The Teachings of Gautama

I found a draft of a post written during my time in India that I thought I would finally publish. However, instead, I have taken  a portion listed below, to start a discussion and introspection. Siddhartha – the quest for Nirvana –  was an interesting read and this post was written as I read it; sitting pool side in India, exploring a new world and yet fearful of eviction from a hotel room I was not paying for.

I’ve begun to read Siddhartha – the epic journey of a man’s attempt to find tranquility (nirvana) in his life. What he discovers in his journeying is that it is not the teachings of the holy men, nor the teaching of Buddha – the being who has transcended this life and founded ultimate nirvana himself – that can give him his insight into bliss. It is only through patience, and self-discovery that his insights can come; can he rid himself of suffering, of pain, of hunger, of worldly distresses.

I have just followed Siddhartha’s path through life in Herman Hesses’ novels. Hesse, attempting to examine the spirituality of India, did so not as a fellow Hindu or Buddhist but as a Westerner raised in Christian Germany. His path is intriguing, and the focus of much of Siddhartha’s journey on requisite patience which can drive a man, especially a Western man, crazy. I find myself now trying to find inner strength enough to wait, to be patient; comfortable in not knowing precisely what I will be doing tomorrow, next week, or next month.

There are countless dualities which continue to define the nature of man. Good and bad; Evil and Holy. The Aztecs saw the duality in their Jaguar Gods of Night and Day. The Yin and Yang served the same purpose and definition in the East. In the West, Heaven and Hell, Angel and Demon, Craven and Courageous all define that same dichotomy within which all men and women are seen. Perhaps we need it to be this way, the Night and Day relationship so ingrained in our psyche that it characterizes our vision and understanding of the world.

Of great importance to me, is that diametrically opposed view that symbolizes East and West – another duality that continues to define the way we see the World. Black and White, East and West, Them and Us. These are the terms we continue to see the world, the international system built upon those dualities that transcend generations and yet remain compartmentalized by Geo-political boundary.

China and Russia are backing Iran. International economic blocs are uniting along these geo-political boundaries that have nothing to do with interest but everything to with mentality. It is again the West vs. East as it was during the Cold War. Hu Jintao and Medvedev backing Ahmadinejad. Iran + Russia + China = WIN?. If we continue to approach these same nations, these same cultures, these same leaders with the mentality of Westerner’s as did Herman Hesse approach the wanderings of an ascetic;  Can we truly be able to move beyond thinking of dualities to develop a unification? Is duality so ingrained within all people that it is impossible to overcome for peace and prosperity.

Ultimately the teachings of Gautma require patience, inevitability, and self-acceptance to move beyond pain, suffering, and condemnation. How do we become comfortable letting the “Others” develop while we wait and see? I wonder….

HGMW

 

 

Foreign Aid & The Problem with China

China: America’s Private United Nations

Foreign aid is the act of bringing in money that may be intended to be repaid or not, but more generally is recognized as meant to stabilize or build a nation. Globally, foreign aid is used as a method similar to the treatment of a critical patient in the ICU– to stabilize the nation when it cannot stabilize itself. As it works, however, is to pay for a cycle of fund allocation within the nations

As African nations well know, often-underdeveloped nations will have very specific national industries that are highly competitive. In the form of cashew plantations, coffee plantations, timber, aluminum, or diamonds these industries are national resources. In the forms of car manufacturing, steel mills, or textiles the industries are secondary or intermediary business profiles. In either case the industries are generally the best paid, most stable, and highest in revenues for the undeveloped nations; these are seen as wise investments with the largest payouts to tax and rebuild infrastructure or maintain stable employment. These industries are also the most corrupt – run by government – nationalized – and used to market the smaller countries to the world.

Those nationalized industries become the poster child of the countries, and are protected from competition through policies that provide incentives and non-competition pacts. Expensive export tariffs are placed upon the products of these smaller nations, and the funds redistributed from those tariffs to the other programs. However, if the tariffs are so great as to make those industries uncompetitive they will falter and the entire nation falters. The delivered aid is that catalyst promoting redirection of funds; it only makes things worse.

As the international aid rolls in, the tariffs increase because the money allocations necessary for running the country are lower. The government hurts the industry of the nation, and investment does not occur – it only lining the pockets of the leaders – not reinvested into the nation as it should. The foreign aid goes into programs that are normally used to run the nation and there is no benefit; no social surplus. Most importantly however, the foreign aid is not meant to be repaid.

American Aid?

The American home is now seeing this same trend but instead of aid we receive loans – still, I argue,  that will never be repaid. As the industries began to fail, the US government nationalized them – much like we see in underdeveloped nations. The financial industry failed through poor government policy – two of the largest lenders were nationalized. The auto-industry failed and yet was bailed out by the government – those that failed are now owned and operated by the national government. The money that is being used to bail out those industries is paid for, not by taxpayers, but by China. We cannot pay for them, the US budget is in a multi-trillion dollar deficit. What we see are the same phenomenon that appear in those African nations – foreign aid comes in, industries used to employ and sustain the nation are nationalized as they begin to fail because they are not internationally competitive, and the aid can’t be repaid – as no social surplus is increased, inefficiencies largely remain, and the industry is left in the red. The nation suffers.

Dilemma

So, what do we do with our debt to China – our outstanding bonds especially? Well, we don’t repay it. We can’t repay it. This is the danger. What happens when the Chinese finally understand that we cannot repay our debt to them? Will loans dry up when our bonds are forfeited on or we will just print more money? Will there be war? I’m not so sure… all I can say is that the United States is taking aid from an aggressive and antagonistic country that is beginning to look more like a knee-cap breaking Mafioso than a neutral nation nurturing our nepitism; currently the policies are the same – in the future our debt becomes our failures. Don’t believe me? Well look at the rhetoric coming from the People’s Army in China in response to our sale of military technology to Taiwan: They want to SELL our debt! Economic warfare at its finest everyone. The Chinese leaders are now threatening to sell our bonds back in order to help “increase defense spending.” Our dollars, loaned from their Yuan, will pay for those new age fighters the US can’t pay for in order to threaten our antiquated air force in Taiwan – Oh how the tables are turning. Oh, and with what money do we repay that debt? With the dollars that don’t even need to be printed – the dollars that can simply be digitally created with those beautiful 1s and 0s.

A Voice of Reason

Now, I’ve been listening to Peter Schiff for a little while thanks to my roommate’s suggestion, and I must encourage any and all people to check him out. From either sides of the aisle, this guy makes sense. He draws attention to the fiscal policies of the US and the ramifications for the future. Schiff identified the coming housing-bubble, identified correctly the massive currency crisis we now face, and has some insights for the future that may shed insight to America’s long-term situation. His speeches at the Mises Institute are fascinating, funny, and expansive.

I encourage everyone to follow the link provided. Please, if you disagree with my statements above reply, and let’s discuss!

HGMW

October 2009 – The Return of California

The California Promise

A lot is happening in good old California. The Dodgers are in the National League Championship Series, Tech stocks are beginning to recover, and the returning champion Lakers are starting their new season – hell even the Niners aren’t looking too bad! With the economy recovering, and the sun shining after an early Fall rain – could we be seeing the revitalization of California; a return to the days of Golden State pride, and an entrepreneurial spirit?

Well, no. Even with the upturn in national indexes and the continued feeling of Hope that our boy Obama rode into the White house, we simply can’t believe that this economic disaster we call 2008 is behind us. Sure, we’re above 10,000 and housing prices have stopped that free fall into poverty that put so many Americans upside down. Sure, sports revenues are up, commodity prices are lowering, and the world hasn’t ceased to exist by simultaneous nuclear devastation at the whims of one Middle Eastern Mad Man or that short Asian dude in one of the Koreas. We’re not through it yet – maybe for the better.

The question each American should ask our self – are we living any differently than before? Purchasing trends haven’t changed, % of income used for non-essentials has not shown signs of dropping, and the over leveraging of our livelihoods hasn’t changed. The spirit of America – work hard, work for yourself and family, support yourself and your community – isn’t showing signs of returning. People aren’t changing, the economy won’t either. What we are seeing instead of the “self-made man” is the “government run Robin Hood.”

The Obama Education

While I am the first to admit that I don’t believe interventionism is the key to successful management of the economic structures that characterize a free and efficient democratic market; I will also be the first to say that Obama’s address to schools was not out-of-place, and the more I think about it, is exactly what our society needs. On the face, without knowledge of what he said, Obama seems to be invading the sanctity of American education – the government’s ability to indoctrinate the populace if it address the younger generations is simply not to be trusted. The President’s address to children, was, however, far  from the indoctrination that most pundits demonized it as. The President, in what I consider his best moment yet (and perhaps only), gave the kids exactly what our culture of consumerism and celebrities denies – a valuation of hard work, a reminder that one does not get ahead without demanding more from yourself before you demand more from others. Obama gave so many kids what their parents have failed to offer. This is the scariest part. He delivered a necessary comment, devoid of politics, to a generation that has been forgotten by their community that no longer exists.

If those spending trends and over leveraging haven’t changed even through economic encouragement that occurs once in a generation, perhaps it’s the wrong generation. Perhaps the kids of television became the adults of overspending, maybe the Denizens of Disney became the Debutantes of Decadence. Perhaps, our generation is too far gone; this is the assumption that drove the President to talk with the children; an uncorrupted youth being dangled the dreams of Reality television and after-school programs without parental interaction or a friendly neighborhood with which to rely.

I offer what scares myself and the majority of our intelligentsia in America.

When someone takes a role in a community, the human response is to rely on that person for whatever it is they provide. Quickly, that person is looked too for whatever it is they provide – it becomes not an addiction, but an acquiescence of responsibility. We know that person will be there; that need will be taken care of – the community forgets how to provide on their own. This situation is fine in small communities where accountability and punishment ensured that particular need was attained. What happens when the person or entity providing that necessity is far away?  A dissociation occurs; the need is taken care of, no need to worry – no need to even think about it.

Here is the main political dilemma that has been debated for centuries, and its incarnation exists today in all realms of our lives. It is too bad that finally, and subtly, the situation has devolved into a foreseen need for our President to guide the children – it is through necessity, not partisanship, that we arrived here.

How it Happened

We relied on Disney movies, TGIF, Urkle, Full House, and more to deliver the principles of life – but that was okay as long as the principles were fine, morality upheld – grounded in lessons of hard work, love, and communal living. The slippery slope has now led to the Reality television, worthless celebrity with no skills able to get rich quick on game shows, celebrity living, and “The Real World.” The social structure – the definition of principles that hold our people together – no longer values community, no longer demands hard work, no longer offers solace in the knowledge that devotion and commitment are valuable. We have become a global  community idolizing talentless Gods, devoid of talent, and utterly worthless in their narcissism. Our life is a narcissistic experiment. We have become a society that NEEDS OUR GOVERNMENT TO INTERVENE, AND EDUCATE OUR CHILDREN! It shouldn’t demonize our President, it should demand more from ourselves.

The Golden State

California cannot become the State of Dreams and Opportunity without understanding what we need; not what we want. The economic crises was a clue that hasn’t finished in its ultimate price of overspending, over-leveraging, interventionism, and reliance on government management. We are yet to see the impact of our de-evolution.

Stay tuned folks, maybe we’ll find out together.

Throw that Hand in the Air!

So most of life is just showing up, checking in, and volunteering. Sometimes the question is asked, “Who wants to…” and before it is finished you just have to jump up, yell “I will!” and hold on for the ride. As it turns out, though,

My friends came to visit me all the way from Malibu!!!!

My friends came to visit me all the way from Malibu!!!!

sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you throw that hand up only to have it slapped on the wrist like a gangly kid on Space Mountain. Yah, that’s right; adventures can be amazingly bad or amazingly grand; as long they are amazing you’re doing alright.

I’m covering two stories today in the span of one blog. They aren’t the same scouting or seeking, realizations or renegade antics. These aren’t on the caliber of riding the train in a lightning storm while the guards call from behind. These adventurous are the kind that sneak up on you; when you can  reason or rationalize – shut it or stumble forward. These are the adventures that are very hard to enjoy, hard to find as you can easily talk yourself out of it. These are often the most fun, the most rewarding, the most enjoyable – and usually less dangerous than the rest. Usually…

The Americans

I meandered with the goal of finding some delicious food at the top of my hotel; Morimoto’s Wasabi beckons every night with the promise of Eel Rolls and Salmon Toro calling like the siren to a sailor; with the same salty taste of a briny deep. The waves but an elevator, the churning depths simply the over indulgence in the sweetest Green Tea Ice Cream imaginable. My biggest question that night was what time to head on up. India eats at around 9:00pm.

Best... Ice Cream... Ever

Best... Ice Cream... Ever

America eats whenever it darn well pleases, hoorah! – usually between 6:00 and 8:00pm. I decided, this time, to head up as the Indians do – the first decision which would lead me to one of the best nights of my life.

Sitting at the sushi bar, surrounded by suits and sawed fish, I was suddenly surrounded by Bostonians from JP Morgan. This fellowship of financials spoke English with the rapidity that defines the Eastern Sea Board and offered to me new friends and a new opportunity. I struck up a conversation and by the end of the night we were yelling across the sushi as only those who have found friendship abroad can. The new found friends that we were, I opted to invite myself along with them on their night out. After some cajoling and my “new friend sales pitch,” we left with their drivers for North Mumbai; little did I know it was an hour and a half to our destination. Don’t forget we were leaving my hotel around 10:00pm. I had time to think it over…

The traffic stopped us dead numerous times and by the time we made it to the swank Bombay nightclub the clock hit Cinderella’s bedtime; usually mine too. “C’est le vie” I said as we ran downstairs to met up with New Zealanders and

The Grand Hyatt - Raining

The Grand Hyatt - Raining

Hindi stars; the rich and the regal. While we saw no Bollywood starlets this night, we would next time we visited.

Later this night, I left the Grand Hyatt and jumped in cab. “Back to the Taj” I said. “Tikka, tikka, Acha” He replied and sped forward. Now, I must say, 3:00am is an odd time to see India, especially from and a cab, and most specifically aboard the star lit new bridge. The new bridge, barely finished still with support construction struts,  is exactly where I would sit, above the river for a good hour – with great trepidation and a bit scared for my wellbeing. It was ok, I made it back to write this blog didn’t I?

The short story, that I want to tell, is that the cab driver pulled over on the newest bridge in India. We pulled over to help a woman and her driver fix a flat after being waved down. I didn’t really have a choice – it was the kind of

The bridge on the way to the North Mumbai

The bridge on the way to the North Mumbai

adventure that just happens. An hour later, we pulled into the Taj, 4:00am and feeling pretty good about ourselves. The cab driver, waving goodbye, drove off. We both knew we had shared a moment in Mumbai. I won’t ever forget it. Find me in person to hear more about this one – there are many details I’d like to add but my hand cramps so easily these days…

The “Businessman”

As you know I’ve been reading Shantaram – the book that details the lives, love, and losses of “Lin” in Bombay. It is set mostly in the streets surrounding my hotel and it is constantly in my mind. The smoking, the sounds, the stories, and the smiles swirl through my vision all day, every day. I think that’s why this particular sequence happened at all.

The life of this book is in the smiles. The author constantly acknowledges the types of smiles people have, and how they affect him. I became that way on this trip. I can pick out a man who I will or won’t talk to by his smile, his swagger.  One man I picked out because he gave me, and everyone he met, the innocent smile of the Buddha – making friends and making business with each handshake and greeting. I know that’s all he has in this world are his few dirty shirts, his cross-eyed wife, and his childlike grin. Whenever I go out now, I find him to help me. His presence is never missing from the street outside the Taj.

He has helped me buy a suit, cufflinks, souvenirs, and more. He gets a little cash for bringing in business, and I get the privilege of knowing I have helped him out a bit. This man is a good man; you can tell in the smile. I don’t know his name.

My Good Friend

My Good Friend

Today, though, I met a man who took advantage; at least I think. It was so recent that I can’t quite make up my mind. My lunch hour struck and I sprang from my desk. I was heading to McDonalds – I know, I know, but let me say I have not tried it and I think I should before leaving: a culinary adventure if you will.

On the way to lunch I was waylaid by an Indian businessman. “Aaron, Aaron. How are you? Let’s go have lunch!” He said excitedly, offering his hand and smiling with a mischievous grin. “Huh..” I was stunned, almost mumbling by his friendly assault, “ I’m not Aaron.. I’m Harrison.” Darn I thought, already used my real name, and I don’t know him – travel mistake numero uno. His clothes disarmed my usual traveling senses. “Ok, Richard. Well I met some nice British men yesterday and they look like you. Where are you headed?” “I am headed to lunch, McDonalds.” I replied

“Oh no, we will go to Barrista it is much better.” He started walking me off. I don’t know what it was but I went; with alarm bells going off all over. Our conversation centered on me – . Every time I asked him a question of himself, his business, he replied in vagaries and subject changes – ok I get the picture. After he had finished

The Poolside Courtyard - My Thinking Spot

The Poolside Courtyard - My Thinking Spot

bragging about knowing the CEOs of my company, he let me know he would  put in a good word with Mr. Tata. “Right” I thought, “thanks.” When the bill came, I paid. He made a show of offering to treat “next time,”  to which I thanked him and offered the casual “Namaste.” We parted ways and I came away with a terrible feeling – he had my Indian cell phone number and I had just awoken from the hypnosis of the man’s disarming smile. Had I been swindled into giving up my cell number, my name, and a cup of coffee to be put in a worse spot later or was it just a friendly chat with a new friend in a coffee shop? 3 days left, I guess we’ll find out later.

Fin

So they may not seem “crazy” or “amazing” too you, but these instances are both examples of what can come from simply going with flow, jumping at new opportunities, and getting out of that comfort zone. This summer was one that wrenched me from my comfort zone and cauterized the wound. Sure, it can be hard to adjust, but with the right support structure back home and the excellent people of Taj, Pepperdine, and the best family there is; any adventure will be a good one.

My advice? Well, not to sound like a Nike ad but…. JUST DO IT! The majority of life is showing up, the rest is throwing that hand in the air, and yelling “I’ll do it, you can count on me!” Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t… but you’ll always have a good story.

I hope that's not Facebook at work... PROJECTS DONE!!!

I hope that's not Facebook at work... PROJECTS DONE!!!

Until next time…

A Peaceful Journey; A Dark Underbelly

A Literary Journey

The Hindu Trinity - Brahma, Vishnu, and Lakshmi

The Hindu Trinity - Brahma, Vishnu, and Lakshmi

There are many journeys that man can take. He can find himself. He can find Love. He can find a reason to live. Some say he can find God. I have been traveling now for nearly 4 months – adjusting and re-adjusting to new people, new places, and new lifestyles. In Bangladesh I found the serenity that comes only when surrounded by the love and acceptance of the urban poor. Home for a month I could not help but examine the complex systems that so well contrast the freedom in poverty that is found in much of South Asia. Now, in India – a guest of Taj and and acting as a curriculum consultant – I live far away from the slums; a place hard to find that personal growth that everyone exclaims comes with a journey to India; or so I thought. Sometimes, personal growth comes at the most unexpected times and through little known people rather than the big philosophers. Today, I’ll show you how India – thus, far – has impacted my life through the writings and realizations of fictional Brahmin and an inarguably real Australian ex-con.

The River of Life? No, just the journey to Elephanta Islans

The River of Life? No, just the journey to Elephanta Island

I started this trip reading Siddhartha, the journey and self-realization story of a wandering Brahmin who meets the meandering Buddha. He is a man, throughout the journey, alone and yet one with his path. His personal story, one that mirrors the ancient Hindu stories of holy men, comes to focus on one very real, and ultimately satisfying notion: that no man can explain the truth, the oneness of god, and the meaning of reality; a person must discover that truth for himself. While many men, including Siddhartha’s own best friend, choose to follow the holiest of men; Siddhartha realizes that his journey through the river of life must not be of following, but of being taken. He must surrender himself unto God before he can come to that ultimate realization. While this literary piece was informative, and quite stimulating, another book really has captured my mind and guided my place in India. This is the story of Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.

Act 1: The Lost and Peaceful Mind

Shantaram follows the true story, written three times from the cells of prisons, of Gregory David Roberts – an escaped convict from Australia’s dirtiest and most corrupted prison. His escape drives him to India, fleeing the Western world and finding a home in the darkness and mystery that pervades the day and night of Bombay. He is not taken in so much as he survives on the streets of India following one guiding principle:That in India it is far better to be led by the heart than the mind.

The street where I work. Also where Leopold's is, and the sight of frequent black market dealings (not at my work).

The street where I work. Also where Leopold's is, and the sight of frequent black market dealings (not at my work).

The writing is superb, but the heart that is found in this epic journey is what makes the adventure incredible. The love and growth in the underbelly of the darkest city can’t help but fascinate the reader; it has greatly affected me in many ways.

The reason I write this blog – focusing on the literary journey – is because I want someone else to read it. It would be selfish of me not to try and pass on this book too as many people as I can. If I ever become a philosophy professor, able to design my own curriculum, this will be required reading. The following are a few of my favorite quotations. I hope they entice you to read, and to grow, as much as I have from this man’s journey – a journey that starts in Australia, drives into the slums of Bombay, wanders to the Afghani battle grounds with the, and is captured once more in the mafia of Mumbai.

Act 2: Reckoning

“The only force more ruthless and cynical than the business of big politics is the politics of big business.”

“Well, “ he puffed, “a man has to draw the line somewhere. Civilization, after all, is defined by what we forbid, more than what we permit.”

“…I couldn’t respond. My culture has taught me all the wrong things well. So I lay completely still, and gave no reaction at all. But the soul has no culture. The soul has no nations. The soul has no colour or accent or way of life. The soul is forever. The soul is one. And when the heart has its moment of truth and sorrow, the soul can’t be stilled.”

“Dider once told me, in a rambling, midnight dissertation, that a dream is the place where a wish and a fear meet. When the wish and the fear are exactly the same, he said, we call the dream a nightmare.”

“In this way is justice done… because justice is a judgment that is both fair and forgiving. Justice is not done until everyone is satisfied, even those who offend us and must be punished by us. You can see, by what we have done with these two boys, that justice is not only the way we punish those who do wrong. It is also the way we try to save them.”

“It’s such a huge arrogance, to love someone, and there’s too much of it around. There’s too much love in the world. Sometimes I think that’s what heaven is – a place where everybody is happy because nobody loves anybody else, ever.”

Act 3: The Climax

Mumbai Never Looked so Calm - Returning from Elephants Island

Mumbai Never Looked so Calm - Returning from Elephants Island

“All the loneliness and all the love I knew collected and combined in me, until my heart was as swollen with love for her as the clouds above were swollen with their mass of rain…”

“Prisons are the temples where devils learn to prey. Every time we turn the key we twist the knife of fate, because every time we cage a man we close him in with hate.”

“Anarchists… No political philosophy I ever heard of loves the human race much as anarchism. Every other way of looking at the world says that people have to be controlled, and ordered around, and governed. Only the anarchists trust human beings enough to let them work it out for themselves. And I used to be that optimistic once…”

Prologue

So far I am on page 509 of 900 and something. The journey is not nearly over. I hope at least one person reads this blog and picks up this novel.

Leopold's - Just missed the picture of Roberts.

Leopold's - Just missed the picture of Roberts.

Before I leave you, I want to tell you that only yesterday the author pulled up to Leopold’s – the café frequented often in this novel, and the first site of the Mumbai November attacks of 2008. He rode up on his Harley, got off, and went to the many Colaba Causeway gift sellers found lining the streets; he is one of them, he greets them not as a foreigner but as a friend – just as he does in the book. This is the tale of a man lost to the world; finding himself in the slums and darkness of humanity’s most loving city.

Lastly, Here is a LINK to the Amazon.com for sale page for those convinced to enjoy this journey on your own.

Until next time,

Thanks for reading.

Discovering an Ancient Land

The River of Life

Bombay is a city of history. Originally a Portuguese base – well ok, digression; I say “originally” in the sense of European influence area. The Portuguese who had taken trading posts along the Southern Coast of India took the chain of islands by force in 1534 – naming the grouping of Islands “Bom Baia;” or Good Island.

7 Disjointed Islands - Lucky Number 7!

7 Disjointed Islands - Lucky Number 7!

The islands would be developed, planting Roman Catholic churches – which I have visited updates of – throughout the area. In 1662 the islands were endowed to Prince Charles the II in a marriage between he and Princess Catherine of Braganza. In 1668, only 6 years after England took possession, the East India Trading Company acquired the lease for 10 Pounds per year, and began trading operations immediately. Promptly, the name was changed to Bombay, a corruption of the Portuguese name; this is name is still the most commonly used, though Mumbai is the official name – once again named for Mumbadevi, one of the many Hindu gods honored in temples throughout Mumbai. The city has changed hands – and cultures – many times. The name has changed often. The sense of spirituality and moving forward to continues.

So life goes on here in Mumbai. The city, renamed to the original Indian name for the port city, is actually a conglomerate of about 5 islands linked together by overpasses, trains, and ferries – there used be 7, but through reclamation 5 are now visible. The islands are Colaba, Mazagaon, Old Woman’s Island, Wadala, Mahim, Parel, and Matunga-Sion.  Each region has a different name – usually for some British landmark, though there are Indian named areas as well. I live in Colaba – an island. I am walking distance from Fort Area, Church Hill, the Apollo Pier, and Oxford Street. I live in Maharashtra – the smaller city area. It is not at all confusing after a few days.

To say that each time the land has changed possession or name it starts a new would be… off base. Just as 1066 saw the creation of a multilayered England, so have multiple layers of religion, language, and lifestyles been left behind. When the Zoroastrian priests and people fled from the Islamic oligarchies taking over Iran 900 years ago, they came to India.

Parsi Tower of Silence

Parsi Tower of Silence

They brought wealth, a new – ancient – spirituality that has become as welcome as any Hindu. These are the Parsi people of India.

The cultures of centuries are never replaced here. The same buildings have existed for centuries, amid new structures and traffic. New cultures arrive, while ancient peoples move forward. The temples remain, the religions remain, and the layers of life build as in nothing I have ever seen in America. Sometimes I wonder if this is the only place in the World that has not been repeatedly destroyed – leaving history as simply dust. The Portuguese came and left. The British came and left. The Muslims came and left. Many have come and gone; the spirit of India moves forward changed and yet unchanged – reminiscent of Siddhartha’s “River of life.”

The Language of a People

I was educated today; I was not expecting it. A colleague of mine with Taj started asking about my adventures around town – quickly asking what languages I spoke. A bit embarrassed, and typifying the general American, I replied that I spoke English well; only a tiny bit of French – perhaps some Bangla and Spanish. My colleague laughed a bit, but explained that because he does business in Bombay, it is inevitable that he speaks upwards of five languages. He speaks English “of course,” Hindi the Indian National language, Marathi the official language of Bombay, and Gujarati the language of commerce.

One of the oldest buildings in Mumbai

One of the oldest buildings in Mumbai

He also speaks the mother tongue of his small home village – which currently I forget the name of. He went on to explain that anyone who does not speak Gujarati will inevitably be charged higher prices, will find it harder to acquire services and products in high demand, or will simply be ignored in many business environments in Bombay. Further, there are certain parts of the city that will only speak Marathi – or will at least treat you differently for not speaking it. I guess that gives a new meaning to “speaking the language” of business, huh?

A Word on Terrorism

I do not want to dwell on terrorism, and while I might bring it up a few times before the end of the month, it will not be my focus. I do want to take a moment and talk about the Taj, Tata, and overcoming the most evil of acts. The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was attacked on November 26th, 2009. 173 people were killed; the hotel damaged in many areas. What these people did was kill innocent men and women, and attempt to destroy the shining light that the hotel has been for over a century. The oldest licensed bar – owning a license marked with a “1” – was destroyed; royalty, rubes, and rock stars memories’ wiped away. They destroyed the finest Japanese food restaurant in India; top 40 in Asia named Wasabi.

Wasabi before the attack

Wasabi before the attack

Those wings of the hotel are still unopened; repair is going on away from guests’ sights.

What these terrorists were not able to do was destroy the spirit of the Taj, nor extinguish the light that it represents. The restaurants are being rebuilt, and the bar will open once again with that famous license. The waiters and workers of the Taj are excited, even anxious for it to open so they can once again work in the positions they have worked for some now 25 years. Lancy, the bartender who has 27 years under his belt, looks forward to finally stepping behind the mahogany and leather where he has stood for over two decades. Mashir looks forward to serving in the Chinese food place that was taken from the Taj in the blasts. Mashir helped guests escape on that night, as they ran from the restaurant and out the backdoor – an unnamed hero among the chaos.

I have talked to many, but not with my prompting. The urge to talk about the horrible acts, and the faith they have in Taj is inspiring. Just as courageous is Tata’s rebuilding of the Taj so quickly – declaring that the restaurants will open all at once, on the same day, one-year from the day the attacks occurred.

The Majesty of the Taj

The Majesty of the Taj

Each employee who has offered sinsight has concluded by adding the faith and admiration they have for Taj in rebuilding, and reopening in a signal of strength, unity, and determination.

I did not see the lives lost. I did not witness the heat, and explosions. I do see the new regulations in front of the Gateway to India, preventing people from going inside; where men and women have stood for over a century. I do see the increased police presence, and the bullet holes in the Leopold Café – the café where the attacks started. I can walk the perimeter of the hotel and see the numerous crews of workers moving in with the morning, out in the night like the ebb of a sullen tide.

My Projects

My projects continue; remaining challenging and time consuming throughout the day. I am using more of my capacity in this position than in any other – matching the analytical requirements of a McAllister paper with the hand strength of a Kaufman. The topics are interesting and relevant as business continues to require brand differentiation in the eyes of consumers, and good karma for the spirit of the planet. Without the work Tata and Taj are doing for consumer social responsibility, many would go without work, and the private hospitality industry would see a shortfall in required skilled labor. These Private-Public Partnerships are a unique, and complex answer to the very old question: What is the government’s role in industry skills education, and how can private industry best be involved.

Until next time… Thanks for reading.

In Honor of Raksha Bandhan  - Brother/Sister Festival - Here is a Picture of My Sister and I

In Honor of Raksha Bandhan - Brother/Sister Festival - Here are Pictures of my Sibilings and I

In Honor of Raksha Bandhan - Brother/Sister Holiday - Here is a Picture of Max and I

Around the Block, and that a’ ways –>

Corporate Sustainability

CIMG1048An internship should probably include work. Lounging by the pool, stewing in the steam room, and enjoying world-class food spitting distance from a wonder of the modern world while sitting in a quite literal palace just doesn’t fulfill the internship requirements of Pepperdine University. So, with a heavy heart and a full stomach I made myself available to the Taj Hotel and Palaces corporate offices. Before I begin, some background on South Asian work structures might be helpful.

Large companies operating in heavily populated places, where a caste system is heavily entrenched in millennia of history, don’t see the world in the same way that Westerners do. During the very first discussion with the Director of Corporate Sustainability – my boss, a warm and inspiring leader Vassant Ayyappan – I learned of the dissimilarities between the vision one finds as you move “East from Pakistan.”

The world changes, yes he admitted, but the underpinnings, the important facts that push business, lifestyles, and society remain much the same. It is important to remember this in India where huge business towers above streets filled with starving dogs, and flea ridden people. While the markets change, the society does not – the “untouchables” exist as they did centuries ago.

Victoria Terminus

Victoria Terminus

First thing in the morning is between 9:15 and 10:00 in my Mumbai corporate office, with finishing time between 18:30 and 19:30. The day is long but there are some bonuses. The rooftop, three floors up and ensconced within a green-house, is the cafeteria’s location where at lunch most employees find a free, traditional Indian delicatessen; a respite from their paperwork and phone calls.

The cubicle I share is right near the front door on the 2nd floor and outlined in glass so that I can perfectly see anyone who comes in without being noticed; you cannot imagine how many times I look up to see a friendly face obviously wondering, “What in tar nations is that fella doing there?” or something to that sentiment.

Office Space

Office Space

Any time in the day men with brown uniforms walk around waiting for eye contact to be made. The eye-contact is an order for your favorite tea, coffee, and cookies or any combination thereof. The work environment is amazing. Each manager on my floor embraces an “open door policy” for interruptions – it is a rare meeting too important for an interruption regarding work. I was told that hassling someone is not only expected, but encouraged as the mind of a manager can be flooded with projects; the work of an intern does not exactly demand the highest level of continuous thought by the Director.

That brings me to my projects.

CSR: Not Customer Service Representative

My projects are absolutely fascinating, and will give my work here meaning and challenge. The two projects I am working on are related, however each requires a great deal of personal familiarity in the form of research as well as time sensitive program development. I am working as a Corporate Social Responsibility consultant for Taj, and as such I am expected to understand the intricacies of corporate sustainability as it pertains to business growth and development.

Drafting in Public Policy can be oh so Important!

Drafting in Public Policy can be oh so Important!

It is a good thing I majored in business management and program analysis at Cal Poly. It is perfect for me because it is hard. It is interesting. It demands creativity, problem solving, and promises to impact a very important and socially conscious company.

Nothing to do with the Blog - but I Love the Architecture Here!

Nothing to do with the Blog - but I Love the Architecture Here!

Project 1: Corporate Social Responsibility Manual

Currently there is a need for a CSR manual to direct Hotel Management throughout the world. This manual will need to include how and when to incorporate CSR activities into the hotel business model, what types of CSR endeavors are appropriate, why it is important to seek out these community sustainability projects in terms of long-term business goals, and how exactly Taj Hotels and Palaces are in a unique position to help beyond donation. While TATA group, the holding company of Taj Hotels, has been a global leader in philanthropic endeavors and is actually defined by their profoundly unique 60% charitable trust system, a movement away from donation and towards active participation is requisite.

Ready for work - no friends to help with a picture

Ready for work - no friends to help with a picture

This manual does not exist; yet. I am creating the content and structure of the manual under the direction and collaboration of my director and direct manager. Within the next few months this manual for internal and external operations will be envisioned, developed, published, and hopefully implemented.

Project 2: Industrial Technique Institute Course Curriculum

The second project  I am tasked with is to develop both macro and micro course curriculum for initially one Private-Public Partnership (PPP) in India, and inevitably applied as a general curriculum replicated throughout India. The Industrial Technique Institutes (ITIs) are partnerships between the Indian government and private industry, in this case Taj Hotels, in order to create vocational training that is both inexpensive for the rural workers, and effective in teaching industry standards for different employment markets. ITIs have existed for decades, however their education has not been updated and the skills that are being taught are often decades out of date; forcing the students to require further education at great cost. The new PPP between Taj Hotels and Palaces and the Indian Government will teach hospitality industry standards within one year; culminating in government sanctioned certification of skills – leading to good work in the hospitality industry.

So, where do I come in? Well, the role of the Government is to provide the funding for the educational centers – the resources, the staff, the facilities, etc. What Taj Hotels is responsible for is providing the best curriculum possible in order to achieve a high level of proficiency in restaurant, housekeeping, and other “soft-skills” desired by the hospitality industry in India. We must take into account as well, the level of education the students might have, how to attract potential students, what saturation of information can students be expected to absorb, what will constitute a failing grade, how to divide classroom and laboratory time, and what type of practicum to have.

Further, I must decide what type of model to base the vocational training techniques on. Do I use a model based on vocational training after World War II, or current NGO models? Are there models in the US that might be helpful?

CIMG0948Once we design the basic model for the course curriculum, the intricacies of the curriculum must be created. How many students to have, how long with the classes last, and the length of terms are all questions we must answer. The work is quite interesting, and I am excited to be able to contribute in these ways.

Oh, and did I mention that class sessions are known as Practicals, while overarching subjects are called Modules? Well, I do Now.

Coming Up

Well, so far that is it. I have started going over the well of articles, academic journals, and business magazine excerpts describing CSR practices. I have read through and edited much of the content that has been collected over the last decade within TATA and Taj Hotels and Palaces. The next step will be to create a macro-design for the structure of the Manual.

I hope this work is as interesting to you as it is to me. If you have any questions about it, or any resources you think might be helpful feel free to comment.

As you will see, I think that Corporate Sustainability – as it unites business with the greater global community – is not merely important but also vital in directing a positive corporate life-span. This is not welfare. These are not donations. This a symbiotic relationship benefiting both private industry and public welfare – a unique vehicle in the fight against poverty and socially unacceptable caste systems. It is also the near future of successful business.

More street cricket

More street cricket