Sunday, December 17, 2006

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.


1 comment:

christen said...

did you actually add the line "Then i farted." and tell me to re-read that post because you had added a funny joke? yes, i believe you did. it did make me giggle, but that's not hard to do. you should post more pictures. i want to see more. more. more.

love you lots. see you sat-turd-day.
see, i can be funny (in the potty humor way) too!