Day 13 - Thursday December 15th, 2005
A more relaxed day in the morning, but in the afternoon the realisation that there will be very little time tomorrow results in a flood of questions, people now more confident to come talk to me on their own.
Also, I am informed that tomorrow theres 2 hours scheduled for a joint meeting of all teams for me to address them on my time here.....
After work, things have been arranged, I am not sure exactly what, but Leo is accomponying me again and we return to my hotel to fetch the camera. Soon we are on our way to a temple, today in India is the festival of light, and all houses are lit up with oil burning in ceramic pots.
Somewhere near chennai theres a mountain with a massive cauldron full of oil on top which lights up the whole sky.
It takes a long time to get to the temple as theres heaps of people, but somehow we park immediately out the front.
The temple from the outside...stay tuned later for much better photos.
We have to remove our shoes to enter, most men are topless and theres lots of chanting and water being splashed. The temple contains many areas of worship, with people lined up behind barriers to see the idols inside smaller temples inside the temple walls.
We meet Vaigunth inside, and many people from his family, and somehow, embaressingly, I am ushered past the 1000 people waiting paitently in line to see everything, I am getting a lot of weird looks in here.
The highlight is the big idol is strapped to long wooden poles and theres a lot of screaming, and they set a few things on fire, 20 guys lift the idol and tear off around the temple with it.
I get to stand right behind the idol as they do all this with Vaigunth, no one else is permitted.
No photos whatsoever are permitted inside the temple unfortunately.
We eventually exit the temple, and outside they are having a re-creation of the mountain cauldron lighting, theres so many people that you cant move and for extra degree of difficulty, fire crackers are being set off by kids everywhere.
I keep ducking and flinching much to the amusement of everyone, but then in the middle they raise a wooden structure, which has been soaked in oil and has rocket type fireworks attached!
I was quite concerned for my safety as rockets are shooting off this thing thats only 6 feet high, what happens if it gets you in the face?
The rocket propelled bonfire - I stand well back and duck behind cars but manage to take this picture.
Some store owners behind me laughing at me for ducking and flinching
We now get to go to Vaigunths house! and also his Aunties, which are both basically adjoining the temple. Vaigunths house is new and he hasnt moved in yet, but he has lit the fires and graffiti'd the floor to please his gods.
I am very impressed by all his carved doors which are brand new.
A 'candle' on the floor, with traditional religious graffiti
The temporary prayer area inside the house, with food offered to the gods
One of the impressive solid wooden doors
Excellent carving in the front door
We can get onto the roof to look over the temple, and I see that it is my chance to rest the camera on a ledge and take some long exposures, my friends are amused by this and assure me that it wont work, you should have seen their faces when I showed them the results
10 second exposure of temple entrance
My favourite photo - 10 second photo of the whole temple area
We travel the short distance to Vaigunths Aunties house, which is very nice on the inside, 3 generations are living in the house and I am embaressed as I have no gift (I didnt know I was coming), so I apologise profusely.
I am sat down and given traditional South Indian sweets made especially for the festival of light, the most interesting one is a ball of puffed rice which is pressed together and stuck somehow...of course when I bite into it the whole thing disintegrates, much to everyones amusement.
We stay a short while and I am probably asked 100 times if theres anything I would like, food, drink, lay down, tv on, coffee, tea, dinner etc.
Soon after we leave (it is now late and I am pretty tired) Vaigunths mother rings him from another city, word has spread that I have visited his Auntie and his mother is upset with both Vaigunth and his Auntie that I wasnt offered more. What more could they possibly offer?
We move onwards to a theme restaurant called the rainforest, it is underground and is made to look cave with a waterfall, african huts and vines etc.
It seems to be one of the most prestigious places to eat in all chennai, with main courses setting you back $4.
We order some things to share after studying the comprehensive menu, and my hosts taste pasta for the first time at my insistence. To confuse matters we also have vegetable stroganoff, which was weird, and myself and Leo who eats non veg have drunken prawns.
Its now 11pm and I am tired and my last night in Chennai is over.
Day 14 - Friday December 16th, 2005
Last day in India!
Not much work to do today, everything is finished, a few people come to me with queries.
I do however have to give my speech, which I have insisted I will need no more than an hour for, it is held in the auditorium, probably about 50 people in attendance including a few of the company vice presidents.
I think I do a good job, unlike the first day, people appear to be laughing a lot more, and theres even a few questions.
I am presented with a gift, which was unexpected.
A plate of traditional Indian design presented in a fancy box, with a stand, the edges and decorations appear to be gold leaf, I have left it wrapped in plastic so that it might survive the journey home
After my speech people start coming to my office to say their personal goodbyes, everyone asks when I am returning.
I have lunch with the vice presidents, and they are of course keen to talk about future opportunities.
I leave the office around 3pm to pack and rest until I leave for my flight at about 7
Depart Chennai/Meenambarkkam Airport at 2225.
I arrive at the airport in plenty of time, about 8pm, unlike most airports only passengers are allowed inside the building at all, so thats the first line, outside, with soldiers checking you have a ticket.
Once inside your bag is first xrayed, out in the open, in a big machine that looks like something from the russian space program, once it goes through they seal it up with wire tape with a machine that just about cuts my bag clean in half.
Check in is fast, but chaotic, they havent figured out the whole lining up thing, so there are 5 counters and 10 lines, and arguments. Once again i am amused that everyone getting to the head of the line has some sort of drama, many people are arguing loudly and then the 2 lines for their counter merge into the other counters, creating more arguments.
The next step is immigration, which follows the same lining up procedure (or lack there of) and still more dramas, since 90% of people havent filled out their departure card, dont have a pen, dont know how to fill it out, or best of all, just plain refuse, stating that they shouldnt have to.
Next is customs, where you declare any food stuffs, now this is voluntary, but people are clearly walking through not declaring stuff they are carrying in plain plastic shopping bags, then being chased by soldiers, arguing having their stuff inspected, and thrown out, which leads to more dramas for them, I just walk straight through.
Now you walk about 1km in one direction up a brightly lit hallway, with no entries, exits, shops, seats or anything, up an escelator, and 1km back in the opposite direction to end up immediately above where you started, at least on the 2nd floor there are some shops.....but wait! Officials are insisting that all passengers must proceed through security to departure lounges...its only 8:30 by now and the plane leaves at 10:20, I try to look into the departure lounges and notice theres no shops or anything at all of interest.
I cleverly evade security by saying I am going to the bathroom, then sneak into one of the stores to browse, I bought some pringles chips, and encounter the first store person in India that speaks absolutely no english - which is probably why his place of employment is the international airport.
I only have 500 rupee notes left and this is another problem, as they are expecting correct change it seems, so I have to wait while someone fetches 420 rupees change from some place.
Time now for the hand luggage security check, and this is the best of all, nearly everyone is carrying 10 plastic bags each, and you are allowed 1 case plus 1 bag or laptop or suit/dress bag.....
This is explained by soldiers, this time with machine guns, to probably half the people, many are arguing profusely, and one guy pushes through! He is detained fast by the fattest army guy, probably in charge who presses the gun straight into his back and he is led away! This was fantastic!
Those who actually get to go through the xray, dont seem to understand that metal objects set it off, and nearly every single one is getting frisked and scanned individually with the hand held detector (theres a seperate line for men and women).
I just walk through, drop my bags on the conveyor, and keep walking.....
And so with 2 hours until the flight, I have nothing to do but hope for wifi...success! This update came live from the airport.
The last security checkpoint leading to the departure lounge, where crazy guy tried to get machine gunned, I check it out and fake a bathroom break in order to use the shop!
View of the long hallway on the second floor, with the 1 shop on the left
Day 15 - Saturday December 17th, 2005
The worst flight ever!
Things get off to a really bad start, I have the bulkhead row of seats all to myself, and I am happy as can be, soon I am told to move so that the women with babies can occupy this row, I agree and am moved to a seat which someone else had already chosen to move out of, because theres basically no cushion in the ass of the seat.
It is at least an aisle seat, the other options appear to be in the middle of the center row of 5, and at first...it doesnt feel too bad, but even before we take off my ass is going to sleep (unlike the rest of me which is trying to wake it up).
We get the tamil comedy again, and then the movie which is 'sky high' only the soundtrack is so quiet I cant hear it at all.
Now, many people are first time travellers, and do not understand what the buttons in the arm rest are for, you have your controls for the headset, a light on/off button, and a call button, which makes a loud beep when you press it.
For the entire flight we are treated to a seranade of BEEP BEEP BEEP, followed by a stewardess asking 'can I help you?' then confused looks because the person doesnt realise they have been pressing the call button. This is of course accomponied by a similar strobe light show, especially when children discover what the light button does - perhaps thats why planes normally put these buttons in the roof?
To make matters worse, the planes passengers appear to be infected with bird flu, and ebola, I never heard so much violent coughing, the woman behind me cant stop sneezing, its one small sneeze every 5 seconds, CONSTANT.
The best part is theres turbulence and for much of the time people are asked to remain seated, however most people seem to need to use the bathroom...NOW.
Everyone is trying to force the door when someone is in there, and some people are yelling at the air hostesses explaining that they really need to go now, or they will regret the consequences, one poor fellow makes a mad dash form one end of the plane to the other when he spots his chance.
(Jumping 20 hours forward as I type this now, I have no symptoms of illness, despite a 4 hour plague flight).
Arrive Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 0445.
I am first at every stage, through customs, immigration, baggage collection, and I am not even racing, its surreal, the airport is empty some stores are open and often sales persons are asleep at the counter, my footsteps reverberate through the large terminals.
The transit train from satellite terminal to main terminal has just myself a security guard, and the malaysian airlines cabin crew from my flight who dont have to go through immigration.
I even take the line of taxi hawkers by surprise who dont realise I am wheeling my bag out until I am getting in the lift.
I find a money changer open, change my rupees for ringitts, and proceed to the floor for the express train into the city. I am the only person there, but the machine works and the sign says a train will be there in 2 minutes.
I have an entire train to myself, I walked around leaving my bags unattended just because I can, the train ride is 100km or so, lasts about 25 minutes
The last step of the puzzle is to get from Kuala Lumpur central station to my hotel and see if I can check in at 7am.
Theres a line of taxis outside the station, but all the drivers are asleep, seats fully reclined, I walk to the head of the cue and start banging on a sleeping taxi drivers window, he has the stereo up loud to help him sleep, and it takes some effort to wake him.
We negotioate the price, even though he has a meter and tracking systems and touch screen...and drive to the hotel.
Luckily I am able to check in! It costs a few dollars but I can have a small sleep, very relieved.
I wake up 4 hours later at 11am, get dressed and go for a walk.
The Shangri-La hotel where I am staying
Inside one of the large shopping malls
I have lunch at an italian place, la dolce vita, a pizza and a massive ice coffee, it is very nice and reasonably priced, I catch the monorail back to the hotel and test out the internet. I have to pay, broadband ethernet, but its very fast and reliable, unlike wifi.
I start my RCC track - if you dont know what that is, ask me some time.
Soon, I decide its time for another walk, this time to petronas towers.
From afar they dont look that big, once you get closer, they are pretty large.
The central bridge section
There is of course, a shopping mall located under the towers, All designer label stuff, not too much that interests me. Annoyingly, they play xmas carols very loudly, and not the instrumental version, OH COME! ALL ! YE ! FAITHHHHFULLLL!!!!
After leaving the petronas towers mall, I decide to head back to the other malls and locate the outback steakhouse, to fulfill my destiny, on the way there are many scooters.
And there it is! All hail the global American franchise (except for Australia) celebrating Australian food and culture!
hmm.....the food and decor seems to be similar to the Australian chain called 'hogs breath cafe', but somehow its just not as good
The ambience of Australian style
On the walk home I spot the towers down a side street, disable my cameras flash, set the 10 second timer, lean it up against a street signpost on the footpath...not too bad, i will try for better tomorrow
Returned to hotel, updated page, tried to work on RCC, went to sleep....
Day 16 - Sunday December 18th, 2005
Another day of much walking ahead!
First I go to times square, another megamall, I am a bit early and not much is open, starbucks is though, I have a frappe mocha cino something with about 11 extra things I dont want but seem to get - it costs a fortune, at least $5
Inside Times square they have 3 movie theaters including an IMAX on the 10th floor and an indoor rollercoaster.
I take the monorail to preserve legs for the walking ahead
Badly lit picture of the indoor rollercoaster, look closely and you can see the carriages at the top of the loop
I decide the best plan is to walk to china town, which takes about half an hour.
Despite being china town, it is quite clean, lots of fake watches, gucci handbags, dvd's, I buy the latest harry potter for about $2.
It comes without a jewelcase but with a glossy print of the cover ready for you to stick in your own case, all sealed in plastic with a barcode printed on the plastic - so its not just 1 guy with a lite on burner.
The fellow assures me it comes from 'master disc, not cam' and at first I am hopeful as it has a proper menu and the ratings screen and film company logos are sharp...but as soon as the movie starts, its just a cam.
The entrance to the main street in china town
The central market, selling crappy goods to tourists...german tourists seem to love buying the crap, who really wants a clock with the petronas towers as hands? germans
A tower I hope to go up, have to research further
In the afternoon, I venture out again, this time exploring the monorails full path in both directions.
I end up back at times square for lunch in the food court, which was decent, and explored it some more....since its so huge.
Looking down from the top of times square, the crowd is assembled at the bottom to watch 'miss weight loss asia' a beauty paegent where you lose weight and win cash!
Blurry shot looking down on the rollercoaster pictured from the bottom earlier
In the evening I decide to venture over to petronas towers again, for some night shots and to find dinner.
The attached mall has some classy restaurants on the top floor, but all are empty.
Near the bottom I find 'Authentic Italian Pizza and Pasta House', now I had pizza yesterday, but I can see a fat old italian guy making the bases by hand in front of a wood oven....sold.
I get seated near the window, but not quite, and soon after an American family sits between me and the window, at first I am a little annoyed as I was enjoying the view.....
Mom immediately produces from her fanny pack, 4 individually sealed medicated hand wipes and shouts at the kids, this is going to be great! I can stare right through them pretending to look at the view out the window and watch the hilarity unfold.
They seem to be quite well off, the children are wearing proper shirts and tailored shorts, with sandals, mom has on a formal looking skirt..adorned with a fanny pack, dad has slacks, a polo shirt and an expensive DSLR camera hanging around his neck..at the table
I order my food (more on that later) and wait for my new friends to decide, the children have allergies to almost everything, and the mother is checking the menu for gluten advice, its getting better by the second!
The children are asked what they would like to drink, and they want 7up. Dad says its ok since they are on holiday to have 7up. Mother does not agree, lets go with M for mom and D for dad
M: You know they cant have anything with food coloring because of their A.D.D.!
D: 7up is clear, it doesnt have any food coloring
M: Of course it does, it has clear coloring! If they didnt add the clear coloring it would be yellow from the lemon!
Kids start crying.
The poor waiter comes over for the order, and is asked a lot of questions by the mother, and the whole family cant understand the fellows good english, which has an asian accent to it, but I can understand him from where I am just fine
Shes asking him specific preservative numbers, eventually she gives up and they decide caesar salad is the best thing, but they have to order 2 of course. The grown ups get a regular chicken caesar, for the children...hold the cheese and cruotons. To drink they have water.
I eat my dinner the slowest I ever have in my life, but even so by this point I am done...and have to leave, a little dissapointed I couldnt watch the rest of the show.
Now to talk about my dinner!
It was probably the greatest pizza I have ever eaten in my life. The base was incredible, I had 'rustica' from the traditional menu, which is like nepolitana but with added capers and pepperoni.
As I was ordering I saw a salad go past and quickly added that as well, it was also brilliant, great sun dried tomatoes and fetta and olives on different lettuces with these really sweet fresh tomatoes like I have never had before, and a thick sweet balsamic dressing.
I want to go there again, do you think they do breakfast?
After dinner I venture out to the forecourt in front of the towers, and take some long exposed night shots.
The fountain in front of the towers
Looking up at the towers, camera laying almost on its back, using its strap as a wedge
Different fountain, people walked through the shot giving the ghost effect
Camera perched on top of electrical transformer cover
Looking back across the man made lake at the shopping mall with one of the towers in the middle
The end of my last full day in Kuala Lumpur, tomorrow I will leave for the airport in the afternoon, not sure of the logistics yet, need to check out of the hotel by noon, flight not until 2145