I was here at the Mandarin Oriental in NYC exactly a year ago for the last Tiger conference. The last time I was a newbie to the conference, Tiger having just invested. This year, one is a bit of a veteran since there were so many new investee companies.
Sitting at tables or standing with coffee, making boc phet on all matters big and small with a group of almost 200 other founders of internet businesses across the world, I am struck for the first time by this whole new brotherhood. Almost everyone here is from the non-western world and absolutely everyone is a product of the 30 year reign of prosperity in the developing world let loose by the Thatcher+ Reagan regime in western countries. The world view among these 200 people is surprisingly uniform and upbeat, a far cry from the relatively pessimistic view from Larry Lindsay, the ex economic advisor to the previous POTUS, George W.
There is simply no doubt that the internet and mobile are together making fairly significant changes to just about everything human beings do and I am definitely happy to be part of this. Of course, the fact that I do something that is of real interest to my two sons is the real payoff. How many dads can say that . Certainly keeps me young.
As the Garuda Indonesia flight takes off from Singapore, all I can make out of the announcement by the pretty little stewardess is a single word loudly repeated thrice – evacuate, evacuate, evacuate. My strong instinct to dive under the seat is tempered by the realisation that none of the other passengers have twitched even the smallest muscle. Apparently catastrophe is not imminent. Actually the Garuda fight between Singapore and Jakarta isn’t bad at all. In addition to having lovely stewardesses, Garuda served a rice meal on the flight that had a very interesting dish of dried anchovies and peanuts. The last time I had small dried anchovies in food was when I was around 12 or 13 years – so it was with pleasure that I found that the decidedly acquired taste had not deserted me after all these years.
The first impression of Jakarta to an Indian eye brought up on classical Indian languages is the preponderance of Sanskrit. As you swing out into the highway from the airport you see big signboards that proclaim Soewarna Technology city. It is soon followed by Jalapuspa hotel and Sampoorna Square. Markers of an ancient connect with Hinduism are abundant everywhere; I start to dimly understand how westerners feel as they travel the world finding markers of their culture dominate the landscape in most countries.
Driving in Jakarta is educative. Getting tired of the legendary traffic jams of the city, the good men running the government there came up with what sounded like an eminently reasonable solution. They mandated that cars have to have a minimum of 3 passengers to be allowed to traverse some of the main city thoroughfares during peak hours. The obvious idea was that single or double passengers should not take cars but use public transport so that cars do not take up too much of scarce road space. Unfortunately Indonesians are as adept at Jugaad as Indians and the impact of this rule has been to actually increase the number of people using roads. Since all cars now need to have 3 or more people, there are men hanging around intersections who rent themselves out as a additional passengers for a fee to motorists with lesser number in the car. So a large number of unemployed youth who otherwise would not be using roads or footpaths are all over the place now. Another strike for the law of unintended consequences.
You can’t escape SRK in Indonesia either. Shah Rukh Khan is repeatedly mentioned as the one Indian that everyone, especially the women seem to know about. Most of the time, the only Indian. Along with Korean superstars, SRK is up there in the not-too-hip celebrity scene in Indonesia. All the young hipper-than-hip hipsters are rooting for Justin Bieber. East Asia is definitely the latest theatre of war for pop culture supremacy and it is a three-cornered fight between Hollywood, Bollywood and the Koreans. It will be interesting to see where it ends up.
I return to Jakarta in another fortnight- cannot wait to see what I will uncover next..
Here is a nice, restful view of tropical greenery at Terminal 3 at Changi Airport, Singapore. To figure out where the view is from, look at the following snap. It is vintage Singapore.
I remember reading some time ago that the Indus Valley civilization (one of the oldest known human civilizations) had no concept of Police, or any other violent means of controlling internal behaviour (different from the notion of a standing army which is meant for repulsing outsiders). The historian-author of that book speculated that internal order was likely maintained by a system of mental conditioning of citizens and not by violence.
This came to mind while recently watching a Google TechTalk video that explored the Neuroscience of meditation (see that excellent – but long – video above). One of the points made by scientist Richard Davidson in that talk is that the practice of meditation, even for a duration as short as 3 weeks, can actually increase ‘virtuous qualities’ such as Compassion in its practitioners. Here is a serious western scientist demonstrating with western scientific approaches and data, the power of calm contemplation to fundamentally alter human behavior.
It then seems to me no huge surprise that the locus of the science of such contemplation or meditation lies in the East, particularly in ancient India and thereabouts. For, it seems logical to assume that it was this sort of thing that enabled the peoples of the Indus Valley Civilization to maintain internal harmony without policing. And that if they had figured it out 5000 years ago, it is their direct descendants who are most likely to retain the knowledge.
The check-in area is not a natural place to have food in the airport; so much better to go past immigration and security. But fate willed otherwise since the check-in was delayed for some reason. Demolished another crab, presumably from somewhere in the south china sea. Fate.
Sure, visiting Italy, Greece and Turkey over 5 days is not a recipe for immersion. But surprisingly, what it did allow me to do was to make a rapid comparison of three of the world’s prominent ancient civilizations. And here is my 6 line primer on these three great cultures
The Roman civilization was obviously a martial empire and the one thing that stood out was its emphasis on physical discipline and organization. The Appian way, the Roman baths and of course the Colosseum speak of a people obsessed to physically building order.
The Greeks on the other hand (incidentally an older civilization from whom he Romans gathered much) were clearly more intellectually inclined. The Greeks, using a new tool called Reason, gave rise to many seminal intellectual developments including such gems as the notion of equality of men and the premise that ideas are more important than physically perceived reality.
What about Turkey? Turkey was the gateway through which more ancient human achievements of the East reached Greece and then over millennia onwards to the wider West. And in this process of creative transmission became one of the great cosmopolitan civilizations ever.
Comscore has reported its independent list of the Top 10 travel websites in India. And HolidayIQ is one of them. And with that, we have joined the leadership group led by the venerable (and massively visited) Indian Railways booking site.
What is particularly gratifying is that HolidayIQ being a niche tourism site with information only relevant for holidays, unlike most of the other sites which offer broad travel or transport solutions/bookings, managed to make it to this list. What is also good for HolidayIQ is the fact that we are probably the only site in that list (excluding of course Indian Railways) that has practically no advertising used to drive its traffic. On the whole, a good place to be