Day 5 - Wednesday December 7th, 2005
Today is to be my first full day of actual work, no tours, no meetings, but the first task is to arrange some laundry to be done, I call up the number it says for laundry, and the person who answers says 'no problem sir' and a few sentences in tamil (I assume he is speaking to someone else).
A couple of minutes later a man arrives at my door to shine my shoes.....
No, thats not right, lets try with props, I show him my laundry, which i have folded in a plastic bag, he looks at his shine box and brush, looks confused, then proceeds to try and brush my dirty clothes with his shine brush, 'no no no no!' I try to explain, he calls up on my phone, talks for a while, hands it to me, a girl is on the other end.... 'hair cut?' no, I tell her laundry, wash clothes, she speaks to the shoe shiner, and he laughs and takes my clothes, will I ever see them again? who knows!
Today I am working at a different facility, I promise not to many boring work details, but one thing to test is a text to speech tool, it reads text out in a human voice. To prove how great it works a demo has been set up that not only speaks to me, but I speak to it, so I get given a microphone and the computer asks me how is my day, and my name and sir etc. A crowd is forming by this point....I keep asking for the speakers to be turned down, but no, that doesnt appear to be an option (I am betting it is, but they are pretending its not)
So I talk to the computer for a while and am wished good fortune, and it guesses that I am from Adelaide, that I like to cook pizza, and basically it asks me questions which it knows the answers to based on information I had shared with my Indian friends.
Now...I am not sure at this point wether I am supposed to believe the machine has artificial intelligence, or wether I am supposed to just appreciate the effort, but soon after laughter erupts around me, followed by furious hand shaking.
Lunch today at this facility is not as luxurious as the last couple of days, I get to eat in the cafeteria, a sales manager who presented initially to us in Australia joins us, and he has lived in Australia and America, and tells me that my presence in the facility is much amusement to the staff, as no one before has worked in amongst the cubicles, eaten in the cafeteria, or especially stayed all day - it seems most other V.I.P.'s (his words not mine) come in a group, for half an hour, and leave.
I leave on time, which gives me plenty of opportunity to venture out, I have convinced my friends they do not need to escort me back to the hotel in the car, the driver knows where he is going.
Upon arriving back, I dismiss the driver for the evening, he seems thrilled, I think he is getting paid regardless, and I suspect he would of sat in the hotel car park until 10pm otherwise.
I collect my camera, ensuring it has the memory card, and venture out to the street to get a three wheeler taxi!
'english? english?' I ask, theres about 10 three wheeler taxis to choose from, most of the drivers are 3 foot tall and 200 years old! soon a young fellow comes over, he speaks english, and helps me negotiate a price to go to T.Nagar a market for clothing and jewellery, but mostly bright lights. 100 rupees is the fee, which is $3.
We stop for fuel and I snap a pic of the taxi, or auto rickshaw as they are called, apparently theres room enough for 4 people in the back of one of these
T.Nagar - the building on the right of this picture is the nicest shop in all of Chennai, it stands out like a sore thumb. It is of course where I am dropped off.
A view down the main street, each side has the shops, and in front, the stalls, with wires running everywhere, also theres lots of cooking going on in the street, huge woks of boiling oil are frying all manner of things, just inches from passing traffic, very dangerous job!
Another street in T.Nagar, this one I suspect has traffic only when pedestrians allow, I am being followed by people trying to sell me childrens toys, they are very annoying, my usual defences dont work 'I have no children', 'I do not like children', 'I have no money', 'no english por favor'
Just another photo...
Pot World! Pots as far as the eye can see, this picture is taken at night, and the flash didnt even go off, its blinding!
I go into a department store, the bottom 3 floors are sarees (not sure if I am spelling that right), but I really do have no clue on what to buy, everything is orange, lime green, pink, or combinations of the three, and all wrapped in plastic like a mans shirt. I am followed by 5 girls, immaculately dressed and with lots of jewellery, they speak english, soon a man comes in a very nice suit, and tells me how grateful he is that I have chosen his store.
This is surely a sales tactic, there MUST be tourists in this part of town all the time (although I am yet to see a single one), but the fuss that is being made seems ridiculous, I am being offered a drink, a seat, a private room to view purchases, custom fitting, free shipping to england (I dont think I sound english) etc.
Now bear in mind, I am wearing jeans, a t-shirt and carrying a backpack, no jewellery of any kind, and by myself - I surely looked like a scruffy lost backpacker, so I am baffled by this behaviour.
But the tactics have worked, I suggest perhaps I can buy mens shirts, for business, I am ushered upstairs, they have a large range, all are 100% cotton shirts...supposedly, I buy two shirts, for the grand total price, of 320 rupees, just under $10, and these were from the expensive 'brand name western shirts' section of the store.
My two brand name shirts, Smarty brand, and Napier brand - I have no idea if they are half way decent, but for $10 I can use them to wash the car
It is now time to negotiate the ride home, small problem, I am out of 100 rupee notes and only have 500's, I am not keen to yell 'english english, change for 500 rupees!' So I try to make discreet enquiries, no one has any change, but the funny thing is everyone knows '100 rupees sir' even before I tell them where I am going, perhaps this is the rate for tourists to go anywhere and I am being ripped off
I am thinking I will have to go and buy something to get change, but I have crossed the road to get to the three wheelers, and this was treachorous, a police man comes over and starts yelling at the taxi drivers, I dont know what for, but he asks me what I am doing, where am I from, where do I want to go, how do I like India, and he can change 500 rupees, but he holds up the note to the light and tells me it is 'bad...counterfeit money, but good quality, I take anyway' He gives me 5 x 100 rupees in exchange give the taxi driver a lecture and I am on my way!
Another exciting day comes to a close with 'the foreigner' starring steven seagal on tv, its not a sequel!
Day 6 - Thursday December 8th, 2005
First, let me apologise for my ridiculous page numbering/day numbering scheme - do not panic, it has been removed, and now just links to the pages themselves. Also apparently I didnt close a link and this whole page was showing as a link, I cant see that now, so if its still broken, sorry!
Today was a full day of work, and i did not finish until about 7pm, so I am not venturing out tonight, additionally I believe something special is planned for tomorrow night, although I have no idea what, perhaps I have to address a joint sitting of the Indian Parliament with Bill Gates (who incidentally is in Chennai but his agenda is a highly guarded secret).
For lunch we went to a nearby hotel which is all vegetarian, and one of the most popular spots in Chennai, the menu is very large, I receive 2 dishes, paneer in a pepper lentil sort of soup, which is very nice, and really not peppery, despite everyones assurances that it would be too spicey for me. The main dish is masala dosa, which is what Chennai is really known for, it is a pancake made with rice flower, so it is very thin and crispy, rolled up with spiced potatoes inside.
Sounds good, and I have had it before in Adelaide, where I was assured the ones in Chennai are much better, and indeed they are, they are also 3 feet long! And it comes with no less than 10 accomponiments. I do my best to eat it all, but eventually I wave a white flag.
Some girls from one of the teams have joined us for lunch, and they are amazed that I went in an auto rickshaw by myself, commedning me on my bravery. After lunch the 3 of them proceeded to get on the one motorcycle, 2 of them side saddle, wearing sarees, and ride back up the road to work in amongst trucks, ox pulling carts, broken down busses and former parts of road which are now tests of courage in the form of boulders.
The best I can manage is to snap some photos out of the car window on the ride back to the hotel.
One thing you notice when driving around, is that oil companies have money no matter where you are, every single gas station is an impressive monument to shiny bright plastic and flood lights
Another gas station
The cake shop on the right is very popular, but everything is made from ghee, which is butter that is fried, and condensed and made more buttery, the photos are poor quality because theres lots of dust which the flash seems to light up.
There are billboards everywhere, this one is for clothes I suspect, but I have also seen a motorola razr billboard with an ox tied up to it, which I found quite amusing.
At first site you might think this bus isnt so bad, and you are right, theres no running boards with people hanging off the outside, but now consider that this is an interstate bus, it is probably making a 4 hour journey with people crammed in it like that
Apparently their is another cyclone due to hit, with effects starting to be felt tonight, so far there has been no rain, and cyclones here do not have high winds, just lots and lots of rain. This threatens to put a stop to any weekend plans, so I am hoping nothing happens.
Should I be stuck in the hotel all weekend, star movies is showing 'robomania weekend' which has robocop1, 2 and 3, followed by I Robot, and the ad has the robot saying 'what could possibly go wrong?' - so thats where it comes from!
Right now however...the movie is death wish 4
Day 7 - Friday December 9th, 2005
Not too much to report today, a full day of work. I am however feeling a bit naseous and dizzy, I suspect this is a result of ghee overload from the Masala Dosa of the day before.
I decide to take it easy and eat mainly plain bread products today.
The car today is an indian made care, a Tata Indica, it is a small car with the coldest air conditioning I have ever experienced, even in the back, I wonder why these are not exported to Australia, as they are right hand drive, seem to be of a high quality and would probably be quite cheap.
The poor driver has his entire area, seat, foot well, steering wheel, coated in plastic - why should the driver have any level of comfort? Additionally, the steering wheel has what I thought were large buttons for controlling the car stereo (which incidentally looks like a high quality JVC MP3 CD player), but no, this is to control the horns and lights, the car has strobe lights on the front, thats one button, theres also another button that temporarily engages high beam, then theres 2 additional horns, one high pitched like a whistle, and one with two tones high and low which alternate really quickly. All of these items are to frighten bikes and auto rickshaws out of the way - indeed many trucks and auto rickshaws say on the back of them 'sound horn to pass'.
Tomorrow is Saturday, and I have a full day of adventures planned - but it is now raining, so we have backup plans as well.
I thought a days update without a single picture was a bit bland, so below is the best I could manage - tonights movie is 'The whole 10 yards', a sequel I havent seen the original of.
View of the hotel lobby and lifts from just outside my room - quite nice, all marble
Day 8 - Saturday December 10th, 2005
First - a drama, my laptop started stuffing up badly, hitting certain keys would input 10 letters, some would trigger a log off, I couldnt log in at one point, however after returning late on Saturday night, I turn my laptop on and leave it on all night at the login screen, in the morning (5 a.m. as I am typing this) it seems to be working OK!
I was anxious all night that it was busted and that I wouldnt be able to update the page, hence waking up at 5 a.m. - confirming my status of super nerd.
I suspect some moisture got into the keyboard, maybe just the humidity, however I do recall that the cleaning staff (which in this hotel is 6 guys who come to clean your room) had serviced the room just before I noticed the problem.
Yeah - I know I am jumping around in timelines and confusing people, too bad, deal with it!
I am anxious to get going on an adventure to somewhere - I am not even sure where yet! And await a call from my Indian friends, now I am aware they dont make an early start on weekdays, so I had no idea what time to expect them, the call comes at about 12 noon - the days half over!
Not to worry, we are soon on our way, about a 40km drive to where we are going, which takes over 2 hours!
On the way we stop for lunch at a roadside restaurant, we are travelling along the coast and their are 'resorts' everywhere, including MGM Dizzyworld, and the even worse named kiddyland.
The driver refuses to sit with us at lunch, until I go over and get him and make him sit with us, and I try to talk to him, he seems pleased that I am teaching him english.
Lunch! I have a selection of breads only, I have been eating too much and am feeling slightly unwell due to 2 hours of traffic fumes
Just up the road from lunch, we arrive at the main stop for the day - Mammalapuram, sculptures and caves carved out of massive stones from the 6th century a.d. - yes 1400 years old really!
There are a number of sites, some depicting hindu gods, brahma the creator, vishnu the saviour and sheva the destroyer (now...if I am getting any of that wrong, or if I get it wrong in describing the photos, please accept my apologies!).
A series of carvings out of solid rock, the lions and elephants are common themes, some parts remain unfinished due to war breaking out in the 6th century.
A view inside one of the carvings, its all one rock, even the pillars are part of the rock, not added afterwards. You can see my friend Vaigunth in the bottom right, we will see him a few times lurking about!
Another view of one of the carvings - these apparently are not temples just elaborate artwork, later we shall see a very sacred temple.
Very intricate carving.
One more of this area!
A hindu god carved into the wall of one of the carvings, I am not sure if it is vishnu, sheva or brahma - to confuse matters further the same god can be depicted in a number of ways, one can have a human body and an elephant head, and vishnu can appear as a phallus...as we shall see later!
Heres a tablet explaining whats in the above pictures
The next area is a lighthouse, also dating back to the 6th century, my friends are unclear as to what generated the light then, but one of the 20 or so 'guides' who are beggars expecting to get paid for telling me to watch my step, tells us it was 'oil flame - very bright'. The british constructed a replacement lighthouse in the late 1800's, right on the same site, which still operates today.
Walking towards the ancient lighthouse
View from half way up the lighthouse - dodging monkeys by now...keep reading! On a more serious note, those waters are floodwaters receding back into the ocean, normally the land here is dry, also this area was badly hit by the tsunami and since then is prone to flooding
Best picture ever! My Indian friends are more scared of the monkeys than I am, and keep yelling 'bite! bite! careful!' some other women around the site are screaming whenever the monkeys run about, they dont seem scared of people
View from atop the ancient lighthouse of the british lighthouse
Looking at the ocean - no sign of tsunamis
Who is that stupid looking wind swept tourist?
We now move around under the lighthouse, it starts to rain so we enter into a cave, there are many carvings of hindu gods, both good and bad, this still isnt a temple, but it was used as a marriage hall apparently
The figure riding the horse is vishnu, the figure with the bulls head is sheva - shevas blood forms demons (once again, I am sure I am getting this wrong, please forgive me!)
I believe this is Brahma - the creator, surrounded by the hindu version of angels
Next we head to the most sacred site at Mammalapuram - the shore temple.
This is a place where kings would come to pray before heading off to war.
Along the way, heres another carving in a giant rock, this one is purely decorative
Balancing rock - also please note cell phone tower, built right on the sacred site! One of my friends mothers is SMS'ing the cricket score just about ball by ball, and when Tendulkar get a century, a picture of him celebrating is sent
Approaching the shore temple, I check once again for tsunamis, apparently the sea is very rough by indian standards, no fishermen dare venture out, it doesnt look so bad by Australian standards
Inside the shore temple, you can see a black stone - this is a phallic representation of lord sheva (Shiva?), my friends are discussing things with a soldier....
I am allowed to enter the temple! and get up close and personal with the phallus! I decline the invitation to touch it
View of the shore temple - personally I find the other carvings more impressive, but this one has more significance
Mammalapuram was most impressive, and I thank my hosts for the opportunity - they also are grateful to be able to come, one of them has never been and the other not since he was a child and came with school, they usually work all weekend or visit with their parents who live outside Chennai. When entertaining clients they go to western bars, it is the first time they have taken anyone to tour historic sites.
It is getting quite late, so we only have time for a quick visit to one other site called Dakshinachitra, which is a village containing houses of all styles of Indian architecture, some are original, others are recreations, the site is maintained by a not for profit community and there are many crafts for sale. I buy a couple of bags which are being made inside the store.
Inside the forecourt of a house in the traditional Tamil Nadu style - it is starting to get dark...
A Tamil Nadu streetscape - my friends have never been here before and are thrilled at the place. They are just about jogging about to see everything in excitement, Vaigunth calls his mother and promises to bring her here.
A sculpture inside one of the buildings
A house of the Kerala style, Kerala is a state full of backwaters, many people travel on the water - like venice
A painting or tapestry in one of the houses
The visit comes to an end as it is now dark, at 5:30pm, we now make the trip home, about 40km, how long could that take do you think? 3.5 hours! I am feeling ill again from the traffic fumes and have a headache (I never ever get headaches) I have some headache tablets but decide not to take them, as I would rather know that something is wrong than mask the issue with drugs.
Soon after I return to my hotel I feel much better, I am out of water and so I have to raid the mini bar - something I never do, soon after I fall to sleep.