Sunday, November 13, 2011

India Day 8

Our last few moments in India. It's been amazing but we are feeling the effects of foreign travel.  Emily is pretty sick right now so she is in bed resting for the 25 hours of travel we have ahead of us.  We are waiting for the shuttle to come pick us up and then it's off the airport, luckily Emily has written up our day yesterday so here it is:

Day 8
Another packed day today! Today was designated for center visits, so I could visit the different SIP centers in the area and see how the classes are run. Bharathi and Nirmala picked us up around 9 am with the same car and driver as yesterday. I loved seeing all the centers! So fun to see the kids wearing the same SIP shirts we have in the US. They were all so cute. Most of them were really shy and sweet. We sat in a few different classes, and met all the different teachers. It was so helpful for me to see all their marketing material like fliers and advertisements and posters for the kids. I got some good ideas to take back! I took so many pictures and videos all day. Bharathi had brought her camera as well so we posed for tons of pictures. Everyone at the centers were so kind and welcoming. In between center visits we stopped at some site seeing places as well. We went to a poet’s memorial, shaped like a ginormous stone chariot and took some pics.
We went to Bharathi’s own center, where her daughter and brother work. Her daughter was so sweet! She got me a jewelry box as a welcome gift, and had a sign on the whiteboard that said “Welcome Mr. and Mrs. Matthew” So sweet! The kids there were all really excited to meet us. I loved watching them work and I took a lot more videos and pictures. After we visited Bharathi’s center, she took us to a clothes shop across the hall and I bought a shirt thing (I still can’t remember what it’s called, it’s like a caftan kind of). She is having it tailored for me and delivering it tomorrow. Bharathi told me her sister is famous locally for her yoga center, and does a local morning yoga program on tv. She took us to her yoga studio which is attached to her home. They are really serious about their yoga here. It is much more about the mind than the body, so they do a lot of breathing, meditation, mud baths, banana leaf therapy. People seem very concerned for our health and ask us how often we meditate, and tell us we need to spend more time honoring the divinity in ourselves. Bharathi’s brother in law greeted us in his home. He asked me if I do any yoga, and I told him I go to a pilates class at the gym sometimes. After that, people referred to me as “studying pilates” eh.. I don’t really know if I would call it that haha. Nobody knew what pilates was. Halfway through the conversation, he mentioned that he sees some American celebrities doing Yoga, like J-Lo who does “pilots” It then occurred to me that pilots and pilates was probably the same thing, I explained that pilots is actually pronounces pilates, and then they all understood hahah. He said pilates is more focused on the body than the mind, but it is more artistic as well because it allows for some personal expression. Hm never thought of it that way.  They tried to make us some tea, but I explained that we actually don’t drink tea or coffee or alcohol as part of our religion. They all understood immediately and said “oh yes, that is good to keep your body pure and clean” On the way out, Bharathi’s brother in law said “don’t feed them too much spicy food at lunch. From what I know they are pure clean people so don’t spoil them with spicy food” I had never thought of spicy food as being bad for me before, but the people here seem to view spicy food as a kind of vice- they love it, but they know it’s better for them in moderation.
We went out to lunch at a place called Blue Diamond. They tried to take us somewhere else, but when we got there they found out it was closed down. They were really concerned about wanting to take us to a nice restaurant so we wouldn’t get sick. The food was really good!! It was my favorite meal. Matt and I shared butter chicken masala, more naan, some Chinese noodles, and veg clear soup. They show serving food as a sign of respect, so Nirmala and Bharathi each insisted on spooning the food on to our plates (especially on Matt’s plate I noticed).  After lunch, Nirmala had to go for some social work training she is involved with, so Bharathi took us to one more center, just outside of Chennai. It was a really nice center, and once again we were greeted with snacks and drinks. Everywhere we go people insist we have drinks! Usually warm orange juice or water, since we don’t drink the coffee or tea. After the last center visit, Bharathi took us to her favorite saree shop, called Sundari Silks. it was nice! It was like the Nordstrom of saree shops. She knows the owner, so she wanted to introduce us. He was really funny and friendly. He (also) seemed concerned about our spiritual and mental well being, so he started giving us some marriage advice, went away for a minute, then came back with a book to give to Matt. It is called “The Divine Romance” and it is by the founder of Yoga. He said it is the best book you will ever read, it has the answers for any problem in your life. Bharathi said it is her favorite book and she can’t go to sleep without reading it. He said you will find miracles in the book. Matt started flipping through the book while I was shopping for saree fabric, and the very first line in the book was about a man the author had met in Salt Lake City!! Really, what are the chances.  Even Matt and I thought that was pretty coincidental. Bharati just shrugged her shoulders and said “you see! The first of many miracles.”
Bharathi helped me pick out a saree for myself. She explained that the first saree you buy cannot have black or dark colors, because of tradition. She said because I am young, it is best for me to wear floral patterns, and because I am white, I should wear lighter colors. I love the one I got! Unfortunately, the tailors are closed on Sundays, and since we were shopping on Saturday night, I wouldn’t have time to have the blouse (the little half shirt that goes under the saree) made. I still got the fabric though.
Bharathi was happy she could introduce us to her friend that owned the shop and said “he is so successful but still so funny like a clown, even though he is a millionaire.” What is crazy to think about is that a million rupees is equivalent to about 20,000 dollars. We are so rich here! We love being able to hand out 10 or 50 rupees to people we meet on the streets, or over pay by 100 rupees. It makes somebody’s day, and it’s really only a few cents or a couple dollars to us. When we were out with Neha the day before she kept shaking her head and saying “no you are paying too much! These people are glad to earn 100 rupees in a whole day!” That’s what makes it fun though! Back at home, if you tip a few bucks it’s just expected, but here if you tip a few bucks you probably just made their week. People here in general just seem very humble and grateful. I will really miss the people here, even though I can’t understand them 80% of the time.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

India- Day 7

 Day 7
Site seeing day! Neha picked us up in the car with the driver, and sat in the back seat with us the whole day. A little crammed, but it made it easier to talk. I love this girl- I feel like she’s my Indian soul sister! We had so much in common! She studied psychology and fine arts in college, I told her I studied psychology and art history. We are both scared of dogs and reptiles, we both love reading and cooking and obviously now we both work for SIP. So we had a lot to talk about. Our first stop of the day was St. Thomas Basilica, one of only 3 basilicas in the world that have been built over an apostle’s tomb. We walked around the outside and took pictures, then went inside sat for a little bit admiring the architecture and figures and paintings. We then went to the museum across the street that held the tomb and relics of St. Thomas, which required us to take our shoes off before entering. It wasn’t very crowded, but the few people that were inside were kneeling beneath the tomb and kissing their hands then touching the glass. Neha assumed we were Christians so knew we would be interested in coming here, but she did seem a little confused why we weren’t kissing the ground and praying to St. Thomas like some of the others there. Even though we don’t worship St. Thomas, it was still a really neat place to be and still felt very special to us.

We told her a little bit about our religion, and she said she had heard about Mormons before (first person here so far) because she had studied some different religions in school. She is Jain, which is similar to Hinduism in many ways, but she explained that the main tenet of Jainism is to never harm anything, living or non-living. This means no transportation, no electricity, only eating raw foods, etc… She said her parents are orthodox, but she is not as religious. Because her parents are still very religious, they are in the process of planning her arranged marriage, which she said will happen within a year or so. She’s not thrilled about it because she has a boyfriend, but he belongs to a different sect so isn’t a suitable husband. The conversation made me really grateful that Matt and I got to choose to marry each other!

After we left, we drove along the main coastal road that runs along Marina Beach. We drove for quite a ways (actually it probably wasn’t that far, but it took a long time because of the horrendous traffic) then stopped outside of the city at Sri Sai Baba Temple. My biggest disappointment of the day was that cameras weren’t allowed anywhere on the sacred premises. This place was so beautiful, I wish I could have videotaped the whole thing! As soon as we drove through the gates, there were signs saying to turn off all phones, cameras, and electronics. When we got out, we took off our shoes in the little shoe shack, then began walking through the gardens. The gardens had many different stone pavilions that each housed a different idol. Many people were placing flower garlands over the idols and putting petals at their feet. Even Neha, who described herself as not very religious, would bow and kiss the feet of the idols while chanting some stuff we didn’t understand.
We are starting to catch on to some of the names of the gods, I was so glad we had Neha there to explain the meaning of everything. Like why the gods are depicted with so many faces and arms (because they have many powers and different attributes e.g. faith, providence, and love), and why they sometimes have elephant faces (Ganesha has large ears to better understand, small eyes to concentrate better, large belly to digest all of life’s richness), and why they sometimes have blue skin (this is just Krishna, because he was so dark skinned, but it is hard to depict him as black, so instead he is shown as blue). Neha especially worships the female goddesses and explained how they empower women. We went into the main Sai Baba Temple, and the walls were covered in murals depicting stories of Sai Baba that were strikingly similar to stories of Jesus. Like, so similar that you could have easily taken Sai Baba out and put in Jesus and have the same story. One mural shows Sai Baba healing the leper’s sores, then another showing Sai Baba with a woman at the well, another showing Sai Baba caring for the little children, etc… Neha took the bowl of ashes and blessed us each with a dot of ashes on our foreheads, to open up the center of power and divinity in each of us. As we were walking out, she said that she really wanted to bring us to see Sai Baba because she is strongly devoted to him. She said her sister was infertile for 7 years, then began going to Sai Baba temple every Thursday and worshipping him, and within a year she became pregnant and had a baby boy. She said the baby’s first word was “Sai Baba” when he was just 9 months, and now that he is 2, when all the other kids play with toys, he will only play with Sai Baba figurines, and will only sleep next to a picture of Sai Baba. She said ever since this miracle happened, her whole family worships Sai Baba, even her brother in law who used to be an atheist.  She took us over to a tree that was completely wrapped up with yellow yarn, then gave us each a thread of yarn and told us to make a wish so Sai Baba will help us, and tie the yarn around the tree. I REALLY wish I had pictures of all of this! We also went down to the meditation hall and meditated on mats in front of a big picture of Sai Baba. I am not very good at meditating. The music that is playing all over the grounds is special Sai Baba music, and Neha said that it is good to close your eyes and just focus on the music and where it takes you.
When we left the temple, Neha thought we might be thirsty so she flagged down a man wheeling a big cart of coconuts. She got one for all of us. The coconut man took his machete and whacked off the top and put a straw in so we could drink out the center, then he cut it in half so we could scoop out the flesh and eat it. Yummyy.

Our next stop was Dakshina Chitra, the center for traditional South Indian culture. Typically, it costs Indians only 10 rupees to get in, and foreigners must pay 250 rupees. This is only about 5 bucks, so not a big deal, but Neha still thought it was an outrage and tried to argue with the people at the counter. Also, every place we went we had to pay an extra 20 rupees to bring in a camera. This place was pretty cool, there were lots of artists doing crafts and showing us how they weave silk sarees, or make carvings, or paint on silk. This is much more of a tourist attraction so things were overpriced, but we still bought a couple souvenirs we really liked! We took a lot of pictures here so I won’t go in to as much detail.

I had told Neha the day before that I had heard Snake Park was a cool place to visit (but I didn’t use the word cool because every time I do they say “is AC too high?”). She said Snake Park is good, but Crocodile Bank is better. And wow I am glad we went there! I have never ever ever seen so many crocodiles in my life. There were hundreds. I thought they were fake at first because they sit so still. But then one at a time, one will open his mouth wide, or crawl back in the water. There weren’t too many safety precautions so I was actually kind of scared. There was never any glass, and the stone walls and fences were really low. There were a lot of signs that showed how crocodiles can jump out, so to not stand too close. I didn’t see how it was possible since they moved so slowly. We walked through the park and saw all the hundreds of crocodiles, many types I had never heard of or seen before. On the way out, Matt saw a sign for the “Snake Venom Extraction” demonstration and wanted to go. I am glad we did! It was crazy. The sign said there were 663 snakes in the pit, they were divided into about 50 clay pots, most of them were covered with cloth so not too scary. The 3 men doing the demonstration would take turn lifting snakes out of the pot, then put them on the platform and talk about them. We didn’t understand a word, and Neha was so scared she was looking away most of the time. Our favorite was the cobra. It looked like the movies! Its body was coiled up but his head stood tall and he would jab at things trying to bite them. I don’t know how these snake people are still alive. To do the venom extraction, they pick up the snake and press its teeth into a little vile with a rubber top and you can watch the milky venom drip out. They said if untreated, you would die in 2 days. That part we understood because he said in English, “2 days- dead.” Watching all the snakes gave me the heeby jeebies though I couldn’t stop thinking about it the rest of the day.

After Crocodile Bank, we continued driving down the coastal road and finally made it to Mahabalipuram! It is also called Mamallapuram (everything has 2 names).  This was the thing Matt was most excited about- he had read a lot about it before we came. Before seeing all the ruins, we stopped for lunch at Sterling Hotel (now called Indeco). It was by far our favorite meal so far. They had north Indian food, which we are more familiar with, so Matt got his favorite Murgh Tikka Masala and I had Murgh Saagwala. Before almost every meal, whoever we are with asks us “do you take veg or non-veg?” Veg means vegetarian, and non-veg means meat. It’s funny how many vegetarians don’t even know the names of meat- they just call it “non-veg.” Neha is veg, so she made sure to choose a restaurant that offered both. She made us order soups and appetizers and naan as well, so by the end of the meal we were so stuffed. She said we had to have dessert too, and she ordered lime soda for us. I don’t usually like soda, but this was so good! They brought out a bottle of club soda , then a small cup of fresh lime juice, a small cup of simple sugar syrup, and a small bowl of flaky salt. She showed how to mix it all together to make the soda. It was delicious, much better than Sprite!
Next we went to visit the ruins. First we saw the Shore Temple, Matt hired a guide because he wanted to learn all the details. It used to be underwater, but now it’s been fully excavated. It even withstood the tsunami of 2005. Then we took a short drive over to Five Rathas, also very cool. Lots of pictures here as well.

On the drive back, Neha wanted us to stop at the Hare Krishna Temple. We went, but it was being fully re-constructed. It was HUGE! I wish we could have seen it when it was done. During construction, only one small room was being used for the temple. A worker told us that a ceremony was starting in 20 minutes, so Neha wanted to stay. I’m glad we did, it was really interesting. There were only 3 temple workers, us, and then 2 other people. We just sat criss-cross on the ground during the ceremony. One worker played a drum, another worker chanted songs, and the other worker did the ceremony with the three idols. It started off by blowing into a conch shell three times. Then I think he was feeding all the idols, then he fanned them all, then did some other hand motions I don’t understand to them all. During the ceremony, he came over and sprinkled holy water on each of our heads, then brought a handful of petals for us to smell, and gave us girls each a small handful of petals, then brought over a fire oil lamp with a lot of flames and had us wash the steam over our heads with our hands. At the end, we all kneeled with our heads on the ground, the others lied prostrate on the ground, but Neha said it was fine for us to kneel. The whole thing lasted about 20 minutes. At the end, we gave a donation, and the worker gave us each a handful of flowers and a handful of small white round sugar candy. Neha popped them all in her mouth. I put in one to try it and I about gagged so I hid the rest in my purse and Matt handed off his to me. Neha showed us where to put the flowers outside.  I was so exhausted after the long eventful day, we chatted a lot more in the car, and fell right asleep when we got back to the hotel.

Friday, November 11, 2011

India- Day 6

Day 6

Since I finished and passed the Level 2 instructor training, this day was for “master trainer” training. One of the main reasons for needing to come to India was so that I could be trained to train other teachers.  Anu picked me up on her motorbike this morning- I wish I could have gotten a picture of this. Anu trained me one on one all day. It went really well. Anu told me I passed, so now the whole SIP program in the US depends on me successfully training new teachers. Ah! Luckily the program is still really small and we may not need any new teachers for at least a few months. After I passed the training, Anu said we would eat with everyone in the office as a kind of “welcome to the club.” It was fun- but really overwhelming! She had ordered me take out again (this time- chipati), and almost everyone else had brought food from home. Everybody shares food, so they first each piled a spoonful of their food onto my plate (I was the only one eating on a plate, everybody else mostly ate out of the metal cylinder containers, or off the lids of the containers.) I had SO MUCH food, I was struggling to get it all down! Everybody wanted me to tell them how their food was. They each passed around their food to everyone else at the table too, and would tell people to take more of theirs.  Almost everybody’s food was some combination of the same ingredients- something made of rice (or in the rare case like chipati- made with wheat), then topped with some kind of chutney that has some really spicy peppers and tomatoes, onions, lentils, and usually cardamom.  Everybody was laughing hard and having a great time, but I couldn’t follow any of the conversation, even though some of it was in English. I did a lot of smiling and nodding. Anu explained that there were 5 different languages being spoken at the table. Some people speak Tamil (the local dialect) some speak Hindu (the official language) some speak Bangalore, I can’t remember the others, and then everybody speaks at least some English, since it is always taught in school. They all seem to be very close with each other, despite their own language barriers. I noticed that sometimes while they are working, somebody will take a phone call and can’t understand the language spoken, so they need to hand off the phone to Anu or somebody who can speak Tamil.

After we ate, Anu gave me a ride over to the other SIP office down the street. Even though it was just a few blocks away, there were so many neat things I saw on the streets. A few cows with crazy painted horns (remember cows are sacred here so they are many of them that roam the streets), and some really small temples, like the size of a closet. You can tell they are temples because they are usually especially colorful on the outside and have a lot of idols, figurines, and flower garlands adorning the doorway. If you can see inside, you can see the shrine and the idol(s) inside. Everybody was really nice at the office and asked again how I liked the birthday celebrations. I guess they had sent some of the pictures of the cake on my face to my boss, and he got kind of upset with them and explained how we don’t do that in America. Haha! I told them I actually liked it and thought it was funny. They were relieved. They introduced me to Neha again, and she explained that they have arranged a car for us so she would take Matt (they all call him Matthew here) and I out site seeing all day Friday. Yay! She had been working on the itinerary for the day all morning, and it sounded like a lot of fun.  Everybody also had heard that Matt wasn’t feeling well the night before, so they all asked about him and wanted to know how the dinner went.

After Anu dropped me off back at the hotel, Matt told me he had arranged for us to get massages and facials at a spa in town! We weren’t able to do it on my birthday because of all the impromptu celebrations, but he said he still wanted to take me. The Sowkhyra spa was pretty nice but I didn’t think any of the smells were very good. They all smelled like burnt almond to me. The experience itself was…. An experience to say the least. All I will say was that it started with having oil poured all over my head, and ended with having a 16 year old girl give me a bath.  I have done a lot of weird things in my life, but this was pretty high up there. Matt and I were separated the whole time (being treated by men) so I was actually really worried about him, but he seemed to take it a little better than I did, haha. Also, he didn’t get the personal bath.
We had planned to go to dinner at a place called Baan Thai that looked close to Sowkhyra. This whole thing was very typical. We flagged down a rikshaw (Neha told me it is usually better to just say “rik” or “auto”) and asked him to take us to Baan Thai. He nodded his head (meaning is indiscernible) but he didn’t seem to protest when we got in, so we thought he knew what we were talking about. Really, on the map, it looked like it was just down the street. We just didn’t want to walk since it was dark out and traffic is pretty freaky. He drove for a minute, then asked us to show him the address that Matt had written down. He head bobbed again, so we thought things were good. He drove for maybe 5 more minutes then stopped in the middle of the road (blocking tons of traffic) and jumped out to ask a stranger for directions (again, very typical). He would drive for a couple more minutes, then stop again to ask for directions. This happened 3 or 4 times, and it seemed like everybody was giving him directions. We circled the same few streets again. Finally somebody who spoke decent English saw that we were lost and asked where we were going. He said Baan Thai had closed a few years ago. Ah! Their website looked up and running, but I guess that didn’t mean anything. Made sense though. I felt bad for making the driver go in circles, but he was really good natured about it. We just gave up so told him to take us back to the hotel, which he found with no problems.  We just ate at the hotel buffet (we have complimentary breakfast and dinner) which we’ve decided just isn’t very good. Every other place we have eaten has had much better food than the hotel. Matt hates it, so he ordered some French fries when we got back to the room J I got to video chat with Stephanie for a little bit also!! So fun to see her and little M, who gets cuter every time I see her.  Thanks everybody for the concern about our digestion- we are actually doing fine now. It seems we have adjusted to the food as well as the time. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

India- Day 5. Birthday edition!

Day 5

I had the most memorable birthday!! Words do not describe how incredibly kind and thoughtful people have been to me.
To begin the day, Anu picked me up on her motorbike. She took part of the sash from her saree to tie up her hair like a bandanna and told me to hop on the back. People on the streets seemed pretty amused watching me ride on the back! Lots of people smiled and waved. When we got to SIP, every single person working in the office shook my hand (shaking hands is big here) and said "happy birthday" and something like "many more happy returns on the day" or "may god bless your next year" or "i hope there are many more happy birthdays to follow this one" (I hope so too!). Sankari had brought me a very nice card and a present! She had remembered that I was asking about the bindi the day before (the dots on the women's foreheads) so she got me my very own set of bindi!! They are sparkly stick on ones. When she gave it to me, she said "don't feel bad though, i took some off to use before I gave it to you" Haha. Anu also got me a card and gift! She got me a vase/candleholder. So so nice.
 It was the last day of training, and it went really well. Matt showed up just before lunch to say happy birthday :) They ordered food for him as well since he was there. I had something like idlimpam (small cakes of thin rice noodles topped with more sambar) and matt had utimpam (I have no idea how any of this food is spelled). Matt is having a really hard time with the food now- he is craving good meat and is pretty sick of indian food already. When we were sitting there talking, Matt asked Sankari if it was normal for the temple workers to ask for money. She about died laughing. She said " NO! You only can put a few rupees on the tray, and it is whatever you wish they should not comment, and they should NOT ask you for money!" She smacked her forehead with her hand and said "I'm so sorry India has a big problem!"

After lunch, we went back to training for an hour and then it became party time! One of the girls that works in the office brought in a big cake box. I really couldn't believe it was for me until they opened it up and it had my name on it! Anu had remembered me saying the first day that I like strawberries, so she had a strawberry topping put on the cake. I think "Many more happy returns on the day Emily" was written on top of the cake :) I'll post all these pictures when we get back, don't worry. So, they had all the employees from the office come in, AND all the employees from the other SIP office down the street. I overheard a couple people say something like "oh make sure to take a before and after picture!" but i didn't really know what they meant yet. Everybody sang Happy Birthday to me, and then they had an extra verse also! The extra verse is "May god bless you emily, may god bless you emily, may god bless you dear emily, may god bless you emily" (sung to the same tune) isn't that nice?. So after the song, I blew out the candle, and they told me to cut the cake. I cut the first piece, and was about to serve it on a plate and they said "no no, you have to feed each other the bites!" I guess it is tradition. So I fed matt a bite of cake with my hands, and he fed me a bite (felt like our wedding day all over again!) Anu fed me a strawberry. THEN they took turns smearing cake on my face! I was laughing pretty hard, and also thinking "I really hope this is a real Indian tradition and not a joke!" They took lots of pictures of me with cake on my face :) Afterwards I (half)jokingly said "So does everybody get cake on the face or is this special treatment for visitors?" They thought that was pretty funny and they said "no no! everybody gets it! we were better to you- usually we cover your entire face!"
They also brought me in a big oversized card that everybody in the office had signed and written a nice note on. I really felt so special!

After the birthday celebrations, we went back for a couple more hours of training, and then took the final assessment. I passed with flying colors! woot woot! I had practiced a lot before coming, so I was glad that it paid off. Sankari had her husband pick us up from training in his car and drop me off at the hotel. I'm going to miss her!
We had only been back at the hotel for about 30 minutes when there was a knock on the door. It was hotel management with ANOTHER birthday cake! Shannugar (who helped arrange things for our stay) had heard it was my birthday so he asked for them to send us a cake. This one was chocolate and it said "Happy birthday Morris Emily Lonas" on the top- haha! We were already so full of the 1st cake...we didn't know if we could eat another one. I took one bite and decided to save it for later. At SIP, some of the girls asked what we were planning on doing that night to celebrate. I told them that I just want to go out to eat someplace good. We were planning on going to a  place Matt had heard about called Barbecue Nation, but they hadn't heard of it so didn't think it was good...they said "Oh you have to go to the Rooftop, you want us to make reservations?" I said sure. So they told Shannugar to make reservations at 8pm. Matt was feeling pretty ill that night (more stomach issues) so when it got close to 8 he wasn't really feeling up for it. I had had plenty of birthday fun for the day so I said it was fine, we could just skip dinner. We were already exhausted anyways so we got ready for bed. JUST as we were laying down, the phone rang. Shannugar wanted to check if we would make it to the restaurant okay. I told him Matt wasn't feeling well and he said "oh, I will come right away to check on him, does he need to go to the hospital?" I said "no, he'll be fine, we have medicine with us he'll just sleep it off" Shannugar said, "Oh so you won't make dinner?? But there is one more surprise...maybe it will have to wait til next year" Ok ok, I felt guilt tripped. I said "you know, I think matt's medicine is kicking in, we'll get ready and be there in 20 minutes" Luckily, the medicine matt took DID kick in on time. He wasn't feeling great, but he was alright. Shannugar ended up picking us up in his car since he was worried about Matt walking while sick :) He dropped us off at The Accord Hotel (location of restaurant, which is actually called Pergola but everyone seems to call it the Rooftop since it is on the highest level" It was a pretty swanky hotel! I think it is the nicest hotel in Chennai- it boasts being the tallest, with the highest view of the city. We rode the elevator up to the top floor and when it opened a lady greeted me by saying "hello, happy birthday madam." ah why yes thank you....I was feeling pretty V.I.P.!  The restaurant is famous for its chinese food, so that is what we ordered. Chicken Gong Bao, peanut chicken skewers and crispy prawns. It was delicious! And then for the last surprise....They brought out ANOTHER BIRTHDAY CAKE! Seriously- I had 3 birthday cakes. The waiter that brought it over said he would take pictures of the feeding. Good thing we learned this tradition earlier in the day or we would have made total fools of ourselves in this nice restaurant :) We fed each other bites while he took pictures. Luckily he didn't pressure Matt to smear cake on my face again!
It ended up being a great night so we were glad we got out of bed for the third birthday cake surprise of the day. 
On top of all the wonderful surprises from India, Matt of course made me feel special as well. He's always so thoughtful and caring. Thank you everybody for the birthday e-mails and facebook posts! I didn't get a chance to read them until later today but they all made me so happy! Thank you thank you! 
I am really just enthralled with this place...I'm a day behind on the updates now, but I promise I will keep them coming! Thanks for reading and for all the fun comments on the earlier posts!
Also, Matt did some other exploring while I was in training that morning, but he is asleep now so I'll have to get his stories later.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

India- Day 4

Day 4

Doing better, we only woke up at 4 am! It's actually nice having long lazy mornings. We are thinking that when we get back home we'll try to adopt a 8pm-4am sleeping schedule so that we can go to the gym and read and have more relaxing mornings :) Breakfast was...weird again. Idli is growing on me.. it is a puffy white disk made of rice, that looks like styrafoam, and kind of tastes like it when it's plain, but then you put chutneys and sambar on it, and it's pretty good. The American breakfast food offered was baked beans...ha! We have learned to just avoid the meat, it is pretty gross. Most people here are vegetarians anyways, so there are a lot more vegetarian options. After breakfast, Anu picked me up in her rikshaw taxi to go to training. I am obsessed with their clothes here. First of all, they look so comfortable, they even call one type of clothing their "pajamas" which makes sense since they are loose pants and a long loose top. I love the long draping fabric, it looks like wearing a blanket across your chest and shoulders all day. The colors are usually rich, vibrant jewel tones, and the patterns are so unique.  Anu always looks so graceful and elegant. The women wear lots of gold jewelry which I love also. It seems like most of them wear a big ring also. Anu's is a big snake ring, and Saisankari has a big opal ring. Plus, they learn British English so even if they don't speak very well, it seems very proper. Everything is "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am". 

Training felt long today! I work much faster than Saisankari so I have a lot more breaks of waiting. We did some role play teaching, that was kind of fun.  For lunch, Anu said she would order me something good. I can tell she is a foodie, so I trusted whatever she would order. I can't remember the name of the food, something like gottampuri, it was kind of like a big rice pancake with big chunks of onion. I liked it! Anu wanted me to try every sauce and chutney they offered so she got me 6 different kinds! She would spoon on each chutney one at a time, then ask me how I liked it. Most of them were really good. Saisankari wanted me to try her food as well- curd rice with red pepper spices. It was really really spicy. She thought it was funny that it made my nose run, and she laughed and said "well what spices do you use in America? no red pepper?" Anu had brought food she cooked at home and wanted me to try that too. It was rice with some kind of round green vegetable, like big dark green peas. I asked her what kind of vegetable and she just said "bitter vegetable" mm yummy. It was bitter but tasted good with the sauce. She had also ordered dessert, it was made from mashed up rice mixed with ghee and ground cashews.  It was really sweet and sugary so obviously I ate a lot.

Saisankari is very entertained by my questions... I was asking her more about the clothing and I commented that most of the men just seem to wear pants and a shirt. She pointed to my outfit (slacks and a blouse) and said, "Yes, the men dress like you" haha! I told her that sometimes I see men wearing those man skirts though. She said "a skirt?? here in India??" I said, "yeah...they are usually white, sometimes tied up at the knees, but sometimes long..." She was still so confused so I drew her a picture. She laughed so hard she couldn't breath and almost fell off her chair. She said, "That's not a skirt!!!! That's a doti!!!" I was like "ok... but it looks exactly the same as a skirt!" And she said "no! A skirt is for women! Men wear dotis!" I still don't really know if she realized that a doti essentially IS a skirt.

After training, Saisankari dropped me off back at the hotel. Matt opened the door with a big red pigment mark on his forehead! He had visited Besant Nagar temple today AND went to Marina Beach and Elliott's beach. He made friends with the driver, named Elongo. His day sounded more eventful than mine!  Matt says: The temples are colorful and very ornate. Elongo talked to the temple gaurd and got me in for free. I asked him to watch my tennis shoes so they weren't left outside to be stolen. The temple had about 8 different stations and the pathway made sure you visited each one. As i made my way to the first one, 3 temple workers called me over and began blessing me with a rose and chalk. I didn't follow what they said but I put my hand on the oils in a small gold cup when necessary. They would reveal something about the statue in front of me then put a plate in front of me for offerings. I didn't mind sharing a few dollars at the first station, but come to find out they want a few more dollars at every station! One temple worker came up to me and she was small and introduced herself by saying "i'm a temple worker, give me money" That was quite the introduction! She asked for American dollars. I didn't have any, so she said ok then give me Indian rupees. Fine. I left the temple and checked out Elliott's beach, Elongo explained that it had been hit hard by a tsunami last year- the damage was very visible. A lot of people hanging out on the beach in groups, but they don't get in the water. They stay fully clothed and just dip their feet in. Most everywhere I go people stare. As soon as somebody pulls alongside me in a motorcycle they make a face at me and make sure to say "hello!". Overall, my favorite part was riding around in the rikshaw all over town.

Me again: I'm jealous I didn't get to go with him! But I guess I knew he would be out exploring and having fun while I was in training. Saisankari told me that every time you visit the temple they mark your forehead with the ashes or red pigment. Interesting when you think about it. I wonder if we would go to the temple more or less if we walked around with marks on our forehead for everybody to see. We are getting a little better at reading the body language. Shaking head no actually means they are agreeing with you. Usually. For dinner we had dosa again, more pulao, some fried rice, and some different kinds of curries. Dessert was coconut sorbet and it was deeelicious. 

We walked to the bank to try and cash our checks once again, and it was unsuccessful. We had most of the bank employees gather around us and stare as we tried to explain. I showed the woman working the checks and she said "hold on I'll call" She made a really really long phone call then hung up and said "we can't cash them" She gave us a phone number to call and said we'd have to travel 20 mins so we just gave up. We'll just continue using the ATM I guess. People here are really very friendly. They stare, but when we smile and wave back they are very nice and want to know where we're from and if it's our first time in India. The poverty on the streets is really sobering. It's hard to see babies lying on cracked sidewalks with emaciated women hovering over trying to feed them. It's everywhere. We have read that they often drug babies to keep them asleep and then young girls take turns with the drugged sleeping babies to beg on the streets. I guess a sleeping baby is supposed to be more effective than a crying awake baby. So so sad, and we have already seen this a few times. It really breaks my heart.
The New Delhi cricket team checked into our hotel last night, Matt talked to one of the players in the hotel about their upcoming game with the home team- Tamil Nadu. We barely managed to stay awake until 9 pm- I think we are finally getting on schedule.

Monday, November 7, 2011

India- Day 3

I realized the other post was actually Days 1-2 so here is Day 3.

Day 3

I was so exhausted by the time we went to sleep (around 8pm or so) last night, I thought for sure we would sleep through the night. Not so. I woke up at 12:30 am and Matt woke up around 3:30 am... even after taking sleeping aids we could NOT get back to sleep! Que the two hour minesweeper marathon...When it was finally a somewhat acceptable time to get up, we went downstairs to see if we could get some help with the traveler's checks we have yet to cash. The man at the desk told us we cannot cash traveler's checks here or anywhere. (Recall that pesky little communication barrier) Hmm, weird I thought they were called traveler's checks for a reason.

We were first for the 7:30 am breakfast buffet! These people like their food spicy! We tried to sample a little bit of everything from the south Indian cuisine (things I remember from breakfast= vegetable korma, peas pulao, and some flat rice crepe with chutney). I was still feeling pretty famished so we were very glad to see some recognizable breakfast pastries as well. I'm sure the waiters thought we were pigs as we went back for third and fourth helpings of "chocolate donuts" and "croissants" (the scare quotes are because this is what they were called, but you never would have guessed it from the taste!) They had poured us water from a pitcher (i.e. not a water bottle) for breakfast, and we had been told SO many times to not drink the water unless you see it being opened from a water bottle AND hear the seal break, so we didn't drink any. Our waiter didn't seem to notice as he kept coming and filling our glasses higher and higher with water! It is so important to me to not offend people here, so I couldn't bring myself to ask for bottled water. I realize now that this sounds ridiculous, but it just would have seemed really awkward at the time. When we thought nobody was looking we would swig some water from the bottle I had in my purse to wash down the spicy food!

After breakfast there was another girl working at the reception desk, so we asked her where we should cash the traveler's checks. She seemed to know what we were talking about, and she said the bank down the street would be able to at 10 am. Unfortunately, this would be after I left for training, so we STILL haven't been able to use the checks!
Dinesh called and said he would send a driver to pick me up at 9:50. That time came and went and then he called back and said the driver didn't make it (I'm sensing a theme here with drivers just not showing up) so that he would come get me with his driver in a little bit. Dinesh is incredibly nice and gave us a very warm welcome. I had heard from my boss that he is very talkative and opinionated and that is definitely true! He said that Matt was welcome to come with us to SIP headquarters, and as he drove us there he told us about all the detailed weather patterns and geography of the region. When we got inside, he gave us a brief tour of the office space. The building would be considered very run down and old from what we're used to, but the people working there almost all spoke english and dressed very nice. Everybody was working in the dark which I thought was strange. (Matt just informed me it was because the power was out) they would work on their laptops in the dark. Dinesh sat us down in an office and talked to us all about the mission and goals of SIP. He has a thick accent and talks really fast, but I think I caught about 80% of what he said. He then talked about everything from those darn lazy American kids to different parenting styles, to his philosophy on learning. Very informative. He is very blunt and even said "I know Americans don't like to talk so straight foward because they are always scared of getting caught or sued or something, but I don't care, even though people tell me to be successful in America I need to be more diplomatic...I guess I will just stay in India where I fit in!"

He introduced me to the woman who would be training me, Anu, who is a "master abacus trainer", and another teacher named Saisankari (from Chennai) who was there for training like me. I was glad I had practiced a lot over the last few weeks! Not to brag, but I'm totally going to. On the first assessment I got a 99% (compared to the other teacher's 76%). At the end of the 7 hour training, Anu literally gave me 3 gold star stickers, and gave the other teacher only 1 star and told her to keep working to get the other two. I actually felt kind of bad at this point, but she didn't seem to mind she just laughed and smiled and said she would do lots of homework tonight. Matt was hanging around in the room for most of this, reading, and dozing off sometimes, then he went for a walk for a little bit. I have no idea if this is common or not, but Anu had a personal assistant who would bring her food and drinks all day! Mid-morning, he brought us all in some cucumber and carrot salad (we were told that salad is another big no-no) but I seriously could not just let it sit there when she was so excited to bring it to us. So I ate it. I noticed Matt let his sit there for a long time, and then picked up his plate and said he was going to go eat it outside. Yeah right! Pretty sure he flushed it down the toilet or something but he wouldn't tell me. Anu ordered us all lunch from a take out place. She said she would order for us, and try to get something that wasn't too spicy. She got us masala dosa (a big crepe made from rice, filled with potato, and topped with different types of chutneys) and veggie fried rice. It was really really good! Not spicy still meant my eyes were watering and my nose was running, but I liked it. The food was way better than anything we’ve had  at the hotel so far. Matt describes eating the food here as having instant fire in the belly, and it is so true. Pretty much the second the food goes down, your stomach just burns. I have been trying to keep up with my lactaid and antacids and other vitamins. I feel like every meal is food vs. pills. And the food is definitely winning right now.

After lunch, Matt went back to the hotel and I noticed that Saisankari got much more talkative after he left. When we had breaks, we were able to talk quite a bit. Her English was very broken, but we still managed to have some good conversations! She asked what we did yesterday, and I told her we went shopping at T. Nagar and she couldn’t believe we had gone on a Sunday because it is so crowded on the weekends. She asked if people stared at us, and I laughed and said “yeah, but it’s okay I know we look different!” And she said, “I know when I see a white I feel bad but I just need to stare because it is so interesting!” I told her that when we see people dressed in sarees in America it’s hard for us not to stare too. She thought that was hilarious. She told me a funny story about when she saw “some whites” at a tourist attraction in Chennai and one of the women was sunbathing in the afternoon wearing a two piece. She was so concerned for this woman's health that she went and asked her if she should move. I wasn’t sure if she was more upset by the two piece in public, or by the fact that she was out in the heat of the afternoon. She said something about white skin not being meant for afternoon sun, and that she would fry herself and get sick. She asked me what happens to my skin if I go in the sun. I told her I try to wear sunscreen, but if I forget sometimes it turns tan and sometimes it gets red. She thought that was funny too.
I wish I could say more details about the abacus training, it was REALLY interesting and I learned a lot, but I’ll save that for my coworker since it probably isn’t quite as interesting to everybody else. I took lots of notes though, and can’t wait to show the kids all the new stuff I’ve learned (everything from breathing practices to visualization techniques to stretches to skill exercises, etc…) After training was over, Anu asked Saisankari to share a cab with me and drop me off on her way home. I could tell as we walked out of the building that she was self-conscious about being seen with me! She told me she would get me to the hotel safely, as she grabbed my arm and told me to follow her across the street to get to a taxi. Crossing the street is no small feat. At one point we were literally sandwiched between two fast busses, I gasped, and she just laughed and told me when to run.

Saisankari was very nice when she dropped me off she wanted to make sure I got into the hotel ok and that I remembered my room number J. I DID remember the room number but when I got to it Matt was so fast asleep that he didn’t hear me knocking for about 5 minutes! He has actually been in and out of sleep ever since I got back, I gave up trying to keep him up. When he opened his eyes he was looking pretty dead still. We ended up just skipping dinner and falling asleep around 8pm….so here we are awake again at 4 am. I have lots of homework to do before training starts again at 10 am!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

India- Days 1 and 2

Disclaimer: This is very long and detailed, and mostly for journaling purposes! My mom said she'd like detailed updates, and I thought Matt's parents might also. Anybody is free to read, but feel free to skip also!

Days 1-2

Our trip here was fairly uneventful. Of course  on the flight from DC to Frankfurt we had the classic baby crying for 2 hours, and the large man sitting next to me who took up all of his space and about half of mine. By the time we got to Frankfurt our sense of time was already pretty turned around. When we asked an employee what time it was, she said "7 o clock" and we were so confused that we had to ask "morning or night?" The flight to India went by a lot faster, mostly because we slept the whole time. The airline we flew on, Lufthansa, was pretty nice. They gave us a lot of food, and drinks every hour or so. For dinner we had our first Indian food, which my stomach just wasn't quite ready for yet....
We got to Chennai around midnight, and made it through customs pretty easily, especially since we hadn't checked any baggage (that's right- we packed for 10 days in just two carry-ons and a purse and backpack!)
The hotel had confirmed that they would pick us up at the airport and would have a sign with my name on it. We saw a group of about 10-20 drivers holding signs inside, none of them were mine, so we went outside to try our luck. Oh boy. There was a huge aisle with at least 150-200 people surrounding, lots of them holding signs with names, everyone telling us to get in a cab with them. When we tried explaining that we already had a car waiting, they would say "oh yeah, that's me!" But as soon as we would tell anybody our car was pre-paid they would say "oh bye bye!" We carefully looked at each and every sign- no luck. As we got to the end we started getting nervous, but nothing had my name on it. We walked back through 3 or 4 times and found nothing. Every driver holding a western sounding name would shove it in my face and say "you jane? come with me let's go!" and try to grab our bags. We tried telling the guy who looked like he was in charge of the transportation that we were going to benzz park. His response "benzz park? i know where that is you're supposed to come here with me." Hm probably not... We went and asked a security person where to find a phone (even though we didn't have the number of our hotel on us... oops). He pointed us in the right direction, and when we got there, a man said "oh yeah this is where the phones used to be. not anymore" ahh. He was kind enough to let us borrow his cell phone, he even called for us, got the number for our hotel, then called the hotel and told them they forgot to pick us up. He said he would have a driver for us in 20 minutes. He seemed nice enough, so we trusted he wasn't part of a crime ring.  Nothing like waiting in the middle of the night outside an airport! The mosquitos were in full force, so by morning Matt questioned whether we had already contracted malaria :) The driver did come and safely deliver us to the hotel. First thing we learned: rules of Indian driving. They are:
Get in car. Honk horn twice (just to make sure it's working). Start car. Honk when you see another car, honk to get around cars, honk if you turn a corner, and most importantly, if there's a red light, then lay on the horn and blow right through it. And, when it's night, double the amount of honking. It's really loud outside!

 We got checked in and to our room, the people at the hotel have been very friendly so far. We finally got to sleep around 2:30 am...then woke up 10 hours later to the phone ringing. It was Dinesh (My boss's business partner here in India, who has coordinated my stay here). He had called to make sure everything was ok so far, and he gave me his cell phone number to call in case I needed anything today. Matt said he was feeling alert and awake, but I still felt like the walking dead. We went down to the hotel restaurant for lunch, and they were doing a buffet. I was already suffering from indigestion, so I was struggling with what I should eat. It took us about 1 minute to realize we were the only white people in the hotel...everyone at the restaurant seemed very interested in us. I was having a hard time not staring myself, because the women here dress so beautifully. The sarees are so ornate, and the nose rings and jewelry...everything is just beautiful. There was an engagement party going on in the restaurant which was neat to see. Everybody else was mostly eating with their hands, but we stuck with the utensils since they had them on the table. I already forgot the names of most of the food we ate... a few different kinds of rice with vegetables, some spicy chicken curry dishes (actually everything is spicy) and some "hong kong chicken". The naan here is delicious. For dessert we had mango sorbet and some asian tasting cakes (Stephanie you know- the sugarless chinese variety...)

After lunch we walked down the street to find an atm. We had brought traveler's checks with us, but the hotel said they couldn't cash them until Monday. The bank looked closed but when somebody nearby saw that we wanted to go in, he ran over and opened the door to let us in. 
In general, we are having a really hard time communicating with people! Mostly everybody at the hotel speaks english, but we still can't understand much. Their body language is so different, and they all do the classic Indian bobbing head...we never know when they are asking a question or not... so Matt and I usually just look at each other and then try to piece together whatever parts each of us understood. We took a little rikshaw taxi to T. Nagar, the big shopping market, and walked around for a few hours. Everything is pretty cheap, so shopping is great! I am so amazed at all the women's clothing. I had heard the big Indian cities are pretty westernized, so I didn't know what to expect. Most of the men wear pants and a dress shirt (some in man skirts), but pretty much all the women are in colorful elaborate sarees. I am sure we stuck out like sore thumbs, lots of people were staring at us :) We went into one of the bigger multi-level stores and looked at some saree fabric, the girls working there were so sweet. After giggling and pointing for a bit, a group of them came over to us and asked us in english where we were from, and what are names were. One of them said, "you two- very handsome!" When they would talk to Matt, they would then look at each other and giggle and blush. The streets are SO CROWDED!  It is both exhilarating and overwhelming to be pushed along through streets flooded with trash in a sea of people. So many smells and colors. We saw two other white people while we were out- 2 college aged backpackers who spotted us and yelled "hey! white people!" hahaha.

After shopping, we found a park (which would have been quiet except for the music being blasted from the center and surrounding honking from the streets) and sat and talked for awhile. We caught a taxi back to our hotel and took turns in the big massage chair in our room! We are still recovering from the jet lag so we are trying to get to bed really early. Matt has been discovering which televised sports he can get into far: cricket and field hockey. The TV in our room mostly shows Bollywood style music videos. It looks like the only American shows that made it here are "Wipeout" and "The X Factor"- good to see the best of America represented! We just ordered up room service for dinner (gotta take advantage of the room service for 2 people for about 10 bucks!). Since neither of our stomachs are doing too well, we thought we might tolerate something not spicy better, so we opted for American food. Yeah I am feeling like a lightweight but my digestion is struggling! interesting choice on the food. the french fries were actually pretty good, but the hamburger and sandwich were...questionable. It feels like so much has already happened, it's just so hard to soak everything in! Tomorrow I'll start some training at SIP Academy headquarters- hopefully it goes well! 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


1) My thesis defense is SCHEDULED! YES! November 16 at 2:30 pm. Mark your calendars folks. It will either be a really great day, or the worst day of my life. Let's go with the first. Either way I am going to buy myself a present.

2) We are leaving for INDIA this Friday! Long story short, my work is sending me for some intense abacus training, and Matt is coming with me. I am beyond excited. We'll be gone for 10 days, but it looks like our hotel has internet so hopefully we'll be able to touch base and post some pictures.