Sharing little chunks of my experience as I head out to Ludhiana with the IBM Corporate Service Corps

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Epilogue ?

Spending a couple of days in the French countryside in Ardèche after all the noise and excitement of Ludhiana.

Not unhappy to have missed one month of winter this year :o)

Peach blossoms in Ardèche
Spring is almost here, time for new projects and new opportunities...

Friday, March 7, 2014

"The Long and Winding Road"

It's almost time to take the long road back home...

We will be spending a short night in Delhi, very short for those heading out to Latin America as their flights leave in the middle of the night, but I'm hoping we can still find the time to have one last drink together and say goodbye.

This has been a fantastic experience, and I have been given the occasion to meet and work with some very talented people. We all got along very well, and it almost feels like we have known each other for a long time... I sincerely hope our paths will cross again.

The hospitality here in Punjab has been amazing, and it wasn't easy saying goodbye to all the people we worked with, and all those who invited us several times into their homes to share a meal or a cup of tea.

Nevertheless, it has also been a long time away from home, and despite the sadness of leaving India and my friends behind, I'm very happy to be heading back home to my family. I just wish I could bring the weather back with me as well :o)

Last look at the hotel where we had a very pleasant stay

Last walk around town

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The A-Team

Minutes away from our final presentation at the College of Agricultural Engineering & Technology...

"I love it when a plan comes together!"

In the background is one of the process flow diagrams we created, this one is for the college's student course registration process.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Last Weekend in India

All dressed up for the Saturday night party !

Baba Chicken... some had a little too many that night
Picture cake
8 in a rickshaw, plus the driver !
Sunday stroll in a busy street
Cow lounging in the sun next to the hotel

Swabhimaan School

Last week we did a half day of community work in a Swabhimaan school for underprivileged children. We held various educational activities, mainly around learning English, and the children were very attentive. It was a fantastic experience, though not always easy since some of the little ones had very little knowledge of English.

We had prepared little certificates with stickers which we gave away each time the groups finished an activity, the kids loved it. I think a lot of them also appreciated very much Kazu's origami stand !

We finished in the school's playground, the kids all wild about the idea of taking pictures with everyone. Needless to say this raised a lot of attention in the neighborhood, and a small crowd started gathering from the rooftops of the surrounding houses.

A great moment in the week.

Saturday, March 1, 2014


La mère de toutes les crêpes !
Ne pas creuser n'importe où

Juste un chameau

Tout un programme

Service client au péage sur "l'autoroute"

Rappel car les feux sont rares ici

Cochon mangeur de briques ?

Porte bonheur, pour éloigner les mauvais esprits

Toujours pas compris le sens de ce message...

La taurine c'est vraiment végétarien ?

Coiffeur pour narcissiques

Tractor Driving Lesson

Last Wednesday at the Agricultural University we got a chance to drive a tractor on the student's practice field.

Our colleagues and friends from the PAU (and active members of the  very exclusive green tea drinkers club!),  Dr Rohinish Khurana and Dr Satish Kumar, arranged a tractor driving session for us after our work day.

Dimitri, Dr Rohinish, Dr Satish, the tractor instructor and myself

Mastering the basics

I think we weren't supposed to drive any sort of vehicle during the assignment, but this was on a closed road and under expert supervision... and anyways I'm a strong believer that rules are made to be broken.

In the evening we all went out for a bhangra dancing lesson, but I'm not sharing any pictures of that experiment  :o)

Maha Shivaratri

Catching up on my posts as the internet connection has been on and off recently, ever since we had a very bad hail storm on Thursday. The streets became rivers and in places we had up to 20 cm of ice along the roads, at which point in time part of the team were out at a Hindu temple... barefooted :o)

The hotel driveway 

Apparently the storm is seen as good omen since we were celebrating Maha Shivaratri on that day, which is the Great Night of Shiva. Funny thing is that on that day, next to the Hindu temples, you will find a whole bunch of food flavored crushed with marijuana , such as cookies, brownies, milkshakes, etc...

These pictures are not from that specific day, but they will give you an idea of what a Hindu temple looks like.



The inside court

I believe this is Krishna

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Nice Surprise

Brought to my room this morning by the hotel staff !



Monday, February 24, 2014

Half Full or Half Empty ?

We are now half way through our #ibmcsc india assignment, this is traditionally a good time to reflect on what we have done so far and look ahead at what remains to be done.

On paper our project at the PAU is a standard IT project, nothing out of the ordinary, what's more interesting is the context and the challenges was have been facing. First off, the timing for the project was not the best considering we started in between two semesters, and many members of the staff are not always available due to their administrative and teaching responsibilities, a better timing for the University would have been June. We have learnt not to have very specific expectations out of the meetings we schedule, and to make do with whatever we are given : we wont always get the information we were hoping for, but often we will learn new important elements which had not been mentioned before.

The lack of written documentation has been a serious challenge in trying to map out the present process, and propose a new automated one. Most of the data we have gathered has been from interviews, and in such situations new elements always keep popping up. If all goes well we will be able to finalize our proposed process flow by tomorrow and modify accordingly all the other documentation which stems from it. 

We have another process we need to start looking into, the salary/payslip process, for which we should be starting our interviews on Wednesday (crossing fingers...), leaving us only a very limited amount of time to actually work on it, especially considering most of our Friday this week will be taken up by a community service work at a Swabhimaan school where we will be organizing various events with the children.

PAU campus

Sunday, February 23, 2014

La Grande Bouffe

Le mariage en Inde, c'est une affaire sérieuse... chez nous aussi, mais le plus souvent on fait la fête qu'une fois. Si j'ai bien compris, ici il y a environ six cérémonies différentes, avant pendant et après le mariage, donc six fois plus d'occasions de faire la fête et manger ! Car comme on me l'a expliqué hier soir, le rôle de l'invité dans ce genre de cérémonie, c'est de manger.

Quelques notes prises pendant la soirée :

1/ S’il y a moins de 300 personnes, c’est une « petite » cérémonie

2/ Si le père du marié ou de la mariée est retraité de l’armée, alors il y aura un bar avec de l’alcool (whisky, vodka ou bière… le vin est a priori complètement étranger à la culture indienne)

3/ En plus de l’alcool, il y aura une fanfare avec des joueurs de cornemuse

4/ Les messieurs autour du bar seront principalement des soldats ou des policiers (comme chez nous en fait)

5/ La musique est très très forte, et il y a beaucoup de basse (j’ai la même chose à l’hôtel, ici il y a une cérémonie de mariage presque tous les soirs depuis deux semaines)

6/ Quand tu as fini de goûter les trente six plats proposés, que tu as bu deux bières et un café léger au lait (oui, l’expresso est aussi un concept a priori étranger à la culture du nord de l’Inde), tu apprends que le diner va être servi !

7/ J’ai enfin goûté à la fameuse glace indienne, la kulfi (et c'est très bon)

J’ai pas vraiment pu prendre de photo, la situation ne s’y prêtait pas vraiment, par contre je n’ai pas pu résister en voyant le blouson de l’assistant du photographe

si quelqu'un reconnait le logo....

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Walking Around Town

I'm spending the weekend alone in Ludhiana, I didn't feel like traveling this weekend. Three of my mates are traveling to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.  Though it was tempting I kind of like the idea of being the only guy who goes to India and does NOT see the Taj Mahal... that gives me one more good reason to come back to India ! The rest of the team is up in Shimla, enjoying the fresh air and the cool weather.

I've spent some time this morning walking around town, which in itself is not as simple as it sounds: barely no sidewalks, cars, trucks, buses, bicycles and rickshaws going every which way, puddles of mud everywhere due to the heavy rain from last night, and no street names ! I only got lost twice, but I'm pretty sure Google Maps is not 100% accurate (they don't have Street View for this city, that must be a sign).

Really ? Pizza Hut Road !
Google must make these names up when there isn't any available.

On the way I did some serious shopping, and ended up having lunch at the mall. It's strange how malls all look the same all over the world, even the teenagers hanging around in malls look almost the same. Entering a mall is like stepping inside a warp in the space time continuum: you aren't in India or any other country anymore, you enter Mall Nation, governed by corporations like Gap, Subway, KFC and Guess Jeans !

Later tonight Jaspreet is taking me out to his best friend's brother's wedding, an Indian wedding, that's going to be something really special ! I just hope I don't stand out too much, especially since I left my best suit at home, I wasn't really planning on going to a wedding :o)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Sunny Sunday (part 2) or Bollywood at the Border

The road to the border cuts straight across green and yellow (mustard) fields, the land around is extremely flat and as we get closer we notice various military installations. Then comes the numerous trucks waiting for their authorization to cross into Pakistan. We notice many drivers camping along the road, so the wait must be quite long. We leave the bus behind and walk the last kilometer amid many little stands selling food, toys and all sorts of goodies with the Indian flag on them.

The Wagah border closing ceremony seems to have become quite an attraction in the past years, I had even seen a documentary on it back in France before coming here. Apparently there is always an important crowd here every evening, even on week days.

The road to Pakistan
We are told that this is one of the most sensitive borders, and we certainly notice all the security measures. Apparently they also jam mobile phones for the duration of the ceremony, maybe to avoid remote control explosive devices ?

As foreigners, we are invited to the VIP bleachers which are closer to the border, the real VIPs are actually sitting in chairs along the road.

View of Pakistan - the official ceremony is still not started
Both sides play music extremely loud to cover the other side's music. On our side the music sounds more traditional while from Pakistan we hear pop rock music. While we wait for the official ceremony to start, kids and women gather along the road and run back and forth with big India flags while everyone is cheering. Then comes the Bollywood style music and many young ladies dance on the road, everyone is cheering even louder.

Getting ready !
The patriotic chants mark the beginning of the soldiers' act, with that very distinctive walk which made me think of Monty Python's ministry of silly walks ! There is also a sort of competition between the guards from both side to find out who can scream really loud (into a mic) the longest.

But I have to admit it's really impressive, the crowd is wild and the you end up screaming "Hindustan Zindabad" with everyone else.

View of the crowd in Pakistan
Entry into India

We left with the setting sun in our back, had some sleep in the bus before stopping for dinner at Haveli Heritage, a  traditional themed Punjabi restaurant. Unfortunately there wasn't any room inside, so we had a quick snack outside by the brazier with hot chai to keep us warm.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Arrêt aux Stands

Aujourd'hui en rentrant de l'université on a cassé le câble d'embrayage du rickshaw. On a fait la moitié du parcours en première sans pouvoir débrayer… pas très pratique dans les embouteillages.

Le chauffeur s’est arrêté dans un petit garage de bord de route, et pendant que nous prenions un chai un mécanicien a changé le câble en un quart d’heure, sans rendez-vous, le tout pour moins 100 roupies !

Notre rickshaw, probablement le plus bruyant de la ville
Jasbir notre chauffeur
Chai time
Un autre mécanicien s'active sur un rickshaw de la marque indienne KAL - ce garage semblait spécialisé dans les marques indiennes, mais sinon il y a aussi beaucoup de Piaggio Ape sur les routes

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sunny Sunday (part 1)

Sunday morning we left early for Amritsar, about 140 km on the Grand Trunk Road (ETA approximately 2.5 hours). After our previous experience driving out to Chandigarh, we decided to hire a very big bus... it's survival of the "biggest" on the roads here, and it's also much more comfortable. The ride out was quite nice and uneventful, though it was rather cold in the bus (no heater, just like in the buildings).

That's one way to keep warm on a bike
We had to park the bus out of the way, and reach the Golden Temple in yet another new transportation method.

Surprisingly fast
The outskirts of the Temple were very crowded, and there were construction work all around. We had to remove our shoes and socks (the marble floor was freezing), cover our heads, wash our hands and walk through a basin to clean our feet.... and all of a sudden it appeared in front of us.

First encounter
In all its splendor

The Golden Temple as seen above is only part of the whole complex, it is set in the middle of an artificial lake (square shape) which is surrounded by a large white building. There are four entries, one on each side of the square building, which have no doors : the temple is always open and everyone is welcomed anytime of the day or night.

The Golden Temple was originally built in the 16th century, but destroyed several times by various invaders and rebuilt each time. The actual Temple dates back to the mid 18th century. It is a holy place for the Sikhs.

I read his turban is 30 meters long.. must have a strong neck
We walked around the lake which contains the "immortal nectar" and headed for the bridge leading to the central building. All the while the hymns and prayers being sang and read in the temple could be heard on loud speakers.

Alternate view
Last picture before entering the Temple
Since pictures were not allowed in the Temple, you'll just need to come see for yourself if you want to know what treasures it holds  ;o)

We had lunch in the community kitchen, a place were they serve up to 100,000 free meals a day, and all this is possible because of all the volunteers that help out every day. You have to imagine a great hall with hundreds, maybe thousands of people siting in lines with a metal plate in front of them, and the helpers go around serving you out of large metal buckets with a big scoop. We had three different soup type of foods with bread and a bowl of water, nothing fancy but not bad at all considering the amount these people need to make every day.

Not the best picture but we had very little time to finish our meal, many were waiting their turn outside
A glimpse of the kitchen where the volunteers were peeling potatoes

Unfortunately, we didn't have much time to see the rest of Amritsar, we had to get going to be on time for the famous Wagah border ceremony...