Adventures in Chennai, Day Five

Today was my last day in India and even though I've had a good time, I am ready to come home! This has been an experience of a lifetime and I'd prefer if I only experience it once. :) It rained today for the first time since we arrived. Rain seems to exacerbate all the issues here - everything is harder, like they need things to be worse. I am thankful the consecutive days of rain and flooding happened the week before we got here instead of while we were here.

We are just killing some time right now at the hotel before leaving for the airport. A good time to reflect on the past several days. The real purpose for my visit here was to present some information and do training on Front-End Web Development. We've outsourced all of our web development and quality assurance to India and there was a pretty big knowledge gap concerning all things HTML and CSS. That's enough nerd talk for now, but suffice it to say that I think that aspect of the trip went well. That was the extent of what I gave. I received a great deal more than that.

In addition to getting to know the people I've been working with all these months, friendships were formed. I had the opportunity to see how another culture lives and it showed me how well off we are in the U.S. and how we have so much to be thankful for. There are a few specific things that happened while I was here that I would consider highlights of the trip that I'll never forget.

The Back Alley

Dave and I have been joking about it ever since the first day when we got "lost" down the back alley in the worst human conditions I have ever personally witnessed. I will never forget the poverty and the squalor.


I didn't get to play Cricket like I had hoped, but I did learn a new game. Playing Carom with Bala and Mani and Arun was quite fun. So fun, in fact, that today I bought some Carom checkers and a striker so I can build my own Carom board.


I will never forget the time I spent talking to Daos on the beach, giving U.S. coins to his kids as souvenirs, buying a handmade slingshot from him and taking pictures of his little boy that gave us the "kung fu" pose. He told us all about when the tsunami hit the area and how that impacted him. He still lives less than 100 yards from the water in a grass hut.

We'll be leaving here in an hour to go to the airport. After almost a full 24 hours of travel time later, I'll finally get home Wednesday night. I can't wait to walk in the front door, smell that "our home" smell and see those little faces and kiss that beautiful wife of mine that has been so patient while I've been gone.

In my next post, I'll include photos with some captions and hopefully bring to life some of these words.

Adventures in Chennai, Day Four

If you own a car in India, you are considered wealthy. A few of the people at the office have cars - the VPs and Directors. The vast majority of the rank and file only own a motorcycle or scooter. And really, motorcycle is probably the best way to get around in this traffic. Much faster than bikes and more nimble than a car. Today I got to experience first hand what its like to be on a motorcycle in this crazy traffic. Bala gave me a ride back to the hotel after work today. It was a short trip, but definitely intense. The horns are louder, the dust and smog more suffocating and the other vehicles - so much closer! It was pretty fun, but I definitely had to hold on tight. I had my camera with me but as I was taking my first picture, the bike lunged and from that point forward I was locked down with both hands.

It seems like my sleeping patterns have normalized. I'm able to fall asleep right away at night and sleep soundly all night. Last night, I actually dreamt - the first time since I got here. So, my body is adjusting just in time for me to come home and get everything out of whack again.

When I was talking to Gavin on the phone tonight he asked me what my favorite food has been so far while I've been here. Besides the breakfast buffet at the hotel and the room service french fries, I can't really say. Not because there wasn't one, but because I don't know remember the name of it. It was a sauce over some rice. It was at a place we ate at in Pondicherry. All the sauces and rices seem to blur together after a few days, although many of taste really good. I will be glad to get home to some home cooking soon, though.

Bennett blogged about me earlier today. That makes me miss home even more. I love that Bennett.

Some guys were telling us that national security in India isn't really up to snuff. Proof of this is the odd security measures we face every time we come back to the hotel. Before entering gate to the hotel parking lot, the driver has to stop and turn off the engine. Then two guards do a bomb sweep, which consists of a flashlight/mirror combo to look under the car. He also pops the hood and looks in the engine. Another guard opens trunk or back hatch and has his police dog sniff all the luggage. Seems like pretty good security, right?

Well, the next step is when we get out of the car, we have to hand our backpacks, hand bag, camera bag, etc to a guard and then walk through a metal detector while the guard "inspects" our bags. Every time I've walked through that metal detector, it has beeped and they just smile and wave me through. Also, the baggage guard opens the zipper of my backpack, but doesn't even look inside, then closes the zipper and hands it back to me.

It just seems odd that they would go to great lengths searching for a car bomb but then not be concerned at all with items being brought into the hotel. I can remember what it was like a week after 9-11. It doesn't seem like there's much panic or urgency, even given the attacks in Mumbai last week.

Speaking of last week. It has been exactly one week since we left. In many ways its seems like it was just a day or two ago and in other ways it seems like I've been here for much longer than a week.

This evening, we did some team building activities. We had a conference room at a hotel reserved and we had some food and played games. I wasn't sure what type of games to expect when I first heard about the idea, but turned out to be really fun - we played Pictionary and Guesstures. Most of the Indians I have met while I've been here are very quiet and reserved (except for this one guy, Rajesh - he's the class clown). But getting them all together and breaking them into teams to play Pictionary, that's a different story. They really opened up and were loud, animated and raucous. It was a fun time.

I'm trying to get this done before midnight, but it doesn't look like I'll make it. I'm really looking forward to sharing pictures. When I get back home and get settled, I'll definitely post several pictures on this blog and maybe even a couple of the short video clips I've snapped with the digital camera. That way, everyone can finally associate an image with the scenes I've been describing.

Adventures in Chennai, Day Three

We went into the office today for about a half day and then started our journey to Pondicherry. Before leaving Chennai, we drove around for quite awhile and took in a bunch of different sites. Driving seems to be a great way to see a lot of areas and get a sense of the culture without actually getting in it. When you walk around, you stand out like a sore thumb, but observing everything from the car allows you to almost be like a fly on the wall. One of the places we stopped before leaving Chennai was a mall - the largest shopping center in the city. This proved to be a fruitful stop, because I was able to pick up a couple of nice souvenirs. Then we drove to the beach and drove along the road that lines the beach area. You usually don't associate goats with beaches, but there were droves of goats all along the beach area and in the streets and around the huts and shanties along the road. A really bizarre sight.

The drive to Pondicherry was supposed to take 3 hours. Our driver took us the scenic route I guess, because it took 7 hours. We made a few pit stops along the way that were pretty interesting.

We visited a Crocodile Farm/Zoo, which was really interesting. There was one big holding area where they had over 450 crocodiles. You could have walked across the whole area stepping on the backs of the crocodiles without ever touching he ground, they were so dense in there. I still have not seen a King Cobra, but seeing those crocodiles was pretty neat. I even got to hold one of the baby crocs.

The next place we stopped was called Tiger Cave. I was pretty excited about this because I thought we'd see some real tigers. They were actually just huge rocks that have tigers engraved in them. It was still neat though because this one area has all these gigantic rock outcroppings. They look really out of place, so it makes for a unique site. The Tiger Cave area was really nicely kept - the only place I have seen grass yet - and it was just on the other side of a small grove of palm trees (and a chain link fence) from the waters of the Bay of Bengal.

A few miles down the road we stopped again at a very large tourist trap attraction. There was a village located right off the highway where there were about 10 historical monuments. We didn't realize that each monument was about a mile separated from one another, so we just went to two monuments that were within walking distance and left. The noteworthy point about this particular stop was the massive numbers of people selling things to all those coming to the monuments.

As soon as I opened the door on my side, there was a lady offering us beads and bracelets. They are relentless, too. They don't take no for an answer. The will just follow you and follow you. I think especially us since as westerners they must know we have money. It is really hard to turn down so many people, but you can't buy everything. In addition to selling merchandise there were dozens of people approaching us offering to be our "guide" to explain all the interesting historical facts about the monuments to us. We were finally able to shed most of the people and make our way to the monument. We actually only stayed about 30 minutes and again were on our way.

After doing all this, we had probably only traveled about 30 of the 165 kilometers and it was starting to get dark. We told the driver no more stops and then settled in for a very long trip. The road from Chennai to Pondicherry is mainly a two lane highway (one lane in each direction) and is actually very busy. Driving during the day can be pretty interesting, but driving at night is actually pretty scary. In addition to the relentless honking, when it gets dark they add in the headlight brights for extra fun. I can't imagine actually driving in those conditions. You have to be constantly vigilant. The driver was continually doing one of three things - honking, passing a slower vehicle or flashing this brights. I can't imagine how stressed I would be if I were driving. :) To make matters worse, along this road, they installed speedbumps every half mile or so. So it was a pretty bumpy drive as well.

Well after dark, we finally pull into the "resort". Sadly, this place was hurt pretty bad from the tsunami 4 years ago. You could tell that this hotel and resort area may have actually been pretty nice at one time. Our waiter told us that the whole first floor of the hotel - from floor up to ceiling - was completely underwater after the tsunami hit. The nice part of the hotel is out back between the hotel and the beach, there is a grassy area with palm trees and banana trees. Hammocks connect all the trees - it seems very quiet and peaceful here. It is far enough away from the main road, so you can't hearing car honks. The room itself is in pretty bad shape, but you can hear the surf breaking on the beach from the room patio. Take the good with the bad I guess. :)

This has been a crazy full day. I am tired and dirty and I don't know if I'll be able to sleep on this bed cot, but it has been very interesting and I've taken some nice photos.

Off to shower and then bed! G'night.

Adventures in Chennai, Day Two

Today was a much less eventful day than yesterday, thankfully. However, I have spent most of the day trying to keep my eyes open. I think the jet lag and lack of sleep and just the difference in time zone are starting to catch up to me. Sleeping has been weird. I can't sleep well. Humidity is very high here and even in my air conditioned room, its cool, but everything has a slight dampness to it, which makes sleeping very uncomfortable. After I finally fall asleep around 2 the past few nights, I toss and turn and then wake up at 6:30am and cannot keep sleeping. I actually feel pretty refreshed when I wake up, but around noon, I am already starting to feel the drowsies. All day today I felt like I was on anti-histamine or something. We got to the offices around 10am and got back to the hotel tonight at 10pm.

Even though I should be hungry by now, I am too tired to eat. Meal times are different here, too. We've been eating lunch at around 2 or 3 everyday. Dinner last night was at around 9:30pm and is non-existent tonight. At home, we usually eat dinner somewhere between 5:30 and 7:00pm. I was told that it would be very rare that anyone eat dinner before 7pm. Part of it is the work schedules. Most people don't get in to the offices until 10am, so they don't get off work until 8 or 9 or later anyway.

It seems the 8-hour shift is a myth that they know nothing about here. I really feel bad for them. We left the offices at 9:30 tonight and no one else had gone home yet. I asked if they got paid by the hour and they do not. They are just accustomed to working long hours - usually 12 hours and are probably happy to just have a job.

Today for lunch we went to an Indian-Thai place. Very interesting. I usually love Thai food, but was not a big fan of anything I ate at this lunch. I was pretty much just eating to not appear like a snob. I heard there is one McDonald's in this city. Good luck finding it, but I could really go for some french fries about right now. :)

Earlier this evening around 7:00pm a few of us took a break to play a game. They were telling me about this game at lunch called Carrom. It is one of the official "sports" of India. This explains what it is. Its kinda like pool but instead of a rectangular table with 6 pockets, you use a square board with 4 pockets. And instead of using balls and cues, you use checkers or "pucks" as they call them and flick them with your finger into the pockets. Its actually quite fun and I really enjoyed playing. It would be fun to get a hold of a Carrom board and continue playing it. Can't buy one here, because its too big to fit in the suitcase, but it would also be neat to try to make one. The one we used was all wood and the checkers were wood. The board has a really fine talcum powder or something on it so the pucks glide smoothly over the wood surface. We played about 5 games and I didn't win any of them, but they were impressed by my "cut shots", as they called it - type of angled bank shot that anyone would use in billiards. It was fun - I hope to play it again sometime before we leave.

I forgot to mention that last night we had a beer with dinner called "Kingfisher". It is the only beer they serve at this hotel and it is an uniquely Indian beer. I was looking at the label and I noticed a little note that said, "Liquor ruins country, family and life." Interesting, isn't it? I guess kinda like the surgeon general's note on a pack of cigarettes. I thought it was interesting though how they didn't say liquor was bad for your health, but bad for your country and life and family. All too often that is absolutely true.

Tomorrow afternoon we are going to Pondicherry, which is about a 3 hour drive south along the coast. It is a resort and that's where we'll spend the weekend. This is the website for the hotel where we'll be staying. Supposedly there are some temples and interesting sites to see along the way. I'm hoping its cleaner and less chaotic there. :)

Sunday afternoon we'll head back to Chennai and get ready for two more days at the office before finally heading home. Part of me - ok, most of me - wants to just fast-forward to next Wednesday when we come home, but I'm trying to enjoy the journey along the way.

I miss home, I miss Cori and the kids terribly. But I also don't want to miss the opportunities to see life through these peoples' eyes. I'm sure I'll keep these memories with me my whole life and they'll impact things I do and think in ways I'd never be able to know otherwise.

My goal was to get to bed before midnight, but here it is 12:05am, so I'm off to go collapse. Good night from half way around the world. :)

Post No Bills

Yesterday as we were driving to lunch, we passed this one area that had a long stucco wall along a sidewalk and on the wall there were all these special sayings, some from Ghandi, and some from the Bible actually. Some were very random like: "God first!" and "You never get a second chance to make a last impression." About every 50 feet or so there was a saying, "Post No Bills". I could not figure out why that one was so popular. I thought for sure there was some neat meaning behind those 3 simple words. It had to be significant, otherwise why would it be so prominent on this "wall of important sayings" or whatever it was.

After spending a good 5 or so minutes taking turns guessing what significance this could have and probably making complete fools of ourselves, the driver told us that Post No Bills means "Don't write or post anything here." Duh. They just wanted to leave some blank areas every 50 feet or so and didn't want it covered up with ads, playbills or posters, which seem to cover so many public areas like wallpaper.

We found it funny that we thought this was some deep cultural meaning and it was just a notice to "keep this area blank". Are we trying too hard to get into the culture or what? :)