Saturday, 13 December 2008

The C word

Christmas is approaching at high speed and Peter and me are already getting ready to fly back to the UK next Sunday. It is unbelievable how fast the time goes!

There has been a gap in my blogging because actually not much has really been happening. We are spending all day in the office, coming home pretty tired and then crashing out. So it has been difficult to know what to write.

We were also in the office this afternoon, we did two interviews for senior Java developers to work with me on the mid-tier work on Khojle. The first guy that we saw today wasn't so great. His basic Java knowledge had some pretty big gaps (I have a pretty difficult set of test questions written down that I like to challenge the guys with), but I think he put the final nail in the coffin with the following exchange....

Peter: "So tell me about your favourite websites?"
Candidate: "Well I use google, and yahoo mail, but I don't use the web much as it is a waste of time!!"

I am not exactly sure what kind of job he was interviewing for, but describing the delivery mechanism of our project as a 'waste of time' was a sure fire way to avoid getting the job. Peter is quite an avid web user, and likes to play around with the latest trendy websites building up ideas for Khojle so I *knew* that this guy had just talked himself out a job at that point. Worked out quite well because I would have only given him about 6/10 for technical skills anyway.

The second guy we interviewed was much better, this was a telephone interview since he is not in the Delhi area at the moment. This guy nailed every question on my test which the exception of one (which only one candidate has gotten so far!), so high marks. Peter seemed to like him too so we will be meeting him in person in due course.

This morning I went out to the shopping centre and picked up a present for the 4 year old daughter of the couple that I used to live next door to in the UK. When her parents told her that I was going to India she became obsessed with India and told them she wanted to go to India as well, so I picked up an Indian doll for her. I am pretty sure the guy in the shop overcharged me. I am not sure if he was expecting me to barter but I wasn't fully paying attention and I haven't completely gotten to grips with the exchange rate so I just paid him what he asked for. Doesn't really matter, it would have been the same price in the UK.

I still need to get some things for my dad and sister, we are going tomorrow for this but neither of us are sure if the shops will be open on Sunday. I guess we will find out!!

We *still* don't have internet in our flat, I am still on the crappy data card. It seems that things just take ages to arrange here. Nobody is in any kind of rush to get anything sorted out, it is starting to get a little annoying, but it is cultural and you have to just deal with that.

Well, I will sign off now, I am catching up with a friend from back home that I haven't spoken to in a while.

I am still intending to get some pictures up soon, watch this space!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The day my heart flew out of the window

Well, one of the guys at work was kind enough to loan me one of those USB mobile 'broadband' sticks today so I have some connectivity. I have quoted 'broadband' since India doesn't seem to have a 3g network, so the data seems to chug along around 56K dial-up speed, something that I thought I had left behind a long time ago. It uses a protocol called CDMA if that means anything to anyone.

A lot has happened in the days since my last full entry.

On friday night, we went back to Rajeev's for a very nice, home cooked, Indian meal. This was all manner of awesome! There was some spinach type curry stuff which looked a bit unpleasant to me at first (especially since I can't stand spinach), but I gritted (that doesn't sound right! What is the past tense of grit?) my teeth and took a little and it was actually very nice. These guys can work magic. They could make an old tyre edible if you gave them a complete set of herbs and spices!

I was feeling a little contemplative for most of Friday. On the journey into work I was sat in the back of the car sneaking a cigarette before we arrived at the office and I decided to wind the window right down, while sitting in the usual crazy traffic in Delhi a young girl, aged about 8 or so came up to the window. She was begging for money. She looked at me with eyes I had never seen. It was so difficult, at the time I had not yet gotten any Indian currency and I am not sure it would have been wise to give any if I had. We were sat in heavy traffic and it would have only taken a quick shout and we could have easily been swamped with beggars trying to extract from their newly discovered 'soft-touch'. I really wanted to do something for her though, it's quite an embarrasing situation when a kid is looking at you to provide her with some of the very basic human requirements, while you are sat in your air conditioned car, on your way to a decently paid job and about to check into a pretty luxiourious flat. I am certain that moment has changed my outlook a fair bit. In the days since this incident I have witnessed much more of the levels that poverty reaches here. India is like a country divided in two. On one hand you have shopping centres that would not feel out of place back in the UK (and are comprable in size, to Lakeside for example), but right outside you will find dozens of kids begging for change. The divisions are just massive!

Saturday, me and Peter checked into the flat. It is 4000 square feet so there is more than enough room for us to stay out of each others way. I let Peter have the big master bedroom, he is the boss man after all. Also he is a bit better in the mornings than me, and since getting the main bathroom requires travelling through the master bedroom, I figured that it was better he took it, since I will only hold up his morning routine with my laziness.

My room has an en suite, but it is nothing like the master bathroom (I will get some pictures once I am up to full internet speed!). Also, there is an external window that is directly facing the shower with no kind of curtain or blind, which means if I use the shower there, anybody who happens to walk past is going to get a fairly unpleasant shock!! We have contacted to the property agent to get this situation rectified.

It didn't take long for the mosquitos to find me! These little fuckers attack me anywhere I go, sweet blood perhaps, but if I leave this country malaria free it will be a bloody miracle! Various anti-mosquito devices and chemicals are now on the shopping list.

Moving in on Saturday morning was followed by a trip to the local shops for the required items (sheets, duvets, pillows etc), so that we would be able to spend the night in the house. After that it was back to the office for the rest of the day, we interviewed a few people for various roles, did a little work and then headed back. I was asleep within 10 minutes of walking through the door.

Sunday I caught up on my sleep. I actually woke pretty early but then dozed in and out until gone 11AM. We are on a ground floor apartment and there are some guys doing a bit of work outside so it got a bit noisy around 9AM, but that stuff doesn't usually bother me that much, in fact it takes quite a bit to completely wake me up (a fact which I am sure that Vanda will happily confirm!).

Sunday evening we were invited to a BBQ. The father of one of Peters friends back home runs a business in Delhi which is involved in importing Porsches into India (I may have mentioned this before, too lazy to read back my old entries to check). Quite a few of his staff are living in this apartment complex so it is quite good for Peter and I. We have some people with familier accents to speak to. BBQ was awesome, it seems that these guys have found a butcher in India that is happy to supply beef (not sure if the Butcher is Indian or not, that wasn't made clear), so I had a really nice BBQ steak. It was a good evening, nice food and good conversation. I started to feel a bit more comfortable, it is good to be able to get advice from people who have been in the country for a while.

Today was a pretty standard work day. I spent some time working with Arrtii (certainly spelt wrong!), who was an already employed Java developer at J9 who has now been moved to our project. She is doing pretty well, it is a lot for her to take in, the complex new technologies coupled with my strong accent have made things a bit difficult for her, but she is coping. We also employed a guy called Pradeep who will be our second junior developer on the team. Nice guy, English not marvellous but we should communicate ok. The search for our senior middleware guy continues!

After work Peter and I headed to the shopping centre to get a bite to eat and pick up some stuff. We had been to the centre a few times before and discovered that two white guys, getting dropped off outside the main gates get a tonne of attention from the local beggars (I still feel very bad for them, but I do have to say that sympathy does tend to dimminish just a little when they are hanging on your arms!). This time we asked the driver to drop us off inside (there is a car park underneath the centre itself) so that we could enter without quite so much attention.

We headed straight for the food court, and I suggested somewhere which turned out to be pretty ropey in terms of quality, having already gotten ill one time I didn't fancy it again so we left most of the food (Peter's chicken was clearly not cooked properly!) and instead grabbed a McDonalds (no beef at McDonalds here, so its all chicken and fish burgers), by the time we had finished faffing around in the food court (we had a long discussion about the nature of evolution after dinner), everything was shut, so we didn't end up getting any of the stuff we were there for.

Tomorrow we will leave the office early and get what we need. I certain need to get some mosquito replent otherwise the fuckers will finish me off entirely!

It's not 12:45 AM so I am going to sign off. More soon.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Technical difficulties, we look forward to resuming service shortly

Peter and I have moved into our appartment. I have lots to say about this and some other experiences in the last few days, however, no internet yet. I am writing this from the office right now, so I can't go into depth, stand by for a nice long post in the coming days :o)

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Why did the elephant cross the road?

It has been an interesting couple of days. It can certainly be said that the real work has begun.

The last two days have been spent in the office, so effectively my first 2 full working days. We have been starting fairly late, the journey from our hotel to the office is well over and hour due to the levels of traffic here, but we have also been leaving very late, usually not getting back to the hotel until around 10:30. There is lots to do.

Yesterday, on the way to the office I saw a man riding an elephant down the motorway. Certainly trumping stray cows when it comes to the 'most unusual sight' award. Unfortunately, I have not been carrying my camera so didn't get any photos. Peter didn't even notice, he was too busy reading his paper. We have some time, I am sure we will see him again.

I also met two candidates for development positions on the project yesterday. A guy named Pradeep and a girl named Anchal. Anchal did quite well on the tests but it was clear that Pradeep was the more enthusiastic candidate. It is probable that Anchal was nervous and a bit shy but unfortunately this is a very bad trait to bring to an interview (especially with guys like me and Peter). I think we will be taking on Pradeep... I suspect he is about to experience quite a culture shift as it seemed he had been working for a fairly regimented outsourcing company and will be coming to a much more open, free flowing environment. The first order of business will be to convince him to stop calling me 'sir', which makes me quite uncomfortable!!

Peter and I have decided to go with the apartment in Noida, it's luxurious even by English standards (which in general are significantly higher than in India, a shame, but true enough). We are hoping to move in on saturday. I will get some pictures of the place when I can.

This morning our driver took an unrequested de-tour to show us the lotus temple, which was awesome. The driver seems quite keen to show off his country and so should he be, the culture here runs very deep. Unfortunately, Peter and I had commitments at the office so could only take a quick look, but will be returning for a more detailed viewing. The driver is a great guy, sometimes I feel a bit sorry for him, Peter and I are often scooting about from 9AM until 11PM and the guy will sit and wait for us wherever we go. He seems quite content though, and always has a big smile when we thank him for the journey, he doesn't seem used to that.

Something that is quite apparent here is that the caste based social structure is quite strong still. We have our 'classes' in England but here it seems to be quite different. For example, there is a young fellow who brings tea and coffees around the office at J9 and it is fairly clear that he is low on the pecking order. Again, he seems quite surprised to be thanked for his service.

It is possible that readers (do I still have any?) are getting the impression that there is an oppressive culture here, but I don't think that is the case, it is just different. There are things about the English way of life that I am sure that the Indian people would find a little awkward too. It is part and parcel of the process of spending time in a different country. It seems that people here are more content regardless of their place in the social structure. The ever more powerful drive to want more than we have seems to be very indicative of western culture, once you come to accept this, you can understand how the caste system works for people here.

I finally think I am over the worst of my bout with 'Delhi Belly' which could not have come too soon. I will certainly be more careful in future.

Signing off now, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Let's hear it for the iron man....

So much for my cast iron constitution!! Perhaps I really did jinx myself.

Woke up today with a distinctly unpleasant stomach pain. Seems my system is not quite as strong as I had believed. It is probably for the best that I do not put too find a point on it, but let's just say that I spent the journey into the office this morning (I did get up and go) counting all the things that are preferable to this feeling, reached infinity and decided to call it a day! (Isn't the internet marvellous! A few keystrokes in a Delhi hotel and the entire world can discover the state of my digestive system!!!).

Peter seems uneffected, but I do keep reminding him that he will be very lucky to avoid this for 6 months!! He seemed to enjoy telling everyone he spoke to this morning that I was feeling a bit delicate, so every few minutes I was greated with a, "Morning Wez, how is your stomach?"!

Aside from this disability I did manage to function pretty well today. Peter, Rajeev and myself had a very long meeting and discussed many different possibilities for the software. Some things seemed a bit tricky, but many things were achievable. A very worthwhile discussion.

Then Peter and I left to visit an apartment. The one I mentioned in my previous post with all the onsite facilities. It was a pretty great place. Couple of minor points to fix up but nothing serious. I think we have made our decision. I will get some photos when I can.

After this we returned to the office to continue our meeting and discuss the last few points. Then Rajeev hopped in the car with me and Peter and we took the (long and dangerous feeling) journey back to Gurgaon. Rajeev invited us in for a drink with escalated to drink and a Pizza. I was still feeling a bit delicate but a bit better at this point so I agreed and I am glad I did.

Rajeev and his wife are great people, and very interesting people to talk to. They seem to like to skip the small talk and get straight into the details of cultural differences, conspiracy theories and whether google is malevolent or benevolent. This suits me very well because I am not one for small talk either. We had a nice long talk and a few good laughs. Enjoyed the evening immensely. They were even kind enough to give me a couple of alkaseltzer tablets to settle my stomach. I hope they work ok since we are supposed to be moving out of the hotel and into the appartment tomorrow night.

Well it is coming up to 1AM now and it has been a long day. So time for me to hit the hay. More soon.

Monday, 1 December 2008


Yesterday morning I stepped onto a plane at Gatwick Airport in London. I can only assume that Airbus keep their warp drive technology under wraps for IPR reasons since I seem to have stepped off the aircraft on another planet entirely! (although I mean this in the nicest possible way)

The flight was fairly long, we flew for 6 1/2 hours from London to Doha in the UAE, and after a 2 hour wait at Doha airport we boarded a flight from Doha to Delhi. A further 4 hours and we had arrived. My newly acquired Nintendo DS kept me good company for most of the trip, as did Peter, the MD of CLIKMedia and my partner in this little adventure.

We arrived at Delhi in the very early hours of Sunday morning. Thankfully, 2 of the guys that we will be working closely with (Shekhar and Pankaj from J9) were there to meet us at the airport. I really appreciated that, who knows where me and Peter would have ended up without their help.

I made my first mistake when a guy approached me offering to carry my suitcase to the car, in my half asleep state after a long journey I had assumed that this was our driver but actually it turned out to be some guy who was after tips. The guys entered a fairly agressive sounding debate in Hindi (presumably telling them to stop trying to take advantage of the naive Brits) but I gave the guy the 6 USD I had received in change from my inflight cigarette purchase. Pankaj asked me exactly what I was paying them for (he had a point, they carried my suitcase all of 15 metres) but the USD were not much use to me, and I was too tired to get into any kind of altercation.

We arrived at the hotel after a short journey and sat down with Shekhar and Pankaj for a tea while our room was made ready. I hit the room for a shower and we headed out again for breakfast and to meet Rajeev who is the head of J9.

We then headed off to see the first option permenant digs in Delhi. During this trip two things struck me....

Firstly, here they have stray cows in the same way you might see stray cats in the UK. They just seem to wander the streets entirely of their own accord and you will see one every few hundred metres. This seems to be a common sight for India (neither Shekhar or Pankaj batted an eyelid at the sight) but for a newly landed Brit this is quite strange. Of course the cow is sacred in Hindu culture (and it somehow seemed inappropriate for me to point out how tasty they are!) but it is still quite surreal to see them wandering around the streets.

The second big thing I noticed was the all road regulations in India (assuming they exist) seem to be entirely optional. If a road has markings for 3 lands there will usually be 5 vehicles side by side spanning them. Mixtures of cars, motorbikes and devices called 'auto ricksaws' ( The driving style is very aggresive, horns are used nearly continuously and there seems to be no well defined right of way at junctions, but these guys manage to get around pretty well (although many cars seem to have sustained some minor damage at some point). It is important to bear in mind that Delhi is slightly smaller than London but has nearly 3 times the population so the roads are busy and there is very little scope for politeness if you intend to reach your destination on the same week as your departure :o).

The first house we viewed was nice enough, and the landlord seemed to be a very nice guy. However, I don't think the area was right for Peter and I. Firstly we would have to live in the same house (and we are still not sure if this is right for us!), also although the area seemed fairly affluent there was still some development in progress. One house was being either built or renovated, Peter and I were quite surprised to see that wooden scaffolding was being used and even more surprised to see quite young children standing on the second floor looking down on us with nothing between them and a very nasty fall. The UK health and safety crazies would have had a field day with that. Although, thinking back, I seem to remember that when I was younger (perhaps not quite that young!), that old, partially demolished houses seemed like the ideal place to play.

We walked around the area a little and stopped in a restaurant where Pankaj bought us all an Indian dessert dish called Rasgulla (thanks Shekhar for reminding me of the name!). I wasn't sure if I liked this or not, it was very different to anything I had before and that made it difficult for me to decide. It was *very* sweet and had the consistancy of coconut. I wasn't able to quite finish it, but that was because the sweetness was a little too much for me.

After this, Peter and I headed back to the hotel room for a few hours sleep. At this point (having not slept on the plane at all), I was ready for it and feel asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. However, 30 minutes later Peter received a call from Rajeev to tell us that some other apartments were available for viewing. So Peter began the attempt at waking me up (few people realise how much of a challenge this is!). I eventually awoke to the sound of simultaneous knocking and ringing of the doorbell, for a second I thought that the hotel must be on fire!

We went out to view the appartments, all around an area called Gugaon (which is where Rajeev lives). The appartments ranged from very good to quite poor in quality but there were certainly enough to choose from.

Then we spent some time with Rajeev, and his wife and daughter, discussing various things. Rajeev is a nice guy, smart and successful and his family is great too. They took Peter and I (along with Shekhar and Pankaj) out to an authentic Indian restaurant for dinner. The food there was awesome. I am a big fan of Indian food anyway, but this was a class above (as you would expect in it's country of origin). It was a bit different to the Indian I am used to as we tended to try small amounts of different dishes but this was a very worthwhile exercise since it was all delicious.

After this, it was time to head back to the hotel for some much needed sleep. 12 hours of it in fact.

This morning I woke up, got ready and had breakfast. The hotel has a very nice buffet breakfast available. Some web sites have suggested to avoid buffets in certain situations due to the risk of the infamous 'Delhi belly', a type of food poisoning common to travellers to many countries including India, however, I assumed that the hotel would have very good hygeine procedures and also, my constitutions is pretty strong (there is a jinx if ever there was one), so I decided to tuck in.

After breakfast we headed off to meet Rajeev for some more apartment viewings. The highlight of this was one apartment agent who asked for 70'000 indian Rupees per month in rent (£940 approx at todays rates), this immediately provoked a fairly extreme response from Rajeev who used some heated sounding Hindi words. It was not necessary to be a Hindi speaker to understand that this would have been roughly translated as... "Just because they are English you think you can take the fucking piss! We are out of here". With that we left, leaving a fairly shell shocked agent standing gobsmacked in the main bedroom.

We then headed to meet the father of a friend of Peters who runs a business importing luxury brands into India, (his main client being Porsche, which would impress my father who is a Porsche fanatic!). He gave us some fair frank information about the issues of life in Delhi for a Brit and how to best cope with the change in style and pace. All very useful. He was a definate 'no-nonsense' guy. He also showed us some pictures of his appartment which is in a place called Noida. This place is very very upmarket and has a price tag to match. It is just within mine and Peter's budget (if we share), so we are going to look tomorrow. This place has lots of onsite services such as a gym and squash court, which means I will have no excuses to prevent me from working on loosing the extra pounds that I have.... perhaps I should suggest a non-gym equiped complex tomorrow!

We then made a trip to the office which will be our base for the next 6 months. A very nice place. There were more people working here than I expected but Rajeev told us that many of these people would be working on a different floor shortly which will free up some more space. I am looking forward to getting in there and working on the project.

The trip back to our current part of town (to see our final 2 apartments for the day) was interesting to say the least. If Delhi driving was crazy during the day, during the rush hour it reaches the level of insane. The roads are absolutely jam packed with vehicles, it is not uncommon to see at least 3 people riding a single motorcycle (1 has a crash helmet... at best!) and cars swerve in and out of traffic with mere millimetres of clearance, with both the swerver and the guy being swerved into tooting horns like mad.

This trip also gave me more of an oppurtunity to look out the window at the world around me here. I have been quite struck by the vast gap between the rich and poor in India. There are many people who live on the road side in makeshift tents. I am certain that India is a country that has begun the journey into the same level of affluence of the west, but while the middle classes are making good time on this journey (we visited a mall today that could have quite easily have been Lakeside or Bluewater back home!), there is a whole class of very poor people, and it might be a while because these people are able to catch up. Seeing some of the circumstances in which people live here, made me develop a greater level of appreciation for what I have and the advantages I have been given.

After a quick dinner, Peter and I returned to the hotel room, and I begun (over and hour ago) to write this first blog post.

Tomorrow we are going into the office for the morning and spending the afternoon looking at some more appartments in another area of town. We hope to have made the final choice by tomorrow evening and we can then begin the process of moving into what will become our home in India for the next 6 months.

Before leaving for India, somebody told me that I would not be the same man when I returned to the UK. This phrase has been bouncing through my head for most of the day today, and I now believe it with absolute certainty. It is going to be an interesting 6 months of my life, but I have to say I am looking forward to it.

Thanks for reading, more soon.