Saturday, January 10, 2009

Days 2-3-4 and Day 4 updates

Day 2-3-4 Updates

- Meals
- Quiz: Howl
- All the news

Day 2 dinner (you thought I would skip describing a meal?) the last night at Sun N Sand Kabob Hut, I try to order pomfret, the local fish (I know most of you think, and are right, that I was hoping for French fries), and the waiter advises they’re out, so I switch to some other fish, can’t understand the name or where it comes from (on the bill it is called mahi subzi, and we think subzi is generic for vegetables). Turns out to be quite good, lightly breaded and a bit more flaky than what we think of as mahi. People next to us, man and two women in their 50s and appearing to us as locals, order a whole pomfret, which is now available! Turns out the man is from Kenya, and he is ordering vegetarian, the fish is for the two women (wife and sister?). They share their apres dessert with us, pan: it is a leaf wrapped around some intense sweet stuff (soaked cocoanut?) stuck with cloves and maybe coriander seeds. You’re supposed to stick it in your gum and savor over a long period of time. MBH has mushroom kabob, they come slightly stuffed (maybe with minced mushrooms) and quite good. With wine and beer, $55.

Day 3: We decide on the buffet lunch at the Green Park Hotel after getting in after 2pm and starving (Indigo Air does NOT serve a meal on their flights, you pay for everything including beverages). The hotel is a traditional US-style business/meeting type, with a huge lobby and 2nd floor filled with meeting rooms (we find out later from the guide to Fort George - see below - the hotel is owed by film company and they have offices and do some shooting here). Buffet is served in a very large room jammed with 20 and 30 somethings thronging the buffet in relentless waves. There are several business meetings going on including Heinz. It is reassuring that not all companies are cutting back on such events. The buffet includes some familiar dishes: Singapore style noodles (not as curried as we would get in chow fun style restaurant), lentils (served everywhere), biriyani, and many we have no clue about that appear to be mostly liquid (now I realize they probably had something in them that the hordes have fished out before we got to them). We’re doing well to get grilled chicken pieces (fave of the waves), MHB is contemplating going vegetarian for rest of trip, it is always an option with many locals obviously not eating meat. With bottled water (they never offer us tap, though I have seen it served), $20.

Aside: we notice that the Chennaians are much darker on average than Mumbaians. The cities are about 500 miles apart, and Chennai is on Bay of Bengal (though we haven’t seen it yet). Clearly, the diversity of ethnic types is not comprehensible to us, and in India there are many unique ”ethnic” groups with their own languages and customs. In fact, English is clearly the locals way of communicating with each other, it is used in many conversations. We clearly are now one half of the most famous plot: a man (and his HB) goes on a trip; the other half: a stranger comes to town.

Dinner at the Green Park: we decide to eat BBQ outdoors next to the pool, and at 8pm the staff outnumbers the customers, 5 westerners and 5 Indians. Nearly a full moon. There is a buffet set up with about 10 main course supplements, salad type things and desserts. Then you go to a different section and laying out in serving trays are various meats and fish, all in marinades and variety of vegetables. You pick and choose what you want and then they are grilled over charcoal to order. We have fish, lamb ribs (not enough meat to be called chops) and quail, plus veggie mix. The lamb ribs are in a classic US BBQ sauce. Off the salad buffet, we have something that they call cottage cheese and is more like…I’m not sure how to describe it…soft, maybe tofu in very early stages (think Mori Sushi), with light flavoring. I like it a lot! We try a variety of desserts, something tells me that we aren’t going to be eating much sweets on this trip, collectively not a one is to our taste. The beer, Kingfisher, clearly has almost no alcohol, shades of Beijing! With beer and wine: $30 (this hotel is not in as upscale location as Sun N Sand, so prices are much lower).

Accompanying dinner: a solo artist playing keyboard and singing C&W in southern (Indian?) accent. It is so dark, it’s hard to see her.

MHB captures a girl attending the wedding in the hotel that night (see pic).

Notes from far and wide and a pop quiz: I am now reading A Blue Hand (on my Kindle, great for conserving eyes and carrying a ton of books with you on one small easy-to-use device), by Deborah Baker. It is a story about six beat poets traveling (not always together) in India in the early 60s. Allen Ginsberg is featured, and so while riding the elliptical (MHB is on the recumbent bike pedaling her way south), I listen to his reading of Howl, conveniently placed on my I-Pod. Quiz: how many individual items do I have on my I-Pod? Please place your answer in the same area as the temps in London answers. Bonus points question: What film of the mid-60s did Ginsberg appear in, chatting away (his norm, apparently the guy never shut up) in the background of the opening scene?

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix…

TV news (on in airports and fitness centers and many channels) is equally spread between: fraud by CEO at Satyam, 4th largest IT firm in India, the oil “unions” strike that is shutting down gas stations all over India and bringing commerce to a stop, and Slumdog Millionaire (heavily featured and spliced into shots of movie award ceremonies). On page two of the front section of major paper: big articles on the highest grossing films of 2008 and the next big openings of 2009. Again, on TV, equal coverage of all three, there appear to be no other stories in all of India worthy of TV news. I gotta say, those dance numbers in the midst of the movies are terrific!

Day 4:

- First awakenings
- Breakfast Buffet
- Let the games begin
- At least I can’t cost Obama the election (or can I?)

5:30am and the clock-radio comes on softly. Wait, we don’t have a clock or a radio in the room. We think/realize it is the Muslim call to prayer. Faint, languid, hard to tell if it is a chant, more of a slow song.

There appear to be only two birds in India: pigeons and crows. The crows though are not entirely black, they have a dark grey around the neck.

We head off to exercise (sooooo virtuous) and then to the breakfast buffet where we are greeted with the message of the day: Happiness is earned by those whose actions and attitudes are pure and simple. Hmmmm….well, I do love to eat, pure and simple!

Today we expand our breakfast horizons:
- Idly (rice cake, though I think it is white masa) topped with sambar (lentil soup) and amazingly, I’m eating a dead ringer for a tamale
- Poori, which turns out to be a sopapilla, especially when the honey is applied (what country are we in?)
- Vada, a lentil doughnut without the sugar coating, excellent dunker
- Idiapam, which is a flattened thin noodle cake, again used as a base for toppings
- Whole wheat cereal with pistachios added (by us)
- Cucumber drink, which must have been made by mixing with very salty clam juice. The waiter says it was from a tin, so he can’t vouch for contents, nor can we!

Cost: Included in room rate

The tour begins at lunch, co-lead by Martin and Carol. Martin gives a brief intro that everything we perceive in and from the western viewpoint is turned around in India. Very much the patient professor. Carol is the logistics expert, and we can already see she has the Indian perspective on time - the meeting time of the group after lunch is either 2:30, 2:45, 3:00 or when we’re all there, sending fear waves through all the type A’s. As it is, we don’t leave until after 3pm. Everyone is on time (HAH! I think I’ve just made my first cosmic Indian joke!).

Lunch is the same buffet as yesterday, without all the waves of eaters as it is Saturday and the hotel has no business meetings in progress. Carol is also the food expert and we are now getting explanations of the dishes, what’s in them, what combos go together, and what region specialties we eating (most are from around here). All meals are included in the tour, so no more $ totals, sorry! And, we get pan for apres dessert, here it is filled with candied fruit, nor whole cloves, and is not quite as sweet. Only a few of the tour try it.

A local (female) guide gives the tourist speech on the way to Fort George, a 1700s fort erected by the British (complete with alligators in the moat). There are 9 - 12 million people living in Chennai, 80% Hindu, 12% Christian, 5 % Muslim (and 3%???). Per the guide (and other sources) we’re told they all get along great, unlike the north of India. Girls are now granted equal education and do better than boys in school (same-same!). The doesn’t address that women are not doing as well as men in the business world (same-same? And MHB claims they are doing as well…). And, then comes the local industries run-down: leather business and the local version of Bollywood (unless I am mistaken, 20% of India spends approximately 25 hours a week making films and 76% of India spends 35 hours a week watching them (the other 4%???).

The tour through town is giving us a good view of Chennai (mostly because crossing town in a van takes a longggg time);, the city is mainly very crowded and mostly small shops on the street with no real sidewalks. On the way back, we go through the upscale part of town, which has malls and fancy buildings. There is only one real western style high rise in all of Chennai from what I can see.

{The mosque call to prayer is going again, now at 7:30pm, when I am doing an update to the blog doc before dinner.}

Other factoids: 1.6 million people work for the state railway, making it the largest employer in India. (We see one train go by, not too crowded, though there are many people on foot on their way to the platforms). The fort is run down and poorly maintained and half shut down (by Western standards) and is thought highly of by our guide (Indian standards?). It costs $2 to enter (sorry, we no longer take US dollars) or 10 cents to enter if you are Indian or from one of 8 or 9 countries nearby (hmmmmm….). We see only a lot of “guards” and a few westerners (if being from Japan counts as western, since they pay $2). Next to the fort is an Anglican church from the same period, lots of memorials to dead folks on the walls. It actually is well maintained and still in service. One of tour members goes to see if her grandmother is registered in the historical papers!

And the gas stations are open and there are no lines (nothing said by the guide, though it is the number one news story all over India). Chennai has the second longest beach to Miami in the world, and as it is Saturday eve, there are at least 100,000 people on the beach already, cooling off. The Bay of Bengal off the beach is polluted, so at most people just put their feet in the water.

- from large open street market (I would have much preferred touring there!)
- statues are all over town, with flower leis on them for most part
- Wedding stage at the hotel, a huge crowd shows up (including a traffic jam complete with honking horns in the hotel parking lot)
- Shrine in front of fort (actually, there are 3 or 4 shrines, and we’re gonna become experts on shrines by the time the tour is over!)

Dinner: back at the hotel, another buffet; same-same except in dessert category are TWO ice creams. (pure and simply I decide this is the best buffet we’ve had yet!). Also, fresh thick tortillas (VERY same-same, not quite naan, being hand-rolled and put on the griddle in front of our eyes, I eat 4). Meal reports are being cut down (true? DAMN!)

And finally (yes, finally!): The Blogger’s Dilemma

The group: 5 couples and one single woman, one couple lives off of Park Boulevard within a mile of our old place on Trestle Glen. More tidbits as we learn them and figure out how to make the gossip really juicy. DAMN! I’ve already opened my big mouth and now some know I am blogging. Hmmmmm….now what? Can I tell you who already is having stomach problems, who is/appears older than whom? At least one other couple has brought a computer, so they could (will????) be subscribing and reading the blog faster than I can update it…what’s a poor boy to do? Really….maybe, since I wasn’t doing this travel blog at the time, I can just substitute tidbits on the baseball bus tour folks and you’ll just have to understand it is same-same but different? Most of them don’t even know the internet exists except to give baseball score updates in real time and Joann and Mike (NOT their real names) will forgive me in some future life.

Masked and Anonymous and MHB (bonus points, name the lead actor of this movie, and for double bonus points, the blogger that nearly cost Barry the election, or maybe the points should be awarded the other way around. Place entries on small slips of yellow paper deposited at a local shrine, preferably one near a famous fort or temple, AT&T Park preferred or, even better, at Cisco Field - location TBD unless you are already in a future life and know where it is)


  1. Quiz: how many individual items meaning- how many songs/books/poems? or how many individual items meaning UNIQUE? i.e. if you have 10 versions of one (bob) song, does that count as one or ten? gotta lay out the groundrules here!

  2. just go ahead and tell the baseball bus tour stories, then when the current trip people aren't looking you can fill us in on them. whoops. hopefully they're not also reading the comments section!

  3. Turns out I wasn't reading the comments section either! Usually too long to post (good excuse), and am now getting around to it...weakly, foggily, and here (or where?), R