20,000 miles

It’s odd. I don’t consider myself one of those “world travelers”. A year ago I didn’t even really have the desire to travel outside of the U.S. “There’s so much to see here, I don’t need to go over the ocean,” I would say. But life has an odd way of making decisions for you. My job changed to involve me in the deployment of a new global software system. With that came the opportunity for a two week stint in Europe, covering Spain, Germany, Belgium, France, and Italy.

I assumed that the travel wouldn’t end there, and it didn’t. If you count my four hour layover at the very nice Kuala Lumpur International Airport, that brings my foreign country total to 8 in the last six months. It amazes me, because prior to that the furthest away I had ever been was the Caribbean. In the last two weeks, I’ve traveled 20,000 miles, hitting three of the four hemispheres (3° shy of the equator). Now that I’m back home (or on the last leg of the 25 hour return trip, depending on when you read this) I can sit back and marvel at it all.

20,000 miles
Click for larger view

So, what are Shanghai and Bangalore like? Here are my bullet points.

Shanghai, China

  • Amazingly modern
  • Amazingly smoggy
  • Amazingly congested

The Olympics are going to be good for China, because it’s forcing them to look at their pollution issue. They’re talking about shutting down all industry in China for weeks leading up to the games so that endurance athletes don’t die trying to compete. That would be worse PR for the booming country than the lead paint issues.

Shanghai is at the forefront of development in China, and their Communist government has the ability to do things that would make some Buffalo urban planners drool all over themselves. Since the government owns all the land, at whim they can decide to level existing residential areas like these:

Residential Shanghai

and turn them into this:

New Shanghai

The changing landscape in Shanghai is certainly impressive, but the pollution and the traffic is oppressive. It’s an ok place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Bangalore, India

  • People, cars, and cows, living in perfect cacophony.
  • This is a world technology center?
  • Pedestrians beware!
  • The best people

India is a tough one to nail down. My first impression was not good. The Bangalore airport was a dump, although it’s being replaced in the next few months by a brand new international airport. When you walk out of the airport, there was a sea of people, and I’m not even sure if they were waiting for arriving family members, begging, or just couldn’t fit anywhere else in the city. It had rained earlier in the day, and roads were flooded, barricaded, and of course, still in use by buses, cars, motorcycles, mopeds, and auto rickshaws. And the horns. They’re used constantly, and one wonders if for any reason at all, since it’s just a sea of continuous honking. A book I was reading on my way to India describes it like this: “It would be easier to drive in India without brakes than without a horn. In fact, Indian car manufacturers could save drivers a lot of trouble if they simply attached the horn to the accelerator.” The other incongruity is pedestrians. In U.S. cities with a lot of pedestrians, vehicles yield. Not so in India. While our Indian friends told us that in the hierarchy of Indian transportation, the larger the moving object, the more responsibility they have to yield to the smaller ones, from a pedestrian’s point of view, you are risking your life every single time you cross the street. My hotel was one block from our office, but that one street we had to cross was a twice daily terror. Lanes, signals, traffic lights, and the direction of traffic cops are all optional to the Indian driver. The only way we managed to survive was to very, very closely follow a local as they Froggered their way across the street.

Bangalore is the IT center of India, and when you’re connected to that distant call center, it’s likely located there. Walking around the streets, however, you would never know it. Unlike the systematic redevelopment of Shanghai, Bangalore has one new modern building for every 10 blocks of old, falling apart ones. Sidewalks are generally haphazardly paved with unilock-style bricks, cement patches, and large concrete blocks [mostly] covering holes into the abyss. A third eye would be extremely useful, because it’s hard to watch both the people and the surface (or lack thereof) that you’re walking on at the same time. It’s a 3D adventure every time you go out, and you have to navigate around everything from street vendors to cows meandering through the city.

With all the chaos that is India, the one thing that can be said is that the people are some of the nicest I’ve met anywhere. Whether it’s the beliefs in kharma, dharma, or something else entirely, everyone was extremely polite and hospitable. Our coworkers in India couldn’t have possibly done more to make our stay here easier, right up to and including sending someone out to the store when there wasn’t a Diet Coke to be found at lunch time, and apologizing profusely when they returned a half hour later with only a Diet Pepsi instead.

It’s a place where you can see this:

Bullock cart

next to this:


but always feel that this guy is watching over you.


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  1. I had the opportunity (and privilege) to spend 10 days in Shanghai in 2001; it was far and away the best cultural experience I have ever had in a foreign city.

    Yep, people are everywhere (we are very lucky in that regard to be living in WNY), traffic is terrible and the smog is worsening with each year; yet there is that amazing, hyperactive mix of Eastern and Western cultures that really sets Shanghai apart from other Oriental cities.

    I hope you had the chance to explore the Western side of the city, across the Pudong – you know, where the real Chinese citizens live.


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