Friday 30 December 2011

Incredible India: Tasks, Buttons and Fashion Suicides

Many to the few
Going into town yesterday, I once again saw a reaffirmation of my earlier observation of the Indian workforce where there seems to be men for tasks rather than jobs.
I walked into a gentlemen’s outfitters and asked if they had day cravats, an assistant was immediately available and before I knew it, there were 30 cravats laid out before me from the garish to the demure – I tend towards the latter.
Then I wanted matching pocket squares and it became evident that a man’s distinction and discrimination of colour hues is not as developed as that of the female species. We settled for nearness rather than exactness, that was fine by me.
Hand to hand to hand
After I had agreed on what I wanted, we walked up to the cashier; well, I thought it was one cashier but there were two men sat behind the desk.
The first scanned the items and totted up the figures announcing it to his counterpart; I then counted out the money, handed it to the assistant who handed it to the first cashier and this was passed on to the second cashier.
The second cashier first checked the money under the ultra-violet light then counted the money, wrote out a receipt and then counted out the change.
The first cashier having seen that the transaction was completed, gave the assistant a bag in which to carry the goods and there ended my shopping experience in that store.
The division of labour that allows for jobs to be broken into tasks does not make for efficiency whilst it might compensate for the conspiracy of honesty in an impoverished environment.
The snobbery of buttons
I decided to stroll around Connaught Place which is a circular shopping area with the Central Park in the middle. There was a shop that did mostly shirts but when I noticed that the mannequin bedecked in a suit had all the buttons on the jacket done up my tendency to the facetious was too heightened to contemplate stepping in if the pretensions to high fashion left out the minor detail proper fashion sense.
I cannot seem to forget the saying reputedly of the late dressmaker to the Queen, Sir Hardy Amies; “Never trust a man with all his buttons done up.” There are times I have purposefully asked the fully buttoned up to undo the last button but it is an unhealthy snobbish inclination to judge a man by his clothes and to feel less of him by reason of doing up all his buttons; as for those who allow their trousers to sag; if I have much else to say to them, it would be, “Pull up your trousers, young man.”
Fashion victims can be rescued, fashion suicides are beyond salvation – the former can undo their buttons, the latter showing their cack-ridden underwear with their dawdle walk, you can only wonder.

Incredible India: Improving the Koenig Solutions brand - Part I

Between expansion and improvement
As my training classes draw to an end today, it has literally been 23 days of intensive coaching with just Sundays off. There were days I just could not take in anymore either by reason of fatigue or incapacitation brought on by the different environment I was in.
Koenig Solutions in their training services have become a brand and one can understand that every organisation has to balance the demands of growth and improvement. As I have noticed here and in many places, one always seems to take away from the other; the organisation has to be so utterly unique to manage both expansion and improvement in tandem without falling a victim of its own previously acclaimed success.
The trainers are really good
The core resource pool of Koenig Solutions is their trainers, young, highly educated, probably driven and maybe ambitious. It would appear the minimum academic requirement for acceptance into the training pool is a Masters degree, though I cannot say much for the other areas of their personal and personality development.
From what I have observed of some of them, they need some adventure and this cannot be acquired by just meeting with trainees who come here from all the corners of the globe.
Language proficiency
English with all its complexities, exceptions and nuance is probably one of the most forgiving of international languages, even where the command of the language is nigh on appalling, if the trainer is quite conversant with the material, they can deliver the curriculum well enough to the understanding of a majority of trainees who in some cases have English as a foreign language too.
In my view, I think Koenig Solutions should invest in more English language training for better expression and usage, not necessarily in the format of formal classes but in bonding encounters around debates, discussions, games and team-building. That way, people do not feel too exposed for their poor command of English even though they are brain boxes on the curriculum.
Koenig Solutions recently announced that certain courses will be conducted in French and considering the visitors from other Hispanic, Germanic and Lusophone countries one would expect Spanish, German and Portuguese to follow; it is doubtful that Italian will become one of those languages though Chinese will be an interesting addition.
Employees include others
Koenig Solutions appears to be a good employer when it comes to its trainers but those not the only people in the employ of this organisation; I leave India mortified at the living conditions of the staff of Koenig Inn and those of the people running the various apartments as reported by other trainees.
Beyond the main distinguishing factor of good trainers, the only other basic advantage of training in India is cost and that is hardly a great differentiator anymore. Training organisations in Europe are trimming their costs and offering incentives to attract the locals that will normally trot out to India.
Besides, Malaysia and Thailand which I dare say are somewhat more exotic locations are offering greater competition and it is only a matter of time before experienced Koenig India staff are lured away to train for these fledgling organisations that will be have newer and better equipment whilst offering even better support than Koenig Solutions has dared to attempt.
There are many areas where Koenig Solutions is in need of considerable improvement and it is a task that requires purposeful and immediate attention.
The reason why I decided to take my training in New Delhi rather than at the other 3 centres in India was because I felt there was no way I could visit India without seeing the Taj Mahal. However, New Delhi is under a constant haze of fog and pollution it is really unhealthy at the best of times. The winter months are probably the best months to come here but Dehradun and Goa will be in my list of options the next time.
It is surprising that there are no training centres in Bangalore, Bombay or Chennai (Madras), I do not know if Koenig Solutions plans to open centres there.
Sometimes things happen within this organisation as if lessons are not being learnt. I can chart a trail of management disarray and disorganisation from information I received for getting my visa, through my being picked up at the airport, a poor introduction process, tardy problem resolution from information dissemination, testing facilitation to internet connectivity and many other things that appear inconsequential but are major operational problems that show an organisation that is not being run like a tight ship.
From observation, it is almost impossible to say that Koenig Solutions has been in this activity for over a decade, for all the growth they seemed to have remained a tyro organisation repeating the same mistakes, offering the same excuses and hardly showing characteristics of a learning organisation.
To suggest many of the systems are old is to proffer an understatement. I have taken pictures of systems that charities will probably reject. Much of the equipment is out-dated and they are not keeping up with technical advancements in the industry.
For instance, they offer a 3-month after course support but what is required beyond the classes is good access to the labs, even lesser organisations put a lot of stuff on the cloud. As I have noted before, it is amazing that an organisation that trains in current networking trends and systems cannot offer remote labs when we are present in India and for a limited period of time after we have left India.
Koenig Solutions might not be allowed to upload core curriculum material but having been in this business for over a decade, they should still be able to provide generic accessible systems in the cloud for trainees and ex-trainees to use to help reinforce the training they received in India.
Having been in the MN-1 & MN-2 buildings, I cannot vouch for the other buildings but it did cross my mind that fire safety rules did not matter, I could see the one access into the office areas and quite restricted exits if anything happened. In Europe, none of these locations will pass a fire safety test or be granted a fire safety certificate.
All that said, I hope that one fundamental piece of information has not been lost by Koenig Solutions, the idea that trainees that attend courses in December are probably quite senior type personnel in a month that is not as busy.
They will form impressions about the whole gamut of services apart from training provided by Koenig Solutions and that could well inform their recommendations in terms of advising others of attending courses here.
To think there is much incentive in the paltry sums offered for recommending others is a fallacy at best, a service will be recommended if it exceeds expectations regardless of commission.
In general and my honest opinion is this – Koenig Solutions offers excellent training in terms of the personnel, uses average equipment in the delivery of the curriculum, can be quite mediocre in addressing issues raised by trainees either at the training centre or at the residences and really does not pass the muster of exceeding expectations.
I might return to India, I am not fully persuaded of a second helping of Koenig Solutions but then, I have only been in New Delhi; things can be different in Dehradun where they have their largest training centre, in Goa or in Shimla – there is much to be desired but the experience has been eye-opening and wonderful.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Incredible India: Up Against the Koenig Imperative

Boot camp revamp
I had a major falling out with my trainer this morning on a number of issues regarding the delivery of the curriculum leading to a certification I am in interested.
When it comes to boot camp training, it can be difficult to balance the issues of time, complete coverage, teaching, explanation and preparation for tests.
Much as I will like to attain my certifications as soon as possible, my learning methodology has never been by rote, accepted views or concepts have to have undergirding logic and I need to know that I am extending my body of knowledge.
The burden of history
For someone who has been in the ICT profession for 23 years, one can safely say a good deal of the concepts we take for granted today have their foundations in fundamentally primitive things we did decades.
People new to the field may have no need for the history of how, why and what things are today, maybe that is an advantage or disadvantage but it is impossible to expect those who have experience to just become sponges of new thinking without referencing knowledge they already have or activities that have practical affinity with the topic under discussion.
Intensive versus effective
Again, the curriculum is delivered in 6 8-hour days and sometimes Sundays, the danger of saturation looms, the trainer wanting to cover the requisite material, the trainee wanting to pace the absorption so that the quality becomes of greater significance than the quality.
In other words, there might be a case for 5 hours of effective training over 8 hours of intensive training, each trainee knows what they can handle before they begin to wilt and that is only just human.
Delivery prowess
Then, there are amazing differences between the two trainers I have had, the Microsoft Official Curriculum is tied to Powerpoint slides that were followed quite closely and made the taking of notes less easy especially in a one-on-one teaching setup.
The better delivery method with regards to the Powerpoint slides should have been having the slides offered as notes to trainees to annotate thereby helping link discussion with concept and reference.
In the case of my CCNA trainer, she is no less than prodigious, in the 4 days of my training already, she has not one referenced a note, she fills the board with point after point with literal total recall, in the probably 500 sentences she has written on the board, she has only once asked if one point had been written and that point was probably the least significant of the lot.
Rhyme without reason
Things began to reach a head yesterday when first certain definitions appeared to challenge the conventional use of language, English being the medium but meanings appearing to indicate the opposite.
I could not absorb the idea that Least Feasible Distance could go on to mean Best Option, regardless of tone, context, syntax or semantics, this was an exceptional anomaly and I felt quite uncomfortable with this.
I dare say English is not really the same between what is spoken and written in America and what the English speak especially when there is a purist determination in one’s mode of expression – that is just a fact.
English usage and meaning
I have worried that I might get caught out with American usage and Americanisms and a typical example I give is our pants are never exposed whilst Americans wear theirs openly. Alright, pants are underwear in England but trousers in America if viewed from an English perspective just as a negative is always a negative on our side of the pond no matter how many you string together whereas in America the mathematical double negative take precedent to yield a positive or the affirmative.
Another usage of Active and Passive which had the implication of opposites in the class seemed to be given a much more acceptable reading when explained in another context from other material I reviewed.
Just as we have English and US English dictionaries, I am beginning to think whilst allowances can be made for similarity and difference, there might be a case for clearly differentiating the material and not assuming English is really the same around the globe.
However, it was when a formula was written on the board that combined two unrelated units that I had had enough. I was not in class to jettison my engineering background and there had to be a reason why that formula was the accepted code.
Oranges and apples
At this point, I was impervious to the illogical and scientifically incorrect; I could not imagine that all the engineering in Cisco had produced a dimensional and mathematical inexactitude without reason.
That reason was not forthcoming, I was to absorb this by law and learn it by rote – for a person who was first precocious, then inquisitive, interrogative, curious, questioning, researching and challenging assumptions no matter how widely held, this was one of those moments where without reason there could be no progress.
Yesterday, I got up, closed my book, slammed the lid of my netbook and was ready to walk out of the course, she was able to placate me but I was far from satisfied.
Now, I know
On returning to my hotel, that was the first topic I researched and then I saw the extensive formula that got condensed to what was written on the board, the engineering and mathematical proof was evident – that for me is what you call the impartation of knowledge and the fulfilment of understanding – the why and how was there to see.
So, in the morning I took my discovery to my trainer and she acknowledged she knew this but it was beyond the scope of the course I was on. Whilst that was appreciated, I felt a conflict brewing because I was not just going to take everything as gospel but will require clear detail where assumptions are made that seem to challenge the concepts of language or science as predicated from my “wealth” of experience.
By the time we had exchanged a few good views about the material it was time for my trainer to say she could no more continue the training and I felt we had reached an irreconcilable impasse.
I then had a meeting with the officials and technical manager where generally what they seemed to be concerned with was the method (The Koenig Imperative – course material delivered within constrained time-frames leading to certification).
In some ways, I acquiesced and we agreed to continue the course because the curriculum is really an abridged version of the more serious engineering concepts that I will find more interesting and aligned to my engineering background.
Patching up
I can understand my trainer’s frustrations though I cannot say she fully appreciates that I cannot extend my knowledge of these concepts just by faith without seeking the fundamental reasons for why and how such conclusions were arrived at – it is just the bane of my kind of background, that I have become a somewhat difficult and impossible trainee after her having delivered this curriculum to well over 500 trainees is unfortunate.
I am not a robot, God help my intellect and we both need a healthy dose of patience with each other.
We appeared to patch things up and continue with the training, an interestingly eventful day. 

Monday 26 December 2011

Incredible India: The Majesty of the Taj Mahal

A story told again and again
It has taken me a week to really be able to write about my visit to the Taj Mahal, the other blogs I have written were about arrangements, the journey and other experiences.
I was always of the impression that the Taj Mahal deserved a separate blog though I recognise that I might fail to give the experience the narration worthy of the place, it is one of those places that will never convey fully without a personal physical presence to breathe the air and savour the atmosphere of that amazing wonder of the world.
Having our own cab meant we had more control over our journey to Agra with opportunities to stop at the great temples of Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna to take pictures of the great statue of goddess Durga, see manure farms, visit the site of Akbar’s tomb, do the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort.
Tourist benefits
On my first visit, in a tour group of 10 with a tour guide that had literally annoyed everyone with his antics, we got a few pointers as to the layout and some minor detail, then we were left to our own devices.
The benefit of being a high value ticket holder was soon evident; locals just paid INR 20 to see this amazing wonder of the world in their backyard but with that came interminable queues and some jostling. We however could jump all the queues from security checks through access to all the different places.
The toilet facilities are free whilst Indians are levied and if you do visit other Agra Development Authority sites as Fatehpur Sikri, Agra Fort or Sikandra, no taxes will be levied on production of your Taj Mahal ticket for a same day visit.
The majesty
Coming through the main gate, the majesty of the Taj Mahal was evident and amazing, nothing I have seen before could describe that view regardless of all the other pictures and depictions I have seen before, it was an imposing indescribable beauty, attractively enduring, preserved for centuries; a historic monument, a tomb, a mausoleum and an edifice to the loss of love to death.
Yes, the Taj Mahal is a tomb, built upon the grave of Mumtaz Mahal, the 3rd wife of Shah Jahan; a union of marriage borne of love rather than political allegiances, but she died giving birth to her 14th child.
One can only behold the magnificence of Islamic architecture, the undeniable symmetry, the excellent workmanship, the exquisiteness, the fact that no cost seemed to be spared in erecting these edifices that have inspired awe and wonder across the globe to be admired by those who have travelled from far and near to gape, gawp and gasp.
In and around
My trainers were too big for the shoe covers that I received along with a bottle of water that I had to leave them in the shoe rack. There are so many prohibited items you cannot take within the grounds of the Taj Mahal that I had on both occasions put my bag into storage, first for having a tiny MP3 player and then for having my netbook.
Considering what we could do with phones and cameras, the logic of barring the other things escapes me, but those are the rules. Shah Jahan was buried beside his beloved wife having first been deposed by his son and banged up in a cell facing in the Agra Fort facing the Taj Mahal.
His grave being the only asymmetrical thing in the whole place. I enjoyed the company of many drawn to me for all sorts of reasons who wanted to have their pictures taken with me. We all had fascinating stories to tell and in all I probably shook over a hundred hands.
Besides the Taj Mahal, there is the mosque, the guest house, the museum and other out buildings, all cannot be done in two visits, maybe not even in five.
Just once, if able
For my second visit, I had my personal tour guide whose knowledge was invaluable and activities were very helpful especially in taking the most important pictures around the Taj Mahal.
Even so, it was all the more amazing; looking at the Taj Mahal from any angle still is awesome. However, within all this there are dangers from either those looking for a quick buck through to the fingers trying hard to prise my mobile phone from my belt holster when I was trying to retrieve my shoes from the shoe rack.
The tight fit saved the day as I whipped the hand away from my mobile phone – but let that not take away from the day that I even had the opportunity to take a seat where Lady Diana once sat. You must if you can, visit the Taj Mahal, if just once in your life.
My Taj Mahal Slideshows
Some Pictures of Delhi and my 1st Visit
Pictures of our journey to Agra, the manure farms, stopover at the temple in Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, the great statue of goddess Durga, the site of Akbar’s tomb in Sikandra, the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort.

Incredible India: Streets Flummox GoogleMaps and Rotten Middlemen

Pains for trains
It was probably a wild thing to choose a Christmas morning for adventure by my standards. The opportunity had come to travel to Agra by train and I was so up for it.
Apparently, the tickets had been arranged and booked by a colleague though I became a bit suspicious when it appeared the night before things were more tentative than planned.
The schedule was a pre-dawn pickup from three locations for the train station but things began to go awry from that point. It suddenly became apparent how inscrutable the street and house numbering system was in New Delhi.
Beyond GoogleMaps
Apart from the major roads which had names and buildings with numbers; the residential areas normally known as Nagar; the houses were on plots with a numbering system that seems to have bedevilled GoogleMaps that they have not even bothered to assign names to the roads.
I found it incredible that so-called taxi drivers were clueless about the numbering system; in fact, it seems those who know; know their way by rote rather than by joining up the dots as they go.
At this time of the day, most roads were gated, fenced off and locked with Delhi Police barriers; we felt we were caught in an interminable maze as we tried to negotiate our way round the neighbourhood.
Recessive Geography Gene
What struck me more was how guards, workers and presumed residents could not help when asked for directions, it was as if the intricacies of basic geography that allowed for knowing where you were and charting where to go even in close proximity to your location had been so underdeveloped in their brains it had become a handicap.
Eventually, we packed into the taxi, overcrowded by one and made for the railway station only to get a confirmation from the railway officials that our tickets were literally duds. Thankfully, we had not paid for them yet.
Then a tout came in useful, he took us to “government registered” travel agent who said our tickets were not confirmed reservations but on a tentative waiting list with no guarantee that we might get to travel. Beyond that, we were also at the wrong station to use the tickets; one of the bureaucratic conundrums of India would have meant going another 20 kilometres to the appropriate station.
The middleman dirty man
In the end, we could not get a train, one was fully booked and another had been cancelled but we had the option of a four-wheel drive cab with high backs and head rests – the journey would definitely be a lot more comfortable than the one I had the week before.
It took 10 Indian minutes for the cab to arrive which by my watch was nigh on 40 minutes, at one point the issuing of an ultimatum with the threat to cancel the deal seemed to move things forward a bit and cab arrived. What we learnt off later on when we returned was the travel agent had earned a 33% commission with a 3-minute phone call and was ready to have us dumped at the point of embarkation close to midnight rather than ensure we were safely delivered to our hotels.
With a colleague of mine, I walked into his office and told him in clear terms that I will brook none of that nonsense, I guess he was taken aback at the forcefulness of my rebuke and our revelation of what his agency had creamed off to the driver that he had to ensure the driver took us back to our hotels.
That is just common courtesy, in all places where I have been picked up anywhere for tours, I have always been delivered back to my hotel as part of the deal.
It seems many businesses are able to get away with treating tourists to India shabbily with the impression nothing will come of it. Well, that will end with me, I have obtained the business cards of all these businesses and I will be publishing a list of people and businesses for tourists to avoid when in New Delhi.
We did it
My second journey to Agra had begun, this time with the possibility of doing the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort and Akbar Tomb in Sikandra.
Whilst all the arrangements did not seem to fall into place, the day might well be quite eventful nonetheless and it was.

Friday 23 December 2011

Incredible India - We did Christmas and tried to party

Away in a manager
One has to give all kudos to Koenig Solutions for hastily arranging a Christmas party this afternoon considering a good number of us will be in India over the Christmas and New Year holidays.
In a Hindu majority country and possibly Hindu majority city along with the staff of Koenig Solutions, one can appreciate the involvement of everyone to help ease the nostalgia that is accentuated by being away at such a time from family, relations, friends and home.
The roof terrace was carpeted green, with white and pinkish-red curtains as cordons round the entire terrace, no, it was not nightclub ambience.
Good King Wenceslas
The party somewhat started before I got there with my new trainer, the compere who I think is probably one of the senior officials was introducing the main members of his team who were the technical managers and team leaders of the clusters of trainers for the courses the Koenig Solutions runs.
If anything, it was a wonderful showcase of the Indian talent that makes Koenig Solutions a high choice for the many who run the gauntlet of inscrutable visa application processes and endure with little commentary the conditions that yearn for some voices.
As I was opportuned to read on my Twitter time line yesterday; a good man does no good remaining silent when he should be talking – not that I will arrogate to myself any status than to make observations and offer suggestions.
O come all ye faithful
One cannot say the trainers were examples of public speaking nor were their comments representative of the expertise or underlying genius of their ability. If not shy, reticent and somewhat too stiff to join in the fun of the compere who seemed to have a rather good sense of fun and humour that made for some entertainment.
The disk jockey was a confused spell of discs with the music starting and stopping abruptly that it made for irritation that could draw the ire of plugging the plug and asking everyone to do nursery rhymes instead.
Drinks were served and the Santa Claus whose costume could do with a few well directed claws cut the cake with a knife I thought was a camp knife picked up as an afterthought.
God rest ye, merry gentlemen
Then we were invited to play games, at which point, farce was beckoning the farcical – the trainees were in an inner circle walking in a clockwise direction and the trainers on the outer circle walking in an anti-clockwise direction and as the music spluttered to a stop, the trainee and trainer were to give the first impressions of each other – I held my head in my hands.
O, for some inspiration; maybe some wisdom, surely, it could get no worse as a second and third round of walking left the partners misaligned. Maybe I should not forget the observation of another colleague for all he could see were 8 men holding hands – it was a game if you were there but a picture might just convey a different impression.
Once in royal David’s city
Then the floor was opened for dancing, everything from hip-hop through Bollywood music was thrown in with the expected segue of a DJ at hand.
Soon we were spared any more torture, the party ended not really having been a party in a general sense but at least it offered a time for us to let down our hair – What am I talking about? I have none.
So, there was our Christmas party and I would generously not rate it apart from say it gets full marks for good intentions and some cake.
Thank you, Koenig Solutions for bringing Bethlehem to New Delhi.

Incredible India: Seeking Koenig Solutions to Atrocious Conditions

Something of the heart
There are other matters that might appear peripheral but are pertinent and demand urgent and effective action on the part of those who have the power to implement change.
The need for a recognition of the fact that the broad experience of the boot camp training regime means we interface with more of the lower cadre of workers in the Koenig Solutions hierarchy and we cannot be oblivious of certain obvious and worrisome things.
Apart from the trainers who we interact with for about 8 hours a day, it is the young men at our accommodations that cater for our other needs in providing meals, facilitating our laundry, doing the housekeeping and sometimes having to tackle issues and problems they are barely equipped to handle like when the wireless Internet connectivity service fails.
Such appalling conditions
One cannot fail to commend these men either at the main Koenig Inn or at the other apartments dotted around New Delhi.
However, you can imagine my shock when I noticed that in a 24-room inn which is barely of 2-star quality I arrived to see that two of the workers at the inn were sleeping on the floor. It is something I have seen a few times since and you just do not get used to it at all.
For whatever working circumstances exist in India that might differ from those in elsewhere and for whatever satisfaction these men might have with their jobs, the moment these conditions are exposed to those from outside India, the situation is untenable.
It becomes an unbearable stain on our consciences where we dare to be humane and have a basic sense of dignity that people who toil tirelessly for our comfort are housed in conditions so appalling.
Shock does not describe it by half
Beyond that, reports from at least one apartment under the management of the Koenig Solutions entire indicate the workers have no toilet facilities that it is almost a moment of ululation when a guest leaves just because it affords them the opportunity to do things in a more healthy way.
I heard this, days ago; the shock of the news is just wearing off, but it is something that needs writing about and sorting out. The management at Koenig Solutions having received prizes for being one of the best places to work for in India makes one wonder what kind of criteria is used to determine such an accolade.
Fundamentally, if Koenig Solutions provides world-class training services, it is only incumbent on them to make provision of a better class of working and living conditions for their staff at these places.
Perish the thought that Koenig Solutions for all the praise it has gotten the ignominy of being a provider of world-class sweat shop conditions becomes the enduring experience after we have left for the comfort of our homes.

Incredible India: Conditions and Transitions

Silence is not absence
There might be readers of my blog concerning my training in India who might have thought I had already screamed myself hoarse and finally settled down to the scheme of things. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I have been busy and in many cases exhausted but there is so much to write about that the right frame of mind is necessary to be as articulate as possible.
As you would have noticed, I have registered no new comments with regards to my Internet connection that is not because the Internet access problem has been solved properly or that the service is anywhere near acceptable, I simply could not afford to suffer another night of absence of service that the next day I got a mobile Internet dongle that gives me close to unlimited access for the rest of the time I will be in India.
My colleagues at Koenig Inn have endured more frustration than I have the capacity for in terms of that as it were “funny” service. I have on occasion used the wireless Internet service but I suppose because I have contingencies, I am no more as affected.
Acquiring a Microsoft-infused mind
The main tranche of my course finished yesterday. It was a whirlwind tour of the Microsoft Windows enterprise framework strategy. We covered so many topics, I think I was stretched, learning new stuff, relearning interesting stuff and unlearning obsolete stuff – on the latter, there was much to unlearn with experience comes the vagaries of change that compel you to adapt or be face obsolescence.
Koenig Solutions also gave me a birthday present, not a free course but a complete set of all their souvenirs – Thank you.
Much as I seem to have some bravado to face some examinations in order terms I feel I am not as prepared as I should be. It is saturation environment from now on as I do practice tests on my mobile phone, read up on obscure topics and playback videos of the CBT material whilst awake and whilst asleep – my thinking has to become Microsoft(ed) if any such word exists.
Parting with my trainer, I can only commend his knowledge of the material, his understanding of the fundamentals, his confidence in the face of thorny questions and his appreciation of other perspectives that people bring in with regards to the practical experiences they have had. I will hope that I make a friend of him for the invaluable service he has offered.
Feng Shui we need
I received an email yesterday with regards to the next course that I hope to obtain a Cisco certification for. I cannot say much for the attention to detail when the laboratory room number indicated I was to be in a different building from what the email suggested – I am not complaining, just observing.
The training room is in the basement of another building, I would hate to think that I am already suffering the effects of bad Feng Shui and other complications of sick building syndrome – basically, I had basement offices and I have suddenly noticed that I have been in classes without windows, breathing processed air and using artificial light.
The part about breathing processed air is useful because New Delhi is in a constant haze of pollution, there are places you can go that give you serious throat irritation in a matter of minutes.
The same and different all the same
So, after finding my training room, I walked down the length of the corridor noting how clean the whole place looked and could not help but notice that unlike the other building, the sugar bowl had a lid that was used with the notice, to always cover the bowl after use. I still have issues with the spoon being in a cup of water, I would rather they had a proper sugar dispenser or plastic disposable spoons.
In all, many things are the same all around the place, the coffee machines, the water coolers, the serviette boxes, even the microwaves and yet all different – a concept of bulk similarity but varied utility depending on location as regards the training centres and the managed accommodations.
A visit to the gents was a bit more comforting, a lot cleaner in looks than the aging other place but with a façade of the worn, maybe by reason of age, one cannot say.
The lessons have started and this looks like it will be exciting stuff – there is much more to report some of which is almost too incredible to talk about but it will be remiss of me not to cover these matters in the next few blogs I post.

Thursday 22 December 2011

The day after 46 with gratitude

Yesterday came and went, auspicious and ordinary, hopeful and indifferent but in all grateful, happy and feeling generally good.
For the first time in my many years of blogging I failed to post a blog, I probably felt a bit inspired but less compelled. There was nothing expected and nothing planned just a day to remember, another milestone of age in my sometimes interesting and eventful life.
All that was made up for by the many greetings and wishes I received on Twitter, on Facebook, by email, on the phone, by text message and by person – colleagues, trainers and staff here in India.
My mother called and sang to me, so did my sisters, all with interesting variants of the Happy Birthday song, the not so impresario in me thought we might just make a birthday album.
It all, it was a quiet day, a thankful day with some reflection and a touch of reality to ground me and hopefully regain focus and purpose.
And so, as I marked 46 and I have begun the 47th year of my life, hopeful, expectant and determined to make the best of every opportunity I have to be a better man and do things better.
My most heartfelt thanks to everyone one who brought a smile to ward away the tumult, uncertainties and distress.
Thank you all.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Incredible India: Tour Guides between Sacred Cows and Cash Cows

Looking for a good tour guide
A tour guide is an essential resource and I know, having visited a number of places. Their knowledge of the object of interest; be it, the history, the architecture, the people, the customs and other useful trivia is invaluable.
They also give good tourist advice – what to expect, how to react, what to do, where to meet and many more things – then, they are agents, agents of local businesses that depend on tourist foot fall, as restaurants and manufacturers of souvenirs and goods of sometimes substandard quality sold as exquisite.
In cahoots to irk us
We picked up our guide as soon as we entered Agra, after introductions, he immediately suggested we stopover for lunch, whilst there was keen interest in getting to the Taj Mahal we were hungry and easily out-voted the keenest of all of us to step in for lunch.
The buffet was a set price and I specifically asked if it included all taxes and charges, the guide replied in the affirmative. I felt in a strange restaurant, a buffet presented a see-smell setting that you could not read off the menu, so I opted for the buffet.
Some of us placed orders a la carté and we tucked in, at one of our stopovers, I had a local yoghurt/curd drink called lassi – they say it is good for stabilising stomachs at risk of traveller’s diarrhoea – so I had a glass of that too and noticed the difference between the nonsense I had earlier and the finesse I had this time.
When the handwritten bills came, the charges were extra rather than included, that spelt the beginning of the tour guide’s woes in terms of our future generosity – I was in a group of people who had being taken for a ride.
[My trainer was mortified by the fact that the bills were not printed, suggesting there was a racket going on; the printed bills were probably for tax purposes as the restaurateurs fleeced the tourists creaming off the extra.]
High value entry
We boarded our van again and then made for the Taj Mahal, foreigners pay 750 rupees, members of the SAARC countries pay 510 rupees and we are all referred to as “High Value Ticket Holders”
The tour guide got the tickets and after going through the list of prohibited items, because of my MP3 player, I had to put my bag in a free locker. Included in the ticket price was a bottle of water and covers for our shoes.
From the ticket office we boarded a battery operated vehicle that took us to the gate, we were told to spurn offers of other kinds of rides that came at extra cost.
At the main gate to the Taj Mahal, there were queues for Indians separate from those for foreigners and then the ladies had a separate queue to with shielding where they had to pass through security.
Reading the sign “High Value Ticket Holder Ladies” could almost have been read as high-class prostitutes – therein is the unintended context of sign-posting.
For our security, the loss of liberty
Soon we were though security; it must be brisk business for security firms in India with the X-Ray scanners, the walk-through metal detectors, the wands amongst other security paraphernalia.
All accesses to the metro stations have one, the ladies are given separate access, even the vegetarian outlet beside my training centre had one.
In the midst of assumed freedoms the communal liberties have acquiesced to searches and demands for information that will make Westerners rise in revolt – that is the way in South Asia, tensions remain high, hot-heads abound and fanatics when triggered by Machiavellian leaders up to no good for political advantage, there is no telling where the next spot of danger lies.
A new camera idea
The tour guide corralled us and explained a few things about the out-buildings before he tried to shop us to photographers for prices we were not ready to pay. Much as we like to handle pictures on photographic paper, I think we have more of tendency to take digital pictures we can share online.
Now, if there were cameras with proximity transfer technology that allowed professionals to take pictures with their high-end cameras and expertise then swipe those into the memory repositories of our low-end digital cameras, there might well be a case for these vulture photographers.
We resisted and hardly 5 steps on, we were being offered the same service for half the price, by which time we were not ready to listen to whatever was being said, we wanted to go straight to the Taj Mahal.
After a short explanation about the place, the buildings and some history, we walked through the gate to behold – covered in the next blog – we arranged to rendezvous up in 90 minutes.
Stone cold annoyed
On exiting the grounds, we boarded a battery powered vehicle for the car park but we disembarked much earlier as the tour guide called for the van to pick us up.
After collecting my bag, the tour guide gave us some spiel about the art and craft of marble stonemasonry was in decline and our visiting a “government sponsored” project will help sustain that craft.
I was not persuaded to leave the bus, whilst others left to learn about masonry, interesting to some but once again, the bilking of tourists had spoilt the atmosphere that we were close to insurrection if not lynching the tour guide.
We could not be persuaded to visit an embroidery shop across the road and the suggestion to visit a carpet factory gained no traction because there were no carpets at the Taj Mahal and if the carpets were Persian – we might well be in Iran.
[My trainer felt the carpet making trade was an atrocious abuse of children in sweat shops.]
Not a tip for the trip
As we parted ways with the tour guide, there was not much gratitude left to express, the tips were hardly tipping out of our wallets, what he eventually got was derisory at best and maybe a lesson for another time.
The Indians have their sacred cows but tourists to India somehow get preyed upon as cash cows, only this time, we wised up to the fact that we will not be done over again.

Incredible India: To Temples and Tombs

The importance of the Taj Mahal
The few times I have channel-hopped to CNN to catch their slant of developing news, I have been regaled with the adverts of Incredible India.
On one of those days, without having ways or means, I promised myself that I would soon visit India and the Taj Mahal is one place I would visit.
When opportunity came to plan the trip to India just about 6 weeks ago, my European disposition was to go to the coast and that was Goa, but after reviewing all my options, I knew the Taj Mahal was to India as the Pyramids of Giza were to Egypt or the more recent Eiffel Tower to Paris.
It had to be done and that meant changing to New Delhi with its constant fog and smog, pollution hanging in the air that any 10 minutes spent near traffic with result with throat to oesophageal irritation.
Headless planning
As soon as I could I booked myself on the next Taj Mahal trip organised by Koenig Solutions for the trainees. I believe I did persuade a few people to consider making that trip – a trip of a lifetime.
We were to receive an email with regards to the plans for the visit, but that did not arrive, albeit, I was up at 4:30AM on Sunday thinking the bus will arrive at 5:00AM. I even consulted the inn staff because I was worried the whole deal might fall through.
Eventually at 6:47AM the van arrived to pick me up; I was last of 10. I say van rather than bus because the vehicle is quite suitable for city driving but for journeys that could last 4 hours or more, the backs of the seats should have been higher to give neck support for those who fall asleep during the journey.
Every morning we drive past a statue of the monkey god (10m) and I thought that was huge until I saw another that dwarfed it by storeys; that requires a specific visit.
The organised chaotic driving
Soon we were in traffic redolent of India, driving that made you want to cover your eyes and the honking hardly ever stopped. We passed through a number of toll gates and at one stopover we saw performing monkeys and even a snake being handled; the handlers aggressively demanded cash of tourists that made the mistake of taking pictures especially at a state border post where we had to stop to pay taxes.
The roads were essentially two-lane dual-carriageways that had road users ply them as if we had many more and that did not account for those who drove against the traffic on out left – India drives on the left. Yes, trucks and tractors drove against the traffic not only with impunity but as if they had right-of-way in some cases, the vehicles laden until the tyres belched; some with sand, others with hay but when it came to people – if you could grab a hold, you were on it.
I cannot say the road to Agra passed through rural countryside, whilst there were farms and factories, villages and towns, they were all bustling with life and with my co-passengers there was never a dull moment.
People from Afghanistan, Angola, Nigeria, France, Rwanda and Mauritius (they were polyglots). {I learnt Hindi and Urdu were literally the same spoken language but written differently, the former is in Sanskrit and the latter using Arabic script.}
[I am better advised on the matter of Hindi and Urdu by my trainer – Hindi is based on Devanagari from which Sanskrit is derived and Urdu derives from Persian and Arabic script.]
Temples and tombs
Well into our journey, I noticed a road to the left which was sign-posted for 4 great temples within the next 10 kilometres, it was then that we caught a glimpse through the haze, a huge statue of Durga – the size of it did have an effect on me; I guess I am yet to see real statues of Hindu gods up close.
So, we were driving through Sikandra, where lies the tomb of Akbar the Great, the grandfather of Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal. Agra was the seat of the Mughal Empire and there are historical monuments of antiquity that surround the city including the amazingly huge Agra Fort which is also listed as a world heritage site.
As we entered the city of Agra, we caught a glimpse of our intended destination, I could not help but notice that the path as it were to the Taj Mahal was not necessarily a straight road, one should really consider doing this trip by express train from New Delhi – it is done within 90 minutes and there is more time to explore other notable sites.

Saturday 17 December 2011

Incredible India: Selling rags as ermine

Tales to tell
There are many stories to tell of the past day, all bringing some perspective of things in India as a foreigner might experience them.
Friday was a half-day, we covered a topic I was quite familiar with, afterwards I wondered if we had just breezed through something we could have spent more time on, but it did not appear I could be as engaged. I was also beginning to feel that I needed to get out to see a bit of New Delhi, the triangle of hotel, training centre and church hardly offered the picture that makes for Incredible India.
However, in the same vein, one of the elements of my kind of tourism is to understand the people, appreciate how they live and maybe comment on the similarities and differences with my experiences and other observations.
Masks are needed
Having left on the bus after lunch, I got to the hotel literally exhausted; I wanted to get a nap which I did. Then it was time to go to the tailors to fit out the suits being made for me. When in Asia, one must always avail oneself of the luxury of bespoke tailoring with quality materials at a fraction of prices at home.
Since we were going by auto rickshaw, I decided it was wise to get a face mask, from a surgical perspective, they are disposal but in reality, they are reusable. I got a few just in case.
Pressed to dress
As we got to the tailor’s time was wasted on trying to sell us other stuff we did not need; I was firm in my rejection of this distraction asking him to get the suits over for our fitting as there were 2 of us there for the purpose.
We probably spent another 15 minutes there before our urgency made the suits appear, meanwhile I sat with my palm to my forehead and one of the ladies in the shop said it was a bad omen. It was frustrating enough not to care about cultural differences with their lackadaisical attitude to customer service.
For all the luxury in the shop, there was no changing room, the lady attendants had to leave the shop for us to change and check the fit of the clothes.
Not my stripes
The moment I saw my suit I knew it was not the material I had ordered for many reasons. I most wear pin-stripe suits but have never ever liked double pin-stripes of different colours. No matter how bad the lighting was, there was no way I would have missed the second pin-stripe that became obvious on sighting my suit.
I was forcefully vehement enough about it but to insult me the more, the tailor suggested I order another suit to the material I really wanted. Now, my colleagues thought the suit was suits me, maybe it does – it is not all that bad, it is just that it would not have been my choice in so many innumerable instances.
To reinforce the fact that the material had been changed, the receipt booklet was full of samples of cloth for other orders but nothing was ever pinned to my receipt in the book. The simple lesson is, if ordering a bespoke suit from material, always ask for a sample to keep and later compare if disputes arise.
My trainer told me there have been many instances of switching material and underhand practices by tailors trainees have visited, he suggested we ply more sophisticated outlets like Raymonds.
Not ermine by far
This evening I went to pick up my suit and once again, the hard sell started, I wasn’t playing ball as I had my suits packaged with two pairs of trousers as one should always do when buying suits.
A new consignment of material had arrived and it all still in the wrappings, the tailor could not resist another pitch when he suggested he had material very much like my stripped trousers. As he laid the cloth on the counter, my eye caught the original factory markings in chalk-ish ink, as I tried to read the markings the lady assistant began to fluff the cloth in order to conceal the markings.
I allowed her to do her thing as I was being told it was the best material on the market, then, I reach for the side where the markings were, obviously, they could not grab the cloth from me when I turned it over and it read – Polyester & Nylon – I suppose those materials have a way of acting like Kashmir to the eye, to the touch and to the hearing of the trader’s spiel.
Knowledge is power
On seeing the label, I just stepped back and said to my colleague, we had to leave. The tailor also realised I had gained knowledge as he then asked if the material was saleable and I said it could be as we agreed that everyone has their notion of quality – the truth being, quality is not all that it is sold out to be.
Bales of material on the shelves have already had the factory markings cut off, since it is branded in the end of the roll of cloth, the unwitting customer left to read the braided counterfeit markings the line the edges of the cloth pretending to something it is not.
Once again, a bargain in a backwater with the story that they also do it for ambassadors does not mean ambassadors know much about quality material and you are soon sucked into a tale of satisfied customers lured by the vicious circle of word-of-mouth to the confidence trickster’s lair – the silver tongue of selling rags as ermine continues to rake in the bucks, many none the wiser of the fact they have been had.
My consolation, it looks good, it is bespoke and I am not a Nigerian politician dressed up to the nines in every luxury label bought on stolen money.