Saturday, November 29, 2014

Oh, This is Glorious

HKG has a reputation for best airport food on the planet. With a four hour layover I decided to find out why.

First stop: Pak Loh Chiu Chow. The shrimp wanton noodle is sublime. Big, meaty shrimp come wrapped in dumplings made 40 seconds ago (I watched). The broth takes considerably longer, but this is by far the best airport food I've ever eaten. Hell, it beats the pants off most Chinese food I've ever eaten. I got the beef noodle, too. Fantastic. Now I need a nap, just long enough to recover and try out Chen Fu Ji.


In Casablanca, the entire plot revolves around the Letters of Transit, the only documents that guarantee passage out of Africa. Of course, no such things ever existed.

Out of India, however is a different story, and the Letters of Transit are very real. And perfectly safe to reveal once in Hong Kong.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Well, That Took Eight Hours...

But at least I can leave the country now. The best part? The ride back to the hotel in rush hour traffic on the back of Madhu's Royal Enfield. Nice bike. Everyone we passed had the same expression, too: "Hey, where are you taking the white guy? They don't ride bikes here."

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Vigilance Awareness Week

What a perfect sign to hang in the immigration office, where I'm spending several delightful hours getting my exit visa ( yes, you need to submit the proper forms--the same ones that get you in--to get out). It's like the DMV, but slower and less friendly. And the system crashed, so that ads two hours to a three hour ordeal. Oh, and it costs $30.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Mysteries of India

You can file this one under Random Observations: elevators continue to elude both engineers and the general public.

Take the rest location algorithm for instance. Most elevator systems distribute cars between floors, with one stationed in the lobby at all times, so that the call time is minimized. Not here. All cars return to the lobby, which is fantastic when you're staying on ten. In another building, all the cars return to the sub-basement, presumably because that's where the building manager's office is located.

Then there's the daily cleaning. They're so immaculate you could eat off them, but they get this way at precisely the same time everyone is trying to leave for the day. Alas, it is India, so two janitors doing wet work, two bus boys, a family of six, a luggage trolley, and me aren't really seen as an issue.

Finally, rider psychology resembles the driving ethos: doesn't matter how long it takes, or how circuitous the route, or even if you know where you're going. I've seen people stand at the doors, not pressing the call button, because sooner or later the door will open. Others press all the call buttons and get into the first door that opens, regardless of direction of travel. Once inside, some press no buttons. I'm guessing this is because all the cars come to rest in the lobby. Or the sub-basement.

At first, I thought this might have to do with the caste system--elevators are not understood because vertical travel is not possible in this society. But no, no, my Indian friends assured me, this is just a moment of space between you and 1.2 billion other people. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Why Don't We Have Nice Things Like This?

There's the one in Chang Mai, Thailand, and one in Vienna, and everywhere in Mexico when the sun goes down but, for whatever reason, I've never seen a night market in the US. Perhaps I don't get out enough. But they're wonderful.

Three kilometers from our hotel sits a piece of land transformed into a kind of Indian respite. It's got vendors of all types, of course, from woodwork to stone to ceramics and textiles and artwork. It's also got rides for kids, a paddle boat pond, and a crafts museum. And it's got good street food. Hyderabadi cuisine leans toward the fiery hot, which is perfectly okay by me, and you can't really imperil yourself with the samosas, which are double-fried to remove anything nasty. Of course, they're double-fried, so take your pick: cholesterol or gastrointestinal distress.

Anyway, it looks like an amusement park. Right next door is the outdoor mall, which looks like Orlando. And out front is the rickshaw stand, which was another opportunity to scare the pants off Joe, who is not accustomed to that mode of transport.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Mickey Mouse and Muslims

One last stop in Kamkole for the two-year students' prototype testing phase. This one was a problem: thirty-three kids in six teams with at least four prototypes each (one team had twelve (!) which they built in two hours (!!)). Fortunately, Woxsen employs one of the villagers, and he arranged for groups to be interviewed by the students, so what could have been a free-for-all ended up resembling actual focus groups.

So we showed up, mostly in the Muslim section of town (in a village of 4000, there are also Hindu and Christian quarters, but it's India, and no one's a nut job here, and everyone gets along).

But back to the testing. Single best idea: a cow harness that doubles as a seed thrower/fertilizer. The students noticed most farmers take their cows to the fields to graze while they tend their crops and asked, "Why not do both at once?" Perfect example of leveraging existing practices to increase productivity while making the process easier.

And Mickey Mouse? That was an indoor mosquito repellent, a dangling aerosol dispenser hung from the fan in the kids' room. They loved it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Third time in India, first time invited over to someone's house. The Ramnath's are lovely (mom's a really good cook), and their son Mohan is one of our TAs. Great kid. They live only a few kilometers from our hotel, but our driver got lost anyway.So after a huge plate of pakoda, some kind of extra spicy Indian chili (Dinty Moore could put this in a can, but it wouldn't be nearly as good), butterscotch ice cream and a bowl of sambal (weird order, I know), we got to see the wedding album. Mohan's oldest sister just got hitched, there were several hundred guests, and the wedding lasted five days (very traditional). In other words, plenty of time to digest.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Mohammed Takes You Up the Mountain

Sunday. 10:00. It's hopping at Golconda Fort, India's second largest. And everyone's here--the families on a day trip, Aunt Bess's cow, and three-fingered Jack, the guy who cuts the coconuts open with a machete and hands you one with a straw. Tickets are 5 Rs for Indians, and 100 Rs for foreigners. We call it the white people tax.

Anyway, Pradeep, Joe and I hired a guide, Mohammed, which was a good call. There's so many hidden aspects to this place you'd miss them without someone in the know. For instance, the way the main gate is designed, it's impossible for it to be charged by an elephant. Meanwhile, the boiling oil flows out of an opening three stories up and archers pelt you from behind. Inside the gate, the acoustic design allows someone to clap and be heard from a specific location 500 feet up and half a kilometer away. It works. We tried it at both ends.

And it is 500 feet to the top, up a winding and uneven staircase that twists around cisterns and granaries and ramparts. A lot of diamonds were found here--including the one in the British crown--which is how they funded it and why they needed to defend it.

The way down is even worse, at least for me. Steep, narrow stairs that I had to take one at a time, right leg first (my left leg did all the work and I'm so sore I'm considering a massage, something I never do).

Anyway, Mohammed was great. For 750 Rs ($12) he provided a three hour tour including the gem room, the makeup room (paleosephora), and the bat cave. Yes, there is a bat cave, and there are about 10,000 bats. Photography included in the cost.

Pradeep took us to a great Indian buffet afterwards, featuring one of my favorite things: Keema Pao. Imagine a slider-sized sloppy joe. Now replace the beef and Manwich sauce with ground lamb cooked on the plancha, 3-alarm chili oil, and some green onions. I swear there is a market for these in the US; it'd be like White Castle and you could get a bag of six for three dollars with a mango lassi on the side. Anyway, I was enjoying the food so much I barely noticed the awful acoustic 80s cover band playing lullaby-Clapton and folksy-Michael Jackson. Until the purple dinosaur walked by, that is.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Taking the Students to School

The prototypes were built, the bus loaded, and the local boys' school contacted. They were quite gracious, really, interrupting their schedule and pulling 75 of their 400 students out of class so that we could do some field testing. We chose the school because two of my three teams in the 1-year program had developed product concepts directly aimed at kids: the water-transport systems and a series of toys/clothes/wearables designed to keep the mosquitos at bay.

The kids got really into this, jostling for position to try out all the concepts, and offering their own ideas for how to make them better. And my students walked away asking themselves, "Why didn't I think of that?" Lesson learned. The winners, by the way, were the Water Train, a kind of interlocking wagon concept that would allow six kids to do the work of 12 by working as a team, the Inflatable Elephant, a water-carrying poly-acrylic bag in the shape of a pachyderm with wheels on the feet and a pull cord in front, and the Bug Zapper, a squirt gun modified to use dissolving insect repellent tablets so you can douse and safeguard your siblings/friends/neighbors in one fun frenzy. The kids also wanted insect repellent exterior house paint, so if anyone at Sherwin Williams is reading this, call me.

And then there was the posing for pictures. And the speeches (the kids wanted to hear from the strange white dude from the other side of the planet, and my students were happy to translate). And the audience in the Principal's office. And the tea. And the class of 15-year-olds who practically dragged me back to their classroom to talk about America, where they all want to go.

After that, we drove down the lane to the village, a somewhat smaller collection of buildings than Kamkole, home to about 1200. This was for the third team, which was prototyping textile-based income solutions. Most of the women in the village harvest cotton for a living, but that provides only three to four month's work. They have access to sewing machines, but few know how to use them. They're looking for both instruction and distribution channels in the city (they don't know where to start) so they can earn a living the other eight months of the year. We approached them in the ramshackle gathering space they use to discuss the issues of the day.

I'm proud of my students. Feasible, novel solutions to real problems. And I wouldn't be surprised to see some of them set up ventures to make these ideas a reality.


I love space photography, especially the pictures coming back from worlds like Mars, Titan, Europa, and Enceladus. To see dry river beds or ice fissures or mountain ranges at the resolution we do from the distances they're taken is awesome. So this caught my eye.

See the mountains casting that long shadow to the west, and the riverbed on the east? That's a flat piece of marble about 18x9 inches in the Chinese restaurant here. Great Kung Pao chicken, too.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Back in the Saddle

It's prototyping time! I love this for several reasons. First, it makes people's ideas come to life, even if in less than perfect form. Second, it forces folks to be scrappy. Above, one team is constructing a water-barrow (think barrel on its side, pushed or pulled using wheelbarrow-like handles). This one is child-sized, an effort to get kids to transport water from the village well without undue physical strain. They're building it from materials scrapped from the campus construction, and they've recruited one worker and one security guard to assist. Third, and best, we get to test this with actual kids from the village tomorrow. This is one of four water transports this team is working on. Another team is prototyping 20 mosquito-repelling products for a simultaneous test.

It's amazing how quickly and ingeniously they work. We started this process only a week ago and look where we are. Hoping to get some good field shots tomorrow.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

An Observation

The last few days have seen both intermittent barfing and intermittent blackouts. On their own, neither is particularly amusing nor noteworthy, but the intersection of the two...comedy gold.

Our Regularly Scheduled Program...

...will return after this brief message from FOOD POISONING!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Where are We? What are We Doing?

Geography check. I mentioned the bus ride. Yes, it does take an hour and a half in Telengana traffic to make it out here. But it's worth it, despite the near-constant threat of head-on collisions. I much prefer my hotel room to the North Korea-like student housing.

Then again, Friday saw a bonfire and some strange form of Indian rules volleyball. Much fun was had by all. Meanwhile, a few of us holed up in the aforementioned dorm room and ate the most delicious tandoori chicken and curried goat. Washed it all down with kallu, a type of naturally fermented palm wine. It's quite good, actually. I bet there'd be a market for it in the states.

Days Off

My counterpart professor, Joe, and I had the day off Thursday, and Woxsen graciously provided us a driver. First stop: The Salar Jung Museum. It's a lovely building focused mostly, but not entirely, on various aspects of the local history. There's the textiles, and the furniture, and the pottery, and the weapons rooms (note: there were no women in the weapons room; I guess that's a thing), but what intrigued us most were the manuscripts. Mostly Qurans, but a few other fine examples of the art as well.

The majority used conventional script, with all the inlays and whatnot, but a few stood out, being far ahead of their time. The practice of typography was alive and well in these parts over a thousand years ago, and no one would bat an eye if something like these showed up on the fuselage of a Gulf carrier.

There is also the room of canes. Having been on one earlier this year, it held a particular fascination for me: how could I have pimped it up more? There are canes with skulls and monkey heads, with a button on the back that makes the jaw open. There are hand grips in the shape of dogs and birds and women's legs. There are canes that enclose timepieces, compasses, and likely knives. Alas, a missed opportunity.

They also feature statue of the Veiled Rebecca, a 17th century Italian Import. I don't know what it's doing here, but they're mighty proud of it.

We stopped by another museum, the Nizam, in the Muslim quarter (you can tell--the signs are printed in Urdu instead of Telugu). It dedicates itself to the past century, and it advertises a serious silver fetish: silver cigar boxes, silver scroll canisters, silver models of the local market, the local dam, the local sanitarium, etc. Sorry, no pictures allowed.

From there, the Charminar, which is kind of the center of town. Also the preferred suicide venue for the despondent. Now, Woxsen had advertised our driver as a serious, weave-through-the-traffic, anywhere-you-want-to-go, knows-the-streets-like-you-know-the-back-of-your-wife kind of guy. So I'm not sure why we had to stop and ask directions six times. But we got there.

Now, this is Joe's first time in India, and I've been known to take delight in thrusting people into the maelstrom, and this one has it all: ubiquitous hawkers of fake Ray Bans, the blind and the lame, pushy silver merchants, platters of samosas going by on people's heads, dead animals, gaggles of burkas traveling in formation, desperate, grabby beggars, and near-lethal traffic. He did alright. More frightening, I'm starting to feel comfortable here.

It's Infectious

If you're going to outsource Silicon Valley to Hyderabad, you need a place to stay, right?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


It's India's newest business school. In fact, it's so new, it's still under construction. A surreal mixture of completed buildings--lecture halls, a dorm, the cafeteria and student union--and an odd moonscape of concrete platforms and rebar, the kids are finally calling it home. I say finally because they spent the first sixty days of the semester at the Radisson, no doubt providing an interesting counterpoint to the business travelers and likely decimating the breakfast buffet. But now we're operational, in the sense that the second Death Star was operational. Speaking of destruction, today was the first crit. I'm not sure they're used to this kind of thing. Lots of long faces, as no team got it totally right. Didn't expect them to, really; this stuff is hard.

Anyway, at least they've got a fantastic garden at the student union. This is on the inside.

And this is on the outside. Three workers toil to mix concrete by hand, which will be molded into curb stones individually. The two Indias exist superimposed on each other, separated by a quantum boundary that cannot be crossed, and indeed precludes awareness, universes unto themselves.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Same Country, Different Place

Yes, I'm alive. Sorry for the lack of updates. I got to the hotel at 2:30 am Monday, and taught six hours of class later that day and again today, with a 90 minute bus ride on each end (I'm staying at the downtown Radisson--for a month). As usual, I'm thrilled to be here.

A little background as to what's going on: Months ago I was invited to teach two courses at Woxsen School of Business in Hyderabad, Design Thinking and Communications, to two groups of students. After three failed application attempts, I finally landed a one-year, multiple entry employment visa. Which probably means I'm coming back.

This week and next is Design Thinking, which takes me back to my ziba days. It's nice to get out of being the presentation guy and get some recognition for the other things I do, which, as usual, begs the question, "And what is that again?"

Design Thinking is both a process and a philosophy. The standard research/frame/concept/prototype/test/refine/implement phases apply, which is always fun to teach--except the frame part, which drives students nuts as it's a somewhat counterintuitive way of thinking until one gets it. But it's the philosophy behind it that's the magic. Some have described it as user-first, or as empathetic. I've always considered good Design an act of compassion.

So where does that leave us? On the bus!

These are my two-year students, all 33 of them. I've got one-years, too, but they only number 11. We're on the bus because you can't do real research on Wikipedia; you gotta get your hands dirty.

The Woxsen campus is a short drive from the roadside village of Kamkole, one example of the extremes of this country. The assignment: within a subcategory of health--sanitation, hygiene, food safety, etc.--find a perspective on a problem that can be expressed within a generative framework. If you had to read that sentence twice, you can imagine how many times I needed to explain it. Indian students, even at the graduate level, are rarely asked to tackle problems that don't have a single, definitive solution, so this is kind of like asking the rats to design the maze while saying nothing about the cheese.

Anyway, throw 'em into the deep end, I say.

This is the deep end. And it's got a lot of depth:

Motorcycle and cow:

Old woman with chickens:

Those yellow fields are corn drying on tarps. Women turn their toddlers loose to run around on it, thereby threshing it and keeping it from rotting:

Set Coordinator, I need an old woman, two oxen, and a calf! Stat!

So we let the students run around, cajoling the villagers, wheedling their way into their homes by posing as NGOs, taking pictures, and being a general nuisance. We did this twice to Kamkole today. There's another village up the road in the opposite direction that we'll bother when we do prototype testing.

Meanwhile, Joe the Marketing Prof, Pradeep the Dean, and I sat on a shady villa and drank the weirdly delicious and unique Hyderabadi tea. I like this job.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Here We Go Again

Fourteen hours to Hong Kong, six more to Hyderabad. And 30 days in India.

Employment visa this time, which was a bitch to get. But I'm good for a year.

Teaching is the reason. I think it's very cute (and flattering) that they refer to me as Professor Moon.