Monday, March 30, 2009

No Man's Land

I've seen those big machines come rolling through the quiet pines
Blue suits and bankers with their Volvos and their valentines
Give us this day our daily discount outlet merchandise
Raise up a multiplex and we will make a sacrifice
Now we're gonna get the big business
Now we're gonna get the real thing
Everybody's all excited about it

Who remembers when it all began
Out here in no man's land
Before they passed the master plan
Out here in no man's land
Low supply and high demand
Here in no man's land

There ain't much work out here in our consumer power base
No major industry, just miles and miles of parking space
This morning's paper says our neighbor's in a cocaine bust
Lots more to read about Lolita and suburban lust
Now we're gonna get the whole story
Now we're gonna be in prime time
Everybody's all excited about it

Who remembers when it all began
Out here in no man's land
We've just begun to understand
Out here in no man's land
Low supply and high demand
Here in no man's land

I see these children with their boredom and their vacant stares
God help us all if we're to blame for their unanswered prayers
They roll the sidewalks up at night, this place goes underground
Thanks to the condo kings there's cable now in Zombietown
Now we're gonna get the closed circuit
Now we're gonna get the Top 40
Now we're gonna get the sports franchise
Now we're gonna get the major attractions

Who remembers when it all began
Out here in no man's land
Before the whole world was in our hands
Out here in no man's land
Before the banners and the marching bands
Out here in no man's land
Low supply and high demand
Here in no man's land

Lyrics and music of a song "No Man's Land" by Billy Joel
on his album "River of Dreams".

Saturday, March 28, 2009

What's happening to India ?

I observe many Indians becoming slaves (again) !

After you threw out the British in 47, in a way so unique that the whole world admires you for it, you let your minds become enslaved by a criticless admiration of your non-real fantasies about Western society, culture and economy.

You threw the British out through your backdoor.

You become so blinded by success, money, material status, power ... and forget completely about the basic teachings of your own culture and religion.

I have many problems convincing employees that:
- the Western societies are not only the big corporates. It is like many Indians even refuse to see reality ... chasing dreams about a reality that does not exist except in their own mind;
- professionality is not so much linked to the height of your paycheck, but more to the incremental development of your own personality and in-depth understanding and know-how about the services/product you are selling;
- the best way to achieve enduring success in your life is to constantly focus on the product/services itself, instead of be blinded by power and status. The reason is that all know-how you build up over the years, is connected to yourself and it will not leave you ever again. However, elbowing yourself a way through everchanging social or commercial structures will only last till the next crisis;
- every personal development takes time. Every "learning how to" is a lifetime challenge. I would expect that especially Indians would subscribe to this thought. However ... I find many Indians nowadays to be so blinded that they completely lost the time-aspect in their lifes. Sometimes I feel that people get confused because they earn already at 28 twice or trice as much as their father at 55;
- the promotions in the so-admired big corporates are reducing you to the status of a donkey chasing the carrot it runs after from year to year.

Ambitious is the young guy or girl focusing on the increase of his paycheck next year or on status-driven signs.
Stupid is the ambitious young guy/girl ONLY focusing on that. Crises come and go every 5-10 years. The lifespan of such stupid ambition is 10 years only !
Only fools are looking at short-term and take their wildest fantasies for reality.

Wise are those developing their own personalities and knowledge in a quiet and focused way, without paying too much attention to the everchanging external conditions.

What is happening to these Indian cultural and religious teachings:
- the importance of time and patience;
- the prevalence of truth above anything else;
- the importance of self-development over time;
- minimizing the importance of your ego.

I hardly find it here !
More and more India is evoluating into some sort of a Disneyland-for-the-few and a No-Mansland-for-the most.
More and more this fantasy is promoted to the younger generations.
However, 99% of a normal population will never reach Disneyland but has to reside in No-Mansland!
Parents should be careful promoting this. I read daily in the newspapers about suicides of young boys and girls (even 12 year old kids !) because of fear that their marks in school are not high enough! Believe me ... I know what I'm talking about ... I have four kids myself. And you can bet I've failed in making the right judgments and choices myself!

This is good for the British perhaps, because they can sell !
I doubt it is good for India !

Thursday, March 12, 2009

They just don't like my white face !

Last Wednesday we were planning to shoot nice photographs from the Holi Festival. Holi is the Festival of Colours. On this day, people put coloured powder on eachothers face.
I refer to for more background information about this second most important Festival for Hindu people (the most important one is Diwali in October every year).

So we took our camera and went to the market place. Everyone we saw had a coloured face.

Unfortunately we had not taken into account the enthusiasm of Indians. The result?

I think they were surprised to see a white babu taking part in the festival. To our surprise we were invited to a family's home where we were offered Tchai (tea) and sweets. We met the whole family and had a really good time.

Thank you India, for a wonderful and colourful day !

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A bikeshop ?

No, not at all, an Indian prepress- and typesetting company !

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The story of Willy Claes ...

... or: What Indians and Belgians share

1. The story of Willy Claes

Willy Claes making his statement to the international press.
(NATO Photo 785Kb Ref. no.: 15167/34)

This is a story of a Belgian politician who had made it to Secretary-General of the NATO. Within the first year investigations took place in Belgium about the bribes given by Agusta (an Italian helicopter manufacturer)to the SP (Socialist Party) he belonged to.
Despite nobody was asking for his resigning on the international scene (see:, he was victimised under local Belgian pressure (see:
Finally, he resigned on October, 20th 1995. This lead to a new search for a successor (see
The man later was convicted in Belgium for "passive corruption", something which sounds to me like having the same value as "visual pollution".

2) What Indians and Belgians share ...

the feeling that they are UNDERDOGS ...

Waste Management !

One thing Indians can learn from Europe: Waste Management.

I know how they do it in Europe and am ready to consult you.
Here are some of my advises, for free:

- Organise your economy in such a way that consumption is the only value which counts. Then, tell other countries very clearly that this is definitely not the way to go !
- Make yourself as quickly as rich as possible at the cost of other countries and once you cannot handle the waste anymore, let them become independent. But don't forget to keep the ties alive - you may still be able to sell something there in the future;
- Organise your society in such a way that soon 50% of the population is or overstressed or not fit to take part in regular economy. To the overstressed ones you can sell pills. The 25% waste you can hand over to the State to manage;
- Leave your wife and your kids behind whenever you have the chance to start a new family with a more beautiful wife and smarter kids. Pay some alimentation so that your ex-wife handles the waste-management for you;
- If you can afford it, do the same thing twice or trice.
- Whenever you face an economical crisis: try to outsource it !
- Lock up your physically and mentally disabled family members in state-organised institutions: waste management when officially organised is clean, cheap and you will not be bothered by the visual pollution anymore;
- Send away your parents when they become too old to be placed at the right side of your personal economical balance sheet;
- If you still suffer from remaining waste, there's an out-of-the-box solution which solves everything: Social Mobility.

Of course, all this management costs money.
No worries: if you find you are paying too many taxes, then you can always move to a country where they manage their waste in a lesser professional way ...

"Les enfants du Borinage. Lettres à Henri Storck."

In 1933 the Belgian filmmaker Henri Storck created a documentary about the "Borinage", the area in Belgium where coal mining was going on. In those times this part of Belgium was well-doing and attracted lots of workers from the Dutch speaking part of the country.
In 1999 again a documentary was made about Charleroi, a city in Belgium in the center of the same "Borinage".

Indians very often are shocked to see that Slumdog Millionaire is showing poverty in India. They don't like it that the world sees again the cliche of the "poor India".
Well, I myself also don't like to be seen as a "walking wallet" in India.
It is reducing someones identity to the amount of money he has or not has. And as always every stereotype is a generalisation ... it stands as long as you are not confronted with reality ...

So I invite both Belgians and Indians to watch the following movie about Belgium:

I refer the Belgians also to the yearly report published by Acco Publishers: Armoede en Sociale Uitsluiting - Jaarboek 2008, which follows up the evolution of poverty in Belgium. No literature to become very optimistic of !

Saturday, March 7, 2009

From India, with love ...

I present you a few clips taken from the Sunday Times of March 8th, 2009.
They are related to Indian marriages, which are completely different from the habits we have in Europe regarding relationships. I think these clips speak for themselves.
You can read the ads by clicking on the images.
Don't be mistaken. Despite the tenths of pages in the daily papers these ads occupy, there's a clear evolution of the growing middle class to combine and accept both typese of marriages: arranged and love-marriages. Very often now boy meets and chooses girl and have a relation for some time before the relationship enters the "arrangement" phase. However, mainstream India is still not "middle class".
Coming weekend we have to attend an employee's wedding. I hope I'll be able to shoot some video's which I will upload.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Financial crisis

Well, I feel after the previous post, I should now give some ammunition to my fellow-Indian residents.

My wife and I have got a new salary account with ICICI bank.
So previous week we went to the ATM hoping to withdraw some money, but in one or another way we did not succeed in using our bankcard.
Now, believe me or not, but we are doing this already 20 years in Belgium, so our spontaneous reaction was to curse the Indian ATM's that "were broken once again, probably due to the lack in stable electricity provision".
Our temper became bad.

So, this afternoon, after we visited a friend in Delhi, we decided to go to the ICICI bankoffice nearby our office once again.
Like often happens in India, just showing our blank faces was enough to get attention and immediately a bankemployee came with us to "show us how to use the ATM". There were of course 68 waiting Indians before us, but we learned to accept these situations. After all, a white man coming in a bank is only seen as a "walking wallet".

Well, we went to the ATM and inserted our bankcard, sure as we were about ourselves.
The bankguy frowned and said "Nono, Sir, you have to flip your card when inserting it, just like it is shown on that picture here ..."

Now that I think about it, I even didn't dare to have a good look at his face, because I felt so stupid.

I am quite sure that this guy will tell the story to his wife this evening with the words: "Those white babu's don't understand anything" ...

I included some photographs taken on a local market, in the neighbourhood of our office and at a marriage of one of our employees.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

An interesting article about outsourcing ... not for the faint-of-heart-Indians though ...

I myself don't know anything about cars, but I can agree fully to this article where it talks about outsourcing to India.
Though in general the US and European attitude of practical managers towards Indian outsourcing is not very positive, one can hardly find literature which explicitly states the problems.
This article describes exactly what I observed here in India in the past years.

Let me explain my situation ...
As a small typesetting company mainly composing scientific books and doing prepress related tasks I have been establishing relations with Indian companies from 2000 onwards. I tried to outsource part of my processes and never got any (profitable) success until I decided to jump deeper into offshore outsourcing end of 2004. For me and my wife the time was right: our youngest kid was almost 18 and the others were independently living. Another big investment I did in Belgium early 2000 was reaching its technical, financial and commercial endphase. I was in the right mood do start something new and making offshore outsourcing work for us sounded like a lifetime challenge to me.

So I left Belgium and went to India. I had some contacts there and got an arrangement with an existing company to slowly startup my business in their offices.
We were only a small typesetting company, so we had not much to do with legal contracts. All agreements were done in a informal way and on the basis of trust. Nevertheless after two months already I decided to stop the co-operation with that company. Some of the observations were:
- the hierarchy in the company was so important that most of the employees forgot what they actually had to do: producing value for their customers;
- attrition was more than 30%;
- functions and jobs were created for everything - from bringing coffee to polishing the boss's shoes;
- internal company politics where more important than the value created for the customer;
- my contactperson had changed companies just before I arrived, without informing me and this new company didn't know anything about my kind of business;
- the business was essentially: "buying labour at 200$ a month and selling at at 30% less as what it would have costed in the US". This often resulted in a multiply factor of 1000% (!). I pity all the big corporates having accepted these deals ... just for the sake of - often only virtual - cost savings;
- I was 45, having worked 20 years in my field, I considered myself being a senior only 4-5 years. In this company however, young guys below 30 were already considered as seniors ...
- I got a lousy upload/download Internet speed of 3 kB (!), while I was transferring Gigabytes of data to and from Belgium. It took me 6 weeks and several online conferences with the American manager to get finally a "good" speed (their words !) of 6kB (!).
This list contains only a few issues of course ...

I quickly realised that I would never feel happy in such an organisation. Neither I could understand that such companies are able to face the high-performance, low-cost, highly automated Belgian companies in our sector on the long run.

So I decided to take the long route.
I've set up a company myself and have stayed in India very often and for longer times to learn the culture and mindsets. I thought that to achieve long term results, one has to begin with understanding the mindsets and have your own mindset understood by them.

Nevertheless, these early observings still stand.
Now I am 3 years older and a little bit wiser and managed to build a company with 25 people here. Productivity of my people here in India is still lower compared to Belgium, but already very often I get the quality I want. And in 3 years only 1 employee deliberately has left my company (when I am in a bad mood, I tend to think that I'm paying too much). In other words, I could bring attrition down to zero.

I find my main task here is still "empowering" my employees so that they learn to trust their own thinking and judgments instead of blindly executing orders from me. This is a new experience for most of the young girls and guys entering the labour market in India.
I'm afraid one cannot do this if one suffers from a big ego because you can only reach this by keeping a low profile yourself.

I still often feel that Indian companies - especially now with the slowdown - are taking their own wishes for reality. Presenting yourself as the best is more important than actually trying to become the best by improving the workprocesses and making the employees responsable for their jobs. Admitting errors is still not done here. And the lower the employee is placed in the hierarchy, the harder he has to work (and the lower the salary) to please and contribute to the status of his boss.

I now stay permanently with my wife in India, even sold largest part of my business in Belgium to be able to focus completely on the organisation, quality and efficiency of my company here.
It is a constant fight ...

I would like to add here also about the wonderful experience it is for us to work with Indian people and being able to meet their culture. But that is not what that article points to ...

Wiggling and Wobbling

Indians wiggle their head.
Belgians wobble the Indian ways.

That describes more or less the experiences of a Belgian expat in India.

Cut from the daily communication in one's mothertongue, an expat - at least if he doesn't mingle only with other expats - gets a lot of strange experiences. Especially in a confusing country like India.

This blog is dedicated to my Indian colleagues.
With some of them communication is easy, with others it's like you never come to a mutual understanding.
These are the wiggling people.
I hope they understand that we Belgians are only wobbling a bit around here to find a way to perfect co-operation and mutual understanding ...

This blog is also dedicated to my Belgian colleagues.
I hope that they'll learn to understand the wiggling and wobbling ones.

There's so much more under the sun than doing business ...
I hope this blog - in which I plan to tell every now and then about my experiences as a Belgian expat in India - will contribute to a good co-operation between all my colleagues.

Tony Vangelabbeek
Genesis Textware pvt. ltd.
Gurgaon, India