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

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...

Ring Ring Ring

Cultural clashes are not always where you expect them to be.

We have all been very surprised at how people here will pick up and answer their phones during meetings, it appears to be the normal and expected thing to do. It is a little disturbing at first, especially when all those present in the meeting are on the phone at the same time (yes, it happens) !

I guess the way to handle this is to pause and wait for them to finish, until the next call... I only wish they had coffee machines in the offices, that way we would be able to walk out and take a cappuccino while they finish their conversations ;o)

I read that voice mail doesn't work well here, that seems strange but I guess it might be an explanation.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


 On me fait remarquer que je parle surtout de nourriture sur ce blog, mais il y a une telle variété de plat ici que ce serait vraiment dommage de ne pas en parler... puis après tout la gastronomie est une passion que la France partage avec le Punjab.

Cette fois il sera question de feuilles de moutarde, d'un repas en famille, d'un éléphant devant un Levi's store et de pashmina.

Je ne pensais pas avoir froid en Inde, mais malheureusement notre salle de travail à l'université est à côté de la salle machine hébergeant l'ensemble des serveurs, et l'isolation entre les deux n'est pas des plus efficace, du coup on passe la journée dans une pièce "chauffée" à 18°. La pause déjeuner au soleil est très appréciée.

Mercredi soir, sur les conseils de notre consultant local Jaspreet nous sommes allés dans un petit restaurant plutôt ordinaire d'apparence qui ne propose que des plats végétariens : Gyan's. Première impression pas terrible à cause de la salle qui sentait tellement fort l'encens que c'était limite tenable, par contre la cuisine était fantastique. On a enfin pu goûter au fameux sarson ka saag à base de feuilles de moutarde. Il s'agit d'un plat très particulier que l'on ne trouve que dans la région et uniquement en hiver, sûrement à cause du cycle de production des plantations de moutarde. Cela fait vaguement penser à l'épinard, mais le goût n'a rien à voir. Le sarson ka saag est servi avec du pain à base de maïs, le makki di roti.

Sarson ka sang en haut à gauche, on voit le makki di roti tout à droite
Toujours le sucre, les épices et les blocs de sucre de canne à la fin du repas

Petit détail, il y avait plus de serveurs que de clients dans le restaurant (surement le coût de la main d'œuvre qui n'est pas très important ici), ils ont passé la soirée à nous regarder manger. C'est très courant que les gens nous dévisagent, mais c'est simplement par curiosité.

Jeudi soir, après une journée très productive mais toujours frigorifique, première tentative de "street food" dans un petit square proche de l'hôtel, où une dizaine de stands proposent une variété de plats... tous très épicés !

Vendredi nous avons travaillé depuis l'hôtel, l'université étant fermée pour cause de célébration de l'anniversaire de Sri Guru Ravidass Ji... je vous laisse vous instruire sur Wikipedia à son propos.
Le soir, Jaspreet nous a tous invité (12 personnes !) chez lui pour un repas en famille avec ses parents dans une très belle maison d'un quartier résidentiel tranquille. Il y avait une multitude de plats et la soirée fut vraiment sympathique, les parents de Jaspreet faisant tout pour nous faire nous sentir "à la maison".  Nous sommes déjà tous invité à revenir !

Nos hôtes
Une partie des mets
Un petit fruit gros comme une mirabelle mais dont la consistance rappelle la pomme, avec un leger goût de poire.... et dont je ne me souviens jamais du nom

Aujourd’hui samedi c’est shopping : un premier magasin/tailleur chez qui nous avons commandé quelques pièces, le patron de la boutique nous a déjà invité a venir manger chez lui lundi soir ! Il nous a dit que son épouse ne rentrait que lundi mais qu'elle serait ravie de nous faire à manger… je n’ai pas eu l’impression qu’il lui avait demandé son avis :o)  Puis petit tour chez Levi’s pour un jean "made in India" et pour certains  un tour en éléphant, puis un autre tailleur pour mon premier costume sur mesure. Pour finir la journée, visite chez Aksana (Jay-Jay Shawls), le magasin d’usine d’une petite entreprise familiale spécialisée dans le pashmina ( "petite" entreprise qui a  priori livre de très grands couturiers Européens). 

Cristian et Cathy

Toujours plus de couleurs
Travail de broderie sur un pashmina

Dimanche départ à l'aube pour visiter le Harmandir Sahib, ou Temple d'Or, à Amristar puis en fin de journée la cérémonie de fermeture de la frontière avec le Pakistan à Wagah.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Back to Work

Yesterday was the official launch of the #ibmcsc india 22 program with all of our clients present. The event took place in one of the hotel's ballrooms, we all introduced ourselves and our clients presented their project, this was followed by a very nice lunch during which we discovered a delicious carrot based Punjabi desert called Gajar Ka Halwa. The afternoon we had small breakout sessions to start working on our assignments.

In the afternoon we had dinner at The Yellow Chili, a franchise restaurant associated with TV celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor, the food was succulent. I could easily imagine a few good wines that would be marvelous with the food, but so far I haven't seen any restaurants offering this possibility.

Today was our first day on the PAU campus. After a short ride in the auto rickshaw we arrived on location, finding the Agricultural Engineering College was a little challenging due to the shear size of the campus. Upon arrival, the first thing we noticed is this billboard :

We had a first meeting with the senior professors and were able to start finalizing our scope of work.

Later in the day we went out for some tea, and ended up eating some very nice fried vegetables.

Tea Time !

One of the many food stands available

Monday, February 10, 2014

Cannonball Run to Chandigarh

On Sunday we rented a mini-bus with a driver in order to go to Chandigarh, the capital city of the state of Punjab. As our local consultant Jaspreet explained, unlike other Indian cities which were build and then planned, this one was actually planned by le Corbusier before being constructed !

Initial Sketches of Chandigarh

The result is something very different from all other cities in India, large avenues laid out according to a grid, many trees everywhere, large parks and many roundabouts. The roundabouts give it away as a European designed city, only something that came out of a European mind can contain so many roundabouts !

A good piece of Indian wisdom : you don't need a GPS in India because there are so many people along the roads that you will always find someone who knows the way to where you want to go.

Sur place nous avons visité The Rock Garden, une version indienne du Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval en beaucoup plus grand. Un endroit très prisé par les familles et les promeneurs le dimanche. Ici encore les gens sont très sympathiques, ils nous abordent pour nous demander d'où nous venons et si nous apprécions notre séjour en Inde, il nous demandent s'ils peuvent poser avec nous pour une photo.

Peter, le géant hongrois, posant avec des jeunes filles
La vache qui rit
Tigre du bengale

The drive to and back to Chandigarh, roughly 200 km in total, was a complete nightmare. The road only has one lane in both directions most of the time, but they fit four cars side by side along with motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians, there were some very delicate situations and we avoided many collisions, and all the while the driver is honking like crazy... after four hours of this ordeal most of us just went up to our rooms and fell asleep.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Final Destination

Le voyage en train fut relativement long mais fort agréable, sièges larges et confortables, avec un service impeccable. 

A l'arrivée à l'hotel les employées nous avaient préparé une cérémonie d'accueil bien sympathique.


A midi, repas punjabi traditionnel chez Baba's : excellent !

Puis découverte d'une friandise locale présentée dans un emballage quelque peu suspect ;o)

Impossible de me souvenir du nom, mais c'est vachement bon.
Un petit goût de réglisse, il y aussi de la noix de bétel. 

Humayun's Tomb

A very beautiful and peaceful place where we spent part of the afternoon, recovering from street crossing in Delhi !

Humayun's Tomb

Organized Chaos

There seems to be absolutely no rules on the roads here in New Delhi, with the exception that you must honk your horn every 10 seconds.

Surprisingly, no one seems to get angry behind the wheel, and the traffic actually looks more fluid than in our western capitals... the only expression that comes to mind is organized chaos.

Here is a 30 second sample taken in front of our hotel :

With the corresponding picture...

Arakashan Road

ça c'est du bouchon !

Thursday, February 6, 2014

340 g of pleasure

340 g de bonheur !

Wanted to have something I might not find easily in India for my last lunch here before leaving later today ! 

tartelette aux framboises

Hell is packing !

After several days of struggle I finally finished packing my luggage, and then I decided to check if it was within the company's free baggage allowance... and that's when I almost had a stroke !  I was 9 kg above the free allowance, dangerously close to the maximum of 32 kg per bag.

Considering I would rather pay the 100€ extra charge on the way back, with a bag full of souvenirs, I had to do it all over again this morning, even switched to another lighter bag but the effort was worth it, I'm now down to 23,5 kg... just 0.5 kg above the limit. 

If they make a fuss at the registration desk, I guess I'll have to eat the 500 g of chocolate I packed !