Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Dubai Travel Guide


Having written about the 'Dubai, Do Buy' philosophy and the 'Dubai Job Hunt' recently, I thought it would be a good time to also focus on some of the other interesting reasons to visit Dubai.

Since the Dubai Shopping Festival will take off only on 5 January 2012, I will be writing about it next month. Meantime, since arriving a month ago I have taken the opportunity to visit some of the places I had not been to earlier. However, the following places, suggestions and experiences I am recounting is based on multiple travels to Dubai over the last few years.

Entering Dubai

The Dubai international airport is truly a gateway. As I had stated once previously, sit long enough at the airport and chances are you may even spot an Eskimo! Being the fourth busiest airport in the world, be prepared to see masses of people everywhere within the airport at any point of time.

There are two types of passengers arriving at this airport. Those in transit, thanks to the ever growing Emirates Airlines as well as the multitude of other airlines stopping here, and those people whose final destination is Dubai be it a visit for pleasure or business.

Being an Indian origin person, not only do I have to get used to the antics of my fellow brethren when they reach here, but also get used to being treated a bit like cattle by the folks manning the arrivals. Herded into large and long snaking queues for immigration, to avoid being barred from entry, ensure that a valid visit visa is secured in advance. That is, unless you are already a GCC resident with a mudheer or 'manager' type higher-professional status on the residency card, in which case you are entitled to get a visit visa on arrival, irrespective of your nationality, in most cases. There are some nationalities who can secure a visit visa on arrival even without being a GCC resident, details of which can be found here and here

Getting through immigration also requires you to have your iris scanned. Eventually you emerge through to the Dubai Duty Free area and beyond, to the baggage claim area. Once done, you will need to get all your luggage including hand baggage X-ray scanned again, but usually the officers sitting at the scanning point will just wave you on (unless you are carrying contraband items - which can get you severe punishment in this country). Finally, get out of the airport, and you have many transportation options.

Local Transportation
  1. Rent a car: valid International driving license is good, rates vary by type of vehicle and duration of rent. Negotiating is a good idea. Ensure that salik or the road toll tag, mileage allowance and insurance costs are bundled into the package agreed. Fuel is subsidised and cheaper than most places on earth.
  2. Get into a taxi: remember that all taxis are metered and whenever a taxi is hired from the airport, there is an automatic AED 20 surcharge. 
  3. Take the Road Transport Authority (RTA) bus or metro train: ensure you pick up your Nol card / ticket from a vending machine or an operator if available.
  4. Shuttle pick-up: If staying at a hotel, may be available. Not necessarily free, it is important you communicate with the hotel prior to arriving and secure confirmations on this mode of local transport.
  5. Ask a friend or relative living locally, to pick you up.  

With so many options, planning becomes a bit important. The golden rule that I have clearly understood after a month in Dubai is that if you intend to rely on public transport like buses and trains, then be prepared for "triple the time" at "one-third the cost". Whereas with taxis, it is a case of "triple the cost" at "one-third the time".


The RTA website is indeed, very useful. I would suggest that you download the RTA network map so that you can enlarge and view it prior to making a journey. Despite being a PDF, it is rather a heavy file, so viewing it on your smartphone is troublesome given the time it takes to render. Much easier on your computer, really. Alternatively, the RTA’s Wojhati site has a very useful journey planner.

What to Experience

A blend of both old and new places exists in this city. Some suggestions:

Inside the Dubai Museum
The Dubai Museum, gives you a bit of historical perspective on what Dubai was.

Gold Souq, Dubai
Walk through the alleyways of the Gold Souq, reminiscent of the ancient way of trading yet upgraded enough not to affect the sensitive sensibilities of the discerning gold lover. 


With multiple options, it is usually a good deal to buy gold and diamond jewellery here. At least, that is what the ladies claim. I usually just smile, at the glitter. Not just in the window showcase, but also in the eyes of the beguiled.

Spices, spices and more spices
Take your olfactory senses on a ride in the Spice Souq. A short walk away from the Gold Souq, it is quite a seamless affair and you know you have reached the Spice Souq, when you begin to see with your nose first and then, your eyes. Or just follow the fascinated Western, Russian or Chinese tourists with their huge cameras.

Abra waiting to ferry passengers
Take a ride in an Abra - an old country boat, fitted with a modern engine. For a nominal AED 1 fee per person. you can sit on the wooden frame, get a five minute ride from one side of the creek to the other.

Burj Khalifa
Visit the Burj Khalifa, now even more recognisable after millions have seen Tom Cruise swing across it in his latest Mission Impossible film. Even if you have those fancy suction gloves, chances are you will not be allowed to do the swing, but you can reach the observation deck for a fee of AED 100 if booked in advance or AED 400 for an immediate entry. Fees are per person. The website has more details. Once you are done with the heightened experience (pun intended), do take the time to stroll through the adjoined Dubai Mall, which is also an experience by itself - especially the dancing musical fountains, lovely.

The distinctive billowing sail shaped Burj Al Arab
Go to the Jumeirah Park (AED 5 entrance fee per person), walk on the sandy beaches and visit the Burj Al Arab, one of the world's most photographed and luxurious hotels. Then, put on your swim suits and head to the Wild Wadi water park, nearby.

Dubai Dolphinarium, show in progress
The Creek park is a huge setup and has acres of grassy walkthroughs in addition to the “Dolphinarium”, where you could catch a show involving Dolphins, Sea Otters and an illusionist - Max Stevenson. If you are travelling with kids, they will love it. As an adult, my heart reaches out to the animals for they belong in their natural environment, not here performing tricks. AED 5 for the park entrance fee, AED 120 for VIP seats in the Dolphinarium.

Mall of Emirates

Ibn Battuta Mall, with multiple cultural themes
Walk through acres of air-conditioned shop-till-you-drop brand havens like Mall of Emirates (check out Ski Dubai), Deira and Mirdiff City Centres, Ibn Battuta Mall, Burjuman Centre and Lamcy Plaza.

Atlantis hotel, The Palm, Dubai
Also take the opportunity to visit the man-made Palm islands and the Atlantis hotel.

Exchange Rate

The US Dollar and AED also known as Dirhams are pegged at a fixed rate. 1 USD = 3.67 AED or alternatively 1 AED = 0.27 USD

Eat, eat and then eat some more

You can literally never go hungry in this place, unless you deliberately want to starve. With a culture of eating out, Dubai's culinary gob-smacking options are galore, ranging from Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, American, British, Italian, Greek, Lebanese, Turkish, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Indonesian and African, to many more. I will probably have to do another post on this subject, as there is way too much to do justice in a small paragraph.

Music, Dance, Party

If nightlife is on your agenda, there are plenty of options available here in this desert oasis. For a good guide on this, go here.

When, oh when

Best time to visit is between November to February, where the ‘winter’ season reigns supreme. You could visit at other times, but the outdoors during most part of the day would be searing hot. During the winter time, climate is dry, windy and can really go quite low in open desert areas. You will need warm clothing, but not as if you are visiting Antartica.

Be smart about a few things
  1. While alcohol is available at pubs, bars and hotels, drinking and driving is heavily punished.
  2. Though Dubai is relaxed in terms of attire, wearing short dresses and swim suits outside the beach area is not a good idea. While you do not have be dressed like an Egyptian mummy, remember this is an Islamic country, so I think it is good to respect the local people and culture by wearing modest clothing that covers most of your body.
  3. Having comprehensive travel insurance for the duration of your visit here is a good idea. Make sure, you check with your insurer that comprehensive insurance actually includes baggage loss not just in flight, but anywhere. Similarly check that all emergencies are covered. Reading the fine print is worth it.
  4. Though crime rate is quite low, and there is really no need to be paranoid, keeping a separate copy of your passport, visa, credit/debit cards as well as, being mindful about your belongings would be a good approach.
  5. Depending on your country of origin, the exchange rate may be in your favour or not. If yes, better to use plastic. If not, better to use cash. Money changers are liberally found on the streets and in malls.
  6. On arrival, securing a local Du or Etisalat SIM card on arrival is a good idea, as your communication needs would be met, cheaper and easier.
  7. Finally, wear a smile. It is usually contagious and reflected back.
I feel that Dubai is a city of options. Whatever be your status, there is something here for you.

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This post is not an endorsement of any product/service/brand and is written based on my experience here. Your experience could be different, so do exercise your own judgement. Here's wishing you a very happy 2012 ahead.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Dubai Job Hunt

It has been a month, since I landed in Dubai. A month, that has passed faster than I could ever have thought. Compared to the slow pace of life in Kerala, this place is on the highway running at 100 kilometres per hour, though I think that Hong Kong, runs even faster!



It is a rather well known fact among those who care to know, that if you arrive in Dubai on a visit, which is longer than 15 days, chances are you are here to look for a job and not just enjoy the Dubai Shopping Festival or 'larger than life' edifices and experiences.

Choices

With Indians flooding the Gulf countries over the last 4 decades, clearly the Middle East has been a destination of choice that has bettered lives of millions in both locations - destination and origin. I too have been part of this trend in the past and even now, am in the process of possibly re-engaging with the scenario. Of course, it is a different matter that today an Indian expatriate is getting to be more expensive than an African or other Asian expatriate options for employers. However, some leeway still exists.

Of course, human sentiments can get affected by any reason, not even necessarily logical. So the events rolling out in Europe does have an effect in that the 'R' word - recession - comes into play for many a head that talks. Though, in my opinion life goes on. Sure, there is a credit squeeze by big banks, affecting the available cash or 'liquidity' in the market, but it does not mean that life has stopped. A lot of the hype has to do with media visibility/reporting as well. Therefore, whatever be the scenario drummed up, if you are the right person, at the right time and place, there is likely to be a opportunity available to you.

So, in the last four weeks, I have spent some time in various meetings with the recruiting industry apart from the direct employer interviews. Interestingly, none of my meetings have happened due to my response to an advertisement. All meetings have been engineered through a network of contacts built over the years. So, I thought it may be of interest to you on how this process has been working so far.

For any wannabe employee, apart from the usual rigours of approaching and finding the right employer via multiple applications and interviews, somewhere off centre sits the 'recruitment consultants'. Ranging from the ultra professional to the 'mom-n-pop' variety, interacting with them is an experience by itself.

Consideration

I am not an out and out Human Resources professional, but with a MBA degree which involved understanding certain aspects of HR, I would like to think that I am not completely oblivious to the various facets of interacting and engaging with both employees and job seekers. Human Resource Management is a thankless task - I am the first to say this. However, the reason why many an HR professional is maligned is simply because they forget the basics of what their function is, really.

Quite often, a meaningful conversation is enough. Even better if followed through, by convincing action. Yet, when bland faces, uninterested wavering eyes and a yawning mouth is what is displayed to an employee or a job hunter, then definitely emphasised is how sheer a waste of time it is, for people at both ends! And in the final run up, simply not worth it. Sure, I understand that as a consultant or an HR professional, everyday so many seekers attempt to get to you. But that is absolutely not an acceptable reason to get so jaded. Not if you really are passionate about what you do. Wake up; listen; empathise; and get your act together; is what comes to my mind, when I think about or experience such a situation. And I would like to state that there are those who are much better than this. I have met some. So, no it is not a complete write off. Just keep in mind that that just as your priority is to secure an interview opportunity, theirs is too. Somewhere the proverbial twain does meet.

What next?

Coming back to my experience, it has been one interesting ride so far. On the horizon are a few offers based out of Dubai or Muscat. And maybe even Hong Kong. Again, only time will tell how life turns out. What it does indicate is that irrespective of so called recessionary trends or not, if you have the right attitude, quality of experience and depth of knowledge - out there exists an organisation which will find you worth investing in. So, never give up hope. Ever.

The next post of mine will be focussed on Dubai as a visitor and the experiences I have had so far.

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PS: This blog got showcased on Indian Top Blogs on Christmas day - what a gift! I am thankful to the ITB team. And equally happy when considering the fact that so far, out of 115 blogs nominated, only 19 blogs have been showcased. Not only does it indicate the quality of reviews that the ITB team undertakes but also is a resounding pat on the back from peers, for an amateur expressionist like me.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Dubai, Do Buy

After having spent a rather longish period relaxing in India as well as travelling around a bit - both in and out of India, finally I have now landed in Dubai.

The aspiring capital of the Middle East, this city is indeed something. While still shiny new in so many ways, it is equally a fast moving multi-cultural city finding its own sense of modernity, while retaining its historical identity. The philosophy of 'big is better' is clearly applied in Dubai is an inescapable fact. The acres of air conditioned shopping malls. The sheer number and scale of stage managed festivals like the intense Dubai Shopping Festival. All so alluring to customers flocking from around the world. Or for that matter, the striking Burj Khalifa - the world's tallest building, says it all about Dubai's ambitions.

Burj Khalifa, Dubai

Why did I come to Dubai? After 13 years of work, from April this year, I took a real break. Some months down the line, having done what I wanted to, it was time to get back to working full time again. So, after having indulged in a bit of deliberation regarding, where to re-start my career, my conclusion was that I am indeed, quite comfortable working anywhere. Having worked in the Gulf region earlier, it is rather, familiar territory. People - local and expatriate, consumers and marketers, basic infrastructural systems, or for that matter financial remuneration and connectivity with the rest of the world, is all as good as it gets.

I must also admit, that my choice was influenced by my trip to Hong Kong this year, which showcased to me in all its glory what city life can be - throbbing, modern and enthralling. Though there was a discussion with a firm about a Hong Kong based posting, which would have been fantastic, it was taking a bit too long and uncertain. When I thought of market familiarity, Dubai was the closest point of reference, and hence the choice to come here, for as long as possible - on a visit visa, and start the job hunt.

Though, I do not intend this post and future ones to be a chronicle of events that happen to me here, I suspect it may be the case should life evolve in such a fashion. Only time, will tell. Arriving in Dubai a week ago, after having spent months in Kerala, was not as much a culture shock as much as a sense of relief in some ways. Weird? No, not really. While I enjoyed the laid back, green canopied and wonderful artistry of nature on display, topped by the love and concern that only parents know how to give, Kerala is not the best place for me to work in. My core competencies, especially given my particular skill sets, education and prior work experience, are more valued in other places.

Not to forget certain desires that were causing ravenous feelings! This week has all been about satisfying one of my key desires related to food. Be it McDonald's spicy McChicken (though I had sworn to myself, not to have one again), or the more moving hamburger at Burger King, or equally satiating Arabic food like the ever-so-tasty hummus, moutabel, khubz, tabouleh, shawarma or for that matter even Asian food like kebabs and roti or a vegetarian Gujarati thali and pav bhaji - culinary delights at its best. And there are still so many more tasty treats to be had.

Another key desire was to catch up with friends, who I had known were living in Dubai but just never had the time nor opportunity to catch up. To me, meeting up an old school mate after 20 years was moving, to say the least. I am so looking forward to meeting all those friends, whom I have not seen in ages! I actually, do not have enough words to provide justice to my feelings of gratitude for the way in which old friends and close relatives have been kind enough to welcome me with open arms as well as caring and sharing whatever they can, be it time, love and affection or useful advice on how to go about job hunting. They do not have to do any of this, but they do. Evidence, that humanity still thrives.

The UAE just celebrated 40 years of unification and positive change. What a journey. I am so happy that I have been here during this celebratory period. I am certainly not the only one to marvel at the extraordinary pace of change here. This is not my first ever visit to Dubai. Over the years I have witnessed first hand, how fast and furiously, development geared towards improving the quality of life for both citizens and residents, takes place. From the lovely metro, bus and taxi system run so very efficiently by the Roads & Transport Authority (RTA) to the sheer humongous scale of reach that Emirates Airlines (EK) provides, there is no dearth of visual information and visceral feelings evoked.

Finally, the idea that is Dubai, in my opinion is directly and proportionally connected to the catch phrase - 'Do Buy'. For this is a place full of consummate marketers and sales people. And at every step, stage and leap, exists the audible reason behind the growth of this place. Of course, people who have been staying here for some time will tell you that, today's Dubai is not the same as pre-2008. Sure, it is not. It is evolving. It is genuflecting. It is reviving.

The issue with 'Do Buy' is that it gets hampered by the crutches of sentiments that ever so often can be linked to mob behaviour. Ever seen a shoal of fish? There are these random movement patterns which emerge without any particular meaning and who leads whom is a complete mystery. But it does occur. From a trading outpost to the modern nerve centre of the Middle East and North African market, Dubai certainly cannot be de-linked from the 'Do Buy' catch phrase. But I sincerely believe that Dubai cannot be written off either. Liquidity crunches, rising interest rates, global conflict spots - there are many reasons being bandied about with speculators making the most of it. However, I see the spirit of this city and its people. I see the professionalism and can-do attitude. I see the government's willingness to create genuine playing fields. Things happen here. All the time. And it looks like 2012 is going to be a good year.

Ahlan wa sahlan as the Arabic saying goes - the doors are open to become part of the family. I hope so. Wish me luck and success.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Life Happens, Accept or Not


Book Review:




Sachin Garg, I’m not twenty four… I’ve been nineteen for five years…
Grapevine India Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2010
ISBN: 978-81-922226-2-2
Rs.100

The author has produced work which, is well constructed, tight enough paced and takes the reader on a journey through a slice of life and soul, of a freshly minted graduate.

Given the limited number of successful, modern Indian fiction writers, the author puts in an admirable effort in trying to be one. A woman reader may not find the main woman character and her attempts at dealing with the range of emotions, especially sexual, quite satisfactory or acceptable. Not surprising, given the author has tried to write the story from a woman’s perspective. Whilst not intellectual nor an eye-opener in the typical sense, this work is good enough for a light read.

The author at the onset clarifies, this is a story which takes you into a world, rather difficult to believe yet does actually exist. Agreed, it is believable fiction. Not exactly falling in the ‘chick lit’ category, even though the story is revealed through the main character of a girl, there are so many instances that a reader can relate to, irrespective of gender. It is a life that many an Indian middle class person may have faced; is facing; or is about to face.

English is not our first language. While the publishers/editors should have ensured that obvious spelling errors did not creep in, overall, the language used in this book is simple, straightforward and believable – similar to what is colloquially used in daily lives across India, easy enough for a beginner to read and understand. And enjoy.

At the heart of this story is a character, which the author tries to flesh out well. He attempts to give, more than a peek into the heart and mind of a city girl, Saumya, and her flaws inasmuch as strengths as well as her journey from being a modern Barbie focussed on shoes, malls and her figure, to a matured individual who understands herself better. The character of Shubhro, is a tad farfetched in being a modern day Indian hippie on the path to save the world, three months at a time. However, using a blog as the medium to reveal his story connects with today’s social media consumers.

While the title does not exactly justify the story, there are many salient points that a reader will connect with, in the story line containing a roller coaster ride of emotions that feels, plausible.
  • From the time in college that is carefree and not loaded with responsibilities, to going through the grind and relief of securing that first job
  • From having lived in a modern city, to being relocated to a place like Toranagallu, plumb in the middle of Indian hinterland
  • From being in the comfort zone of known social life, to the alien and sometimes, scarring world of industrial work-life
  • From shying away in the face of unexpected events to actually making decisions in life by choice, not chance

Life is a challenge. Never, black or white, it takes you through the whole spectrum of colours and then some. Everyone deals with their version differently, at least from their point of view. Yet from life, you can never take out the basic essences of emotions. Be it small jealousies, pleasant surprises, mind numbing despair, joyous satisfaction or shattering regret. And enthralling love. This is what the story is all about.

Overall rating: 6/10. 

Recommendation: If you are not out saving the world, you could pick up the book online or from your nearest store, and enjoy the light reading.

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Friday, 18 November 2011

Social media: can you afford to ignore it?

2012 is almost here. In 2011, social media has taken on ever so many new twists and turns. Not that this is a new factor, given the furious pace at which technology is racing to enable us to communicate with each other through multiple forums.

Let's take a quick look on some social media statistics:
Source: Experian Hitwise study, 2011. Graph design: Anish Kumarswamy
While Brazil and Singapore take the top spots, India does not lag too far behind either with nearly 14% market share for social networks. At fifth place worldwide, it is a significant presence. Another interesting titbit: in India, Facebook has grown by 88% since last year.

Combine this information with the fact that as of 2009, more than 5% of India's population were already on the internet (Source: Google public data explorer). We could be inclined to think, that 5% is nothing compared to the over 80% of people in the United Kingdom who are on the internet. However, in absolute terms the measly 5% translates into a whopping 60 million Indians compared to the 51 million British! Not a small number by any means, is it?

Take this a bit further. There are many of us, who use the internet increasingly through our mobile/smart phones. As of 2009, public data indicated that over 45% of Indians used mobile phone services. This logically means, that a massive mobile internet usage explosion is happening. Right now!

So not only are ever more people getting on to the internet space, many are adopting social media as a way of communicating by staying in touch with or keeping themselves updated about not just their social relations, but also the brands and experiences they have had or would like to have. While using multiple means to be on-line. 

To me, this signifies fantastic potential to use the 4 Cs of Marketing, which I referred to here. You may be thinking, yes this is why brands already have in place, a page on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and a website, email list, etc. Yet, the means or the channel is definitively not the end. By this I mean that having numbers of fans, followers or likes, is not enough.

It is about individual interaction that leads to meaningful conversations and equally importantly conversions. Do a basic search, and you can see how many lost opportunities and failed brands litter the information highway. Take a lateral step to the side, and you can see there are so many retailers and brands out there who have yet to take baby steps on this highway.

I do not believe that conventional marketing forms are done with. Far from it. There still a significant population who fall outside the ambit of social media and to reach them, the old mechanisms hold good.

However, it is an increasingly relevant question, can you afford to ignore social media?


It is a question, that deserves respect. It is a question that calls for introspection. It is a question that demands answers. It is not something that I believe traditional mindsets are geared to handle. Creative agencies, for example, are structured to provide differentiated and stand out communication that essentially improves the noticeability factor for brands, with the hope of enticing viewers/listeners to procure the associated product and derive the benefits.

Yet as many marketers today exclaim with frustration, their digital ambitions (if any) are not being satisfied, despite efforts. This is why a different mindset is required, be it at the agency side or the client side. In traditional marketing, one of the most powerful tools is Word of Mouth.

Isn't is far more convincing to you, when a friend or a person you are inclined to believe, talks to you about a tried and tested product and recommends it? However, for a marketer, it is also one of the most difficult tools to work with, as there exists hardly any control over it. General statistics show that a dissatisfied customer will talk about a negative experience to 20 other people, whereas a satisfied customer may talk about it to 5 people.

Take this example in the social media context and you can apply a multiplication factor that is far higher. One bad experience, mouthed once, through a social communication channel reaches x 100 times more people and far faster. As does a positive experience revelation. Plus, it simply never goes away. It sits there waiting to be viewed or heard, by anyone at any point of time in the future. However, being an interactive medium, it gives the brands and their marketers a clear opportunity to immediately respond to the professed experience. This gives a far better chance to change or reinforce the feeling, depending on how the situation is handled.

I think that social media offers us unprecedented tools and opportunities as much as challenges, which we cannot afford to ignore. A key difference though, is that unlike learning once to use a physical mechanism, for example a cycle, in the social context it requires continuous learning, application, re-learning, re-application and then all over again.

What's your biggest challenge with social media?

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Past-Present-Future?

Recently, our species have reached 7 billion and the count is still on. Have you visited http://www.worldometers.info/?

We are the world

It is equally scary and delightful, just watching the numbers change. Be it human population, number of cars and computers produced this year or the huge sums spent on healthcare, education and military.

Let us stop for a moment and review what is happening around planet Earth - the only home, we know a bit of.
  • American and European nations are being convulsed with people protesting about declining job availability, corporate greed and bad economic policies 
  • Arab nations are being convulsed with people protesting and fighting for democracy 
  • African nations are seeing humanitarian crises with people decimated in the race to plunder, loot and exploit existing natural resources
  • While some Asian nations like China and India seem to be forging a state of continued growth yet battle at reaching the benefits to the masses
Interestingly, vast ever growing populations housed in the countries like India consume far less energy compared to a minuscule percentage of people in developed countries who consume majority of the current resources. This will not remain the case, forever. The hunger for energy is directly and proportionately linked to quality of life.

Recently, I was reading about a great race in the Gobi desert, Mongolia. Stated as the final frontier. Where huge corporations are racing to retrieve tons of mineral ores and other riches from the earth. Shaking up the ecosystem, as it were. All of this, simply because of the insatiable demand that people like us make. Everyday. Every minute.

A simple example. With Diwali having just gone, Christmas and New Year in the offing, people like us are turning to e-cards, as a way of conveying our wishes in an ecologically friendlier manner to our family and friends located elsewhere. We think that by sending an e-card, we are saving the earth by not requiring more trees to be cut down for making paper, by not require petroleum products like paints and plastics, etc. However, every e-card requires energy to be stored and sent as data across servers worldwide. All of the servers require electricity and air conditioning further adds on to the energy demand. This is met through coal fired, thermal or nuclear based electricity generation plants. Where's the ecology friendliness in this?

Last week, as I was waiting for my turn to provide my fingerprint and iris scan details to the Indian government - Aadhaar scheme, I was observing the number of school children milling around the bus stop nearby. There are at least 3 largish secondary schools near this rural Indian location. If I take this example as a microcosm of what is happening in the India, China and the other parts of the world, I begin to get a bit scared as much as smile.

The smile, because there is a young future working population who will be around in the next decade and that bodes well for our economies which are dependent on these replacement populations, contributing to the economic prosperity. At the same time, scared/feeling challenged, because there are so many hands coming into the market and we need to ensure they have jobs to do, salaries to earn and an environment to prosper in.

Meantime, political parties are engaged in making the most of any possible situation, be it the 'occupy wall street' protests, the 'fuel' price hike dilemma, the 'nuclear' concern, the Eurozone crisis and more... all about today. Financial behemoths are no better. Moody's decides to downgrade the Indian banking system while Standard & Poor decide to upgrade it. Result: tirades of negative and positive responses across the system. Again, it is all about today.


When will we stop bickering about the present and start focussing on the future? I am not condoning the past, nor stating that we let go of a present negative situation, but unless we start thinking about tomorrow and work towards where we want to get, we are forever doomed to remain mired in the past and the present. Isn't it?

Saturday, 5 November 2011

P's and C's

Nothing is constant but change. A very valid point, applicable to our increasingly interdependent and intertwined lives, as much as the products and services that make our lives easier, if not better.

The redefining parameters of Marketing

When I was going through B-school, throughout the process of learning and succeeding in securing an MBA degree, my teachers referred to various famous marketing gurus like Philip Kotler, Michael Porter, David Aaker and so on. I would term these gurus as thought shifters, for they did more than open my eyes to the way in which marketing had to viewed, operated and applied. They structured and defined hitherto unknown variables for a young and budding marketer like me. They shifted my thoughts, laterally and progressively. As time and career progressed, many incidents and lessons occurred which added further to my understanding of their concepts.

One of the key thoughts, the famous 4 P's of Marketing - Product, Promotion, Price, Place - was a cornerstone on which many a marketing strategy and tactical campaigns were created to interest, inform, engage/convert and repeat buying processes with the consumers. And these did work. In markets like India, Sri Lanka and Oman, where I had the opportunity to contribute.

While, I am not walking away from the theory and practices of marketing as known and practised so far, certainly the 'market' has changed as have the 'consumers'. Today, is not what the situation was a decade back. And the rapidity of change has not just stunned many a marketer, it has even left many astounded and lost along the way. So what changed? Yes, we all know that technological progression happened. But it was not just an evolution, it was more of a quiet but hugely impacting revolution.

Now, no longer was and are, the accepted principles of marketing enough to result in happy producers and consumers. Not without change. Constantly and precisely. A newer approach has emerged which marketers have to acknowledge, in as much as accept. The known but not so necessarily understood 4 C's of Marketing.

Consumer, Conversation, Cost, Convenience

Ibn Battuta Mall, Dubai
The Consumer has changed. As Sam Walton, very insightfully once said - all the customer has to do is go and spend her money elsewhere. Exactly! Today's consumer have choices, like never before. Agreed, not always and not everywhere, but mostly. The consumer is not only intelligent, but also well informed. And consumption is based on what the consumer requires, not just because a product or promotion inveigled the person into doing the act of spending money.

While advertising has been around for ages, it really was from the time, P T Barnum started the larger than life advertising trend that this act of marketing came into its own standing. Today's advertising through various channels, has changed far more than could have been anticipated even a couple of decades back. Drastically! From a one-way communication protocol, now it has changed to Conversations, which are far more interactive, iterative and integrated with Conversations that interconnected peers and groups are having.

From price to Cost is not a major leap to understand. Some of the smartest people on this planet are engaged by organisations, in reducing and regulating the cost of input, so that the final output product/service is available at a competitive price. However, in the end it is the consumer who decides what cost is acceptable to them. And with enough sites available, who not only aggregate the various comparable products and prices, but also let you compare by parameters that you choose. Ergo, it is the cost you are willing to bear, rather than the price you have to pay, is currently how purchasing behaviour seems to work. (Exception: government controlled product pricing)

And last but not the least Convenience. There was a stage when Place or Physical distribution was considered absolutely paramount for any marketing and sales success. For if, the product/service was not available where the consumer was, then there would be no happy producers and sellers. Today, place is no longer the only consideration for the consumer. It is more about convenience. I do not have to be in a particular place to procure the product. I can sit in the comfort of my home or office and order for a product to be delivered where I want it to be delivered. And I have multiple means to accomplish this. Toll free land line, mobile phone, smart phone, computer, tablet, etc. That both giant multinational retailers as well as home grown mom & pop stores still survive in India, is key evidence to how much convenience matters to the consumer.

In my opinion, it would be foolish to say it is the case of P's versus C's. It is the case of both P's and C's having to be in the right mix, preferably uniquely customisable, in order to be leveraged by both the producer and the consumer. For, it is an increasingly understood fact that, you are both the marketer and the media while being an intricate part of the market in the form of a consumer and/or a producer. To, Intelligence Quotient and Emotional Quotient, is now added Social Quotient. While there may be a few commas in this evolutionary and equally revolutionary process, there can never be a full stop. Not if you understand that our world and its people are in continuum. Always.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Hair here, hair there

That filamentous material - Hair, is one of the key defining characteristics of the mammalian class. So much has been written, researched and practised in the pursuit of hair perfection.

It is also a conundrum, in that I for one, am a bit lost. There are people who will go to any length and depth to ensure hair is one of their outstanding and constantly evolving features. And then there are people who are particularly dedicated in the search and removal of hair. Of course, not to forget many of us, who have our acts set rather firmly on both sides, or should I say above and below the neck line!

From the bald to the bountiful, from the curly to the straight, from the roots to the cutting edges of a hairstylist's blade and everything in between, hair is the cause of much joy and sorrow. Poems have been composed and sung, films have been made and dedicated, even glorious work of many an art has been about the mane on top of your head.

What is it, with this obsession about hair? I recollect watching a rather interesting debate about hair, length, colour, texture, thickness, styles and more on a local Malayalam language TV channel, that I rarely switch to. The debate was heated, would be a understatement. Especially, with the female participants being very vocal in their views.

Trial pack received from Unilever
It is also a fact that hair and it's associated industries are worth billions of dollars today. When Indiblogger put up the contest, on a whim I thought let me try. Ever since, I actually received the 'Dove hair care pack' from Unilever, through a courier firm right at my door step I have been a bit impressed. Usually, courier firms have a problem delivering to my current residence, given that I am not living in a 'proper' city right now. Yet, for the first time ever, this pack was delivered. Nice job.

Unilever's marketing of Dove has been a major high point, apart from the product quality. The positioning using women who could be easily recognised as similar to the audience, talking about and attesting to the quality of the product has been maintained throughout the various ad avatars across media - both conventional and social. As a marketer, I have to give two thumbs up for not deviating from the positioning, packaging and branding over the years.

Back to the reason, why such products exist. We, men and women have at some evolving stage of civilisation realised that below the neck, hair is optional whereas above the neck, attempts to retain, maintain and style the hair is not optional. Not if we want to appear 'normal' and 'appealing', to both genders.

And herein started a tale that really has no end. Bereft of the thick mane by default, many a man has felt compelled to put up a removable piece of hair or go in for expensive hair transplant operations, just so, to feel normal. Yet, equally there are many men who have deemed to remove their beta-carotene based strands from the fields on their heads, altogether by choice. Each sort have made a statement about themselves.

Even today, in his sixth decade on earth, my father carries a comb in his pocket for 'styling and setting' his last remaining tufts and fringes of hair. Says a lot about how much it matters, doesn't it? However, it is the feminine species who have truly been at the cutting edge (pun intended) of the hair styling and caring part of life. Though today's metrosexual men are catching up fast, indeed.

From yoghurt, coconut oil, eggs and even beer to colourants, shampoos, conditioners, gels, masques and sprays - many such ingredients have been touted as the helpers and guardians of these tiny filaments, over time. I do realise that over time, our knowledge on caring and sharing has risen to great heights and that has, had an impact on how much attention we provide to our manes and more importantly to what others possess!   

Yet, sometimes I wonder in the daily grind of our lives, how much of a difference do the dead cells making up our crowning glory, have in the attempts of living a better life.

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This post has been written in response to Indiblogger and Dove sponsored 'Love is a two way street' contest.

Monday, 24 October 2011

The painful IRCTC experience

The world's fourth largest rail network - Indian Railways, moves millions of passengers every day.

Owned and operated by the Government of India, this network developed onwards after the British introduced the system in this country pre-Independence. Today, though it is as a requirement in terms of eco-friendly and cost-effective transportation in a developing country like India, it is sadly a striking symbol of a flailing system that needs severe broad ranging improvements. Be it quality of wagons, furnishings, rolling stock, reservation system or customer service.

About a few decades back, in tandem with the internet era setting through India, the Indian Railways also decided to set up a quasi-governmental body called the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation more familiarly known as IRCTC. Because of the strange laws that do not permit the Government of India to accept money directly from citizens, the IRCTC was formed and tasked with the objective of accepting bookings and payments.

I am usually among the first to take to new technologies. Like millions of my country men and women, I was happy about the new internet based ticketing and payment mechanism that had been introduced. Now, instead of going to a Railway station, standing in queue for hours, subject to the whims and timings of the ticketing operators, I could simply sit on my table, go on line and book as well as pay for the ticket. Complete electronic transactions, that were secure, efficient and painless. I spoke about this system in positive glowing terms to the rest of the world.

Yet, in 2011, my faith has been shaken by this system. This is my experience.

I had booked a 3AC (air conditioned three bunk sleeper coach) ticket from Madgaon, Goa to Kottayam, Kerala for 10 May 2011. Having returned to India in April, it was the last leg of a domestic trip that I was engaged in. And I was looking forward to a train ride instead of the normal flights, as a memorable event. Little was I to know, how memorably it would shape out.

When I had booked the ticket, the waiting list status had been in double digits. As the date of travel approached and my waiting list status changed to single digit, I was further re-assured.

The Dehradun - Kochuveli train scheduled to depart from Madgaon railway station at 2140 hours. As I had been residing at the northern end of Goa, it was not possible for me to spend time till later in the evening and reach the station. So, I arrived at the station by 11.30 AM in the morning. By the previous day, I had already checked and noted satisfactorily that my wait list status had become 3. High chance of getting confirmed. Yay!

On arriving at the station, I found out to my dismay that the 'link' between the computers in Goa and Delhi had developed a technical fault around 10 AM and therefore, status updates were not immediately possible. I was assured by the enquiry personnel that this should be sorted out soon.

So I waited. And waited. And continued to wait. By 8 PM after frantic running around meeting ticket reservation officials, railway station master and other assorted officials, I was informed that the technical fault has not been repaired. They were unable to even generate a chart containing the details of the passengers, including confirmations.

Obviously, it is illegal to board a train without a proper ticket. So I did purchase an ordinary ticket. Finally, on board the train, after a couple of stops a new Ticket Examiner arrived, who actually had a computer printed list with him. It indicated that my waiting list status was 1. He informed me that the list had been 'manually' generated and further assured me that since my ticket status was fully waitlisted, as per rules of the Indian Railways the ticket would be automatically cancelled and money refunded to my account.

Refund Information extracted from the IRCTC issued e-Ticket with PNR 2648159749

A whole night and some part of the morning - over 10 hours, spent standing near the entrance of a second class compartment was painful but stoically borne, given the circumstances. It happens. Next day, after reaching home, I called up the IRCTC customer care personnel, who on the phone informed me that as per normal rules, the refund would take place after 60 days from the date of travel.

65 days later, I wrote to the IRCTC. No response. Called. Finally was informed that there was a process called TDR (Ticket Deposit Receipt) that I should have engaged in within 35 days of the date of travel to claim the refund. I was obviously irritated. This had not been informed to me.

I was asked to re-start the entire mail communication. I did so. I continued to follow up. And repeatedly follow up. Finally fed up with the lack of a proper response, I made it clear that I was going to file under the RTI (Right To Information) Act as well as go to the Consumer Redressal Forum after informing Railway Board members and Railway Ministry officials. This elicited a response saying that they would file the TDR and process the refund.

After a 167 days since the date of travel and 82 days since I was promised a refund, nothing. Absolutely nothing. Only response: concerned department will respond.

What a life!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Gap

There comes a time in life, when a gap happens. Sometimes by choice, sometimes not. This is the harsh truth, unpalatable as it may be. Especially if it involves your career.


The Gap

My last contract involved being the Marketing Manager for the Asian Beach Games, held in December 2010 at Muscat, Sultanate of Oman. Interacting and working with Asian nationals from 45 countries was equally a challenge and a pleasure. I was on board, till February 2011, wrapping up the post-Games reporting. I am happy to recollect that despite, being the 2nd edition only, of the Olympic Council of Asia owned Asian Beach Games, it was an astounding success considering the challenges. I was proudly part of a great team that made it happen.

Took me about a month more in Muscat to wrap up some of the personal and professional matters, ended up reaching India in April 2011. And where else to go, but back to the only place I could call home. So Kerala it was. While leaving my second home Muscat was painful, the initial few months, were heavenly, to say the least. By the month of May, the rains had started and reached a crescendo for the next couple of months. Wet, windy, cool, green - paradise on earth. Bettered only, gastronomically by the fact that my mother creates some amazing Kerala cuisines.

What a life! Relaxed, easy going, wonderful. Took the opportunity to sort out some family concerns which could only be addressed with my physical presence. Also travelled around within India and managed to make it to Hong Kong as well, which I wrote about here.

That broadband internet connectivity existed in this idyllic rural countryside was something I have mentioned in the Kerala post, recently. While, it ensured that I was not isolated from the rest of the world, even more importantly, it has also meant that I have been able to sit here and actually learn, interact, evolve.

Gasp!

Kerala has a rather high level of usually non-resident population. So, by now it has become the local norm that when the non-resident folk visit, first question is "when did you arrive?", immediately followed by a "when do you leave?" and this is where the first stumble happens - if you do not know when you are leaving. I usually try to bat it away by saying, have not decided. But that is not enough. No way. It has to be investigated, drawn, quartered and hung. Irrespective of whether I like it or not. All the way downhill. Throw in a dunking into the icy river, for good measure. No stopping this inquiry garbed in the robes of social civility.

So a full fledged oral third degree inquiry results in the answer of it has been a few months. I dare not say, 6 months for then the earth might as well open up and swallow me! And this leads to the inevitable gasp, immediately followed by a "how come?" question asked in a voice laced with concern or merriment or rather difficultly concealed scorn, depending on how positively / negatively and closely / distantly related, the person is to you.

Now, this is the moment of decision...
  • Flight or fight? 
  • Calm guru reaction or swat the pesky fly mode? 
  • Maybe a sophisticated explanation on the linkage, permutations and challenges of location versus break versus career direction versus choices? 
  • Or should it be a subtle but well aimed ironical attempt at 'it's not really your problem' communication? 
  • What about a full blown verbal shock and awe assault which would in all probability lead to complete and utter rest-of-the-life disengagement with that individual? 
  • How about a more honest reality check explanation combined with a request for help? 
...Gosh, so many angles and choices to make.

I usually take a path which is directly proportional to the relationship and comfort level I have with that questioning individual. If it is a friend, they get the friendly response. With the others, it is more of a 'thank you for asking, am in the process, will let you know when I know' answer that is bland enough to salvage some semblance of mutual respect.

So what next, really?

I am a marketing professional. I have used this break period to learn and engage more with the world through social media. I have managed to spend quality time with the folks. I have been able to help around at home. Individually, this blog has come alive. My posts, tweets and status updates are immortally out there in the ether. Sometimes even liked, enjoyed and shared. I have made new friends and re-established contact with old friends.

Combined with the management and marketing techniques that both Indian and British qualifications have instilled in me as well as skill sets evolved over more than a decade working in different countries and organisations, I am largely confident there is still much that I could contribute to making a difference. Maybe one of you could give me a lead. Maybe one of the discussions I am having will come through.

Meantime, I still do need to ward off my local inquisitors, wanted or not. What a life!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Kerala - an atypical view

Kerala

There are some things quite well known about this southern Indian state.


- God's own country, an ad tag line that has become synonymous with Kerala tourism

- Kera-naadu or the land of coconuts

- Also the land of lungi, referring to the male attire consisting of an unbuttoned, unpinned piece of long cloth, rolled and "double twist" tied around the waist and either left straight on to the ankles or folded halfway at the knees

- Recommended as one of the must see places in your lifetime, by National Geographic.

All of the above is true. It is indeed, really beautiful. Blessed by nature.


While my parents were born and brought up in this state, I was not. I grew up in another state, thanks to my father's work location. I guess, growing up elsewhere combined with the wanderlust in me has ensured that I have travelled a bit and developed rather broad views combined with a healthy curiosity about attempting to understand, experiment and sometimes assimilate cultures, customs and cuisines from all over the world.

During my childhood, my visits to Kerala were largely centred around the two month summer break from school. From the (oh so exciting for a child) 2 nights and 3 days train journey to hanging out with cousins, eating all sorts of raw fruits to generally running around fields and woods while playing kiddish games, was absolute fun minus any responsibilities.

However, all that changed with my work life starting off. With limited visits to Kerala, there was no time to form any real views or bonds. Meantime, the parents had relocated back to 'homeland' after dad retired from work. Finally, after over a decade later, I have taken a real break. Spent months here. Realised quite a few things.


This place is naturally so green and lush, because of the majestic western ghats (mountain range), which ensures that a heavy portion of the monsoon clouds empty themselves on this tiny sliver of land. This practically means that there is rain for nearly half of a calendar year. And when the sun shines, it bakes this place. The heat combined with the humidity in the air, becomes a natural sauna where you will sweat away your fluids faster than you can top up! But it also means that the place remains evergreen. Plants love the combination of moisture and sunlight.

I would not say that Kerala is a microcosmic representative of India. It has its own cultures, customs, cuisines, language and ethos, which are not all in line with the rest of this vast country of 1.2 billion people.

Kerala, with three international airports, over 10 major railway stations and bus stands, and hundreds of smaller stops, is very well connected locally, nationally and internationally. But apart from an odd case or two, do not expect the quality of infrastructure to match international standards. Every attempt at improving infrastructure is strongly fought with by litigation and sometimes public action, yet the very same people will also complain about lack of infrastructure. Twisted!


Tourism is a good revenue earner, as are the monies realised from sale of spices, rubber and coconut based products. But even more money is remitted back into this state from outside the country. An interesting fact about this place is that almost every household is likely to have someone who is working outside Kerala - be it in India or anywhere else in the world. A large portion of these Non Resident Keralites, as the term goes, are labourers. Mostly working in the Middle Eastern countries. This situation has ensured that palatial monstrosities can be found in the midst of verdant foliage and an absolute lack of local labourers. So much so, Kerala is now being revered as the 'Gulf' of India attracting skilled/unskilled labourers from other parts of the country. Economics.

The medical facilities in this place, be it based on conventional treatment, homeopathy or ayurveda, are among the best in the country. With 72 hospital beds per 1000 population, this state is on par with California (United States). The tribe of doctors and nurses practising here are in great demand overseas. After all, why would it not be the case? The people of this state are highly prone to both diabetes and cardiac issues among other ailments major and minor. Not so much to do with genetics as due to unhealthy consumption habits. Many do not even realise how serious the issues are until it is too late. Complexity.

Kerala is one of the few states in India, which is 100% literate. Yes, every person in this rather populous sliver of land is educated at a minimum to read and write at basic fluency level in Malayalam - the local language. English is also fairly practised. Yet, for all the education and intelligence, it has not necessarily translated into common sense. This is also the state where the highest amount of alcohol is consumed in India. Being inebriated at any time during 24 hours is absolutely fine for many! Especially if it is a holiday, then being pickled in alcohol is the norm. Tragedy.

The worm transforming into a beautiful butterfly is a miracle of nature. The Malayali worker transforming from slothful nature within the state, to a dedicated, hard working and entrepreneurial person outside the state is also a miracle. Of the human variety. This state is one of the only two states in India, which have been proudly governed by communist parties since democratic governance was established in India. Even today, strikes happen at the drop of a hat for all sorts of reasons ranging from fuel price hikes to public infrastructural issues and weird scandals. From college to old age, there are people ever so ready to strike i.e. stop work and disrupt the lives of everyone around. Yet, I have personally seen that my brethren are among the hardest working industrious souls in another country. Transformation miraculous.


Having said all this, I must also agree that it is a pleasure to have spent some quality time here. Hearing and watching red crested woodpeckers and blue black drongos right outside the house, while having broadband internet connectivity inside the house tells me there is yet hope and also equally many things to be proud of, in this state. Being an Indian is complex. Being a Non Resident Keralite, even more so. Understanding one, good luck.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Nice - the French Connection [end]

From the previous post: "...It is truly in us, what we make of ourselves..."

Melancholy

There always comes a time, usually towards the end of a trip, when melancholy sets in, for you realise that a wonderful journey is coming to a close. It makes us do things like buy memorabilia, take even more pictures and sometimes for me, I tend to stop at a point for that little bit longer to just try and capture the essences in my head. With two days left in this trip, I was determined to make the most of the time.

The first day started beautifully. It was a bit early, when we left for the beach at Antibes. One of the few beaches that is actually sandy, given pretty much from beyond Antibes it was for more rocky or pebble strewn.

Antibes beach
We had left early, so that it would be good to find a nice spot on the beach to chill out, leave our stuff, go swimming in the calm and cool Mediterranean. I borrowed the snorkelling gear from Bernard and swam around near the pier, trying to have a better look at the various fish swimming around. Then came to more shallower ground, stood around and actually shivered a bit. This got two middle aged ladies near me to start laughing! Turns out they were British and they good naturedly chatted with me and still laughed about my feeling cold, when to them it was ultra pleasant given the lower temperatures they were used to. After some time, got back to the shore, dried off. And the stomach had started growling too.

Breakfast on Antibes beach
We had taken a breakfast set up with us, so sitting by the beach, consuming muesli, croissants and coffee was gobsmackingly delicious. By this time the beach had started to fill up. After playing a bit on the beach, a game using paddles and a rubber ball, I was all hot and flushed. Back to the cool water. By now the sun was warming up and more people had crowded the space. We decided to leave, and returned home. Jia was leaving back to Paris, Bernard had work to do. So I decided to travel to Nice on my own, over the two days.

Nice

The days, were exactly all that I envisioned. It was calm, easy and mildly hot. Getting to Nice was easy, with the excellent train and bus system in place. I wandered around the place, weaving in and out of alleyways, temporary markets and people lounging around the entire place.

Came across a church, that looked interesting. Went in, looked around at the frescoes, paintings and general architecture.


Not too many folks were inside the place, not being a Sunday I guess. It was a small but welcoming space.

Just after this, as I was walking back to the main road, suddenly in front of a me, a lady trying to navigate her bike through the tiny road and the turnstiles in between lost her balance and fell down. Helped her get up. Got a grateful smile and the words merci beaucoup. Lifted my melancholic spirits a bit up.

Palais de Justice, Nice
Still walking around, found some souvenir shops. Picked up some memorabilia. I started developing the habit of purchasing curios with a magnet, so it would be easy to put it up on the fridge or a metalled space back home. Came across the Palace of Justice or city court as we would normally term it, which looked both, a bit ornate and imposing.

Promenade des Anglais, Nice
Still wandering around, reached Colline du Château (castle hill) and gazed down at the beautiful vision of the blue sea, pebbled beach and paved board walk. Interestingly, it is known as Promenade des Anglais or The English Promenade. Originally the Niçois or citizens of Nice had built their houses away from the beach. However, with the influx of English tourists who came across to enjoy the summer led to the development of this walkway and the place eventually came to be named such.

There were many other things that I saw that day, but these were the ones that were more memorable. On reaching back to Antibes, I came across this directional sign and I mused about where all I had been, what I had done, how much I had enjoyed and yet, I was confident that there was still a lot to view, experience and learn about France. Well, another time, was the thought in my head.


Finally, it had reached that time, when I needed to get back to Nice airport, and leave back for Muscat. Bernard, my good friend was once again kind enough to drop me back.


On seeing this sign at the airport, I could not help but wonder how culturally different was Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Shook hands, hugged and said bye. Then it was the charms of flying onward to Dubai and thereon to Muscat. As the plane took off, I made a promise to myself, someday I will return and explore France even more.

Time to say adieu and au revoir, but only for now.