Friday, August 19, 2011

International Congress in Kenya!

I am now about an hour away from boarding the plane for Kenya. To give you a snap shot of the experience about happen, consider these numbers:

63rd Annual AIESEC International Congress.
10 days at the MMU Hotel and Conference Centre, metres from Nairobi National Park.
Up to 50 000 virtual participants.  tune in Live starting August 20th
111 countries with delegates in attendance

This is when we get to see who is in our network, what we have done this year, which direction we are going, and why AIESEC is relevant to the world we live in.

Pretty stoked.

What's the Difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut?

Two weeks.  And being in Oman. I have two awesome haircut experiences on my trip so far.  

1. I wanted to get a haircut for 10 rupees (20 cents) under a mango tree (UMT) in Chandigarh, but the girls at my trainee house were very strongly opinionated about the risks (diseases...).  As an alternative, they offered to cut my hair for free on the balcony, which was beside a Guava tree (BGT), so I accepted.  Now, when you get offered a free haircut, you lose all ability to provide insight to the style and quality.  Lets just say two sets of safety kitchen scissors takes a damn long time to get a trim, and you end up with racing stripes on one side of your head.

2. I wanted to visit a 'Turkish Barber'.  For 2.5 OR (Omani Rials) you can get one of the most precise haircuts known to man.  They are artists, not barbers.  The second part of this epic hair cut was the straight razor shave.  I purposely held off on shaving for a few days just to get the full value out of the experience.  I quite literally did not see stubble for 3 days afterwards.  I suspect lasers were used.  A complete face and head massage were included and the experience turned me into a better man.

The Middle East During Ramadan

This is a unique experience that is completely different from anything I have ever witnessed.  As Oman is a devout Muslim country, the rules are followed closely and I am amazed.

1. No eating or drinking during the day.  If you are caught eating in public, I was told that you could be fined and put in jail (for a little while) to learn your lesson.  All those times when out of habit you would just stop by the water fountain or grab a bottle of water are when this rule becomes most apparent.

2. Everything is closed during the day.  Stores were open earlier in the morning and then close from about 10 am until 7 pm.  The night is filled with feasting and socializing.

I wouldn't say that I followed all the rules, but I respected them and followed the routine.  We wouldn't eat all day and then all gather for a dinner, and then a post dinner dinner again around midnight.  Any sightseeing we did during the day made sightseeing in India look crazy.  It was like going through ghost towns, there were no cars on the road, no people at the beaches.  Ramadan, very interesting experience.

Landed in Oman! Hello Raf, Luxury Cars and the MC Villa!


I never thought that I would be writing from the Sultanate of Oman to the good people following the blog.  It is so cool to go to a country you know absolutely nothing about.

Oman is located immediately beside United Arab Emirates and is one of two Absolute Monarchy's in the world.  The country is fairly wealthy, clean and peaceful.  The climate is desert hot with a nice sea breeze coming of the ocean and the water is warm and highly swim-able.

First noticeable difference I made: it is not India.

The pace of life in Oman is like going in reverse compared to India.  For the first time in recent memory, I am just chilling.  This country is like a desert beach where everyone has a car, air conditioning and not much to do during the day.  The people are relatively laid back, and there are relatively few of them.  Only 3 million people in Oman.

I was greeted by my friend Rafael, who was the AIESEC Laurier national coach from AIESEC Canada last year and advised us on all sorts of obstacles.  His team of 4 people on the AIESEC Oman national team live in a 3 story villa in what would be the suburbs of Muscat (the Capital).  A couple interns also live in the villa and add a nice spice to the place.

I noticed about Oman was that luxury cars are quite prevalent, the people are quite humble and friendly, and Shawarma, Sheesha and Fruit Juice is incredible, accessible and cheap.

Bargaining - How to get ripped off and learn from it!

While travelling, you will likely come across some items that catch your eye. Once a vendor sees you have some money in your wallet or a credit card, you are in their playing field. Now, before making any purchases, there are a couple rules you should follow:

Question yourself
What would a similar item cost back home if you bought it at a normal store?  If you don't know, then don't buy it.  You are likely going to get caught in a rationalization that "well I would never be able to get it back home." Fact: we live in a globalized world, you can get anything anywhere.  If you can't, then it probably isn't legal.

Is this the only place in town that sells these sorts of things? It almost 100% isn't.  If you act disinterested and start walking out to look elsewhere, you now have the power.  I have seen merchants, who with complete conviction of their selling price 5 minutes prior, cut their price three quarters as you walk out the door.  As said earlier, this is their wonderland, you are no different than every other silly tourist that walks through their shop.

Did I plan on buying this when I set out today? If not, then you will most likely get caught walking away with something you don't need.  Gifts are always nice, and when a good one comes along it that seems perfect, walk away.  The vendors can smell 'the giving spirit' and will butter you up like a grilled cheese sandwich.  If it was a perfect gift, then it will be the first thing you go looking for at the beginning of your next day.  Sleep on it.

Bring a Local
“Don’t shop anything inside or outside the Taj, they might be very expensive, in the evening I will personally go with you so they can keep the price low”.  This is what a friend of mine warned before venturing out into the tourist world.  What did I do? Well I rationalized buying a marble picture frame because I had a perfect picture to put in it.  What was I told when I returned, that it was worth 1/10 the price I paid for it.  Locals know the reality best, and if they don't, well then they are at least good at bargaining in the local language.

Everybody is Getting Paid

Classic trap: When you hire a guide to show you the Amber Fort, the Taj Mahal, the Golden Temple or any other point of interest, you will wonder an hour later why you are standing in a Textile store, a spice shop, a marble shop, a Restaurant or Hotel even though you didn't ask to be.  This is because the guides get a small percentage of whatever your gross purchase is.  What does this also mean, well it means that they have no interest in you getting a "great deal".  On the way to the store, they will tell you about the high quality and that the place is fixed price.  When you arrive, you will likely get a sit down chat about the creation process and given some tea or juice to get comfortable.  This is the best trap because they have you convinced that their is nothing else like the store, and that now is the only time to get such quality goods.  Ever wonder how many stores exist in a country with over a billion people? Tons!  

So, when you walk out and are reassured by your driver and guide that you made an awesome purchase with complete sincerity, you probably got ripped off.  The conflict of interest is designed into the system.  


I will never know for sure how much of a 'tourist premium' I paid for various trinkets, gifts and personal items, but I can assure you that every time I went shopping, the same pattern existed.  As a Canadian, I haven't been trained to low ball prices and threaten to walk out of stores or leave something I wanted to buy behind.  I now know, through experience (and a couple hundred dollars of being over-charged at least), that when I shop in a bargaining country, I will:

1. Question my Purchases before even thinking about getting out the wallet or credit card (maybe even leave the cash/credit at the hotel)
2. Bring a Local, or at the very least a Ukrainian (they are insane bargainers from what I witnessed)
3. Know that the same convincing routine is rinsed and repeated over and over, and that there is a conflict of interest between you and your guide/driver.

Get a Suit Tailored in Chandigarh!

For about $375 Canadian, you can find yourself in a tailored suit, tailored shirt, nice tie, new shoes and matching belt.  How did such a miracle come about? Iqbal Sons Tailors, that is how.

The whole process begins with buying your fabric for the suit and shirt.  Wool suits are the norm and the is a full range of fabrics from 4000 Rupees and up.  There are textile shops all over, but I went with the recommendation of Raymond Fabrics.  This is a fabric chain and charges a little more, but the quality, service and selection are all well above average.  Once you choose your suit fabric, shirt fabric and the matching tie, you get to visit the Sons.

At Iqbal Sons, located in sector 17 shopping area (near a Sony Erikson showroom), you will get completely measured and asked what kind of style, cut, number of buttons etc.  It's a cool experience.  They take about a week to finish an order and charge about 3000 rupees ($60) to do a suit ($5) for a shirt, but they do a cracking job.

Matching shoes and belt to round off the equation, and now you can dress like you own that suit. 

Blogging Blitz

For the first time in weeks I have a few hours to catch up on my blogs.  I'm not going for quantity over quality, just trying to say everything on my mind before life gets ahead of me again.  You may notice a lack of pictures.  They exist and are quite possibly my favorite collection to date, but the upload speeds are questionable, so I will put them in the posts retroactively.

Now this isn't a season of prison break, so pace yourselves.  I'll be without Internet from now until September 1st, so I'm trying to pre-compensate.


Living in Suite Sixteen: Hand wash your Laundry!

Just a heads up to any interns arriving in India.  You have to get your hands dirty to get your clothes (almost) clean!

I had a nice little post ready about my flawless step by step system to hand washing clothing.  One learned through trial and error, over soaping and under soaping, with full body rashes and smelling like french fries, with a hilarious sun burn and a nearly a week in commando mode.

But instead, I will just let you know that there aren't washing machines in the trainee houses in Chandigarh, at least not in Suite Sixteen Panchkula, so prepare to be humbled folks.  Its a cool experience, unless you are coming from somewhere where there are no washing machines, then its a normal experience.  

Agra and the Taj Mahal

For those of you following the blog closely, you remember the plans to visit the Taj Mahal under the moonlight?

Well, of all the days in the year that I could be in Agra (2/365) and all the days that are a full moon (4/30), I also managed to coincide with Ramadan (1/12).  During Ramadan (called Ramzan for India), night entry to the Taj Mahal is not allowed.  I explored the possibilities of getting a view (helicopter, cannon, large trampoline) but each guide, driver, and local assured me this was not possible.  That said, anything is possible in India.

While we were visiting the Agra Fort during the day, I saw a small crack in a wall along the highway about 2 km from the Taj.  Through this opening, you could shimmy up on to some construction material and get a long distance snap of the Taj.  Now, I will be honest, the picture was crap, but under the influence and under the intent of seeing the Taj at night, I got my satisfaction.

Seeing the Taj Mahal from both the site itself (incredible) and from the distance of Agra fort (maybe five minutes drive away), we caught some beautiful sights and a powerful sense of something greater than any one individual.

Honest opinion, the outside of the Taj was incredible, but the inside creeped me out, as it was a tomb, there was a scary undertone that I can't quite explain.

Staying in Agra - M House Hotel is 5 minutes walk from the Taj

On our recent trip to see the Taj Mahal, we checked into a great hotel in Agra.  A fellow AIESEC member and his family are the owners of 'M House Hotel', only a five minute walk from the Taj Mahal and a 5 minute taxi ride from the Agra Fort.

The rooms were 1200 Rupees per night, which we were able to put either 2 or 3 people into comfortable.  For what worked out to about $6 per person, this was an excellent value.

Amar and his Mom
On the ground floor of the Hotel is the Qaisar Bagh Restaurant, I tried the Butter Chicken and was quite pleased.  The hotel and restaurant were clean and comfortable, affordable and friendly.  I would strongly recommend this stay to anyone, AIESECer or not.

Call M House - +91-0562-3242800 (

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ever considered 3 months in India?

To be honest, about 2 years ago I had decided I wouldn't travel to Asia because it was too far out of my comfort zone.   Even if you had asked me 12 months ago where I would be now, I don’t think I would have described the following:

I was an intern at an 850 student public school in a town adjacent to Chandigarh, India in the Punjab / Haryana state. My daily routine included arriving to St. Soldier’s Divine Public School around 7:55 am, where I was given my schedule for the day.

Each day I started out with 1 hour of an interest activity. This included coaching Basketball and Field Hockey. From 10 am to 2:30 pm, I rotated around classes from 2nd Grade to 11th grade, where I shared global perspectives, taught effective public speaking skills, and strived to learn universal similarities of youth (and some Hindi too). 

School ran from Monday to Saturday, but allowed me the flexibility to travel on my weekends. In 10 weeks, I  travelled to Jaipur, Shimla, Amritsar, Kausali, Agra and Rishikesh.  I hiked through the Himalayas, did yoga with Gurus, visited ancient forts, and saw the Taj Mahal.  A monthly stipend covered my accommodation (a short 5 minute walk from the school), along with basic food costs. I lived with 15 interns from 9 other countries who worked at a variety of school’s and NGO’s. 

Sure, it may not revolve around the professional development or money making endeavours you would expect from a summer job, but I now have 10 weeks of developing as an open minded, global minded youth with a wallet full of photo’s, business cards (AIESEC helps with the professional side...) and memories to take home.

So, when I stated at the end of August last year that I would “get a summer’s experience working in India”, I may not have envisioned the description above, but I am proud to have done exactly that.

If you have a few months free and no plan this year, I know a school that might be of interest to you.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Living in Suite Sixteen: Hot Feast!

An awesome Take-Out and Dine in spot in Sector 16 Panchkula (5 minute walk from the Suite Sixteen Intern House) is 'Hot Feast'. +919815100028

They have a good variety of Indian and Chinese snacks and meals.  Recommendations include:

  • Honey Chilli Potatoes
  • Tandoori Chicken
  • Chicken Fried Rice
  • Szechuan Chicken
  • Sweet and Hot Soup

For under 200 Rupees per person, you can get well enough food to go around.  The delivery is pretty fast too.  They know us by name and have always been friendly.

Here is the Menu:

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Physiotherapy, Accu-pressure and the 50 Rupee Massage

For all of those with aches, pains and sore muscles, I have come across a physiotherapy/accupressure/message spot that will fit even a student's budget.

One of the teachers at my school is an apprentice at a doctor's home office, and from 5 pm to 8 pm Monday to Friday, you can go for any sort of muscle therapy.  If you have any inquiries, please contact Mr. Fakhru Deen at +919988665330.

Now this is not a luxury spa, more of a small ground floor residence with a couple rooms, a half dozen patients, soothing yoga music, and a friendly doctor and his apprentices.  But for 50 to 100 Rupees per session (I've had my wrist treated for a soft-tissue injury, and a couple full body 20 minute massages) you can't help but feel good.  The treatment is for the ordinary Jane and Joe, sort of a social work initiative.

The home office is in sector 20-B, 1037 in Chandigarh.  It is about 5 minutes walk from the main market.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Learn the Language and Getting Around Chandigarh

Some Basic Vocab coming at ch'ya. It took me a couple months to realize that a basic knowledge of Hindi, about 100 words, is necessary to function here.  I have been able to survive off the following, and would recommend developing an awareness of the language before coming to India.  Once you get here, practice makes perfect.  These may not be perfectly spelled or pronounced, just English transliterations.

Being Polite

Please and Thank You: Don't even try the Hindi versions.  Most people just use English for these two expressions.

Greetings and Introductions:
You can even ride elephants in Chandigarh!

Namaste - A more formal greeting.
Aap Kaisi Hai - How are you?
Me Tik hu - I'm fine
Achhe Hai - I'm good
Bahut Badia Excellent
Aapka Nam kee ya haiWhat is your name?
Mera Nam “your Name” – My name is “your name”

Talk about the Weather:

Mosem Acha Hai - The climate is nice today
Bohat Gurmi Hai - Too hot today
Mosem Humus Hai -  Its humid today
Mosem Barish Hai  - Its raining today

Negotiating with the Auto Rickshaw Drivers.

A fact of life here is getting from point a to point b.  Over a 2 month period, you could easily be over-charged an accumulated 5000-10000 Rupees if you aren't prudent on the daily about your travels.  Here is some basic Lingo to get to know:

Kitne? - How Much?
Mujhe rate petta hai - I know the rate
Yahan tak janen ke "number" Rupees lagta hai. - To go to this place it costs on "number" Rupees
Ratt nehi hai, din hai - It is not night now, it is day now
Chello Chellay – Let’s go!
Bayan -Left
Daanyan - Right

One to NineEleven to NineteenTen to Ninety

And you will most likely hear the word "Sau" (sow) every time you ask the price of an auto-rick shaw.  This means one hundred, and also means the price is probably 40.

To further assist with your negotiation tactics, I have put together a basic map.  I have a PDF version of this bad-boy on my phone for quick reference whenever I am out.  Once you can quick reference where you are going vs. where you are, you can start jumping in on group Rick-Shaws.  Jumping a group Rick Shaw on a major route should never cost more than 20 Rupees a person.

Download this and put it on your smartphone.  Or just print it :)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Who wants to see the Taj under a full moon? August 13th!

So, as I have just booked a flight out of Delhi on the evening of August 14th, and I finish work on August 12th, there is a nice little 52 hour period lying between.

Turns out that there is a full moon on August 14th at 12:10 am and I am going to bust a move to get there.  This is going to take some serious effort, coordination and maybe some usage of the 'foreigner card' but I have the strong intent to see the Taj under a full moon!

Anybody who would like to join me, I've provided all the logistical info below. 

Taj Mahal Info:

Timings: Every Day, (except Friday), Sunrise to Sunset
Night, 8:30 PM to 12:30 AM (On Full moon night, two days before and two days after)

Day Fee: Rs 750 (Foreigners)
Rs 510 (Citizens of SAARC and BIMSTEC Countries)
Rs 20 (Indian)
Entry Free for children below 15 years of age

Night Fee: Rs 750 (Adult, Foreign)
Rs 510 (Adult, Indian)
Rs 500 (Child 3-15 Years, Indian & Foreign)
Entry free for child below 3 years of age

The timings of visiting the Taj Mahal are set by the Archeological Survey of India. The Taj is opened all days of the week except for Fridays, when it is opened in the afternoon only for those who have to attend prayers at the Taj Mosque. The timings are from sunrise to sunset. Tickets are available throughout the day from the western and eastern gate, and at the southern gate tickets are available from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. The tourists can spend any number of hours inside the Taj complex from sunrise to sunset.

Night viewing at the Taj Mahal, from 8:30 PM to 12:30 AM, is allowed only on five nights in a month: one, on the full moon night, two days before it and two days after it, except for Fridays. However, night viewing is limited to maximum 400 people per night, divided into eight batches of 50 each and each batch is allowed to visit for a maximum duration of 30 minutes. The tickets for night viewing have to be booked one day (24 hours) in advance from the booking counter located in the office of the Archeological Survey of India, Agra Circle, 22 The Mall, Agra, Uttar Pradesh in between 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM.

Retrieved from

Cultural Lunch

This past Saturday was the AIESEC Chandigarh Cultural Lunch.  From 12 pm to 4:30 pm a world of cultures and flavours was thrown into the  mixing pot, with some Panjabi spices of course.

"AIESEC Chandigarh is organizing Cultural Lunch for all its international trainees to give them an oppurtunity to showcase their culture, aswell as take a sneak peak into the various cultural backgrounds in India.

All international trainees were invited the event, participants dressed in their national clothes and the brought along cuisine prepared from their home country so that everyone could dig in to taste the world of flavor present here in Chandigarh."

The Lunch even got some coverage in the local news:

Chandigarh, July 30
The local chapter of AIESEC organised a cross-cultural lunch for people from 30 different countries in the city. Members from Russia, China, Ukraine, Poland, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, turkey, Germany, New Zealand and many other countries relished Indian food.
They came dressed in their country’s traditional attire. They danced to various numbers. AIESEC members ensured that the foreigners got the taste of Indian culture and food.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

22 hours in Rishikesh

Inside the Little Buddha Cafe
 With only two weekends remaining in India, it is now time to get aggressive on my checklist.  After a delicious cultural lunch in Chandigarh (more about this elsewhere), we had two options for a day trip.

1. Go to Shimla and explore.
2. Go to Rishikesh and explore.

Since I have already been up to Shimla, and I heard that Rishikesh offers adventure tours, we decided to go with plan b.  Just a heads up: This trip was jam packed, it's always wise to plan before leaving, and travelling with S. B. is directly correlated to extremes in physical/mental exhaustion and sheer hilariousness. 

5 of us agreed on Rishikesh about an hour before arriving at the bus terminal.  We had hopes of river rafting, bungee jumping, massages and spiritual/religious experiences.  Again, some pre-planning would have lead us to knowing that during the monsoon season (July to Mid-September), White water rafting, body surfing, cliff jumping and Bungee Jumping are closed due to high and dangerous water levels. The only options we came across on short notice were Jungle/Mountain Treks, Exploring the City, and Visiting Temples. 

Take a Dip in the River Ganges (a source waterfall)
Here are a few of the things I would recommend.

1. Hotel - Shri Sant Sewa Yatri Niwas - 200 Rupees each, Yoga at 7:30 am, overlooking the Ganges

2. Little Buddha Cafe - Slow Service, Delicious Food.

3. Jungle Trek from Temple down to Base of Mountain - 800 Rupees each, roughly 6 hours.  Includes a 15 km drive up the mountain.  Hike begins at the Shri Kunjapuri Temple at the peak of the mountain.  A trek through the jungle leads you to multiple waterfalls, rice-fields and small rural houses.  Booked at the Hotel.

4. Within the City - There are more temples than I can count, so I won't go into too much detail.  Just walk around and explore.  Also, there are a number of small markets where you can find Nepali trinkets and Indian Clothing.

Oh Man! Going to Muscat!

For anyone getting a visa for the summer in India, be aware that August 15th is Independence Day.  Not knowing this, I was given a 2.5 month working visa valid until... August 15th.  Until recently, I was planning on getting a one week extension so that I could fly to Mumbai and spend 5 days with the AIESEC India National Team before heading to the International Conference in Kenya.  Unfortunately, a trip to Delhi during office hours would be necessary to process the paperwork, and with only 2 weeks left in Chandigarh, I'm not willing to give up the opportunity cost of a day at school.  I will however squeeze in a trip to Agra on the last weekend before departing.

So, what to do?

Google says it looks pretty good.
Go visit Rafael Pilliard Hellwig in Muscat, Oman! I honestly never thought I would go to Oman, but am now super keen.  Entry visa can be obtained at the airport for up to a one month stay for about $15 CAN.  Oman is about halfway to Kenya from Delhi, and the cost of the Delhi-Muscat-Nairobi flight is only $40 different from the Delhi-Mumbai-Nairobi trip.

Flight is booked, accommodation confirmed, airport pick up confirmed, sunscreen packed.

I will start putting together my to-do list Oman Edition!