Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Homestay at Siddhant's

Day two in Chandigarh and I feel well adjusted to my immediate surroundings.

Mansi and her faher, local AIESEC member and proud parent, picked me up from the Airport with flowers and a smile.  This was so comforting to have stepping off the plane into the 35 degree sun and just following a 30 hour trip.  They dropped me off with Siddhant Choudary, LCP of AIESEC Chandigarh, and a couple members of the executive team.

What should you do after all this travel?  Go to see Kung Fu Panda 2 of course.  I enjoyed the action filled fictional-computer animated tail of saving Kung Fu.  And by the way, not only was the theater crazy comfortable, it was also crazy inexpensive compared to the cash we shell out for cinema experiences in Canada!  Also, noticed that you do indeed need buckets of water and fire extinguishers inside a theater (which confirms my childhood fear of the screen catching fire.)  Glad somebody acknowledges this.

For the homestay, I was shown tremendous hospitality from Siddhant and his family.  I delicious meal of roti, dal and Eggs and Peas helped me sleep easy on my first night in India.  A cool air-conditioned room helped me get a great first night sleep and avoid a major jet lagged second day.  Siddhant and I chatted for a while, watched a couple episodes of Big Bang Theory and surfed the internet completing our LCP responsibilities (late into the evening of course).

We were up bright and early the next day, where I helped prepare a breakfast of roti, while Siddhant's cousin brought us lady-fingers (similar to green beens) and curd (simple yoghurt).  All set for the day and quickly adjusted to my immediate surroundings, I was off to meet the Principal of St. Soldier's Divine Public School.

Will Add more pictures to this entry when I find high speed internet at the AIESEC office.

Monday, May 30, 2011

JFDI Check-Point – Glocalization, the Blurst of Times

Okay, the first officially completed JFDI item is........

“Order the most interesting thing from McDonald’s”

Winner – The Chicken Maharaja Mac!  Follow up recognition to – The Spicy Chicken Paneer.

The “Maharaja Mac” finds itself at the intersection of globalization and local influence, negotiating a cultural identity relevant to foreign travellers and Indian citizens.  Or McDonald’s is just following the universal formula of sugar + fat = hungry desire of those young in age and pre-maturely old at heart, but nonetheless, check it off my list.

On one hand, I can count the number of times I have been to McDonald’s this year, most with Trevor Rauhaula, so this was technically a step outside my “comfort zone”.  The only way I eat McDonald’s again on this trip is I find a menu item so shockingly interesting it demands consumption.

Over three months I sincerely hope to discover, taste and learn to share homemade dishes, unique street meats, and unbelievable restaurants.  India, my palette has touched rock bottom of bastardized imitation food, show me the path to reawaken these taste buds with your true culinary experience. 


What’s the first thing you look for in a new and foreign place? 

I somehow found myself migrating to a bright and open North American style food court while I await my flight.  I find it to be surprisingly peaceful and familiar.  Definitely enjoying the available options:
Calories? Exactly what I was looking for!
  • 4Fingers Crispy Chicken – The “High Street Brooklyn Bridge” of Chicken vendors.  They have wings, thighs, wraps and thumbs.  Ah, and they make your food as you sit, and ring a cow bell for you when it is done.  
  • Subway – Remarkably identical, save for the Aloo Patty, Chicken Tandoori, and Chicken Tikka. Oh, and a 6 inch is only Rs. 140, (less than $3)
  • Baskin Robbins – Repping the cartoon-style ice-cream niche.
  • Dilli Chaat – I prefer pickles as food, not subject matter
  • Simply Dakshin – Simply Delicious appearing
  • Moti Mahal Delux – Passion for Tandoor
  • Calories – This is the actual name of a snack stand
  • Yo! China – Do you really have the capacity for a billion responses?
  • And McDonald’s – Which I will visit if something “interesting” appears on the Menu.
All was quiet in the Terminals
Oh, and I got my first good deal – Universal travel adaptor for Rs. 149, the same price as the sub.

Also, just on a note of first impressions.  The Delhi Airport was very neat and tidy, and I may have been there during the quietest time ever.  Got a chance to just relax and enjoy a little bit of mental catch-up time today as I waited for the 2:30 flight to Chandigarh.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Indian Soil! A Hat-trick Landing Day

I landed safely in Delhi! and I promise to have actually read about 200 pages of the culture shock books on the flight.  I read slowly... so how did I get so much extra time to read? 

Fact: If you leave Canada on Saturday and hope to land on Monday, your plane will almost run out of fuel, arrive 6 hours delayed, land at a different airport, you will learn what 300 above temperature passengers smell like while sitting on the runway, and love every minute of it.     

Let me quote Gitanjali Kolanad's "Culture Shock, A Guide to Customs and Etiquette." 

"If you want to plan your trip around auspicious days, my book tells me that in general, Mondays and Saturdays are inauspicious for journeys to the east."

Just as we are 1 hour from the Delhi airport, I notice on the map screen that our plane is going in little circles.  Literally looked like the end of a yo-yo.  Then we start heading due south for Ahmedabad.  Equivalent to saying you will land in Washington but instead go to Chicago.  No explanation from the captain.  We land, refuel, wait, wait, wait, move a little, wait, and take off.

I love that my first blatant lesson in India is to appreciate that nothing runs on your schedule, so slow down and enjoy the ride. The moment yields more than the future.

50 Square feet of Paradise
Since the flight landed at 4:30 am rather than 10:30 pm, and my next flight to Chandigarh is at 2:30 pm, I scrapped the idea of staying at Anoopa Hotel in Delhi for 700 Rupees (+500 to 1000 more in taxi fare) and got the hotel nap and shower deal.  3 hours for 2000 Rupees, yeah its a rip off and a total cop out from actually stepping into the delhi heat, but at least I have a bed, wifi, and a good shower for the next couple hours.  And it was right in the arrivals area.  Delhi, I will be back to explore you later.

Looking back, I kind of wish I was taking the bus to Chandigarh, oh well, King Fisher Airlines gets to serve me a up a cold one.

Courtney, I wish you the best on your Yoga instruction/retreat, thank you for the insight and sharing the humour of the delays, hope your daughter doesn't miss you too much.  Sikh man who didn't speak English and double fisted bottles of wine all plane ride, thank you for your ramblings, on the way back I may understand at least one word.  And LC Laurier, thank you for the epic JFDI list, my first Hindu words are Namaste and namaskar (I pay my respects to you, and response), expect pictures soon :).

Last part: Recommended reading - "Culture Shock" by Gitanjali Kolanad, "Child of Dawn" by Deepak Chopsa, and most definitely "The Holy Cow and other Indian Stories" by Tarun Chopra.  That last one is just a great context builder.

Land Three times in India in one day!  What a lucky guy.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Where was the Trademark Lawyer when VISA came along?

A Mental Hurdle overcome-ith
This is a slightly longer post, but contains the information about my visa application.

One hurdle I remember mentally jumping a few years ago was understanding the visa process.  This is my second time going through an application for a visa and I must say it has been smooth; wisdom and experience now grace me.  But in the first application process, I spent about a month trying to figure out who let a credit card company run immigration and foreign travel.  Could they have not chosen a different name?  What trademark lawyer was asleep when this happened!  There should have at least been an asterix beside the "A" indicating that you have in fact applied for a credit card, and not foreign entry permits.  I guess we can thank them for making their name all capital letters, for that pardons the confusion.  Anyways, having figured this visa-VISA distinction out the first time, I was completely happy with the whole process this time.

India visa cost: $145 including tax and processing. 
Processing Time: Just over a week
Centre Used: http://in.vfsglobal.ca/ which has many locations.  I used the one in Toronto.  If I am not mistaken, this is a third party service to help out the http://www.cgitoronto.ca/
Total Time Spent: Wait time for submitting application, about an hour.  Wait time for pick up a week later, about 10 minutes. 

My Front Walkway in France
In 2006 I moved to France for 6 months to snowboard and bartend in Morzine-Avoriaz, which required an extensive application.  Formal letters to the consulate (translated of course) a multiple page application, background papers from my insurance, medical, bank accounts etc.  The first time around it takes a while to track these things down.  I was applying for the Working Holiday program, which granted employment priveledges while travelling without the formal offer before arrival.  I tried mailing in the application, which was rejected due to some box not filled out, or some area not specified. Learned the lesson that you always need to go in person! 

You always need to go in person to apply for a visa.  One minute spent handling an objection in person saves 1 month of shipping and handling.  Trust me.  Needless to say, got the visa, made the trip, loved it, more stories about that if requested.

Now, the India visa process was fantastic.  I give credite to VFS Global for running a pretty tight operation (no I didn't fill out the feedback form, but now sleep better at night knowing I gave this little shout out).  My only hurdle was figuring out exactly which visa to apply to.  Because my internship is 2.5 months, pays very little (relative to a North American wage) and done in a public school, I didn't see the perfect fit in any category.  Business visa was more commerce related (Management or Technical Traineeships) and student visa was more study related, so I decided to call. 

Told them I was doing an AIESEC internship, paid, for 2.5 months at a school.  They said to apply as though it was a student visa.  The visa clerk was not having it.  She told me it didn't count as a school visa, didn't count at as business visa.  I had the acceptance form from the school, and the Chandigarh AIESEC committee, but didn't have a copy of my acceptance note for the internship from AIESEC Laurier.  She said if I brought back my signed acceptance, she would put it through. Now I am at the visa office, missing one sheet.  I had an email of the acceptance letter.  What to do?

If you can't come up with innovative solutions to unexpected problems, life will be tough for you.  There was a public library nearby, a future shop and a car dealership.  Which one to choose?  I had about 30 minutes to print my note and get back to the visa consulate before they stopped accepting applications for the day.  Well, I walked into future shop and went to the customer service desk. 

Me: "I have a tricky problem and was hoping you could step up to the plate with a creative solution." (haha, those guys eat this up.  So much better than the hundred "My tv is broken and I want a refund" comments they get everyday)

Customer Service Rep: "Go on...

Me: "Just got this new smart phone and haven't figured out how to print from my phone's email account"

Customer Service Rep: "Oh for sure, I'll bring you to our tech guys and they can help you sort this out"

2 minutes and a couple thank you's later, printed Acceptance Note.   Boom. 

To wrap things up, went back to the visa office and paid the $145 and waited a week. Technically, I paid for a 1 time entry visa, but the sticker on my passport indicates the name of the school I am working for and the duration of the internship.  So I don't plan on getting deported and do plan to legally fulfill my internship duties.

The indian visa application is only one double sided page (unless you are from Pakistan), and some simple supporting documents.  And that's my visa story.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Some say Why?

A few months ago I told my friends and family that I was going to go to India for a summer internship and a common question was "Why would you go and do that?"

I knew the answer in my mind (because I want to) but hadn't figured out how to say it back then.  After answering the question a few dozen times, here is my best response:

Learnhub.com, very proud of them
I spent an entire summer as the Business Development Coordinator at LearnHub.  I loved the company, the people and the job itself.  I spent the summer building websites focused towards recruiting qualified candidates from India to go to school abroad.  For 17 weeks, 45 hours a week, I created creative content for people on the otherside of the world.

Then one day, I realized that I had spent more time talking about people than I had spent talking to them.  I had no real cultural concept of India, other than Butter Chicken, my old roomate Vinay, and Russell Peters.  At that moment I decided I would go work in India, spend a summer learning a completely foreign perspective, and meeting as many people as I could on the other side of the world.

So out of 107 countries to choose an AIESEC internship, I had already made up my mind.  The words of my manager and mentor from LearnHub helped me fully decide.  She said something along the lines of, "There are many countries you can explore, many you can visit, but at this time of your life, you must become versed in India.  Economically speaking, they will be the most influential country of your future."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Would you pay $500 to avoid Insanity?

Well I sure do enjoy the pharmacists!  3 months of Malaria pills yield two options for me:
  1.  Malrone: 1 pill per day, minor side effects including upset stomach and vivid dreams.  One major side effect, empty pockets.  For 110 days, Malrone costs $600!  That is more than I pay for 1 months rent in Canada, or 4 months rent in Chandigarh.
  2. Mefloquine: 1 pill per week, minor side effects including upset stomach and vivid dreams.  One major side effect, possible insanity.  For 20 weeks, Mefloquine costs $95.  

Since both lead to vivid dreams I am excited.  Who even knows what that could mean.  When I switch my camera to vivid mode, the pictures are undoubtably more pleasing though less realistic.  Bring on the vivid dreams!

Now the second issue is the insanity part.  The pharmacist didn't have too many details about this one.  Some questions worth consideration include: Would it be insane to pay an extra $500 to avoid insanity?  Don't you need to be insane spend the summer in India (45 degrees+)?

Regardless, I think this decision comes down to cost.  And either way you can definitely expect a vivid dream or two in blog updates sometime in mid-July.