Sunday, August 19, 2001

Guruvayoor and Chennai
Aug 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 (Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday):
..[inspired from Joe's journal entries]..

The next morning, Wednesday August 15th, we had breakfast (I was loving the non-spicy versions of all the dishes that Sree had the housekeeper make just for me), Joe installs a webcam for Sree's parents, and most of the relatives that we had met the evening before had come by to see us off. So, we said farewell, hopped in both a rented car and Mutachen's car, and headed for the train station. At the train station, we said goodbyes to Leela Auntie, Reinu-Chechi (who asked when we were coming back), Mutachen, Mutachen's brother (who had met us there), and Pallavi. On the train, we had a pleasant ride in a 2nd class non-A/C locked cabin for the 4 of us. About 3 stops later and Santhosh's (Sree's husband) parents met us at the station and Radha Auntie (Santhosh's mom) handed me a wrapped gift that turned out to be a traditional Keralan jewelry box. About 10 minutes later with more farewell hugs and waves and we had some kerala pourris and aloo masala (I passed) for dinner and settled in on the cots with clean sheets which was really nice as the rocking motion of the train and the room-temperature fanned air lulled us to sleep. We trained from the evening until the early morning before we reached our stop in Chennai (f.k.a. Madras).
At the train station in Chennai, Thursday August 16th, it was a big struggle to keep our luggage (Sree had a couple big suitcases) away from the porters who wanted to grab them and rob us with their fees. So, Sree had to haggle with them in Tamil for a bit there and then on the way out of the station with Ashwin holding Joe's hand, we met Kumari-Chechi (the pediatrician cousin that Sree would be staying with), and on reaching Kumari-Chechi's car, there was another big haggle about the fee they should get for having delivered the luggage. I was so offended because the scene reminded me too much of the fiasco with the bicycle-rickshaw driver in Delhi that I overreacted and joined in the conversation and told them that they were cheating us. But, Kumari-Chechi would have to deal with those porters every time she went to the train station so, they got their raise. We stopped by Kumari-Chechi's house where we met "Baby"-Chechi and their mother. As with all of Sree's relatives, their house is nice with exquisite wood furniture, rugs, and various eye-candy decor. One trinket in particular caught my eye: a dancing girl with palms facing front (one pointed up and one pointed down) where her head, hips, and arms swayed in the breeze at different rates to make her fluid motion very entertaining. Then, we checked in for 2 nights and 3 days at our hotel located on the other side of the bridge from Kumari-Chechi's house. The hotel was decent but, double the price because Chennai being a port city has more visitors and tourism there. After we freshened up and had a buffet breakfast when Kumari-Chechi, Sree, and Baby picked us up to go shopping. We should have left Joe at Kumar-Chechi's place with their mother and Ashwin. The shopping was long and uneventful. I accomplished my mission several hours later and bought 2 exquisite sarees including skirts and tops to be stitched. Before we were done, we stayed in the shopping area called Pondy Bazaar where I had gotten my sarees, to buy some chappals (sandals.. everyone wears sandals, men/women, north/south), and a mundu top, while Sree wanted to pick up another large suitcase (as hers tore), and some jewelry. After we were done with our knick-knack shopping (Joe waited for us in the car) the weirdest thing happened, a guy started yelling out behind me "Hello!! Hello!!" and I tuned it out as I tune all the "hellos" that I get as I walk around in India of everyone trying to get me or Joe's attention. However, this time the cry was distinctly more forceful and aggressive. I kept walking. Sree heard the man yelling and turned around and gently pushed me ahead of her in our single-file line in the 2-way pedestrian sidewalk traffic of Pondy Bazaar (picture people walking on the left-sides of the road though). Apparently, this perturbed man got ahead of Sree and was again right behind me and I only stopped when Sree yelled out for "Kumar-Chech!" and Kumari-Chechi turned around in front of me and I accordingly stopped. The guy got in front of all 3 of us and was yelling something in half English and half Tamil (the language of Chennai) saying something about "Pakistani terrorists" and such with his eyes bulging and brows furrowed and his mouth near frothing. Suffice it to say, I was pretty darn scared. The next thing I knew, Sree and Kumari-Chechi were yelling him down and people on the right, going in the opposite direction were giving some verbal guidance. First, one lady said to us, "Why are you even talking to him? He's drunk." and a gentleman behind him told us, "Ladies, he's mental. Do not bother with him." and 3 young men apparently said in Tamil that they would beat him up to which people were saying "Don't beat him up, he's mental." But, the guy departed down the street in front of us and a minute later with me tip-toeing forward, we could see that indeed the 3 men were beating the crazy guy up on the side of the street and again later in the middle of the street. The strange thing was that even though I felt somehow guilty and responsible for catching the attention of a madman and getting him beat up, I also felt very safe knowing that the men of India would always come to the rescue and take immediate action for a woman's safety (foreign or no). India has definately been one of the rare times that I have truly enjoyed being female as there is a near complete trust and innocence associated with all women in India. Later that evening, we dropped off my stitchables at a lady seamstress' house who charged very little for top-of-the-line work. She offered us some sweet rice pudding that she brought back from the nearby temple and kindly dalloped into our right hands; she seemed very nice. The rush load of work would be done before we had to leave for the airport. For dinner, we were back at the hotel and we ordered room service while watching tv, and got a veggie sandwich, chicken wings, a tandoori plate for Joe, a couple Bisleris (water) and a couple Sprites. Since Agra, I had learned to drink Sprite which was uncomfortable as I wasn't used to carbonated drinks but gave me the peace of mind that it was sanitary.
It's Friday August 17th, and although we missed our breakfast buffet, it turns out to be a blessing as we ended up walking over to the local Food World to buy groceries. After the hard day yesterday of nonstop, brainless, fatiguing shopping, it was a ton of fun to go to a grocery store and feel more like locals and therefore, closer to home. We took the food back to the hotel and ate Brittania spreadable cheese on various salted (crackers) and unsalted (cookies) biscuits. It grounded us but I guess we still needed a warm meal. We met up with Sree, Kumari-Chechi, Baby, and Ashwin with unhappy tummies, drove to a bank, and ate at a nearby restaurant where we had our first taste of Indian Chinese food (most of which was non-spicy). We then dropped Baby and Ashwin off back at the house and proceeded to shop for rugs to no avail. But, when we got to VTI (a crafts and furniture store), I ended up buying some embroidered pillowcases and a gorgeous wooden chest (that Joe gifted to me). We were worn out and totally sick of shopping. Thank goodness we asked to stop by the beach where Joe and I hopped out of the car and waved off people offering to give us horse rides or trinkets and we took turns wading in the Bay of Bengal and taking pictures. Joe drew even more attention when he zipped the legs off his pants to go wading. Ocean views are not esteemed in India as they are in California. In fact, ocean-front property is really cheap and looked-down upon. This is a boon to the scenery because the beach is the longest span of beach that one can see. All the way from left to right you can see uncluttered beach and ocean. We came back to the car fresh and rejuvenated and Sree and Kumari-Chechi looked worn but happy for us. They dropped us off at the hotel and we barely extracted plans for them for the next day before they drove off. Another fun night of TV and room service. This time we ordered some Indian Chinese veggie noodles and it was surprisingly pretty good. Two evenings of Indian TV in Chennai and that was enough to equip me with phrases like "Masca Chasca", "Ford Opel.. Simply Bindaas", and "Mere Dil Maange More Pepsi" to be recycled after the trip in order to produce fits of giggles and laughter from Sree and myself.
Our last day in India, Saturday August 18th, we woke up and got ready to go back to the shopping bizaar that we went to the night before so that I could buy some glass bangles (a tradition in the South), more bindis (decorative forehead stickers), and have some mehndi done. We arrived at a beauty parlor that Kumari-Chechi knew of but, when we arrived there via an auto, the lady quoted me 800 rupees and up. So, I immediately asked to borrow a phone and called Kumari-Chechi. She told me that we should be paying no more than 250 rupees. Besides, I didn't like their attitude; so, I went with my instinct and we promptly thanked them and left (no haggling with people we don't like has been an unsaid rule of ours). We returned to the site of the Pakistani terrorist at Pondy Bazaar and across the street near the Maya Plaza (a 4-story mall that functions as a Little Singapore), we found a little beauty parlor where the really nice lady there quoted us 500 rupees but after talking to Baby-Chechi on the phone, brought the price down to 300 rupees (150 per hand). The girl who applied the mehndi (decorative dark greenish black henna paste that stains skin red) did an excellent job in about 45 minutes. And, they let me know that I had to leave the mehndi on for a minimum of 3 hours but, ideally 8-10 hours. I went ahead an left it on for 10 hours and Joe was nice enough to occasionally dab my hands with coconut oil to keep it from drying off. Joe bought a travel Cluedo game near there, and we auto-ed back to the hotel to do nothing but snack on room service and watch TV and wait for Kumari-Chechi, Sree, Baby, and Ashwin to pick us up for the airport. They came to pick us up at around 8pm and Kumari-Chechi gave me a beautiful little carved stone elephant within an elephant as a gift. Then, hugs and waves later, the four of us (Sree, Ashwin, Joe and myself) were on the plane to Singapore.
Unfortunately, the travel agency (4lowfare.com), screwed up the one request that we emphasized and kept reiterating.. that Sree and I come back on the same flight. So, at Singapore, Joe and I had a 2-hour layover and Sree and Ashwin had something like an 8-hour layover. The sad part was that Sree missed her 10th anniversary with Santhosh. 4lowfare.com sucks!!
Without a long layover in Singapore, our flight back was something like 24 hours of flying with two 2-hour layovers in-between.
When we arrived in LAX, because of the different flight schedules we didn't have a ride back to San Diego, so after a vain attempt to get a rental car without a driver's license on us, I called my dad and D came to the rescue. He took Joe and I out to dinner and then stopped by my parents' house in Huntington Beach for about a half-hour and dropped us off at my house in Carlsbad (in North County San Diego).