Chennai Journal
Saturday, March 26, 2005
Doing the needful...
Had my first two encounters with the local government authorities this week, and one step closer to moving into the apartment.

The first was registering with the local immigration bureau, which is required if you have an employment visa or your stay in India will exceed 180 days. (A side benefit of the permit is that you then qualify for the lower resident rate on hotels, museum entrances, plane fares, etc.---a fraction of what foreigners pay). I was accompanied by our local government affairs person, Mr. Antony, who used to be the deputy police chief in Chennai. We went to a dingy old building in downtown Chennai, where---as anticipated---I went immediately to the head of a rather long line. I carried an application, my passport, a letter from the Company asking the chief immigration officer to "do the needful" (a regular phrase here that seems to mean, "do what is necessary") and grant me a residence permit. There were one or two papers missing, however, so Mr. Antony wheedled them into letting him return with them later in the day. I have another appointment there in a week to actually get the permit. One thing that impressed me was the fact that as we were leaving, Mr. Antony went back and personally thanked each person we had dealt with.

On Thursday, the shipping broker took me to air cargo section of the Chennai airport to clear customs on our air shipment. The area was quite crowded but again I went to the head of the line. After a few minutes, I was escorted back to the warehouse area where the chief inspector invited me to sit at a table, looked over the paperwork, and then asked me only one question: Did I have any electronic gadgets or a laptop? No. So we trooped back to the waiting area where I sat while the broker stood in three different lines to pay duties and obtain clearance to take possession of the shipment.

In my case, they didn't physically inspect or open any of the boxes. This part is fairly unusual so before leaving, the shipping broker told me, "We have to go back and thank the head inspector." So we trooped back to the warehouse area, said thank you, and shook hands. By now I'm beginning to get the picture---obsequiousness definitely seems to be the order of the day when dealing with the Indian bureaucracy--especially if, as is the case with Ford, you are unable to offer bribes.

On Thursday evening, the goods were delivered to the apartment, all in good shape. There's no air conditioning yet---that will be installed this week---so I'm still at the hotel.
Sunday, March 20, 2005
Arrival in Chennai
I'm here and in good spirits. The posts will be a light on pictures for a bit until I can get hooked up in the apartment and get my digital camera working with the laptop.

Arrived in Chennai early Monday a.m. There was a long line in the foreigner's queue at Immigration, but got through there and customs without issue. I'm told this is one of the few queues I'll probably have to stand in. In most cases, once they see a foreigner, they just motion you to the head of the line. Good thing I got my visa, though, before the latest flap: U.S. embassy here denied a diplomatic, and revoked business/tourist visa, for a government official from Gujarat, citing human rights violations. That's in all the news here.

For the last week I've been transitioning on the new job and otherwise adjusting to the new environment. Fortunately, it's not as hot here as I anticipated. The evenings and mornings are still cool, but during the day it gets up to 85-90. Once we hit May, it will go to 100 + though.

Today I met with our new housekeeper, Leela, who I've inherited from my predecessor in the job here. I'm interviewing drivers on Monday night. (You don't have to start calling me "Madam" just because they do, though.) Having "staff" seems pretty much the norm here for anyone middle class or above. The locals laugh at us for what we pay: 4000 rupees for month for the housekeeper, or about $90---which is considered high. Many apartments, including ours, have tiny servants quarters off the kitchen, no bigger than a closet, and an Asian style toilet (more on this in another post). This gives you the option of having them stay over, or all time, if you like.

Last night Elinor, who I'm replacing here, took me to the monthly gathering of the British social club, where she's a member. This was a group of about 60 mostly Brits, along with a few other former-empire types like myself, and held at the home of one of the officials of the British Deputy High Commission. (In countries that are members of the British commonwealth, the embassy/consular posts are called "High commissions"). The monthly event includes some socializing and appetizers, a quiz event that pits several tables against each other, followed by a buffet dinner. I wasn't able to help our table with most of the questions, such as characters in British fairy tales and street names/buildings in London, but was the only one who knew the answer to the question "who was the 4th wife of Henry VIII" (it was Anne of Cleves). It was good fun.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Nancy's employment visa Posted by Hello
Well, here it is at last, one month later. A long story and since I haven't actually entered the country yet, I'll keep it brief for the moment and tell the longer story at a more auspicious time. I'm scheduled to leave a week from tonight. The packers come on Monday and I have everything color coded (Air, Sea, Storage, and Leave) so it shouldn't be too painful. The extra time has given me the opportunity to organize, so it hasn't been all bad! Marty, Dad and the kitties scheduled to come later--probably in early May after the sea shipment arrives.

I did have a very good meeting on Friday with the leadership of the Indian employee's association in Dearborn, who are very keen to do something to contribute to AIDs awareness in the Chennai area. AIDS has become a big epidemic in India especially South India where our operations are located. Ford has been very a big activist on this in South Africa in recent years and there's also an opportunity for leadership in Tamil Nadu (the state where Chennai is located). It's been a while since I've had any corporate involvement with community relations so it will be interesting to get back into this.

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