In the past one month many ‘firsts’ happened to me. I authored and published my first book; published my first research paper; for the first time some stranger recognised me and asked for an autograph, sat on an airplane for the first time; and finally visited a foreign place (other than Nepal) for the first time.
Now let me explain why does it all matter to me. The first two things matter to me because writing a book before I die was one of the first aims of my life. Not money, not a big house, not cars, not luxurious trips around the world, but a book was an aim for me. The research paper mattered to me because I authored it when I was a student and it is original and insightful (among the usual copy-paste by the ‘stalwarts’ of academic ‘industry’). This matters to me because this proves my academic credentials, not that I ever cared as I have been quite good throughout my graduation and post graduation.
The last part of my firsts was the airplane and China, albeit for just a week-long training trip. You know, however funny it sounds, my farmer father and housewife mother would never imagine me getting on an airplane just for the fact that I don’t think I can spend that amount of money when I can take a train ride. But there are no trains to China, nor I had to pay for the tickets!
I earn good, but still the idea of spending 500 bucks for a cup of coffee or 300 for a bucket of popcorn sounds ridiculous and vulgar to me. In fact, the proper word would be: absurd. It just doesn’t sound sensible to me. However much I would earn, I wouldn’t take a plane to visit any place in India. I know what my father and mother did for me to make me belong to where I stand today. That’s why sitting on a plane matters to me when the closest I could come to it was to marvel at the science that makes it fly in the sky when I would watch it from the ground or rooftop.
The trip to Beijing, China
Coming to the main part of this post, my kind employers wanted us, our India team, to visit their offices in China and learn a few things, necessary for our future operations in India. The whole trip was planned properly with training time at the office. In my last post, I have already written about the first few days there.
The office is an architectural delight. From the overall outside structure to the working bays, sleeping cells, eating tables, pantries, conference rooms, plants, artificial drain-aquariums, rock climbing wall, to the room for the office cat it is a happy place to be in.
An abandoned factory was converted in to a global corporate office and the architects and interior designers have made use of the heavy machines, and their parts and welded them in some kind of artwork installations all around the campus.
The office, colleagues and training
The office space invites you to come and work. Just picture this: you can come inside the office on your scooter (the Segway kind); there is a pantry with fruits, muffins, snacks for you to eat; there are soft toys, plants and various other stuffs for the happy feeling at the desk; there is a free café for your beverage and a restaurant for lunch and dinner (in case you stay till 7-7:30); you can call a cab after ten and the office pays for it; you can take a nap after lunch in one of the cozy places spread around the office; go play snooker, badminton, ping pong or even fly a kite if you feel like…
I am not sure if someone would find a better place to go and work, if he/she likes his/her work.
From my boss to all the subordinates in the China office, all were nothing but welcoming, polite, comforting and more like a family than something else. The training process was quite paced up with lot of presentations and actual training (however, we got a bit short on the hands-on experience, but now I am quite good at it).
Our boss Celia, our colleagues Marie, Steve, Shouhua, Lily, Mat, Nicole, Sophie, Yufei, Anise (the HR lady), and others whose name escapes me, helped a lot in the training and even outside it. Finding a proper place to eat or reaching your hotel by telling taxi driver the destination can be a hard job in a foreign land. Our colleagues would not only make sure we know the stuff on the computers but also on the roads.
The food: Boiled, steamed, stewed, less on salt and devoid of onions
Celia, our generous (with time and smiles) boss, welcomed the Indian team with an official dinner at a Japanese joint. Very fancy for a guy like me who doesn’t go outside his room or a three km radius (unless a love interest is involved) to eat. I ate all kinds of ‘food’ that I would never have eaten. Sushi, raw fish, wet noodles, vegetable salad and what not… I ate as many varieties as I could. Some tasted ok, some funny and some completely weird for my lower-middle class tongue which rebels when it tastes anything beyond a price tag and Indianness!
The Chinese food is normally a boiled type which has sticky rice and pork (in various forms from oil to meat) in almost all the meals. Usually, a person would take a small bowl of rice (small because I can eat the double or triple that amount) or a bun-shaped wheat flour bread, a bit of pork, a bit of chicken or duck, some noodles, some stewed vegetables, some raw vegetables in form of mixed salad, a bowl of soup and some yogurt.
This all doesn’t have much of salt in it. For an Indian, especially from the northern parts, the food tastes as if without any salt. The salt is very mild and everything is usually just boiled. The meat, pork especially, is fried but it has a different flavour to it. Maybe, due to the fact that they fry it in pork oil. One day, the chicken served in the restaurant was smelling almost Indian, with proper spices and all. I took two bowls of rice, and two helpings of chicken and that’s it. Later, I went to ask for the chicken the third time. When you are hungry in a foreign land where free food of your liking is being served, don’t be ashamed!
As I came to sit and eat, couldn’t resist using my hands. I had the option of chopsticks and spoon, but it was chicken! So, I assumed no one was seeing me and started eating with my hands as I would always do here. I mean, that’s my culture when it comes to chicken and rice!
Although, I am still confused why don’t they use onions in any of their food! We Indians produce them a lot and can export some to China to make their food a tad tastier. Nutrition is all great, but taste matters the most to Indians. And, we are your neighbours, so please use a bit of salt and onion, you will be a happier population.
The language issues and two anecdotes
Steve is the man! However much gratitude I pay to this handsome soul, it won’t be enough. This Taiwanese colleague was like a lifeline for us in the foreign land. When I use ‘foreign land’, it is not just the geography of it. It is mental alienation and absurdity of existence itself that you face when no one speaks your language, no one understand your gestures and everyone smiles because they don’t get you at all.
I will share two anecdotes that took place at our hotel, one with my India boss and other with me. My boss wanted to buy shampoo. For the handsome man he is, the hotel brand wouldn’t satisfy his salt-and-pepper hair, so he wanted the brand of his choice. He asked the reception lady about shampoo.
Of course, she wouldn’t understand because, weird enough Chinese service industry even in Beijing doesn’t care for any other language than Chinese. So he started making gestures with his hand over his head, taking a mock bath. I was not there but I am sure how great a performance it would have been.
She drew a blank face. My boss exhausted all his college-time theatre skills and couldn’t get across what he wanted. So, he went in to the Seven-Eleven store just outside the hotel. After searching for the familiar logo in English, he spotted a bottle of Pantene and promptly bought it. Later in the day looking at his fine hair, we asked if he shampooed it. He said, “Pantene makes good conditioners as well!” He had bought a conditioner thinking it would be a shampoo.
The second anecdote was the one in which I was involved. At around 11 in night, my wifi had some issues. I tried all my technical skills which involved resetting the device and even trying to sit near the door to let the wifi ‘come in’. It didn’t work. So I thought let’s talk to the reception lady. This moment of realisation shouldn’t have come!
“Hi, I am from room no. 813, my wifi has some issues. Please fix it.” She spoke something in Chinese. Now, I fractured my English from grammatically correct sentences to mere words. “Room 8-1-3… No wifi… Wifi not… Not Internet… Fix it!” And she spoke something in Chinese. This time a bit longer. She also called a colleague and again I used all kinds of my English. She also spoke in Chinese.
At last I said, “NO CHINESE.” And believe me I spoke in upper case!
“NO ENGLISH.” She replied in firm upper case as well.
Then I said, “hmmmmm…” To which she said, “hmmmmmm…” And we both hung up.
The one-day spare time trip to The Great Wall and Olympic Park
So yes, Steve, our polite Taiwanese friend who you can take for a Canadian had it not been his Chinese features, gave us company for our trip to the above-mentioned places. Our China boss, Celia, arranged for this trip with a tour guide, and Steve would be our saviour on board.
The trip was fascinating as I got to see The Great Wall, stand on it, take a walk and breathe the chill inside me. It looks like a dragon’s tail with all its crest and trough-y structure which goes up and down. The landscape that you could see from here is simply breathtaking. A bit of snow added to the beauty. But I believe it would have been surreal in the season when snow flakes would fly in and around the Wall and you could see the clouds flying.
The Bird’s Nest stadium was another delight. The whole architecture and design of the Olympic Park, which will also host the Winter Olympic in 2022, looks like as if someone has given an order to abstract elements. From the tall light stands in front of the stadium to the two-feet tall ones around the sidewalks, have uniformity that explains how tough a job it is to design everything that is in sync with an overall thought process.
Steve also took us to a marketing area with a street, Hutong, almost a kilometre long, in old Beijing where we had various shops selling souvenirs, food, clothes etc.
Finally, the trip culminated with a taxi ride in the area where all kinds of government buildings, from President’s office to House of People and several ministries, are located. We could barely see Tein An Man Square as we were running short on time.
Thank you Steve for being so brotherly and helping in all regards. In forms of expression such as writing, all I can use is a set of words for the gratitude, but just remember you are way beyond these.
After a week we were all back to our beloved land, India. As our China boss was on a squeezed schedule with her trips to other nations, she wanted to spend as much time as she could with us, so we reported to office at noon. Tired from the flight and reaching home at 6 AM, all I did was to sleep, then wake up and leave for office.
And there it was, in Cyber City, a place called Dhaba. We had lunch. Why I need to mention it? Hell yeah, I do, for it was after eight days that something called green chilly, salt, butter chicken, mutton, rice and roti will gratify my Indian tongue! I hogged like a pig.