Please note that I wrote this post very recently after my trip to India. A year later, I am much more mellow and positive about the trip. I certainly was an experience in a foreign country! – Lee March 2011

a friend just asked about my recent trip to India. 3 friends and I took OrbSWARM to a technology conference in Kanpur.

>WOW – how was India?

To be honest, it was a pain in the butt. To distill it, it all came down to what I call the 50% Rule. 50% of anything ever promised, negotiated, arranged, or agreed to actually happened. For example, the following became this joke in our hotel room. We were staying in a hotel on campus for foreigners; they were treating us very nicely. I’d be sitting in the room and Jon or I would call down to room service. It would sound like this, “Hello, could you please send up 2 bottles of water to room 422? … Yes, drinking water…. Yes, bottled water, mineral water… my room… 422… Yes, water… Bottles…. Room 422. 2 1-liter bottles. Plastic…. Yes…. Water. Please.”

We had ordered water before. Heck, we ordered water on most days seeing as we couldn’t drink the water out of the tap and the kettle in the room was tiny. After a few days of repeating the same conversations to room service, I’d put down the handset and Jon would ask, “What do you think the odds are of it arriving this time?” I’d shout back in a ridiculously chipper voice, “Fifty Percent!”. 50% was about right.

We kept trying to figure out where the miscommunication came. It wasn’t a language barrier. They’d repeat back our request in their own voice. But then they’d repeat it back in a nonsensical way. It’d be like “Ok sir. Water. 422. What do you want? Hello? Do you [garbled]?” It wasn’t a cultural barrier. We had a cultural barrier issue with the toilet paper; they call it something else. It wasn’t a telephone connection problem; we’d have the same problem with EVERYONE, even when in person. I just don’t know.

We’d ask for toilet paper. 1/3 of the time a guy would show up with a plunger, 1/3 a single meager roll of TP, 1/3 no one would appear. Later we found out that they don’t call it “toilet paper” though no one ever corrected us. Instead, they’d rather just do it wrong.

Our toilet would stop up if we looked at it funny so we were calling for a plunger all the time, “Hello, can you send someone to fix the toilet? Yes… the commode… the water closet… fix… stopped up… not running… plunger…” etc… and someone would show up 50% of the time… sometimes in 10 minutes, sometimes 3 hours. Yes, 3 hours. The only reason we found this out was when we were lounging around the room while recovering from jet lag. And it’s important to note that the staff doesn’t have a key to the room, only we do (which of course meant they couldn’t clean the room unless we were there, ugh) We tried walking down to the concierge at the front and he’d always tell us that we should call instead. Though, come to think of it, I’m pretty sure we were calling the very same person at the front desk.

We eventually gave up on our toilet and started using Marnia’s toilet instead. You see her toilet worked perfectly but her shower was plumbed wrong; while her sink delivered hot water, her shower only delivered cold water. 50%.

Here’s another example. We stayed at the Saramar (spelling?) hotel in Lucknow, one of the most expensive at $60/night. We went to their fancy roofdeck for drinks and a bite to eat. While we were the only 4 people on the roofdesk besides the bartender and waiter, the only food option they had was an all-you-can-eat barbeque “feast”. Nothing we could say would convince our hosts to sell us anything short of 4 all-you-can-eat meals. And of course they wouldn’t let just one of us have the BBQ because we might cheat and share. So we ate the free bar mix and I brought up some snacks from my room.

The roofdeck bar had all kinds of whiskeys. Of course, they only had 1/2 of what was on the menu. The waiter kept running back and forth. He’d show up, take the order for 3 people and RUN. We’d have to yell to get him back to take the 4th person’s order. And he’d show up, deliver 1 drink say, “Sorry we are out of the other 2 drinks” and then he’d run off as fast as he could without taking a replacement order! It was insane. But he had fun reveling in the weirdness of it all, getting high on pan masala and mediocre whiskey.

Another anecdote from the Sarovar hotel: Walking through the streets of Lucknow, I accidentally stepped in some poo. (the prevalence of poo in the streets is another story altogether) I realized this when I got back to our room. I changed into my other shoes and brought the shoes down to the concierge. I asked if they could clean the shoes for me because I didn’t have any means of cleaning them myself. I watched as the concierge relayed my dilemma to a busboy in Hindi; he got all the details right and my shoes went into the busboy’s hands. So we all went out and checked out some more sights. Upon returning, I found my shoes neatly sitting next to the TV in my room, poop intact. We had a good laugh about how “second time is the charm with the 50% rule” and I went back downstairs and asked for the same service. An hour later a busboy was at my hotel room door with my shoes. I was ready to tip this guy well for the yuckiness he had to endure. He handed me the shoes and RAN AWAY down the hall! I called to him and he kept running! I had no time to thank or tip him.

I took a look and about 1/2 of the poop had been removed from the shoes. I washed the shoes in the shower using a limp piece of cardboard as a knife, watching the poo mostly go down the drain. Ah the joy of 50%.

Later a friend suggested that there is a taboo about touching poo, that only someone in the lowest “untouchable” caste would touch poo. Then again, I recall how Indians don’t use their left hand for anything because that is their butt washing hand. I don’t know. I just don’t know.

And while this was a “nice” hotel, none of the plumbing in our sink was affixed to anything; the faucet and valves bounced around after you touched them, clanging on the beautiful marble bowl. 50%.

For the highlight of the trip, we rolled the orbs at IIT Kanpur and gave a presentation ( Weirdnesses abounded. Since I’ve already been rambling a while, I’ll keep it brief.

* The orbs arrived from shipping JUST in time. Twice a day for 2 or 3 (it’s hard to tell when you’re jet lagged) our host would come by and reiterate how he had checked and “the orbs will most definitely be here this afternoon”, “oh no, the orbs will be here tomorrow morning”, “the orbs will most definitely be here this afternoon”, “oh no, the orbs will be here tomorrow morning”, “the orbs will most definitely be here this afternoon”, “oh no, the orbs will be here tomorrow morning”.

* The only things we asked for, a powered screwdriver and 110VAC power, they were unable to get us. We used hand screwdrivers and elbow grease, and amazingly janky power conversion.

* Only 1 of the 2 battery chargers they eventually gave us actually worked.

* In the room the orbs lived in, only 1 of the 6 outlets worked. There was only 1 key to the 1 padlock for the room. It took

* They changed our scheduled performance time several times. After a while it was “When do you think they’ll want us to perform?” “I don’t know, sometime, maybe.”

* It took weeks of discussion to get the Techkriti website to have the 4 team members instead of just my pretty face on it

* they screwed up our airfare so we didn’t get to tour Dubai for a day like we planned

* Oh yes, and it took 65 days of nearly daily phone calls and eventually threats to the school and that I’d call Nancy Pelosi to get the orbs back. Midway into the ordeal, David Calkins estimated the chance that they’d actually be returned at 50%.

Man, I’m such a complainer.

Sorry, I just had to get all this junk off my chest. It’s just that it wasn’t all that much fun and it was really expensive as “free” vacations go.

It was nice seeing Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal. The meal at The Novelty Restaurant in Agra was really fantastic, barring the bit about it disagreeing with Marnia and Jon’s tummies. Getting to have breakfast with Douglas Osheroff and a few meals with Paul Shuch (AKA Dr. Seti) was totally a trip. And experiencing a world similar to my own, only shifted slightly into chaos was very interesting.

Here are some notes I took while I was on the trip

Kanpur 2/6

There were no inspecting customs agents!

Ameet showed us a local Hindu temple across from the iit visitor house in ch…. Park. We couldn’t tell if it was 20 or 500 years old, probably both. Marnia saw crazy black bees

Went to Bahai lotus center. Totally cool. Discussed religion with
ameet: uu is very similar to bahai. Hindi also says that that worship of any minor or major god is just fine, with some room for other religions.

Train left at 6:40 not 4:40. We had lunch at a hotel nearby. Walking there was a trip. Walking back doubly so, we went through this area where people were hauling giant packages maybe 3x3x2 feet. There was this burning man moment at dusk: walking back to train station, large space, music in the distance, lots of random commotion, jon suggested a sound/heat inversion layer that chNged the acoustics. I totally expected to hear and see poofers

Train 1 more hour delay going slow in Delhi. Arrived 3:30am Sloooow train. Nice to have sleeper car. Weird waking up and peeing into a toilet that goes straight onto the tracks. Weird having guy watch my swarm slides over my shoulder. Slept 3 hrs?

Arriving in Kanpur station: total trip
Got off and met Ankit and friends. Watched porter boast how he could put 2 big bags on his head and then actuLly do it. Wood smoke haze permeated everything. Walk thru the station: cows sitting drowsily, person burning a small fire up agAinst a stone building, piles of rubble, a dog sleeping in a nest made of papers and refuse. A full sleeping bag sitting neatly on newspaper, hundreds of drowsy and sleeping people sitting and lying on the ground, many people looking at the curiously tall Nd white people.
Kanpur 2/7

relaxed in hotel room. Nice indian lunch and dinner in dining hall.

Good 5 rupee $.12 coffee at canteen. It was weird breaking a 500 rupee note, I asked Marnia to do it. like paying for a $5 starbucks coffee with a $500 bill
Walked thru the science block. Noted odd otherworld appearance of the structures and how it was strangely pleasantly lush at this one spot while we were walking on top of the shade corridors. Saw amazing sheet like bee hives – Ankit says they are removed regularly, sometimes they can’t go to the library bc of the swarming. Saw squid lab door nmri door; theoretical physics lecture signs, darn we missed their tea time.

Jon stepped in dead bat bits, he mentioned ” bats can have rabis on their skin”. We now take our shoes off when entering our rooms.

Ankit took us to Kanpur Hindu temple: no phones or cameras allowed, nice marble work, great stone cut images on walls. Saw huge pathos vine at dining hall with lots of ants.

On 2/8 jon disagreed with my method of trying to find out if Good Knight an insect repellent was effective. I had found a site with consumer reviews and he disagreed with the whole notion of consumer reviews, opting instead for “science”. But I say that “science” is hard to find and hard to prove. I used the exMple of’s consumer reviews Nd he dismissed that as well. When we get back I should point out to him how successful laymen consumer reviews are ie:
eBay reputation system is pretty good
Yelp pretty good recommendations pretty good
Jon had recommended consumer reports but I have found their reviews inadequate Google uses it in subtle ways (find references to pagerank and clicking results Intrade is very accurate That swissnex economist that is proving that groups of laymen do a better job of predicting markets than experts With just a little effort you can usually tell if a reviewer is a real person or a cheater



Interviewed by times if india
Waited and waited and waited for crates
Met a British metalurgy professor at dinner who toured all over india   His wife didn’t want to go with him
Marnia ate a mosquito, the national bird of india

Breakfast with peter? Paul… SETI guy, from PA, he followed the greeting presentation but we missed it. travels a lot, wife Didnt want to move to Germany so he travels. Has a small plane. Retired and travelling

Rolled orbs for the first time at the sac with Niladri and jon. tWas cool.

Saw music DNA presentation. The back of toby’s biz card says “have a successful day TM” he trademarked it???????

2-12-10 really
Saw laserman and feeding the fish shows
Jon got totally shown up by SETI Paul on the subject of whether one should build your own equipment or not. Paul’s exAmples of building it yourself include his claim to fame: building the first commercially available sattelught receiver; and the guy who discovered the hydrogen band in space, building his own horn antenna with military surplus radar equipment. Paul said that building yourself gives you new insight which was in direct oposition to jon’s view.

We rolled orbs twice and we answered lots of questions! It felt very productive

I felt a tummy bug coming on so I had 1 azryth… Pill. All better now.

2-15-10 Lucknow
Drove to Lucknow Saw the Ganga river. Was a very bumpy ride for much
of drive. Our driver got totally pissed at a truck driver that pulled out and almost hit us, I later saw our car has Lucknow stickers on it

Walked around Lucknow. Way more stressful than Kanpur. Big city action!!

We were trying to find thebotanical garden and found a muslim shrine

Found good dinner at the nipply prince restaurant. I paid $40 for the whole thing.
Tried paan definitely mood elevator
Walked crazy alleyways, just like the mission but with poop too, saw people cleaning dishes in dishpans near poopy holes in the street Had drinks on the roofdeck, whiskey, beer, snacks, no all you can eat buffet, vowed to bring a beetle ut drink to the us!

Made audio recordings with jon and Niladri… It was totally awesome focusing on the sounds.

I can’t wait to sleep in a real bed. I’m in Lucknow at one of the most expensive hotels in the city, $60 or so per night. There’s no top sheet (and I’d really like one since the quilt is WAY too warm) they did this weird fold-over short-sheeting of the blanket, the pillow is too low, the sheets are vaguely sticky like they’ve been sweated upon, there are all these hazardous floor changes in the hotel ie the bathroom floor is sunk 3/4″ below the bedroom, calling the front desk leads to conversations like this ( the bellhop told us that bottled water was free but didn’t totally believe him)

Hello, how much will it cost to send bottled water to my room?
Eh, whaevewerewere?
I would like bottled water sent to my room.
I want mineral water.
Oh alright sir. I will send someone up. What room are you in?
I am in room 212. How much does water cost?
Yes sir, I will send someone up to tell you.

Got paan

. Tried to get the bottom of my shoes cleaned twice and failed. Jon suggests that poop is not their job.

Really good breakfat at Lucknow hotel

Jon claimed we could walk from domestic to international terminal in Delhi, hilarity ensued. Marnia was freaked out at walking aimlessly even after I reminded them of sudhus advice that it takes 1 hr to get from domestic to international

Delhi airport customs too 30 min. Security took 20 min. Next time we’ll look for the shorter security lines to the far left.

Flying home.
Flying over Russia, Surgut I saw that my clock reads 3:20pm Dubai time, I look out the window and can see the sun just above the horizon at 8 o’clock. Looking down, the icy plain is in semidarkness.

By 8pm Dubai time the sun was below the horizon but the deep salmon color on the horizon was at 9:30

Sand art story
2 beer trucks in parade w 2 poop scoopers. 1 is embaraed. 1 is celebrated


Dubai burka in Dubai airport

In the duty free shopping area I saw a woman in a full black burka (sans veil) and stylish black bag trying on stylish big black Carrera sunglasses. They almost completely obscured her face. She held the tiny white price tag dangling by a string aside with her left hand as she considered herself in the mirror. The glasses went nicely with her outfit.  A few minutes later I saw her husband buy them for her.


  1. MrPete says:

    I have heard “the 50% rule” is VERY common in India. A friend tried to start a business there, with Indian investors, and everything was promised, but nothing was delivered. They will agree to anything and “everything will be most satisfying” but that’s as far as it gets. I don’t know if this just happens to “white westerners” or if they treat each other like that. I read the book “Shantaram” (a GREAT novel set in India) and didn’t get the feeling it was SOOOO flaky.

  2. lee says:

    Another vignette:

    We had a final bag search before taking off out of Dubai. This was totally unexpected, right before walking into the final boarding area. Normally I’d be bothered by this but the guy asked so nicely if he could open my bag. In contrast, in Delhi the xray machines were only partially utilized on the left side, the guy that directed us to them was incoherent, motioning the direction and saying something like “you go… 1, 2, 3!” the third xray machine? Third from the end? Third one over? no that couldn’t be right. We never figured out what he meant though we avoided standing in any of the lines he suggested and waiting in another 20 min line by going the last xray machine. The Muslim security pat down guy was much more serious and grumpy; I’m glad there was a language barrier.

  3. lee says:

    After a year of chilling on the subject, the trip wasn’t as bad as this article might lead one to believe. It was actually pretty incredible seeing this other world. That’s not to say all the crazyiness (and more) mentioned above didn’t happen exactly as I said. ;-)

  4. friscolex says:

    Nipply prince restau is priceless! So are these notes. I think it’s okay to vent! I miss journaling my trips… My first few oh-so-innocent trips to France were rich with observation… and frustration of course, but nothing like here. But I think there is nothing like here, non ?

  5. lee says:

    A bit about the Nipply Prince… We couldn’t remember the name of the place but there were a couple really regal paintings of some prince all over the place and in a couple of them his shirt had this crazy plunging neckline so that it exposed one nipple.

    Yeah, there’s no place like this. :-)

    Oh and since you didn’t realize all the thumbnail action going on, click on the images from my paris trip. The pano at Gare d’Austerlitz came out looking like… art!

  6. friscolex says:

    Love it!

    Thumbnail action? I love the Paris pics (steel reinforcement is always art in this household!) but were there pics in the India post. Sorry, I’m clueless. Too much distraction with all this nipply prince discussion… :-)

  7. lee says:

    >thumbnail action

    I remember a while back you said you didn’t know that one could click on the images in my posts to make the pictures full size.

  8. friscolex says:

    AH yes, sweet, thanks for jogging my memory, which is clearly faulty at best. Yes, this feature is sweet!!


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