Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Holidays from India

Let there be peace on earth,
and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth,
the peace that was meant to be.

With God as our Father,
brothers *(and sisters) all are we,
Let me walk with my *(family),
in perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me,
let this be the moment now.
With every step I take,
let this be my solemn vow,

To take each moment and live each moment
in peace, eternally.
Let there be peace on earth,
and let it begin with me.

Words by Jill Jackson & Sy Miller, circa 1955
* (modified by Michael, circa 2007 :o)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Target India Grows!

Recently we opened our newest branch of Target India operations in Manyata, a region of northern Bangalore. The opening of the Manyata facility was greeted with the usual Indian customs--cutting the ribbon, lighting the oil lamp, cutting the cake, and touring the facility. For many of us this was our first taste of witnessing the traditional India customs involved when "blessing" a new facility, so it proved to be a very interesting and enlightening day.

The detail and preparation for the ceremony was quite evident in the elaborate floral displays (check out the floral patterns on the floors! And those are fresh flower petals, btw...) and the prepared speeches from many of the leaders at Target. To think that we are continuing to grow and expand into the international market is very exciting, and especially in this time of tremendous globalization for business and technology. I am very proud to be a part of this global expansion and to be selected to represent our U.S. corporate offices--it almost feels like being a foreign exchange student all over again! However, this time I'm older and wiser... aren't I... aren't I... (crickets)

Anyhoo--I am very happy to be representing Target Corporation in India for this next 11 months. It's definitely an adventure, and I'm always meeting new people and learning something new. It's actually quite amazing. I think that after you get settled and start "living your life", you can truly be happy anywhere. After all, don't you really carry your happiness within you? If you don't, you should try it--makes things much easier :o)

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Rockin the Taj

One of the highlights of any travel to India is, of course, visiting one of the original "7 Wonders of the World", the Taj Mahal--a mausoleum in Agra, India (a few hours out of Delhi), that was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj is considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements from Persian, Turkish, Indian, and Islamic architectural styles. In one word, the Taj Mahal is AMAZING.

Luckily, I had traveling companions on this fun-filled and eventful weekend, Jenn and Doron, two of my teammates from the Minneapolis Headquarters of Target. Jenn & Doron were here for the past two weeks conducting some rockin' merchandise training for our Target India team members and they were an hit! Well, YEAH--if you knew Jenn and Doron you'd be nodding your head (just go ahead and nod with me... okay... there ya go :o) So as soon and Jenn and Doron knew they were coming to India for two weeks, they asked me if I wanted to go up to Agra to see the Taj. What else could I say but, "Absotootly!"

We flew up to Delhi on Friday night, stayed at the wonderful Shrangri-La Hotel, and then took a 4-hour road trip (each way) to Agra on Saturday to see the Taj. The road trip was a journey in itself starring monkeys, camels, elephants, donkeys, chickens--you name it (check out the slide show). On the way out of Delhi I'd never experienced such extreme conditions, especially the air quality--oh my--in some areas it felt like dusk the entire time. Be thankful for your clean air, clean water... it is not so clean in other parts of the world (this picture is the sun rising in the morning... and that's not fog--quite a difference even from Bangalore)

So the whole experience was amazing--I can't even begin to explain it. Check out the slideshow and let me know what you think--post a comment! Don't be shy.

Okay, so now that the vacation's over--back to work. Thanks Jenn & Doron--you guys totally rock! What a great traveling team we make... hope you made it back home to the Winter Wonderland safe and sound.

My favorite shot.. check out the water from the fountain!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Groovy New Digs

Celebrate! I'm finally unpacked and set up in my new apartment. After being out of commission during the first weekend after I moved, I've finally managed to find the time and energy to set up my office, bedroom, living room, and kitchen. All of my things made it here just fine and dandy (thank you, Mohawk Movers!) so that was a relief. Time to play house.

My things are here, but they're not going anywhere for a while. Why, you say? I can now safely tell you that I'm not sending anything from India back to the US for the rest of my time here. Let's just say that I had a little "experience" at the DHL office this week... and without going into extraneous details, I was just sending an innocent small box of Christmas presents to my family (maybe 6 pounds total), and not only did they open the box which I had neatly and
deliberately packed all neat and organized, but they also opened each and every one of the 12 presents; looked them over front and back, inside and out; then kinda re-wrapped each present, sorta; squished them back into the box (much to my chagrin); and an hour later charged me $130 to mail it (don't read this, Mom...) Ouch! Guess what friends? You're getting your souvenirs next fall :o)

So anyway, I'm glad to be settling into my apartment. Here's some shots of my swank pad... the best of part of the whole thing, however, is what you can't see in these pictures--the funky colored lights and lampshades that I have all around the apartment. At night each room is either Gold, Orange, or Deep Red. It's amazing and very warm :o)

I also bought lots of little trinkets, candle holders, traditional Indian incense and candles, and this place is turning into a regular ashram! I love it. Anyone who knows me knows that I can create a magical experience out of a cardboard box, sarong, some pillow covers, fresh flowers, a couple candles and presto! Instant decor (my landlord has amazing taste for 80s furniture :o) And oddly enough, even though my apartment is situated in the middle of bustling Banglore, it's quiet at night... well, except for that barking dog... well, and those fighting cats... but I can handle it... can't I... yes, I can... (actually, that's why God invented noisy fans!)

Oh, and a quick follow-up on my spa-esque bathroom--now that I've prevented the water from coming down in the wrong places, it's started coming up instead. Yes, as I was taking my "go quick before the hot water runs out" shower the other day both drains backed up into the tub and bathroom floor (there are drains in the tile). Voila! I had another wading pool. When I stepped out of the shower I could only think, "Ah--what's this? Another spa service? Foot Soak Treatment, perhaps? I tell ya, I am the most pampered expat I know!" Once again, "Oh well." I unplugged those pipes and now (knock on tile), the bathroom has been dry for two days.

Life is good.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Royal Treatment

Today I got the "royal" treatment. My driver, Amith, took me to see Bangalore Palace... the former home of the King & Queen. It was built in 1887 by King Chamaraja Wodeyar and is supposed to be inspired by the Windsor Castle in London. Not only did I get to look around, but I got my own personal guide and tour of the castle. It was amazing. I'd never seen a palace with so many different styles and colors of ceiling tiles! Plus, the last King and Queen to inhabit this palace back the 30s had the coolest circa 1930s art deco furniture--too cool for a medieval-style structure.

Another advantage of having my own personal tour was that I was allowed to not only look at whatever I wanted, but to touch it, open it, explore the different rooms, and also take pictures of whatever I wanted. There were no "velvet ropes" on this tour. My favorite part of that privilege was touching the handmade stools fashioned from, oh I don't know, elephant's feet, perhaps?! Or how about buffalo hooves...? Yeah, this King was decadent. If you'd like to see my whole set of pictures from my personal tour (including the 100 year old elephant head mounted in the main foyer), just click on any of my slide shows and you'll be taken to my Picasa online galleries.

Later after the palace tour, Amith and I went shopping again and I picked-up the last of the Christmas gifts for my family back home in Minnesota. I also went out walking when I got home and explored my neighborhood... too bad I didn't have my camera, but I will take it another time. I would have loved to show you the cow that leisurely sauntered down the middle of the street like she owned it... sheesh! Moooove on over, darlin! (It's funny to watch the cabs and cars honk at them... they could care less). What a life. Happy weekend, all :o)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hey--who's in my shower?!?

Okay, so I'm up this morning getting ready for work and at my computer catching up on email when I hear water running in my bathroom. Since I just moved into this building last week and I'm not familiar with its distinctive "sounds" (you know how every environment has its own unique sounds and smells...?), I assume that it must be one of my neighbors taking a morning shower. So, just like the barking dog that yaps every morning, I try to ignore it.

After a few more minutes, however, I realize that it's sounding just a little too loud to be a neighbor's shower, so I decide to investigate. I need to keep my bathroom door closed due to the fact that mosquitoes can get in through the airvent in my window, so as I am approaching the door I hear the water getting louder and louder. My only thought at the moment is, "Hey--who's in my shower?!?" So I slowly open the door...

The answer? Nobody. A water pipe has burst and it's raining in my bathroom. Oh my.

At first I just stare at it think how amazing it is--this site to behold. The water is spilling through the ceiling tiles like a fancy art deco fountain at some posh hotel, until I realize that this beautiful fountain is actually filling my bathroom with water and I don't know where it's coming from or how to turn it off. My face quickly moves from curious to concerned... urgently concerned. I run to the phone and try to call the building maintenance--no answer. I call building Security--no answer. So I run downstairs (in my pajamas pants, of course) and flag down the nearest security guard. We run up to my apartment and this poor young security guard sees my bathroom turned shower and his eyes grow wide very quickly. He isn't sure what to do--they do not have any walkie talkie systems--he just stands there. I nudge him with a, "Well...??" and he runs off to get help.

Needless to say, within 10 minutes (4 inches of water) later, they are able to switch off the water main to my bathroom. I call my landlord and he brings plumbers 20 minutes later. They will try to replace the broken pipe this morning... or by this afternoon... or maybe by tonight... or possibly tomorrow. I just have to think, "Whenever..." That's part of the adjustment as well--"Indian time"--but it reminds me of "Hawaiian time", so another familiar feeling will live with me again this year as well. Another lesson in patience, perhaps...?

Not such a big deal--a little messy, a little unexpected--but nothing major. My only disappointment is that I didn't get a chance to take a shower this morning. Hmm... maybe I should have jumped out of my pajama pants and stepped into it during that moment of awe-induced inspiration! Now that's something you couldn't do in that posh hotel :o)

Onward ho.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Beauty and The Bacteria

This weekend marks my second full week in Bangalore and I can confidently say that this country is truly the "land of contrasts". Everywhere you go you see brand new buildings tucked between dilapidated structures, many of which are perpetually under construction or appear to have been destroyed by some force of nature. Amongst the busy streets, crowded sidewalks and garbage-ridden alleyways exists artists and craftsmen creating beautiful jewelry, clothing, and stringing flowers into lovely pieces of art. Contrast.

My driver, Amith, drove me around the city on Saturday and showed me a few of the parliament buildings, which are beautifully ornate. We saw several government buildings (many of which were built by the British) including the Bangalore State Parliament and the High Court of Karnataka (red building). The size of these building is amazing--reminds me a lot of Europe.

Amith and I continued to drive around the city, stopping to pick up supplies for my new apartment as well as some Indian souvenirs for my family's Christmas box. It's hard to believe that it's Thanksgiving weekend--you wouldn't know it living here! It's 80 and sunny every day (much like it was in Hawaii), so the seasonal calendar is quite obsolete. For Thanksgiving dinner a group of the Target expats, along with other expats and their families, gathered at a local restaurant for a traditional American-style Thanksgiving dinner. They served up a buffet with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetables, and pumpkin pie. It was quite delicious! This dinner was also a great opportunity to meet more expats from other companies and countries.

This past week I've also been "privileged" enough to experience the not-so-good side of living in India. The bacteria. Even though I usually only drink bottled beverages and try to be safe with the foods that I am eating (avoiding cold water-based beverages, ice, and any foods rinsed with water) it is inevitable that you will get sick while you are here. So, I spent two days in bed last week, and had a tough night and day of fever and "Bangalore Belly" this weekend as well. Not so nice. However, I figure that my system will need to adjust to the bacteria, but my immune system is working overtime. Thank goodness for my essential oils! I'm usually through the worst and in the clear within 24 hours. It's much like the 24-hour flu or food poisoning... actually, it is food poisoning... a different type of bacteria that my American body doesn't process. So now I will continue to adapt. Ah, yes--welcome to India.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Let Him Drive You...

Okay, so trust me on this one... you DO NOT drive in Bangalore, your driver does. Why, you ask? Because in Bangalore there are no rules on the road--it's every man, woman, child, auto rickshaw (the yellow-topped buggy in the picture below), motorcycle, motor scooter, moped, bicycle, dog, and cow (yes, cows roam the streets untouched... they are sacred) for him, her, or itself.

The are a few stoplights, but they're not usually obeyed. There are a few traffic policemen, but they're only present on really really busy streets. There are lines painted on the roads (that are paved), but it's apparently for decorative purposes only. I've never experienced so many people moving at so many different speeds and in such close proximity. If you were to reach out your window you can touch the car, bike, or person next to you. Everything is compressed into such small spaces... the roadways are not wide enough to accommodate all of the traffic.

Then there are the horns--a constant cacophony of short and long beeps from cars, motorbikes, scooters, cabs--all signaling to each other, singing in continuous harmony. It reminds me of those trees full of birds in the morning singing their morning songs. Motorscooters (and people) weave in and out of traffic between cars, but everyone seems to know that everyone else is there. Wives, children, friends, brothers--all hop on the bikes for rides, sometimes you will see 4 people on one little scooter.

It's amazing. When traffic stops, people walk between the cars and sell their goods--magazines, fruits, balloons--anything to make some money. In fact, an interesting site on the way to work yesterday was a small girl, maybe only 5 or 6 years old, doing cartwheels, flips, and walkovers between the cars as we stopped for a moment. She would then tap on your window and tap on her mouth, indicating that she'd like you to tip her for her performance. Amazing.

Here is a picture of my current driver, Amith (pronounced "ah-mit"), as he is on loan to me for the next couple of weeks. I will eventually have a permanent driver assigned to me for the rest of the year. On my way to and from work he is teaching me Hindi (the national language of India) and Kannadan (the state language), and I am teaching him words in Finnish and the little Spanish and French that I know. It's totally cool.

Well, off to the Bangalore Expat Club mixer! Week One of work: complete. Week One of living in India: complete as of tomorrow! This place rocks.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Passage to India

The two days of flying are over and I have arrived in Bangalore safe and sound--hooray! After flying to Chicago; then to Frankfurt, Germany; and finally on to Bangalore, I have adjusted very quickly to the time change. Thanks to Paul Dominski's words of advice (he's my excellent VP at Target--thanks, Paul!), I managed to sleep and stay awake at the right times to beat the shift. I am now 11 1/2 hours ahead of Minnesota time (BTW: that extra 1/2 hour is due to India not wanting to split the country into two time zones...)

My flight into Bangalore was right on time (1:20am), but, alas, the luggage was not. Apparently the luggage door on the airplane was stuck and so we all waited (patiently) for the luggage to arrive. During the wait, all of the lights in the airport went out (power outage), and everyone started clapping and cheering. Wow! Now there's a reaction--they seemed to celebrate! I'm going to like it here :o)

Even though there were a couple of grumblers, most people were content just sitting and waiting. I had on my earbuds listening to Lisa Gerrard, so I was just fine. And, after an hour and half of waiting, the baggage carousel started moving and slowly parcels began to appear. Hey--it was only 3:00 in the morning and after traveling for 2 days, what's the difference?!

Despite the delay of the luggage and a small "snafu" with my Visa in Chicago being delayed, the move to India has been smooth and easy--just the way I knew it would be.

My room at the Oberoi Hotel is absolutely beautiful. The staff is very friendly, the weather is beautiful and sunny (reminds me so much of the climate in Hawaii), and I am very comfortable. I unpacked this afternoon and have been catching up on email. It's nice to have my laptop with me... I feel like I haven't even moved at all! Now to venture outdoors and check out the city.

Namaste :o)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Connecting With Home

Since this was my last weekend in Minnesota I drove up to Bemidji to spend time with my family before I embark on my journey to India. My Mom & Dad (Tom and Yvonne) still live in Bemidji after 41 years (in our new house since our original home burned in 2002), and my sister, Becky; my brother-in-law, Jim; and my nieces Nicki and Natalie drove over from Erhard, Minnesota (a cozy little town over towards Fargo) so we could all be together.
It was a typical family weekend--we just hung out, ate Mom's great cooking, ordered Dave's Pizza (mmmmm...), watched football (wow-the Vikes actually WON!), played 2500 (our latest card game craze), and just visited with each other. I love going home! We are all such good friends and really enjoy one anothers' company. What a gift family truly is...
Since I am going to miss our family Christmas together this year we even set up the Christmas tree and did a little "early celebration". Nicki, Natalie, Louie (the dog), and I played with my new camera-- total blast. Check out his tongue in this shot.
Since I've been in the routine of driving up to Bemidji every month I am going to miss my visits... but I bought M&D a webcam, loaded up Skype, and showed them how we can do video conference calls with VOIP. Excellent :o) I'm in no mood to pay $2.00/minute for AT&T service--yeah, I think not!

Okay--time to finish final packing. Off and flying in no time. India--ready or not, here I come.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

So Take Charge of Education, Already!

Here's a picture from the Bemidji High School homepage (the same article and picture that appeared in The Pioneer, my hometown newspaper) of me presenting BHS with the September Take Charge of Education (TCOE) check from none other than, Target! It was a very cool day all around... Principal Dick Anderson, who, incidentally happens to be a good friend of mine, gave me a tour of the new high school, and Allison, the Executive Team Lead of the Bemidji Target, gave me a tour of their fine store. What a day - it rocked :o)

I love the fact that Target encourages us to actively volunteer to do things like this (present checks to your hometown high school)... I think it really gives a unique opportunity to give back. It's great!

Okay, so now that I've successfully distracted myself from packing for the last hour, I need to get back to work (*sigh*)... moving is really quite a challenge--especially when it's a move to a foreign country. Sheesh

8 days and counting... wow.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Return from Learning 2007

So I just returned from Elliott Masie's Learning 2007 conference in Orlando this past week. This was my second year at the conference and it was, yet again, a tremendous success! I lead a discussion about "blended learning" strategies (the topic for which I contributed podcasts for Masie and a publication for Brandon Hall this year--which also landed me a quote in September's CLO magazine :o) and I ended-up with a great turnout at the session. FYI: If you're ever interested in finding my podcasts or articles, just Google my name. (Sorry about the cruddy res on the pic, but it was from my phone... not too bad for a zoom shot, actually...)

One of the things that I like best about the conference, and Elliott Masie in particular, is the emphasis placed on networking and connections with others. The whole notion of "connections" is something that has struck a familiar chord with me--especially my writing ( and so I tend to gravitate towards those environments which support it. Hence, the Masie conference with it's over 2,000 annual attendees, is rich soil for avid connectors such as myself. Thank you, Elliott! (Thanks also to the great conversations Brandon, Shane, and the singing in the bus on the way to Downtown Disney with Rob--you guys ROCK!)

I'm also in that
crunch time mode for my India prep. Wow --never realized how much work goes into an international assignment. Paperwork and process for legal, work Visa, taxes, healthcare (including those immunizations--oi!), leasing my apartment, paying off bills, cancelling subscriptions and memberships... the list goes on. My biggest painpoint so far? Having to cancel my NetFlix membership. OUCH--I spent months perfecting that queue :o( Oh well, if that's the worst of my worries I'd say I don't have it so bad.

12 days and counting...

Friday, October 19, 2007

My Team at Target Minneapolis

We took a team photo last week. It turned out great, but it also reminds me that we've just created a milestone... the picture of the TTS Training team before I left for India :o( It's still all so strange... cool, but strange.

I'm really gonna miss working with this team... This is truly the best team I've ever been on--what a great group!

What Do You Mean 3 Weeks??

Okay, so I get a call from a friend yesterday asking when I'm leaving for India. "Ah, it's still weeks away..." I told him. As we were talking I checked my calendar and counted, "One, two,... " (turning my calendar page), "three... Yikes! I leave in only three weeks!" Suddenly everything around me shrunk into a very small space. My mind kept reviewing all of the lists I'd created that still had items uncrossed on them. Wow. Time moves so quickly when you're multitasking.

So, I guess I just do the best that I can to prepare. I've been creating plans for weeks and now I am implementing them. I guess it's always strange when you actually start putting plans into motion... it changes your frequency--you become so much more "present".

Okie dokie! Back to packing :o)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Itinerary Complete. The Date is Coming...

I got my itinerary today. Looks like I am leaving on Wednesday, November 7th at 3:30pm. I will fly to Chicago, then to Frankfurt, and on to Bangalore. Looks like about 18 hours of flying time (not including layovers), so I'm sure glad I'm flying Business Class :o)

Time to keep packing and crossing things off those lists!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

So, about that paperwork...

Hm... guess it's time to get all of that paperwork completed. India--here I come!
5 weeks and counting.