One of the reasons I keep coming back to South and Southeast Asia is because I find it endlessly fascinating to observe the interactions between the “developing” and the “developed” world. Having been raised and educated in the “West”, I’ve come to see the world from a certain point of view. Now, being based in the developing world, I’m allowed a new perspective and point of view that’s difficult to get at home. New perspective is, of course, one of the main reasons I think it is imperative for young people, if they have the means, to leave their home countries to travel and live abroad. Additionally, I have a strong interest in Asian cultures, peoples and politics, so I try as much as possible to keep updated on the latest news spanning the region.
Being stationed in Asia, and in a developing country at that, it’s absorbing to see how globalization really works on the other end of the line. As long as I am reading something or learning about it in the academic world, there’s always a certain degree of undeniable separation. Bridging that separation through travel and stories excites me and makes me more interested to learn about the world. Here’s one such story that I thought put a humorous human face on globalization.
It’s Madonna Calling
At my job, I recently wrote a story about a fascinating business concept: knowledge based outsourcing. Instead of just outsourcing jobs in a sweat shop, this guy is outsourcing his brain power: he designs homes and structures from Kathmandu for people in the U.K., the U.S. and Australia. This architect never actually visits the homes he designs, despite sometimes being involved in the design and building progress for years. He’s developed ways using various technologies, like virtual tour software, to make the business run smoothly.
Researching the outsourcing business in South Asia spurred me to bring up the topic with one of my colleagues at the magazine. The topic shifted to call-centers, which are perhaps the most famous form of outsourcing. Many of us in the West have often talked on the phone with someone with a slight British-Indian accent whose name is “Joe Smith” or “Martha Jones.” Obviously their real names are probably something more like “Manav Bachchan” or “Sita Sherawat,” and they’re likely sitting in a chair in Bangalore or New Delhi, India. I’ve read about call-centers in books about globalization and I even watched a documentary for school about the young Indian people who run these enterprises.
My colleague ended up telling me that she had worked at a call-center based in Kathmandu before switching to the media business.
“What’s it like?” I asked.
“Boring,” she told me. “We do nothing all day but call people in the U.S. and most people just hung up on us.”
Then, one of the other editors at my office chimed in.
“You worked in a call-center?” he asked. “What was your name?”
When Nepalis or Indians work in a call center that deals with a Western customer base, they take on a Western sounding name during their shift. I suppose that this is to reassure the client that their friendly help-line attendant is sitting right down the block, or at least within the borders of the client’s own country.
According to my female co-worker, picking a name for the day would depend on which Hollywood actress she was especially enthralled with at the moment. Some days she would introduce herself to the American customers as “Jennifer” if she had seen an especially good Jennifer Aniston movie lately. Other days it would be: “Hi, this is Julia,” if a great Julia Roberts movie had just been released.
She told me that her time selling life insurance at the call-center was not especially successful,. But, she did recall one day when when her sales were especially good. It was the day that she chose to introducer herself as “Madonna.”
“I remember this one guy,” she said. “The day I was ‘Madonna’ he wanted to talk for an hour and he kept telling me I had a beautiful voice. That was one of the only days I made some good sales!”