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Monday
Dec102007

Buckle Up!

12427-1204612-thumbnail.jpg"Umm, I think I just wet myself." I can't say for sure if either of us said this phrase out loud on our commute home from the office, but I know for certain we were both thinking it.

Driving in downtown Mumbai at night is like crossing the Running of the Bulls with going over Niagra Falls in a barrel. Only less boring. The moving traffic is so densely packed, I can honestly report that I've had greater personal space in a full elevator than we did on the road this evening.

Until you experience it yourself, I can only share a philosophical comment made by my colleague in the hope of making you understand: "This certainly redefines the limits of space."

And no, it's not raining in the photo. The blurring lights are a result of my trembling, potholes and careening in that instant away from four lorries, three pedestrians, two bicyclists and a dog. After this experience, I'll never complain about US metro traffic again, at least not without prefacing it with the phrase: "This ain't nothin' like Mumbai".

P.S. - Sorry Avis, but I can't advocate renting a car in Mumbai. If you need to get around, hire a professional driver, like our friend Kamlesh. And a priest.

Monday
Dec102007

Where's Bill Gates?

12427-1204567-thumbnail.jpgOK. Pop quiz. Which one of these buildings houses a call center servicing a well-known US corporation? Tough to tell, isn't it? I'll give you a hint: look for the Chinese lantern...

As I've noted, Mumbai is a study in contrast. In the previous post, there's a group of young professionals standing inside an otherwise normal office space. Without this next photo (to the left), you'd have no idea that office was formerly a spray-painting stall in the bottom floor of one of these apartment buildings. Well, now you know.

When our driver slowed down in front of this complex and pulled in, I'm not ashamed to admit we assumed we were either out of fuel or stopping for directions. After all, we could see no signs of the service economy at work, much less cutting edge technical development. Imagine our surprise, therefore, when we parked and the driver pointed toward a door. Well, the rest is history. Sufficed to say our surprise was a very pleasant one indeed!

Much more is going on in this Mumbai neighborhood than meets the eye. In just a short time here, we've encountered an entrepreneurial spirit ablaze with a passion for growth and new opportunity. It's impossible to imagine a global economic future without India playing an increasingly prominent role.

Monday
Dec102007

Local Lunch

pav_bhaji.jpgOur local hosts provided us with a lunch from their favorite neighborhood food vendor. On the menu was Pav Bhaji: a staple of street gastronomy. "Pav" means bread and "bhaji" means curry/vegetable mix, so I think you can determine how it got its name. The serving of this dish consists of a scoop of bhaji complemented with two split and buttered pav and garnished with chopped onions.

Pav bhaji is a fast food dish native to Maharashtra, but is apparently quite popular in most metros in India. In the US, recycling and fast food just don't go together. Our pav bhaji, however, arrived on plates that were returned to the restaurant after lunch.

Monday
Dec102007

Beep Beep!

12427-1203729-thumbnail.jpgThe streets of Mumbai are chaotic! The best analogy I can give is that it's like being in the start of the Boston marathon, except in cars. There's no particular rhyme or reason to the traffic flow: simply put the front of your vehicle into any open cranny and absorb the available space.

Oh, and then you've got to honk your horn. The traffic noise here is incessant and has a signature voice of its own. After a while, you get so used to it that when it's NOT happening is the time to take notice.

The final note on traffic here is the presence of "autos", three-wheeled "rikshaw" cabs. These vehicles are the primary form of motorized transportation in Mumbai's suburbs. You can see some photos of these "autos" in the Day 1 photo gallery.

Sunday
Dec092007

Leela Luxury

leelabom1.jpgIn just one night's stay, I've come to understand why people say that "service" in India is a unique experience. The Leela, a five-star hotel near the airport, has more people to help you than any hotel I've ever stayed. Just this morning at breakfast, there were at least five people who arrived at the table to provide for various aspects of my dining experience. They've perfected the art of delivering tea and a toasted bagel!