This show is a continuation of the Accounting Play travels, where we chronical the making of technology products in foreign lands – as well as a few stories along the way. In the prior episode, Accounting App Ashram II & III: Shocking New Delhi App Development - 12 hrs in India, the journey continued after the Indonesian emotional roller coaster ride that kicked off the newest iOS app, “Tax Fight.” Post electrocution, in the prior episode, we dive deeper into Asia.
Welcome to Chandigarh
Excited to escape New Delihi, I book the most expensive hotel (85 USD or 16,500 RP) in Chandigarh, a city only hours away from Pakistan, a blip on the map, or so I thought. An hour later I am on the train that is surprisingly spacious and includes a television in the seatback. No wifi, so I write, as I am doing so now, on my familiar yellow virtual iOS notepad, thumbs flying across the screen.
Following a severe sickness cultivated in New Delhi, I could take no risks on the original half-priced hotel booked by my team. "Great local food" I saw on the web reviews, um, no thanks. I know I am sick when a McDonald’s hamburger sounds like a good idea. “That's it!” I thought as I made my way in the first class car. I plotted and schemed in my lonely brain… “I will take the team out to McDonalds and they will just assume I am a stupid American. A perfect plan, until I realized "they" don't eat meat... My only option would be a McSpicy Paneer or Chicken. Dang.”
In no time, the train clicks and clacks away from “Smelly, New Hell – E – Delhi” and the departure soothes my stomach. Food comes by, but Bangia, the Indian man I met on the flight over, warned me profusely against even looking at the train food. I turned my body away as if I was blocking some kind of potential food poisoning energy that could penetrate my already weakened system. I thank god(s) – S added to honor the polytheistic Hindu tradition – that I had taken a “Z-Pack” – Azithromycin, of which I just recently took two pills which seemed to have cured me. Train food has disappeared and I can readjust my position to normal. Hours later after dinner was served, I receive a message from my dev team lead that I was to visit “Whatever you do, don’t eat the train food.”
I couldn’t resist a practical joke and sent the message pictured above. The white messages are from the dev team lead and the green, mine. A few minutes later I received back a “ROFL” rolling on floor laughing, she totally got the joke.
Hours earlier, Sunil, owner of the dedicated Accounting Play app dev team, 34 interactive, had picked me up at the train station with his family in tow to greet me. I kinda felt like a big deal, but the gesture was more a genuine one of kindness, rather than to gain more business.
My development needs might have been a big deal to team 34 at first, but I came to learn that the dev team had grown to, you guessed it, almost 34 people, in five years! Casually we talk business in the mid-sized sedan, but the focus is on the booming town. Chandigarh is a PLANNED city, with logical grid-like systems that gives unromantic and precise coordinates of areas such as “Sector 17.” I can’t help but think we are driving in a Missouri suburb when, gasping, I point out the window, panting, from what I saw after a month of Indonesia to India travel - what I saw, I was in disbelief.
Same Stuff, Different Continent
"Chandigarh Micro-Brewery and Gastro Pub"... Nooo... But yes! I had not seen a hint of such "development" in New Delhi or Jakarta, but here it was. We pass the other more usual American suspects: KFC, Pizza Hut, Mc Ds in what appears to be a strip mall. The buildings looked new and very popular. In the time Sunil had started his business, based 100% on foreign revenue, the city had turned into an unlikely location for what I coined: Mini-Merica'. My tummy could not be more thankful. Traffic flowed, horns were still audible and traffic lines were still not in used, but this place could not be more different than Delhi.
Upon hotel arrival, we clear the typical car bomb check, as is customary in India and Indonesia, with flying colors. Engine compartment checked, trunk: nope. We could not have looked more harmless. Smiles all around. Sunil walks me into the hotel and all the way to the counter to see me through the checkout process and probably would have walked me to the room, had I not pushed back. The hotel lounge music enters my ears and we observe for a second the massive ceilings, marble everything, and new everything. I look over my right shoulder and there is a hotel worker, "How is everything Mr. John?"
Macro-cultural judgement in full effect, I start my dangerous compare and contrast thinking as I later survey my hotel room... My American default "Western" position is that "They" are trying to be more like "Us." Not in the arena of religion or politics, but in technology and consumption in general. iPhones, internet, cars, homes, buffets, and the like... Everyone surely wants that, save for a few remaining ascetics bathing in that one Ganga river. Viva Las India consumption Vegas, in Chandigarh: Mini-Merica.' I am remote as it seemingly gets, but if I woke up after being blindfolded, I would guess I was at the Bellagio or the W. My bathroom is comparable to the square footage of my San Francisco abode, equipped with spa and glass window overlooking the suite. Not since my best friend’s bachelor party, have I enjoyed such potentially salacious surrounds. But this trip was all business! You can tell, because there is a very large desk, which sits my laptop - an aura of legitimacy. The other window overlooks the Olympic sized pool. Further along the horizon I spot a FIAT dealership... agricultural fields dot other parts of the landscape, where I spy a dark man surveying the land in a wrapped underwear-like bottom. He is skinny.
For what is lost in the subtle foot-faults in cloning luxury American culture, like, microwaving a crescent, blinds which don't close smoothly, or over use of salt... all things which I also experience in USA (I am a diva) - are made up with over the top customer attention, almost to the extreme. At the high end of the Indian market, every worker really cares and aims to please. I am asked how everything is from the server, to chef, and then management comes in to ask, the same. A busboy comes by to ensure the unused utensils (too many provided in the first place) are in alignment. Too much for me, but likely just another step in evolution towards a service and business culture that competes with the world’s best. What subtle service elements are culturally lost, like when to interrupt a meal, will be overpowered by sheer quantity of caring and capable workers. India rising.
Watch out World, India is gonna get ya’. In just five years, one man grows to 34 employees and one city is on the way to multiple five star hotels, and most importantly, several micro-brewery additions - all of which I must visit for further analysis. Western luxury sentiments and technical development at a fraction of the cost, en masse. Jeff Bezos of Amazon recently pledged billions of investment in the nation during India's prime minister visit to the United States. No longer just a mecca of frustrating IT support centers of giant corps - India offers vast resources to the micro-preneur startup. Beyond the dusty horn-honky, occasional oxcart streets of Delhi, lies a field of entrepreneurial and emerging lifestyle gold. Following this americano (coffee that I am drinking), this Americano, me, might actually get some work done - motivated, in-part by the micro-brew meeting scheduled later in the evening. Vegas? San Francisco? Nope. Chandigarh.
Accounting App Ashram Part V: Jaded in India-Merica’
In only ten days, I somehow managed to end up in the same Indian chain, called "Beer Cafe" which featured more Americana junk stapled to the wall, than could be found at an Applebee’s restaurant in the 90s. But I am still in Chandigarh and I was maybe even a little lonely from travel, so the cheesy surroundings were inviting. I start to write - rock is playing in the background and all drink specials are a 2 for 1. Party ON. Signs explicitly encourage binge drinking with signs advising deep stuff like, “drink beer, it is good for you.” I ordered, thinking I was getting the cheapest ONE beer until I asked for the bill, when the man graciously told me that I actually had a second one for free. Yay for me who had no other company than my iPhone! The American pop rock from God knows where had motivated a move. My fresh 22K Indian chain grabs my chest hair as I fidget in my seat. Perhaps a gold chain as gaudy and actually quite ornate that also removes chest hair could be big in Miami... The city where my team lead is actually headed the night after my departure. Mind wanders and struggles to make beer-blurred connections from the stimulus.
I came to India for business and the culture, only to find myself at India-Applebee's. Baseball? Oh no, sooo culturally different: Cricket. Last night I watched music videos and the lead singer had a turban "shocking." I shift in my seat and another hair is pulled. Really this hair removal necklace could be something, I think as I mentally add that one to my backlog of tangible product ideas. The SF borne desires to produce product whether at Tech Shop or otherwise never seems to leave me. Beer two is well on its way to my belly, I am writing, this.
The night prior I actually found myself with Sunil – dev shop owner - at the Chandigarh micro-brewery in the strip mall I spotted on the ride from the train station. To get to my appointment, I Ubered over of course, in a step lower than the "X" which I learned is a two door hatchback. Sadly there were no Uber scooters on the map as there were in Java. Boys night out and a couple "Hefs" (wheat beers) later, the president of the dev company opens up a bit. "Without the internet I would be dead, it is where all the money is coming from." Fair enough. We quickly move on to a conversation that bind us modern homo-sapiens: "how much stuff cost." We concluded that the local Americana cloned experience was still somewhat pricey, coming in at about 1/2 or 1/3 the cost of Bay Area standards, which is all but impossibly expensive for most Indians... Yet many, many can afford it. After all, it was the locals buying Fiats, BMWs, and even Harley's in the not so far away dealerships. The top consumers in this economy are not growing, they are EXPLODING. The night ends in friendly political mumbling and the Uber guy is here again.
The morning is welcomed with a vast selection of newspapers - printed, on paper, a forgotten luxury nonexistent in the Bay, circa 2016. Three themes standout: Yoga, economic growth, and crime that must be stopped. There is large coverage of pop stars in a special section. And yoga. So much yoga that it would make even the strongest devotee’s eyes roll. My trip and judgments to date have been shaped by my own slightly unique US blinders, where I stay in fancy hotels - ostensibly to make me more productive and less sick, but I believe even the hippie traveler could not help but notice how similar this city is to your above average US city. The world is not flat, it is the same. Copycats.
Searching for more mystery and magic I will go to the Ganges River, in Rishikesh - to search for new App inspiration, meditating on three dimensional accounting. Accounting is boring to some… my mind wanders off again - but someone has to count the rice - no? My bill arrives for 2 King Fisher beers, bringing me back to strip mall Indian parallel universe reality. The pop music rocks on and I guess I will just have to be ok with that.
John Gillingham, CPA is the founder of Accounting Play and the author of the ten part blog series “Accounting App Ashram” where he details his entrepreneurial journeys in India and the islands of Java in search of entrepreneurial enlightenment. The series chronicles the surprises and struggles of meeting the remote teams and conducting business abroad.
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