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December 24, 2005

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, etc

Sun Dec 25 00:00:47 IST 2005

Well, it's officially Christmas over here. This is the first time I've ever spent Christmas away from my family; we always had a nice commercialized Christmas just for the fun of it. I miss the fake tree already (or in recent years a random large plant, but who cares what it is as long as it holds presents under it!) When I was younger I made my parents get a real tree a few times but that got vetoed after a few years of excess pine needles all over. And I miss picking out gifts for my family (I guess if I was really non-lazy I could've ordered stuff online, but that's just not the same as wandering around the mall for a few hours finding cool stuff that I wouldn't have otherwise found.)

I'm going out to dinner tomorrow night (tonight at this point) somewhere nice with some cousins, so that should bring my Indian food tolerance up a bit, and make up for the lack of Christmas somewhat. Maybe somewhere Chinese or the one decent-looking French restaurant; Chennai actually has a decent selection of restaurants. Sadly my Indian food tolerance is dropping even lower. Eating vegetarian Indian food that all tastes the same to me for almost a month is really starting to get to me. Fortunately there are actually a decent number of restaurants around where I'm staying, so I'll probably start going out for my brunch/lunch a few times a week for non-Indian food while I'm in Chennai then eating with my aunt and uncle in the evening. I wish I could get a wide selection of fresh ingredients here, and I'd be happy to cook for my relatives a couple times a week at least. Unfortunately I'm limited to stuff that's designed to make Indian food, not American-type food. (I couldn't even find any pine nuts when I wanted to make an olive tapanade in Coimbatore!)

Anyways, I'm in the middle of planning my trips so I should be out and about the country within the next week or two on various journeys. It'll be a nice break to see somewhere other than far southern India; not that I don't like it here, but considering that I've spent almost all of every trip to India in the southern part I'd really like to spend time exploring elsewhere. Maybe a side trip to Malaysia or Singapore too; airfares to there seem to be quite cheap from here.

And nobody's emailed me a postal address, so none of you get postcards except the few I already have addresses for! And they'll be mean, spiteful postcards for not at least saying hi! Well, assuming I can dig up my meanness and spitefulness; we'll see.

Anyways, enoy the vacation time and whatever religious-affiliated holidays you might have going on. Hopefully next time I boringly blog I'll be somewhere more exotic! (Oh yeah, and I figured out how to proxy my way around the firewalls on the ~$2/mo unlimited GPRS that comes with my prepaid SIM so I can do stuff like check mail even when I'm off somewhere afar. I just had to insert that bit of geekiness to ruin a perfectly good blog entry.)

December 22, 2005

Hi, Chennai

So I got to Chennai a couple days ago, relocating my home base in India from Coimbatore to here for now. (Amusingly the one-way ticket cost me ~$40 US but the excess baggage cost me ~$55 US since I moved all of my stuff with me. Us American travelers are spoiled by being able to bring so much stuff along.) Chennai is a much larger, much more urban city; Coimbatore is fairly large, but mostly industrial. Previously known as Madras, Chennai is one of the largest cities in the country; interestingly, there seems to be some evidence that Madras is a more Indian-derived name than Chennai, but they went ahead and changed the name anyways several years ago, along with a couple other large cities (Bombay->Mumbai, Calcutta->Kolkata.) There seems to be talks of some other changes, like renaming Bangalore to Bengaluru (I have no clue why they'd do that since Bangalore is such a well known name in the IT industry worldwide.)

I was amazed to get out of the airport and find us driving down a 6-lane divided highway! Chennai certainly has more infrastructure. Of course, there are still the millions of pedestrians, motorcycles, bullock-carts, and random animals wandering in the roads to contend with. Driving around India is quite the experience since you're constantly dodging in and out of death's way. Take whatever you've imagined from my brief, jumbled description and make it sound about ten times more dodgy and you'll start to get an idea of how the roads are around here. Between the millions of obstacles, completely crazy passing, and driving on the other side of the road, I don't think I'd even want to try driving around here myself.

Of course being Internet addicted I've already set up a wireless network here; took me forever to purchase an 802.11 router last night. I asked the driver to take me to find some American-style fast food afterwards since my Indian food tolerance was dropping; after driving around for half an hour he took me to some upscale area that had some non-American fast food eateries which was decent enough for a change...then on the drive back home, we went right past a Subway that was a 5 minute walk from my aunt and uncle's house! Guess I can get my fast-food fix reasonably easily here for lunch or whatnot when I feel like it.

So from here I'm trying to write up my business plans and set up some meetings with potential business partners... I've been less than diligent about that, but I'm working on it. And I'm going to try to travel to some of the nicer areas of India during the current touristy season; right now I want to go to Rajasthan since it's supposed to be quite beautiful, and to Goa since it's kind of like the Cancun of India (which would be nice around holiday time after spending most of my time staying with relatives.) Maybe a side trip to Singapore and/or Malaysia before I leave India since they're close and cheap to fly to.

And I still want to make it up to the Himalayas! It's officially winter (even here, yes, we are indeed north of the Equator), so enjoy the snow, ice, sleet, freezing rain, 3' hailstones, and hypothermia for me. I would take clean, crisp, freezing area over heat, humidity, and pollution any day. (Though I can put up with just about any climate, so I'm doing just fine in that respect.) Last weekend one of my cousins took me to this Hindu temple (of course if you know me you'll know I don't follow any such religion, but I'm happy to observe and participate in their rituals.) The temple was about a mile hike up a road, and located down along a little stream/pond with a waterfall. But the actual temple was in this TINY cave right next to the waterfall! Had to wade through 2' of water and then go through this little 3' hobbit-hole doorway to get to it. Inside it was just as cramped; room for 3 or 4 people and the priest, with a 4' high ceiling. Fortunately Hindus are quite happy for you to take pictures (I had my cousin translate for me since she's obviously fluent in both English and Tamil, whereas the priest didn't know English, to make sure it was okay to take pictures.)

I'm working slowly but surely on pictures, and when I'm up to date in a few weeks I hope to blog more often and include pictures along with my entries. Until then you'll have to put up with my monotonous droning in text-format only. I'll see all you Boston-area folk in March; I'm arriving on a Friday afternoon and leaving Saturday afternoon with my 24hr layover, so I'm looking forward to dinner and then some clubbing later on since I've been semi-deprived here. Or maybe I'll skip BOS-DTW and stay in Boston for a few days. I haven't quite decided yet. I have a bunch of cities left to visit in the US, southeast Asia and Australia, and Europe. But depending on how business goes I may just keep traveling for some time until I feel like settling down somewhere for a while again.

So if you've put up with my rambling, take care (and take care anyways even if you haven't, but if you haven't I hate you and will have my revenge.) And of course feel free to harass me here since I've barely talked to anyone at home! I'll probably be on AIM more in the coming days, and you can SMS my US cell (T-Mobile doesn't charge me anything extra to receive an SMS while roaming internationally, but don't be surprised by the strange Indian # if I reply!) Oh and again, email me your snail mail address if you want postcards from India and along the way to other places!

December 08, 2005

Up and about in India

After finally getting over my jetlag, I spent the last several days visiting more remote areas near Coimbatore (where I flew into and where I'm staying at the moment)...Internet withdrawal! Two of my cousins took me up to the hill town of Ooty last weekend, at an elevation of 7500'. You can definitely feel the thin air that high up. There's a huge, wonderful botanical garden up there, tons of different vegetation than down here on the ground, and lots of beautiful, unspoiled land to look down upon (but sadly some overdeveloped spoiled areas about as well.) Oh, and they now know how to make lemon drops at the Holiday Inn there (and quite well at that!) :) It seems there's some decent mountain hiking around Ooty, and it's only 100km from Coimbatore, so I'll have to try to make my relatives go hiking sometime!

After that I spent 3 days in Tirupur, where my parents grew up. Since my mom and dad had 5 siblings apiece (sadly only 2 of my dad's sisters are left on his side, but his family had plenty of kids as well) we have tons of extended family around there, and they were all very happy to see me. Since it's been 8 years since I've visited, and since the older relatives on my dad's side don't speak English (and I barely understand Tamil,) it was an interesting visit. It was a lot of fun though! I'd forgotten how tasty fresh coconut milk is. They climb up the tree, cut down a coconut, and hack it open for you on the spot! Amusingly, my mom told some of the relatives they should provide plates and silverware for me. I'm quite happy to eat off a banana leaf with my hands like everyone else. I need no man-made eating implements! This was also my first time visiting my mom's childhood house since my grandfather died (we used to stay there a lot every visit to India), so that brought back a lot of memories. I spent one night there after spending two nights with a cousin on my dad's side.

As for the whole not liking Indian food thing, I'm doing pretty well. Everything is so fresh here which helps a lot, and there's always a good variety of stuff. And my relatives are more than happy to have the things I do like prepared. Fortunately they tend to make a wide variety of food at each meal in general (extended families eating together and all) so my food pickiness doesn't seem to be too much of a burden. There are decent non-Indian restaurants around too, and we've gone out to eat a few times since I've gotten here; the food is amazingly cheap for what you get, just like everything else here! I bought 20 ibuprofen tablets since I forgot to bring any, and it came to a grand total of about 15 cents. I also picked up a fairly nice pair of shorts for $3. Calls to other cellphones on my *prepaid* sim card cost around 2c/min during the day or about 0.6c/min at night (and free inbound!), and international is around 30c/min. If you have a postpaid account it's a good deal cheaper still. Sure beats the $2.99/min that T-Mobile charges if I roam here (at least I can receive roaming smses on my T-Mobile account at the regular rate.) Oh yeah, my cell's +91 9994235390 if anyone wants to harass me in my absence.

My mom's arriving in Coimbatore tomorrow, and we have to go back to Tirupur this weekend for a wedding on my dad's side of the family, so I'll continue to be pummeled with the Internet withdrawal! It's really eye-opening in some ways to realize just how much time one can spend doing other things after years of spending way too much time online.