Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Safety in India

What you've heard about the cows in India is true.  I've seen traffic on a major highway come to a standstill in the heart of Mumbai while a herd of cattle crosses, and I've seen thousands of cars, motorcycles and pedestrians stop to wait for a dog to pinch a loaf in the middle of one of the busiest intersections I've ever seen.  These animals don't have a care in the world, and wouldn't last a week in the states.  But, I truly expected the Indian culture to have a greater respect for human life as well.

Everyday I see cars pass at full speed within inches of pedestrians (they will lay on the horn while doing so - but I'm not sure that's a plus).  Meanwhile, tires will squeal as vehicles brake for a lamb frolicking on the highway.

There has been a lot of reporting in the newspaper about the recent Commonwealth games (CWG).  I don't know how much attention it received in the states, but there were significant issues with construction quality (a newly built pedestrian bridge collapsed within weeks of its opening), corruption (they have no idea where the money went, but a significant percentage was obviously lost due to graft), and hygiene (many countries threatened not to send their athletes, and many individual athletes elected not to participate).  The press is calling it a national embarrassment and is doing a pretty good job of investigating.  As an aside - I remember as a young man when the press in the states used to do investigative reporting on topics other than Lindsey Lohan's rehab.

Earlier this week they reported that the government could not state definitively how many fatalities occurred during construction of the CWG facilities, but they think it was less than 50 people.  The same article happened to mention that during the construction of Dehli's 2 Metro lines there were 109 fatalities.

I understand that their are 1.2 billion people in this country, but geez. 

The reports are that there have not yet been any fatalities on the job that I'm managing, given they haven't really kept track at the CWG, I'm not confident that its true.  If so, its pure luck.

As an example, I went out on site one night during my first week here to observe them placing a 170 ton U-girder 40+ feet in the air.  I was very encouraged to find that they had nice equipment which was more than adequate for the job and that they were being very diligent in setting up the cranes out-riggers (apparently cranes falling over is a common occurrence here - I've yet to see anyone compacting their backfill).  My senior field person (a great guy, well intention, experienced, and very helpful) proudly pointed out how he had struggled to teach them what to look for when setting the out-riggers.  He then proudly pointed out that after years of coaching he had finally convinced the crew that they had to wear safety harnesses when working at height.  I of course congratulated him, but I'm afraid I then almost broke his heart, when I suggested to him that we stop the work while he tried to convince the crew that wearing the harnesses didn't 'accomplish much if they didn't then connect (tie-off) the harnesses to something nearby. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Our Flat in Bandra

Deb and I have finally, moved out of the hotel and into our flat.
The flat is nice, but my definition of nice has already begun to morph towards India standards.  It's 3 bedroom, 3 1/2 bath, on the 11th floor (its the entire floor) 1 block from the Arabian Sea.  There are views of the sea from every room.  It has elaborate granite floors thru-out, the bathroom walls are also granite. All the furniture is hand made with wonderful wood work and elaborate doors (labor is obviously very cheap), but once you move from aesthetics to functionality the quality rapidly drops off. 
The following photo is taken from our living room with the tide out.

We have two parks within a block and a half of our flat.  The following photo is looking south from the furthest of the two Parks (Jogger's Park).

And the next photo is looking north from Jogger's Park to the Juhu neighborhood.

And this is a photo of Grace and Madelyn playing at that Park.

Here's a photo of our building from Jogger's Park.  Our flat is the third from the top in the center building.

The other park is pretty much just across the street from us.  This is the sign welcoming you to that park.

And this is of the granddaughters playing at that park.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

We're leaving the Holiday Inn at last!!

These are views from our hotel room.  As you can see, the main building material is blue tarps. 

The first photo shows a couple of columns that will support the train on Jeff's project.

If you look closely, you can see a black and white cow laying on the ground to the right of the blue tarped truck ( yes, the cars and trucks use the blue tarps also!).  It disappears every day for a while and then comes back...it's not tied up or anything and I never see anyone interacting with it.  I would like to follow it some day and see where it goes... it's not like there are any pastures around!

The third photo is also from our window and shows a new community of Powai off in the distance.  We looked at apartments there and there were some nice ones but it also had alot of slums around too.  I was most put off by the fact that there is a KFC of all things there!  Yuck!  That did it for me! 

We are moving to an area called Bandra (West) and it is an established neighborhood that reminds me a little of the Hawthorne area with lots of little shops and restaurants...I will post photos after we move!

One thing I will miss about our stay here is the call to prayer that we hear several times a day from a nearby mosque...it's what wakes me up every morning about 5 am.  The hotel staff and food have been good and it is kind of nice to just put our laundry in a bag every day and have it returned cleaned and pressed every evening.  But, it's time to really start living in the community and we're looking forward to it!

Gateway to India

We went to the Gateway to India on our first weekend here...it was erected for the visit of an English King and it ironically was the same spot where the British made their final departure from India.

The other photo here is of the Taj Mahal hotel that only reopened last month after being under repair from the terror attack two years ago.

And, of course, my sliver carriage and white horse!!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Jeff's thoughts on Traveling to Shirdi

On Sunday, October 10, 2010, Deb and I took our first trip outside of Mumbai.  We traveled about 170 miles northeast to a town called Shirdi, where we went to a Hindu temple for Sai Baba.  The countryside is very beautiful, and I had a wonderful time.  The temple is apparently the second most popular in India.  It isn't old, Sai Baba died in 1918, but I'd guess there were 20,000 people there.
Deb and I were the only westerners there.  It was a truly surreal experience.  It was obvious that many of the people there had only seen westerners on TV or in the movies.  They appeared to be more impressed with seeing us than the temple.
Unfortunately, while the scenery was inspiring the trip was also a bit reminiscent of a Mad Max movie.  To begin with it took nearly 5 hours each way.  The roads are terrible, Drivers insane, etc.  I doubt I'll ever get Deb to take another long car trip.  
To begin with, the traffic on the highway is comprised of:
  1. Motorcycles - The average motorcycle has the power of the 50cc Honda I owned at age 13.  Its capable of speeds of 45 mph with a single rider - rarely do you see one with a single rider.  The most people I've seen on one motorcycle is 5.
  2. Auto-rickshaw - The second most popular form of transportation is the auto-rickshaw.  The auto-rickshaws are three wheeled vehicles capable of carrying up to 3 passengers.  Its powered by a 3.5hp natural gas engine and most closely resembles a soapbox racer. Auto-rickshaws are required by law to be retired after 20 years of service.  They must weigh nearly 300 pounds empty, have no doors, and the top is fabric - but their not convertibles. Fully loaded they just barely have enough power to get over a speed bump.  However, they are also driven down hill at speeds of nearly 50.  Think of a roller coaster without the track, maintenance, safety features, etc.
  3. Trucks - The third most often seen vehicle is the Tata truck.  These are the size of a large delivery truck.  The average one here is about 40 years old and is capable of climbing a 4% grade at speeds of up to 6 mph,
  4. Buses - 88% of people use transit, and as in the states most of those are on buses.  The average bus is 35 years old and has a constant standing crush load.  
  5. Taxi's - The taxi's here are the size of the smallest Yugo you've ever seen, but have only 1/10 the power of that Yugo. They are required by law to be retired after 16 years of service.  They are never retired before then.  Yesterday we saw one with at least 12 people in it.
  6. Autos - somewhere around 10% of the traffic is comprised of private autos.  Almost all of these are also smaller that anything you see in the states.  Less than 4% of the population has a car.  The vast majority of them have Formula One aspirations.
  7. Misc. - Finally, we get to the miscellaneous category.  This category comprises less than 5% of the total highway users. It consists of pedestrians, hand-carts, Ox-carts,and herds of various types.
Our car is larger and more powerful than most, which has convinced our driver that it should be driven as if we are being pursued by kidnappers - including flashing lights and blaring horns.  No one here pays any attention to the lane markings.  Its truly thrilling when on a two lane road two cars are driving 65 side-by-side and your driver decides to pass them simultaneous by passing between them at 95.
I'll come back to the driving, but first a few words about the roads.  Most are under construction.  It appears that the construction started 20+ years ago, was never completed and I've yet to see anyone working on them.  The only road on which I saw no construction was one that appeared to have had been repaired many years ago.  The repairs were excellent, and most of the asphalt placed in those ancient potholes is still intact - unfortunately the rest of the paving is long since gone.  Therefore what remains, is pods of asphalt, many of which are nearly touching.  Picture the inverse of the most potholed road you've ever seen.
Back to the cars for a moment.  The suspension systems are very primitive.  They are also not maintained.  The combination of these roads and cars is much like riding a bike on a cobblestone street - - without any air in the bike's tires.
If all of that were not enough it gets even wilder after dark: 
  1. No one turns on there lights until its impossible to see,
  2. Once they turn on their lights they never dim then.
  3. Of course many of the users don't have headlights,
  4. Fewer still have taillights, and yes
  5. The ox-carts and herders see no reason why their lack of lights should keep them off the road.
As I said I found the trip wonderful.  It was full of surprises, I think my favorite photo is of washing day.  Everyone comes to the stream, regardless of what it is that they need to wash.

Deb says:

We went to the Shirdi temple of Sai Baba on 10/10/10.....You have to take your shoes off, but you do this about two blocks from where you actually go into the line.   I love being barefooted, but remember, this is India and its hot outside, so I was trying to walk as fast as I could to get into shade, but remember, this is India and there are a gazillion people, so you can't walk fast or you will plow into people.  It was a relief to finally reach the shade of the entrance but the entrance was deceiving from the street, ....you actually get in a huge, huge, Disneyland type line, with the rails and everything, except it goes up some stairs, down some stairs and back up some stairs and winds and winds around.

One of the main culture differences that it is hard to get used to, is the close proximity everyone has with one another.  There are so many people that they are used to being right up against each other and in that line people had no problem with pushing their way through to move their position up.  I think in our country, fights would break out if people tried taking cuts, but no one seems bothered at all.  As Jeff mentioned in his email, the close proximity extends to the driving here also....they drive as close together as you can possibly imagine; we saw 5 accidents on this trip!

The temple room itself is not as large as you would think it would be..probably 40 X 30.  All the surfaces are gold (not real) and there is a giant statue of Sai Baba on an altar and there are two men dressed in toga like clothes on two sides of the altar.  As people pass by on both sides on the side of the altar, they give flowers to the men and they put them in a pile, which is huge as you can imagine with all the people.  Some people were handing plastic sacks with flowers in it to the men and they were taking it over to the statue and letting it touch the hand of the statue and then bringing it back to the person that gave it.  The Indian family we were with told us to make a wish as we passed the statue, as Sai Baba is supposed to help make them true.  Hey, what the heck, I gave it a try...nothing to lose...I'll let you know if it comes true.

On the rest of the temple grounds there are things of significance that people touch and where people congregate, such as the tree Baba was said to have sat under.  There is a museum that shows his clothes, bed, and the few possessions he had.  It was very interesting.

Outside the temple, there are a bunch of shops selling Sai Baba souvenirs and just about anything else.  Of course there were many beggars, including one woman, who through an interpreter told me I was her fair skinned daughter...I never knew!  Speaking of fair skin, children especially stared at us in wonder...i'm sure we were the first light skinned/eyed people they had ever seen.  It's strange to be a minority!

Photo from our trip to Shirdi