Bangalore, India, Ground Truth vs. Image

India has always had an allure to me. When I was studying at the university, eventually switching my degree to physics for which I got a B.Sc. in 1983, I was well aware of leading Indian thinkers in my field, and indeed, in the published literature (peer reviewed for quality), there was a very disproportionate percentage of Indian authors. Not just because there are a lot of Indians in the world, but very disproportionate per capita. Also, so many physics graduate students and some good professors were from India. Then there were the Indian spiritual gurus, many of whose books I read in part and a few almost in whole. Of course, Indians are known all over the world as industrious and well educated people, including these creative ones (as Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge"), but there's quite a diversity of Indians, ranging from the gentle philosophical to the aggressive huckster, and those Indians overseas are a selective subpopulation, so I wanted to go see the core culture where they came from.

A little bit on Indian history and culture comes later in this article ... First, let's hit the road. This is my first trip to India, October 2007.

I went to Bangalore, which is reputed to be the nicest, or rather the least unnice, cities of India. It was the first city in India to have electricity, and is now famous worldwide as the #1 Information Technology (IT) offshore outsourcing center, where Microsoft, Intel, and other leading IT companies are heavily invested. Many call centers are based here, too.

Bangalore is located in south-central India. However, the weather was cool at night, and not very hot during the day. I think is must have been the cool season.

Despite its claims to be an advanced, modern place, Bangalore's on the ground appearances are quite the opposite, quite basic, dirty, and severely lacking in attractive architecture. Also, so many basic things just don't seem to work well.

However, the people are exceptionally peaceful, proper and helpful in Bangalore. Quite unlike many huckster Indian businessmen I've dealt with overseas, the Indians on the ground are fairly considerate, pleasant, and very helpful.


I flew on the Thai airline Nok Air ("Nok" means "bird" in Thai), and the round trip ticket was about 12,000 baht = $350, approximately, if I remember correctly.

The airport in Bangalore is shockingly small and basic. Thank goodness I booked a very late night flight, with my planes both arriving and departing around 3am, but that's probably why it's scheduled at 3am -- the airport must run 24 hours to spread out its traffic. Arriving and looking around is surreal. You can forgive yourself for wondering if you're still dreaming on the airplane rather than observing reality, or for checking to make sure this is Bangalore's airport and you came to the right place.

I will go ahead and fast forward to my departure just for the sake of photos, because I didn't take any photos upon arrival except of the airplane.

When I arrived at the airport to depart and return to Thailand, I had to wait outside with a crowd. They let you inside the building only when your airline opens its check-in counter, and a guard at the door inspects everyone's ticket before letting them in. The airport is just too small. Goodness forbid it rain because shelter is very limited.

There is only a one room lounge, with just Gate 1 and Gate 2, which are two doors about a meter apart where lines can queue to board the planes. There is one men's room and one ladies' room. Only one shop selling coffee, tea, and sandwiches/snacks. Plus a couple of duty free shops.

For a city of 6 million with so much to boast about, both internationally and domestically, its airport looks more like the terminal of my little university town of Fayetteville, Arkansas, in the early 1980s, just a bigger runway and much bigger airplanes. Contrast it with Bangkok's old or new airports (and both are running), for a city of a comparable population size.



Only Gate 1 and Gate 2, one meter apart, sharing the same hallway out.

The lounge, combined for both "gates". (Which gate is just which queue.)


Back to arriving ...

Money exchange is still available at this odd hour, one outlet being open and located right by immigration passport control. The currency conversion is rounded down to the nearest whole number, no fractions. 37 Rupees to the dollar. (You do get a decimal place at currency conversion places in town.) Not many foreign currencies accepted, and Thai baht not taken (so I had to convert from Baht to dollars in Thailand, then dollars to rupees here, as I was warned by the Thai currency exchange people at Bangkok's airport, who didn't handle rupees). I did not use any Indian ATM machines, so I shall not say anything about them.

About taxis, the government reduces the possibility of hassles for travelers by telling you the taxi fare, you pay the government, they give you a receipt filled out with your destination, and you pay nothing to the taxi. Even if you bypass this, there is the "taxi union" booth outside, and its large group of people who appear to be very proper and religious by their white dress and facial paint. There are a few freelancers out there who will follow you and offer rates, but you get better rates with the government or the union.

The taxis are old eggshells of cars similar to some rectangular tiny-wheeled ones you see on some old Bangkok back sois and which are illegal on the main roads. No seat belts, and any accident would be injurious, though in retrospect I didn't see a single accident in my stay of a few days and many taxi rides, despite very tight spaces, aggressive driving, and lots of chaotic merges.

Sorry, no photos of these taxis, due to my negligence at the moment of photo opportunity. However, I never took another good photo of those "taxis" after the airport because they are not marked as "taxis" and after the airport trip, none on the road stopped for me when I waved them down. Maybe they are just specially hired cars and union driven.

However, most "taxis" are auto-rickshaws (called "tuk-tuks" in Thailand), far outnumbering normal "taxis", and with a high traffic population density.

There are no "expressways" in Bangalore by the global sense of the world, and these rickshaws are everywhere.

Many cars on the road are Made In India, the brand Tata. They are not made in Bangalore, but are manufactured in Mumbai/Bombay. Manufacturing of vehicles actually started in the mid-1950s in an Indian partnership with Daimler-Benz of Germany. Lots of young people with bluetooth earpieces and dressed for success in these little cars stopped at the lights. There are also lots of Suzukis and Hyundais.

Below: The Indian Tata car. Ever see a Tata outside of India? See the logo on the back of the car to the left.

Tata and Suzuki taxis flowed down the streets, in addition to private passenger cars.

Notably, Tata signed an agreement with a Thai manufacturing company in 2007 to start production in Thailand of a 1 ton pickup truck. (Thailand competes with Malaysia for car manufacturing, and both countries make a lot of Japanese and Korean brand name cars.)

There are NO STREET SIGNS on corners in Bangalore, only intermittent signs above roads a distance from the intersection pointing which way to turn or go straight for particular roads. Also, the map I had put at least one important landmark in the wrong place.

There are almost no highrises in the Bangalore city center, unless you consider some 10 level buildings to he highrises. I drove past the buildings for some of the leading American software companies and they were all new and around 10 levels but wide to fit more people per floor.

Around the center of town, which is the foreigner district of town, internet cafes are difficult to find, and those which do exist are run down and tend to be partly dysfunctional.

The city is filthy, sidewalks are lacking (people walk on the street near the curb in many places), it's loud due to the constant honking of car horns, and there is the all too ubiquitous smoke belching out of exhaust pipes, especially of these auto-rickshaws.

On the plus side, the people are very helpful and courteous, crime doesn't seem to be bad, and the food is great.

I was in a tuk-tuk stopped at a light, almost choking on the fumes, when the driver asked another tuk-tuk driver beside him about the best way to get to a place, given the one-way roads in the area. Without being asked, a passenger from another motorcycle chimed in with directions, and another motorcycle driver hollered over some tips. I lost my regrets of choosing the tuk-tuk experience.

It's helpful that English is widely spoken here, but it has such different pronounciation that you will find it difficult to understand the Indians, and the Indians often misunderstand you. If you think call center Indians are a headache, their English is actually quite good compared to the typical person you will encounter on the street. Their own language is rattled off with very peculiar sounds in a kind of beat, and they have fit their English within this sound range and rhythm. They swap between English and their native language with the same sounds and rhythms, almost like they fit English words in-between the beats of their own language sounds. India has many different languages, and "English" helps them communicate with each other somewhat like it does in Europe. However, English on the street is much different than English on Indian TV. Call centers are apparently aware of this problem and try to pick or train their people accordingly. Speech therapy would be a challenge here. The street level is very difficult, at least in Bangalore.

English is more common than the local writing, at least here in the city center. Legal documents are in English, and of course India was previously a British colony, the one it was most proud of. English is keeping India together across its many different languages, but I also wonder whether India would have become many different countries if the British has not declared this big territory as one India. To some extent, the use of English is also kind've like in Thailand how Thais use English to imply quality and class (and like in China where there were almost no Chinese brands, just western trademark infringements and perhaps some real items, too, but no indigenous brands for miles around; Beijing made Thailand look like an original, creative place) but everyone speaks their Indian language, though with a lot of English words mixed in. Practically everyone understands English albeit with weird verbal pronounciations, whereby I will say a word, they won't understand it, I will spell it, then they will pronounce it very differently. With patience, you can talk to everyone down to the tuk-tuk drivers. Everyone is very friendly and goes out of their way to try to help, and are perseverant, which is impressive.

There are not many foreigners visible here, and even in the foreigner part of town they are few and far between.

The hotel I booked offers internet, but it doesn't exist in my room. They offered a computer in the lobby, but it is extremely slow. Inspecting it, I found that it has only 96 MB of RAM despite being a 1.7 GHz CPU. People in this IT center city should know better.

A big modern shopping mall just about 100 meters away (Forum Mall) advertises WiFi internet throughout the mall, but it cannot be found anywhere. A few other people had laptops running around the mall, but all of them had the same problem, no signal. One lady gestured that this is normal here.

The mall was packed in the evenings. I couldn't find a table at any coffee shop until 9pm. I like the malls staying open very late, as a good social center.

At other internet cafes, I had weird problems. My notebook computer could receive mail but not send. Some remote websites were unreachable, but if I manually changed the DNS (authoritative Domain Name Server, like the phone book) away from the Indian internet server provider to another one overseas (my server in Thailand), that solved the web surfing problem but not the email problem. However, at a different internet cafe it had the opposite effect. It makes me wonder whether the Indian DNS servers were being hacked, such as by "pharmers" (similar to "phishers"), or whether it was just poor quality of service. In any case, I will be changing my passwords upon my return to Thailand!

Power dropouts are common but usually brief, so UPSes are a must (except for notebook PCs).

Once in the center of town, for buying little things like water and soap, there were no convenience stores. The concept of 7-11 and its competing chains has not come to Bangalore. You can find some neighborhood mom and pop shops and grocery stores scattered around, which I guess is better than having multinationals move in and push them out, but these shops are not nearly as commonplace. Grocery stores in shopping malls are small.

Bangalore presents itself as a very modern and vibrant city, including a much heralded nightlife, but this is all bull.

There were few tour guides of Bangalore, and only one stood out on the news stands by The Times of India. It seemed very promotional of Bangalore and its places to go and things to do. There aren't many old places to visit in Bangalore, and the sights cited are a letdown.

The book starts with: "Bangalore is no longer just the Pub Capital of Cyber City or Byte City of Garden City of India - it is the 'Do It City' as the tagline goes, everyone finds a reason to love this city."

I found it very difficult to find reasons to like the city. Besides the people (which the book misses) and the great Indian food (whereas the book emphasizes foreign food restaurants), it's hard to find anything to like about this city. As other foreigners have told me, it's not a very livable city. Any foreign IT managers should get good hardship pay.

For me, the irritation starts with the constant honking of horns around you which is very irritating, the lack of sidewalks, the dirtiness (including the smell of sewage and urine in places), and the general bland architecture and repetitive simple appearances. Public trash cans on the street are extremely rare, so there's lots of trash just laying around, though fortunately, the stray dogs are exceptionally neat about picking thru it (in contrast to western domesticated dogs) and remarkably healthy. At 6 million people, it's a city under stress and unlikely to change much.

You must travel a ways to find the gardens of Garden City, and as for Pub Capital, what a letdown. Internet research all said to just walk down the main drags of Mahatma Gandhi (MG) Rd., Brigade Rd., Church St., Commerce St., Residency Rd., and St. Marks. Yes, it revealed a lot of pubs with cool western names, but they mostly had just a few Indian people inside, not full, not lively, no mixing, just small private groups, with few exceptions. This was Friday night when I hit it hard, and again on Saturday night just to check a few places cited in the booklet.

There were two happening places. One was on the top floor of the Bangalore Central mall (which is supposed to be the most luxurious mall in Bangalore, but is just a fraction of a typical Central or Robinsons Department Store in Bangkok). It had a sign saying couples only, and I had heard that some places require a man bring a lady to get it. However, they said that as a foreigner they would let me in. The cover charge was $30 which got me one drink. I had my backpack with a computer and didn't want to risk leaving that at the check-in, and also was a bit tired from lack of sleep (all the noise) and didn't want to drink alcohol.

"Tourists and residents are at liberty to pick and choose from the 200 clubs and bars that are open till the wee hours of the morning." Bull. Even the few popular places close at 11:30am at the latest, including those leading ones pointed out in their booklet. After surveying the area extensively, I finally picked one to enter, returning to the most popular one I found, NASA, but they turned me and others away shortly after 10:30pm, saying they are preparing to close. It was a small place anyway. Opens at 11am, with happy hour ending at 5pm. Note that upstairs is just business. Here it is:

Another pub I tried to enter, based on the exceptionally large crowd, turned out to be a private HP company party, whereby I was turned away from the establishment.

I spoke with some expats there, who were very friendly and helpful, just like the locals. They concurred that the pub scene is actually a pretty dead place by international standards, and also noted that everywhere closes early. They were all professional expats. It's OK for meeting people you know, but not general socializing. I had noted most people going places with a friend, not alone to go find new friends as is common in Bangkok.

It's unfortunate that the British and Australian pub subcultures which have a lot of mixing and set the standard in the world, did not rub off on this former British colony.

I wasn't getting much sleep and I really wanted to go back to the hotel and sleep. I just felt impelled to "do Bangalore", the Pub Capital and Garden City. However, Bangalore is a lot like Malaysia, Singapore and China -- you go to pubs with friends, not to make friends. Except maybe that place above the shopping mall.

I drank no Indian beer (nor any other alcohol) the whole trip. I still have unopened cans of Vietnamese, Burmese, and other beers which I never drank, so I didn't bother to even look for Indian beer. I prefer to drink tea at pubs, unless I'm with certain good friends and associates in Bangkok, and then I'll have a beer or a vodka with orange juice. (I don't know what most drinks are by name.)

I also didn't see many Indian ladies as girlfriends or companions of foreigners. Indian ladies were with Indian men, and foreigners were with either foreign girlfriends or friends, more commonly the latter, though there was some loose mixing at the expensive disco above Bangalore Central and I saw a few non-touching mixed race couples on the street.

Bangalore is definitely not like Asia as regards ladies wanting to meet foreigners. It seems pretty conservative and proper.

However, there are exceptions.

My first jolt was a beautiful lady at a bus stop in a lovely blue sari had a stunning lock on my eyes, and immediately broke out in a pleasant smile when our eyes met. I smiled and walked past. However, I was mesmerized that such a beautiful lady in her mid to late 20s was looking at me. I looked back and she was looking at me again and gave a shy smile and looked away. I went back to confirm some directions with her. Nice English, but just helpful and pleasant, nothing else. I took it as part of the Bangalore hospitality, but this one was just such a stunningly beautiful lady, and almost as tall as me (I prefer tall and big women). I wouldn't dare risk insulting good hospitality, but if I had been an expat instead of a tourist, then I would have developed more conversation.

One afternoon, three young ladies sitting at a bus stop outside that Bangalore Central mall in mid afternoon kept looking at me and smiling, and one tapped her palm on the bench next to her so I went over and sat down to speak with them. They were second year university students, originally from 100 km outside Bangalore, and didn't live anywhere near the shopping mall but were just out exploring. I sensed maybe they were after some spending money from me, but even if I was game, I don't think my hotel would have appreciated their entry, though I don't know. After awhile, they suddenly got up and left around the corner. I wasn't sure what to make of that. Maybe they spotted some other sponsor arrive. I wasn't watching them at that instant, but a quick phrase by one and they were suddenly up and gone, not in any hurry but somewhat decisive. My gut feeling all along was that they were looking for a party guy, whereas I was too reflective at that time.

Then came a bona fide offer. Also outside Bangalore Central, an exceptionally outgoing Indian lady struck up a conversation with me, such as where I come from and how do I like Bangalore ... whereby she was proudly from Bombay (Mumbai, but she said Bombay, same city but older name). I clearly sensed that this was not just polite hospitality, but she was a prostitute in a sari, so I started to drift on when she suddenly asked me outright to please go home with her! Now that would have been an adventure, seeing an Indian home in India from the inside, but not a prostitute's home, so I politely made an excuse to turn her down. She also noted that she lives with her sister, just the two of them. But she didn't follow me like street hawkers.

Besides, even if all these ladies were game with me, I had several hundred dollars and my passport and notebook PC with me, in a strange and poor place like India, so there's no way I would go anywhere except my hotel. Actually, in retrospect, my hotel probably would not have cared, but I never found out by testing them. The hotel was so bad, I would have enjoyed being kicked out if they would have given me a refund for unused days from my internet booking. (I tried to get out, but they refused any refund for unused days.)

Besides these incidences, there was absolutely no other interest in me, quite unlike elsewhere in Asia. I think that in this conservative culture, a western guy working here would not find it easy to make a girlfriend outside of the workplace community, or switch between girlfriends.

Such a high percentage of Indian women are beautiful. I think it is the most beautiful race on the planet. I like the shape of the face.

The Indians resemble Europeans and Middle Easterners except for their dark skin color, and more of the Indians have beautifully shaped faces. It's fairly clear that Indians are descended from people who came down from the north many thousands of years ago, since their noses are high. Our species came out of Africa and tropical noses then to be flat whereas northern people have high noses to warm the cold air coming in. But their other facial features are such that if you just changed their color, then most of them would look mainstream in Europe. It's well known that the earliest known migrations into India came from the north (and India is separated from Africa by desert), so it's probably been that way since well before recorded history. Neanderthals became extinct in Europe soon after modern humans entered about 35,000 years ago and expanded quickly, so it was probably some time after that. It's remarkable how quickly pigment can be naturally selected. Under that tropical sun, in ancient times, I don't think white skinned people could do agriculture every day or hunt, fish, or shepherd.

I refreshed my history of India from a guide book on the airplane, and it's far too long and complex to cover here, but what's remarkable are advanced civilizations with elaborate cities, some of the oldest writing in the world (some still not deciphered), and extremely ancient commerce stamps/logos ... all of which vanished completely with no follow-on styles or customs. India had some of the most fertile land in the world due to topsoil depositing downstream from the mountains (including the Himalayas), but there were great floods and some climate and environmental changes.

India has many different languages and subcultures. The independence slogan was "unity in diversity". There were countless invasions from adjacent ethnic groups within the land area we now call India, as well and many from Afghanistan and Iran, but most of these were more assimilative than mass killing, rape and pillage. However, there are a few big exceptions, such as a Persian invasion and destruction of Delhi (if I recall correctly).

India has been a place which assimilated outsiders, with religious diversity and tolerance being traditional, quite unlike Europe and some other places in the world.

The last chapter before the creation of "India" and independence was this territory being a longtime British colony. This has its good side and its bad side.

The worst of it was the British strategy of divide and conquer to maintain their control, and repressing the population in an attempt to keep India as a cheap supplier of raw materials and an importer of British goods, including textiles which India initially exported to England, putting English manufacturers on the defensive and the parliament on the offensive. Before long, the situation had been reversed. There are a lot of other ways the British rearranged the status quo in destabilizing ways for their own benefit and at the detriment of the locals. The British carefully selected Indian allies and developed their loyalty by changing property ownership and money flows. There were some well-intentioned social and educational reforms in the early 1800s, but a stop was put to them shortly thereafter in order to maintain control of the population. Economically, the worst part was the outlawing of unapproved manufacturing. Gandhi encouraged Indians to take up the spinning wheel to make their own clothes and textiles again, and then there is the famous Gandhi long march to the seaside to make his own salt in defiance of British law, which drew a growing line of marchers.

However, India may be one big nation because of the uniting English language, communications infrastructure, transport system, general administrative establishment, and knowledge transfers by both Indians and British moving between the two countries.

The early post independence era, starting in 1947, saw a rise of democratic socialism which actually worked quite well to develop a country with much a higher literacy rate, higher education and a manufacturing base. India started off with a low manufacturing capability, and as mainly a raw materials supplier to British ventures. India has gone very far in just 50 years in those three areas, including being one of the first nations to launch its own satellite in the mid-1970s (I forgot which year). India has always produced a large number of scientists, including many great ones.

Physics is not a money making field nor are most physicists really interested in practical applications as much as just understanding the universe. It is remarkable that so many physicists come from such a poor country.

However, over the past 10 to 20 years, materialism has come to Indian culture in a huge wave.

As for all the modern shopping in Bangalore, they were actually very ordinary and boring shopping malls, nothing like the enormous and artistically designed ones in Thailand. It was hard to find a nice photo, but here's one of the Forum Mall just 100 meters from my hotel. Nonetheless, the shopping malls appear to be the most popular places in Bangalore, and are extremely popular.

The guide book emphasizes the Bangalore art galleries, but little art has made its way out into architectural design of anything, or other things visible in public.

Bangalore makes Bangkok seem so modern, artistic, advanced, and clean. I would rank Bangalore well below many other cities in terms of both livability and enjoyability as a tourist.

There are few highrises over about 10 levels. There are some high tech "campuses" for IT work, but these are separate and surrounded by slums in stark contrast.

The only things I found interesting at the shopping malls were the photos of the two dozen Bollywood movies (in addition to Hollywood flicks, but Bollywood is similarly thin on meaningful movies, mainly just romance and action), the Indian food courts, and the excellent English language bookstores. I bought a couple of books, and on the bag it said "When someone turns on the TV at home it is very educational for me because I leave for the library." Anyone who knows me well knows that I find most TV irritating and go to my room and shut the door, or outside, so here I found some common ground and something I love about Indians and Bangalore!

In fact, another thing that stands out in Bangalore is that you can find good bookstores all over, and lots of used book kiosks set up on the street by hawkers for cheap prices, nearly all English language, and with a lot of good quality topics, not just trashy pop stuff. (The same bag also said that "In Japan, 20% of all books are comics." In Thailand, it seems that about 80% of all Japanese books on sale are comics, usually with a lot of sexual style.)

The conversations between Indians in the shopping malls seemed to be about half English among themselves and half in their native language. Often, they mixed words and sentences, frequently alternating sentences.

Lots of poor street vendors flogging stuff on the road, some of them aggressive salespeople who follow you sometimes ridiculous distances despite your shaking your head "no", waving them off, then ignoring them, and quite a number of beggars who touch and follow you a short ways. I would navigate close past someone as a barrier to knock them off, but the salespeople would just go around and re-engage.

I could find no tourist souvenir shops on the streets in the foreigner part of town. There were some in shopping malls, but they didn't offer much beyond what I can already find in greater abundance in Bangkok's tourist areas where there are a lot of Indian shop owners and commercial influences.

I couldn't even find postcards in the tourist area of Bangalore. Nobody knew where I could find them, so I eventually went back to a well connected mom and pop shop, and they told me one particular place which sometimes carries postcards, which was a printing place. So I went there, and they pulled out a box with a bunch of packets of postcards. Not many of Bangalore, not a good selection, and none conveyed my observations or feelings for the place. Not even a photo of a Bangalore street or a friendly rickshaw driver or anything like that. I came out sending cards of remote places or of female Indian dancers. If I were to print postcards in Bangalore, I would actually print a musical greeting card (like is popular in Thailand, with a cheap sound chip and battery), except it would have a photo of a tourist in a rickshaw with a good background, but when you open the card it would play lots of traffic honking and the sounds of Bangalore.

The constant cacophony of honking car horns is the most irritating part, day and night, alot like Vietnam. It's not continuous at night, just enough to disturb your sleep every few minutes, but in the daytime it's every second. I turned on a noisy fan to drown it out at night. Even writing this paragraph in the 4th floor internet cafe in a mall and I still can't get away from the constant honking. And right now some Muslim prayer blasting a block away which must be eardrum shattering nearby.

(This internet cafe that works for both sending and receiving email, unlike others, but web browsing doesn't work well. Another lady, same problem. The owner said to use Internet Explorer. It doesn't work, either, for either of us. So he walked out and disappeared to avoid the issue.)

This old mall (not Forum Mall) in the city center has a bunch of computer and mobile phone places with promotional literature outside, but none of the escalators are operating and the lift works only intermittently (and with an operator always present), so I had to take the stairs up and down. Similar in a most modern mall I found called Central, some escalators working, others not.

Postscript - The WiFi connection at Forum Mall appeared with a strong signal on one night, so I was excited. However, at first, it failed to allocate any working connection. Later, it started working suddenly, and very well for everything. We shall see what happens after the next power dropout. There are occasional drop-outs of the internet connection but then it resumes.

Toilets conform to a different standard here... and toilet paper is something you must buy from the grocery store and bring with you. They just have water sprays. Now I remember why you don't touch someone's left hand. Soap is rare, too, but that's another item kept in my backpack... In India, you want to wash your hands often, including scraping the soap with your fingernails to clean underneath them.

The main socializing I did was with Indian people. They are pleasant and proper, but not very philosophical though there are some very good exceptions. Pretty much like most Asians, and unlike the expats I normally hang out with.

It has been said in some places that one reason India has a lot of philosophical people is because of the caste system, whereby the top caste people had free time to philosophize. I'm not agreeing with this, but it is notable that one of the nice things about Bangkok is that there are a lot of expats who are retired, both young and old, and some of these use their leisure to ponder more philosophical things, rather than many people who seem to live to make money. However, I know a lot of people who work yet are also intellectuals, including a lot of busy but obviously very intelligent Managing Directors in Bangkok (and the sorts of places I like to hang out).

I guess in Bangalore, you need to know people there and where to go. I couldn't find any leisure area with many leisurely people in it.

I spotted and met some Europeans on a travel package to India, and a guy and his wife said it was nice to speak English with me because he thought his English must be very bad since he couldn't understand the Indians. Now he understands that even me, a native English speaker, can't understand the Indians well. He said he could understand me so easily, and his English was nearly perfect (though spoken slowly). However, they were on the move, some sort of whirlwind tour.

I have had problems outsourcing website design and development to India. It is often the poor English comprehension of the programmers, but men have poor language skills compared to ladies. There were also serious problems with common sense decisions, though it's par with Asia.

Similarly, I had problems with the Indians working at the Thai airline which I flew in on.

I tried to reschedule my flight to leave India early. The flight to India was not full. I had scheduled with Nok Air because they advertised that reservations could be changed with no hassle. In one place, they said it cost just 20 baht (less than $1). They even had a tab on their website for reservation changes, though clicking on it just popped up a box saying that this feature had not yet been implemented and is planned for the future. Anyway, Nok Air tries to appeal to travellers who may want to change their itinerary.

I sent an email to reservations@nokair.com but never got a reply. Apparently just ignored.

The Bangalore office was not answering the phone in the evening, nor was the Thailand office. I went ahead and packed up and went to the airport. The line was not long, so the flight appeared sure to have empty seats. However, they refused to change my reservation. First, their excuse was that the flight was full, but that appeared to be a lie. So I asked another Nok Air guy if I could buy a ticket for the flight or was it full, and he said it wasn't full and he would be happy to sell me a ticket for 8000 rupees (over $200). Then I pointed out that I already had a ticket but just wanted to move it up, and suddenly the attitude changed. No airport personnel were not allowed to change reservations at all, strictly forbidden in the system, and they can't even if they try. Nobody was cooperative. I pointed out that the plane will be flying out with an empty seat and they could sell my seat on a later flight, but they said that they have a strict rule that no reservations could be changed except with more than 24 hours notice. Further, I had to visit the office in Bangalore, and could not make this reservation change by internet or phone!

I never got a reply to my email to reservations@nokair.com

I called the office the next day and these different people also told me that I cannot make any changes by phone or internet. Never mind what it says on the website. The policy they implement is that I must physically move my body to their office, finding some building somewhere in Bangalore as a tourist who doesn't know Bangalore, because I must sign a sheet of paper, and pay them 1300 baht ($40) cash. Finding places in Bangalore is a real hassle.

Compare that with my original booking, which I did entirely over the internet using my credit card, and printed my reservation on my printer: "... Nok Air is a ticketless airline and we will not issue a paper ticket for this reservation. When checking in at the airport, please refer to the Passenger Name Record (PNR) of this reservation, which is [x] ... The booking number of your reservation is [y]. If you would like to change your reservation, please call our call center at ..." No, I had to physically visit them and deal with paper. Plus, they didn't have one person answering the phone at the call center away from core hours. Not one.

Nok Air is a lot like Bangalore -- lots of hype and image, but the on-the-ground reality is a very different story.

Going back 20 years, in the USA I could always go to the airport and move my flight up, space permitting, or go on standby until the plane left in case someone didn't show up for the flight. The rule was that if you don't get to the check-in counter by a certain time before the plane leaves, then you can lose your seat to anyone on standby. I can see another reason why Americans and Europeans from some countries are among the "most productive" and efficient in the world, but Asians set rigid rules, train employees like robots, control everything, don't want to think outside the box, and lose adaptability and flexibility. No wonder they are still so poor. However, to the credit of Thais, I have changed reservations over the phone with other airlines using my credit card, even when it broke the rules sometimes, as Thais are more compromising in business (and constantly avoid Indians in business, partly because Indians in Thailand often don't pay, and many haggle endlessly in tough negotiations). Nok in India is one operation I don't want to ever deal with again!

I told the hotel I was checking out early just to see what they would do. The hotel would not refund any of my future reserved days, whereby I had booked by credit card over the internet. I asked whether they could switch me to a room with claimed internet inside on my last half day instead, but they refused (maybe internet wasn't even installed in the room, contrary to what they said on their website). I had specifically requested a quiet room upon arrival, but instead they had given me the noisiest room, right next to the free breakfast room, whereby they played loud music in the morning which woke me up. I came out changing rooms 3 times in the first 2 days. The second room's hot water heater didn't work. The third room's toilet wouldn't stop flushing, but at least it had a valve to turn off. Pipes leaked in the first two, whereby I operated the valve at the wall. But at least the elevator worked, something I appreciated after visiting some other places around town.

Was it worth spending half a day to rebook my flight ticket just to get back to Thailand a day early? And considerable effort and money wasted?

Bangalore Indians on the street are nice and helpful, but when it comes to business it can be an entirely different story! However, this is true with people everywhere. Perhaps businesspeople just tend to be the more assertive people in society. Going to Bangalore, the plane was full of mostly Indians, and they are more assertive than people on the street in Bangalore.

I decided to explore around some more. On the map, I saw a post office in an easy location to access, and I eventually found it as a small shop upstairs in a run down IT and mobile phones mall. I needed to send my postcards out, but it dawned on me after I left that the friendly post office was so idle that they would probably read my postcards after I sent them out, so I wrote about the nice Bangalore people on most of them, but didn't skip the bad side on some of them. It's a bit easier to tell the negative truths about a place in writing than try to say so diplomatically face to face.

As time went on, I spent more time in the hotel and at the Forum Mall just 100 meters from the hotel. The internet started to work. I could get a strong signal but couldn't always get a network connection, or I could get the connection but not get out to the internet, but sometimes I could get out to the internet and everything worked -- email in and out, and web browsing -- often enough to make it worth hanging out at the food court and coffee/tea shops there, sipping my tea slowly.

The mall was packed in the evening. I couldn't find a table at any coffee shop, only in the food arcade, and that's where most people set up their laptops. The coffee shop closes at 11pm, and most shops were still open after 9pm. The mall stays fairly crowded until around 11pm. There are a lot of Bollywood movies plus a few Hollywood ones playing on the top floor, but the bottom and middle level floors stay popular for socializing. The malls seemed much more popular than the pubs.

All my time in India, I didn't get good sleep. Just all the noise.

In contrast, there are foreigners all over Thailand, both expats and tourists. But a lot less English!

It came time to leave, and that was a great relief!

I've already covered departure at the beginning, but it's worth adding a few things:

When I departed Thailand, I've never seen such a high percentage of people on a flight checking in excess luggage onto the airplane. All Indians. Many of the items were things like big flat screen TVs and appliances which I guess you couldn't buy in India. Now I understand it more. Indians must LOVE the shopping malls in Thailand. The shopping is so much better in Thailand.

However, their aggressiveness in Thailand clearly annoyed the Thai Nok employees. One guy even walked behind the counter behind the receptionist and stood on top of something to take a photo! The Nok employee saw this as too much and showed him her irritation with a firm order to step back, albeit as diplomatically as anyone could under the circumstances. Another guy just walked up and butted in front of me in line, just like it was normal. I asked him to go to the back of the line and he just ignored me. They would never do this in Bangalore, but they sure do it in Thailand! (When it came time for him to check in, I told the Nok employee that I was here first and he just butted in line ahead of me, and she understood and just ignored him.) Again, this was all in Thailand, not in Bangalore.


Back to Bangalore, the time came for boarding. Nok nearly blew that. There were announcements for those with babies and business class to board and all others remain seated. That was repeated, final call for business class. Then, suddenly, there was a final call for boarding for Nok Air Flight DD4101. Final call?

There was a long line at the gate, but I found they were all for an Emirates flight. I saw a few others rushing around this line and we kind've looked at each other and then all dashed for the front. The bus was waiting and we got on and a European lady said she was shocked and confused, suddenly the final call for the rest of us, right after the babies and business class call. Just a few minutes later, the bus was off and we were on the plane, and then the plane was rolling away.

The plane was mostly empty (though I wonder if some people in the lounge missed the flight). Not only was my entire row empty so that I could lay down and sleep on the way back, but so were the next ones behind and adjacent to me, so I moved after a guy in front of me coughed a lot.

It made me think back to the time that the Nok Air staff told me the previous night's flight was full. Liars. Here's the photo of the plane at take-off.

On the bus, I asked the talkative European lady if she was there on tourism or business. She had been touring all over India for a month. I asked her how Bangalore compares with the rest of India. She said "I liked Bangalore. It's the most modern and nicest of all the cities."

I commented about what I didn't like, and she just looked at me and said "but this is India."

She turned out to be an English teacher in Petchaburi province in Thailand, travelling on the school mid-term.

I will definitely stick to Thailand, too. While every place has its plusses and minuses, and India has a very good culture, Thailand still has the best combination of everything in Asia, by my values. Apparently, it's the same for so many other foreigners, given the very high foreigner population in Thailand. This foreigner population also influences progress in Thailand. Studies of Thailand's success attribute it mainly to the Thai hospitality and assimilation of foreigners and their ideas, going back centuries, but Thailand was the only country never colonized in the region.

However, every country I travel to gives me more insights into the differences between different cultures of our species.




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