Posts tagged "chennai"

Chennai Expat Guide Launched!

I’m absolutely thrilled to announce that the Chennai Expat Guide book has been launched!

The book is the only guide that expats moving to Chennai need to adjust to life in the city. Based on my own eight years of experience living in the city and filled with the funny stories and anecdotes of over 50 contributing expats it covers every aspect of relocating to Chennai.

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New Chennai Airport

Check out the new Chennai airport that is being developed at the moment. Looks like it will be a huge improvement on the current building which is looking a bit old and crusty now – it was built over 20 years ago way before air travel exploded and businesses started invading India. The bit about the ‘green airport’ made me smile though, apparently a few plants makes the airport ‘green’. I wonder if Greenpeace would agree!

Turtle Beach

Regular readers to my blog will know that Saturday evenings have turned in to my day of discovery as I stumble across various cultural and exotic goings on. A few weeks back I found myself in an art gallery watching a famous artist draw a picture of a cat (and buying art, who knew?), then it was the youth cultural exchange program that was taking place outside a big temple by the sea.

This Saturday just gone was no different. Myself and my friends had actually planned to go to a place called the Theosophical Society, not that we were particularly interested in Theosophy but they have some really nice gardens (God, yes I’m getting old) and when you live in a dusty, polluted city like Chennai you start to yearn for a bit of greenery and fresh air.

The Theosophical Society in Chennai occupies a large area near to a moving pile of ooze, sometimes referred to as the Adyar river and is the nearest greenest space to where I live.

Since the mercury is steadily rising and we’re starting to hit 34-35 degrees we tend to wait until gone 4pm until we venture out, our pale white skin being fried to a crisp otherwise. We arrived at the main gates at 4:30pm and were promptly denied entry since they only open the place between 2 and 4 – conveniently at the time when it’s hottest and no one wants to come. OK, we thought, this is India, lets try the side entrance and go in looking confident and aloof and make out as if we were meant to be there.

Yeah, that didn’t work either and we were stopped shortly after parking the car.

Cue the scene from Disney’s Jungle Book with the vultures sitting on a tree.

“So, what do you want to do?”

“I don’t know, what do you want to do?”

“I don’t mind, what ever you want to do is fine.”

“Eee, now don’t start that again”

(apologies if you had a terrible childhood and never watched Disney movies)

In the absence of anyone making an executive decision, I said let’s go down to the beach since it was just around the corner and we were close to a place called Broken Bridge which I’ve heard about in the folklore of Chennai, so named because there is a bridge. And it’s broken. An unimaginative folklore you could say.

With the car parked and a payment of 10 rupees (about 16p) given to a guy who promised to tell us upon our return if our car had been stolen we made our way through a fishing township towards broken bridge. I’d have loved to get some pictures of the fishing village but I feel like the intruding foreigner if I get my camera out to take pictures of people, I feel like they think I’m judging them some how because I want to take pictures of the way they live. The other reason was that the smell was so bad with the open sewers, I didn’t particularly want to stop!

As we walked towards the broken bridge, we came across a fenced off enclosure and the curiosity got the better of us so we went over and found a guy sitting inside surrounded by upside down wicker baskets. Fortunately we were with a guy who could speak Tamil (obviously I can speak Tamil as well, but only to tell people that I’m hungry or that I can only say a very small amount of Tamil!) and we found out that the enclosure was to protect the eggs of sea turtles.

Basically volunteers stay on the beach over night and wait for the turtles to lay their eggs, then the eggs are relocated to within the fenced off enclosure otherwise the feral dogs that populate the city and beaches will come along and dig them up for dinner. Even if the dogs didn’t manage to find all the eggs, the crows would eat the baby turtles shortly after hatching, and if the crows didn’t get them the line of crabs waiting in the surf would have a go. Even if the new born turtles managed to negotiate all of that, a million and one dangers still lie within the sea.

It must suck to be a turtle.

Anyway, we were allowed to come in to the enclosure, a real lucky experience because my friend went back the following evening and there were more people and no one was allowed inside.

Once in the enclosure we were able to watch newly hatched turtles make their way to the surface (with a little help from a human hand) and then attempt to make their way towards the sea. However, since there were crows and dogs stalking around the fence the turtles were kept under the upside down wicker baskets we’d seen earlier, then around dusk time they are all transported down to the sea where they had to make the final 10 metre perilous journey by themselves.

Even as we watched, swarms of crabs were stalking the baby turtles, but they didn’t seem to do too much other than getting close, poking them and then running off.

As I mentioned above, my friend went the following evening as well where there were not only more people, but maybe one hundred plus turtles being released, the beach was literally full of them, she said. However, the people watching didn’t get to go in to the enclosure and handle them, so I count myself very lucky that I got this pretty rare opportunity!

Baby Sea Turtles

Baby Sea Turtles

Baby Sea Turtles

Hand included for scale reference!

Baby Sea Turtles

Two of the turtles try to make a bid for freedom when they think no one is looking!

Baby Sea Turtles

Freshly hatched turtles making their way to the surface

Baby Sea Turtles

The baby turtles got a helping hand to get closer to the sea!

Baby Sea Turtles

And off one of them goes to freedom, or maybe the jaws of death

Baby Sea Turtles

The crabs gang up on one of the turtles, but they didn't seem to do much harm

Baby Sea Turtles

I really wasn't sure what the crabs were doing, it's not like they actually attacked any of the turtles, just got very close before scampering off

Baby Sea Turtles

I stole this photo from a friend because it's so awesome!

Hope you enjoyed the pictures and video! It was a really unique experience, you see this kind of thing in nature documentaries, but to see it up close and actually touch the turtles (even though you really shouldn’t, but we were being supervised!) is just amazing.

I thought I’d wrap up this post with a news report I came across where a Sea Turtle is accused of abandoning her eggs, the report comes from The Onion 😉

An Inspiring, True Story of One Man Against the Odds

I’m sat in the immigration office in Chennai and writing this post, waiting for the office boy to deliver some paper work to me.

It’s a shame to see the wheels of Indian bureaucracy are still rusted together.

An Indian friend once told me that 80% of taxes in India go on paying for govt staff and govt pensions. If you visit any Indian govt office, you can well believe it.

The confusion starts from the moment you enter the grounds of the offices, which doubles as the passport office and loads of smaller ministry offices. The only way to find out where to go is to ask someone. Signs and maps would be expecting too much.

You then find the right office, down a small side street and a notice says welcome to hell. Or bureau of immigration, it depends which way you look at it.

There is a man sitting behind the most ridiculously small desk and he silently waves you to a guy standing nearby. This new guy waves you to a line of seats. You look around and guy #3 points to a seat you should take.

Every few minutes another soul enters the gates of hell and you all shuffle along, under the direction of guy #3.

It turns out that guy #3’s job also involves preventing any Indians coming in to the office.

So, you finally get back to guy #1 behind the desk and he takes a note of your passport number and the reason why you dare interrupt them in their important jobs. No doubt it’s the job of someone else to enter this data on a typewriter and then for a superior to enter it in a computer.

Guy #1 then allows you in to the office (guy #4, who’s guarding the entrance moves aside) and tells you to go to office one. You get directed by guy #5 to take a seat and the whole shuffling process starts again, under the direction of guy #6.

Standing outside office one is guy #7. When a door bell rings, it’s his job to wave the next foreigner in line in to the office. You don’t see the previous foreigner come out of the office.

So now you are dealing with your 2nd guy behind a desk, and guy #8 overall. He goes through your paperwork, desperate to find a mistake or missing piece of paper. He went through mine 3 times before, to his absolute delight, he found one of my request letters was addressed to ‘whom it may concern’ instead of the ‘frro officer’.

Once they find a mistake, that’s it. The whole process comes to a stop. You are ordered to bring back the proper paperwork and he won’t look at anything else or give you any more information until it’s corrected.

So, you bring back the corrected paperwork and with great reluctance guy #8 concedes that your paperwork is adequate for the next stage and you are directed to your third desk.

Enter guy #9 to direct you to your seats and guy #10 to show you to the desk (which is almost 4ft from where you are sitting). The seat shuffling continues.

This time a lady goes through your paper work and agrees, like her colleague, that it is barely adequate. She then asks you for Rs 20,000 for the registration fee, which is fine because you took 40k, just to be safe.

She watches you like a hawk as you count out 20 1k bills. Then with absolute glee in her eyes, she tells you that they no longer accept cash. Yes, I was prepared for this too and brought out my cheque book. No, she says, we only accept bankers drafts now.

So I am now sat here writing this. I phoned my company and told them the details. It absolutely must get here by 12.30 I said, otherwise i have to wait until tomorrow. No problem, it will be there, they promised.

It’s now 12.45 and I am still waiting. Don’t know what will happen, but i’m hoping i can still make the payment.


The lady scrutinizes the bank draft hoping for some problems. I am now the only person left in the office.

I’m given a token and told to wait for my number to come up. Guy #12 shows me to a new room, guy #13 to show me where to sit. The room is empty.

Eventually the counter staff (girl #2) notices I’m waiting. A difficult task in an empty room, to be sure. Eye contact is made, I can go over.

But wait, she raises a hand to tell me to stop. A button has to be pressed first.

“Counter number two please” says the recorded voice. And her counter light flashes.

There is not a flicker of embarrassment on her face.

I may now go over.

Once more, the paper work is checked, double checked, triple checked and then again, just because.

“aha!” she exclaims “you need two copies of all these documents.”

“Behold” I replied and pulled out 3 more copies of all the paper work, flourishing them in the air.

It was evident that I had robbed her of a simply joy as she ruffles through the paper work again. Oh dear. The original registration permit is not here. It’s not mentioned in the list of required paperwork given to me on the first visit, but no matter. How dare I try and beat the system by turning up with all the correct paperwork and correct number of copies.

Another call to the office. Send more documents! Within 10 minutes it’s in my hand, but hell, err Bureau of Immigration has a final sting in the tail. The counter lady has gone for lunch. Please wait for an hour.

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!

Check Out My Wheels!

my wheels for getting around in Chennai

Check out this bad boy! These are my wheels to and from the office each day. It does 0-20 mph in 2 minutes, pollutes like a chemical factory and sounds like a cat in a blender. It has almost as much power as a washing machine and 4 inch alloys.

This is the pimped out version, the banana leaves stuck to the side are this seasons must have for all self respecting tuk-tuk drivers. As if a white man in a tuk-tuk needs any more attention drawn to himself while riding through the mean streets of Chennai!

To the right is my usual driver, Sundar. He has an excuse for every occasion: too much traffic, too less traffic, too raining, too less raining, 5 kids, 3 kids, 4 kids and parents, family dog, family cow, high petrol prices, low petrol prices, too late, too early, too far, too less far. No matter what, he’ll rise to the occasion and find a reason to charge me extra. It’s a special class they have in tuk-tuk school: how to charge the filthy rich foreigner more and make him feel guilty about it.

But what a way to get to work and back 😀

Dude, Where’s My Monsoon?

It’s Monsoon season here in Tamil Nadu. Except the monsoon rains are conspicuously missing (useless geekish fact #394: the word monsoon refers to the weather pattern, not the actual rain that occurs during the monsoon).

When I was here in 2006, the monsoon season started as soon as I arrived and finished the moment I left. It’s quite incredible, one day it’s fine, hot and sunny, then next day it rains. Non-stop. For 3 months.

One of the things I wasn’t looking forward to when I came here was the monsoon because the rain just makes it really difficult to get around if you don’t have your own transport. Trying to get a tuk-tuk is a mission at the best of times, trying to do that when it’s bucketing it down with rain that’s already up to your armpits is nigh on impossible.

The whole of Chennai turns in to something like the Venice of India, streets are turned in to rivers, there’s mud every where, you can’t go outside because you’ll drown in the wall of water.

So, although I’m sure it’s some global warming catastrophe and the lack of monsoon is doing untold damage to the local farming industry, for me, it’s brilliant. The longer the rains stay away, the easier it is for me to get to the office and back, do my food shopping at the weekend and generally go out and about.

Infact, I’m selfishly hoping that this is the year where it doesn’t rain.

Oh bugger.

It’s just started raining 🙁