sunglasses on and ignored him. He walked to the front of the jeep obviously looking for the driver, then into a storefront door to find him, all the while making sure I was still there. Then he began talking to the timid teenager in the front seat that spoke almost no English. He was obviously asking about me - the kid kept saying I don't know - I don't know. I made sure my door was locked and then Lee leaned in on his door. "He's asking about me." I said. Lee looked over at him across the Jeep and scowled and shook his head saying NO. The man shook his head back and walked away from the vehicle. Yay Lee! I was in no shape to deal with that situation. If the driver had been around, I'm sure he would have told me to get out of the jeep and at least take a picture with the guy - and he would have tried to receive a pretty rupee from it. Not that I would do it.

I was never in any danger or felt unsafe at any time. It was just the ridiculousness of the situation and my low tolerance of it feeling so ill. We laughed about it for a while afterwards. When you feel healthy you have so much more confidence to be assertive and handle any situation that may arise. I think I might just climb a small mountain today!

India's Golden Triangle in Panoramas

By: leelefever on March 27, 2006 - 1:59am

Quickly, as there are a throng of Indian men look over my should at the moment, here are the major sights in the Golden Triangle, in panoramas.

First, the Taj Mahal...

Next is the Fatehpur Sikri

And the Amber Fort in Jaipur

And what the hell, another from the Taj...

Seeing the Taj Mahal was like meeting a movie star that you had only seen on the screen and was more impressive than you could imagine.


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Photos from India's Golden Triangle

By: leelefever on March 27, 2006 - 1:46am

The sights in the Golden Triangle really are impressive, especially architecturally. Most are buildings build in the last 1000 years which are impressively preserved. You can find pictures of the sights anywhere, so I hope these are a little different...

 This is at the Red Fort in Dehli.  All the women dress very nice to see the sights and we were constantly impressed by the saris. So colorful..


This shot is from a marble carved window at the Amber Fort in Jaipur...

This "Water Palace" wasn't in the water orginally...

Catta Chown is one of Delhi's main drags and is amazing;y busy- always.

Symetry at the Red Fort.  The Indians were big on symetry...

This is the incredibly crowded Jaipur from above in the Tiger Fort:

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