It’s been a while, so I’m going to write down some things that happened since 2015 in a series of blog posts. I’d give them a catchy name series but I lack that sort of imagination, so just imagine that part for yourselves.
It’s August 2017, and I’m asked to go to Bangalore, train up some people in our outsourcing partner of the time. Big deal – In 2011 I was on a shortlist to go to Shanghai but there were three of us and they could only send two. As the least experienced trainer I missed out, and had to stay in Wrexham and train new people alone. So this offer was a big deal!
Of course, in preparation I needed a business visa. This meant going to London. This meant getting up at 5am, getting on two trains, rushing through the underground and then submitting the papers, then waiting six hours, then getting one of the last trains home in another rush. This was great enough already, however it was made worse by the fact I had filled in the wrong form, and although I was able to complete the right one in the visa office, the website to do so crashed. I had to go home, head hung in shame and return the week after to do it all again. I now know there exist (and have used) e-visas instead but I was not aware of this at the time.
Once I had the visa in my passport, I could then get the travel sorted. Our organisation was very self-help, so flight booking was arranged through our online tool. As it’s a long flight, I qualified for Business Travel too! The Hotel however was organised by our contractors, as they had special rates. I was not involved.
So, I found myself on my very first business trip. By myself. To India. For two weeks. Part of me was bricking it, the rest immeasurably excited. The trip was easy enough – as a business passenger all I had to do was get picked up by Emirates, taken to Manchester, waltz through fast track security and had Emirates premium lounge access.
The flight itself was an amazing experience. Free WiFi, lie flat seats, a large screen and perhaps most importantly, a much more private area to yourself than some other airlines. The A380 itself also included a bar on the upper deck and showers for First Class, but I was already overwhelmed enough by the experience to require them. The B777 between Dubai and Bangalore was a bit less private, sitting in rows rather than the staggered booths shown to the left.
Once in Bangalore I had an okay time – work was really great; the training went well, the people in the office were really nice, but it was a 11-7 shift, with an hour of travel thrown in, so I was getting back to the hotel around 8pm. The hotel itself was nice, a Doubletree by Hilton, but it was on the outer ring road, so no going into the city for food. I had dinner in the hotel itself. After two weeks of highly pragmatic working, I flew back assuming I would never return.
Anyway, the months go by, and our contract expires. We do have, however an actual operations office in Bangalore, so why not move the extra work there? Fair enough, I do it via Cisco WebEx, so entirely remote. Of course, doing a full course of technical training over WebEx is terrible without interactivity tools, and we didn’t have em. It was a nightmare for them, us and everyone else involved.
Fast forward a few months to July, and we wanted more in Bangalore. This time, though, using the feedback from the earlier training, we justified going back in person.
This time I went with two others, so after a few weeks of taking them through the flight bookings and visa stuff, we flew out there. Learning from my first trip, we also insisted on sticking to a daytime shift – 10-6. This meant we actually had our evenings to ourselves. Our hotel this time was the Sterlings Mac, much closer to the city centre and near main commercial areas with restaurants.
All this made the second trip immeasurably better. Going out all the time, we rode in Tuk-Tuks ( autorickshaws), visited a neighboring city by train to see a colonial-era palace and a hydroelectric dam, and even ate out most evenings! As I had flown once before and may never return, I used my points to upgrade my return flight to return. This would be great, however after staying for three weeks, we were asked to stay an additional two. Unfortunately I could not do this online due to my upgrade, so after waiting some time to talk to an agent, I had to phone anyway, then wait even longer.
The food was amazing. We were eating out twice a day – once during our lunch and once for dinner. We were using expenses for most of this and depsite pigging out were still way beneath the guidelines, food was that cheap. Not only did we try traditional Southern Indian food, but also we were able to try Northern food and Arabic food; since everything has an Indian twist, it’s different from the sort of Arabic food you’d eat in the UK. Regrettably this did sometimes result in… issues… for the three of us, but I mostly sorted this out by only experimenting during the day and alternating to western food in the hotel.
First was even better, even if it did feel a bit wasted on me! Essentially you had an even bigger reclining chair, screen and some more free things, including much more expensive champagne.
I travelled to India four more times; October, December, January and February. Each time with a new group of people, although due to different booking times I sometimes travelled alone. Of course, during October it was announced that our office in Wrexham would close. Which I guess is something that has put me in the pensieve sort of mood to write about these things.
If you’d like to see more photos from these trips, please have a look at my Flickr album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisowenjones/albums/72157709038089816
That’s it for this one. More soon.