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Trade and Cultural Mission to India, Sept. 5-14, 2003

Written by Andreas Udbye and Grant Deger

 

 

World Trade Center Tacoma's Executive Director, Andreas Udbye, was one of the organizers of Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed's trade mission to Mumbai, Bangalore and New Delhi.  A group of fifteen people left Sea-Tac Airport on Friday, September 3, bound for Bangkok, which was the first stop on this exciting, "exploratory" trade promotional mission.  This was the first official American trade mission to India since the 9-11 attacks two years earlier, and our presence stirred up a lot of publicity.

Here is Udbye's day-to-day trip report.

Days 1 and 2 (Friday and Saturday, Sept. 5-6)

Because of the time difference, for us this was really two days combined into one.  We boarded the plane about noon on Friday, and after a 9 ½ hour flight to Tokyo, we arrived here late Saturday afternoon.  This is written from United's Red Carpet Lounge at Narita Airport, which is the largest and possibly most comfortable airport lounge I have ever visited.  It is quite new, and has various types of seating for several hundred frequent flyer or business class passengers.  Half of us are currently typing on laptops! 

Our group consists of fifteen people, and twelve of us met with the Indian Consul General at Sea-Tac prior to departure this morning.  It was extremely nice of him to fly up from San Francisco to give us a pre-mission briefing and encouragement.  The consulate also treated us to pastries, fruit and refreshments, so the mission got off to a great start. 

In an hour, we will fly on to Bangkok, which is another 5-6 hour flight.  We will stay overnight in Bangkok tonight, and will proceed to Mumbai tomorrow afternoon.

Day 3: Sunday, September 7 – Bangkok

The Oriental Hotel in Bangkok has been consistently rated as one of the best hotels in the world.  I think the main reason is the excellent, attentive service and all the little details in the luxurious guest rooms.  With a room like this you don't really have to do any sightseeing.  We did not have much time in Bangkok, as our morning was filled with a breakfast briefing by the Anerican Principal Commercial Officer, Judy Reinke.  We were pleasantly surprised and honored when the U.S. Ambassador Darryl Johnson and his wife Kathleen Johnson also attended our breakfast.  The Johnson's will be returning to this state when he retires in a few years, as they own a house in the Puget Sound area.  
These are some of the notes I took from Ms. Reinke's briefing:

THAILAND:
Population 62 million
Automobile sales up 77% so far this year (GM's sales up 90%)
6% of Thailand's GDP comes from tourism
Unocal is the largest U.S. investor in Thailand (natural gas development)
Kimberly Clark is another large investor (natural rubber)
The government has targeted five global niches/priorities for its growth:

  • Software development
  • Tourism (esp. "upscale" tourism)
  • Automotive
  • Cuisine ("Kitchen of the World" theme)
  • Fashion and design (e.g. Thai silk)

 

Here are some examples of some of the export categories the U.S. Commercial Service is currently targeting:

  • Franchising
  • Education
  • Health care
  • Pet foods and supplies
  • Food and nutritional supplements
  • Cosmetics and toiletries

 


We each had some time for sightseeing before having to head back to the airport in the afternoon.  Sam and Margie Reed had some time to spend with their son, who works as a teacher in the Bangkok area.  I spent an hour or so in the hotel's health club, which is quite nice, with a personal trainer to assist and fetch water, towels, etc. 

The flight to Mumbai was uneventful.  We flew on Cathay Pacific, which had a nice economy cabin.  At the airport in Mumbai we were greeted by a whole delegation from the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (including our main host and propagator of this visit, Mr. Hemant Sonawala) and the U.S. Commercial Service.  We were bused to our hotel, the Oberoi Towers. 

Already from the bus window I could observe some of the stark contrasts typical for India: Mothers putting naked babies to bed inside shacks built of pallets and cardboard boxes, next to brand new office towers and luxury hotels.  The smells, sights and sounds are just immensely intense, and we were very moved by some of the poverty that we saw.  As Western participants in an official trade mission we are very privileged. 

Day 4 (Sept. 8): Mumbai (previously called Bombay)

I will summarize some of the main points we learned this morning:

  • 17 of India's top 25 businesses are located in Mumbai
  • India and the U.S. are enjoying its best bilateral relations since India's independence in 1947
  • The 2002 exports to India were $4.1 billion, while the imports from India were $11.8 bill.  We are their largest trading partner.
  • Our exports to India have been stagnant for the past ten years
  • There is currently a huge interest in both countries to expand our trading relations
  • Since 1991, India has gone through periods of regulation, deregulation and re-regulation.  Their global outlook has been insular.
  • So far this year, the real GDP growth has been 4.4%
  • The economy is the 4th largest in the world, based on "purchasing power parity"
  • The inflation rate is currently around 3-5%, and the Indian rupee has appreciated from 49 to 46 since last year (the rate was 44.93 as of October 6, 2003)
  • The expectation for 2004 is 6.5% GDP growth, with increasing FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) flows
  • The official goal is to grow the I.T./outsourcing industry to $80 billion by 2008, employing 4 million people and amounting to 7% of the GDP.  It is currently a $16.5 billion industry, where $9.5 billion are exported. 
  • The urban population is currently 28% of the population.  46% of their income is spent on food. The 72% rural population spends 60% of their income on food.
  • India has 10,000+ accredited educational institutions (380 universities, 920 colleges, 1500 research institutions, and more than 3 million college graduates annually, plus 675,000 technical graduates)
  • The nation is second to the U.S. in the number of English speaking workers and professionals
  • 2 million Indians live in the U.S.
  • 66,000 Indian students are studying in the U.S., the largest number of any country
  • India's import barriers are slowly being lowered, partly forced upon them by WTO
  • 220 of "Fortune 500" companies now use Indian IT services
  • India produces 800 motion pictures per year ("Hollywood may have to change name to "Mollywood")

 

We were astounded to learn that we were the first official American trade mission to visit India since prior to 9/11.  No wonder we were given the red carpet treatment throughout our trip. 

Four of the mission delegates (Okamoto from Port of Seattle, Ljungren from Port of Tacoma, Dr. Deger from the City of Bellingham and the undersigned) went on a field trip to visit Mumbai's largest container port, the JNPT (Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust), located on the bay east of the Mumbai peninsula.  This port is currently tendering for a private developer and operator to build and run a major, new container terminal, replacing an area of their port previously used to transfer bulk cargoes.  The extra container capacity is needed, as the port is rapidly approaching its current capacity.  

In the evening, we were hosted to a reception and dinner by Essar, India's 4th largest industrial group.

The India report will be completed with a summary from another of the mission delegates, Dr. Grant Deger:

Friday, September 5, 2003

No longer is summer deep and warm. Darkness and a mild chill accompanied us as Candice drove me to meet the airport shuttle at 5:45 AM.  A pink tinge to the morning sky above was shielded from the ground below by the Cascade mountain range to the east and gave hopes for a grand adventure to come.  And a grand and adventuresome venture it was.

I was an hour early at Sea-Tac airport.  I usually read medical journals, but was content to people-watch and wonder what I was getting into.  Soon I found members of our hearty group.  Off to a brunch at the Airport Lounge. It was prepared for us by the Indian Consul General who flew up from San Francisco to welcome us and to set the stage for a successful mission.  Washington and California are the only states increasing their trade with India.  The Consul General sees a shift from traditional Indian socialism to more capitalistic planning. The Consul General was a very pleasant and well-spoken man who gave us a book about India and its ways. Group pictures were taken. Patrick McDonald and Andreas Udbye, leaders of our trek, gave a briefing.

Then we boarded a United Airlines 777 for a 9-½ hour flight to Narita Airport (Tokyo, Japan). We are chasing the sun, so time will fly.  Saturday, September 6th will be essentially a half-day, which we will regain on our return.


Saturday, Sept. 6th

Tokyo airport is marvelously modern and clean.  The bathrooms (the last we will find for a while, except for fine hotels) were very sanitary.  The restaurants and shops were quite up to date. I feel better than I expected and would not hesitate to fly to Japan in the future.

Sally Gupta was born in Delhi, but has lived in the United States for 37 years.  She works for Alaska Airlines.  Her husband just retired from Weyerhaeuser.  She lost a nephew who just started working on the 87th floor of the World Trade Center two days before the 9/11/01 treachery.  We are aware of traveling on a difficult anniversary, but are not letting 9/11 prevent our trip or our intentions to bridge some cultural and business gaps.

After a 3-½ hour wait in Narita Airport we were off to Bangkok and bed at midnight after a 5-hour flight. We stayed at the prestigious Oriental Hotel where the likes of Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad, and other authors have stayed.  Maugham recalled that the manager wanted him to leave for another hotel because "he didn't want me to die of malaria in his hotel".  The Oriental Hotel staff placed garlands of highly scented flowers about our necks as we entered. This custom was to be repeated many times in India as well.

Sunday, Sept. 7th

Breakfast with the Commerce Consul Judy Reinke and the American Ambassador Darryl Johnson and Mrs. Johnson in the boardroom of the Oriental Hotel.  Ambassador Johnson was from eastern Washington and we shared some local yarns. Thailand has a good economy growing 5 – 6 % per year.   It buys Washington apples, airplanes, and medical equipment.  It appreciates our tourists and sells us seafood.  90% of the world's shrimp comes from Thailand.

Steve Chick and I took an hour ride on a riverboat through the canals of Bangkok. The craft is longer and more slender than a gondola. Power comes from a V-6 engine mounted on the stern from which juts a 20-foot drive shaft with a propeller on its end.  The canals are frightfully brown and grey with sewage and pollution. I was fearful of any splashing in my face as we sped about.  Pipes empty directly into the water, yet kids fish & swim in the stuff.  Luncheon at Lord Jim's in the hotel.  Patrick and Andreas have been fine leaders and herders of our group so far.

Thai people seem very kind and helpful.  They are Buddhists and their spiritual focus is non-violence.  Their greeting is very sweet....hands folded before their chests as in prayer as they bow and smile so gently...a lovely act and lovely faces. 

After a generally restful day we're off to the airport at 5 PM for the final 4-½ hour leg to India.  We traverse extensive slums of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) to achieve the 5 star rated Hotel Oberoi Towers. I will comment later on the somber impression that the slums make on the first-time visitor.

Mr. Hemant Sonawala joined us there. He is a major Mumbai businessman, and a personal friend of Mr. and Mrs. Reed.  He was a University of Washington post-graduate in electrical engineering and founded high technology companies in India.  He knew the Reeds as students and has been a guest in their home.  He stayed with our group through its entire journey, making certain that all connections went well...and they did.  Hemant gave generously of his time and energy to guide and protect our mission.

Monday, Sept. 8th

Breakfast at the Hotel Oberoi Towers with Angus Simmons, Consul General at Mumbai.  The United States exports $4 billion to India, and India reciprocates with $11 billion of exports sold to us.  Washington State exports more to India than they to us, mostly because of sales of Boeing jetliners.  The quality of life is changing for the Indians.  Their economic growth is 6 – 7 % per year and their middle class is enlarging rapidly. There are now Baskin & Robbins, McDonalds, Dominos and other such western franchises in India. 

Mr. Farouk Balsara (Ernst & Young – Mumbai) gave us some historical business related points.  India was heavily socialized and regulated from the onset of its independence in 1947.  There are still problems in that area, but 1991 saw a significant shift in trading policies.  Tariffs are falling and business is privatizing.  India began to expand its global presence. Labor reforms were begun.  They've deregulated the small business sector, the power and especially the telecom and high tech sectors.  Real growth in 2003 so far is 4.4%.

India is prepaying its international debt. The rupee is gaining on the dollar in value.  The country is now 65% literate.  Inflation is 4 %. India is attempting to attract $10 billion in additional investment every year, especially in IT and out-sourcing.  70% of Indians are classified as rural and poor.  They spend 60% of their income on food.

India is transitioning now into a phase where its population is spending more on home goods, health care, transportation, and communication. People are buying homes.

Out-sourcing to India's high tech centers gets your work done at 50% to 75% less than the US cost with a shorter turn-around time.  India is almost exactly half way around the planet and therefore 12 1/2 hours earlier on the clock.  While America sleeps, the Indian technicians prepare your data and send it to you for your morning's work.  And India works 24/7.  They seem comfortable working long hours.  A college graduate there making the equivalent of 16,000 dollars per year can own a home, send his children to college, and maintain servants.  What they don't seem to need is commercial invasion of their lives.  That is, they don't need the artifacts of life to be happy.  They focus more on survival and the essentials of family life and that gives them contentment.

There are 3 million college graduates per year, 650,000 are in technical fields, and 90% are English capable. They have provided out-sourcing support to GE (its largest corporate customer), Citibank, Ford, British Airways, Bechtel, and Microsoft (to name a few).  They can do collections, customer services, claims, receivables, underwriting, order management, closing, reporting, U.S. tax forms, engineering software design work, and call centers.  Amazing!  And some of the highest caliber work in the world is maintained at many of these centers.

Notes from Richard Rothman (trade commissioner and attaché to the consulate of the USA in Mumbai):  Imports by India are stable these past 10 years but set for explosive growth. That is the challenge to small and medium sized American companies.  Sell to India. Barriers, especially tariffs, are falling.  India is restructuring for global competition, growth in its consumer market, and close cultural ties with the US. Two million native Indians now call America their home (1.5%) of our population.  60,000 Indian students are learning at US universities.  Indian companies are investing in the US to get hold of the best US workers. There are now 0 % tariffs on software imports.

Mr. V. Rangaraj, representing the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce, noted that ours was the 1st American business trade delegation to India since 9/11/01. He spoke of good will and friendship between our countries.

Mr. Ashank Desai, Chairman of Mastek company (huge – high tech – hires US workers too) noted that Indian higher education generates 75,000 highly competent IT graduates per year. General Motors voted Mastek as its best supplier for two years running.  India makes 800 movies per year.

At 2PM today I went on a tour of the Port of Mumbai (Bombay) with our delegates from the ports of Seattle and Tacoma.  Others of our group went shopping while our Secretary of State met with the Governor of Maharashtra (the State in which Mumbai is located)  There are some 28 states in India, I believe. We were taken by special taxis, and special ferry boat (a 40 minute ride in the Arabian Sea) to the Jawaharlal Nehru Port for meetings and tours with port authorities.  This is a new port and hires 1800 workers and has all the latest container facilities.  The old Port of Bombay is still functioning, employs 36,000 workers and does less business (guess which port is thriving and which one represents the old ways of socialism?). Security was heavy as evidenced by many guards with machine guns about their shoulders.

60% of all Indian cargo comes through the Port of Mumbai. Staff took our pictures and then herded us into a nicely air conditioned conference room for tea and snacks with the entire administrative staff.

Dinner at Essar corporate headquarters.  A security gate suddenly opens up to our bus off of a typically busy, smoky, littered, Bombay commercial street. Armed guards motion us down a narrow driveway.  Suddenly we enter a 23 story building, headquarters of a massive company that handles oil, shipping, chemicals, construction, and high tech, etc. Numerous servants bring food & drink.  We socialize with the president of the company and his officers.  We see inlaid tables, fabulous statuary and paintings, and a view of Mumbai to remember forever.

Tuesday, Sept. 9th

The slums of Bombay are astounding.  People live in the muck. Pigs, cows, scooters, smoke, grinding shops, repair shops, roadside cooking, feral dogs, piles of debris, constant litter, polluted streams, barefoot half naked children, beggars, loiterers, even well dressed office workers mingle on the streets.  Traffic just swarms almost without any sense of order.  Somehow it works.  We never saw an injury or accident, but I swear I would personally never attempt to drive anywhere in India. It's just too chaotic.  No one sticks to a lane or a zone.  They are all honking at the same time. 

This is the end of the 10 day celebration of the god Lord Ganish, a Hindu divinity with an elephant head.  He has millions of adherents in Mumbai who pray to him. So they build 20 feet high colorfully decorated clay images of him. They carry these images in parades to the sea where they are immersed and I suppose gone forever until more are built next year. And every business and neighborhood builds one of these religious images.

On the way to Mastek co. headquarters we saw a man washing his elephant on the street, just like one would wash his SUV in the USA.

Mastek enjoys the benefits of recent governmental enlightenment.  India has created SEZ areas (Special Economic Zones).  They carry out their business in a special campus, which has almost no tariffs.  They must export 90% of their business.  That is to say, they get their tax benefits if they don't compete with local Indian business.  Rather they have to export.  And Mastek does it well.

We slip out of Bombay early in the day to avoid the expected crush of the worshipers of elephant-headed Lord Ganish.  We fly several hours south to the central plain about 3000 feet above sea level.  We land at Bangalore in the state of Karnataka, the high tech capital of India. It's tropical but not oppressive because of the elevation. Bangalore holds 6 million citizens, but it is not as compact and cluttered as Mumbai (Bombay).

Wednesday, Sept.10th

We meet Bruce Quinn, commercial consul for the good ol' US of A.  I handed him a list of Bellingham businesses and their activities.  He promised to look for possible trade arrangements. Mr. Quinn sees India in a better place to trade with America, than say China where he served the previous 7 years. India is relatively untapped. And Indo-American relations have never been better.  The legal system in India understands business, and compared to China will protect patent rights.  India needs water purification, medical supplies, educational materials, fire safety, traffic and airplane control systems, road building equipment, etc.

The population of southern India is growing 7- 8 % per year. Bangalore provides 70% of all silk and coffee from India. Bangalore also manufactures autos, apparel, flowers, textiles, pharmaceuticals, TVs and of course High Tech.  Pratt & Whitney is considering a technical center in Bangalore. AstraZeneca is doing TB research here.

The following site visitation by bus was simply awesome! The site (actually a campus) of Digital Corporation, was definitely 21st century and beyond.  In order to provide 24/7 digital support to the world, the company has made all systems redundant...so that if the lines through Morocco are destroyed, the satellite connections will carry them over.  Three command centers on the campus are built to withstand a Richter 8.2 earthquake, and are arranged no closer than 300 yards to each other.  Security for these command rooms is so tight that the even president of the company (whom we met) is not allowed to enter.  A palm print, a special ID card, and several other high tech security checks are necessary to get in these rooms which reminded me of SAC headquarters in Dr. No.  In the more routine offices all over this campus were rooms filled with bright men & women working on outsourced materials for other companies.

Off to the airport for a 2 ¾ hour flight to New Delhi.  The Oberoi Hotel greets us with the red dot ceremony on our foreheads, and a garland of orchids and scented flowers for our necks.

New Delhi on first impressions seems different.  As the federal capital it is cleaner, seemingly more organized, with more individual homes and mansions in evidence.  Non-the-less the slum dwellers can squeeze a lean-to practically anywhere...on the sidewalk next to the wall, between park trees, on the medians of streets, etc. And unfortunately the tendency in India to leave ditches, road construction, pipes and wires only partially connected is seen even here. Wires dangle loosely in the air.  Telephone and electrical poles lean treacherously. Culverts are only partially covered.

I reached Candice for the second time. It's late at night for her, roughly 12 ½ hours earlier by the clock. Erin is not yet in labor and Candice has not yet left for Phoenix, Arizona to help out.


Thursday, Sept. 11th

One in three jobs in the State of Washington is trade dependent.  Mr. Geoff Pyatt of the embassy group spoke to the political scene.  India is entering into a stage of "coalition politics" because no one party is in charge.  Policies come slowly but once decided are permanent or at least reasonably stable.  New Delhi and the State of Washington are building relationships. Sanctions are minimal, especially in computer high tech areas.  Mr. James Soriano noted that India opened to the world in 1991, and experienced a 6% growth in their GNP since.   Growth slowed in 1998.  Bombay stocks have risen 36% in one year.  A once grain importing country is now food sufficient.  But more reforms are needed and in the short term a very necessary labor reform bill has been stalled.  On the "micro" level the outlook for small and medium sized businesses trading is good.

Mr. Chad Russell of the agricultural section said there is a big gap in favor of India.  He suggested more interest from American agriculture.  Sam Reed noted that many Washington apples are sold in India.  Mr. Bill Bartlett – Consul General sighed that visa processing is so slow because of 9/11 security measures. Vaccine development continues on in India. For example India still has the majority of the remnants of polio in the world.  Mr. John Peters spoke of the "extraordinary" opportunities for small & medium sized businesses here. There is a "can do" attitude here.  But American interest is necessary.  There are millions of US businesses.  200,000 export. 14,000 export to Japan, 7,000 export to Korea and less than 1,000 export to India! 


I saw a man with one leg on his hands and buttocks scooting through traffic begging.  I saw a snake charmer with a live snake in each of 4  woven boxes at the tomb of Humayun, a well preserved example of Moghul 16th century architecture.  Hemant who is 69 years old was markedly short of breath after we climbed the stairs to the tomb.  I stayed with him to be certain he was not in medical need.

After the visit to the tomb, we proceeded to the Embassy for a 9/11 ceremony held by the staff and its US Marines.  Impressive.  Then to snacks and drink in the Roosevelt house, the Ambassador's home.  Its design reminds one of the Kennedy Center in Washington DC.  And the reason is easy.  When Jacqueline Kennedy visited New Delhi with Jack, she liked the style and requested the same architect design the new Kennedy Center. At the embassy I met (again) with Mr. Perry Adair, US Embassy Administrator. I first met Perry in Bellingham two weeks before leaving for India. He was in Bellingham purchasing a house.  I treated him to breakfast at the country club while he related his intentions to retire to Bellingham 4 years hence.  He also burst my enthusiasm for India by disclosing his bout of dengue fever, which left him racked with pain and immobile for two weeks

Then to a most amazing dinner at a private home in our honor.  I should have known by the Rolls Royce parked in the driveway that the owner was well-to-do.  Mr. & Mrs. Modi and guests from the New Delhi business community welcomed us to dinner outdoors beneath a huge tent in their front yard.  Servants were everywhere.  One could not have an empty hand without some servant pressing drink or snacks immediately.  In fact there seemed to be more servants than guests. Fourteen or more hot pans warmed foods of all kinds. By this time in the trip my gastrointestinal integrity was not to be counted on.  I could hardly eat, and the smells of the spices often brought a wave of nausea.  But I faked it pretty good.  In my ignorance after some small chat I queried Mrs. Modi what line of endeavors her family pursued.  Well, chemicals, oil, shipping, transport came up.  Very pleasant and kind people here and in all walks of life actually.  I enjoyed the Indian people much more than one would expect from reading Forster's "Passage to India" as I did before I left.


Friday, Sept. 12th

It was so hot in Delhi this morning that my glasses steamed. The 3 wheel taxis as usual were all over the streets in almost any direction.  It seems that any lane or part thereof will do. The lady next to me on our bus is coughing. I hope it's nothing exotic like the Black Death.  Meetings with the FICCI (Federal Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry) followed.  Exports from the USA to India recently include bulldozers, surgical equipment, airplanes, agriculture products, apples, etc.

Sam Reed, our group leader, spoke to his Indian audience saying that Washington State is looking to have a trade representative in India advancing the interests of our state.  Immunex, Amgen, Genentec, Telecommunications, Amizon.com, Costco, Nordstrom's, and soon Starbucks have business activity in India.

Mr. G.R. Shah related his near death experience of almost being in the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001. He notes the strong Indian pharmaceutical capabilities.  He sees the US and India as the two top workers in the micro worlds of molecules, bits, bytes, genes, and information technology. He sees the US & India working on supercomputers together.

Mr. Blake noted that the U.S. only exports 2/3's of Ireland's volume to India. (4 million people vs. India's 1 billion people).

Mr. Chandiok explained networking & strategic alliances.  India will discuss any trade issue on one to one basis in order to make it work.

India has a quite fast growing economy and is politically and judicially stable with rapid growth in its domestic markets.  Business opportunities are huge.  There is a large pool of entrepreneurial spirit and a vast pool of willing skills in tech, science, managerial levels and they speak English.  There is clear long term growth potential.  There are 2 million college graduates per year.

Next I erratically recorded some statistics which I wouldn't fully trust showing growth projections from a number of dimensions between 2001 & 2006.  Needless to say the wage projections for India are rapidly rising.  And the number of cars, scooters, phones, refrigerators, etc. purchased will also increase dramatically.

Mr. Modi said that tariffs are falling.  Basic research is done and done well in India.  Their energy shortage needs help from other countries.  For example air conditioning is greatly needed and requires considerable energy.    India graduates more than 1 million engineers, 1.5 million IT experts, 0.8 million post grads in science and 0.4 million physicians.

From here on I quit taking notes.  I'm relying on memory, improved homeostasis, and a renewed enthusiasm for the trip.  At 3 PM this day we left Delhi for Agra, the smallest community we will visit.  Getting to this little city (2 million people) requires a 4 ½ hour bus ride. I experienced cramping, and the smells of food in the hot pans caused nausea.  I've lost 5 pounds so far.  From the bus I see bamboo scaffolding and ladders rungs secured by rope. They're cooking corn & beans at the roadside.  There is a constant haze and dust all over.  Donkeys compete for space on the roads with sacred cows, feral dogs, even camels, rickshaws, bicycles, and people hanging off the doors of buses and trucks.  I saw bicyclists holding on to the back of trucks for a free ride.  I saw garbage piles littering the land next to a health clinic.  And the men urinate freely on the walls of any building anywhere.  One time our bus ground to a crawl by a swarm of people on both sides of the road. I was concerned there might be an insurrection or an accident.  It turns out they were burning a corpse in a funeral pyre in the ditch beside the road.  It was a roadside funeral we were witnessing.

Midway we stopped at a combination roadside inn, curio shop, restroom, and bar.  No visitors were there except us.  Out of nowhere appeared some 15 employees who turned on the lights, greeted us with Shriner's type uniforms, waited on us at the tables and curio displays, and handed us towels (with hand out for a tip) in the bathrooms.  Then as our bus left, the lights went out and the employees faded back into the walls.


Saturday, Sept. 13th

The Taj Mahal is surely the most beautiful edifice in the world.  Not a large structure, but framed by reflecting pools, it transcends all ordinary architecture. Its lure is enhanced by the beautiful story of a middle-aged widowed emperor's tribute to his beloved deceased wife Mumtaz Mahal who died giving birth to his 14th child. There is an odd twist to the story. Shah Jahan's son wrested the throne from his father the emperor, and placed him at house arrest for the remainder of his life.  So for 8 years Shah Jahan peered out from the Agra Fort (also a beautiful 16th century remnant of Muslim Mogul rule) gazing upon the Taj Mahal and the Yamuna River, grieving for his lost wife.  I am confident that his attending harem softened much of his grief.  But nevertheless our goodly Shah was buried beside Mumtaz after his demise.

Margie Reed and Val Wood helped me with a typically male-adverse situation...shopping.  They gave me the ideas and courage to purchase items which ultimately turned out to be great successes.  Val's scarves were scooped up by family and friends.  And Margie's advice on a sapphire for my wife Candice and some bracelets for my daughters really worked out particularly well.

We left our grand 4 star Trident Agra Hotel for the long bus ride back to Delhi for our flight home. Again we roused up the erstwhile employees of the midway curio shop who in predictable form turned on the lights and gainfully assisted us in refreshing ourselves from the dusts and difficulties of several hours on an Indian highway.

At the Delhi airport by 10 PM and by midnight off for 20 hours of flight to gain the shores of the Pacific Northwest and the US of A. We were flying east into the sun so time was really expanded. 5 hours to Bangkok...5 more to Tokyo Narita Airport and then 9 ½ hours to Sea-Tac.

Epilogue

Sam and Marge Reed were great leaders and travelers. They gave us renewed energy by sailing through the difficulties and delights of fast moving days and lengthy travels. Patrick and Andreas handled technical details very well, and were great fun to be with.  My fellow travelers were all curious, observant, kind, good conversationalists, easy riders, and made for an easy and safe trip.

Now that I've finished my malaria prophylaxis pills, my Cipro pills for gastroenteritis, and regained my vigor and (darn) most of the weight I'd lost, I'm sure glad for this great opportunity in my book of life's experiences.  Whether or not the Bellingham tee shirts, pens & pins, and the list of Bellingham businesses I handed out, and the contacts I made, will ever result in trade with India is unknown.  But I was wrapped in an ancient and intriguingly different culture.  I've seen 20 feet tall clay statues of the god Ganish with an elephant head worshipped by millions. I've seen the most beautiful ancient building in the world. I've seen the most modern technology in the world.  I've solidified my belief that people are kind the world round, and that we're all better off trading goods, competing in athletics, and sharing music and dance and literature. I'm so glad to live in America, but I'll never discount or overlook the industry and intelligence of others.  India will loom ever larger on the world scene, and American children must rise to their challenge or be bypassed in time.

Dr. Grant Deger

Attendees:
Stephen Chick, Businessman, Woodinville, WA
Stephen Crowell, Director Business Development, Majesco Software, Bellevue WA
Grant Deger MD, City Council, Bellingham, WA
Shakuntla (Sally) Gupta, family connections in Delhi, Seattle, WA
Doug Ljungren, Business Manager, Port of Tacoma, Tacoma, WA
Raj Mathur, President, R-Expo Inc., Federal Way, WA
Mrs. Anju Mathur, Vice President, R-Expo Inc., Federal Way, WA
Patrick McDonald, Assistant to the Secretary of State, Olympia,WA
John Okamoto, Chief Administration Officer, Port of Seattle, Seattle, WA
Sam Reed, Secretary of State, Olympia, WA
Margie Reed, Wife of Secretary of State, Olympia, WA
Richard Russell, VP Asia Pacific, Cray Inc., Seattle, WA
Andreas Udbye, Executive Director, World Trade Center, Tacoma, WA
Jessica Vidican-Neisius, Owner, Morning Glory Chai, Seattle, WA
Val Wood, Manager, Snohomish County Information Services, Lake Stevens, WA

"Please note the following disclaimer:  The mission reports are written during or right after the missions by mission participants.  The views, comments and statements in the reports are solely their own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or any official positions of this office.  The reports are reproduced here because they give an interesting and detailed account of the day-to-day experiences and impressions that participants typically encounter on these missions."