Monday, April 27, 2009


Some friends from work at the temple in Gobi.

Group Korean dinner for Nipsi's bday

Chef Roy!

Meera and I, night out on the town.

Big C and Me

Brady Bunch shot of the RINNERS (me, Meera, David)

Tsol era rednaw ohw lla ton

April 24th, 2009 I should have flown out of Chennai around midnight and spent the next twenty hours or so en route to NYC. I would have arrived in NYC feeling completely overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the size and price of a small coffee at the airport (the small coffee would be five times the size of a coffee here and probably ten times the price), overwhelmed by all the different shades and sizes of people at JFK airport. Shocked by the amount of English and Spanish speakers in one area. Sad at the thought of leaving so many amazing people back in Chennai. And at that point I might wonder when (if?) the relief would set in that I was out of Chennai, away from the pollution and heat.
Every experience so far has taught me that it’s futile to try and predict the course of my life. I originally thought that I would stay and travel within India for two weeks after completing my internship. I never planned on extending the internship, or spending a day longer in Chennai that I absolutely had to. As it turns, out, though, I’ve extended my internship a month and am now pursuing other opportunities that have recently come my way. The inherent advantage to staying in one place and just “sticking it out” has allowed me to make more contacts, professional and personal, which has really affected my current situation.
Staying in Chennai longer than intended has allowed me to experience…
-Bandh. On Thursday, I witnessed my first ever Bandh experience. Bandh, a Hindi word which actually means “closed,” is a form of protest used by political activists in countries like India and Nepal. During Bandh, a major political party shuts down as a means to strike; on Thursday, the entire city of Chennai shut down, including shop-owners and all modes of public transportation. Bandh was scheduled in Tamil Nadu to demonstrate support for the Tamils living in Sri Lanka and voice opposition to the on-going civil war between Sri Lanka and the LTTE party. (Read to learn more) While I didn’t witness any violence firsthand, a few areas of town reported experiencing “clashes” between activists and store-owners refusing to close. All in all, the day just seemed much quieter than usual and it was much harder to find an auto.
-I was recently offered a job teaching Mandarin Chinese part-time to a few students in Chennai. I’ve never taught a foreign language before, but after briefly looking at the course material, I feel confident to handle the beginner level classes. Again, something I never would have predicted I’d end up doing but I feel like it’s worth giving it a shot. I’ve been worried I’d lose some of the language by living in India but this is a great opportunity to keep it fresh in my head, and make a small bit of money doing so.
-Bay of Bengal. I’ve never jumped into the ocean with my clothes on…until recently. Ignoring the discomfort of wet jeans, I dove into the water in the middle of the day amidst a beach full of Chennai onlookers. I finally caved into the heat and settled for a refreshing (albeit, uncomfortable) mid-afternoon dip. Next time you strut to the beach in your Sunday best, don’t worry about not having your bikini and JUST JUMP.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Silent Fun, Everyone!

--India thoughts--

1. Auto drivers: can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. Sometimes, they're as cheery and giggly as can be, entertaining the attempts of a foreigner's "Tamil in training" with praises and high regards. More often than not, however, they are so unpleasant you'd think, "this is the last man I will ever bring home to Mom." My favorites are what I refer to as the Surprise Drivers- those, whom upon entering the rickshaw vehicle don't give off more than a 50:50 clue as to what their personality will be like, but half-way through the ride pleasantly surprise you with their smile, Tamil music, and neon green strobe light.

2. A day on the beach: What's a worst case scenario? Being haggled by hawkers, trying to sell you everything from magenta cotton candy to little plastic Vishnus? Or being ogled at by a pack of twenty-something Tamil boys like you're the catch of the day? You decide...

3. Sambar: My motto is "Sometimes too watery, never too chunky." The more vegetables the better folks, keep 'em coming!

4. Expat nights: So that we're all on the same page, an expatriate is defined as someone who has taken up residence in a foreign country. Aka- me. There's a select few in the city of Chennai that prides itself on throwing the 'hippest, hottest, expat parties' south of the border. I have very mixed feelings about the aforementioned expat nights and feel compelled to share. When I first arrived in Chennai, I looked forward to my first ever expat night- presumably, a night to mingle with "one's own" and talk "expat stuff" in a space safe, clean, and secure enough for the most distinguished expat. Soon thereafter, though, I discovered that such expat nights represent an unsettling concept and I'm just not sold on the idea.
I'd like to propose amendments to the traditional expat night.

Katelyn's ideas to revolutionize the expat night include the following:
Step I: Invent new branding mechanism. Abort the use of "expat" entirely and call such nights a "good ol' time." That way, there is no confusion. If someone asks if you're up for a "good ol' time," who would dream of saying no?
Step II: Keep invitations inclusive. Exclusions can be made for people that fall into the following categories:
-business networking types
-people only looking to "get some" (crude? yes.)
Other than that, the more the merrier.
Step III: Scene change. Expat nights are notoriously held at Chennai's posh n' swank hotels and clubs. I propose an amendment that states from now on, "good ol' time" nights are held in places more affordable and comfortable to the average Joe. Suggestions include:
-beachfront. On the beach, in the sand, friends together, hand in hand. Okay cheesy, I know, but you get the idea. Near the beach means near a fresh, cool breeze and slightly removed from the rest of Chennai's polluted and noisy streets.
-park. A park! Does Chennai have any? If so, lets utilize them. Otherwise, lets create one. Possible activities include: a picnic, poetry reading, croquet, and other things commonly accepted by civil society.
-Picos! Possibly my favorite idea. Bring a quality grunge pub like Picos (which was previously mentioned in my post on Bangalore) to Chennai, and host a "good ol' time" night there. A night of American rock ballads, Pink Floyd posters, and cheap pitchers. What a better way to bond?
Anyhow, some ideas.
The reason this is on my mind is because Friday night I attended a staged, silent party that was one of the most awkward things I'd ever experienced. Never has my lifestyle been so politely mocked! Basically, my friend works for a local TV station here and they wanted to film some expats hanging out together. So as per a usual Friday night, several of us got together at the Scotsman's house for a drink and chat. What was not so usual however, was the camera-crew, staged interviews, and fictitious dance scenes we were asked to create! All in all, a night dedicated to showcasing "expats doing expatty" things in the most contrived way possible. We bathed ourselves in fruit cocktails, danced to inaudible music, and celebrated an evening with the quirky and creepy theme of "silent fun."

Monday, April 13, 2009

B-Town, What?!

A Tamil Nadu Escape

Trees, wind, and cool breezes.
Club, pubs, and lots o' sneezes.

Three 1/2 months in India and I can just now say that I've left the state of Tamil Nadu! Thursday evening, Meera and I departed from Chennai central bus station to Bangalore, capital of Karnataka, roughly seven hours away via bus. The bus ride was largely uneventful and I slept terribly. Somehow I find that "semi-sleepers" are even more uncomfortable than regular, cushioned bus seats. After seven hours of horrendous back posture (and an unsightly bathroom pit stop), we arrived. 4:30 am, good morning Bangalore!
The objectives of the trip were both work/pleasure related. I had an interview scheduled Friday morning so after a quick catnap, I headed across town to meet with the CEO of a company providing affordable solar panels to the rural poor. Affordable solar panels? Sounds like an oxymoron, but this is a guy whose motto seems to be "where there's a will, there's a way." Now, thanks to him, over thousands of solar light fixtures have been installed in rural homes.
After the work-related agenda, more fun ensued. I toured around Bangalore with Meera and Solai, her personal driver. We stayed all weekend at her grandmother's house. To have a place to stay and a means of transportation was incredible, to say the least. It felt like the first time in months since I've had the luxury of riding around in a car, windows up, pumping A/C and tunes. Although part of riding in a car in India feels like a cop-out (it's too easy to ignore the smells-both good and bad-and air pollution), the joy that comes with doing those exact things is immeasurable.
We shopped, we dropped, we dined out. We walked around the city and checked out Bangalore's streets, parks, restaurants and galleries.
Some highlights:
-Picos. A delightfully grungy old pub that's supposedly the oldest of its kind in the city. Meera's Dad used to frequent it in his younger days to enjoy the very same things we enjoyed- Creedence Clearwater Revival/Led Zeppelin tunes, cheap pitchers of Kingfisher (India's Budweiser), and spicy hot paneer tikka.
-Patti and Thatha. Meera's wonderfully old and exuberant grandparents. What a joy it was to spend time with grandparents again! Made me miss mine that much more. They are an adorable couple who have been together for nearly 60 years! With grandparents comes home-cooked meals, constant reminders to stay safe, hugs and kisses, and of course, splendid company. (side note- in addition to Patti and Thatha, I met several more members of Meera's family and friends. All good people, and very hospitable!)
-Quality food. From home-made rava idli to Caperberry's vegetarian platter, the cuisine was delicious. We ate from a much bigger variety than what's typically available in Chennai.
-House. No, not house music which was played at the club both nights we went out, but house meaning a home. It was nice to feel like a part of someone's home, as the place was filled with memories and photographs.

I could keep going, but I'm too tired to write more. Got back into Chennai at 4:30 this morning and desperately need sleep! I'll post some pics up soon...

PS- An updated injury note-
While I'm not sick anymore (thank God, knock on wood!), I managed to injure myself over the weekend (surprise, surprise). Slammed the bathroom door on my fingers Saturday night, causing a bloody and slightly emotional mess. No worries, though- both fingers are now able to bend again, signaling a road to recovery.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Insert Clever Title Here

What’s new pussycat?

Welcome to April in Chennai folks, where the temperatures are reaching a refreshing and comfortable 36 degrees…centigrade. Fahrenheit just doesn’t exist in these parts- I’m pretty sure the U.S.A is still the only one abiding by this system- in Southern India I can only dream of 36 degrees actually feeling cool. Each time that I’ve commented on the heat since arriving in India someone has responded with a “oh just you wait” comment or “the worst is yet to come!” Reassuring advice, indeed.
Alas, these words of discouragement have indeed rung true. As the start of April is among us, so too is the beginning of what looks to be a brutally hot Chennai summer. From morning till night, Chennai is hot. While there is little in the way of providing respite from the heat, there are a few different “heat aids” I’ve discovered. See the following:
A/C: Good old fashioned, high-quality air conditioning. The a/c in my apartment has been broken since I moved in, but the box physically exists, meaning if I stare at it long enough it begins to artificially enhance a cold sensation.
Gym: Did somebody say gym? For those who know me well, I’ve always prided myself on being anti-gym. Some may even recall me uttering such declarations as “I don’t do gyms” or “gyms are l-a-m-e.” Now, while I still partially agree with these sentiments, I do not have such a black and white opinion of fitness facilities as I had in the past. I have, quite regularly, been frequenting the gym on the basement floor of Meera’s apartment complex. This “gym” is about the size of my parent’s kitchen and is complete with the following:
-two treadmills
-one elliptical machine
-one stationary bike
-various weights
Fairly standard equipment, you may say, for your average hole in the fall gym facility. However, two things which I have not yet mentioned, which I find to be the most alluring are:
-A/C: Have I already talked about a/c? This air-conditioning turns the place DAMN COLD. Colder than your bare feet in snow. Colder than a freezer-burned Ben and Jerrys. COLDER THAN THE ICEBOX IN LITTLE GIANTS. You get the idea. This place is a haven of cold energy and I’m obsessed with it.
-Boom box: This extra-loud, bass-heavy machine pumps out some of India’s best beats. Everything from Bombay’s “Jei Ho” to Tamil Nad’s very own “Girlfriend,” the radio keeps ‘em coming. And just in case we get bored with the Hindi/Tamil music, there’s a station that plays pure frat party+booty grindin+U.S.A trash. Phew…just in case.

In other news, I’m busy planning my next move. My internship was scheduled to end this Thursday (crazy! three months down), but I have agreed to stay on board till the end of the month. Afterwards, I’m thinking of heading to the Himalayas to do a group trek with approximately 30 other people from this area. Travel is calling my name, and I’m anxious to see more of India. I’ll be leaving this Thursday night for a work/pleasure trip to Bangalore, a city renowned for (among other things) its IT boom and young, urban hipsters. I’m really looking forward to checking out Bangalore, as it’s supposed to be much greener and “cooler” (temp wise as well as young hipster wise) than Chennai.
All for now, pussycats.