He’s had cobra’s blood (thinking it was tomato soup)! Plus other crazy experiences of a business traveller

Anuj Sawhney, Managing Director, Swiss Military Worldwide, shares stories from his business trips and family holidays.

Anuj Sawhney travels to all the 26 countries where his brand Swiss Military is present.

Anuj Sawhney travels to all the 26 countries where his brand Swiss Military is present.

How often do you travel and where?
I travel to as many as 26 countries as the worldwide MD of Swiss Military, where the company has its presence. As I have the responsibility of expanding our business beyond Europe on my shoulder, I frequent Egypt, Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan, apart from Europe, America and Canada. I am out for a week every four-to-five weeks. My next business trip is to Taiwan.

Do you face any challenges when it comes to food, when abroad?
I do and let me demonstrate this with some examples. In Japan, when I told my business associate that I was feeling a bit cold, he suggested a special soup guaranteed to warm me up. I tried it. Because it tasted like tomato soup, I had the whole bowl. Soon after I felt a burning sensation on my tongue. I went about the day’s business, but by evening back in the hotel, I was vomiting and developed a fever that shot up to 104. I called the local distributor and the hotel doctor. The doctor who spoke only Chinese asked my distributor what food I had. When the distributor informed him, the doctor had his hand on his forehead. Unable to understand what they were saying I asked my distributor, “What was it that I had?” I was not ready for the answer, and was shocked when the distributor said the soup was cobra’s blood! It is considered a delicacy, but one has to develop immunity for it as it still has some bit of poison in it. Apparently one cultivates a taste for it by having a few teaspoons of soup at a time before one can have a whole bowl! My whole trip went for a six as I was on bed-rest for the next five days.

Another time, in a Chinese hotel, I asked for salt for my boiled egg at breakfast. But the waiter simply wasn’t getting it. I used my hands to make gestures, the waiter nodded and came back with a towel. More explanations followed and this time the waiter came back with a bottle of vinegar. And finally a pair of scissors. By the time he understood half an hour had passed, with my egg turning cold. I left frustrated–a sorry state of mind to be in if you are going for a business meeting.

Yet another time in Korea, when I asked for chicken, a waiter brought in a whole chicken with its eyes and claws intact. One has to be very careful about food, especially in these countries. You can’t read the menu and have to depend on pictures. And at the buffet spread, I ended up picking and eating rat meat thinking it was duck meat.

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So how does one avoid these sticky situations?
I have started relying a lot on the Google Translate

app on my phone. Here basic phrases are translated immediately into the language of the country. If someone can’t read, I switch on the audio, which voices the translation. So while ordering food from my room or a set of towels, I put my mobile phone on audio mode into the speakers of the room phone. That makes things easier.

What are the other challenges you face while on a business trip abroad?
In the UAE, my collaborators, who were all Muslims, had an issue with the Swiss cross that is a part of the Swiss Military logo. In Korea, we have different vendors who manufacture our products. It is very difficult to drive home the point to them when we are describing ‘affordable luxury’. It’s difficult to make them understand the brand’s essence in Korea. We want to make products that have a long shelf life and are not seasonal. But the point is lost on them. Taiwan is a better place to do business than in China because the Taiwanese are more open to global attitude and culture. The younger generation of Taiwanese knows English.

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Which is your favourite airline?
My favourite international airline is Swiss because of its excellence in food, the wine list and the flat bad. The in-flight entertainment is superb and the service is near perfect. It is also never delayed. In India it has to be Indigo for its consistency of service and on-time schedules.

You have also travelled a lot during your career as an actor. What’s the difference between travelling for business and travelling for film shoots?
As an actor for movies such as Nayee Padosan, Life Mein Kabhie Kabhiee, Tom, Dick, and Harry, Chingaari, and Naina, I travelled a lot all over UK and Europe. The difference is that on business trips I end up spending as much as Rs 5 lakh if I am travelling to an expensive country like Switzerland. But in films, someone else pays for your trips.

What about your personal holidays?
I am an ardent biker and part of GODS (Group of Delhi Superbikers). I have a custom-designed Kawasaki Ninja 1000 and a custom-designed Harley SuperLow 1200. My last bike trip was to Bhutan via Guwahati. We did 2,500 km in seven days.

My wife and I also travel once a year abroad. Our recent holiday was to Scotland. I love self driving. So I hired a car, and started driving from London, using the GPS. Self-driving is the best way to soak in the countryside and culture of a place. It was 3-week vacation. We touched Oxford, went to York and met family and friends on the way. UK is a left-hand drive nation, so you have to keep that in mind all the time and drive accordingly. Many a times, the roads are ‘one way’ and there were no prominent signboards, so I ended up driving dangerously. The GPS needs to be constantly updated for accurate information.

What about an Indian holiday?
We are going to the backwaters of Kerala. We also visit Goa often, where we have friends. I have done Assam in the east and we also go frequently to Udaipur in Rajasthan.

Nishiraj A. Baruah

Former Executive Editor of Air India's in-flight magazine and Harper's Bazaar Bride. Lifestyle journalist, travel writer and blogger who collects knives and plays the drums.

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