Date archives "July 2009"

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.