Chennai Journal
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Settling in
The draperies arrived last Friday and look really nice. For four rooms, the grand total for labor was $75 including making valances, buying and installing hooks, etc. (added to the $75 for 110 yards of fabric). At this rate you could change the drapes a few times a year and not feel too much pain.

Passover has been a bit of a bummer. No seder materialized in Chennai, but a local woman who comes from the Jewish community in Mumbai and I did get together for dinner. Her son is a filmmaker and the producer of the film "Next year in Jerusalem" about the community in Cochin.

This week we've had a lot of visitors in town and I've eaten out every night (with someone else paying, which is nice.) Last night we went to Southern Spice, which is a trendy southern Indian restaurant in the Taj Coromondel. At the end of the meal they served something called paan, which is a beetle leaf with various herbs and sweets inside. The beetle leaf is quite pungent, and is designed to clear the palate and freshen the breath. Not bad but Marty won't care for it, I'm sure!

The good news is that the sea shipment is due in on May 1, which is Sunday. I'm told that it should clear in four to five days, so hopefully I have furniture in a week. I can't wait. It's getting pretty old rattling around in the apartment with so little furniture.

Next week is a block closure, so I won't have to work. I'm planning to do a bit of exploring around Chennai, and maybe try to find a yoga studio. Stay tuned......

Monday, April 18, 2005
Travels to Cochin
This past Thursday was the Tamil New Year and a similar holiday in Kerala (the next state over) called Vishu. Both of these are Hindu holidays to honor the new year which starts with summer here. In Vishu there is a belief that the first thing you see upon waking on the new year sets the tone for the entire year, so there is a custom of gathering a plate of auspicious fruits, vegetables, and sweets to stack the deck in your favor, so to speak.

Because the plant took a long holiday weekend, I decided to fly over to Cochin, on the western coast in Kerala--about an hour's flight. I visited the old synagogue located at the end of a street called Jewtown, and hope to upload some of the pictures later. The street is lined with shops that used to be owned by Jews. Some of the shops still have Stars of David on the windows or walls, but most are now owned by Catholics, of which there are many in Kerala. In fact, almost every store I walked into along Jewtown carried massive numbers of antique or faux antique wooden statues or body parts of the crucifixion, Mary, or Catholic saints!

I did have the privilege of meeting one of Cochin's few remaining Jews (who now number only about 20), Sammy Hallegua, who lives at the first block of Jewtown and who invited me up for a Coke and conversation. Can you imagine my surprise to learn that his son did his medical internship at Sinai Hospital in Detroit? It is indeed a small world!
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Rain and Junior's arrival
Junior, our 10 month old cat, arrived safely from Detroit early Saturday morning. She had spent the night in Frankfurt, Germany and seemed none the worse for wear despite a nearly two day journey in air cargo. On her first day in the apartment she discovered--and quickly lost interest--in a lizard that came in the house via a desk I had delivered. Guess we'll have to wait for the Queen of the Hunt, J.D., for lizard control. They will be just about right for her as they move slowly. In the meantime Junior is settling in well and already supervising Leela in the kitchen.

Earlier in the week we had torrential rains which flooded the road on the way to the plant. Drainage is not a big thing here, so we had to slog through water that was at least knee deep. Cars here are built for these conditions--they have extra high clearance and we have a pool on the vehicle test area where we test ours to ensure that they're watertight. The trucks and buses don't always fare so well so a number were stalled, making it an arduous journey home. Can't wait for monsoon season, which comes in September.

On Sunday I went with one of the neighbors to "Cotton City", which is an outdoor market where you can buy all kinds of export overruns, seconds, and remnant fabrics at rock bottom prices---30 rupees (about 70 cents) a meter. I'm having curtains made for the apartment--and the good thing is that if Marty doesn't like them, replacements won't break the bank.

This Thursday is the Tamil New Year and we have a long weekend. I'm going to Cochin, in Kerala on the western coast, for a couple of days. I'll write more from there and I hope to be able to upload some pictures soon.

Monday, April 04, 2005
Buying a "dirty box" and other essentials
This week's accomplishment was moving into the apartment and getting air conditioning in three of the five rooms. The rest of the air conditioning is supposed to be installed today, but this has been a several-day project so I'm not holding my breath. I bought a DVD player over the weekend so that I could spend Sunday night sitting in my one chair and have some entertainment (cable was installed but isn't working yet--chabuduo as they say in Chinese---it almost works!). The air conditioning guys let a small lizard into the master bath, so chicken that I am I've been using one of the other bathrooms (each bedroom has one) until I can get rid of it.

My housekeeper, Leela, was waiting for me when I arrived at the apartment. Leela is a ball of energy. She stands a whopping 4' 6" and is probably in her late sixties--though I'm finding it hard to gauge age here. Her English is fairly marginal but with a little creativity she's understandable (e.g. I figured out that a "dirty box" means wastebasket). We made a list of basic items to set up the house and then she, Antony (the driver) and I went shopping. This was quite an adventure that took us all over the city in search of the one item that the general store/grocery did not have: a plastic table for the kitchen. Many Chennai shops are closed on Sunday, but we finally found a plastics shop. Leela did her best to negotiate the price down, but I think my presence was probably not helpful. Finally she got about a 25% discount and I forked over the 900 rupees (about $20).

One thing that is taking some adjustment is just how long everything takes---whether it's installing the air conditioning or having my nails done. I finally found a place in downtown Chennai that does acrylic nails. But forget about the 30 minutes it takes at the Vietnamese place I go to in Southfield. Try almost 2 hours. It's partly that everything is manual (no drills) and partly that it's just plain inefficient. After about 20 minutes I just settled into the fact that I can't be in a hurry here--it won't help.

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