Thursday, September 30, 2010

9/29/2010 - Trip Cancelled, The Ayodha Verdict

False alarm.  No travel for neither Chris or myself today.  The reason?  The infamous (in India at least) Ayodha verdict is tomorrow.  Apparently this is a very big deal. Read more here. The gist of the whole thing is many, many years ago Muslims conquered a particular area of land in India which was said to be holy to the Hindu religion (apparently a God by the name of Ram was born there).  The Muslims built a mosque in the area.  In Dec of 1992, a large group of Hindu's torn down the mosque.  Many people (mainly Muslims) died.  It was very tragic. So, for many years now there has been a dispute over who rightly owns the land. Both sides are very passionate and India is well known for it's religious tolerance so we'll see what tomorrow brings.  I've been advised to stay at the hotel just in case protests break out.  Wow, right?

On a happier note, Chris and I did get a good day of work in AND we were able to go to a clinic where they help pregnant women with HIV learn about measures so they can reduce their risk of transmission to their baby.  It was amazing.  We had a very insightful discussion with the doctor and it's sad how much stigma HIV has in India.

After work we met up with the rest of the team and went to a mall and supermarket.  The only thing I bought were a set of bindi for my family.  They'll have fun trying them on.   Afterward the crew headed back to the hotel were we ordered food.  Tomorrow ought to be interesting.  Take care everyone.
Chris, Nayeema, Dan at Clinic

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

9/28/2010 - Working, Working, Working

Hello.  Not much to tell today.  Another day at PSI full of planning, designing, and documenting.  Chris and my field trip has finally been confirmed.  We'll be leaving Bangalore tomorrow night at 9pm (via train) and arriving Bellary at 5:30am.  Our official field visit will start around 8:30am and run until 11am (or so).  The field visit consists of observing a mobile testing center where miners and farmers can get tested for HIV and receive counseling if needed.  Should be very interesting.

After our field visit Chris and I are going to do some 'touring' and visit Hampi (click here for more information).  The place looks fantastic and our PSI guide said people come from all over the world to see it.  I'll make sure to take a lot of pictures.  NOTICE:  I am not to bring my laptop to Bellary, so there will be no updates to my blog on Thursday September 30th.  

I just realized I haven't showed anyone my harsh living accommodations in Bangalore.  I did a short video so you could gain an appreciation of my suffering.  Chris and I joked that it's going to be rough returning home where we have to make our own coffee and drive ourselves to work. 

9/27/2010 - Flying Solo

Today was a pretty uneventful day.  My partner in crime, Chris, stayed at the hotel today because he wasn't feeling well; yet another causality of war.  I went to the office myself where I conducted a couple of meetings, took a bunch of notes, and started to create the initial template of our final deliverable; designing a management information system.  I stayed at the office until 6:30pm and arrived the hotel at 7pm.  I went for my daily 40 min jog (on a treadmill) and met with the group to enjoy some dinner.  Sorry .. no pictures today.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

9/26/2010 - Causalities of War

Today started off pretty normal.  Had breakfast and later discussed to-do plans for the day.  It was just Katja (from Denmark), Chris (UK) and myself.  We decided to walk around Ulsoor Lake (nearby the hotel) and then go see a Bollywood movie.  Katja sent a text to the team asking if they wanted to go to the 3pm showing.  That's when we found out almost everyone on the team was sick.  Most were staying in their hotel rooms near a bed and bathroom.  The three of us felt lucky.

At 3pm we decided to go to the movie.  It was called Dabangg. Talk about over the top action and acting. It was 2 hrs 10 min long, spoken in Hindi, but I was never bored.  It was not what I expected in a Bollywood movie and you can definitely see the Western influence.  The few dance scenes they had in the film and the music itself were excellent.  Ah, another thing to point out  ... before the movie they played the Indian national anthem and all were required to rise.  Strange.

After the movie we grabbed a coffee and then went back to the hotel.  That's when I became the next causality of war.  I developed a slight fever and called it a night at 7PM.  We'll see how I'm doing tomorrow (fingers crossed).
Sacred cows at Ulsoor Lake

Saturday, September 25, 2010

9/25/2010 - Tourist Day

Today was our first day without some sort of coordinated schedule we were supposed to follow.  It started off with a nice group breakfast.   We then flagged down a few auto rickshaws and visited a couple of temples and a botanical garden. It was a great tour and it was finally nice to get some long distance walking in.  The most interesting part was when our group was leaving the garden.  A group of a 100 or more students came running up to us asking for our pictures.  It really felt like we were famous.  Those in our group who were blond really got pushed for pictures.  We basically had to run out of the place because it was getting to be too much. 

After the garden we when to eat and grab a beer at a place called the Coconut Grove.  We ordered a mix of India and America Food (Masala peanuts and french fries respectively).  After lunch we headed back to the hotel, showered up,  and went to a theater show.

So, what can I say about the show?  Not much.  I didn't understand a word and it was basically two guys telling a story for over an hour and a half.  I must confess .. I did catch up on some beauty sleep.   After the 'show' we went a very upscale district called UB (United Brewery) to have dinner.  We chose an Italian restaurant which was quite good.  We got back to the hotel around midnight.  It was a good day.  
Visiting my first temple

Friday, September 24, 2010

9/24/2010 - TGIF!!!

One week down, three to go.  Time sure is flying and in one way that's good but in another it's bad.  I'm a little worried we won't have enough time to finish the project given its complexity.  Oh well, like good IBMers,  we'll find a way :-).

Today we arrived PSI at the normal time (a little after 9AM) and stayed until 6:30pm.  Chris and I are making a good progress but we still have a few, key unknowns we need to figure out.  Hopefully next week we'll get those taken care of.  On a side note, PSI gave us our own shirts and hat.  We plan to wear them during field visits.

After work we went to the hotel to meet the rest of the team and go out for dinner. We had to postpone our plans for an hour because it was raining very hard.  I know you people in Minnesota can more than relate to that .. and I hope everyone is safe and doing OK.   Anyway, to 'kill' time I decided the get a Henna Tattoo.  I told the lady to design me anything she wants.  So.... she designed some sort of sun that I'm now stuck with for the next two weeks.  Oh well .. the whole purpose of this thing was to become culturally immersed, right? 
My first and only Henna Tattoo

Thursday, September 23, 2010

9/22/2010 & 9/23/2010 - Working Hard

Well, I made it about 10 days and fell off the post-once-a-day bandwagon.  Darn it.  Actually, the next few weeks, during weekdays, is going to be pretty bland.  Just a lot of office work as Chris and I pound out our deliverable for PSI.

There is a strong potential  for field visits to Vizag  to witness HIV & TB testing clinics and to Delhi to meet senior managers at PSI's headquarters.  PSI would also like to send Chris and I by train to remote sugar cane fields to see how PSI teaches HIV and TB awareness to farmers.  To get there we'd need to take an overnight ride.  Exciting.

To tell you the truth I'm pretty exhausted right now.  The last couple days we've been putting in some long hours (9AM - 7:30PM) and then, as a CSC group, we go to dinner and normally don't get back to the hotel until 11PM - Midnight.  I think after this month I'm going to ask for some vacation to catch up on sleep. 

Here's a picture of Chris and I at PSI and the work area they have provided and a shot of us working with Pinki.
Dan and Chris' home for the next month
Chris, Pinki, Dan trying to 'figure it out'

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

9/21/2010 - First Day at the NGO's Site

Today was our first official 'work day' at PSI's central office.  They sent a car for us at 8:45am and we arrived at their location around 9:15am.  We were then introduced to many people and I don't think even after four weeks that I'll keep everyone's name straight.  The team (Pinki and Neeraj) then spent over 2 hours explaining the entire PSI India organization structure and the workings of the Connect project we'll be helping out with.  PSI is a huge non-profit organization staffed by over 1000 people who range from social workers to physicians and the connect project is really six very different activities and each has it's own way of collecting data.  The mission:  Try to create / design a single, efficient data management system.  It will be extremely challenging.

Apart from understanding the basics of the organization and gaining a deeper understanding of the data models for a couple of the six activities, they took us on a field visit.  We went to a very, very poor area where construction workers live and watched how a PSI field officer educated them on Tuberculosis (TB).  Because most are illiterate, the officer used story cards to tell them what signs to look for and what to do if they think they have TB.  When we arrived everyone seem to come up to us to find out what was going on.  In a matter of minutes we were surrounded.  I never felt unsafe, just way out of place.  Plus, since the rate of TB is high in that setting .. I'm sure I'm going to need to get tested when I return to the U.S. <sigh>.  Anyway, here's a quick pick of the people being taught about TB.  Until tomorrow. ~ Dan.
Teaching Construction workers about TB

Monday, September 20, 2010

9/20/2010 - CSC Kickoff

The program has officially started.  The kickoff was hosted at and this is where we met our partners for the very first time.  The event started with Kabi, our program lead, talking a little bit about the CSC program, then a vice-president from IBM India gave an overview of IBM in India.  It's pretty remarkable the presence the company has here.  Then each of the NGOs (there were six of them) spoke about their respective organizations.  Each spoke with such passion about their cause that by the time they were all done each of us CSCers were ready to get to work. At the end, each one of us took a couple minutes to introduce ourselves to the group.  

After all the presentations, lunch was brought in and we spent the rest of the time (until 5-6ish) working one on one with our partners / projects (Population Services International PSI).  Chris and I will definitely have our hands full for the next month.  Our partner wants a better data management system and the way things are running now ..Ug... let's just say we're in for some really long hours <sigh>.   On a positive note though, the team we'll be working with, mainly Neeraj and Pinki are very, very nice and open to suggestions.  Our project is also very technical compared to the others so it's kind of refreshing to be working in this space again.  The picture below is that of the PSI team we'll be working with.  ~Dan
(Left to Right) Dan, Pinki, Neeraj, Chris

Sunday, September 19, 2010

9/19/2010 - Learning and Exploring ...some more

Today was a bit more formal than yesterday.  We promptly met on the terrace at 11AM to go over logistics, security, and formal introductions.  First, the hotel manager (Sunil) introduced himself and explained how things like laundry and food service function at the hotel.  Next, a representative from IBM came by and explained all the security proceedings and where we should and should not go in the city.  And finally, we ended the meeting with some formal introductions.  Kabi and John (our project lead and guide) led the way and both have fascinating backgrounds. Then each of us took our turns talking about our families, work, and hobbies.

After our meeting we went to have lunch at an Indian-Muslim restaurant where I tried some of the best goat meat I've had in my life.  I washed down the meal with some drink they call sweet lime soda.  Basically it's lemonade with some carbonated water.  Good stuff.

We then proceeded to go to some of the markets ... and it was really cool.  There were so many people and shops.  I found myself immersed with different sounds, colors, and smells I had never experienced before.  You had to be very, very careful walking around because 1) you could get hit by some sort of transportation vehicle and/or 2) you could get lost very easily.  We all decided the next time we venture out like this we are going to wear the same colored tee-shirts.  I took a quick video so you can see for yourself.  ~Dan

Saturday, September 18, 2010

9/18/2010 - Our First Gathering

Today was the first time our IBM Corporate Service Corps team (aka The Blue Tigers) came together to meet face to face.  It was great.  Everyone seemed to get along just fine.  There wasn't any uneasiness amongst any of the team members.  Obviously all the pre-work and weekly calls we held helped to break the ice even before we met.  

We met on a terrace our hotel has and our local coordinator, Kabi, explained the details of the program.  She then handed out our cell phones and we proceeded to put everyone in our contact list.   That alone was a challenge. After our debriefing and working with our phones, we set forth on a long neighborhood walk led by our local guide John.  He showed us where to exchange money, some good bookstores, restaurants, pubs, and shopping malls.  The hotel is centrally located.  If you look at a map of Bangalore we are right in the heart of it.

For lunch we ate at a place where our plates were banana leaves.  You basically put your curries on the leaf and proceed to eat them with rice or bread.  It was fantastic.  The hard part for me is learning to eat everything with my hands, even sauces.   I'll keep practicing.

When we returned to the hotel we got together as a group again (on the terrace) and shared life and work stories. Everyone brought something (food or crafts) from their respective countries.  We truly had an international meal.  Everyone hit the sack at roughly midnight to charge up for another exciting day  :-).  Below is a picture of the team working with the phones.  As soon as I get a coordinated group photo, I'll post it with names.  Later. ~Dan
First Meeting - Exchanging Numbers

Friday, September 17, 2010

9/17/2010 - A Day at IBM India

Today I had the opportunity to meet with the IBM team in India whom I work with on a daily basis.  I was able to spend about 1/2 hour with each employee and enjoy a wonderful lunch with the team.  The IBM site I went to in Bangalore is huge; composed of over five large buildings.  This particular IBM site is actually part of a much larger technology park with other companies such as Accenture, Nokia/Siemens, Microsoft, and Philips.  The IBMers told me this is where many of the call centers are located.   There's people everywhere and the complex is quite nice. 

I arrived IBM at 10AM today after an eventful ride in the cab.  I'm starting to get used to all the weaving in and out.  And I'm taking all my near death experiences in stride.  My meetings started at 10:30AM and I finished up the day around 7PM.  The team took me to an India buffet for lunch where I tried everything.  Needless to say, I'll be skipping dinner tonight.   Here's a picture of the IBM team right after we had lunch.  Until tomorrow ~Dan

Left to Right (Top) Bobichan, Rajesh, Thiru, Julie
(Bottom) Dan, Priyanka

Thursday, September 16, 2010

9/16/2010 - Bangalore, The First Day

I officially made it to Bangalore.  The flight from Delhi was excellent.  The service on Jet Airways (Indian Airline) was superb.  They put me in an exit row and I think I had more space than the people flying business class.  I arrived at 9AM and then took an hour and half ride to my new home for the next 31 days.   The hotel is great.  Very nice staff, clean, spacious rooms, good food, and a trusty internet connection which is crucial nowadays.

I took a stroll over to the supermarket to stock up on some bottled water and other small snack items.  The walk over was adventurous.  Seems to me that there is a lot of unfinished construction, so finding a usable sidewalk was a bit of a challenge.  Most people seem to walk in the streets and given the way traffic moves around here ... it's kind of scary.   Lots of noise and dust too.  Getting used to all the horns will take some time. They don't use horns here the same way they are used in the US or in Chile. The horns are used as a way to notify others of 'driving intentions'.  Interesting to say the least. 

Anyway, here's a picture of me at a busy intersection.  The picture does not do justice to show the sheer amount of traffic.  Later I'll grab a couple short videos and post them.  Well tomorrow's a big day.  Going to IBM to meet some of the people I work with on a daily basis.  I'm really looking forward to it.  ~Dan
Dodging traffic to get a picture

9/15/2010 - Made it to New Delhi

I finally made it to Delhi.  The flight wasn't that bad.  It was a 777 so each seat had it's own LCD to watch a small set of movies.   I managed to watch Robin Hood (with Russell Crowe) ... I don't recommend it, the A-Team, even worse than the TV show, and Broolyn's Finest ( with Ethan Hawke / Richard Gere), which was pretty good ... a lot like the movie Crash with all this different plots going on.  I also caught up on some reading and finished through about 25 sudoku puzzles.  

I arrived Delhi at 9PM and finally made it to my hotel at 10:30PM.  The drive over was really interesting and here is my first impressions of India:  Orderly chaos.  The drive was nothing less than intense as the cab driver weaved in and out of traffic and even took a couple buses head on.  Sheesh. But you know what?  Things move.  It's not like everything is at a standstill.  It's almost as if everyone knows what everyone's next move is.  Quite remarkable.  I also found the mix of old and new structures very interesting.  For example, at one point the driver tells me .. "Hey look, on the right, that's a new stadium" and then two seconds later ..."Oh and there's an old temple".  But the best was seeing three elephants in the middle of the highway.  Now that's something I'm sure I'll never see again.

I wasn't able to get any pictures during the drive over as it was dark out and the taxi was moving pretty fast, but I did get a quick snapshot of my hotel accommodations.  I only get to spend a few hours there as I have to leave at 3AM to catch an early flight to Bangalore.  Over and out ~ Dan
Hotel Ajanta in downtown Delhi

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

9/14/2010 - Travel Day(s)

So here's the proverbial 'before-travel' picture. I can't wait until I'm in Bangalore taking the 'after' photo.  Right now I'm sitting at the airport in Chicago trying to kill the next five hours before my flight.  I figure between posting to this blog, people watching, a sudoku book from Mensa, and an account on Netflix, I can handle it.  Notice I didn't mention work :-).  But... I'm a fool and will check my mail.   Anyway, the next time I post I should be (fingers crossed) sitting comfortably in a transit hotel in New Delhi.  Later. ~Dan
Getting ready to go to the airport

Monday, September 13, 2010

9/13/2010 - Last Minute Preperations

So, in less than 24 hours I'll be departing for India.  The preparation for this trip has been intense.  I really don't know why though?  I've traveled out of the country many times before for a month and never felt this kind of pressure to make sure everything is 'in-order'. 

This past weekend the family and I were very busy finishing up any last minute preparation items.  Claudia (my wife) was just awesome.  She made sure I stuck to my packing list and then made sure all the essentials were there.  Between the two of us, we had the suitcase packed in about 15 minutes.  That's got to be some sort of record. 

Right now I'm finishing off some work-related items with the plan being I can relax this evening with the family.  I'm also contemplating trying to sleep standing up tonight in preparation for the 15 hour flight that awaits me :-/.  Well, that's all I got for now.   Catch you on the next post.  ~Dan.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

9/1/2010 - The first entry

Well here goes, my first blog entry.  In fact, this is the first blog I've ever created.  Sure I've read a bunch and even provided comments to people's posts; but actually owned/managed one? Nope, I'm a newbie.

Anyway, the point of this whole thing is to journal and share my experiences in regards to my India trip coming up in a couple of weeks.  I plan to show photos, short videos, etc as well.  For those of you who don't know, I was selected to participate in a program IBM has called the "IBM Corporate Service Corps".  In a nutshell,  IBM selects, based on an application process,  individuals to work on community projects with Non-governmental Organization (NGOs) located in developing nations. More information can be found here > IBM Corporate Service Corps.  

I'll be traveling to Bangalore, India and my depart date is 9/14; returning 10/16.  The IBM team who will be going is made up of 12 employees located throughout the world (U.S., Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Germany, Spain, U.K., Denmark, and Japan).  In preparation for the trip, our team as been working together on various prework items.  We've gone through educational modules on cultural adaptability, media relations, ethics, and consultancy skills.  It's been great and going through the modules together have really bonded us as a  team even though we've never met face-to-face.  

We found out that there will be 6 projects assigned to our group, so we'll be split into groups of 2 people to address each one.  I'll be paired up with a team member from the U.K, Chris, and our project is to work with an NGO to design a more efficient knowledge management system for collecting and organizing information.  Chris and I held our first call this morning.  It was good and they were very nice.  I think we're going to work very well with their team.

So to wrap up this first, official post.... All is progressing nicely.  I received my passport via FedEx yesterday (complete with my India business visa) and this afternoon I'm going to get immunization shots.  Oh goodie.  Until the next post. ~Dan.