Chennai Journal
Sunday, March 20, 2005
Arrival in Chennai
I'm here and in good spirits. The posts will be a light on pictures for a bit until I can get hooked up in the apartment and get my digital camera working with the laptop.

Arrived in Chennai early Monday a.m. There was a long line in the foreigner's queue at Immigration, but got through there and customs without issue. I'm told this is one of the few queues I'll probably have to stand in. In most cases, once they see a foreigner, they just motion you to the head of the line. Good thing I got my visa, though, before the latest flap: U.S. embassy here denied a diplomatic, and revoked business/tourist visa, for a government official from Gujarat, citing human rights violations. That's in all the news here.

For the last week I've been transitioning on the new job and otherwise adjusting to the new environment. Fortunately, it's not as hot here as I anticipated. The evenings and mornings are still cool, but during the day it gets up to 85-90. Once we hit May, it will go to 100 + though.

Today I met with our new housekeeper, Leela, who I've inherited from my predecessor in the job here. I'm interviewing drivers on Monday night. (You don't have to start calling me "Madam" just because they do, though.) Having "staff" seems pretty much the norm here for anyone middle class or above. The locals laugh at us for what we pay: 4000 rupees for month for the housekeeper, or about $90---which is considered high. Many apartments, including ours, have tiny servants quarters off the kitchen, no bigger than a closet, and an Asian style toilet (more on this in another post). This gives you the option of having them stay over, or all time, if you like.

Last night Elinor, who I'm replacing here, took me to the monthly gathering of the British social club, where she's a member. This was a group of about 60 mostly Brits, along with a few other former-empire types like myself, and held at the home of one of the officials of the British Deputy High Commission. (In countries that are members of the British commonwealth, the embassy/consular posts are called "High commissions"). The monthly event includes some socializing and appetizers, a quiz event that pits several tables against each other, followed by a buffet dinner. I wasn't able to help our table with most of the questions, such as characters in British fairy tales and street names/buildings in London, but was the only one who knew the answer to the question "who was the 4th wife of Henry VIII" (it was Anne of Cleves). It was good fun.

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