Saturday, April 26, 2008

End of the blog... or is it?

You may have noticed that those last posts were written more than a week later. Kind of busy here. The problem with going away is that everything you didn't do on the home front while you were away needs taking care of when you get back. And then add in jet lag! I just started sleeping through the night 9 days after returning. Before then, I'd wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning and not get back to sleep. Aargh!

Anyway, that completes the blog for now. I'm hoping there'll be a "chapter two" sometime soon and that I'll be there for more than a long weekend!

An Evening in Mumbai (Bombay)

Yes, Bombay's name has been changed to Mumbai, more traditional and therefore politically correct — except all the Indians still called it Bombay. Hmm...

I had to be at the airport by 11 p.m. for my flight to NYC by way of Brussels, but luckily got a tour of the town courtesy of Rashmi and a driver provided by Sumeru. Very warm thanks to all!

Mumbai is, at least by some counts, the most populated city in the world. Driving into town from the east takes you through a swath of makeshift shacks set up on sidewalk after sidewalk, each one a dwelling place for someone, perhaps a whole family. Here's a blurry (car window) shot of one sidewalk; imagine nothing but this for a mile or two.

As you get closer to the water, you enter colonial Bombay, where the British lived very well, thank you very much. While there wasn't such a clear distinction between rich and poor areas in Pune, in Bombay there are definitely two or more sides to the track. The harbor is dominated by the Taj Hotel (1903), the city's first luxury hotel and first building to have electricity. Although one might assume that the hotel was built by the Brits, it was actually the work of the Indian industrialist Jamsetji Tata. In fact, legend has it that he set his mind on building it after being denied entry into one of the city's hotels for being an Indian.

Oh, no, another blurry picture, and no car window as an excuse! This is Rashmi and me having tea in the Taj, and the next shot is the view of the harbor from our window.

After this we got to take a boat ride out on the harbor, very refreshing, and it gives you a real sense of the city. The last big site, located a block from the Taj, is the famed Gateway to India, built to commemorate the arrival of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. They made their grand entrance right through its arch. Must have made them feel kinda special.

The final Mumbai/Bombay treat, and in many ways the best, was a lively (and delicious) dinner with Ashok Kaul, India's pioneering animator and filmmaker., a gracious gentleman with tons of tales about Bollywood and the growth of animation in India. Somehow Rashmi knew someone who knew someone who knew him, and he was very kind to invite us to his favorite local restaurant where the food was oh so good, and a great send off to the less exciting world of the Mumbai airport. I hope you will forgive me one last low-rez photo; by this time the flash had stopped working.

The Press Conference

I must admit I thought it odd that a yet-to-be school could stage a press conference and get coverage about their new program, but Sumeru did and got about 30 newspaper reporters there. I even had to answer some tough questions, just like I was CJ on "The West Wing."

But it went well, and was given a boost by the director of the Pune Chamber of Commerce showing up and supporting the program quite eloquently. This is the gentleman that got the government to create an industrial zone (tax incentives, etc.) to lure the IT industry to Pune, which seems to have worked beyond their wildest dreams, and now he's trying to get the government to do the same for animation.

And at least these pictures were still on the camera.

A Walk Through Pune

With our full work schedule, my sightseeing had been confined to what I could see out a car window. Absolutely wild street scene, but hard to take pictures out that window. I guess it didn't matter anyway, because a few hours after my return my hard drive crashed, and I lost all of my India photos except those already posted to this blog, and those still in the camera. (Yes, I am cheating by writing this after I got home, but sometimes you run out of time.)

Still, some street impressions:
• Tons of people, rich, poor, and in between, but all very busy.
• Some begging here and there, but not massive amounts. Just about everyone seems to be figuring out how to make a buck... but then Pune is a boomtown.
• Near 100-degree heat, but very dry, not at all oppressive.
• Street vendors every few feet, selling just about anything; not just in a particular district, but pretty much everywhere you go.
• Yes, I had to veer off the sidewalk to avoid an oncoming cow. Hey, it was bigger than me and had horns! I couldn't spot an owner. (This two blocks from my 5-star hotel.)
• I found the peoples' faces wonderfully expressive but didn't want to invade their privacy by shooting their portrait. But a little later three construction workers saw I had a camera and insisted on posing for me. Great photo, lost forever.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Second Impressions

The past day and a half have been wild. All my waking hours were devoted to this morning's presentation, followed this afternoon by five non-waking hours (aka, a comatose nap). In some ways I feel like I'm not seeing India at all because work leaves me no time to roam the streets and play tourist. We go from point A to point B in our Mercedes and I want to take pictures of everything, but it all goes by too fast.

On the other hand, plunking down in this city on the other side of the world and immediately diving into work on a project with total strangers is certainly an authentic experience. The good news is that my presentation went very well and that I can begin to relax. I have been joined here by Rashmi Jaipal, a Bloomfield professor of psychology and a native of India who is currently on sabbatical and living up in or around Delhi until August. She's been very helpful explaining everything to me, especially the food (!), and after tomorrow's midday press conference she's going to travel with me to Mumbai, where she'll have about 4 hours to show me around before I have to head to the airport and fly back to Newark.

Speaking of flying, I neglected to mention two key points in my rave review of Jet Airways. The most significant is that they have an outlet for your laptop at every seat! (It even took an American plug.) Since laptop batteries are depressingly short-lived, it's great to actually be able to get some work done, or just watch a movie. Well, they had their own great choice of movies, but it was good to be able to work some on my presentation on the way over, since I had so little time. And on the way back I can work on my presentation for the Presbyterian dinner, taking place in Westminster all of 3 or 4 hours after my return. Lucky me!

The other great thing was that the plane coming over was less than half full, so I could stretch out over three seats to sleep. This was a jumbo jet and no one was officially seated in the rear cabin, so you could go back there and it was like you were POTUS on The West Wing, with your own personal bedroom aboard Air Force One. Don't know if I'll get that lucky going back.

Some more pictures...

They call these 3-wheeled motor vehicles "rickshaws," and they are the most common form of taxi.

Motorcycles are as popular as cars, and often feature couples, the women in long flowing garments. I've even seen them with parents and child all aboard. No one wears helmets and the traffic is crazy, but they're used to it.

Raj and Trish from Sumeru and Rashmi from a little place we like to call Bloomfield College.

With all the IT industry and now animation becoming a big deal, Pune is positioning itself as the Silicon Valley of India, thus this poster.

The banner for our big show.

This is the hall for our event, the night before. It's at the Pune Convention Center.

And this is it with chairs, an hour before opening. At this point we're hoping some of them will get filled.

Whew! People actually showed up.

To hear this guy?!?

Now to the good part! I'll have to get the Indian name for this, but we had it two days in a row, but from two different regional cuisines. The idea is that they keep filling up the small bowls with a variety of dishes and also heap food on the middle of the tray. As soon as you finish something, the waiter's hovering above you to refill it. It really is All You Can Eat. It reminds me of Korean restaurants with their wide variety of side dishes.

Friday, April 11, 2008

First Impressions

You don't become an expert on a country of over a billion people in only 24 hours, so it's a good thing I'm here for a full four days. At first look, India most resembles China. A lot of people, everywhere, enough to make a Manhattanite feel like a farm boy in the city for the first time. Then there's the sharp contrast between the crumbling buildings of the old poor India and all the new construction and industrial parks of the new India. The country is undergoing a rapid economic transition, big-time future shock.

Still, Pune is not Calcutta (or at least my image of Calcutta); you don't see the streets teeming with beggars. Instead, you see countless vendors selling everything, and tons of dilapidated buildings, many of them missing part of their facade, as if the city had been bombed recently. But Pune is a city on the rise, home of InfoSys, the Indian software giant, as well as other major IT companies. The big news is that Microsoft is opening a major center in Pune and will be moving much of their development work here. And it is also a university center, the "Oxford of the East," or perhaps the "Boston of India." It is also becoming a major animation center, the back office for the major Bollywood studios 150 km. away in Mumbai (Bombay).

India also seems, at least to my eye, less exotic than China, more familiar, but that may simply be because (thank you, British imperialists) English is so widely spoken. And although China has become a very capitalist country, there's still that "communist" dictatorship lurking in the background, making everyone tread very lightly.

Didn't have much time for photography yesterday, but here are a few...

1) Pune Street

Info Sys Headquarters:

3. Indian Buffet (plus Mandarin fish and Irish stew)

4. & 5. "Saturday" Castle, built in 1700s

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Eat Your Heart Out, Magellan!

If you're wondering what that previous entry was all about... that really was me blogging (indirectly) from my airplane, in the skies above Iran, about 38,000 ft. up there. I suspect in a few years internet on airplanes, which is already being tried here and there, will be widely available (for a price). All I had was the ability to send e-mail, which I sent to my girlfriend Riley, who posted it right away to the blog. Okay, a two-step process, but close enough for now. Of course they charge $2.50 per e-mail, and they only give you 150 characters (that's characters, spaces included, not words), thus the brevity of the message.

I am happy to report, however, that Jet Airways, an Indian carrier I had never heard of before, is an excellent airline. Great service, clean modern planes, good (Indian) food, free wine with your meal, and the best entertainment system so far I've ever had on a plane. They have about thirty movies, American & Indian, and it's really a good selection, plus tv shows, news, games, etc. But the good part is that you totally control them. Instead of all the movies starting at the same time, it's like having your own DVD player. You start a movie when you want, and you can pause it to go to the bathroom, talk to the flight attendant, take a nap, whatever. Here's a fuzzy picture of the screen with the play-pause-ff-rewind controls at the bottom:

Yeah, that really is Beowulf. I am here to talk about animation, after all.

If you're wondering about America's competitiveness in the world, all you have to do is compare United, Delta, and American with Jet Airways, Air Japan, and Air France. Kind of sad.

Above Iran

Greetings from 6 miles above Tehran, Iran! The Blogo-Atmo-Sphere!
All OK!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Why go to India for a weekend?

Bloomfield College has entered into a preliminary agreement for CAT to collaborate with a large Indian company that is setting up an animation training center (Sumeru Academy of Digital Arts) in the city of Pune, and hopes to expand nationwide. Honestly, I had never heard of Pune before, but it's a city of over 5 million people, an industrial and university center about three hours by car east of Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay). See the green arrow on the map.

After speaking at so many open houses on the Bloomfield College campus, I will be be doing the same in Pune, only this time I'll be flying for over 17 hours (7,926 miles, by way of Brussels) to do so. Weather forecast for Pune: 100 degrees!

If Sumeru succeeds in attracting students, CAT will be working with them on developing curriculum and sending American teachers to India to teach for stints that could range from two months to a year or more. The Sumeru students will be pursuing an 18-month certificate program in animation and related areas of visual content, and we're already developing an option for the last month or two that would enable interested students to study at Bloomfield College in a special summer program.

All of this is at the early stages. It might come to absolutely nothing, or could grow into something big. Obviously we're hoping for the second possibility. And why only for the weekend? Because they still expect me to do all this other work back in New Jersey! I've been to over thirty countries, but never to India. I'm hoping there will be a second time, and that it will be for a lot longer than Friday through Monday!

I fly out of Newark this Wednesday evening (April 9th). Stay tuned to this blog for whatever pictures and comments I can find time to post while there. I'm expecting to be quite busy, but I'll do my best...