Archive for May, 2009

Hangzhou – Venice of the East

Picture of West Lake with the Pagoda in the background at Hangzhou (also known as Venice of the East)

My Chinese Impressions – Part 7

Democracy, Communism, what the heck!

If you ever thought about India and China – democracy, communism and the impact on people would have crossed your mind. Well, me being me and having the tendency to ignore the over-hyped stuff – I ignored all the ruckus around me on restrictive information access in China. I thought, how tough can it really be if I don’t know what I’m missing – I’m not really going to be affected – right? Right in a way, but that is where the catch was, to begin with.

As I was browsing in my hotel room in Shanghai, the shocking revelation of dawned on me. A lot of websites were blocked, news was filtered, some of my favorite blogs were blocked (heck, some entire blog platforms were blocked) and I was squirming at the message on the browser like a child who had set its heart on something and couldn’t get it…knowing very well that it was within reach and maybe, (the well-intentioned) parents had hidden it from view.

Well, I did think about this a lot later and it was a good opportunity to discuss with colleagues and friends off-hand while I was in China. Some of our longer taxi conversations evolved into long winded politically loaded discussions with people taking strong sides…on are people genuinely happier in a democracy? Has democracy really delivered, what is this hype about? What about the monarchies we used to have 400-500 years ago – were they happier times? What does a communist state imply? Are our bureaucracy and judiciary systems running communist states of their own? Who is responsible for welfare in a federal, democratic state in which people still identify themselves by the factional caste they belong to rather than the nation? If there is growth and progress around and people around you also had similar lack of rights to own property or have more than one child – would it really bite you that you didn’t have those rights?

My Chinese Impressions – Part 6

Continuing on my series of experiences in Shanghai in this post, I want to write about two of my memorable experiences – one that lasted the entire trip and I marveled at its efficiency day in and day out, and the other that lasted a few minutes but is etched in my mind and perhaps would last forever…

The All Pervasive, Always Available – Taxi Culture

For me the efficient taxi culture in Shanghai, as a visitor, was the best part of the experience. Not to belittle, anything else, but when a piece of machinery in a state works so efficiently that there is no scope (or even the mere thought) of fleecing a naive or guliable foreigner – that too in a developing nation – the effort needs to be applauded.

The taxis are available almost everywhere. Given street name and building number will get you there without any cheating (ok, there is some bit here and there, but it can be largely ignored in the larger scheme of things and given the number of taxi rides I have taken). Meter will be promptly used and no haggling on charges – ever! Once, I thought I was being taken for a ride and started haggling in my broken Chinese (much to my boss’s amusement), but only to realize that it was indeed the right fare and we were not being cheated.

Well, for people in the developed countries this might seem a trivial experience but anybody who is well traveled in India will sigh a relief reading this bit about Shanghai, because this efficiency is not easy to achieve. They might not know today, but on account of this service I would rate them on par with any US/European cab ride I have taken – of course, only cheaper and faster (they don’t strictly wait till the red light turns green at signals…)

Nanjing Trip

Nanjing literally means the south capital (Beijing being the north) and is a large city with a thriving economy. We were doing a customer visit and traveled via train to get there. My experience has to do with the landing at Nanjing station. As we descended the stairs to get out of the platform, I saw a sight of this large human wave, with no space between any two individuals at any point – in, around, behind or in front of me – converging towards a common point from three different directions to move outwards. For a moment, I thought I might faint, there must have been more than 3000 odd people trying to get down the steep fleet of stairs all at the same time to the same point. As I did a quick check on my senses, I was gripped with a fear that I might be tossed up into the air as there would no space on the landing podium.

Luckily, nothing bad happened, the crowd descended at its own pace, went merrily outside the station and busy with their lives – I think, just the sheer scale of handling such a large crowd day in day out within such an efficient train system is a great feat in itself and people being so cool about moving in and out of such large crowded spaces is something that beats me!

My friends tell me that it might be because I have never lived in Mumbai and I must experience the metro to believe it…I guess, I will someday, until then – this goes down in my memory lane as the largest crowd experience ever!

Asus – Open Product Innovation

Innovation is as broad a topic as it can get, I will nibble at it from a corner and focus on Open Product Innovation today.

I came across this interesting concept website from Asus – wepc. Asus is a PC vendor and has opened up a customer channel for innovation and product thinking through this website. Some of the concepts are highly interesting ranging from a laptop with an integrated projector to a pedant PC (like the sixth sense presentation at TED) to a multi-screen collapsible version.

If Asus is doing this right, they are not just looking at the product concepts, they are looking at validation of trends – for example, if you scroll through the dream PC designs and the votes they have received – some trends become clear, like people seem to be pitching for a hybrid between the phone and the PC which seems to be the next convergence point after consumer-communication and communication-computation that happened earlier with the music phones and Skype on laptop.

There is a definite trend towards enhanced interaction experiences with their phone-cum-laptop-cum-multimedia player devices – which could translate into touch screens, artificial intelligence, personalized look and feel etc…and much more as Asus reads through the trends and benefits.

Now, one might wonder, Asus has this in open, other PC vendors must also be mining this data – why did they chose to be the ones on whose cost the competition benefits? Will a wepc ardent user buy an Asus model vs. Dell/HP/Acer/Lenovo, given the same feature and better pricing?
Maybe, in the laptop world, people don’t really buy unique designs from a given vendor, the more vendors make things, the more a given “similar” kind of design sells because now there is a comparison reference point (Apple being an exception which I don’t want to use to prove a rule)

Food for thought and comments….

The Waning Airtel Magic

Vidya Balan and Madhavan have been doing a series of ads for Airtel for about a year now. Seriously, they started out on the right note, the right subtle screen-couple spark, the right script and everything – but over the last few ads, the script has become weaker and the silent exchange of glances between the screen couple towards the end of each ad has become more annoying than ever, without conveying any meaning or adding any value to the Airtel brand. The warmth shared between them (or that is shown to be) does not translate to warmth with the Airtel brand in my mind!

Seriously, Airtel needs new ad series…hope they are measuring their effectiveness against the wildly successful zoozoos from Vodafone and do something before it is too late (or is it already?)

But, ad or no ad, I’m a staunch Airtel user and will not switch to Vodafone even for a better plan…!

It Clicks When You Smile…

Sony added a smile shutter feature to its Cyber-shot T200 and T70. Ever since I saw the ad – which says “It clicks when you smile”, I was thinking about how and how well this works, so I did a bit of digging around and came up with this..

Face detection is something many camera makers have been adding to their products over the past few years. However, smile shutter is the ultimate in this effort. It works in concert with the cameras’ face detection system that sets focus, exposure, white balance, and flash automatically on up to eight faces in a scene in the smile shutter mode. When engaged, Smile Shutter detects faces, as the name implies, that are smiling – which implies movement of cheek bones, narrowing of eyes, eyebrows etc.. One can set different levels of smile sensitivity but within a scene only one person’s smile controls the entire clicking.

Now, what is the user feedback on this – the jury is varied. As any other tool out there, it is not a panacea for people who become “smile-less” in front of a camera and people who have natural frown face! All it can do is capture a smile when someone does, however, that does not necessarily make a good picture and hence, does not take away from the photographers’ capabilities, in any way.

However, the camera is sleek, takes good quality pictures and Sony has the rightly tapped the sentiment of amateur photographers with the tagline – “It clicks when you smile!”

US Vs. India – Internet Usage Statistics

US has about 73% penetration which accounts for about 247 million internet users, which is about 3.5x India’s Internet users, accounting for less than 6% penetration of the population.

US has about 73 million broadband users, which is about 15x of India’s broadband users in 2008, which is less than 10% penetration of the internet population compared to the US broadband penetration of the internet users, which is 30% – (source).

Now, what the statistics above points out is – potential and opportunity (of course) but also the fact that dropping technology amidst a large population is not going to be a self fulfilling prophecy – not in India, not anywhere else in the developing world.

What the technology delivers should solve a genuine problem for the masses (like a mobile phone did for communication) for them to chose paying for a internet, broadband or value added service over a higher end commodity purchase/upgrade or a service for the household. A couple of such services could range from education (giving an edge to the next generation is definitely a big pull), to enhanced access to distribution channels/customers (reducing middle man for product/service sales), availability of critical information/services (live commodity prices/remote health care services). All of these have been happening on a small scale in various pockets of India and have helped drive home the impact of technology usage to the masses. What is required is for them to go large scale and start showing results in increased internet and broadband penetration.

Skeptics might ask, what is it about adopting technology? Why can’t I just stay the way I’m? Why should the masses adopt technology? I’m sorry, there is bad news. The world has moved on, the power is moving to the individuals and the medium happens to be the internet. Today, it is like asking why should I learn to read and write back in the 60’s or 70’s in India? You are letting go off the power that comes associated with being able to take control of your life, access information real time, access market and research information that would not be available to you except if you had devoured a well-stocked and updated world library and could mimic the search engine to spit out the results precisely when asked for it, not to mention all the organizing and sharing capabilities in social media.

Well, there is no either or here…it has to happen, the slowness of the speed of adoption is opportunity on the table.

Fastrack Branding Exercise…Move On..!

Fastrack, which is a watches and sunglasses brand in India (they call it wristgear and eyegear…I’m sticking with watch and sunglass, by the way), is on a branding binge and it is after the youth of India. With a snazzy tagline of “move on…” and whacky ads, it might just be on a way into their hearts too.

I want to specifically talk about a couple of their sticky ads, all of which revolve around the youngsters urge of trying to get out of a relationship and being cool about it! Well, the ad where the girl and guy return all the stuff they gave to each other as they walk down a couple of steps (and of course, not a surprise that it includes the fastrack watches and sunglass!) and the latest in their series, where the girl is talking about how she met a guy who was cute and wanted to get closer and closer…(all this while, they are not showing the faces, just the rest of the body, with all the fastrack accessories are in focus) and when how she got rid of him by getting even more closer and closer…and the tagline towards the end “move on…” (not to mention that there is a “his version” of this ad on their website – here)

Move On….Guys!

My Chinese Impressions – Part 5

Funny and a few interesting foodie experiences in Shanghai…

Ordering Aloo Paratha at the Indian Kitchen

I had blogged previously about how I figured out Indian Kitchen in Jian Qiao. This was find indeed for me and excited as I was, decided to order Aloo Paratha, which is a standard Indian dish made with potato boiled, mashed with spices and rolled within wheat rolls and roasted on a pan with lots of ghee. Now, what I got instead was aloo pizza (mashed potato topping on top of wheat bread). I found the twist on “our aloo paratha” hilariously funny!

How we arrived at FACE!

After the previous incident, I re-started my search for Indian food and found an address which seemed to be pretty close to the office in Pudong and my colleague and I started our journey towards this new place in a taxi. We arrived at a Government guest house and the taxi guy continued his journey inside – there was not a soul in sight even to ask for directions or to know if we had the wrong address and were to end up in jail within the next couple of minutes for trespassing or whatever! However, we arrived at the best Indian Restaurant in Shanghai (also one of the costliest…) – it’s called FACE. I can vouch for it, I have eaten at the restaurant twice and both the times the price and effort of getting there was worth it. However, I can never forget the random thoughts that were racing through our minds the first time we were about to find the best Indian restaurant in Shanghai…!!!

Belgian Chocolate Foundue

Saving the best for the last. I’ve learned that the Indian way of speaking English and our pronunciation of certain words are too fast and far away from their vocabulary for the Chinese. It is not the right or wrong, it is just not their way…that’s it. Now, my colleague and I strongly believe that the night at the restaurant near our hotel we ordered Belgian Fudge or something like that, but instead what we got changed our concept of dessert forever – lots of freshly cut fruits and melted Belgian dark chocolate (kept that way using a small candle flame below the pot) and do I need to say anymore..I don’t think it made a damn difference what we ordered, what we got made us really happy!!!

A call in mid-air…Jai Ho, Airtel!

My flight was 15-20 minutes away from landing on Wednesday and I had forgotten to switch off my mobile phone (a feat I will never try out next time or ever!). The flight had been delayed and my number was being repeatedly tried from the ground and well, ahem…my mobile started ringing while the flight was still in the air! As I looked outside, the flight was hovering over the land area, the vehicles and buildings looked distant and very small. As the phone rang, I hurried to switch it off but one thing was ringing clear in my mind – what a range, sirji! and Jai Ho, Airtel!

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