René Seifert

Entrepreneur, Global Citizen, Flat World, Internet, Web 2.0, Innovation, Start-Up

Archive for December, 2008

Ending the Year 2008 with Travel & Video

It was a good and exciting year. Now it's time for change, both on the calendar and in the transfer of power in Washington D.C. shortly after. Before logging-off to a NYE-bash of my friend and Bangalore's partyguru-in-chief Viren Khanna, a few impressions of the last weeks which I spend with my good friend and business partner Dirk Schornstein in India and Dubai.

Here we are on the Tiger's Rock of Mudumailai National Park after a morning hike through the South Indian jungle. 

Tiger Rock in Mudumalai National Park

The whole picture-set including the TIE-conference in Bangalore, Toy Train-ride, Ooty and Mysore is here on this Flickr-set. Also at Dirk's last day we went to the Vatsalya-Orphanage. As rather by accident we found some fun in taking videos, I also taped the girls singing for us belatedly "We wish you a merry Christmas".

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For our second trip we deviated from booked Goa to Dubai. It's stunning to see what dedication and focus in the right regulatory environment (fueled by a lot of cheap money in the last years) can put together. You just have to look from Russian Beach back to the Skyline including Burj Dubai on the right – the worlds highest building with 707 meters. 

Skyline of Dubai from Russian Beach

Dubai is in many ways over-the-top where a fairy tale of 1001 Arabian Nights blends with a Disneyfication, as The Seifertinger ("Dabei in Dubai") explains about Ski Dubai in the Mall of Emirates. 

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All the pictures of this trip are on this Flickr-set, one of my favourites, voilà.

Gambling Hall in Mall of Emirates

During our desert-safari, standing on the dunes, the brain having suffered from drought the whole day, my alter ego "Howard Seifendale" is expressing his most inner thoughts to the outside world :-)

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Also the same individual has the immediate urge to do some "Räkling" in the Lobby of Raffles Dubai

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Back in Bangalore, it was in contrast Prof. Schornsteininger releasing his studies on "Homosexualiät in Indien".

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Bear with me, we are almost through. One of my favourites is the interview with Srinivas, a friend of mine in Bangalore who helps me in a lot of things in daily life, where he confesses to like "working honestly", yet proves quite shy discussing the issue of "chicks" with me.

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So much for 2008. Wish you all the best for 2009, a year whose economic conditions don't appear that bright, but with perseverance and optimism I am confident we will prevail. 

First Impressions: Christmas in Dubai with 90 % Expat Population

It's still difficult for me to get a grip on Dubai, first because I am hardly 24 hours here, second because the City so much defies everything how to explain a communal together. The first thing that stuns you is the airport which is very modern and spacious by any standards, however you also know that another, the worlds biggest to-be airport, is in construction some 30 km south-west.

Dubai Airport

Our hotel Park Hyatt is right at the creek in Deira, vis-à-vis the Yacht Club. Beautiful architecture, 5 star, service level mixed from perfect to imbecile. Sunset pleasant.

Suset Dubai from Park Hyatt

Then the fact that the entire social life basically revolves around these 5 star hotels which contain bars and a gamut of phenomenal restaurants. In that context, we had our X-Mas dinner yesterday in Awtar, a Libanese restaurant in the Grand Hyatt. Food was fantastic, so was the very attentive service, but the quantities were completey OTT (=over the top) for two people. We ordered the set menu, and frankly, the amount of food would have been sufficient for a party of 15-20 people. My point: As we know that all the "rest" (=vast majority) of food would be thrown away, for being educated my Mum to eat up your plate, it is a slight stitch into the heart and simply unnecessary as an display of opulence whatsoever.

Moreover, Dubai is the epitome for turbo-capitalism where the 5-star hotels are seamlessly built into huge out-of-this-world shopping mall, like integrating the pyramid-like Raffles Dubai into Wafi-City, here with its massive christmas tree.

Christmas Tree in Wafi City (Dubai)

Maybe, to be more precise, I should say, "used to be the epitome of turbo-capitalism" as the skyscrapers and no longer growing into the sky, though. From The Economist of November 27th this year, the article explains:

The range of answers has become gloomier by the week, as the debate moves from whether the Dubai property bubble will burst to just how bad it is going to get. Some nervous bankers think property prices could fall by 80% or so in the next year or so.

Next, the fact that there is censorship on internet-sites which e.g. forbids me to access Flickr, because it falls under "Prohibited Content Categories" like also dating, pornography, gambling. Ah, and VoIP from Skype is blocked, too.

The most stunning issue of Dubai is certainly the composition of the population which consists of 90 % expats, hailing from 100 countries around the world to fuel the engine from high-skilled to low-skilled workers. To me it almost appears like a weird multi-cultural experiment, even more so as it recalls one of the most intelligent sentences I have heard this year during a speech of the senior Indian journalist M.J. Akbar who said: "Minority is not a matter of numbers, it's a matter of power."

Alas, the majority has nothing to say in terms of any political participation. I don't intend to judge this in the light of the undisputable success story of Dubai, yet it is the best exemplification of this not immediately apparent truth. The "deal" in Dubai for expats goes like this, and you know before: You come here, make a lot of money, have fun in your 5-star amenities, pay no taxes and behave. Otherwise, you shut up or you go.

So much for a 90 percent majority. Merry Christmas from Dubai.

Silly Video from “The Seifertinger” explaining the World

After 10 years of live-radio till 2003 I always to sidelined to be an entertainer again, but sometimes I just can't do anything about jumping out of the role of professional conduct. Today, when Dirk and I decided to have lunch at MTR in Bangalore, we filled the one hour with walking around in Bangalore's Lalbagh Botanical Garden garden. And then Dirk had his little photo-camera, I was making some silly jokes and one thing came to the other.

(Ah, sorry, today is somehow my German day, and the worst: What I say is not even German, it's rather some sort of Bavarian dialect…)

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Thanks to Dirk for camera, post-production on iLife and all the fun we are having together. 

How to deal with Radicalism: Case Study

Sorry, to my English readers, this in German, yet it's a Facebook-conversation which I've had with an imbecile whom I met some 2 years back in Bangalore, a German trainee. And from all what I recall from a few rather unspectacular encounters a notorious underachiever. The nicest thing I can do in that context is to keep his name to myself. 

He is back in India, briefly to Bangalore, then on to Kerala before apparently flying out of Bangalore back to Europe again. He asked me if we could meet up. I agreed for January 6th and briefly told him about our changed plans to Dubai instead of Goa. I also sent him the link to my latest blog post. And this was his response to me (as mentioned, German language):

Dass die Lokalregierung in Goa das ganze übertrieben hat um die ungeliebten Outdoorparties zu verbieten ist klar, oder? Ich hoff mal, dass die Juden jetzt nicht nach Kerala strömen – darf man als Deutscher ja nicht sagen, aber viele von denen haben nach 3 Jahren Militär und lebenslangem auf die Araber runterschauen leider ein starkes Problem damit, sich angemessen zu benehmen. Ich erinner mich noch dran als ob es gestern gewesen wäre, wie der Barbier auf den Andamanen gesagt hat, dass er es gut findet, dass ich Deutscher bin und kein Israeli – und ich leg meine Hand dafur ins Feuer, dass der keinen Plan hat was das Wort Antisemitismus überhaupt bedeutet.

Leider hab ich nach einem Mal (vor 3 Jahren) Sylvester in Goa kein Bock mehr auf die fetten Engländer, vollen Russen, neureichen Inder und Kaschmiris auf Dummenfang, sonst würd ich ja hingehen und als Kamerad Seifert in Dein vorbezahltes 5* Hotel einchecken :-)

I couldn't feel more appaled. And that's from someone like me who is the anthithesis of polical correctness and loves all sorts of jokes on minorities. Yet, it's all a question of the context and moreover, what true colours are shining through in the message. So, in my interpretation, the true colours of that text reflect those of shit – as does its author.

So my response to him came out pretty brief (again German).

Deine Haltung widert mich zutiefst an. Hiermit entziehe ich Dir die Plattform für Deinen geistigen Dreck und löse nach Absenden meiner knappen Antwort unseren Kontakt bei Facebook. Das vorgesehene Treffen am 6. Januar hat sich freilich damit erledigt. Nimm zur Kenntnis, dass meine Entscheidung unumkehrbar und nicht verhandelbar ist. Beste Grüße, René.

From my experience when some position is completely off-limits, when there is no scope for a meaningful discussion, no interest in the truth – like it tends to be with radicalism of any sorts – the only way is to withdraw the platform of conversation from such people, isolate them and push them where they belong: to the edge.

After sending my response off, I deleted the contact with him both on Facebook and on XING. 

Terror Threats: Our Trip to Goa cancelled

Dirk and I have had a great week in India, made our planned trip to Ooty by Toy Train, then to Mudumalai National Park and via Mysore back to Bangalore. Pictures of the trip are here. We were very much looking forward to our next travel to Goa over Christmas, something that I always considered a "once in a lifetime experience". Everything had been organized since 2 months, flights, hotel – ready to go.

After terror struck on that November 26th in Mumbai, Dirk was at no point hesitant to go ahead with his travel to India; we even intended to include after Goa two days/one night in Mumbai, preferably in the Taj Mahal Hotel which had bravely re-opened yesterday. We are still convinced that after what happened there, security would convert the hotel into a fortress against a new terrorist attack. 

Unfortunately, today we learnt there were "specific terrorist threats" against Goa with the effect that all beach parties got banned. Moreover, that the central goverment is therefore deploying 375 paramilitary troups. Israel had already issued a "very concrete" warning to its citizens to avoid travels to Goa over Christmas and New Year. What does it mean for us?

We had very prudent and ambiguous discussions throughout the whole day where in the nutshell we were torn between two poles: not letting ourselves get blackmailed by those sick elements vs. taking an informed decision based on a sober risk assessment. Yet, in addition, we realized that there would be another aspect: A profound change in the very atmosphere why we had selected Goa as our destination. A paradise for the king of chilling. Imagining the closure of many venues and the (fully justified and required) presence of heavily armed security all over the place is exactly the antithesis for such an image. 

We discussed very frankly if we were cowards because we were giving in to terrorism. I wouldn't dare to reject that notion entirely. Yet, we also thought a lot about that little bug that would be sitting in our head and forcing us to watch every person coming into a restaurant or club. Why does he move that fast? Where is he going? What is this dent in his jacket and so on and so on. 

We were even working in the first place on a Plan B to move away from the very populated hotel in Baga (where the action is, that's why we booked it) to a less frequented place in South Goa. Yet, in vain. On a short notice, there was nothing reasonable available.

From a tactical standpoint, we also felt that protecting a hotel with an overseable circumference like the Taj Mahal Hotel is a manageable exercise, yet doing the same for a strip of land like the 100 km long beachline a totally different story.

As we saw the margin for a solution dwindle where we would feel both resilient and safe, we opted to cancel Goa and booked Christmas in Dubai instead. It simply doesn't feel good to know that you are a target.

Our prayers will be with those in Goa who did not back off that everything proceeds fine with a quiet and peaceful Christmas and Happy New Year. 

Indian Winter at 14° C warmed by “Benny Lava”

After a quality-wise mixed LeWeb-conference in Paris last week (pictures here) which is close to to revive the diplomatic American-French rift and a brief intermediary stop in Munich, I arrived in India on early Sunday morning with my good friend and business partner Dirk Schornstein. Actually, the flight LH 754 from Frankfurt to Bangalore added those few missing miles to become a Lufthansa HON-Circle.

HON Circle confirmed

607,771 miles in 2 years, uffz, so I kind of deserve it for spending half of my life on a plane :-)

Bangalore at this time of the year has it's coldest season of the year where I almost feel like a sissy wearing a pyjama during the night in South India, but it's just these 14° C during the night which make it slightly chilly.

It's Dirk's first time to India and for me it's almost a bit of re-discovery through his "virgin eyes" for this country which with tomorrow's date exactly for 5 years has become the centre for my little universe. Dirk is doing very well, with learning fast how to cross a street alive by running like a headless chicken (Quoting his last tweet: "Crossing streets is like playing Frogger. Difference: only 1 life. #india #traffic") and eating spicy food with his hands.

Dirk at Nagarjuna in Bangalore

We are here half-business, half-fun, later the day we'll attend the TIE Summit with the most impressive entrepreneurs from various industries in India. For the fun part we'll have two journeys. The first starting tomorrow by flying to Coimbatore, taking the toy-train to Ooty, spending two nights in the Mudulamai National Park and driving back to Bangalore with a stop-over in Mysore. The second trip from next Monday to Goa over Christmas and one night in Bombay.

After the terrible terrorist attacks in Mumbai three weeks ago, I was very carefully assessing the situation. In terms of risk I had identified three possible scenarios: Another attack, either by the same group or some other who wants to take a "free ride" in an anyway tense situation, a clash between Hindus and Muslims like it had happened in 1993 already and rising military temperature between India and Pakistan. The latter is becoming increasingly unlikely thanks to India's prudent reaction to Pakistan which has to be considered a failed state in all the harshness of the expression. Or as Shashi Tharoor put in in the current print edition of the Time Magazine: "India is a state with an army, Pakistan is an army with a state." 

If there is anything of a good in all the evil which has been done, it is the fact the honest hard-working Indians from the middle and upper class are waking up, saying "enough is enough" to it's incapable political leadership and reclaiming democracy from those who have corrupted it. A good read on the "State of the Union" is the country-special in the current "The Economist" where it for instance says about India's progress in the abysmal infrastructure everywhere: "But India will not meet its target; it never does."

Richmond Road in Bangalore: Creepy Infrastructure

Still, the subcontinent is always full of surprises and nothing would be further from reality than writing India off. Dirk and I will have a good time in the next days and weeks for sure. If you want to follow our trip, here we are:

Finally, to end this post with something extremely, tremendously funny, a music video from a Bollywood dance-scene which is even by Indian standards on the rather "extreme" side of the scale by itself. What makes it, however, completely OTT (=over the top) are its "subtitles" which are "explaining" what is being sung. Check this out, because at the end of the day we are all "Benny Lava" :-)

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