In 2005, my work sent me to Bangalore in India, to provide training to our colleagues. While there I wrote a series of stories about my experiences and about an expat living in India. This is one of them.
The one about Goa.
The lead up to the offsite began almost a week before departure. Because I forgot to step back I found myself being the team leader of one of the 6 teams. Each team is made up of 15 or 16 people from every level and from throughout TIS. This immediately has the benefit of mixing up the people, so people from all levels and all TIS teams find themselves meeting and working with people they don’t normally deal with.
Involvement with our offsite teams began 4 days before departure, as we all gathered to choose a team name, team colour and a theme. On a more practical level, we also compiled lists of contact details, mobile phone numbers, names etc, the use of which would become more clear to me as the weekend progressed. Our team name became GOA ROCKERS and our team colour was white. We failed to get a theme together, but at least we had 2 out of 3.
Friday morning and I could feel the excitement in the air. Everyone was on a high as we moved around the office waiting for the time to depart. A total of 90 people were going on the offsite, and they had been split into 2 groups for the trip. I wondered about that until I heard somebody mention DRP. That was when I realized that the organizers had very sensibly considered that if we all went in the same plane, and that plane went down, almost the entire TIS team in Bangalore, along with a brace of important managers, would be wiped out. So they had spread the risk by putting us on 2 planes. The people on the first flight left at 9:30. We left at 11:15.
The flight was uneventful, getting us to Goa at 20 past 3. I had been given some of the history of Goa during the flight by one of the fellows, learning that until 1960 Goa was essentially a separate country controlled by Portugal. The Indian army had threatened to invade, prompting the Portuguese to leave, and bringing Goa into the Indian fold.
The list of team members that we had made was starting to show its worth. We were regularly checking the list to ensure that all 16 team members were together and no one was being left behind. As it turns out, across the 3 days we were away, it is a minor miracle, and the dedicated effort of Chandra in our team, that ensured we don’t have lost soles wandering the streets of Goa as I type.
Everyone was guided toward the buses that were waiting for us and the drive to the resort began. Traveling through a place that I have never been to before is always exciting. Everything looks different. Even the telegraph poles on the side of the road look different. Ten minutes from the airport we turned off the main road we were on and onto a much narrower road. That’s where we entered into the real Goa, with the narrow, winding, twisting roads with tropical vines, huge trees and gigantic leaves coming right to the edge and brushing the sides of the bus as we bumped along.
Almost immediately the Portuguese history became evident. The architecture is quite different to Bangalore. I’ve never been to Portugal, but the buildings and the colours I was seeing certainly gave me the impression of what I imagine Portugal to be like. The combination of the tropical scenery and the colourful buildings was quite beautiful. Many of the buildings are in a semi rundown state, but surprisingly that just seems to add to their charm. It is surprising though to see an old Portuguese style building with grass and other vegetation growing on the roof. But that’s the tropics for you. Stand still long enough and your shoes will take root.
After 30 minutes of twists and turns we came to the resort, THE BEACH, GOA.
The resort is a series of small buildings, each of which houses 4 apartments. Each apartment was just as you would expect, with a bedroom with cable TV and a huge bathroom with a shower and spa tub. And thank heavens, an air conditioner and a fan. The humidity was awesome.
The rest of the afternoon was scheduled for free time. I found the resort office and managed to buy some online time for Rs200. This was 40 times the amount you can get it for in Bangalore at the little hole-in-the-wall internet cafes, and an indication that I was in a quality resort aimed squarely at international tourists and well off Indian people. As it turned out, everything was expensive. A bottle of water, that could only be purchased through room service was more than twice the price it is in Bangalore.
The rest of the afternoon was spent sitting with the managers, who were passing the time in the main lounge area. The fellows were drinking beer and invited me to join them. When I explained that I couldn’t drink beer for dietary reasons and that I drink wine instead, they called over the waiter fellow and began a discussion with him. A minute or two later a bottle of white wine and a glass was presented to me, along with a gaggle of smiling faces around the table. I doubt I will ever get used to the Indian sense of hospitality. That bottle of wine accompanied me for the next couple of days from celebration to celebration.
The event planned for Friday night was a dinner cruise, so we collected at the allotted place at the allotted time to board the buses. Well, that’s almost true. I was about to experience “Indian time” for the first of a number of times over the weekend as people wandered up to the buses for the next 20 minutes. We eventually got going for an exciting 1 ½ hour journey through the countryside, through torrential monsoonal downpours to the capital city of Goa, Punjim. Here we disembarked from the buses and immediately embarked on the cruise boat, which left dock the moment we were on board. We were now 45 minutes behind schedule, but no one seemed to mind.
The evening was a wonderful experience, seeing the fellows really let their hair down. In Melbourne we see people from Bangalore in a very subdued manner. They are quiet, polite, courteous and very aware of offending the customs in Melbourne. But put them in their home environment and all hell breaks loose. These guys really know how to enjoy themselves, dancing and singing, punching the air, kicking up their feet big time. As the cruise boat could only sail until midnight, we had lost 45 minutes of party time, so the team was determined to make up for lost time. Man, did they party.
At midnight the glass slipper fell off and we wandered back to the buses, arriving back at the resort in time to fall into bed by 2am. A great night was had by all, except one poor fellow who deserves a story all his own.
Saturday, and breakfast was spread between 8 o’clock and whenever. The objective of Saturday morning was “team games”, but the way people were dragging themselves into the breakfast room, I couldn’t see too many games being played. But I was wrong. As I wandered down to the beach, beyond which was the Arabian Sea, spreading across to the Arabian Peninsula, I could see energetic games of soccer and volleyball underway. Lot’s of yelling and cheering showed the intensity with which the games were being played. I chose to place my weary bones on a banana lounge and watch the volleyball progress. I was surprised to see a couple of the senior managers, whose bones should have been a little bit more weary than mine, joining in the fun and diving for the ball with the best of them.
I was led to ponder how many Melbourne managers would have been diving for the ball in the way I saw Sunil diving for it, or keeping goal in the soccer in the way I saw Umesh keeping goal.
Saturday afternoon was for site seeing and shopping. The site seeing, apart from the magnificent natural scenery of Goa, was Bom Cathedral, where the crypt of St Francis Xavier is kept on display. This is where the Portuguese history really takes over as Goa is home to so many Christian churches, relics and history. The Bom Cathedral is a massive church, somewhere between 400 and 500 years old. It is not just a significant historical site, but a working cathedral where people come and pray. It is also a place of significance for Christians around the world who come to Goa to view the crypt. Across the road from Bom Cathedral is another, more modern cathedral, that is even more massive. Sadly I did not have time to investigate this cathedral.
While visiting the Bom Cathedral, and between torrential downpours of monsoonal rain, I made myself proud. One of the many vendors approached me, trying to sell his wares of woven bags. As I had yet to buy a present for my daughters I decided that a woven bag from Goa would be a good present to get them. The vendor started with a price of Rs400 each, which converts to approximately $A13. This was a large tad on the expensive side, but from my experience in the Middle East I knew that the vendor and myself were entering into a merry dance of bartering. His first price was outrageous, but part of the game. We danced our dance for the next 5 minutes, with some of the fellows from the bus watching with interest. I couldn’t tell immediately whether they were intrigued, concerned that I was going to be ripped off or concerned that I was screwing this poor fellow to the ground.
We danced our dance, swinging first to the left and then to the right. Emotion was expressed, waving of hands and puffing of cheeks. As we approached the crescendo, the fever pitch of expectation, the fellows from the bus were ready to pounce. So I finalized the deal and bought my bags for exactly half of the original offering price. I was pleased and the vendor appeared to be pleased, especially as we were about to be hit with the next monsoonal downpour. The fellows on the bus relaxed and went back to their business, which by now was waiting for the rest of the crew to arrive. This was becoming the norm, with waits of 30 minutes not out of the ordinary.
Next stop was Punjim, the capital of Goa. The itinery had us here for 1 hour for shopping. Goa is famous for its cashews and a drink made from them called Fenny. Many of the fellows took off to get their cashews and Fenny while the rest of us walked into the town centre. Here I found a market very reminiscent of souks in the Middle East, with tiny, narrow alleyways winding through over crowded stalls. There was everything to buy and even more to look at, so the hour was spent exploring.
After a 45 minute wait for stragglers we headed back to the resort and the DJ party planned for that night. The room used for the party was well decked out with a loud, very loud, sound system and flashing lights. The guys jumped and pranced and generally had a wonderful time, until dinner was served at 10:30pm in the main eating room down the other end of the resort. Interestingly, the fact that dinner was available was not generally announced, so it was by word-of-mouth that we learned of this and made our way down. By now the 2 days of activities were having their effect, so it was a more subdued group who shared the meal. Some other people took the opportunity to walk on the beach and feel the spray of the Arabian Sea on their face.
After the standard breakfast activities the next morning, everybody gathered for a final team meeting. The purpose of this meeting was to review the last 2 days and to provide an opportunity for everybody to express their thoughts, ideas and concerns regarding the workplace environment. It was pleasing to see the healthy situation of management and staff mixing in such a pleasant atmosphere and the opportunity for staff to voice their thoughts in an open forum. Many staff took this opportunity, so hopefully this will help the team strengthen. Management certainly appear committed to listen and act. Time will tell.
After a drama free bus ride to the airport and flight home, the trip to Goa was complete.
I feel privileged to have been invited along to the TIS offsite. It gave me insight into the team dynamics in Bangalore. It also gave me an opportunity to meet and mix with people whom I don’t normally mix with. This morning I have had so many more people smiling, waving and saying “Hello” as a result of the weekend. I have no idea if my getting up and dancing like a rag doll has helped, but I do know that the distance between Melbourne and Bangalore has been made smaller by the invitation and my participation. My hope now is that more opportunities like this become available for other Melbourne staff; opportunities to see Bangalore staff as they really are; happy, energetic, positive and above all, so very, very friendly.
Alex of India