Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Chennai, University of Madras, India

Chennai, India.
We arrived here after a long flight but a comfortable one. John's assignment guaranteed him a business class ticket on the flights and somehow I managed to finagle my way to join him. On Continental we had very comfortable seats that leaned back to a horizontal position and on BA we had sort of little cubicles. When sitting I faced backwards but facing him like in a love seat, and then when reclined we were both completely horizontal. Wow! What a difference to be able to sleep through the flights. We left on Friday afternoon and arrived on the early hours of Monday somehow loosing a day.

We were both up and at it first thing for the conference opening. He then had to give the opening presentation while I went off and made new friends among the "accompanying" folks. There are four of us; one Indian lady with a 6 year-old daughter, a German who is a lot of fun (and laughs at all my jokes) and a charming Croatian lady.

This conference is held at the University of Madras. The name conjures aromas of hot curry but the city in which it is situated is now called Chennai. The University id situated in a large plot of natural forest of which only 20% has been utilized. The rest is like a breath of fresh air in a crowded city where 4 rows of traffic weave and flow down 2 lanes of black-top avoiding the occasional cow and brilliantly saried woman. All the women wear traditional clothes. I have noticed only one student in jeans. It is all flowing saris and three piece Punjabi that flutter as much with the "dupatta" or 2 meter long scarf that cascades across the shoulders.

This is our charming escort who is one of the Ocean Engineering students.

Monkeys and attractive spotted dear abound on the university grounds together with flocks of students, walking mostly on bicycles and little motorbikes and the occasional ox cart. There are few cars.

Yesterday there was a strike in favor of the Tamil Tigers who went to Sri Lanka and now want repatriation here in their home State of Tamil. At least that is what I think it is all about. It is sometimes hard to understand the local English especially when the speaker gets excited and talks fast. The public transportation was not going to operate and shops would be closed and we were told not to leave campus, so I planned to stay put. There was none of that so we just missed a fun day's outing.

I stayed at the University guest house for distinguished visitors. It was not as I had expected. I did get a second towel on request and some soap after a deal of pleading but no one can control the influx of mosquitoes from joining us through the permanently open bathroom window. Putting the fan on high does help but I worried that the force of propulsion might lift the ceiling.

Oh, another rather unusual system in this 24-room Guesthouse hotel, is that they post the names of each resident on scripted cards on a board so you know exactly which room they are in, and all the keys are out on the counter where you drop them off as you leave and can find them easily when you return.

The first of our little-group excursions was to the cultural Center where they had displays of the various regional homes showing the arts and cultures of that State. Interesting. I had my hand decorated with henna by a little old lady who did a dreadful job. I now have thick squiggles dribbling up the back of my hand instead of delicate swirls and filigree figures. No worry it will wear off in a week or two... or three!

The whole conference went to a dance school where we saw fantastic folk and classical Indian dances. The colors of the costumes were glorious but was out dazzled by the skill of the dancers. A good event that ended with good Indian food.

Ah, the food. Great Indian food. Great Indian food for lunch. Great Indian food for dinner. Great Indian food for breakfast. A little too much great Indian food. And not easy to get a cup of tea the way I like it. They make it rather like espresso; very strong and about an inch in the bottom of a cup then filled up with hot milk. I have made a deal with the kitchen here at the guesthouse; they make it "light" in a pot for me and serve the hot milk in a little jug. It works well. I love learning the differences.

All is well and we are having a very good time.

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