7/31: Indian Adventures, Beginning in Chennai (1 of 6)

The best way to kill jet lag: lots of action the first day in town. Brad also recommends no eating on the airplanes. I feel like we’ve been here for a week when it has only been ONE day. We started early this morning on campus, which is b-e-a-u-tiful especially compared to the rabble outside the campus. The ambient noise drops decibels after pulling through the gate and checking in with the security guards. The sound of tropical birds (and maybe mythical monkeys) is appropriate among the large vine trees, cactus patches and sandy roads. We saw hoards of elementary school kids in uniforms and braids, and we met some German exchange students (Sandra) at the cafeteria before meeting with Krishnan.
Prof. Krisnan Balasubramaniam’s office walls are lined with books and people are constantly flowing in and out. He has about 8 chairs in front of his desk, but if you choose to sit then you must wait for him to be finished with the nearly constant stream of standing visitors. As we walked in, he was surveying recent “imports” from a Home Depot stop he made before flying home. This was one of many events today that reminded me there aren’t Walmarts or Targets in this city. All of these things must be purchased at little shack shops, which are often surrounded by people. Pharmacies and super markets with doors and walls and marked prices are a rarity.
After we left campus, Brad and I decided to wander down the street near our hotel. It may be that every day is a religious festival here, but we felt like we lucked out when we came across a stage and an apparent street celebration. We stood for at least an hour waiting for the music to start, and when it finally did we were a bit overwhelmed by the volume and bailed shortly after. But the interactions with the local people while we waited were fantastic. We met many fun-loving, giggling children. Many were lined up in front of the stage and others were running around the shops and throughout the busy traffic. I bet these kids learn traffic safety at a very young age. They asked us to take photos of them and were very excited when we showed them the results. My “fan club” was so sweet, and one little girl had turned nine the day before and ran over to give us some chocolates. They know a few lines of basic English including “Hi, how are you?” I responded, “Good, how are you?” and they piped up in unison “I’m fine!” This seems to be the “Hola, como estas? Bien, y tu?” equivalent that everyone knows in India and is very cute.
Brad and I wandered home after waiting to hear music longer than listening to it, but the sights on the streets were plenty to keep us entertained. Andy and Jesse had passed out at about 7 pm while Brad and I were enjoying the street scene, and I woke Andy up to swim but Jesse was out for the count. Swimming in our hotel pool, which is a huge luxury in this hot climate, was the perfect way to unwind at the end of a long day and this was just the beginning of our nightly swim routine. I brought my itsy-bitsy bikini but will be sporting shorts and t-shirt on top of it this month. The Indian women’s swimsuits leave almost everything to the imagination and include a wet-suit type covering with sleeves and legs down to about the knees. Not only that, but there’s a skirt and not a hint of cleavage visible. I’d love to have silks and long shirts like the Indian women wear, but I will definitely not be investing in any swimwear.