Just got back from two weeks in India. This was a last-minute work trip to Bangalore, so not really a tourism junket or an eat-pray-love thing. I didn’t bring any camera gear except a Sony a6400 and a single 16-50 lens, and only got out once to snap a few pics. It was otherwise a lot of meetings for work, and as always, I don’t get into work here.
This was my longest trip ever, and my first time in Asia. It involved three new countries (India, Qatar, and the UAE) and at 12.5 hours behind my home time zone, was the biggest jetlag hit ever. And there’s no easy way to shift a half-day. Sometimes I try shifting an hour a day before a trip, but that’s impossible here. Don’t sleep the first day, try to get some exercise in sunlight, and hit the melatonin hard. I left on a Monday night, didn’t sleep on the plane, and went straight to work on Wednesday after landing. Not a great idea. It took me a couple of days to get back to normal.
India was way out of my comfort zone. What really got me was the sheer size of the place. By population, Bangalore is bigger than all of New York City. India has four cities bigger than New York. The second-biggest city in the US is Los Angeles. India has eight cities bigger than LA. Chicago is in third place in the US; India’s ten biggest cities are all bigger. Yet there is little vertical development in Bangalore. Walking around reminded me of being in parts of Queens, where most everything is three stories and crammed together.
The noise and the traffic is what got me. I’m not used to it anymore, and it reminded me of when I’d go back to New York in the early 10s and hear the constant car horns and see the waves and waves of people on the sidewalks and wonder how I ever got used to it back in the 00s when I lived there. I mostly walked and caught an Uber or two a day, and it absolutely amazed me how frenetic traffic was there. Sometimes, you couldn’t even tell what side of the road they really drove in, because there would be two, three, five lanes of traffic crammed on a road, with motorcycles crammed in between. That said, every driver was expert-level and I didn’t see a single accident the whole time I was there.
The weather was pretty mild, and I didn’t catch much rain. There were a few epic thunderstorms, and when I went outside, the atmosphere reminded me of Bloomington nights back in 1992. It was also a neat callback to IU to see a Buffalo Wild Wings in Indirianagar. I didn’t go in, although I wondered if the conversion rate would mean ten-cent wings again.
Food was slightly problematic. I was trying to be extra careful to not get sick, so I was paranoid about drinks with ice and tap water and lettuce and really spicy food. I ate at a lot of American fast food places, and it was weird to go to a McDonald’s with no hamburgers and a half-dozen different veggie burgers. It was a Pizza Hut that eventually did me in, so that was unavoidable, but fortunately not too horrible.
I spent the first half of the trip in a particularly bad hotel, then got moved after a week to a Hilton where they were having our conference. This was in the EGL business park, which was opened in 2004. I took a long walk through the area one day, and it was amazing how it looked almost identical to any other IT park opened after the bubble. It was the same exact three-story Silicon Valley buildings, with brushed aluminum trim and mirrored green or blue glass. It reminded me almost exactly of taking a stroll around Palo Alto or Naperville or the Denver Tech Center. The Hilton was also a Hilton. It was funny to be working on my school paper one day after work, remembering last year in Denver in an almost identical hotel room in an almost identical tech park, also working on an almost-identical paper for b-school. Heavy deja vu there.
I did spend the weekend walking around various touristy places, going to Bangalore Palace and then the Museum of Art and Photography, then realizing there was no way to catch an Uber in under a day and walking five miles home. There were so many bizarre and surreal images from the long walk: two guys and a live goat on a moped; endless clusters of ham stores right next to places rebuilding motorycles or selling bulk vegetables. Pop-up stands popped up everywhere, random people with a sterno ring and a wok, whipping up curry to people eating it on the street with their hands. There were so many people, so much to see, and endless streets in every direction, a complete and constant cortisol dump into my fight-or-flight, telling me that I should be at 10/10 anxiety because I was in a random city 8,600 miles from home and didn’t speak the language and didn’t know where anything was, and the closest 7-Eleven was probably a few hours away by plane. The whole thing was so overwhelming and stressful and wonderful at the same time. I was so beyond lost and had no way to trust anything and just went with the flow of it and hoped for the best, and hours later I felt like my anxiety had gone away completely.
On Friday after work, I flew to Dubai and spent the night in the airport. That was a truly surreal experience. It reminded me of when a mall is open until some absurd hour for a holiday. I remember walking by a Rolex store with a line of people out the door, all patiently waiting to drop ten grand on a duty-free watch. I went to a cosmetics store and bought Sarah some skin care products she wanted that aren’t available in the US, and had no idea how much any of it cost because it was all in UAE Dirham. I took a shower in a lounge spa, ate three meals overnight, and worked on a school paper for a while. (I’ve now worked on my two degrees at WGU in seven different countries.)
Oh yeah, India was not as cashless as my Iceland experience. When I arrived at the airport in Bangalore at three in the morning, I grabbed about 25,000 rupees so I could get a cab and some breakfast/dinner/whatever. Sounds impressive, but that was like 300 bucks. I could not grok the conversion rate at all, and just gave out bills and hoped for the best. I remember eating a giant brunch at some place, paying them whatever, then getting home and realizing the whole meal was like $6.42.
The flight home was absolutely inhumane. 8300 miles, flying over Iran and Russia, then crossing the North Pole. That was an absolutely eerie experience. The WiFi cut out because there isn’t satellite coverage up there, and I spent a few hours looking through the camera at the view of the glaciers at 40,000 feet. I felt completely disconnected from the rest of the world, like an astronaut on the far side of the moon.
Anyway, I’m back. I did not get a lot of pictures, but at some point, I’ll post a few more maybe. Now I get a couple of days off before I get back to work.