Posts in "India"

Weekends in Chennai

Like the vast majority of the salaried world, I tend to look forward to the weekends and believe that they end far too soon. In the last few months most of my expat network have left, so there have been no more trips outside the city, crazy house parties or even nights out in the clubs.

However, that’s not to say I’m not enjoying myself, I seem to have got myself in to a bit of a weekend routine, and yep, it keeps me happy 🙂

Since I don’t rise till about 10ish on weekdays, if I took any more of a lie in at the weekends I’d miss it altogether! The first thing I have to take care of is my laundry. I recently found out that there is no hot cycle on my washing machine, which would explain why my t-shirts would come out just as funky as they went in. With that in mind, I now soak all my clothes in very hot water before putting them in the washing machine.

I will have to take a photo of the colour of the water after soaking my clothes for 15 minutes, it’s like they become a magnet for all the pollution and dust in this city.

Once the laundry is complete I head over to a nice little coffee shop, imaginatively named Coffee World. Think Starbucks without the hefty prices – though the prices are pretty steep for Chennai. I then have my weekly bitch / moan session with a fellow expat where we get everything off our chest that’s annoyed us or wound us up in the last seven days 😀 It’s remarkably therapeutic!

Once the counselling catch up is over I go back and do the weekly grocery shopping in the supermarket at the end of the road. I say supermarket but the trollies are the size of ‘kid’ trollies in some of the supermarkets in England!

Incredibly I bumped in to another foreigner this weekend. I don’t know what it is, but whenever I see other foreigners walking around I feel compelled to ignore them on the basis that “you’re foreign, what’s so special about that”. It’s hard to explain why. One reason I guess is that because everyone is always moving on, it becomes tiresome making friendships that are going to last months.

So as I was saying, I bumped in to a foreigner this weekend. For reasons unknown, the Gods of Fate, Justice and Give a Guy a Break were not smiling upon me and instead of a cute girl next door type, the foreigner was a strapping great big Norwegian viking guy. The aisles are barely big enough for one person to squeeze down, so to ignore another white person when you are in such close proximity would just be rude 🙂

I said hello, introduced myself and went through the usual motions when you talk to a new foreigner, how long have you been here, what are you doing, where are you staying, how long are you planning to stay for etc.

So once again in Chennai, I end up with another guys number. It’s very tiresome you know!

In the absence of any parties at the moment, it’s usually a case of a cold beer, pizza and something on TV for my Saturday nights. It’s not so bad though as I get all the Premiership matches, even the 3pm ones which you don’t get in England.

This weekend, my local wine shop (ironically named because it doesn’t sell wine) didn’t have any ‘normal’ beer, instead they had concocted something distilled from a fine blend of paint stripper and gasoline. You know something is astray when it says on the label that the beer is “not less than 6%”! After half a glass of the stuff I was hammered. Ouch!

A quick word about the wine shops though. They are truly desperate places frequented by the fringes of society and whose sole service is to provide liquor with the highest alcohol content possible. Just like in England when you walk past a club at chucking out time and you’ll see women falling out of tops and guys rolling around the floor together, India has old men lying on the roadside passed out in the vicinity of the wine shop. If you are particularly unfortunate you will catch an eyeful of far more than you want to see of an old man! They don’t seem to wear underwear here!

Sundays in Chennai is my favourite. There is a noticeable reduction in the number of people and traffic and a kind of eerie calm falls over the city, especially in the non-commercial areas. Even the dogs seem to understand that it’s a Sunday and they keep quiet.

Sundays can be spent relaxing, reading, watching football, playing computer games or going to the shopping malls. This Sunday I went to the beach with a friend, but that didn’t last long as the thunderclouds descended and the heavens opened. Fortunately there is a big shopping mall nearby which on the outside is modeled on a 19th century French chateaux…I guess you really need to see it to believe it.

When you go to a shopping mall the peacefulness of the lazy Sunday afternoon is broken. India has a new consumer driven middle class and they are making the most of it by buying branded goods, designer clothes and generally propping up the economy during the global slowdown.

One of my favourite shops in India is Landmark, which is kind of a cross between a Virgin Megastore (or whatever they are called now) and a Waterstones. I have an inability to go in to a Landmark shop and come out empty handed.

To start off with, they have more books than Amazon and at prices that make second hand book shops look pricey. A normal novel will cost anything from £2 to £5 which is ridiculously cheap. I’ve also got hooked on VCD’s, which are like DVD’s but they come on two discs and at a fraction of the price, I can pick up the latest Hollywood films for about £3 for three movies! As such, my library and movie collection is rapidly expanding 🙂

This weekend I bought a couple of classics, Gullivar’s Travels and Robinson Crusoe (which claims to be the first ever novel). I’ve been reading some novels by Jasper Fforde (which I’ll probably talk about in another post), but it’s really piqued my interest in older novels – I might even have to tackle Jane Eyre and Great Expectations (joke: what are you reading? oh, great expectations. Is it any good? It’s not what I was hoping for) next!

Well, that pretty much sums up a typical weekend at the moment. It’s all very lazy and I really should do some more work on the sites that earn me money, maybe I’ll get some motivation to do that some day.

Do you want any coffee with that sugar?

India is well known for its love of food and variety of dishes, both veg and non-veg (as I now call it). They certainly don’t do anything by halves, “more of everything please, waiter”.

India currently has the worlds largest consumption of sugar, not difficult when you have 1/6th of the worlds population, but some what surprising when you keep hearing how obese North Americans and Western Europeans are getting.

But if you spend some time in india, you soon realise why they are the largest consumers; sugar is used in everything. I know people who berate me for drinking the occasion diet coke but then go on to put two or three sugars in their coffee!

sugar poured into coffee

Another example is fruit juice. Fruit juices are healthy, right? Err, not so much in India. When you go in to a restaurant and ask for a fresh fruit juice, you have to be very clear and very specific that there should be absolutely no sugar in the juice. And when it arrives, you usually have to send it back because they put sugar in it any way. TII 🙂

I mean seriously, sugar in fruit juice! It probably makes it worse that soft drinks in terms of calories. OK, not as bad as Irn Bru which breaks all known mathematic and physical laws by being made up of 200% sugar.

The same goes for coffee and tea, unless you specify, your mug will be heaped with sugar with some coffee splashed over it to turn it in to some syrupy goo.

Then you have indian sweets. Now I have a very big sweet tooth, if I didn’t blow up like a balloon, I’d happily munch on chocolate, sweets and soft drinks all day. But indian sweets are just too much for most western taste buds.

To start with they are made of sugar and they have a soft sugary centre and are coated on the outside with a sugar glaze. I think the main ingredient (after sugar) is butter, so the sweets are soft and very sticky!

So they eat all this sugar and waist lines amongst the middle classes are rapidly expanding. To top it off though, the asian genotype is particularly susceptible to type 2 diabetes, so not only is India heading towards an obesity crises on a scale similar to North America, it has the added problem of diabetes, which is already referred to as a pandemic by the WHO. Even people in their early twenties (usually from the middle classes) are being diagnosed with the problem.

And all this is hardly surprising when you consider the sedentary life styles many middle class Indian people lead. It’s often a case of if you can afford to pay someone else to a job for you, then do it – and when having a maid to come to your house daily who sweeps, washes and cleans for just £10 a month, it’s not hard to see why so many do it! Even things like ironing and laundry are given to someone else to do. I know people who are 25 years old and have never cooked, cleaned, ironed or washed up in their life! (And I’m not just talking about my sister 😉 )

When it comes to physical exercise, it also highlights why India could be on a collision course for a major health crisis. My 2nd floor apartment is a perfect example to show the differences between many Indians and Westerners. Myself and all the expats who visit take the stairs, regardless of what we’re carrying. Indian people who visit always take the lift, both up and down for what is literally two flights of stairs! It actually takes longer to use the lift than to use the stairs!

And it’s just now that I think I’ve discovered the root cause behind it all. Said one of my local friends after reading this post “what, so sugar can make you fat?”

But there may be some hope for obese India yet. Sugar prices are skyrocketing due to a poor harvest and if there is one thing the average Indian is particularly sensitive too it’s food prices.

Note: Sorry for the crappiness of the flow and readability of this post, it was written on my awesome Nokia E75 phone and transferred to my blog.

It shouldn’t happen to an expat

I seem to be having a streak of bad luck recently. Whether the gods are playing with my fate in a game of dice or not, I don’t know. Or it could be my natural carelessness (I’m sure my dad would agree with that!).

However, I have a far more interesting theory, so much so that I’m going to pick it up and run with it.

Festival season is in full swing in Chennai. To the open minded foreigner, it could be seen as a time of wonder, the chance to see culture up close and personal. The cultured person may want to understand more, find out the story behind the celebrations.

On the other hand, there’s me. You couldn’t culture me if you covered me in fertilizer and added miracle-gro (my blog, I can create whatever metaphor I want!).

When it comes to festival time, I curse, I swear and I complain bitterly to anyone who wants to listen. And since you’re reading my blog, that would be you!

Part of the preperations for the festivals involves the erection of giant idols outlined in multi-coloured lights. Sure, it looks pretty and it’s even quite impressive. Along with these giant light idols they also hang up so many light bulbs that it has a luminous intensity normally associated with stars. It’s so bright it can be seen from space, lifeforms in different galaxies see it as the brightest light in their sky.

This is all wonderful, except that all these lights are in the street outside my house. At night, despite having curtains, my room is lit up like a flood lit stadium. We’re saving thousands on electricity because we don’t need to use our lights at night.

So the lights are annoying, but if you are really tired, you can eventually get to sleep.

(pictures taken on a Nokia E75 at 2am!)

However, there is a catch. Noise. This is the second part of the culture of festivals. Holy mother of god do they know how to make noise in india. They’ve become so good that it comes in two forms; mechanical and electrical.

In the video below you will see mechanical noise. Keep in mind that I took this video at 1.45am! There’s a hilarious moment around 30 seconds so watch it carefully:

So, this goes on pretty much until 3ish after which you just have the dazzling lights to deal with.

Let’s assume that during all this culture you are able to get to sleep. Well hah! Sucks to be you kiddo because at 5am they start blasting out music through a PA system. I don’t mean that its a bit loud, it’s ridiculously loud. If volume dials could go up to 11, they’ve invented a way to go to 12!

These PA speakers are conveniently located so that they point directly in to my room. From a distance of about 3ft. When they’re blaring, I can’t even hear my own TV, and that’s in the room next door – and it has theatre surround sound. That’s how loud they play this music. So I get to sleep by 3am only to be blasted into next week when they start playing the music at 5am.

I’m sure culture is a wonderful thing, but only when you are an observer, not when it is being thrust and imposed upon you.

So what exactly has this got to do with my bad luck? Simple: sleep deprivation.

Since I’ve been getting at the most a couple of hours of decent sleep each night and a few hours of fitful sleep while the music is playing I’ve been making more and more mistakes as the days go by.

On Saturday I had a true nightmare. Myself and some friends went to a party about 10 miles out of Chennai. I was changing in to shorts (as it was a pool party), I dropped my bag on the back of the seat and it pressed the button on the car keys that locks the car. No problem though, the door was still open. I gathered up the rest of my things and also placed them on the back seat of the car, and then, it one dream like movement, proceeded to shut the door – fully aware that the car was locked and the keys were on the back seat.

As the door clicked shut, there was an awful silence as it sunk in what I had just done. My clothes, my phone, my keys and my wallet were all locked inside, all I had was a pair of swimming trunks and a t-shirt.

Naturally the friends i was with were less than ecstatic, I could tell by the way they told me to go off and join the party and enjoy myself, they would sort it. A few hours later I noticed that they still weren’t back so went to look for them, but in revenge (or spite), they had left – and taken all my stuff with them. Absolute nightmare, all because of sleep deprivation!

Another habit a seem to have developed is putting my phone in the washing machine. As I talked about in an earlier blog post, I recently bought a new Nokia E75 – and bloody good job I did too, because not 5 minutes after I got home, I put my old phone in the washing machine!

…Again!

Somehow, as I gathered up all my bed clothes the old phone became entagled and in it went into the washing machine.

About half an hour later I was hunting for my old phone to transfer all my old contacts and files, and as the searching turned to desperation, my gaze fell upon the washing machine.

“bugger” I thought, and started fishing around in the bowl (it’s a top loading machine). Eventually, my groping discovered a small hard object and after a quick search and rescue effort, I managed to bring it out in to the light. It was one very dead looking Nokia phone which gurgled with water as I shook it.

Would I have made such a stupid mistake if I wasn’t extremely sleep deprived? I would like to think not.

But anyway, I think my luck is changing. I dried out the phone for 24 hours, put the battery pack back in and after a few false starts, there was the wonderful Nokia tune and the connecting hands. The phone lives!

You Had Me At Hello

Every phone I’ve ever had has been a Nokia. Sure, just like other guys I may have flirted with other phones but in the end, I’d come back to the trusty old Nokia, it’s a guy thing, it’s safe and you know exactly what you’re going to get.

I once got a Sony Ericsson, but that lasted for almost all of 2 hours before I cursed myself for trying something different and got my old Nokia back out the box.

For the last few years, I’ve been using an N73, and it was pretty much perfect, but over time the OS slowed down and it took forever to get things done, even opening text messages resulted in an annoying 10 second delay!

The cynic and conspiracy theorist in me says the shocking slowdown of the Symbian S60 operating system is intentional and designed to make you change phones every few years. But I also sometimes wear tin foil hats, so what do I know?

The final straw came, however, when the main select button stopped working and defaulted to a constantly on status. This resulted in many unintentional prank calls, in one case over 50 calls was made to a single person over a one hour period!

At that point, I knew it was time to get me a new mobile.

The previous week I trawled around all the phone stores looking at various models and checking out specs. I’d like to say I’m free and easy when it comes to styling and design, but i’m not. I’m very fussy and particular. I know exactly what I like and can usually focus in on a particular model quite quickly.

I knew I wanted a phone with a full qwerty keyboard, because I’m constantly typing notes on my phone, and it had to have wi-fi built in, so it narrowed down my options a lot. At first i was looking at the new Nokia N97 with its touch screen and slide out keypad, but when I saw it in real life I was disappointed at how big it was and how unproportioned.

Eventually my eye fell on the E75 and I knew instantly that I had to have it. However, being of the internet generation I know it’s pretty stupid to shell out £275 without consulting the all knowing oracle. So over the past week, I researched what other people were saying and the result was conclusive:

Internet, it says yes

Fortunately I had quite a good week on the internet and my crappy (as in design, not content) little articles site ended up covering the cost of the phone – which is a beautiful thing because it means I can spend nearly all my wage on beer making intelligent and long term investments.

So, armed with 25000 rupees in my pocket, I headed off to the Nokia store in the labyrinth that is Spencer Plaza, where even hardened explorers have got lost and no known floor plan exists, except in the stuff of legends.

Tying a ball of string the entrance, I navigated myself to where the Nokia store lives. The conversation went something like this…

staff: hello sir, can I help you?

me: yes, I would like this e75

staff: ah, good choice sir

me: yep, I’ve read all about it

staff: *eyes glazing over as he launches into his speech* it has a 3.2 megapixel camera and comes with an 8gb memory card

me: yep, so can I…*cut off by the salesrep*

staff: it’s got bluetooth, 3g and WLAN connectivity, so you can check you emails from anywhere

me: uh huh, i just want-

staff: you will even get 3 months subscription to Nokia gps which will give you maps and directions for every major city in India

me: sure will come in handy in spencer plaza, eh? [editor: the place is a maze, I tell you]

staff: the keypad can slide out like this to reveal a full qwerty keypad

me: I know, that’s why I wanted it, can I buy it?

staff: it will play your mp3 files, mp4 videos or you can view your photos in your album

me: I know all this, can I get it!?

staff: and look sir, it has a full office suite, you can create your word docs, excel sheets and power point presentations, all on the phone!

me: I know all this, can we start with the formalities?

staff: sir, this is a true business phone that will keep you connected 24 hours a day.

me: dude! *I shouted, getting completely exasperated*

staff: yessir?

Me: dude, *my face and voice both relax* you had me at hello.

But he didn’t get the joke, I did eventually get the phone though.

And I don’t think I’ve made a bad decision. Infact, this blog entry you’ve just read (or at least scanned) was written, edited and uploaded…all on the Nokia E75.

Attack of the Killer Red Worms (really!)

I’ve been scratching my head, trying to think of a suitable title for this blog entry. There’s not much that can accurately describe the revulsion that you might have after reading this, so if you are of a nervous disposition or have a weak heart, probably best to skip to the next post.

Continue if you are brave enough.

A couple of weeks back I had the worst stomach upset I’ve ever had since being in India. Yeah, you hear the horror stories of people being laid up for days and not being able to move, but that probably affects less than 1 in 2 people. You’ve got less than 50% chance of losing a 1/3rd of your body weight via the toilet, so there’s not that much to worry about.

Well, like I said, the worst stomach upset ever, it just wouldn’t go. I even had to take time off work. It’s not pretty, I know, but we’re about to go downhill even further….

Last week, without warning, the water was shut off. You never know just how much you take running water for granted until you’re a greased up furball who can’t take a shower. Plah. Not nice.

Sometimes the water has gone off before, and it’s usually back on within a few hours. This being a work day and all, I decided not to think too much of it and started working from home.

By the time the evening came around, the water still hadn’t been turned back on and I was starting to worry a bit. We have hand pumps (yeah, think Victorian times, you get the idea) out the front of our apartment which are used by people living in the slums (and on a side note, the noise of the squeaky water pump being operated at 6am every day is both an incessant annoyance and a audible reminder of the privileged life you lead) but even these had run dry.

The evening came round and we had a problem, there was still no water. All I can say is; thank goodness there’s a bucket under my AC to collect the condensed water!

The next morning, and I wasn’t just a greasy furball, but a decidedly odourous one at that. I said a little prayer to the God in the temple next door to me and went to switch on the tap.

Putt, pssst, put, put, psssssssss

(that’s the noise the taps make when there is not enough pressure to make the water run. It’s also one of the worst sounds in the world because roughly translated it means, “buddy, you ain’t gettin’ a shower today”).

Aragh. Nightmare.

I called up my mate and asked what’s going on with the water, it will be back in 5 minutes, he says.

Sidenote: Invariably, if you ask how long something will take in India, it will be an arbitrary five minutes. If you ask for directions, the answer will be keep going straight, when you get to the traffic lights, turn right. These are the subtle clues you need to pick up and determine that the person doesn’t know, without them explicitly telling you that they don’t know. It’s polite or something.

Anyway, translating the “5 minutes” in to “I don’t know”, I set about working from home again.

A few hours later, the God in the temple next door finally got around to reading my triplicated request for running water, and water flowed from the taps once again. I was able to finally take a shower and go through the transformation of greasy furball tramp to sharp, sophisticated businessman.

Later that day, I was on at my friend to find out why the water had been cut off for so long. He knocked on the neighbours door and came back a few minutes later looking very smug with himself.

The reason for the water being turned off was this…

The very same water that I wash in, wash my clothes in and wash up my plates, saucepans, utensils and cutlery…had been infested. With worms. Tiny red ones.

Apparently the whole street had been complaining for over a two weeks and the water authorities finally did something about it by switching the water off without informing anyone and removing and cleaning out the infestation.

I can’t believe I didn’t notice it, but when you switched on the taps, small red worms would come out, tiny little larvae and other crap.

On the bright side, at least that explained the severe stomach upset.

TII – Sorry boss, we’ve run out of idli’s

This post is part of my TII series, where weird and wonderful things happen that can often only be explained by the phrase: This Is India.

On Saturday I was heading over to see my friend. I called her up and asked if she wanted me to pick up anything along the way. She did. Some Indian fast food, namely sambar rice and idli.

I stopped at an Indian equivalent of McDonald’s, which serves Indian fast food – probably faster than you get it in McDonald’s. I’m convinced that a lot of Indian food in restaurants has the same health problems as the Western equivalent, but many people here disagree. My argument stems from the fact that so much oil and carbs are used in Indian food that it’s just not healthy to eat all the time.

Anyway, I digress.

I go up to the counter and the conversation goes something like this:

Me: “Hi, can I get one sambar rice and…” I’m cut off

Staff: “sorry boss, no sambar rice, have curd rice?”

Me: “err, yeah, sure, whatever. ok, one curd rice and two idli’s”

Staff: “boss, no idli’s. you want dosai?”

Me: “no idly? fine. dosai. sure.”

Staff: “one curd rice and one dosai. 60 rupees”

I handed him the money and went to the food counter to wait all of 5 seconds for my order to arrive (seriously, McDonald’s, if you are reading this, come to India and study how quick fast food can be!).

Off I toddled to meet my friend and handed her the bag of food. The conversation begins…

Me: “Oh, I’m really sorry, they didn’t have sambar rice or idli, so I got you curd rice and dosai instead, hope that’s ok!”

Friend: “Haha, yeah sure, it’s fine. Thanks!”

My friend goes to the kitchen with the food to put it on a plate and returns a few seconds later…

Friend: “Pete, did you say you got curd rice and dosai?”

Me: “yeah, they’d ran out of what you asked for. why?”

Friend: “Because they’ve given you sambar rice and idli’s!”

I no longer waste time trying to work things like this out. It can be summed up nicely with…TII 🙂

The Quest For A Perfect Haircut

In India, someone has forgotten to tell the men that the 1970’s was 40 years ago and the world has moved on from the silly facial hair grown on the top lip – often referred to as a moustache. Even my own father, after years of an ever shrinking mousch, finally got rid of it all together by 2005.

So…what has this got to do with the perfect haircut?

Well, as I may blog about in the future, people like to be able to pay other people to do stuff for them. This naturally extends to paying someone else to shave them. Laziness in the extreme, but I digress.

There are a million and one male beauty parlours dotted around the city where you can go to get a cut, shave and presumably have a gossip about the escalating price of food, what the kids are up to and the latest story line from their favourite soaps.

Being a good old fashioned male, who gets his hair cut in a nice solid barber shop…and expects to have it done within 10 minutes of entering the establishment (while at the same time expecting no conversation other than to be asked what I want doing with the barnet), finding a good barber shop in Chennai has proved rather elusive so far.

When I first arrived, I thought I got lucky because below our offices was a proper barber shop, unfortunately the place never seemed to be open and when I did pop in, he insisted that I make an appointment and come back another day (it was a one chair show and no customers were ever in sight, but hey, TII, let’s fill out some paperwork!).

I went to this barber a few times and all was well, a fairly reasonable haircut and since I don’t know Tamil and he didn’t know English, the conversation thing was taken care of.

My second barber experience was in April of this year when my company moved to a new office. I was about to go off on holiday with some friends and was in urgent need of a haircut. In desperation I found a dingy place and after a bit of hunting around the premises, I finally found the barber – an old guy who seemed to have difficulty walking.

I sat in the chair and with some pretty innovative hand signals managed to communicate that I wanted a number 3 razor on the back and sides and cut short on top.

So off he went and got the clippers out, a few false starts and they were up and clacking away. He started off on the right hand side and started moving round the back of my head when suddenly the powers that be (or probably someone at the electricity board) decided that now was a perfect time for a power cut.

A few choice words were running through my mind at this point, but the old barber man had seen it all before, he shuffled off to the back room and reappeared moments later with some rusty garden shears with blades the size of your forearm. A little bit of applied oil and he was ready to finish off the job.

The most glorious part about this hair cut was still to come. As he deftly wielded the shears around my cranium, neatly avoiding my ears, he came to the fringe.

Now, as all us guys know, the way not to cut the fringe is to brush it forward and cut straight across. This gives us what is affectionately known as the bowl cut and there is not one single country, even Germany, where it is cool.

Before I could say, “whoa! hold on mister, we’re not in Germany now!” he had brushed my hair forward and with a single snip of the giant blades had cut the most perfectly horizontal fringe you have ever seen.

The old dude took a step back, admired his handiwork and asked for 100 rupees.

Fortunately, my hair grows back very quickly, so after about 6 weeks I was able to go back to work and go out in public again.

In need of another haircut at the weekend and not wanting to make the same mistake again, I asked my trusted Indian friend where I could go to get a decent haircut, some where that doesn’t use a tupperware bowl as an integral part of the haircutting process.

He directed me to a landmark and as I walked up and down the road failing to see any sign of a barber shop I called him up.

Me: “dude [editor: that’s Indian for mate], I don’t see this barber shop”

Friend: “are you outside spencers?”

Me: “yeah, there’s some ladies salon and a furniture shop, no barbers”

Friend: “no dude, you can go to the salon”

Me: *looks up at the sign* “dude! it says Naturals Beauty Salon. I’m a guy, we don’t do salons and we most certainly don’t do beauty.”

Friend: “seriously, they will cut your hair”

After lots of convincing, I made my way in to the salon and rather incredulously asked if they cut hair. Did I have an appointment, they asked? I looked around at the empty establishment. No, I did not have an appointment.

I was found a hair artist (as I believe they are called in salons) and ushered in to a chair. Once again, my hand gestures came in useful, number 3 at the back, short on top (seriously, it’s not rocket science, I don’t ask for much).

30 minutes later and the guy finally put away the clippers after sculpting and shaping with all the care and attention Michelangelo demonstrated when he painted the Sistine Chapel. It took another 30 minutes to ‘cut it short on top’. Fortunately we didn’t have another fringe incident though.

The damage was 130 rupees, which is about £1.80. I wanted to say that they should have paid me 130 rupees for sitting there patiently for an hour while he messed around, but I didn’t know the Tamil word for “patient”.

So now I’m seriously considering investing in a pair of clippers and just shaving it all off every couple of weeks. It’s got to be less hassle than trying to get a haircut here!

Expat Grocery List

I thought I’d try and come up with the most boring and most mundane thing I could to post on my blog. Ladies and gentleman, I present to you:

This week’s grocery shopping list 😀

Maybe a few people are interested in finding out how much everyday things cost here, I think you might be quite surprised!

At the end of my road is what is rather optimistically referred to as a supermarket. In India, it’s still very much a case of one shop, one product type. You buy fruit and veg from one small shop, rice from another shop, toiletries from another shop, etc.

The shops are truly old skool; if you can imagine the store front about 2.5 metres in width with a counter across the front which the owner sits behind and you queue up to tell him what you want. Each one of these family shops is probably about 2-3 metres square at the most.

Getting back to the ‘supermarket’ at the end of my road, if it was in England, it would be called a corner shop. I would say it’s smaller than a Spar and maybe a tiny bit bigger than a shop at a petrol station.

The supermarket concept is just about taking a hold, but as you can probably imagine, there is quite a fierce opposition to it – India is a nation of shopkeepers.

Anyway, my grocery receipt. Here goes…

8x Red Delicious Apples – 160 rupees (£2)
5x Bananas – 15 rupees (£0.19)
5x Oranges – 68 rupees (£0.86)
1kg Basmati rice – 140 rupees (£1.76)
2x 330ml Diet Coke – 50 rupees (£0.63)
Kellogg’s 450g Honey Cornflakes – 125 rupees (£1.58)
Nivea Anti-Perspirant – 160 rupees (£2)
2x Navaratan Kurma (curry) – 98 rupees (£1.24)
Aloo Mutter (curry) – 48 rupees (£0.61)
Chicken Biriyani – 95 rupees (£1.22)
1ltr Tropicana 100% Orange Juice – 85 rupees (£1.07)
1ltr Nestle Milk – 38 rupees (£0.48)

So in total it comes to around £15, to buy enough food to last the week. Sometimes there are additional things I need to buy like toilet paper, shampoo, shower gel, tea bags, coffee – and in that case it can add another few pounds to the bill.

In recent weeks my total expenditure on food has been going up since I now buy fresh fruit to take to the office for lunch and I have stopped going to restaurants in the evening for dinner, so need to prepare (heh! ok, heat up) food at home.

India: Keeping it in the family

There’s a nice saying in English which is: every day is a school day. It means that you learn something new each day.

This is exceptionally true when you are immersed in to a foreign culture.

However, today was a school, college and university day.

I was talking to a work colleague, as you do, and he happened to mention that a girl was betrothed (promised) to another man. This girl is about 22 so nothing wrong there (if you discount the fact that she may have had little say in the decision). My school day came when he went on to tell me that the man she had been promised to was her Uncle.

Not a close family friend that is called ‘Uncle’, but a real blood relative uncle. To be specific, her mother’s brother.

Naturally I thought this was a total wind up as India, particularly South India is such a conservative society with strict morals and ethics. Surely ‘keeping it in the family’ would be against every law and religious custom.

To my horror, I found out that this is real and happens often. Wikipedia describes it in more detail for those of you that want to go there. It’s perfectly accepted in the more rural parts of the country for the daughter to marry the mother’s brother.

Furthermore, when I brought up the subject with others, the general attitude was “yeah, what’s wrong with that?”.

It turns out, my maid, is also married to her uncle – her mother’s younger brother. She leads such an unhappy life because she refuses to ‘live’ with her husband. ‘Live’ was the choice of words used by my friend to explain that although she lived in the same house as her husband, she refused to consummate the marriage, much to the displeasure of her husband and the rest of the family.

How to spot an Indian

I came across this list on my travels around the internet. Is it true? Speak to your Indian friends 🙂

————

We Indians are easy to identify!

We are like this only So true, lets start the list

1. Everything you eat is savored in garlic, onion and tomatoes.

2. You try and reuse gift wrappers, gift boxes, and of course aluminum foil.

3. You are Always standing next to the two largest size suitcases at the Airport.

4. You arrive one or two hours late to a party – and think it’s normal.

5. You peel the stamps off letters that the Postal Service missed to stamp.

6. You recycle Wedding Gifts , Birthday Gifts and Anniversary Gifts.

7. You name your children in rhythms (example, Sita & Gita, Ram & Shyam, Kamini & Shamini.)

8. All your children have pet names, which sound nowhere close to their real names.

9. You take Indian snacks anywhere it says “No Food Allowed”

10. You talk for an hour at the front door when leaving someone’s house.

11. You load up the family car with as many people as possible.

12. You use plastic to cover anything new in your house whether it’s the remote control, VCR, carpet or new couch.

13. Your parents tell you not to care what your friends think, but they won’t let you do certain things because of what the other “Uncles and Aunties” will think.

14. You buy and display crockery, which is never used, as it is for special occasions, which never happen!!

15. You have a vinyl tablecloth on your kitchen table.

16. You use grocery bags to hold garbage.

17. You keep leftover food in your fridge in as many numbers of bowls as possible.

18. Your kitchen shelf is full of jars, varieties of bowls and plastic utensils (may of which you got free with purchase of other stuff)

19. You carry a stash of your own food whenever you travel (and travel means any car ride longer than 15 minutes).

20. You own a rice cooker and a pressure cooker.

21. You fight over who pays the dinner bill.

22. You live with your parents and you are 40 years old.

23. You don’t use measuring cups when cooking.

24. You never learnt how to stand in a queue.

25. You can only travel if there are 5 persons at least to see you off or receive you whether you are traveling by bus, train or plane.

26. You only make long distance calls after 11 p.m.

27. If you don’t live at home, when your parents call, they ask if you’ve eaten, even if it’s midnight.

28. You call an older person you never met before Uncle or Aunty.

29. When your parents meet strangers and talk for a few minutes, you suddenly discover you’re talking to a distant cousin.

30. Your parents don’t realize phone connections to foreign countries have improved in the last two decades, and still scream at the top of their lungs when making foreign calls.

31. You have bed sheets on your sofas so as to keep them from getting dirty.

32. It’s embarrassing if your wedding has less than 700 people.

33. All your Tupperware is stained with food color.

34. You have drinking glasses made of steel.

35. You have mastered the art of bargaining in shopping.

36. You have really enjoyed reading this mail, and want to forward it to as many Indians as possible!

Well, I’m Back In India

There is a saying that you will know when you are in India because something totally out of the ordinary or random will happen – something will happen that probably wouldn’t happen anywhere else.

So, I got off the plane after a pleasant 9.5 hour flight (err…) and looked out for my driver Aravind who was there to pick me up.

This is when the first thing happened.

I was involved in a car accident.

Regular readers to my blog (and since Christmas, I discovered that it could be more than just myself and my Mum) would know that Indian driving is more like bumper cars than following strict rules. Dents within your car body work is shown off with pride. Broken arms obtained in a bike crash is something that seems to be aspired to.

So, we got in to the car, the engine was switched on and we reversed out of the parking space.

Into the mini bus that was parked behind us.

One of the great things about driving in India is that if you are involved in a crash, you don’t have to mess around with insurance details and stuff. Just bump in to people, apologise (maybe pay a small bribe if the police saw it) and carry on.

So, what next?

I got back to the apartment, went to switch on the A/C (it is 25 degrees here after all) and it made a big old grinding noise. I went outside to take a look and a pigeon had decided to build a nest in the A/C unit. Further investigation revealed that it wasn’t just a nest, it was going to become a family home with two little eggs there.

Later on that morning (about 10am), the maid called round. I answered the door, let her in and went back to sleep. Dreaming sweet dreams, I hadn’t the slightest clue what was about to happen next.

The maid was standing next to my bed calling my name. In a daze I opened my eyes and was confronted with the pigeon from the night before.

The maid had decided to pick up the pigeon, come in to my room and show it to me.

Believe me, being woken up by a pigeon in your face isn’t half as exciting as it sounds.

Now, just to drive home the fact that I am now back in India, this morning (Sunday), the maid called again. This time with her younger sister who was all decked out in her best sari and all her gold jewllery.

Thinking that she had mis-understood my reaction from the pigeon incident, it actually turned out that she wanted me to take photos of her sister so they could send them off for marriage proposals.

So here’s something you probably didn’t know about me: in my spare time I’m a pre-wedding photographer!

We went on to the roof of the apartment and I started giving instructions, (you’re a monkey, a tiger, a lioness, give me a flick of the hair, now hold it…good!). Then it was back to the apartment for Meena (the maid) to review and choose the suitable photos. There had to be a front shot, a back shot and a close up of the face.

But there was a problem. Meena’s sister has dark skin and that’s totally not OK when it comes to the Indian marriage market. I played around with some filters on the computer to change the colours and lighten everything until Meena gave her approval.

I’ve now got to somehow print out all these photos 🙂

Just another weekend in India!

Row, Row, Row Your Boat!

I took this video this morning as I was travelling to work. The recent monsoon rains turned the streets in to rivers, but a little rain never stopped the enterprising citizens of Chennai as they plough head long in to fast flowing rivers!