Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Quote of the Day: Wartime Edition

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children...Is there no other way the world may live?

-- Dwight D. Eisenhower, “The Chance for Peace,” speech given to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Apr. 16, 1953

Monday, December 27, 2010

Gender Gap

The WSJ sometimes disappoints me. In an article dated November 18, 2010 by Pui-Wing Tam, it tried to put the lack of diversity on corporate boards in the best possible light:

Some 56% of Silicon Valley companies now have at least one woman director on their board, up from 51% in 2009 and 41% in 2003...

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704658204575611141839403062.html

There are usually between nine and twelve directors on a board. The study cited above is based on corporate boards that include "at least one woman." Basically, the WSJ is lending support to the idea that diversity is progressing because Boards have added a single woman. Moreover, having a single woman on a Board apparently equals reaching "critical mass":

"There's been a growing critical mass of women on boards" in Silicon Valley, and "now it's really come to fruition," says Jonathan Visbal of Spencer Stuart, who co-wrote the study.

I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry. The only person quoted in the article who doesn't look moronic is Autodesk's general counsel:

"You want board members with divergent experiences and viewpoints, and that leads you down the path of diversity" in directors, says Pascal Di Fronzo, Autodesk's general counsel.

That makes sense. Applauding the addition of a single woman to a Board of Directors does not.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

E.B. White

Quotes from E.B. White's essays:

"I think the Court again heard clearly the simple theme that ennobles our Constitution: that no one shall be made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe because of nonconformity."

"The quality in New York that insulates its inhabitants from life may simply weaken them as individuals. Perhaps it is healthier to live in a community where, when a cornice falls, you feel the blow; where, when the governor passes, you see at any rate his hat." ("Here is New York")

"This place has been too much for them; they sit languishing in a cheap restaurant over a speechless meal."

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I'm Baaaaack

Good news--I am back in California. My sister is coming tomorrow, so the family will be together for X-Mas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Virgin Airlines in Delhi, How I Hate Thee

I am now in London, and my sister is safe and sound in the States. Each and every Virgin employee refused to read the Articles I've highlighted and gave me the company line: delays due to weather conditions do not require Virgin to put anyone up in a hotel for more than one night. Even when I pointed out that my situation is different because I have a confirmed outgoing flight that is more than 48 hours away and my flight is international, no one seemed to care.

The problem with Virgin is that no one except one main manager seems to have any authority to do anything. Unless you get in touch with the main manager, each and every other employee seems to do his or her best to actively inconvenience you. For example, when I landed in Heathrow, the first employee at the Virgin counter told me no flights were being scheduled, so I would have to stick to my original departure date of Dec 26 to SFO. (This was actually an improvement over the Virgin employee I first talked to when I came to Delhi's airport--she told me I shouldn't have showed up because no flights were leaving to London that day. I later got a flight to London after speaking to the top manager and explaining the Virgin employee who came to the hotel told me I would be able to fly out that day.)

In London, I asked a Virgin employee about a hotel, and she referred me to another desk. I went to the desk, located in a different building, but that desk was empty. The second Virgin person I spoke to at a different counter told me Virgin would not put me in any hotel because all hotels were booked. His direct manager said the same thing. I finally got in touch with someone who appeared to be the very top Virgin manager. After just a minute of hearing my situation, this top level manager told the Virgin employee to put me in a hotel overnight and get me out on another flight as soon as possible. Then, within ten minutes, the employee who said that I couldn't get an earlier departure time or get a hotel because all of them were booked offered me a hotel (though only for one night) and a new flight leaving on Dec 23. Unbelievable.

Also, it turns out that the idiots at Virgin's Delhi operations actually wrote in my PNR or flight data information sheet that I had agreed to pay 75 pounds to get them to change my flight details. Outright lies.

The airline industry is the worst-run major business in the world. Anytime employees don't read their own rules carefully; have no discretion to assist customers fully without someone else's approval; and actually have disincentives to assist customers to get something done, disaster and fraud await.

Also, I just found out that a fellow traveller from Delhi, the last person there on Dec 19, managed to speak to the head of Delhi airport and get back to the States on Continental Airlines the same night. Virgin's Delhi employees have treated its passengers differently based on a random set of factors and engaged in a pattern of either negligent or intentional misrepresentations. First they told us they couldn't get us on other airlines, and I've personally spoken to three people leaving on partner airlines (all of the three people who got to leave stayed the longest and complained persistently). Then Virgin's Delhi employees told us they had no obligation to put us in a hotel at all, which is false. (After I was in the airport for 7 hours, they put me and others in a hotel, but failed to tell the hotel that they were paying for my stay for more than one night, even though they had booked me to leave a whopping six days later--which they said was the only confirmed outgoing flight from Delhi to London at that time.)

Finally, a London Virgin operations employee told me that Virgin had no hotels available, but then offered me a hotel after a high level manager intervened. Unfortunately, Virgin offered me a hotel for only one night even though my new flight is scheduled to leave on December 23--two nights from now. What the heck am I supposed to do on December 22, I asked? Virgin's London operations didn't seem to care one bit. I managed to get accommodations on my own for two nights.

One last thing: several Virgin employees in Delhi would not provide me with their names. At my Delhi hotel, outside in a public area, I took a picture of the only Virgin employee I saw to have some way of identifying her, and she hounded me for the next several hours, demanding I delete her picture. When she ran into me prior to my departure at the gate, she actually tried to withhold my passport, causing me to snatch it out of her hand to get it. When I asked for her manager, she refused to get her manager immediately, saying she was busy. (Of course I had to get through the gate and couldn't wait.) I asked for her name before I would delete her picture, and she refused to give me her name. (I deleted her picture later on, after I was on my way to Heathrow.)

Names on Virgin's Delhi employee badges are in ten point font and difficult to see. Yet all the badges have the following meaningless words in large, bold font: "Vanil Upto." It's as if Virgin's India employees want to avoid easy ways for passengers to hold them responsible later on. The "best" part? The Virgin employee who showed up on December 21 didn't recognize the name of the Virgin employee who came on December 20 to the hotel to provide us with information. And she wondered why I wanted her name for identification purposes. She had told me Virgin would cover my entire hotel stay once I got to London, which turned out to be false. What a disaster Virgin has turned out to be. Still, I give props to Virgin's top level manager at Heathrow, who managed to help me get an earlier flight to SFO. Thank you, good sir.

Monday, December 20, 2010

India: Passengers Should Look at Conditions of Carriage

People keeping up with this blog know I am stranded in Delhi because Virgin and most airlines have canceled their flights to Heathrow. I've complained about Virgin's local Delhi representatives providing either conflicting information or no information at all. Now, it's about 1AM, and I've finally turned on my legal brain. After getting massively upset about the airline's failure to communicate properly, I went online and looked up my airline's Conditions of Carriage. I finally have a good idea about what I am entitled to from Virgin.

In case of cancellations, Virgin's Conditions of Carriage refer you to Article 9. From there you can see that 9.3 and its subsections apply. 9.3.1.1 indicates that passengers "may choose one of the following three remedies" in case of cancellation. One of the options includes re-routing at a later date (see 9.3.1.1(c). According to 9.3.1.3, if the re-routing means that the "reasonably expected time of departure of the new flight is at least the next day after the scheduled departure date of the cancelled flight," then passengers are entitled to assistance specified in Articles 9.5.1.2 and 9.5.1.3.

In my case, the re-routing changed my flight from December 19 to December 25--much longer than just the next day--meaning that I am entitled to the assistance in Articles 9.5.1.2 and 9.5.1.3, unless the airline reasonably expects that the "provision of such assistance would cause delay." A reasonable construction of the exception--which is used throughout the contract, including in situations of a mere delay rather than a cancellation--probably means that an airline might have the discretion to keep you at the airport if giving you assistance (i.e., hotel room, transportation to a hotel room, etc.) would cause a delay in getting you on your re-routed flight. Otherwise, the exception would swallow the rule, as some lawyers like to say.

I don't think it is reasonable to say that the expectation of a delay allows any airline to re-rout you, give you a new confirmed booking, and then later demand you take an earlier flight just because it's more convenient or cheaper for the airline. Once you and the airline have agreed to a confirmed booking to a date that is more than the next day, you have a new contract that requires the airline to get you out on those new agreed upon dates. Therefore, there would be no "delay" caused by a passenger unless staying in a hotel would cause the passenger to miss his upcoming re-routed flight. I imagine this might be an issue if an airline is stuck in the middle of nowhere, is waiting for a re-routed flight in two days, and the nearest hotel is two or more days away. In that case, it seems reasonable for the airline to require passengers to stay in the airport to ensure there is no delay. In my case, however, my hotel is 20 minutes from the airport, and there is little expectation of a delay by staying here.

So what do Articles 9.5.1.2 and 9.5.1.3 allow? 9.5.1.2 allows assistance of a "hotel accommodation if a stay of one or more nights, or a stay additional to that intended by you, becomes necessary." Basically, when the airline representative told me Virgin was only required to put me up for one night, he was wrong.

9.5.1.3 allows transport from the airport to the hotel. Other provisions allow two telephone calls or faxes or e-mails. (Remember, that's "or," not "and," but the restriction of "two" may only apply to phone calls. The language is unclear.)

So there we have it. Check your conditions of carriage online whenever you are stuck in a hotel and have questions about what your airline is required to provide you. Note: this posting is not intended to be legal advice. As always, you cannot rely on any statements made on this blog--my writings are merely my impressions as a layperson trying to navigate our crazy, unpredictable world. If you find something useful, that's wonderful; however, you must always do your own due diligence.

Update: all of my work didn't convince anyone at Virgin that they had incorrect information, but at least now I am now in London. Each and every Virgin employee refuses to read the Articles I've highlighted and gives me the company line: delays due to weather conditions do not require Virgin to put anyone up in a hotel for more than one night. Even when I point out that my situation is different because I have a confirmed outgoing flight that is more than 48 hours away and my flight is international, no one seems to care.

The problem with Virgin is that no one except one main manager seems to have any authority to do anything. Unless you get in touch with the main manager, each and every other employee seems to do his or her best to actively inconvenience you. For example, when I landed in Heathrow, the first employee at the Virgin counter told me no flights were being scheduled, so I would have to stick to my original departure date of Dec 26 to SFO. (This was actually an improvement over the Virgin employee I first talked to when I came to Delhi's airport--she told me I shouldn't have showed up because no flights were leaving to London that day. I later got a flight to London after speaking to the top manager and explaining the Virgin employee who came to the hotel told me I would be able to fly out that day.)

In London, I asked a Virgin employee about a hotel, and she referred me to another desk. I went to the desk, located in a different building, but that desk was empty. The second Virgin person I spoke to at a different counter told me Virgin would not put me in any hotel because all hotels were booked. His direct manager said the same thing. I finally got in touch with someone who appeared to be the very top Virgin manager. After just a minute of hearing my situation, this top level manager told the Virgin employee to put me in a hotel overnight and get me out on another flight as soon as possible. Then, within ten minutes, the employee who said that I couldn't get an earlier departure time or get a hotel because all of them were booked offered me a hotel (though only for one night) and a new flight leaving on Dec 23. Unbelievable.

Also, it turns out that the idiots at Virgin's Delhi operations actually wrote in my PNR or flight data information sheet that I had agreed to pay 75 pounds to get them to change my flight details. Outright lies.

The airline industry is the worst-run major business in the world. Anytime employees don't read their own rules carefully; have no discretion to assist customers fully without someone else's approval; and actually have disincentives to assist customers to get something done, disaster and fraud await.

Also, I just found out that a fellow traveller from Delhi, the last person there on Dec 19, managed to speak to the head of Delhi airport and get back to the States on Continental Airlines the same night. Virgin's Delhi employees have treated its passengers differently based on a random set of factors and engaged in a pattern of either negligent or intentional misrepresentations. First they told us they couldn't get us on other airlines, and I've personally spoken to three people leaving on partner airlines (all of the three people who got to leave stayed the longest and complained persistently). Then Virgin's Delhi employees told us they had no obligation to put us in a hotel at all, which is false. (After I was in the airport for 7 hours, they put me and others in a hotel, but failed to tell the hotel that they were paying for my stay for more than one night, even though they had booked me to leave a whopping six days later--which they said was the only confirmed outgoing flight from Delhi to London at that time.)

Finally, a London Virgin operations employee told me that Virgin had no hotels available, but then offered me a hotel after a high level manager intervened. Unfortunately, Virgin offered me a hotel for only one night even though my new flight is scheduled to leave on December 23--two nights from now. What the heck am I supposed to do on December 22, I asked? Virgin's London operations didn't seem to care one bit. I managed to get accommodations on my own for two nights.

One last thing: several Virgin employees in Delhi would not provide me with their names. At my Delhi hotel, outside in a public area, I took a picture of the only Virgin employee I saw to have some way of identifying her, and she hounded me for the next several hours, demanding I delete her picture. When she ran into me prior to my departure at the gate, she actually tried to withhold my passport, causing me to snatch it out of her hand to get it. When I asked for her manager, she refused to get her manager immediately, saying she was busy. (Of course I had to get through the gate and couldn't wait.) I asked for her name before I would delete her picture, and she refused to give me her name. (I deleted her picture later on, after I was on my way to Heathrow.)

Names on Virgin's Delhi employee badges are in ten point font and difficult to see. Yet all the badges have the following meaningless words in large, bold font: "Vanil Upto." It's as if Virgin's India employees want to avoid easy ways for passengers to hold them responsible later on. The "best" part? The Virgin employee who showed up on December 21 didn't recognize the name of the Virgin employee who came on December 20 to the hotel to provide us with information. And she wondered why I wanted her name for identification purposes. She had told me Virgin would cover my entire hotel stay once I got to London, which turned out to be false. What a disaster Virgin has turned out to be. Still, I give props to Virgin's top level manager at Heathrow, who managed to help me get an earlier flight to SFO. Thank you, good sir.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

India: Stranded Edition

Due to weather conditions, I am stuck in Delhi until December 25. Although I've enjoyed my stay here, seven days was quite enough for me, especially because the pollution has negatively affected my normally clear respiratory system.

I am disappointed in Virgin Atlantic's approach towards its customers and do not anticipate flying with them again. They didn't appear to have a specific plan to accommodate their passengers and seemed intent on getting us to cancel our flights and then fly with other airlines at our own cost. It took about eight hours before they put me in a hotel and confirmed an outgoing flight back to California. Initially, it appeared they might be able to get me to Newark, NJ and then to SFO via Continental Airlines, but Virgin said Continential Airlines wasn't responding to their phone calls, and Continental's counter wouldn't open up until later in the evening. When Virgin finally managed to get in touch with Continental, all Newark flights were overbooked, which apparently wasn't the case earlier. Then, after telling me all Newark flights were overbooked, another Virgin employee told me they could get me to Newark but then I'd be on my own in terms of getting to SFO. I declined, as I had no accommodations in Newark, and Virgin wasn't willing to confirm that it would pay for any accommodations in Newark until I was able to get to SFO. The conflicting information--overbooked vs. sudden availability a few hours later--makes me wonder whether other people had been able to book flights on Continental while I was waiting in the airport, and whether Virgin employees had done their best to get their American-bound travelers any available seats.

In my case, I didn't have to go to weather-impacted Heathrow. I could go anywhere in the world that connected with SFO, but I don't think Virgin wanted to incur more costs than absolutely necessary to get me home for X-Mas. I even asked to go to anywhere in Asia, including Singapore--which has direct flights to California--so I could have a better chance of getting back to San Jose faster, but they weren't going to accommodate that request, even though flights were available to Hong Kong on other airlines. For first time in many years, I will be spending X-Mas away from my mom, dad, and sister.

[Update: from what I heard from similarly stranded people at the hotel bar, British Airways put some U.S.-bound passengers to Hong Kong then to the U.S.]

If I wanted to cancel my Virgin flight and take another airline, it would have been much more expensive due to the short-term nature of the flight arrangements and the holiday season. Apparently, the available seats on some other airlines were first-class only, which are very expensive (one person called and was quoted 4,000 dollars for a seat). Moreover, because my flight's cancellation was due to a weather-related issue rather than Virgin's own direct fault, Virgin might not have a mandatory requirement to put passengers on other airlines or to reimburse passengers who went home on other airlines. In short, a cancellation due to weather-related conditions appears to transfer the entire responsibility the passenger to find alternative accommodations and flight arrangements.

I managed to get them to put me in a hotel by being one of about six people who stayed until the evening and asked for continued assistance. The Virgin employees had told me I was responsible for arranging my own hotel, but most people from both Virgin and British Airways were eventually set up in my current hotel. Even so, the lack of organization is extremely upsetting and added unnecessarily to an already stressful situation. Some airport employees at the Virgin-designated counter appeared to be standing around much of the time, talking to each other instead of assisting passengers.

In my case, Delhi's Virgin employees blamed their failure to take me back to SFO on other airlines and on airport immigration controls. When I asked to speak with the home office of Virgin, one Virgin employee said the home office bigwigs weren't sitting by the phone, waiting to get calls from passengers. I was in the airport from 11:00AM to about 7:00PM. My flight was supposed to leave at 1:45PM. I still don't understand why Virgin didn't help me out by putting me on a flight back to the States that avoided Heathrow, and why they claimed immigration rules prevented them from sending me anywhere without a ticket showing a final destination in America. I understand there are procedures, but if you can get someone back to his final destination by putting him on another airline that can avoid weather-impacted airports, why not work with other airlines to get the passenger back home?

When I finally arrived at the hotel, I was told that even though Virgin had specifically told me they were covering my entire hotel stay until my return to SFO, Virgin had failed to tell the hotel that they would cover my accommodation. Earlier, I had received verbal confirmation from Virgin's airport representatives that Virgin would cover all of my hotel expenses, but Virgin apparently failed to convey this information to the hotel when I arrived. Luckily, I had gotten a Virgin employee to confirm in front of a hotel-affiliated worker that they would cover my entire stay, so the hotel manager told me a few hours later that he had made some calls and had received confirmation that Virgin would cover my accommodations. Finally some good news, eh? Not quite.

The next day, a Virgin employee told me Virgin would not cover anything more than one night's stay because my flight was delayed due to weather, which was not Virgin's fault. He also wanted me to agree to pay a 75 pounds fee to go to Heathrow and asked me to change my December 25 outbound flight to Heathrow without any specific details regarding a replacement flight. I didn't agree to pay any additional fees, and I referred to Virgin's own handout (which stated they would cover hotel costs). I then looked up visa requirements and any 75 pound fees on the UK Border Patrol and U.S. State Department websites, and neither website indicated I needed to pay a fee or get a visa. When I informed the Virgin employee (he only gave me his first name, which starts with "R") that I couldn't find anything about a 75 pound fee, he said I might be stuck at the airport if I didn't pay it, and then he told me to go to the hotel counter around 8:30AM the next day to check for news, telling me it was possible I might have to leave the next day.

I explained I had to let my relatives in London know when I was arriving so they could pick me up, and I had already told them to pick me up at the re-scheduled flight on December 25, but my pleas seemed to fall on deaf ears. I don't see the benefit in having different Virgin employees tell me different things or try to get me to pay more money when I've already paid in full for a flight to Heathrow and then to SFO. Coupled with all the other issues, it seems strange for Virgin employees to add more uncertainty to the current situation instead of trying to smooth out a way back home for me. In addition, even if there is a 75 pounds fee--and I'm not sure there is--it's probably cheaper for Virgin to cover the fee and get me to Heathrow earlier instead of covering my hotel stay here. On the other hand, perhaps Rajeev sincerely believes Virgin isn't required to cover my hotel stay until I leave to Heathrow, so perhaps he doesn't see any need to accommodate me at all. That's quite interesting when Virgin's own handout clearly indicates they will cover hotel accommodations for flight cancellations (no mention of fault is made in the handout, or a limitation on the number of days covered).

Making matters worse is the fact that I am having a tough time reaching my sister, who had been trying to fly back to the States on her own. We did manage to get in touch at Delhi airport, and she's chanced a trip to Mumbai because she's hoping to get back to Boston on standby (it's a shorter flight to the East Coast than the West Coast from India, and she was hoping to bypass Heathrow entirely). I am going to be worried sick about her in the meantime. [Update: good news! At 2AM, I received an email stating that my sister was with family in London. This is such a relief!] This was not the vacation I had planned. I will try to do some work here, but it will be difficult until I receive news from my sister that she has a confirmed flight back to the States or Heathrow. I continue to be extremely frustrated at Virgin's lack of communication with us and the conflicting information provided to me by different Virgin employees.

If you're planning on taking a vacation and are considering India, remember that customer service and infrastructure in India are inconsistent. For those reasons, if you're unprepared to handle inconvenience and limited infrastructure, look elsewhere for a vacation. As for Virgin Atlantic's Delhi employees, pray that you avoid all of them wherever you travel.

Friday, December 17, 2010

India, Part 5

I'm now staying at Khandwa Haveli, located in the upper class area of Jaipur. I really like Jaipur so far--it's got a nice mix of young people, students, and middle class residents. When I say Jaipur is upper class, it's upper class for India--lots of privately owned cars, lots of people who speak English, lots of students who can afford to go to universities, and a few nice malls.

We visited two must-see attractions today, the Amber Fort and the Amber Palace. The fort looks similar to China's Great Wall. My sister and I paid 900 rupees total to take a short elephant ride to the top of the fort. The elephant ride itself was underwhelming. Just a bumpy ride, really. I felt sorry for the animals, so it wasn't a fun experience overall. Once we reached the top of the fort, we ran into a bunch of other tourists, including a very beautiful group of mixed race Chinese-Indian women. They are from northeast India and are called Naga. They look like lighter-skinned, taller Nepalese women.

The Amber Palace is beautiful. It looks like a castle combined with the artwork of the Taj Mahal. If you go by yourself, feel free to climb random stairwells like I did. You'll get lost in the maze of different hallways, but it's quite a fun experience (I managed to get back to my tour group in time, but only with the help of another guide). Again, this one's not to be missed.

I've got several thoughts I want to share, but they're all random, so I'm going to issue them in no particular format.

1. Coffee here is cheap. A medium latte at British-owned Costa Coffee is only 80 rupees, or about 2 American dollars.

2. If you visit India, you will, at various points, experience persistent hawkers trying to convince you to buy loads of crap. Before you start whining about the hawkers, think about why India is so cheap. If you want to pay for police to arrest or lock up everyone who is guilty of being poor or idle, or if you want to pay for all children to attend school, things would get awfully expensive quickly. (Here in India, education is free until 5th grade, and there is a nominal fee beyond that level.) In the States, we tend to lock up loads of non-violent criminals, and we have a high taxation system to support that level of enforcement. So please, please don't be an idiot and complain about the hawkers and poor people unless you also want to complain about the low prices in India.

3. I've always wondered what a libertarian-lite society would look like. Delhi might be a good example of a certain type of libertarianism at work. It's basically organized chaos. As expected, there are wide gaps in income and wealth levels. Although Delhi is energetic and safe, few people would argue that Delhi is better than the U.S. in terms of quality of life. Pure libertarians ought to visit Delhi--it would give them something to think about.

My own brand of libertarianism has been a common sense version. I have always supported basic regulation, especially regulation concerning systemic problems (i.e., too big to fail), as well as basic welfare programs; however, I have serious issues with government waste and various groups manipulating the political process to protect themselves at the expense of others. Public sector unions, which seem to control California, and senior citizens, who receive (either directly or indirectly) about 50% of all federal tax revenues (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc.), come to mind as two of the worst offenders. [Update: the military obviously captures large federal expenditures, but keep in mind that there is a difference between annual fed expenditures and the annual fed budget--the military appears to have captured an increasing level of fed expenditures via discretionary spending (or via appropriations), but note that about 66% of the fed budget is mandatory spending--i.e., Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid--and cannot be touched absent major reform.]

4. The biggest lesson I've taken from India has to do with the environment. The smog/pollution here is terrible. Combine that with the dust in the air from all the small vehicles, the steady streams of cigarette smoke, and the constant hum of industrial activity, and you have a recipe for long-term environmental disaster. I haven't gotten sick from any food, but I've developed a cough and watery eyes due to the pollution. If you come here, invest in two things: a to-go pack of Charmin toilet paper (some bathrooms don't have enough toilet paper), and a dust/surgical mask. The pollution here is so bad, taking pictures of the Taj Mahal has become difficult--it's hard to see the structure from far away because of all the smog. The locals call it fog, but many visitors know better. If India wants to make it to the 22nd century, it needs to ramp up its investments in green technology.


5. I think I avoided getting sick by sticking to vegetarian food. India is a majority Hindu society, and Hindus tend to eat vegetarian food. If you want meat, you might want to try a Muslim-owned establishment, as they might have better experience with preparing meat dishes. Overall, though, I recommend sticking to vegetarian food. Even McDonald's has a tasty sandwich called the McVeggie, which is a potato cutlet in between two bread buns.

6. For people who like beer, Kingfisher seems to be the beer of choice here. Believe it or not, Kingfisher also has an airline.

7. From an economic standpoint, it's hard to see any major company gaining a foothold here. India is so big and diverse, it will always be a challenge for any company to assert pricing power. There will always be lots of competition due to the small businesses that are located everywhere. India confirmed for me something I've known intuitively, i.e., that laws and regulations tend to help larger businesses rather than provide leverage to smaller businesses. It seems that the usual American business cycle involves a company entering the marketplace with a disruptive product, creating cheaper or more efficient products for consumers, and then using their heft to lobby for legal protections for their business model. In India, the seeming lack of regulations--the ones enforced, anyway--have allowed numerous small businesses and one-person shops to flourish.

8. I went shopping today at a posh mall. One of the stores had bags with the picture of Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast in Tiffany's. I was quite happy to get the bag until I realized that not a single person in the store I spoke to--and I spoke with at least 15 store employees--recognized the picture. They did know about Marilyn Monroe, though.


Let this be a lesson to anyone seeking immortality--if the great Audrey Hepburn can't achieve it, almost none of us have a chance. If you want to maximize your odds, I suppose you need to date a famous President.

9. Speaking of women, I had a bit of an epiphany about relationships. In many major American and European cities, women have to work outside the home to support a middle class lifestyle. However, women tend to place a higher importance than men on domestic chores, such as cleanliness and beautification of the home. The problem is that when women work outside the home and continue to do a disproportionate share of work at home, they can feel overwhelmed as well as underappreciated. In the past, when most women didn't work outside the home, they may have felt underappreciated, but that isn't usually enough to cause someone to walk away from a marriage or deep bond. However, when we throw in feelings of being overwhelmed and underappreciated, it's easier to understand why modern marriage seems so risky.


Of course, the fact that women do more work at home than men is nothing new. Look up Duck vs. Collier, etc. Although we recognize a disparity in domestic duties, most domestic work isn't viewed as necessary by men. In contrast, women see such domestic activities as "taking care of men," but most men surely don't see it that way--they'd rather not have anyone do the small details of maintaining a home unless something is falling apart or broken. As long as that kind of laissez-faire attitude is uncommon in the fairer sex, I don't see this problem getting resolved anytime soon.

We leave for Delhi tomorrow morning, and then it's back to London and then the States for me. It's been a good trip so far, especially because of our tour guide, Luv Jawad. If you're looking for a foreign correspondent in Delhi, you might want to snap him up before someone else does. Seven days in Delhi was enough for me, and I am looking forward to returning to the States.

Your humble traveler,
Matthew


Update: this is my last night. We are staying at Hotel Shanti Place in West Patel Nagar. If you're going to stay in Delhi and want mid-level accommodations, you might want to consider this particular hotel. It's been an interesting trip. Although I've always recognized America's exceptionalism, it's easier to appreciate how lucky I am after this trip.

Update: this became a 5 part series.  Part 1 is HERE.  Part 2 is HERE.  Part 3 is HERE.  Part 4 is HERE. Another post, titled, "India: the Good Stuff" is HERE.