Can You Read My Mind?

Anyone that knows me will probably know my opinions on spiritual and alternative therapy stuff quite well. Suffice to say that I’m a complete non-believer in that sort of thing.

So when I had the chance to have my palm read on Saturday, I jumped at the chance 😀

The entire conversation took place in Tamil, but I’ve got the translated version here…

You have a nice hand, you will get lots of money, but you will spend lavishly – but you have a good chance to have more wealth than you can spend. You are very intelligent, you look timid, but deep down you are not. When it comes to work, and you know you are very correct, you will not let it go.

You have a lucky hand, whatever you start, you will do well.

You are coming to India with a mission, you rely on your friends from other countries to help you. You have the opportunity to marry only one girl and she will probably be from another country. You have the opportunity to have five children.

Nice and vauge, I hope you will agree. It could probably be applied to any foreigner coming to India 🙂

Nearly Claimed My First Fatality…

I was so close to claiming my first Indian road kill today when I opened the car door and a guy on a motorbike slammed in to it.

As part of the crazy ‘no rules’ driving style in Chennai, when Aravind stopped the car, I opened the passenger door (on the pavement side – not in to the traffic) and some guy on a motorbike decided that was going to try and ride up the side…well, until he came to an abrupt stop from the car door.

The gap was probably only just big enough for him to get his bike through, but that’s usually enough of a gap to make them do it.

Unfortunately, although I nearly killed, or seriously injured him, I just haven’t got any sympathy because of his stupidity (does that make me a bad person?!).

Tips For Getting a Tuk-Tuk in Chennai

I’ve decided to write some tips about catching a tuk-tuk (known as an auto or an auto-rick to the local population) when in Chennai – they probably apply to most asian cities aswell though.

So here goes…

1. All Tuk-Tuk Drivers Wear Face Masks and Black & White Stripy Tops

Or in other words, they’ll rob you blind given half a chance. It’s nothing personal, but if you have white skin, you can expect the driver to add anywhere between a 20% to 150% premium on the price they would charge a local.

Take for example my journey to work. When I was with my friend Aravind, he would negotiate a price of 70-80 Rupees (about $2). The first time I got a tuk-tuk by myself, they asked for 150 Rupees – nearly twice the price because of my skin colour.

2. Make Sure You Know How Much A Journey Will Cost Before You Go

If at all possible, ask a local how much the tuk-tuk journey should cost before you make it. This will give you a better position when it comes to bargaining. Using the example above, I now bargain my way to the right price as you should too.

3. Walk Away

If the tuk-tuk driver won’t budge from his high rates, then start walking away and look like you’re trying to get another tuk-tuk. Many times the driver will call you back and agree to your prices.

I’m amazed at how well this tip works. Although I do have fears that they will all colude against the ‘stupid foreigner’ and none of them will offer a good price.

4. Don’t Be Concerned If You Stop At A Petrol Station

Something I learned quite early on is that a stop via a petrol station is not unusual as you try to get to your destination. Nor is asking for the money to pay for the petrol before you’ve got to your destination.

This has happened a couple of times to me – although I’m not sure if it’s normal (or indeed acceptable) for them to ask for your money to pay for the petrol.

5. Where Ever You Want To Go, The Tuk-Tuk Driver Has Never Heard of It

I’m not sure if this is something against foreigners, but it seems when I get a tuk-tuk with my Indian friends there is no problem getting to where you want to get to. When I try and get a tuk-tuk, the driver gets lost, has no idea where the place is or goes some where completely different.

I’ve tried local landmarks, maps, everything. Only this evening I got a tuk-tuk back home and despite showing the driver a map printed out from Google Maps, we still had to pull over while the guy asked for directions.

Edit 04/2016: This blog post was written in February 2007 in the first couple of months when I had arrived in Chennai. Re-reading the paragraph above makes me cringe to think that I tried showing an auto-driver a map to show where I wanted to go 🙁

These are just some of the tips I have when you are living in Chennai or working in Chennai.

Mosquito Bite Count: 2

Something That Bugs Me About Westerners In India

I’m getting more and more bugged as the weeks have gone by about Westerners in India. For some strange, unknown reason, they are all insisting on immersing themselves into what they believe the culture of India is by wearing traditional Indian clothes.

By that, I mean the guys wear a kind of wrap-around fabric – like a sarong – and a long sleeved garment that comes down to around your knees and sandels to top it off. The women wear sari’s (badly) or baggy trousers with the same long sleeved garment. Rat tail hair also features prominently.

The thing that bugs me the most is that, yes, at one point these were traditional Indian clothes, but now you are more likely to see (particularly amongst the growing middle-classes) Indians wearing jeans or trousers with a t-shirt or shirt. So if India’s dressing style is changing with the times, why do the Westerners in India insist on wearing old fashioned clothes?!

I know it’s a small and irrational thing to get bugged about, but hey, it bugs me. I wonder if the locals find it offensive or if they just smile in an understanding way and think how odd foreigners must be.

There are many other things that bug me about how Westerners act in India, but if I air them all, I’m in danger of turning this in to an anti-west blog!

Living In India Tip #329: Expect The Unexpected

India is a place of unexpected surprises. In order to survive, you must come to expect the unexpected and not let it phase you. Driving the wrong way down the street, no problem. The tuk-tuk driver is facing you rather than the road, furgetaboutit.

However, there needs to be a new qualification to the phrase “expect the unexpected” and that is “expect the unexpected, particularly when you are not expecting it”.

This happened to me this very morning when the ringing doorbell slowly filtered in to my mind at 6.30 in the morning. It took a minute or two for it to actually sink in that it was the doorbell that was going, so I thought hey-ho, let’s go and answer it.

The person ringing the doorbell was a guy from work, and he had another guy with him, apparently someone from the Bangalore office, who was coming to stay.

Expect the unexpected.

Someone knocks at your door and announces that they are coming to stay. You’ve had no indication or forwarning of this visitor, it’s completely unexpected.

Particularly when you are not expecting it.

OK, someone knocking at your door and announcing they are staying at yours is just about bareable, but when it’s at 6.30am and you’re awoken from a deep sleep, it just goes to show that in India, the unexpected can happen at any time!

Mosquito Bite Count: 19

Pancake Parties

I was invited round to a pancake party (erm, because it’s pancake day) being thrown by some other Brits here in Chennai. They’ve come over to work for for a year. I’ve never actually met them before, but hooked up with one of them through a friend of a friend of a friend (you get the idea).

To get to their house involved taking the plunge and finally taking a solo tuk-tuk ride. We started off well until we began homing in on the apartment where the party was being held. At that point things fell apart pretty rapidly as the tuk-tuk driver drove up and down the road looking for the apartment – all the while complaining that I was wasting his time.

In the end he pulled over to use a public phone to ring them to find out where the hell the apartment was – annoyingly my phone battery had chosen that very moment to give up on life so I was unable to call them myself.

Armed with new information on the whereabouts of this apartment, we drove back up the road. Did a U turn. And drove all the way back again. Grr!

There is a happy ending to this little story though because eventually we found the apartment and I got my pancakes!

Fortunately I got my phone working again so the trip home wasn’t quite so eventful, I simply flagged down a tuk-tuk, phoned Aravind and he gave the driver the ‘rules’ (ie. don’t you dare over charge this naive white man!).

Mosquito Bite Count: 24 (yay! many bites are beginning to clear up now)

Convince, Confuse or Corrupt

I was talking to the lawyer today that joined us and was asking about law practice in India. He showed us the court house where he practiced law. The building was actually built in the late 19th century by the British.

He told me that as a lawyer, there are only three ways to win a legal case in India…

– Convince
– Confuse
– Corrupt

It’s known as the 3 C’s in legal circles. Depending on the strength of your case, it determines which method you go with.

Another little bit of information I gleaned today is that Prakesh and YYY were all fairly adament that Mohandas Ghandi (the guy that peaceful revolted against British imperialism) was the worst thing that happened to India.

They even went as far as saying that all the good things Britain did for India far outweighed the bad things, and are certain that if it wasn’t for Britain, India would be even more of a 3rd world country (or countries) than now.

On the way back to Chennai, we stopped off at another temple which was a virtual replica of the first one. This second temple was built by the brother of the guy that built the first temple in what can only be logically described as an act of sibling rivalry.

We stopped off in Pondicherry again to stock up on some more booze. Technically it’s illegal to buy alcohol in Pondicherry and bring it in to Chennai. There are a dozen or so check points. But as the guys cheerfully pointed out, give the police a little bribe and they didn’t see anything.

Mosquito Bite Count: 31

A Road Trip to Thanjuvar

Thanjuvar is an old Indian town that has an even older temple, 1,500 years at the last estimate. It is said to be a wonder of ancient architecture, but more on that later.

The journey itself was due to take around 6-7 hours because the place was 300 KM away. Aravind told me I would be picked up around 5am and he would come over at 4.30am to wake me up.

Foolishly, or possibly just a case of absent mindedness, I forgot that this was India, so while I got up for 4.30am to leave by 5am, what they actually meant was “we’ll say we’ll leave at 5am, but actually it will be more like 6.30”.

The three guys I went with were called Prakshy, Udi and Raj.

The main purpose of the trip was for Udi to covertly go and meet his new Fiance, a girl that he’d only met once before, briefly, at an engagement ceremony at a temple in Chennai.

I say covertly because within his family there is a tradition that once you are engaged to a girl, you don’t see them again until the wedding day. In Udi’s case, this wasn’t to be until the end of May.

The first stop on the journey was a place called Pondicherry, an old French colony that still has strong ties to France. The purpose of the stop over here was not to experience and take in the culture and admire the French influence on the architecture and city lay out, it was simply because you can buy cheap booze here.

Stocked up on booze, we proceeded down to Thanjuvar which meant taking winding country roads where the farmers were out in the padi fields and workers were piling up the harvested rice by the side of the road.

The method by which you separate the rice ‘seed’ from the rest of the plant is quite simple in india. You spread out all the stalks across the road and let the cars, lorries, bikes, tractors and tuk-tuks drive across it all, therby separating the rice from the plant.

Several boozy hours later (and it should be noted that this included the driver, an otherwise respected and successful MD in Chennai) we arrived at the hotel which was very nice indeed!

Udi met up with his fiance, and the rest of us (which now included a lawyer from Thanjuvar) headed off to the ancient temple.

I finally realised a lifelong dream and went face to face with an elephant (as in, it was free to go about anywhere). I did the traditionl of giving it a rupee coin in it’s trunk, which it passes on to it’s master and then pats you on the head with it’s trunk to ‘bless’ you.

All very cool.

There are actually three temples within the main walls and I went in all of them to be blessed by the Gods. This involves doing something with a candle (who knows what? I just copied everyone else) and then having the priest put some chalk on your head.

To be honest, I did feel a little bit uncomfortable because although I was there as a tourist and gawping at the sights, most people were there to worship their Gods.

The temple done, we went back to the hotel, had a few more beers, bribed one of the workers to let us go out in the roof top swimming pool before calling it a night.

Mosquito Bite Count: 26

Three Men Get Locked in a Room

It sounds like it could be the start of a bad joke, but no, today it actually happened. The hilarity of the situation is going to be lost a fair bit but here’s what happened.

One of the rooms in my apartment has been locked since I arrived due to a faulty door handle. This morning it was eventually opened by the manager of the apartment block. To prove that the door handle was working again, he demonstrated several times that the lock was going in and out as normal.

Then, for reasons unknown, the manager, the watchman and Aravind’s father went in to the room, shut the door behind them and attempted to open it again from the other side. The door handle broke.

For about 15 minutes there was a lot of shouting on the other side of the door and the door handle was turning furiously as they tried to escape. I was on the other side powerless to help, but creased up laughing at the absurdity of the situation.

Eventually I saw a builder passing by my door (the apartment block still isn’t finished yet) and I managed to flag them down and explain the problem by means of some vigorous hand gestures.

The builder disappeared and came back with 4 of his mates and they set about trying to open the door.

After about 20 minutes the men were finally released from their inpromptu cell.

As I said, the humour is lost as I retell the story, definitely something you had to be there to get.

Mosquito Bite Count: 22

Life After Freelancing

So I have decided to give up freelancing and forge a career in a ‘proper’ job where one works 9 till 5 (or to 6 in some of the meaner companies). One of the first questions potential employers ask (well, ok, the 4 billion or so recruitment agencies) is…WHY?!

Incase any potential employers are reading this, let me take a moment to explain why I want to move from freelancing to a ‘proper’ job. The answer is quite simple: financial stability.

Freelancing is fun, setting your own hours, working to your own rules, but at the end of the day, you still have no idea how much you are going to earn from one month to the next, you might go a couple of months with very little and the following month take a large order.

Sales was never my strongest point, I prefered to be given the work, beaver away on it and return a new shiney website that exceeded the clients’ expectations.

When you have a fixed income, it helps you to budget and plan ahead a lot better and removes a lot of the stress and worry on where the next paycheck is going to come from.

It’s a very simple reason to be honest with you, but there have been a few problems with making the transistion from freelancing to getting a full time job which I’ll talk about some other time.

RIP Pagerank – No More Pagerank Updates?

Pagerank. It’s a little green bar that can mean the difference between your site earning thousands of pounds a month and nothing. Well, that has been the story up until now. An entire link buying industry has sprung up around the little green graphic.

Google was “supposed” to update the pagerank of all the sites in mid July. Now, 3 months later and there is still no sign of this happening. Pagerank is not being updated.

Further research has led me to conclude that Pagerank as we know it is dead. Google has constantly stated that it doesn’t rank websites according to pagerank (it’s a very common misconception that higher pagerank automatically means higher rankings), and Matt Cutts, an engineer at Google, has said that pagerank is not a big deal in Google and exporting the data to the toolbar is seen as a none event.

There’s no official word from Google as of yet on the status of Pagerank and it’s future, so it might not be officially dead, but they’ve never taken this long to update the toolbar before.

Still, pagerank had it’s uses. You could gauge the level of popularity of a website if it had a high PR and determine whether it was worth getting those valuable backlinks. Now that PR is dead (but certainly not forgotten) it leaves webmasters and internet marketers to rely on other sources, namely Alexa and Compete.

Both of these sites try and estimate the level of traffic to a site and quite frankly, both of them do a rubbish job. They take their sample data from users that have installed their toolbar. This means that if a site gets 100,000 visitors a month but none of them have the toolbar, and another site gets 1,000 visitors a month and 10% of them have the toolbar installed, the latter website would be ranked higher.

So what are we left with now to determine the value of a link or advertising on a website? It’s very difficult. Say what you want about Pagerank, but it was an exceptionally useful tool for determining the cost of a link or advertising.

Summer Holidays

Just returned from a fantastic week long break in Crete – home of the first advanced civilisation in Europe, the Minoans. Greek Myth also says it’s the place where Zeus was born and where the Labyrinth is located.

It wasn’t all culture though…infact it was mostly not culture and consisted of relaxing in the sun by the pool, chilling by the pool bar and enjoying the nights out in places like Piskopiano, Hersonissos and of course Malia.

On one of the days we hired out a quad bike and let me tell you now, hiring a quad bike is like hiring some instant death. The things are lethal – with no differential on the axels, when you take a corner on the road the bike kicks out or wants to roll over – if you ever drive one just be careful!

Malia was the place to go for a good night out though with all the drink offers you can’t help but wonder just how watered down the alcohol is. As I found with Ibiza, hangovers simply do not happen in Crete and most days after a heavy night out I could wake up with a clear head.

I will be uploading some photos soon, so stay tuned!