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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Top Five Changes in Hyderabad Ten Years Later - My First Impressions

Hi all:

Ten years ago, I made my first visit to Asia on a work trip to visit my new team in Hyderabad, India.  It deserves a separate blog post as it helped me form many opinions on how to have distributed teams work through a bunch of experiences that didn't.  Although I've had the chance to work with folks from this area of the world in the mean time, I haven't been back since.

I'll blend right in!
Before the novelty washes away and I become a "local"  I wanted to put together a list of what really knocked my socks off on the changes I immediately noticed.  I won't go into what hasn't changed (yet)--I'm still the only white guy that I've seen in a week, and the Muslim/Hindu mix (27% / 70%) still produces exotic awe in me to the point that my favorite time pass here has been staring slack jawed through the open air as we drive across town in an auto-rickshaw.

No Immigration Insanity

It's midnight sometime in June of 2005.  I've been traveling for over thirty hours and am in Asia for the first time in my life.  I voluntarily leave my business class cocoon of comfort and we are marched off the highly efficient and ordered German Lufthansa flight  into an area that can only be described as a marketplace of free thought and expression when it comes to immigration bureaucracy.

Through bleary eyes and ears canals that are still full of whatever packs them at 30,000 feet, I witness a visual and aural cacophony of stamping, yelling, and officials (I hope those are officials) with guns forming and reforming lines in a room the temperature and size of a warehouse janitor's closet.  Somehow, I made it to the front of the line and people kept cutting in front of me, with every mother's son and daughter yelling at me from behind in an exotic mixture of Hindi and English to "go, just go...ahhhh..don't let him do stay there..stop!  move back! move forward! acha acha ACHA!  don't go.  You have to push forward, don't let them get away with that!"

I finally took the plunge and wedged myself in the fray by the source of the loudest stamping sound and forgot my typical American politeness.  It worked!  I was at the desk.  Mr. Stampy looked at me not once, but kept grunting something was probably multiple somethings, but it sure sounded the same.  I just kept saying "I'm sorry..pardon me? I don't understand" Every response was stamping, which I took as a good thing.  When he stopped grunting, I got pushed forward by someone and no one was pointing a gun at me.  I walked forward.  I had arrived.

In 2015, it's now just like any other immigration desk, and's disappointing.

Gone are the Undiplomatic* Ambassadors

We Americans (at least the U.S. variety) have cars hard-wired into our DNA to the point where my son popped out already negotiating what kind of lemon I'd be selling to him when he turns 16.  Suffice it to say, I'm always on the lookout for every make and model of car and how they're different than back home.

The Ambassadors have arrived
Photo by paulswansen / CC BY
Walking out of the airport in 2005, it seemed like I was falling back in time into what I envisioned was present-day
Cuba.  Every single car not only looked the same, but appeared to have been built in the mid 1950s.  The airport was lined with so many of these Ambassadors to and of India to the point that I thought there might be a presidential cavalcade (maybe, just maybe celebrating my arrival).

When I walked out of the new MUCH more modern airport in 2015, I didn't see a single one.  They've been replaced with Tatas, Mahindras, Hondas, Suzukis, and many more.  It makes it seem a lot less exotic here now.

In a related note, it looks like they stopped production of the iconic Ambassador in 2014.

*I've been referring to these cars as Diplomats since 2005 as well.  Oops.

Traffic Lights That Work

I have been raving that NO ONE pays attention to the "stop lights" here in Hyderabad for the past ten years.  When I describe the people going against the lights, and many times against traffic in the oncoming lanes, most Indians nod their heads in understanding.  But now, my story must change as people really stop at the lights now!  I'm guessing that this is due to the fact that most intersections have well-masked officers and some have cameras watching.  I'm guessing that the latter don't really work, but the former does.

Perhaps, there's a catchy and highly effecitve advertising campaign like... "D.A.R.E. to stop on red!" or "Better to stop on red than dead."

Here's a recent drive proving we stopped!

Smart Phones Used Unsmartly

This phone went to India with me in 05!
It's not that mobile phones didn't exist when I was here last, heck I was rocking my Blackberry and
emailing and calendaring like a champ!  I honestly don't remember locals having them although they probably used them as, you know, phones.  I'm sure that this comes as no surprise to absolutely no one that EVERYONE has a smart phone here now.  However the thing that really surprised me was HOW they were used.

Here are things that I have observed, but was too much slack in the jaw to take a picture:

  • Scooter drivers texting and talking while driving
  • All three riders including the driver of a motorcycle talking or texting (or buying delicious takeaway byrani online) while said 2-wheeler is in rapid transit
  • A driver and rider on a motor cycle passing the phone between each other, talking to someone while manuvering in highly congested (think 3 cars and 10 motorcycles wide) and weaving traffic
Of course, this perspective is somewhat tainted by living in an area where people put on such airs as banning use of phones while driving and making mandatory the use of child safety seats and adult safety seat belts. #NannyState

Call To Prayer

I'm certain that this one has been going on for a long time, and I just didn't notice it due to the fact that I was staying in the hermetically-sealed location where they hold up all the white people--western luxury hotels and hi-tech offices.  As I'm staying with my wife's family this time, I can hear, smell, and see so many more rich and amazing things.  One that I heard almost immediately after arriving to their flat my first day here was the Muslim call to prayer around 5:30 AM.  

This city has a plethora of mosques and multiple calls to prayer can be heard five times a day.  Being outside of the rhetoric going on back home, it's awesome to see Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and so many more, living their lives in an incredibly open, inclusive, and participatory democracy under the Indian constitution.

Namaste y'all!



  1. Really interedting and well written!

  2. This is great!
    Should def add Mumbai to the travel list. It's a hoot. Too bad you can't rewind 10 years.

    1. Thanks @JCS! Yes, we spent a week traveling in Kerala this time, but Mumbai is definitely on the list for next time.

  3. Posted this to Medium on May 3, 2016:

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Wow--my Hyderabad traffic video was used at the opening of the Saab Auto Museum / Innovatum Science Center in Trollhättan, Sweden in 2016. Here's a video shot by Anja Derwanz:

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