Chennai Journal
Saturday, July 23, 2005
The Seniors and Their Staff

Dad is so fond of Ganesh, who stayed with him when we went to Singapore, that we asked Ganesh to come five days a week. Here you can see them enjoying T.V. together. Ganesh, who works for a home health service connected to Apollo Hospital, arrives every day around 9 on his motorbike and stays until 7 or 8 at night. He takes Dad for a couple of walks in the gardens around our apartment complex every day and has him training with weights two or three days a week, helps him with his shower, and generally acts as his companion. Dad is thrilled with this arrangement. He gets to tell all of his stories and famous phrases (“my sufficiency has been sophonsified” and “take a lot, take two”) to a brand new audience!

The other senior, J.D., also is getting special treatment here. The vet who examined her post arrival in India for the immigration formalities told us that she had a skin fungus and that was the reason she had a lot of matted hair. He proposed to have us bring her to his clinic, where he would put her under an anaesthetic and shave her fur off in the matted part to treat the fungus. My instincts on the vet (whose business card advertises him as “veterinarian and gynecologist”) led us to get a second opinion. Our neighbors have three cats and had given us the name of another vet that they have been very happy with, so we asked him to come and take a look. Sure enough, J.D. does not have a fungus but simply badly matted hair from lack of grooming herself (and, to be fair to J.D., my lack of combing her to compensate for this). He sent a groomer the next day who was able (with Marty, Antony and Joyce’s help) to remove most of the matted hair. Now the groomer will come once a month to groom J.D. and clip her and Junior’s nails. The cost for this service is 100 rupees.

Although Blogger's photo utility is extremely slow, preventing me from showing too many pictures, I did want to show you some very interesting fungus of the edible variety, called "snow fungus" because of its white color. This was served as a dessert at the buffet we went to in the M hotel in Singapore, and --at least to me--was quite tasty.

Sunday, July 17, 2005
Birthday Tales and Fairy Tales

Today is my birthday and the practice here is for the birthday person to give sweets to those they meet, so we went to the grocery store on the corner and picked up some Ferraro Rocher candy to take into work tomorrow. The weather was great---cooler than it’s been for a while, almost like a Midwest summer day. Also started taking fish oil to improve my memory---since turning 50 it feels like my mental hard drive is continually full....

When I lived in Japan I used to read children’s books as a way of improving my Japanese –biographies of famous Japanese historical figures and fairy tales such as Momotaro (Peach Boy). A side benefit was that I got a good insight into the cultural values of the society, often transmitted in children’s stories.

So when I got to India I started browsing through bookstores for Indian children's stories. I bought a CD of “Grandma’s Tales” in English and Tamil and what appeared to be the most common books in the children’s section of the bookstores. Among these, the Panchatantra (Sanskrit for Five parts) features tales about animals with five distinct themes: discord among friends, gaining friends, of crows and owls, loss of gains, and imprudence. Although some references in the tales or the characters may seem unfamiliar, the morals of the stories are remarkably universal--“knowledge is important but common sense is more essential” and “one should not imitate others, it only brings misery.”

If some of the tales have a ring of familiarity, it is also because the Panchatantra, which is more than 2500 years old, found its way to Persia, Arabia, and Europe and parts of Southeast Asia via travelers and spice traders. Traces may even be found in Grimm’s fairy tales. The influence seems to extend to the present day. If you are a Godfather fan, you will recall that famous admonition repeated by Michael Corleone--“keep your friends close but your enemies closer.” The theme of the third set of Panchatantra tales, crows and owls, begins with the phrase “trust not even a close friend who earlier was your enemy.”

The stories are still told to children by parents and grandparents, and feature prominently in India parenting websites (for more see

Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Singapore Fling

Marty and I just got back from a long weekend in Singapore. I will spare you the pictures of Marty enjoying beef ribs at Lawry's or a real American hamburger at the Long Bar at Raffles. The Long Bar is home of the original Singapore Sling, and there seemed to be just trays and trays of this sicky sweet concoction being served to other Americans and Australians. We passed in favor of Singapore's native beer, Tiger.

The real highlight of the trip wasn't the food, though we enjoyed it, or the traffic, remarkably sane after Chennai. It was nature, especially the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The star of the Botanic Gardens is the National Orchid garden, which has orchids both rare and ordinary, some named after famous visitors such as Princess Diana and Nelson Mandela.

We also visited the Night Safari, next to the Singapore Zoo, where you can observe hundreds of species that you simply would never have the chance to even know about from Western zoos (flying squirrels among them). The intriguing thing about the Night Safari is that it is all done under the cover of darkness via a tram, with lighting around the animal areas to allow you to observe their movements. At the end of the adventure is a Ben & Jerry's outlet!

We bought a new digital camera, a Panasonic with a Leica lens. Marty patiently followed me from store to store to get the best price--there are literally dozens of camera shops on Singapore's main shopping drag, Orchard St.

We did miss going to the Singapore's small shul, because we way overslept on Saturday---there is about a three hour time difference from India. We'll plan better next time.
Friday, July 08, 2005
On the way to Singapore
We are on our way to Singapore for the weekend. I'll update the site with our adventures there. In the meantime, think of Marty enjoying a good steak!
Sunday, July 03, 2005
The Fourth of July

Before coming to Madras, we were warned not to expect to find a good American hamburger here. Just in case there was any doubt, here is Marty "enjoying" one at the American Chamber of Commerce American Independence Day celebration yesterday.....
July 3---Marty's Birthday!
I had a lot of trouble getting the picture links to stay working last week, I think due to using the photo links on Yahoo. I decided to change everything over to Blogger’s new photo upload utility, so I hope this works. Assuming it does, you can see our latest possession, a fish tank with 9 goldfish—eight gold ones and one black one, which the aquarium people told Marty is good luck. For about a day, Junior was fascinated, but now she has lost interest. J.D. hasn’t even gone near the tank.

Some of you have asked about the food here. (Cousin Steve, this post is for you…..) I’ll save a rundown on south Indian cuisine for another day. Last night we went to one of Chennai’s two Japanese restaurants. This one is called Akasaka, and it has an extensive menu with usually only about half the items available (you have to guess which half), a small sushi bar, and the requisite fish tank. We had sushi appetizers, and for the main course Marty had a sushi plate and I had zaru soba (cold buckwheat noodles). The service was slow and uneven (Marty was long finished with his sushi before the soba arrived) but the food was decent. The fish was cut thicker than it should be, but was very fresh and tasted great.

Akasaka is usually populated with a mixture of Japanese and Koreans (Hyundai’s operations are located here) which is a sign that it passes some unwritten standard of quality. Last night, for a little extra excitement, there was also a police raid. As we were waiting for the check, a worried looking Asian woman came over to us and started whispering. Neither of us could understand a word she was saying, so I asked her if she spoke Japanese. Relieved, she raised her voice to a normal tone and explained to me that the police had come and they were looking for liquor. On the way out we saw a policeman was sitting in a chair by the door, but he seemed to be a lone ranger, so I do hope that Akasaka survives the raid.

Next weekend we are planning to go on one of our two “weekend trips” that the company provides us annually to get out of Chennai. (We also get 10 days of rest and recuperation leave). We can go to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, or Bangkok. Marty and I decided we would try Singapore first (found cheap tickets on a great site called itasoftware.com ).

This kind of travel is just too hard for Dad, so we have lined up a home health care service to come in and stay with him. We thought we ought to try it first, so asked them to send someone from Saturday night to Sunday night this weekend. A very nice young man named Ganesh showed up about 7:30 p.m. and by the time we got home from Akasaka he already had things well in hand. He is sleeping on part of a futon (he refused to use the foam padded part) in Dad’s room. The service runs in 12 hour shifts and costs 400 rupees ($9) per shift.

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