Chennai Journal
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Going to the Dentist
I confess, I have put it off. I rarely get cavities, but do build up plaque, and my dentist in Michigan recommended that I have cleanings every 4 months or so, rather than the normal twice a year. I have put it off while here, and now it has been over a year since I had my teeth cleaned. Other health stuff I have attended to, such as having thyroid and blood pressure tests, but this is just one I have let go. So today I finally went.

It was one of the most gentle and high tech cleanings I've had, and though not inexpensive by Indian standards, was still much less than in the U.S. They even put numbing gel on your gums to reduce the discomfort. One thing I found out is that I am not drinking nearly enough water. The dentist, a woman, could tell this from my gums and even from my teeth. I drink a large bottle a day, but apparently should have two or three. The heat here means that you have to work constantly at keeping hydrated. It is starting to get hot and humid again, working up to the peak heat in May.

In other news, Roberta leaves on Wednesday for the States. She was going to stay until the middle of April, but there is a Southern Courier reunion (she used to be a civil rights reporter) in Montgomery, Alabama that she doesn't want to miss. We will miss having her company.

Sunday, March 19, 2006
Construction Ladies
There is construction going on next door---a couple of apartment buildings like our own, that have been underway even before we looked at this apartment a year ago in January. Almost everything here is done by manual labor, but despite lots of people it takes a long time. A few months ago we had to complain to our building management because the construction workers were pounding next door in the middle of the night. Fortunately, our building is owned by ITC (the Indian Tobacco Company), so they were able to leverage their influence and within a night or so, it was quiet again.

Women play a large role in the construction industry here. A common job is for them to carry bricks, gravel, and sand from where they are dropped by the contractor to where they are needed on the site. They wear a little plate-like stablizer on their head, and then someone helps them fill a bowl up with construction material---I've seen bricks piled 8 or 10 high. Once at a British Social club event, we had a contest where we tried to see how far we could carry two bricks on our heads before losing balance. This is trickier than you think---these ladies make it look so easy.

Roberta has been fascinated by their colorful garb, not to mention how much stuff they can load up on their heads, so a few days ago she went off to take some pictures. She gave each of these ladies 100 rupees, which is probably close to a few days pay for them, so now they smile at us every time we walk by.

(Blogger is giving me a hard time today posting photos, so you'll see the pictures up top, on Flicker.)

Last night when we were walking home from swimming, some men were working on the power station between the Madras Club and our apartment. One of them was welding---sparks were flying, but he had no goggles, no helmet, and no shoes. Safety awareness has a long way to go here.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
One Year in Madras
It seems impossible to believe, but I've been in Madras one year today. I don't know if it seems short or long---sometimes both in the same day. It is also a special birthday for my cousin Helen in Seattle, so I want to publicly wish her a very happy day!

This evening Roberta and I went over to the Madras Club and swam in the pool by starlight and a full moon. The pool is the only one I've been in that is cooled instead of heated, and looking up at Orion (very high in the sky here, since we're near the equator) and seeing the other constellations by backstroke is pretty neat. Also, you don't have to worry about sunburn ---the pool is open until nearly 10 most nights, so may try to do this more often (famous last resolutions).

Sunday, March 12, 2006
This past week I was in Bangkok for business meetings. Good news is that we have decided to meet twice a year, so next time I hope Marty will be able to join me. Bangkok is a great city with lots to do, tons of restaurants (serving meat (: ) and other stuff. I hadn't thought much about traveling to Thailand while in India, but after having been to Bangkok again (I first visited two and half years ago) it is now a lot higher on my places to spend some time.

We arrived on Sunday afternoon and promptly headed for the weekend market, which is packed with clothes, crafts, fake Rolexes and DVDs, housewares, and jewelry. I didn't take pictures because frankly, the layout doesn't differ much from either Kuala Lumpur or Jaipur, the other markets we've been to recently. Bargaining is the order of the day, and the more you buy the better the prices.

After we were done shopping, we tried to get a cab back to our hotel at the other end of town. It took us about a half dozen cab drivers to find one that knew the hotel, and who spoke sufficient English. One other evening I took a cab and ran into the same problem. I've concluded that you probably need to learn some Thai if you are going to spend much time there. In four days, I learned a few numbers and directions and more would probably have helped.

Bangkok is famous for tailors, and with good reason. Although tailors are inexpensive in India as well, they are not as skilled (in general) at making Western style clothes such as suits and dresses (even though many of the tailors in Bangkok are of Indian origin). I had two suits and an emerald colored evening dress made for under $500 US--more than I remember paying in Hong Kong several years ago--but still very reasonable. The place we went, Nickermann's, was very good---it is in the basement of the Landmark Hotel---and I want to give them a plug here, because they really went over and above to deliver the clothes to me in a short time and the finish and fabric quality are excellent.

Living in South India I wasn't overly worried about the food being too spicy for me. Surprise. One night we ate in the hotel and I ordered a salad made with glass noodles (so named because they are transparent). It was listed in the menu as having one chili so I thought that was about right. Whew! Was it hot! They were very nice and took it back and cooled it down a bit, but even then my mouth was on fire. I guess I'm more of a wimp when it comes to spicy food than I thought, or just used to a different variety of chili pepper. Anyway, with the food that hot you can't eat very much of it, so it's no wonder the Thais are a very slim bunch, especially the women.

Saturday, March 04, 2006
To Bangkok
India survived the visit of George Bush--barely. He got to see some farmers in Hyderabad, but much of the visit had to be without crowds for security reasons, and there were violent protests. Arundhati Roy, the Booker Prize winning author, wrote an editorial that got wide publicity here, "George Bush, Go Home." People were particularly offended at his visit to the Gandhi memorial. Of the letters to the editor to the local papers, the vast majority were negative. But he's left now, gone to Pakistan.

Marty has gone back to the States for three weeks and I'm headed over to Bangkok for a four day business meeting at our regional headquarters, so will write more next week when I'm back.

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