Friday, December 22, 2006

I'm off to the hotel to pick up my things, then it's to the airport with me. Woo hoo!

See you all back in the US.

Happy holidays.

---Eric
12.22.06, 11:00am – CTS Offices, Chennai, India.

It’s my last day here. I fly out tonight at 11:30pm.

I have now been here long enough that the servers in the hotel restaurant (who are always so very helpful and smiling) know that Mr. Eric (as they call me) likes black coffee and chilled bottled water with his breakfast.

A woman ironing clothes at a street cart.

Speaking of breakfast, I finally had my first cringe-worthy run in with an Ugly American. I haven’t seen as many westerners here as I had expected. Even in the hotel there aren’t very many. Those I’ve seen are typically Euros. I don’t think I’ve encountered a single American that I’m aware of. All of this made this guy this morning even more painful to watch. At breakfast this morning, a few tables over from me sat this fat dude wearing a burnt orange University of Texas T shirt. First off, way to blend in, dude. When I sat down he was talking loudly to the servers (because yelling helps people better understand English) and said something like, “Bombay! Bombay! You know it?” For the love of god, these people are Indians, of course they know one of the biggest cities in their country. That would be like an Indian coming up to him, in Austin, and saying, “Chicago! You know it?” Idiot. Oh, and they call it Mumbai now, and have for years, dumbass. Then he proceeded to yell something about being from Texas and national champions. Good lord, you’re talking to these people about college football? American college football? Let me ask you something, jackass, you ever heard of cricket? No? Well it’s bigger here than college football is in the US. Ok ok, I’ll stop. It just pained me how hideously he represented an “Amurkin”. Thank god that’s the only one I’ve seen.

This cracked me up for some reason.

My cab driver asked me this morning if tonight I am “going back to my native”. He chatted up a storm today. In his very broken English he asked if I liked India, when I am coming back, etc. He perked up when I mentioned I may bring my wife with me next time. He told me his name is Lenin, but “not the Russian Lenin”. He’s the Indian Lenin. Then he told me his brother is named Karl Marx. Funny guy, this cab driver. At least, I’m relatively certain it was a joke. Maybe his parents are die hard commies, I don’t know. Anyway, I’m going to be sure to ask for him next time I visit.

The Indian, not Russian, Lenin.

I’ll miss the nice weather here. Although I’ve been told this is the “cool” season and during the summer it gets to 40 or 42 C. That’s 104 to 107 F. I’ll stick to visiting during the cool season, thanks.

A dilapidated bus station.

My hours here are down into the single digits.

---Eric

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Look! Videos of the traffic I see here on a daily basis.

This is part of what I see on my ride to work (sorry for the crappy quality on this one):

These are tuktuks in action with motorcycles thrown in for fun:

---Eric
12.21.06, 9:00pm – Rain Tree Hotel, Chennai, India.

It’s my last night at the hotel. Finally. It didn’t come a moment too soon. Today was a long day at work and I'm ready to come home. I even checked into my flight already on these here newfangled internets tubes. It’s actually going to be pretty relaxing to have nothing to do on the plane for 18 hours or however long the trip is. I can just sleep, watch movies, and read.

Today we ate lunch at the restaurant downstairs in the office building. Senthil and Ram told me the place served up some mean fish as their specialty so I ordered it. The entire fish came out. Head, tail, eyeballs, the works. I suppose I should have expected it. For as unappetizing as it is to have the vacant stare of a glassy, crispy fish eyeball on you while eating, the fish itself was delicious. The sauce’s flavor knew no end of scrumptiousness.

A vegetable vendor with his product.

Four ladies ate at the table next to us. Their 5 little kids (probably between 6 and 8 years old) ran around the restaurant with reckless abandon. Being hungry and cranky I found myself thinking, “Control your freakin’ kids already!” I mean, they were running around and screeching and causing major havoc. Two waiters carrying trays laden with food almost bit it on the pint sized hellions. Culture, schmulture. Rein in your damn kids.

Every day the taxi drives by a construction site on the way to the office. Today I saw a bunch of people in normal Indian dress but with bright yellow hardhats on working there. They didn’t look like seasoned construction workers and many of them were women. They were moving a pile of sand or small stones from the front of the site to the interior. But, instead of using wheelbarrows or buckets, they filled bowls and carried them on their heads. The hardhats had cylinders (roughly 5 inches in diameter and 3 inches high) sticking straight up from the crown of the hat. These women balanced bowls full of sand on these cylindrical protrusions and walked through the construction site over piles of debris and uneven ground, without using their hands to steady the load. Amazing.

A typical Indian construction site.

The elevator at the office stopped working today between the second and third floors. Luckily I was not in it at the time. I took the stairs down after fruitlessly waiting for the tired old thing. Halfway down I passed the repair crew working on it. Seeing the actual components of the elevator exposed and being worked on my barefoot repairmen, coupled with the fact it had quit working entirely, further eroded my already dubious faith in the dilapidated transport.

Clothes ironing services.

The power went out at the office three times today. Again, not inspiring a great deal of confidence here. On the way to the store at lunch I walked past some guys repairing the electrical substation. They were climbing all over the metal structure and fooling with the insulated connectors and capacitors and whatnot. Again, as with the guys on the runway, OSHA would not be pleased.

I made the mistake of trying to put the flowers Manickam brought over the other day into water. I unwrapped the paper and plastic case only to realize the job of the plastic and paper is to hold the arrangement in place. Once I removed the wrapper it became obvious that the stems of the flowers did not all reach to the bottom of the wrap as in a typical bouquet. The flower stems were all about 5 inches long but the flowers were carefully arranged throughout the entire 24 inches of the piece. This story is the long way of saying I took off the wrapper and the thing fell apart. One good thing came from it though; some of the filler turned out to be an evergreen of some sort so it smells like a Christmas tree in my room now. A random bit of unexpected Christmas spirit.

Speaking of Christmas, I’ve seen some random Christmas decorations. Mostly I see these glowing hanging paper stars. But mostly it’s a halfhearted attempt at decorating. A scrap of tinsel or a bedraggled tree haphazardly decorated in perhaps 5 minutes. There’s even a slightly leaning gingerbread house in the hotel lobby. I did see a group of 15 or so Santas on the back of a flatbed truck. They all wore plastic Santa masks instead of fake beards. It kinda creeped me out.

A clash of religions.

While having a drink at the rooftop bar I saw more denim in one place than I’ve seen here yet. No, I didn’t see Dorothy (inside joke for Kevin and some other Navis people). Very occasionally will I see someone here in jeans (and it’s usually a woman). The entire serving staff at the rooftop bar wears jeans. Strange. Is it some way of communicating the western image of “casual and relaxed” since we’re at a rooftop bar in a hotel that caters to westerners?

A sugar cane juicing machine. Diesel powered.

Speaking of the rooftop bar…I was told to expect rain during my stay. I’ve been here 12 days and nary a drop have I seen.

Coming home tomorrow!

---Eric

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

12.20.06, 9:00pm – Rain Tree Hotel, Chennai, India.

I just got back from more sightseeing after work with Manickam and Anwar. They took me to an enormous beach. They said it’s the second largest beach in Asia and I would have a hard time doubting them. The walk from the car to the waves was about 15 minutes and they say the beach stretches for kilometers (although they wouldn’t tell me exactly how many but it’s definitely more than 4).

A little further down the beach we encountered the “touristy” area, with rows of carts selling various things, but mostly popcorn, drinks (sodas and water), cheap toys and trinkets, and bracelets. Every set of 4 carts repeated the same sequence. Now’s that’s competition.

Beach shops.

Near this touristy area were a couple of memorials to some famous Tamil Nadu politicians. I think they were both Chief Ministers of the State. The bigger memorial honored M. G. Ramachandran (MGR). He was an actor-turned-politician (sound familiar, Californians?) who was, and still is, quite revered. He served for 13 years, which is quite an accomplishment as most last only one term (5 years). He was entombed there in 1987 and they say his watch still ticked when they laid him to rest. Now visitors to his shrine press their ears to his tomb because legend has it you can still hear his watch ticking. That must be one heck of a battery in that thing. Manickam and Anwar were unimpressed with the legend’s validity.

Tick tick tick.

The smaller memorial honored a different Chief Minister (whose name escapes me at the moment) from an earlier period. Apparently at one time something like 2 million people gathered on the beach there to hear him speak. It’s some sort of world record for a beach gathering or some such. This entire paragraph is likely strewn with inaccuracies as I didn’t quite grasp the whole story on that one.

UPDATE: The second guy's name is C. N. Annadurai and 15 million people attended his funeral. That set a record for funeral attendence at the time (1969). Wikipedia says so.

The general area of the beach and memorials had some of the grandest architecture I’ve seen here. Aside from the soaring monuments to the Chief Administrators (both were at least 100 ft high and 50 yards across), an arch separated the main road from this area and it, too, must’ve been at least 100 ft high. Across the street was a university building with onion-type domes and rows (colonnades?) of large pillars and arches. If it had been daylight I would have taken some grand pictures of it. Alas, I am a working stiff, even half a world away, and they don’t let me out until it’s dark outside.

The MGR Memorial.

The next stop was St. Thomas Basilica church and shrine. A large and impressive building, that. It was kind of odd to be in a Christian church in India, but there are more Christians here then you’d think. At least, there are more than I was expecting. But, then, my research prior to coming here could accurately be described as “minimal”, so what do I know? The inside of the church was typically magnificent for a church of its size and there were quite a few very serious worshipers inside. Across the parking lot from this impressive structure stood (or, more accurately, leaned) a primitive construction site. It was quite the contrast.

Barefoot genuflecting.

The church of St. Thomas.

The construction site.

I seriously stood in one spot for those last two photos. All I had to do was turn 180 degrees.

Now I’m back in the hotel. Room service just arrived so I’m gonna go eat.

48 hours from now I’ll be getting ready to board my flight home. Joy.

---Eric

12.19.06, 5:20pm – Navis India Offices, Chennai, India.

I’m still sick today. The good thing is I’m not worse, therefore lessening the chance of it being some strange bloodthirsty exotic Indian virus. I again woke up in a puddle of sweat this morning and now I have a stuffy/runny nose, but, really, it’s nothing to cause any undue alarm.

The medicines I got from the Doc yesterday are sort of strange. They’re over the counter drugs (so that wasn’t an actual prescription he wrote on the hotel notepad yesterday) but they’re not in boxes or anything. They’re just foil packets with the drug name on them. No dosages or even explanations of what they are. I googled some of the names but not much came up. I figured out one is a B-Complex vitamin, so I’ve been taking that one. The others I’ve decided to forgo injesting. I mean, there’s like 4 separate medicines. Am I really supposed to just down them all in some sort of a cocktail? I’m gonna pass.

The meds. They were delivered in a brown paper bag.

Last night Girish and I went to dinner at a restaurant in a hotel called Raj something or other (I’m so bad at remembering these crazy foreign names). It is in a building that used to be some sort of British palace or other type of high-falutin’ place. It really was a pretty cool place. Big and palace-y. The dinner accompaniment consisted of musicians playing traditional Indian songs on various unusual instruments. A young Indian lady joined them occasionally performing some sort of traditional Indian dance. For being so relatively young (early 20s maybe?) her performance was solid. These dances essentially told stories and were very complex and involved a long series of dance steps, complete with facial expressions that made it look like she was talking to people. She must study and practice a lot.

Girish and I talked about quite a few things; politics, including the sorry state of George W’s current position and how it mirrors Clinton’s 8 years ago (remember the impeachment and the Republican takeover of the House and Senate?), the new office, and various aspects of Indian life, such as:

- Learning English is considered essential to achieve a successful career. Even Indians who speak very little or no English send their children to schools where most, if not all, of the subjects are taught in English.

- Cramming an entire family on to a motorcycle is not something these people would prefer to do (not that I ever thought they were doing it just for kicks), it’s just that most of them don’t have a choice as the motorcycle is their only vehicle.

The family truckster.

- The reason there aren’t more accidents on the Indian roads is because, due to the unpredictability of the Indian traffic, Indians are very cautious, vigilant, and ready for anything while driving. He also verified my belief that they have an incredible amount of faith in the awareness and ability of their fellow drivers.

We also made fun of the Navis employees who have visited CTS in the past.

Today I’m working from the Navis India offices. I wish I could be here more on this trip and not for only the one day. It’s so nice to finally meet all of these people I’ve worked with over the past 3+ years. As I’ve been introduced to more and more people today I’ve realized I’ve forgotten that I’ve worked with a good number of these people on various projects at one point or another.

This trip in general has been very good for the relationship between me and my testers. It’s good to put faces and actual humans with the names and emails. It’s so easy to treat someone who is mostly an email presence with a sense of detachment. Being here has reinforced the human element of this relationship. I’m getting a very good sense of who these guys are, what’s important to them, and what they’d like to accomplish. All things I’d like to maintain.

Music I’ve heard at one point or another through the hotel’s PA:

- Peter Cetera. I think they played an entire album of his.

- Kris something or other…he sang that song “Saaaaail-ling, takes me awaaaaaay to where I’m going…”. More than once.

- I don’t know who sings it but that song, “’Cause I’m your laaaaay-daaaaay”. I’m pretty sure they played that whole album, too.

Joseph here at Navis India tells me the American popular music from the late 70s and early 80s is still very popular here in India. Ok then, to each his own I suppose. We can’t all be enlightened to the majesty of Slayer.

Coconuts for sale.

I am really starting to get used to the pace of life here and how things are done. It definitely helps that I’m not trying to actually LIVE here. No apartment to deal with, no grocery shopping, no day-to-day hassles. I have a frickin’ hired car that takes me everywhere and a hotel staff that is ridiculously doting. Not too hard to get used to, really. That said, I am REALLY starting to look forward to coming home. I want (in no particular order):

- To not have to choose between Indian food and poorly prepared “western” options for breakfast. A bowl of cereal would be kick ass.

- To eat some goddamn fresh fruit.

- To have more than 4 options for clothes in the morning.

- To eat a frickin’ sandwich (there are none here. None.)

- To grill some burgers on my BBQ.

- To watch SportsCenter in English.

- A latte from my espresso machine.

- To pet my cats.

- To use my own damn cell phone.

- To drink water from the tap.

- To be somewhere where there are smog regulations.

- To watch Tivo.

- To drink off my kegerator.

- To kiss my wife.

---Eric

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

12.18.06, 4:45pm – CTS Offices, Chennai, India.

Well, I’m sick. Sniffles, sneezing and it feels like I have a fever. Waking up at 5am sweating buckets and light-headed caused a bit of concern. It didn’t help that I kept remembering everything I’d read about all of the exotic bugs here and every single one seemed to have symptoms that started with “fever”. Should I book a flight to Singapore now?

I rang down to the hotel front desk to see if they had medicines available and they suggested sending a doctor to my room. Um, ok. He showed up and examined me and basically told me to stop acting like a baby. Ok, he didn’t say that, but he insisted I don’t have a fever. I could swear I do. It sure feels like I do. But, hey, he’s the one with the thermometer training. He wrote me a “prescription” on a piece of hotel notepad paper and told me I could send a bellhop to go get it. A half hour after the Doc left the front desk rang my room to tell me a bellhop had been dispatched to pick up the medicines. I hadn’t even gone down to ask for them yet. Doc must’ve stopped by the front desk and told them what I needed. Then they asked if I wanted room service or tea. I’m tellin’ ya, the service in this place is freakin’ awesome.

I ordered room service and after the bellhop returned with my meds I just happened to be perusing the paper when I see it: on ESPN at 7am, Monday Night Football! Oh lordy, could it be true? I frantically flip on the TV and there it is…glorious, wonderful, western culture. It’s probably the only time in my life I felt joy upon hearing Joe Theisman’s voice (still, by the end of the game the hotel TV was very well aware of the fact that I think Joe Theisman is an idiot. Is there a worse announcer in all of football? I think not).

The game just happened to be one of the two or three MNF games all season that were not terrible matchups and a game I actually wanted to see.

I told my taxi I wouldn’t need him until 1:00, took a nap, took a shower, and now here I am at work. Feeling ok, I guess. Just sick.

A few observations on some everyday differences between India and the US:

- At home, if you don’t deal with your trees the power company yells at you, then eventually comes by and chops your tree into some hideous shape (usually an exaggerated “L”) solely for the purpose of keeping your tree out of the power lines. As I wandered around (lost) the other day I noticed they purposely use the trees here to support the power lines. I took a picture of it but it’s really blurry. If my photo skillz improve and I walk by another example of such fine urban planning I will post it. (UPDATE - Photo added.)

Not up to code.

- How about the guy I saw cooking something in a pot over a sizeable open flame in a thatched roof hut? I seriously doubt his hut insurance covers blatant negligence.

- Three of us went to lunch the other day at a busy restaurant and sat at a table for four. 5 minutes after we sat down some random dude sat at the empty chair. Neither of my lunch mates said anything to him, nor he to them. He ordered his food, ate it, and left on his way. Needless to say, that would never happen in the US. Although it happens in some European countries, I hear.

- The power outlets here are different than home. That fact in itself is not unusual nor was it unexpected. The advance purchasing of an adapter is proof of this. The outlet configuration is two small, round holes about ¾” apart with a larger hole above and centered between the two small holes. My first day in the office I was having a hell of a time getting my plug adapter to fit in the holes. I couldn’t understand because it had worked in my hotel room. Girish informed me that the large hole is actually a child-proofing mechanism. You need to stick something into that hole while simultaneously plugging in your device. He suggested using a pen. Well, now. You child-proof something by making the adults stick something into the outlet? What, are you trying to create a society of orphans? I did as he suggested and it worked but only after a nice blue spark flew from the large hole at the conclusion of the procedure. This happens every day when I plug in my laptop (when the security guard is not around insisting he do it for me).

Girish is taking me to dinner tonight to some place with food and dancing and singing (a show, not participatory singing and dancing). It might be interesting.

And because my wife wants to see more pictures, here are more pictures.

---Eric

A templey-shriney thing I saw while lost.

Another shot of the crowd at T Nagar.

Fruit stand at T Nagar.

A thatched roof hut down the street from my hotel.

More wedding revelry.

Men clustered around a street vendor.

Monday, December 18, 2006

12.18.06, 8:30pm – Rain Tree Hotel, Chennai, India.

Back to work today. Nothing much new to report. The jetlag is nearly gone and I’m settling into a bit of a routine now. My old taxi driver is back and today he decided to entertain me by playing a CD of some sort of Indian music and singing along.

My culture shock is easing, too. I’m getting used to how things are done around here. It really helped to get out and sightsee with some locals.

Because I have nothing else interesting to say, here is a picture I really like. There are images in most of the old posts now, too.

---Eric

This is how 75% of the women here dress.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

12.17.06, 8:00pm – Rain Tree Hotel, Chennai, India.

Back from another day of sightseeing. This time with Manickam and Anwar. Manickam arrived with a bunch of flowers as a gift. How nice. I like both of them. They are really cool people.

We headed out to do some more shopping as I wanted to get some silk. They took me to a place called City Centre. Guess what it was? Another shopping mall. Yay. This one was far more upscale than the one yesterday. We visited a few clothing stores then I had had enough.

Next we headed to and area of Chennai called T Nagar, which is the closest thing I've seen to what could be called downtown Chennai. It was easily the busiest part of the city I had seen yet. Crowds and crowds of people. Anwar claimed it was due to the Christmas shopping season. Um, aren't most of these people Hindus? Anyway, it reminded me a lot of Times Square in New York. The street was just jammed with cars, close to what should be 5 lanes in each direction.

The crowd at T Nagar.

We went inside into a store with so much silk it was mind boggling. Silk in so many different forms and colors I was frozen into place. Luckily my guides were able to ascertain my desires and led me to the proper place. Excellent service. I believe the counter guy would have kept showing me things until I keeled over.

Lunch was next, but only after we walked back to the taxi. Manickam says, "The taxi is across the street, is that ok?" Um, sure, why not? No big deal, right? Soon I realized why he asked; the taxi is on the other side of that very same street jammed with 10 lanes of crazy traffic, and we're about to cross it. Crosswalks? Pshaw. Waiting for the light? That's for suckers (and we'd probably still be waiting there). My street crossing adventures of the morning near my hotel were nothing compared to what I was about to do. We stood on the side for a few seconds, then, after checking to make sure I was ready, my guides led the way. There is nothing quite like standing between "lanes" 3 and 4 of traffic moving 20mph while waiting for a "gap" in the traffic so you can dart in front of a car into the next "safe" area. Cars whooshing by, motorcycles swerving to avoid you, and the ever present honk honk honking. I mean, I was standing in the middle of 5 lanes of oncoming traffic. Just breathtakingly insane. But no big deal for these people.

The view while crossing the street. I'm between lanes of traffic.

For lunch they took me to a westernized hotel called the Regency something or other, I think. The restaurant inside looked like the shopping area of a Vegas casino. The ceiling was painted the sky-and-clouds motif and the walls were made to look the outside of shops. If you’ve even been inside the New York, NY or Paris or Venetian casinos in Vegas you know what I’m talking about. Except I think this was supposed to look like an American city (not that New York isn’t American, but you know what I’m saying). Uncle Sam posters telling me to buy war bonds, faux vintage Texaco signs, you get the idea. The food was mediocre.

We piled back into the car and headed south. This time we went past Dakshina Chitra (yesterday’s historical stop) another 45 minutes into an even more remote area. The few remaining shops and semi-rural buildings finally giving way to flat coastal grasslands and bluffs and cows. Hey, it’s the ocean! And, hey, there’s a bus in our lane and it’s coming right at us! I hate to keep trying to describe the traffic, but when the freakin’ center line on a two lane highway is routinely ignored it tends to rattle me. What percentage of the US driving population is terrified of passing on a two lane highway? 75%? 80%? In India, it’s hovering close to zero. Just flash your headlights and move on over, straddle that centerline and if the car in the other lane has room on the shoulder, well, they’ll move over. If they don’t, well, just slow down a bit so you can sqeeeeeze on by at the cautious speed of 45 km/hr. But, Mr. Taxi Driver, is it really necessary to pull this maneuver on a two lane bridge with 1ft diameter posts where the shoulder would be?

It didn't help that as I was staring out the window I caught a glimpse of two twisted chunks of what I assume used to be vehicles about 15 yards from the highway. They were down the slope and behind the screen of some trees. It turns there was an accident there just a few days prior involving a bus with a capacity of 10 was carrying 14 people crashing headlong into a lorry (truck). After that I contented myself with taking in the sights and resigning myself to the thought that I probably didn’t want to see it coming.

Our destination was a touristy area called Mammalapuram with some really really old stone temples originally made in 700AD. The major temple in this area is called the Coast Temple. It sits amongst the sea breeze and ocean grasslands about 100 yards from the coast line. After wandering in this area for a while we left and drove about 5 minutes to another temple site. Most of the temples and statues in this area were carved from solid rock. Giant boulders up to 20ft high carved into temples with colonnades and pilasters and filigree. Both places had many tourists walking around and most of them Indian. My guides refused to leave until I had been photographed with nearly every statue, temple, and blade of grass.

In front of the Coast Temple


Before we left Anwar bought me a coconut from a cart and the seller chopped the top off, stuck a straw in it and handed to me. Mmmm…coconut water. When I finished he took it from me and with three or four expert chops with his large curved machete he exposed the flesh and carved it out. So this is what they’re eating in Survivor. I didn’t realize how little of the coconut is actually edible.

Back in the car to reverse the semi-terrifying drive, only this time, to increase the difficulty rating, we’ll be doing it in the rapidly growing darkness. Good times! When we got back into Chennai we hit some of the worst traffic I’ve experienced. I guess that’s what happens when your roads narrow and widen for no particular reason. I tried to get some good video footage of the craziness that is Chennai traffic. I got some decent stuff but it seemed that every time I hit stop something ridiculous would happen. For instance: A motorcycle speeding past our creeping taxi at at least 20km/hr and swerving through the nearly stopped cars. Or, a family of 5 on a motorcycle going by with dad driving, little bro and sis (they looked around 3 years old) in front of dad between him and the handlebars and big sis (roughly 8) between his back and mom at the rear. Damn but I wish I had caught that.

Now I’m back in the room and Chelsea has just tied their football match with Everton in the 52nd minute.

Back to work tomorrow.

---Eric

12.17.06, 10:15am – Rain Tree Hotel, Chennai, India.

I got lost this morning. I can hear my wife both groaning and giggling at me.

This morning I decided to wander the streets near my hotel to get a more personal experience of the shops and general street scene I’ve seen only from my taxi. I also wanted to buy some packaged fruit juice since my restriction on fruits at breakfast is starting to kill me. I walked one direction from the hotel and bought some juice at a standard issue street shop. Relatively uneventful experience with one exception: crossing the street. It’s mayhem and requires complete awareness. The first time I tried it I noticed an Indian man about 10 meters away trying to cross the same way. I just tagged along with him and walked when he walked. The next time I tried it myself and was nearly run down by a tuktuk. After that near miss I kept imagining myself lying in the street with a broken ankle which then caused the words from the Travel Doctor in Oakland to start running through my head, “If urgent medical care is needed, every effort should be made to get to Singapore”. Let’s be careful out there. As such, I no longer walk on the side of the road in the direction of traffic, I cross over to the “wrong” side of the road and walk there. It is so much easier to deal with insanely piloted vehicles of uncertain trajectories when I can see them coming. Walking with the traffic is just too crazy. Beep beep from behind and you’d better immediately make every effort to move over to the left (yes, the left, they’re backwards over here) or at least hold your exact course, hope for the best, and be ready for the brush of the handlebar on your elbow.


A tuktuk. How embarrassing to be run over by one of these, huh?

Having acquired my juice I walked by to my hotel after successfully remembering to make the turn on to the correct street.

There is not much here to distinguish one street from another and there are no, and I mean NO street signs. I really don’t know how people know where they are or what street they’re on. Alley, alley, side street, side street, alley, hey the cab is turning onto this side street. How did he know that was the right turn to make? I have no earthly idea. I know that part of it is living here and driving a cab for a living, but, really, what about people who move here from Bangalore or Delhi? How do they know how to get around? There is definitely something navigational in the culture I’m not picking up.

Full of navigational confidence, and being under no particular time constraints, adventuresome spontaneity takes hold and I walk past my hotel and down to the next major cross street. That’s where the Park Sheraton is and I’ve heard it’s quite swanky. It’s by far the biggest building in the area. It sits at a kind of crazy intersection (5 or 6 streets all intersect in the general area) with some busy street stands and shops clustered nearby. My curiosity not yet satisfied, I roam further down one of the streets. More shops, many still closed, probably because it’s a Sunday morning. I turn around and start walking back. I take some photos, admire some stuff, smile at some people, feel slightly self-conscious walking past the group of men clustered in front of a street cafĂ© (and I’m a guy), and am generally distracted. After walking for about 10 minutes I realize, hey, I don’t remember that building. And I certainly would have remembered that shop over there as it’s painted bright blue and the entrance is adorned with bright orange flowers. I think I took a wrong turn. Great.

I walk a bit further just to be sure but, really, at this point it’s pretty obvious; either I was asleep on the walk out and missed all of these shops and stalls or I went the wrong way. I’m lost in Chennai! I’m lost in Chennai! Eh, well, despite the complete lack of navigational aides available to me, there are far worse places to be lost on foot. Like East Oakland. Here I am in a relatively safe environment (except for the traffic), I have so many freaking tuktuks at my disposal it’s silly, I have the hotel’s business card in my wallet (thanks to Dave for that tip) and, if all else failed, I’m sure I could just ask someone for directions. I opt for none of the above and instead turn around and walk back the way I came. Soon I realize that, while distracted by the group of men earlier I walked past the road I was meant to take. I took it this time and was shortly back at my hotel. Crisis averted.

Women selling flowers.

Some random thoughts for no reason:

- Somehow the broken glass they use on top of fencing and walls is even more menacing than barbed wire. They stick it business end up into a top layer of mortar. There is an elegant brutality in its simplicity and there is no mistaking its message. Bravo on the nice reuse of materials, too.

Keep out.

- I just cannot get used to moving over to the left when passing someone on foot coming the other direction. I don’t know how many funny stares I got in the mall yesterday as I moved over to the right and ended up having to cram myself between the person and the wall as they confusedly got out of the idiot westerner’s way.

- My wife would really like the design of this hotel. Out front is a curtain waterfall falling into an infinity pond with floating blossoms. Inside, light-colored marble floors meet frosted glass wall panels with brushed nickel fixtures that accent and offset the warm wood tones of the walls and furniture. Modern light fixtures, clean lines, simple but elegant furniture, she would really dig it. Even the bathroom sink is essentially a big white bowl atop a wooden table (with a drain and all that, too, not just a basin). Top all of that off with its sustainable business practices (it’s an “Ecotel”) and it’s almost like she designed it herself.

- On the flight to Singapore, just before we landed, they handed out the immigration forms. Down at the bottom it says, in bright red block lettering, “Smuggling drugs into Singapore is punishable by death”. Um, wouldn’t the time to tell me that be BEFORE I got on the plane with all of my illegal drugs? Thanks for the info but we’re about to land and now it’s too late for me to do anything about my stash. That is, if I were smuggling drugs.

- The coffee here is good. But the flavor seems to change by the day, if not by the cupful. I swear, my first cup this morning was light and flavorful (if just a bit too watery) and the next cup was dark and sweet and thick as syrup. It’s tasty though and one of my favorite parts about breakfast.

- Sometimes I feel like I’m backpacking. And not the staying in hostels backpacking but backwoods backpacking. I think it’s the combo of walking around smelling like mosquito repellant all day and brushing my teeth using a bottle of water.

- My testers do not drink enough water. I didn’t see them drink hardly anything or go to the bathroom all day yesterday.

- I went downstairs to the lobby yesterday to exchange some traveler’s checks (or cheques, if you prefer European flavours and colours). They didn’t have any 500Rs notes so they gave me a stack of 100s (100Rs = ~$2.30, so don’t get all excited). It was a bundle like you see in the movies, with the rubber band around it and everything. I felt like a drug dealer or some sort of hotshot about to hit the town in Vegas. How am I supposed to walk around town with this thing? Between my digital camera and my fat wad of cash I might as well hang a sign on my neck that says, “rob me!” Even the most well-behaved society has their moments of temptation and weakness, no?

That’s all for now. The car has arrived and Manickam and Anwar (my Navis India testers, as opposed to the CTS testers I’ve been hanging out with to this point) will be here shortly. Time for more explorations of Chennai.

---Eric

12.16.06, 8:15pm – Rain Tree Hotel, Chennai, India.

Today started out with a gorgeous sunrise out my window. The sun appeared as a cloud-scuffed red ball barely visible above the horizon. The tops of the swaying palm trees and taller buildings in the area thrust through the early morning layer of haze still clinging stubbornly to a city in its last minutes of relative tranquility.

Then I farted.

Hazy morning view.

Then it was off to the office to interview some people, check emails, etc. New cab driver today. He used his horn more aggressively. It was more of a “move your ass” honking than a “heads up” beep beep. Ram and Senthil came in and we were off to sightsee. Our first stop was a place called Dakshina Chitra. It’s a cultural history preservation museum of sorts. Mostly having to do with the history of the 5 southern states of India, of which Tamil Nadu is one (Chennai is in Tamil Nadu). This place is about 30 km south of Chennai so it was a bit of a drive. It sure was nice to get out of the city for a bit. As we got further from the city itself it became almost suburban. Less density, fewer shops, more thatched roofs, but no visible tract houses or soccer moms. Then the scene became nearly rural. More cows hanging out on the side of the road, green grass, farms, etc. We even got up to speeds nearing 100km/hr (let me tell you, it’s much more heartstopping when a truck is coming at you, in YOUR lane, when you’re doing 100km/hr as opposed to 40km/hr (at max) in the city.) Next we drove past the beach resort area. Some nice looking places including one called, and I kid you not, Dizzee World. Complete with cartoonish smiling characters and the full-on kid theme.

The culture museum was interesting to a point. Some good history there, I guess. It reminded me a lot of learning about the Miwoks or any other old Native American tribe. The old mortar and pestle for grinding meal, the ancient tools, the timeline of events. One difference that struck me is that the Indians survived the British and now rule themselves, whereas the Native Americans were pretty much wiped out.

Ram and Senthil atop the amphitheater at Dakshina Chitra

We ate lunch at the culture center’s restaurant. Again, eating only with my right hand and I still suck and tearing naan one-handed. The food was awesome. I couldn’t help thinking that if we were in America we’d be eating some crappy food like a hot dog or something that had been deep fried into oblivion.

We drove back into the city where our next stop was some shopping. I’d been hearing of this place where all of the shopping is. I pictured a town square kind of place, or village market, with rows of stalls selling trinkets and silks and flowers and jewelry. Um, no, it was a shopping mall. A flippin’ shopping mall. Are you kidding me with this? I bought some stuff, but, come on, it was like a disorganized, poorly maintained, slightly disorienting version of Nordstrom’s in San Francisco. Three levels, blah blah. NOT what I had in mind. The prices on some things were very good. I got a 100% silk shirt for $40US and a nice sport coat for $60US. (Sorry, Kevin, they didn’t have anything even close to a 50 long or whatever freakish size it is you wear. Nothing even close. I guess you’re out of luck in a place where I’m considered tall.) And it did provide a glimpse into a more modern India as it appears that, even half a world away, the hip kids still hang out at the mall.

The next stop was the hotel to drop off my stuff, then off to Ram’s place for dinner. Could it be that I’m actually getting used to the traffic here? I’m not nearly as shocked now when I look out the window as we’re doing 30km/hr and see another vehicle 4 inches from my window. You think I’m exaggerating. I am not. I still do flinch, though, when a motorcycle pulls out in front of us from a side street or we come ever so close to rear-ending a bicyclist. How can there be so many people in this country when they have so little regard for their own personal safety on the roads? How have all of these people not been hit and killed yet? How has my taxi not killed anyone yet? How does it not even have any scratches on it? I swear, if that little twitch of the handlebars didn’t happen at the last possible second, or if that truck’s angle into our lane was just a little bit sharper, or if our taxi driver was just the slightest bit distracted by something (say, his fare flailing wildly at a mosquito)…I just don’t see how they pull it off, day in and day out. Aren’t they continually rolling the dice? I think the thing that gets me the most is they have such unflagging faith in everyone else’s reflexes. Yet they are so unpredictable in their actions no one can anticipate the “safe” thing to do. It’s both amazing and ridiculous.

Signs seen on the road today:

- Wear seat belts (damn right)

- Wear helmets while driving (for the inevitable trip through the windshield)

- Drinking kills driving skills

- Stop here or you will meet the end

- Please don’t hit this tree (wrapped around trees that were growing out of the road about 3 ft in from the curb)

- Don’t drown infant females (um, yikes)

- Spic House (Security Professional Information Community or something similarly non-racist)

- Ganga Sweets (some type of store but not THAT type of store)

- State Bank of Mysore

It was nice to see other parts of the city. I was going to complain about how dirty it is here, but I’m pretty sure the area between my hotel and the office (especially near the office) is the dirtiest in the city. Piles of trash in the gutters, run down buildings…blah. Today, though, I saw some almost quaint parts. Better maintained, more street character and a more neighborhood feel. Still dirty, still crazy crowded and chaotic as hell, but not quite so, well, gross. Still, it’s strange to see a large concrete building visible over a low wall that looks like it’s been abandoned for 40 years, then pass a gleaming sign in front of the building that says, “Chennai Indian Technological Research Center”. Juxtaposition…too…much…

The neighborhood where Ram lives with his grandparents had the narrowest streets I’ve seen yet. Very lively street scene, but I don’t know if that’s because the same number of people were jammed into a smaller space or what. Our taxi could barely even make it down the road, and I saw some alleys that it for sure would not have fit through. And it’s not like we’re in a Town Car or something. There were also quite a few more cows and goats hanging around than I’ve seen in other parts.

Ram lives in a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of a building in what could be considered a “residential” area. No first floor retail in any of the buildings on his street. I walked in and was “namaste”d by his non-English speaking grandparents. One thing nice about hanging out with non-English speakers: no small talk. I think his grandfather said 5 words the entire time I was there.

After Ram showed me around his modest apartment his grandmother forced food on us. Then forced more on us. Then more. I guess grandmothers are the same the world over. I’m not entirely sure what I ate but it was good. I broke a lot of rules though. One, my plate was wet when she started slapping food on it, and I’m pretty sure she hadn’t just washed it with bottled water. Two, I had to at least TRY the milk and carrot and spiced drink she offered (and if you don’t know which two of those three are nonos you’ve failed the Eric in India pop quiz). Three, the curds we ate with the spiced pickles…well, I don’t know the exact ruling on curds but I’m pretty sure they’re dairy.

It was a very business-like operation by his grandmother (his grandfather mostly just sat around except when he was swapping his wifebeater for a shirt prior to a picture) and neither one of them ate with us. When we were leaving they both namasted me again and his grandfather busted out “It was nice meeting you”. Sneaky bastard probably has a master’s in English Lit and sat silently correcting my grammar all night.

Grandma, Grandpa and Me

Now I’m back in the hotel and it’s time for bed.

---Eric

Friday, December 15, 2006

12.15.06, 8:15pm – Rain Tree Hotel, Chennai, India.

I don’t know why I’m putting the location on these post headers. It’s not like I’m going to be web-logging (I’m going to shorten it to just “blogging” and save myself a few keystrokes) from the taxi or anything.

I just finished dinner up on the rooftop restaurant. Have I mentioned the weather yet? No? Well, it reminds me almost exactly of Hawaii. Humid, warm, and never ever cold. It was a little breezy on the roof but certainly not cold. The main difference being Hawaii is like this year ‘round whereas this is the “cool” season here. Welcome to “a few degrees north of the equator”.

Dinner was good. Some sort of yummy spinach and cheese patties grilled in the tandoor oven. Yes, I know technically you “bake” things in an oven, but the menu said “grilled” and “oven” so I’m going with it. I even ate some of the mint sauce that came with it. I actually did so before I realized, “Hey, mint sauce, probably made with mint, which was probably rinsed with tap water”. I continued to eat it. I’m slowly taking more food risks. I’m not sick yet, so by the end of the trip I’ll probably be munching on half-cooked chicken legs from the street vendors and drinking lassis by the dozen (right, Dayna?) (Okok, a lassi is a mixture of milk (unpasteurized in these parts) and fresh fruit. Both nonos for the delicate westernized GI tract. It’s funnier when I don’t have to explain it.) And apparently I love parentheses.

When the taxi dropped me off at the hotel tonight there was quite a colorful and loud commotion out front. I asked Ram (one of my testers who bummed a ride as far as the hotel in the splendor of my taxi) what was going on. He yelled into my ear, “Wedding!” Did I mention it was loud? Yesyes, I took pictures, and even video, of it. You all would be able to revel in my photography skillz if Windows wasn’t coded by monkeys (shout out to Tim “Prickly” McNerney for that one). No, I haven’t solved the Windows Ignoring My Camera problem yet. You’d know if I had. (UPDATE - Problem solved via the purchase of a USB card reader for only $8).

The wedding procession

Anyway, the bride and groom were all decked out and sitting atop a decked out horse. They were in the middle of a procession of dancers and musicians and general revelers, slowly making their way down the street. The bride looked simply resplendent. The groom looked like a dweeb. I keed, I keed, I’m sure the groom is an upstanding young man and ever the cricket batsman (with many “overs” and “boundaries” and “fours” to his credit. Cricket is weird.)

Decked out on a horse

Sometimes I walk around with a smile on my face. I can’t believe I’m really here. In freakin’ India. Crazy.

There are fireworks going off intermittently outside (if they were inside I would probably have led with that fact). I don’t know why, but they seem to move around. Perhaps part of the wedding?

I’m getting tired (something about that 650mL Kingfisher I drank with dinner) but this is just hilarious. I’m getting a kick out of the security guard at the office. He’s always smiling and so very helpful. When I come in in the morning he opens the office door for me, then opens my private office door, then wants to help me plug in my computer and Ethernet cable, then he turns on the AC in my office. The main office already has AC which I can fully enjoy with my office door open, so I usually just turn the individual unit off shortly after I’ve shooed him away. Today, though, I happened to arrive when he was not at his post. This meant he didn’t have a chance to turn on my AC. But, being the sharp and observant security guard he is, a half hour later or so he walked by, poked his head in and said, “Oh, may I turn on your AC unit for you?” I politely declined. Seriously, it’s like an igloo (snow cave?) in there with that thing on. Then he comes through this afternoon with some air freshener and sprays it around. Really? I know TJ's deodorant sucks but, dude, really? My office door does not stay open on its own. So, he fashioned a doorstop for me out of some scrap of wood. I had to close the door to conduct a phone interview and afterwards I was struggling a bit replacing the scrap. He appears out of nowhere and says, “Please, sir, let me”. I mean, is the dude a security guard or my personal manservant?

I get “sir’ed” so much here it’s silly. You all better start practicing because I’m becoming quite accustomed to it.

I’m going into the office tomorrow to do an interview (yes, on a freakin’ Saturday), then I’m off to explore Chennai with my two new employees. Maybe I’ll even buy a thing or two since some sort of gift-giving holiday is approaching.

I might even have a story or two from my adventures. Not that you’ll see any pictures. Grrrr.

---Eric

12.15.06, 2:20pm – CTS Offices, Chennai, India.

Just got back from lunch. Senthil took me to a vegetarian place down the street. It was about a 10 minute walk. That’s the most I’ve walked around Chennai to this point. It’s just crazy interesting. Busy, loud, people everywhere, some dude pushing a covered cart selling something dark, looked like rice, out of a cast iron bowl that he would hit with an iron spoon and make a sound like a bell. A small little food stand next to a guy ironing clothes at a roadside table next to a shop selling LCD Sony Wega TVs. I really wish there was a way to capture the environment here. I have a feeling I’m going to get back with a bunch of pictures of street scenes that will all look the same to everyone. If I ever take any pictures, that is. I’m so bad at that. However, Girish has informed me that there is no social taboo around taking people’s pictures, so now I have no excuse. Time for whitey to bust out the camera.

Shops near the office.


Goods on display at a hardware store.

The restaurant was good. Easily the best food I’ve had since I got here. Mmm…channa masala. But, no fork and none even offered, so time to eat with my hands. Or, I should say, hand, since they only eat with their right hand here in India. I’m fine with that, but have you ever tried to tear a piece of naan into smaller pieces with just one hand? Try it sometime. I made a gallant effort but didn’t succeed too well. It didn’t help that the food came out on a misshapen plastic plate that spun around when I pushed against it. I would occasionally sneak my left hand up to stop the plate from spinning, but I managed to avoid using my left hand on my food.

As I was in the elevator coming back up I realized that Kevin and Scott would have a hard time here. That elevator makes ME feel tall. I swear there’s maybe 8-10 inches of clearance between my head and the ceiling. The offices, too, have low ceilings. I can reach up and touch the ceiling with my arm still bent. In fact, I just did so. I’m guessing 7 ft ceilings?

The trim piece on my desk is about a quarter-inch too wide for the table top. This results in an edge that sticks up all the way around the border of the desk. Mother lover but that sucks to rest my wrists on. I’m totally going to come back with nerve damage.

---Eric

12.15.06, 9:15am – CTS Offices, Chennai, India.

Back in the office and my freakin’ network connection is down again. It’s amazing how much I can not get done without the network. No email, no access to the network files, no nuthin’.

I have an update from Girish (who, I realized I have failed to tell you, is the manager here at CTS) about the guys on the runway. He didn’t have a definite answer, but he seems to think maybe they are workers at the airport. Something about upgrades and construction being done at the airport (maybe to the runways) so when a plane comes in they get out of the way and go sit in the shade. Excuse me? Seriously? Do they get hazard pay for that? I’m dubious. OSHA would have a field day with that one.

The first evening cab ride I took (back on Tuesday, I think it was) I staring idly out the window at the passing sights when I noticed a mosquito flying around in the cab. My first reaction was to brush it off and ignore it, but then I remembered, Malaria! Dengue Fever! And I had completely spaced applying repellent that day! Suddenly I was swatting and clapping and making a general ruckus in the backseat of the cab. My driver looks back at me and says, “Mosquito?” “Yes”. Resume flailing. Now there are like 10 mosquitoes in the cab. They’re multiplying! I’m doomed. As a last ditch idea I open the window. It works. They all get sucked out the window and I’m saved. I’m an idiot.

Don’t worry, Mom, applying repellent is part of my morning ritual now. That and my Malaria pill and my EmergenC packet.

This morning someone was smoking in the restaurant during breakfast. I didn’t even really smell it (they must have good ventilation) but it was a shock when I looked over and this big euro-looking dude with a mustache is puffing away. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone smoke in a restaurant since I was in Europe with the seestor. No one seems to smoke here, it seems. I haven’t seen a single Indian smoking. As opposed to Europe where everyone smokes. Everyone. And India is considered the third world country. Indeed.

More from the flight out here: Singapore Air (a very nice airline, by the way) has that cool thing where they show you where you are during the flight. I looked at it at one point and it said we were over Siberia. I opened the shade and looked out at a snow-covered hilly wasteland for as far as the eye could see. Just breathtaking. There were a few rivers but no roads anywhere. It was a truly amazing sight.

Ok, I’m off to the conference room to see if the network connection in there is working.

---Eric