Sunday, July 29, 2007

Madras Madness Abbreviated, Singapore Culture Shock & Australian Birthday Pavlova

I'm writing from Perth on the coast of Western Australia (2.5 hours closer to the international dateline than India and directly south of Singapore). I've once again been a bad blogger, and have posted pictures without any text. And now, I'm so involved in eating steak and ice and drinking good beer and wine, that I don't really have the time or energy to write something good about last weekend. So, I'm going to write the abbreviated version.

Last weekend I went to Madras/Chennai (Chennai is the real Indian name, but I think that Madras, the British name, is more Exotic, so I'm going to use it) with one of my office-mates who is from there. We stayed with her family in their house and did all sorts of authentic things the whole weekend. We ate Tamil Thali, shopped for sarees (again, and yes...I bought one...again - but this one I'm planning to upholster my futon with, so it is therefore functional in addition to being 100% embroidered silk and $20), I rode on the back of her moped, we went to a traditional dance concert, went to the bay of bengal, used an Indian toilet (, rode in an ambassador taxi, wore a saree to the temple, went to a Brahmin fortune teller, ect.

We went to the Bay of Bengal looking to take a boat ride out into the sea, but when we got there the fishermen wouldn't take us out because they had been forbidden to do so byt he nearby resort. I wasn't too upset because there was oil washed up on the beach and menacing monsoonal clouds on the horizon, so we rode horses for 100 ruppees ($2.50) on the beach instead. It was very adventurous and the weather was 50 times better than it was the first time I went to Chennai in May when it was 105 degrees with 100% humidity. This time it was only 85 degrees with 70 humidity (that was my guess), so riding on the moped and in the non a/c ambassador taxi wasn't so bad. The real problem was the pollution, and after the day on the moped, I actually had a pollution mustache, which I wiped off with a tissue that was soon covered in a thick layer of black soot from the rest of my face- ewwwwe.

Since last weekend I've been 'busy' after work socializing with other ex-pats. I saw the new Harry Potter movie (totally awesome & better than the book) and went to a going away party for an expat who's moving to Singapore this weekend. Then, on Friday night I left for Perth via Singapore to spend my birthday week in Australia. I learned, at my first exit attempt from India since I got here, that the clever customs official who stamped my passport upon entry, has stamped it March 2006. The semi-amused exit customs official leafed through my passport for 5 minutes trying to find a March 2007 stamp and then asked me when I arrived in India. When he pointed to the 2006 date I was completely and utterly speechless for the first time in my life. Luckily my visa is March 2007-September 2007, and he very innovatively managed to get an entry stamper, set it to the correct date, re-stamp my entry stamp with March 2007, and cancel my original (I double checked the date he stamped for my exit).

My flight from Hyderabad to Singapore was only 3.5 hours, but was a red-eye flight due to the 2.5 hour time difference. I was stuck next to a mother and kid who apparently had a tick that involved kicking me every time I dozed off, and I felt like the principal in Ferris Beuller because the kid kept looking at me and offering me gummy bears.

When I arrived in Singapore I was shocked by the number of white people in the airport, and realized that I hadn't really seen more than 10 white people in one place at one time in 4 months. I was also shocked by how modern and new everything was, and my first meal was a grilled chicken, avocado, and bri sandwich with a real espresso-filled mocha. I sat in a cafe with a Dutch guy and an Indian woman, both of whom, it turned out were living in California and were coming from Hyderabad. I spoke to the woman in the Hindi I've learned from classes at work, and said 'Ik sprik neit goede nederlands' to the amused Dutch guy ("I don't speak Dutch well" is one of the only phrases I remember from Beligium) and then the three of us talked about Hyderabad for about an hour until their flight for SFO was leaving and my flight to Australia was boarding- it's a small world!

Now I'm in Australia where it is winter and raining, and I've already had two meals with steak :) Last night I went to grab the bottle of water to brush my teeth until I realized that I can use tap water! I've been ordering ice in every drink even though it's cold outside, just because I love ice so much, and I haven't had it in 4 months. The two things that stand out most are a) how much I got used to standing out in a crowd in India- here I'm anonymous until I open my mouth! And b) How much I got used to having people around everywhere.

All over Perth today I've noticed how few people there are- I can't imagine what it must be like for someone from India who's spent their entire life surrounded by millions of people to come to Australia or the US and not see people crowding the streets. I also noticed how big the SUVs are - does anyone need a car that size? Now really, how many people are actually driving around the bush in those? It may be roughly equivalent to the number of bay area drivers who spend their weekends off-roading their SUVs in the Sierras (roughly .0005%) ;) I think I'll notice even more when I get back to California, since giant SUVs aren't nearly as popular in Australia as they are in California.

Today I spent my birthday sleeping in, going around Perth, and eating- pancakes, steak kabobs, cappuccino, chinese food, and a birthday pavlova :). Tomorrow we're heading south, and I'm hoping the rain will die down (not sure how likely that is). I realized that I haven't been remotely cold in 4 months (other than in the office when the air conditioner is blasting), and that I'm not really used to it being cold outside. But I've now seen the Indian Ocean, and even in the rain the beaches are amazing.

More to come soon (I promise..... ;)

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