The Shanghai Residency Pt-2 : Finding Tom Purcell

Tom Purcell joined Peace Corps at age 23. It was the summer of 1965 and his first assignment was to go work in Bassi, a small village in North India, about 20 miles east of Jaipur. The villagers, none of whom spoke English, took him for a British when they saw him the first time.  Sensing a faint resentment that had built for him, the headmaster of the local school explained it to people that he was from “umreeka”, a different country that was also a British colony once. A lot of people then didn’t know about the US and then he would  make a reference to Hiroshima. I personally find it amusing how those people knew about Japan when they didn’t know the US but that’s a separate discussion altogether.

Many years later, in the 1990s, I spent my early teenage years in Bassi. It was then I came to know about Tom Purcell. I also came to know that my father who was a college student back then often played the role of his translator. He was in fact 1 of the 2 college students in the whole village who spoke some English and thus being given the responsibility was inevitable. Tom lived in the village for about 2 years and worked tirelessly during his stint. People, who knew him, remembered him fondly – he’d helped start scholarship program at the local school, helped set up first public lavatories in the village, and most importantly, he was master at consensus building for solving problems compared to the other “foreigners” before him who came to rule, always used force and often guns.

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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.