Sunday, January 29, 2006

Flying To The Old Portuguese Colony of Goa, Now Part of India

Written from the Goa State, India--

I am here today in a tropical paradise. For 300 years, until India assumed control, it was a Portuguese colony on the coast of the Arabian Sea. Now, it is a state of nearly ten million people, a little under half Catholic, a little over half Hindu.

Nearly everyone dresses in white. Coconut palms abound. Traffic is less than in overcrowded Bombay.

My friends, the Abrahams, and I are staying a week in a beauiful guest house for the princely sum of $11 a day. I asked how this could be. It is apparently part of the vagaries of international exchange, under which India, advancing in great strides, has a currency which is grossly undervalued. We have our own bedrooms, a dining room, sitting rooms, international television, newspapers, great food. We had wondeful Masala Dosas for breakfast, the exceptional crepe of Southern India. The only thing wrong is CNN International, which has grown even worse than last year.

I was just wondering, if we could move the executives of the Tribune Co. here whether they would not vacate their jobs and stay the rest of their lives. I can visualize Dennis FitzSimons sipping a coconut milk, and ruining the local newspaper.

We flew here yesterday on the new privately-run Kingfisher Airlines, and it was a revelation in itself. An hour's flight from Bombay, a great, comprehensive lunch, better than anything served on a transcontinental flight in America. Legions of smiling stewardesses. Massive but polite security. On time, more or less.

The printed menu featured both vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals with bottled water and fruit juice. It was served without hassle.

Why can their 340 service be so good and ours so lousy? Why does India air transport, which a few years ago was so chaotic, now so far outshine America's?
Why are their airline employees so anxious to please, while so many of ours don't seem to care?

These are questions which should be comprehensively examined, perhaps in a Congressional investigation.

What has changed more than anything in my eight visits here in 38 years has been self-image. The Indians have every reason to be proud of their accomplishments and it shows everywhere you look.

Yes, there are problems. At the Bombay (Mumbai) Airport the day after I arrived, an electronic device on an airliner falsely indicated a hijacking was underway. By the time, it was straighened out, there had been two hours of flight delays. It was the second time it had happened in a month.

With terrorism more common here than in the U.S., the security controls are at once more pervasive, yet somehow less onerous. There are more controls to go through, and we had to show our boarding passes five times and in my case my passport twice.

Still, their customer service is far ahead of ours.

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