Starbucks, Aliens, and Universal MBAs

Well today was a day like no other.  One I could not have predicted and would not change despite all its bizarre twists and turns.  On this particular day I decided to leave the comfort of my own little home office to work from a nearby Starbucks.  I do this occasionally to get myself out of the house and today I also had to meet up with someone to exchange something.  I chose this convenient location to exploit Starbucks free WiFi and indulge my caffeine addiction.

I left at noon during the lunch hour so no my coworkers would not miss me during the commute.  When I arrived at this popular Starbucks location I was not surprised that most of the tables and chairs were already occupied by patrons.  I found one chair left at a large communal table next to the outlets.  It wasn’t much space but I couldn’t complain.  The gentleman sitting across from me helped me plug in my power cord and thus began an interesting two hours.

I connected to WiFi, VPNed in, and pulled up my next assignment as the man across from me began to dance in his seat and wave at me.  I smiled back and continued to review the document I had just opened.  Only seconds later this gentleman approaches me with a small question, which seemed rather benign.  “Are you Eastern European?”

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CCMBA 2012 – China Residency Begins – Part 1

Its been  a day and a half since I have been in Shanghai and its been already an overwhelming experience to say the least – meeting all the new people, trying to remember their names, figuring out what to eat(and what not to) until the residency officially starts. Safe to say my most pleasant experience was running into Dev Kishan – one of the main chefs at J W Marriott. As it turns out, he had lived in Jaipur for many years before moving to Shanghai. And once I told him I was from Jaipur as well, he was kind enough to go back in Kitchen and got me some fresh warm naans and another vegetable not on menu for the night. Nothing like finding people who make you feel at home!!! Though home to me means different places on different days.

So about 36 hrs later in Shanghai, I couldnt help myself but compare Shanghai to India and my adopted home, US.

Shanghai V/s  Mumbai

Similarities -

a) If people try charge you more, they are not cheats – they are just masters in the art of NEGOTIATION. Upon landing and exiting the customs at Shanghai airport, a girl approached me in the terminal area to offer a taxi ride. ( yeah just like india they call it taxi – dont even call it a cab). She politely said that it would cost RMB550. Having read blogs of students from prior years it seemed excessive. So started a 5 min negotiating exercise. She gave me the pros: “the driver speaks english”,”its an american car with a/c”, “high traffic-very far away”, etc. I had my own replies: “too expensive”,”I am ok with japanese car too(hell I drive one back home in KC)”,”other taxis costs 200RMB”, “too expensive (yeah use this as often as you can)” etc etc. So finally we settled on $340. Though I think I could have negotiated better. I guess if you guys have figured this out in Shanghai, it would go a long way during Delhi residency.

b) Cab Drivers/Small business Owners speak Key words to communicate in English – “America people many”,  with distinct break between words and a few gestures of hands thrown in would mean “lot of folks from US visit Shanghai”. Last time I was in India, a few tourists approached me at Amber fort in Jaipur and asked, “English?” “English?”. They needed someone to help give the cab driver a little complex set of instructions. As it turns out they were from Wichita, KS and there wasn’t a way in the world where I wouldn’t help a fellow Kansan. And it occurred to me at that time that western tourists have figured out a way to communicate with Indian masses – the taxi drivers,  the small business owners using these key words and these guys have reciprocated by mastering them. Shanghai is the same to a large extent. (PS – this is how my mom also communicates in english if she must- the power of key words!!!)

c) Driving, Honking, Traffic light violation, a little lower respect for pedestrians – HA! This experience made me feel right at home. No, not kansas City. India!!!


Differences -

a) No tipping – Tips are neither expected nor welcome. Well another fellow student had this incident today when the driver wouldnt accept tip. Though everyone I have met so far has gladly and/or politely taken it. India can be so different. I have had instances where the cab driver actually demanded a tip – this is a common Bangalore problem. Mumbai is much better in this regard but still …

b) Economic Progress – Earlier this evening I was at “New Heights” bar in the Bund area. That place had a clear view of the Shanghai skyline – a beautiful set of buildings with colorful displays including one that was about 100 stories tall. These buildings with an average age of 15 were a sober reminder of  at least one pro that communism has scored over democracy (I know I am going to get flak for that but I just cant see another reason). Watching the debt deal impasse and political bickering in US that is hurting US the most, all the political arm twisting and bureaucracy that goes on in India – it made me wonder if India can ever catch up.


Its 3:30 am in Shanghai… I probably need to get some rest but more to come later.