Chennai Journal
Monday, August 28, 2006
Sorry I am a bit late this week. I was in Goa from Thurs. - Sat night for a conference at the Taj Exotica. Lovely place, beautiful grounds, good food, good service---but a huge problem with power outages. There must have been 15 or 20 of them during the three days. My laptop battery was malfunctioning so the computer would just shut off during one of the outages--very frustrating.

Goa was a Portugeuse colony and still retains an old European (as opposed to British) feel. The Taj Exotica is right on the water and has a spa, swimming pool, small golf course, and a lot of other attractions. I didn't get much chance to explore Goa or the hotel for that matter, but there is lots to do there. However, water activities are a bit dicey because of riptides, and a couple of weeks ago several employees from the big Indian IT giant Infosys died when they got caught during an early morning swim. There were no lifeguards, according to one report, because they are on strike demanding statutory benefits!

One of the conference presentations was very interesting. All companies experience difficulty in finding and keeping qualified personnel, and given the scale of recruiting especially in the IT and business process outsourcing companies, it takes a whole army of people just to do the backoffice work connected with finding candidates, screening them, scheduling interviews, selecting and then onboarding them. One company has found a creative solution. They have networked and provided computers to graduates in about 150 villages, trained them to screen resumes and set up appointments, and pay them about 3000 rupees per month. Attrition is low because most people in the villages don't leave, and this is by far the best employment in town. Someone quickly termed this "VPO" ---Village Process Outsourcing! Given the talent shortage here, you really have to be thinking out of the box to keep ahead.

Saturday, August 19, 2006
Cabbages, Condoms, and Long Necked Ladies

We got back from Thailand on Wednesday, and Marty is now on his way back to the U.S. In Bangkok, we stayed with friends from our synagogue and they took us to dinner at a famous local place called Cabbages and Condoms---so called for its work in AIDS prevention (and where pretty much everything is decorated with condoms). We arrived on the Queen's birthday (known as Mother's Day in Thailand), and there was a huge celebration in the evening at a large local park (see above). The Thais really know how to throw a party--there must have been at least half a dozen stages and mobs of people, most sporting either yellow (for the King) or blue (for the Queen) shirts. In Thailand, each day is associated with a color, and since the King was born on Monday (yellow) and the Queen on Friday (blue) it is a sign of respect to wear one of these colors.

After spending a day in Bangkok (and ordering more clothes at Nickermann's) we headed up to Chiang Mai, about an hour's flight from Bangkok.

Chiang Mai has lots of things to do. We took a tour one day up near the Burmese border, visiting an orchid farm, a cave with very interesting Buddhist art and statues including the famous "reclining Buddha" and finally, a
village of the so-called "long neck women." They are refugees from Burma, and have a custom of wearing very heavy (about 40 lbs for an adult woman) rings around their necks and sometimes legs as well. Girls at the age of about five begin to wear them, and as the girl grows, more and more rings are added. There are various stories about how the custom got started, both religious and practical. The women weave and sell their wares for very reasonable prices--- given the number of visitors, they likely do very well assuming they get to keep most of what they earn.

When we got back to Chiang Mai, I checked out the Night Market which was right next to our hotel. ( Marty passed on this--he has seen street markets in virtually all the cities we have visited and feels that if you have seen one, you've seen them all!).

Chiang Mai has lots of other activities for tourists, and the following day we did a Thai cooking class, where we learned how to carve vegetables, make Pad Thai and some other stir fry dishes, and visited a local market. I'm having trouble posting more photos on the site right now, but if you look on Flickr at the top, you can see Marty in his apron!

Friday, August 11, 2006
Headed to Thailand
Marty is here and we are going to Bangkok and Chiang Mai, located near the border of Myanmar (formerly Burma) for a long weekend. Will post when I am back.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

This week our IT unit did community service at a home for destitute women. Several women at the home, including some of the staff, put on entertainment for us and for the other residents. I thought Dad would enjoy the experience so we took him along. He was treated as an honored guest and got a special cloak wrapped around him and the staff was very solicitous, insisting on helping him to the car and bringing a walker for him to use. More pictures are at the top, on Flickr.

There are over 100 women at Vishranthi, living in spartan but comfortable accommodations. Most are widows abandoned by their families, or otherwise left homeless. The w
omen put on a skit about a dispute between a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law in which the son winds up mediating to a happy ending---which most of them could not say about their own stories. Some of the women also sang Tamil songs, accompanied by traditional instruments. The women had clearly prepared extensively for our visit. The entire walkway on the side of the building was lined with ornate rangoli and a special lunch (which we missed) was served.

Dad enjoyed seeing other older people and though he didn't understand much of what was going on, he smiled a lot and seemed to have a good time. Lately he has taken to singing to himself, frequently humming the tune to "Swanee River", and the other day he burst into "America." He doesn't remember the words, but remarkably, makes up verses that, while they make no sense, do rhyme. Watching the old women the other day--their faces lit up as one of our employees joined in the entertainment to sing a old Tamil love song--it was a chance to reflect on the connection that music makes with the aged---even when they are hardly able to speak or get around.

Dad did so well with the walker that I went out and bought him one to use in the house. Now, he doesn't even remember visiting the women, but he does enjoy his "new toy" as he calls it.

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