28 December 2007

Martyred in Pakistan

A poignant article from Salon.com one day after Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan was assassinated.

"The United States strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan's democracy," President Bush predictably told reporters in Crawford, Texas. "Those who committed this crime must be brought to justice." He's missing the point. This is not an episode of "Law & Order," where the killers have to be caught and punished. That would be the way to end the story of Benazir Bhutto.

If Washington and Islamabad are really serious about democracy in Pakistan, they would do better to heed the words of Indira Gandhi: "Martyrdom does not end something; it is only a beginning."

20 December 2007

Happy Christmas to all...

To those in Ontario, Alberta, NYC, Koriyama, PDX, Seattle, the UK, D.C., New Jersey, California, Florida, and India, I'm sending you my love and best wishes for the holidays.

Dave, you've got to read "The Night Before Christmas" by yourself this year. I know you can handle such a big responsibility. Take care of the Dons...they might be extra weepy come the 25th. Watch "Muppet Family Christmas," and kindly remind them that Gobo has always said "Eh" right before the final scene. I miss you guys so damn much!

18 December 2007

Maureen Elsey (McManus)

Maureen Elsey (McManus)

After a valiant struggle with dementia, Maureen Teresa Cecelia passed away peacefully in her sleep on Sunday December 16, 2007.

Mourning her loss are her five much loved children: Brent (Catherine), Dawn (Donald), Cathi, Mark (Laurie) and Scott (Matina). She also leaves her grandchildren: Douglas (Li), Sheila, Michael, Donna, Krystal, Ishmail, Jasmine, Jennifer, David, Garrett, Karlie, Mackenzie, Stephanie and Jamie all of whom she loved dearly. Maureen was predeceased by her husband Norman, grandson Richard, as well as her parents and siblings.

A celebration of Maureen’s life will be held at St. Laurence Anglican Church, 5940 Lakeview Drive SW, Calgary, on Monday January 21, 2007 at 1.30 PM with a reception to follow at The Glencoe Club, 636 – 29 Avenue SW Calgary.

A heartfelt and sincere thank you to the staff at Alberta Hospital Edmonton, Units 12-2B and 12-1 for the wonderful and compassionate care they provided to Maureen.

In honour of Maureen’s commitment to serve others, as a nurse and as a volunteer for many organizations, we ask that in lieu of flowers, donations can be forwarded to The Calgary Drop-in and Rehab Centre 423 – 4 Avenue SE Calgary, AB. T2G 0C8.

An Old Irish Blessing

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back

May the sunshine warm upon your face,

And rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

As my youngest cousin, Jamie, noted, "Now Grandma Moe can spend Christmas with Grandpa Norm."
We love you, and rest assured the clan will continue to be loud, boisterous
and - most importantly - together.

17 December 2007

Mother, May I?

May you please let us know if you will sell our books? May you please make a reservation for me at 6pm for two? May you please shut the hell up?

My boss today told me I have a "strange turn of phrase" in my apparently singular use of "May you please/May I please." Blogging co-worker told me she found it odd - in a good way. This is not the first time someone has pointed this out to me (my American employers at OHSU thought it was both archaic and grammatically incorrect - they were at least wrong on the latter account). But my entire extended family uses this phrase. I was taught, along with the generic "please" and "thank you," that an oft-placed "May I" was essential to good manners. In fact, I'm often taken aback by those who don't use the formal request in business, although it would appear I have inappropriately high expectations.

Manners are sexy. I was raised by generations of Brits - I'm genetically wired to think so.

15 December 2007

Running in the Red

Saturdays at the office. Not something you'd initially be excited about. Not something I was excited about when I woke up this morning. But after a banana smoothie and a good laugh at The Hindu's weekend "Gender" Section ("Air Kissing is in this month!"), I rallied my spirits and meandered into work. Besides, we only are supposed to work until 1:30pm on Saturdays...

Three interns, a production manager, a master printer, a secretary and a jack-of-all-trades convened upon the Tara office to do the last-minute mailings for a last-
minute and ridiculous book launch for our new title, Matchbook. I say ridiculous because the artist behind the book has insisted upon a glitzy, Bollywood-aspiring, pop-culture-aggrandizing party two days before Christmas. And it was our job on this beautiful and cool Sunday morning to stuff 1600 invitations into bright red envelopes, address and seal said envelopes, and then courier them to Mumbai. But after 2.5 hours at the office, the invitations still hadn't arrived from the printer.

At 1pm, after waiting around all morning, the invitations finally arrived. And they're actually quite stunning, very posh for a Bombay glitzorama - or whatever the lingo is for those in-the-know. So now we all hunkered down to stuff envelopes (typical intern work!). Imagine a sea of red envelopes, scattered glue sticks and Scotch tape (Indian envelopes don't come with glue), and seven hungry workers. Inevitably, we started talking about food, and before I knew it, I was online with Mr. A, our production manager, trying to figure out how to have Domino's pizza deliver to the office. Let m
e tell you, there is nothing quite like the nostalgia that comes from having two large pizzas delivered to your office in suburban Chennai, South India. I don't think pizza has ever tasted that good...

You can't read it, but the party is called "THE PYROMANIAC PARTY"
and features DJ WHOSANE!
Rumour has it that Bollywood's top actors might pop-in. Ha!
I'll be on a beach in Kerala.

14 December 2007

Reasons being...

So if you received an invite to my blog and are wondering why you didn't need this before, a brief explanation:

Turns out, a co-worker of mine at dear old Tara had a blog on which she posted exaggerative, sarcastic and often downright ugly things about her world. This happens to include her day to day work life. She gave everyone and everything a nickname (mostly hurtful). She was also stupid enough to leave a link to her blog on my roommate's blog, so of course I started to read it.To make a long and childish story short, after she started to mock me with content from my blog, I decided enough was enough. It is really quite a shame that my blog cannot be public right now, but if my words are going to be misconstrued and twisted by an immature young woman who hates her job, I've got to just remove her from my readership.

So I'm sorry about the extra step in coming here to read this damn thing. The internet is strange, strange place. And co-workers can be awful, even in India.

11 December 2007


The land of spirituality. A place to find yourself. The wellspring of god/enlightenment/peace/happiness.

We’ve all heard these euphemistic descriptions of India. I encountered them prior to my arrival, and I certainly am bombarded with them now that I am here. So many people from every nationality come to this place seeking solace, answers and inner change. While there is no doubt that India is imbued with spirituality, a land filled with seekers is not always a positive place in which to reside. Many come to India expecting her to fix their problems, to heal mental and emotional wounds, or to run away from lives and realities back home. On the other hand, pilgrims and devotees and yogis can be incredibly inspiring with their bhakti and dedication.

I’d recently felt a deep frustration that my life here felt – at times – rather mundane. Press releases and mailing christmas presents and budgeting are things I can do anywhere in the world. Working and residing in India is quite different from romantically, haphazardly backpacking around for months on end. Yet I’ve always been grateful that I am seeing India from a day-to-day urban perspective. Chennai is quite cultured, if barely cosmopolitan. What we lack in nightlife and liberal alcohol laws we make up for in classical music and dance. Still, I found myself feeling challenged by the fact that my India was, in many ways, a life quite ordinary. But I was simply missing the details.

About week ago, along the walk to work, a group of men began to build an enormous structure in the middle of the road. At first I thought it was a bus depot, then perhaps an impromptu wedding hall. It turns out it is a puja, or worship/ritual structure that has gone up in honour of an important pilgrimage that takes place this time of year. On Friday, this place was lit up and featured live musicians and various hawkers and the requisite firecrackers. There were 20ft tall images of the three important Hindu goddesses outlined in tiny coloured lights. And yesterday, as we three interns were trying to catch a rickshaw to a Tara book launch, we got stuck in the midst of a long parade. Well-dressed women and children carried oil lamps as the men danced around with drums and horns, and all moved ahead of a large deity processing on an oxcart. A brahmin priest sitting with the deity gave me ash for my forehead. And I smiled as I remembered why my life here will never be mundane. I merely have to open my eyes – something I can do anywhere in the world.

As if to reassert this point, Natalia convinced me to go to a Carnatic (classical South Indian style) music concert on the beach at 5:30 on Sunday morning. The (free) concert was to feature two of today’s most revered and talented professional vocalists, and was to be Chennai’s first professional sunrise seaside event. While I will typically sleep in until 11am or noon on a weekend, a small voice inside urged me to go. We rode our bikes to Kalekshetra, the dance academy/school near the shores of the Bay of Bengal. We then walked down a torch-lit path to the beach, where there were 300 other early risers mingling in the pre-dawn light. We settled on a mat just in front of the musicians, and listened to the most beautiful music as the sun rose over the ocean.

It was, by far, the most moving experience of my time here in India. The vocalists started by chanting Om and Sanskrit mantras to the sounds of crashing waves and accompanied by Indian violin and percussion. Then, as the light in the east grew brighter, so did their songs. They picked up the tempo, welcoming the day, as local fisherman wandered across the beach to hear the music. At one point, I felt compelled to envision myself doing the Sun Salutation (flowing series of yoga poses meant to honour the sun and invigorate your day). I breathed in time with each imagined pose, doing one complete salutation. I opened my eyes, looked towards the sunrise, and saw a dozen young yogis, all dressed in white, going through their own Sun Salutations. It was surreal!!! I felt so connected to my surroundings by the music and the environment and the yoga (real and imagined). What a beautiful way to start a Sunday!

07 December 2007

My new favourite site:

05 December 2007


New Habits:

- making coffee/tea for the office sometime between 4pm and 5pm. This involves querying one boss on his choice of beverage, remembering who wants sugar and who wants sweetener and who’s a diabetic, and generally having the same conversation at the same time every afternoon

- days on end of sobriety

- keralan martial arts at least twice a week, complete with mostly incoherent lecture from instructor (whom I am supposed to call “Master” – not yet a habit)

- half-heartedly tutoring a nine year old Korean boy twice a week, which means reading Captain Underpants or playing Hangman

- making bad puns (an influence of the local culture/office environment)

- text messaging Seattle several times a day

- cooking the occasional South Indian dish (this used to be much more habitual)

Old Habits That Die Hard:

- setting unreasonable exercise goals to be achieved at unreasonably early hours, and then snoozing through my alarm for an hour and a half

- going to bed after midnight every night

- inclinations to brownnose despite better judgment

- procrastinating at work

- inability to manage money

- inability to write friends and family back within a reasonable time frame

- enduring idealism

- habitual, compulsive planning

Another masterpiece from 3147...

So while most of you did not get to meet Dan Klockenkemper or Adam Stone (former Portland roomies), I think I bragged about them enough for everyone to know that I think the world of them both.

A month or so after we moved in, Dan purchased a ton of whiteboard from Home Depot and mounted a large piece on our kitchen wall. While ostensibly this was for roommate-to-roommate notes, we really ended up using it for impromptu art projects and as a way to tell one another when one of us had last fed the neighborhood cat. This cat, whom we call Frank Larson (long story), managed to convince every house on the street that he had been abandoned and desperately needed food. Actually, come to think of it, that's not too different from our office dog, Mooji.

Today Dan sent me the latest collaborative effort from 3147. I
t's called "The Frank Larson Story." Enjoy:

03 December 2007

Tesla Schaeffer is the love of my life.

In a recent e-mail to Tesla, I wrote:

"Life has been crazy, in completely different but completely empathetic ways from your craziness. India and I are wrestling like Jacob and his god, but to continue the metaphor, it is a struggle in love."

Today she writes me:
"wrestle away, my love. thats where god is. and in those moments when both you and india herself are lying sweat-drenched, black and blue and wasted on the ground, kiss her and tell her that you love her."

It makes me cry with gratitude to have a friend like Tes. (Her graduate school proposal is also brilliant - Get Ready, World!)

01 December 2007

The Dons and their toys

So Dawn Abel is the cutest woman alive. And yes, she had my dad spray-paint her crutches so they wouldn't be so damn ugly. But she chose lime green, which for me raises a few questions about what she deems "ugly" in the first place.
When my mom got in her motorcycle accident, my brother and I jokingly told my parents that they were to sell the motorcycles and purchase a Ford Shelby Mustang or some equivalent. Obviously they took us seriously. This picture explains why my father is the luckiest man alive:

27 November 2007

Happy Birthday, Ari Phillips!

Today, in celebration of fellow intern Ari Phillips' 24th birthday, he and I woke up early and rode our bikes to the Rajaji Bhavan. There, we were told we could buy train tickets for our planned trip to Kerala (southwest India, on the Arabian Sea). But as it turned out, all regular seats were sold out, and while there were evidently tourist-quota seats available (seats reserved for foreign tourists), you can only reserve these seats at Chennai Central Station, 20km to the north.

So we rode to work, "surprised" Ari with a batman birthday hat and shiny garland, and my boss made him a fruit pie/cake. Then we geared up to take the suburban train for the first time all the way to Central Station.

The train itself was a lovely (and free - there's really no place to buy tickets at our stop because the train station was never completed...it's a half-finished construction zone) respite from the autos and buses, even if it felt a bit 1920's the whole ride north.

We arrive at Central Station, stumble around a bit among the crowds, go up two flights in an adjacent building to a small, air-conditioned office specifically for tourists, where they proceed to inform us that unlike the office we were in this morning, they do not accept credit cards. Foreign tourists must pay in US dollars or UK pounds, or in Indian rupees if your rupees come with a receipt proving you changed US dollars or UK pounds into rupees while in India. Needless to say, we had none of this. We had Rs.800 ($20) and no proof that we didn't make these rupees in our suburban Chennai flat.

Nor could we buy tickets, because they were all sold out. Ari could buy a ticket from Hampi to Chennai in January, but he had no way to get to Chennai. So we returned home, again via the unintentionally free train, as it began to rain gently.

Chumbawumba comes to mind: "I get knocked down, but I get up again, 'cause you're never gonna keep me down." They love this song in India. I can see why.

Plan as of 4:00pm today:
Friday, December 21: 8am flight from Chennai to Trivandrum, 2 hour bus to Varkala, where we will stay at the Bamboo Haven Resort. I get to stay in a bamboo cottage overlooking the Arabian Sea, surrounded on all other sides by leafy jungle.
Monday, December 24: Bus to Cochi/Kochi/Cochin/Kochin, where there is the largest midnight Christmas Mass in India. We'll be staying at the Fort House.
Tuesday, December 25: I leave Ari to fend for himself for two weeks, and I fly back to Chennai on Christmas Night. Kingfisher Airways. Just too posh.

The things we do for the holidays.

23 November 2007

"So may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten"

“Oh, well, these are night thoughts produced by walking in the rain after two thousand years of Christianity.” – Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller

I think “Sodom, South Georgia” and “Upward Over the Mountain” by Iron and Wine are two incredibly beautiful songs. Bluegrass and the banjo sustain me here in India.

What does it mean to have never had your heart broken? Are you cold and impenetrable? Are you merely practical to a fault? Or are you just biding your time before the inevitable, horrible moment when your steadiness comes falling down around you? Is the broken heart a human, all too human right of passage? Or just a convention in chickflicks and chick-lit and the self-help section in Barnes and Noble? I remember when I used to look to each new relationship with an almost masochistic sense of expectation, half-hoping this would be the individual who would finally break my heart, finally get the ordeal over with. I also used to think I couldn’t really be a writer until someone had shattered me to the core. Now I’m wondering if I ever have to have a broken heart. Can’t we actively seek out those people who will be kind to our hearts – and if they start to mishandle our emotions, can’t we love ourselves enough to walk away? This is where I find myself today, happy and assured, but curious about the tropes of love.

One of my bosses was a casual friend with Edward Said. He once smuggled her into a Palestinian solidarity meeting in New York City by convincing the organizers that she was Arab (South Indian, Middle Eastern, no one knew the difference). She says he was incredibly good with his students, an egalitarian when it came to relating to men and women, and was “never bad to look at.” I stared at her in awe – I’m still incredibly fixated upon the romantic ideal of the academic. Tes once took a class on academic celebrities…why again was I taking Sanskrit?

What is it about Thailand in particular that draws my kindred spirits and I there to have open-ended trysts imbued with expectation and passion?

I dreamt last night that Ari told off our crazy landlady. I woke up feeling refreshed. Evidently Ari’s moment of glory during Tuesday’s floodwaters has instilled me with hope for his abilities and motivations. I think these might be false hopes. He’s taken to simply quoting me on his blog rather than write his own entry. He rightly observed to his girlfriend that I buy his bedsheets for him. He still makes funny noises when he sees a large cockroach. He’s still tone-deaf. He still opens the fridge, overlooks his fresh and delicious loaf of real whole wheat bread and instead grabs the old, mouldy bleached white bread that doesn’t even belong to him. None of this makes any sense to the reader, I’m sure, but I did promise Ari that I’d be sure to make him look pathetic again. Done and done. But he can quote Ace Ventura and Dumb and Dumber with me, so it’s impossible for me to write him off entirely: “I think it’s the pâté.”

Happy Thanksgiving, Americans. Go Gators. Enjoy your Friday festivities, SoFla crew. xoxo

20 November 2007

Of Floods and Bugs...

Brought bedbugs back with me from Bangalore. They fell in love with my sleeping bag, and soon took to biting me all over my body. I'm itchy as hell, and it looks as if I have the chicken pox on my arms and back. But things could be worse...

After a night of pouring rain and thunder, Ari woke me up to tell me that Nina's room was flooding. "Big deal," I thought. "This is old news. It's probably just a trickle." But then I heard shouting, and upon investigation, was surprised to find a veritable deluge coming in through Nina's window. With water well over ankle deep, our entire house was threatened. Basically, our landlady's consistently bad construction sense had struck again, this time aiming the rain run-off from the entire house into our flat. The rest of the morning is a blur. Ari donned a past intern's gigantic blue rain suit and turned into Superman, making makeshift pipes and giving sound advice. Nina ran about half-naked, soaking wet in her pink pajamas and rain-spotted glasses, piling mud and sand in front of her window to stop the rushing waters (her efforts were successful, if scandalous). For the most part, I played the useless assistant - fetching old pipes, building Lego-like contraptions to make up for the lack of gutters in this country, and bailing out Nina's now rather silty room.

Must remember that 2300 people lost their lives in Bangladesh from the cyclone. Must remember that our housekeeper did not come today because of massive rain damage to her own home. Must remember that we still have it pretty damn good.

Today on the phone, Jeff laughed and jokingly asked me "and what's so appealing about India again?" The truth is, at 7:45am in the pouring rain, with landladies and roommates yelling and mud streaming into our house and the bed bug rash spreading, if someone had asked me in that moment, "Do you still want to be here?" I would have screamed back, "YES" with all my heart. Perhaps India isn't appealing, but I still am exactly where I want to be.

Happy Three-month Anniversary, Interns!

19 November 2007

So this is real life...

I swear I will never want to eat another banana after I leave India. Bananas: the pealable, oh-so-safe, local fruit staple. I hated them as a child. My father and brother used to gross me out by chewing bananas with their mouths open at the dinner table. I wouldn’t even eat banana-flavoured yogurt or drink fruit smoothies that listed bananas as one of the ingredients. But then, while in Nepal, I discovered that my love of fruit paired with my desire to be kind to my intestines meant that I had to embrace my old nemesis. And so I tolerated bananas – even started buying them in Portland during the weeks when I was particularly broke. Here in India, I will admit that when you’re doing martial arts and yoga and riding around on a bad bicycle, the potassium helps to placate sore muscles. But I’m still banana’d out, and it is only November.

The honeymoon is over – that is to say, my travel high has ended. And in many ways, I’m actually relieved. A state of awe and euphoria can only be sustained for so long. Now there are days when gratitude comes slowly, if at all. I must work harder to love this place, although I still do (and with all my heart). I must work harder to thank Hashem for the world and the people around me. As in all too many relationships, I am beginning to find my lover’s flaws difficult to endure. My Chennai is an incredibly polluted place, and I’m now stuck with a cough that sounds as if I’m a heavy smoker. I no longer find the auto rickshaws fun, but rather see them as an expensive frustration. Working full-time at Tara means that I do not have the time to travel and see India for weeks on end, as do many of the foreigners who are here to study or do research. I’m also coming to terms with the fact that I really did not bring enough money, and am learning to live on quite the shoestring (many of the westerners I encounter still convert rupees to dollars and justify a Rs.500 brunch as “only $12!” But Rs.500 is one-tenth of my monthly salary. Ari is helping me, through well-meaning if poorly timed criticism, with the embarrassing state of my finances).

But I’ve started to take Bharatanatyam classes with a woman I met in my martial arts class. And I could not be happier with my job and the people I work with. And I buy fresh papaya and lime from the street and make the most delicious salads. And I’m learning to be alone again, something I had forgotten how to do between my time in Montreal and Portland. And I’m quietly in love, “without complexities or pride,” and so that always helps.

I’m reading Henry Miller’s The Tropic of Cancer. I believe this will be one of those books, like Gatsby or Breakfast of Champions or Love in the Time of Cholera, that will stay with me for my entire life. At first I was completely put off by Miller’s violent fear of the feminine, of his inability to see female sexuality as anything but an emptiness, a vacuum, a zero-sum prize. It is as if, in one book, he gives enough linguistic and theoretical fodder to last generations of feminists. However, I choose to love him in spite of these flaws (let us be honest: it is not the first time I have fallen for an antifeminist). Miller’s Paris is, in many ways, today’s India. I refer not to the rampant sexuality, but to the poverty and stress of a rapidly developing area. Paris, like India, also attracts the wild, mad ones – the North Americans and Europeans looking for that which they can not find at home: companionship, God, validity, cheap thrills, art, spirituality, nihilism, adventure, silence, meaning. But, as a friend and I discussed this weekend, you bring your baggage with you, whether it be to Paris or to India. Wherever you go, you cannot hide from yourself forever. India, Paris, California, Tokyo, New Jersey, Portland – in their differences and their similarities, these places will always reflect the same image of ourselves back upon us. It is then up to us to decide whether or not we must change, and whether or not we can muster the strength to do so.

Some Recent Photos:

Tied up in the shopping district...

Running from the monsoons' return...

Our front entrance, now with tile and some plants I resurrected

06 November 2007

Holiday Frenzy

So Diwali is upon us here in India (as it is for Hindus the world over). Diwali is described as a festival of lights, the New Year, the festival of sweets, the festival of too many sweets, the festival of loud but not-so-visually stunning firecrackers, the festival which welcomes Ram back from the forest to Ayodhya in the Ramayana. In short, it is one of the most important festivals on the Hindu calendar. And, much like Christmas, even non-Hindu and atheist Indians tend to adopt some of the traditions associated with the 5-day holiday.

The best part of this time of year is that everyone is excited and hurried, just like at Christmas time. Shops are promoting "Diwali Super Sales," traffic is awful and the shops are crowded - but everyone is still smiling! I rode home from martial arts class last night laughing and smiling with several complete strangers. There is constantly music blaring from tinny temple speakers. So while I won't get the same sort of Christmas spirit here in India, it is really wonderful to partake in a similar kind of festiveness.

Some Diwali traditions I can't help but love:

Tradition One: Firecrackers - set off as many of the loudest mini-bombs as possible before you blow your hands off. The younger you are (ages 4-7), the better!

Tradition Two: Travel to your hometown - Does travelling to your boss's hometown count? Ari and I will be taking a night train from Chennai to Bangalore for a weekend away. Because Tara is the kind of place that lovingly infiltrates every aspect of your life, it turns out that most of the office will be in Bangalore at the same time. So we'll probably just go out for coffee or have mildly artsy dinner parties. With wine...there's wine in Bangalore.

Tradition Three: Eat sweets - Are you kidding me? Dessert is my favourite meal!

31 October 2007

And this is what I want to do for a living?!?

A brilliant, if depressing, look into The Frankfurt Bookfair (my bosses spent 3 weeks in Germany representing Tara) and what it connotes for the world of publishing at large.


An excerpt from the article:

"Why does anybody even want to be a writer? And I say that as one. Two weeks ago the BBC reported that it came top in a survey of the nation's dream jobs. I end up ranting about this at the Bloomsbury stand [at the Frankfurt Book Fair], and Alexandra Pringle, the editor-in-chief of Bloomsbury, rants with me.

'I know!' she says, 'It's mad. It's a horrible job. It doesn't pay well. It's lonely. It's depression-inducing. It's frustrating. There's no fun to be had. But everyone has a drive to be a writer. And everyone thinks they can do it.

'Whereas to be one is some sort of mental derangement! They're all bonkers. When my writers say I could earn more money at the till at Sainsbury's, I say, well go and do it. There's no point writing unless you feel that you have to do it. You have to really want to do it and to be prepared to suffer to do it. Or else you really might as well go and work on the till at Sainsbury.' "

30 October 2007


Cooking South Indian food eases feelings of homesickness, frustration and general malaise. Or maybe it's just cooking in general that helps renew perspective. All I know is that I hit my 2-month wall last night, and hurdled over with the help of generous amounts of dosa mix and salt.

29 October 2007

Conceptually Delicious

It was a big weekend for those of us here at 21/8 10th Cross Street. We spent some serious bucks (a term that can apply to rupees as well as dollars), and managed to see quite the cross-section of Chennai’s nightlife. A not-so-brief breakdown:


After a routine kalaripet (martial arts) class – during which Ari left after the warm up and I laughed too loudly with new friends – it was time for a quick shower and a white-knuckled auto ride to celebrate Stacy’s birthday. We were to meet Stacy, whom I met through Mel, a former PDX roommate, and some friends at 10 Downing Street, Chennai’s newest (and one of the city’s swankiest) bars. “Now wait just one minute,” some of you might say. “Isn’t 10 Downing Street the home address of the British Prime Minister?” And I would applaud you for your astute memory. Indeed, as if colonial identity was not already a tangible presence on every street corner, white foreigners and wealthy, upperclass/caste Indians can now drink in the symbolic namesake of British power. Perhaps the bar owners are trying to be ironic. My experiences on Friday night lead me to think otherwise.

Fridays are “Retro Nights” at 10 Downing Street. This means that the DJ will spin 70’s disco hits (“Hot Stuff”), the occasional Madonna song (“Holiday), and that bad early 90’s techno song from Night at the Roxbury. All of the patrons know the words to every song, and the middle aged Indian women sing and dance with particular abandon. But the highlight of the evening was most certainly the waitstaff. For those of you who follow my blog (I think there are three of you), you might remember that we found a bar with waiters dressed as pirates. Themed uniformed staff are evidently a sign of a quality establishment, as the waiters at 10 Downing so flamboyantly demonstrated. Picture, if you will, a man in tight khaki pants, matching khaki beanie cap with brim, cowboy-like collared shirt with orange 1960’s floral print (imagine an Austin Powers’ montage), and large faux-silver dollar sign necklace. Add a Rod Stewart disco hit, a real gin & tonic or whiskey on the rocks, and an incredibly comfortable bar chair, and you’ve got 10 Downing Street all figured out. We closed the place down – which means that we stayed until midnight when they turned on all the lights and made everyone leave. In Chennai, if a bar stays open past 11pm, you know it’s been a good night.

Post-script to Friday: smoking a peach menthol cigarette from Japan in an autorickshaw is one of life’s secret pleasures.


New sandals for $2.50! Cheap jewelery! Monsoon rains! A friend with a car! Ari, Natalia and I thanked our good fortune for having befriended Tanya, a fantastic Italian-Brit who owns a rather old and mostly functional compact standard. The four of us met up with a crew of European engineering students at Mocha, a reasonably priced outdoor café and sheeshah bar with only a slight mosquito infestation. We spent hours smoking strawberry-mint hookah, indulging in strong coffee, and asking one another the same two questions: “Where are you from?” “What are you doing in Chennai?” With a group of 10, this can take up quite a lot of time. Also, I had bites of real fudge, delicious salsa and a hot apple cinnamon muffin. Simple indulgences!

Although the rains had really started to fall and the roads were well on their way to flooding, we all decided to go on to Speed, a hole-in-the-wall club that was supposed to be having a trance and house night. One of many reasons why I love encountering Europeans abroad: they always are ready to dance to my favourite kind of music. So we piled into a caravan of cars and autos, trying desperately to keep our expectations low. When we arrived, I was convinced that Speed was the kind of club that I would never, ever visit back home. Bad blueish black lighting, even worse hip hop music, and a mini racecar mounted behind the bar dictated my first impression. Strangely enough, this bar also confirmed my suspicions that Chennai bartenders believe that gin and tonics must glow blue to be authentic. Strange, strange indeed. But twenty minutes after our arrival, as promised, the DJ began to spin some surprisingly good deep trance and bass, and the evening really took off. Another reason why I love Europeans: they dance like maniacs, and infectiously so! Even my fellow intern got his ass on the dance floor after a drink or two. Ari self-describes his dancing skills as the following: Good. Fast. Fresh. I can only hope that my silence on the subject will be interpreted as consent.

Again, we closed the place, this time dancing until the music stopped and the lights went up at 1am. Night owls, watch out!

Post-script to Saturday: Clubs in Chennai only admit couples (aka men and women in pairs) and single women. While this can make the solo male a bit frustrated, I do have to admit that it makes my time on the dance floor much more enjoyable. Not once was I groped, grabbed or otherwise harassed in two hours of dancing.


This was supposed to be a day of rest. A day without surprises. It was raining quiteheavily, so Ari and I just wanted to venture out quickly for some lunch and hole up in the apartment for the rest of the day. The previous interns and some martial arts friends had recommended Sanjeevanam, a healthy neighbourhood vegetarian restaurant, and so we thought we’d check it out. Having seen the menu the previous day, I had plans for tofu tikka kebabs and some veggie stir-fry. Instead, we discovered that at lunch, Sanjeevanam only serves the RAJA LUNCH. As scary as it sounds, the Raja Lunch consists of five juices (to be drunk in a particular order), a similarly ordered series of uncooked vegetables, followed by an ordered series of partially cooked vegetables, capped off with a free-for-all of cooked rice, cooked veggies, spicy pepper water, and a literal handful of honey (which Ari managed to get on his nose). Most of these items were not good, and some of them were downright awful. We didn’t even have time to protest or run away, as they start to serve you as soon as you sit down at a table. I think the pictures speak for themselves, and I can only add that this was not what we wanted for lunch and that my stomach is still gurgling hours later. Ari observed that it was like the Passover Seder, in that you have to endure all of the prayers and bitter herbs before you can have the tasty dishes. I think he was being generous.

Post-script to Sunday: The monsoons are here in full force. Today reminded me of the first storm-bands of a hurricane in Florida, with the consistent downpour of rain and the palm trees tossed about in gusts of wind. So far our house has not flooded. Fingers crossed, dear reader. Fingers crossed.

Post-Script to the Post-Script: I wrote this entry on Sunday afternoon. By Sunday evening, Nina’s room had a third of an inch of water, our kitchen tiles were leaking, and a sizeable puddle had formed under our fridge. Ari and I began “bailing” by using towels to soak up water and then squeezing said rags into a bucket, but these efforts soon proved useless. So we washed our feet to prevent cholera (supposedly something you can catch from walking in stagnant water), turned off all electrical devices, and hid in my room watching a movie and drinking wine.

Just when I thought I was used to life here, the monsoons arrive and destabilize everything.

26 October 2007

A taste of Chennai in NYC...

For those of you who can get to Washington Square Park (aka SG), a must!


*Link credit to N.S.M.

24 October 2007

True Love

So for the first time in my brief but diverse career history, I am completely fulfilled by my job. I am given a great deal of responsibility, I look after marketing and art exhibitions, something of which I know nothing about, and - most importantly - I absolutely love the people I work with. We all laugh together, take frequent and well-deserved coffee breaks, and really compliment each others' interests and strengths quite well.

While the above pictures are hardly flattering, they do capture the group's colour and closeness.

22 October 2007

Days Slipping into Normalcy…

This weekend, I often felt as if I was having a typical weekend. Friday at the office was like a Friday in many workplaces I’ve experienced in the past: goofy, filled with laughter, and lightly sprinkled with anticipation for two days off. We belatedly celebrated the birthday of Mr. C. Arumugam (fondly known as Mr. A or Boss), our printer and man who oversees and is the energy behind our beautiful handmade books. We surprised him with cake, and Nina wrote him an impromptu poem and made him a crown that bore more than a slight resemblance to a Burger King hat. It felt good to bestow such love on the man who more than anyone else has been responsible for the ease of my transition here in Chennai. Mr. A helps me with my South Indian cooking almost every day – he gives me tips whenever I bring in a dish, he tells me the best stores to get local ingredients, and he even came over to teach the three interns how to make dosas. He helps us fix broken appliances, he came to see a silly Tamil film with us, and we share our various music tastes with one another. He has also one of the most infectious laughs…so Happy Birthday, Mr. A!

This Saturday was a particularly important day for many Hindus, as it marked the culmination of the nine-day festival Navratri. Saturday was a special puja (religious ceremony/celebration) day in honour of Saraswati and Lakshmi, the goddesses of wealth and knowledge. Many people, Hindu and non-Hindu alike, give thanks and bestow blessings upon the tools of their trade, the means and ends of their successes, and the possessions that aid in obtaining knowledge. In other words, cars, computers, hammers, dump trucks, cows, bicycles, motorcycles, auto rickshaws, storefronts, restaurants, elevators, and gas pumps were all decorated with banana tree leaves, smashed pumpkins, and a splattering of sandalwood paste and red tikka powder. I spent Saturday morning riding my bike around our neighbourhood, visiting the Lakshmi temple, enjoying the music blaring out of various auto rickshaw speakers, and purchasing fruit at the many impromptu markets and stands that sprang up all over the city.

In the afternoon, Ari and I ventured northwest into the Chetpet neighbourhood of Chennai, where we followed a fellow ex-pat’s tip (many thanks, Stacey!) and went to French Loaf. Sweet HEAVEN! Whole grain breads with walnuts and sesame seeds! Baguettes and sandwich rolls! Amazing lattes! Chocolate chip cookies that taste just as they should, with the sugar granules crunching between your teeth and the sweet mixture of flour and shortening and baking powder and love all softening in a glass of milk before you take a bite of the perfection. Needless to say, we spent quite a long time enjoying the place. You can make your own sandwiches and they have cold cuts! For those of you who take such things for granted, please note that I had a turkey breast sandwich for the first time since I’ve been in India. Thinly sliced, fresh deli meats are quite impossible to obtain, and so French Loaf is a goldmine.

Saturday evening was spent in southern Chennai at a pasta and mohito party (fresh produce makes such gatherings all the more delicious), with good company and the ocean breeze to top off the night. Sunday Ari and I again ventured north, this time to Choolaimedu, for a potluck brunch with friends we’ve met through facebook and six degrees of separation. It was a team effort, and I’ve never ever been so grateful for mixed veg scramble, banana shakes, french toast, hashbrowns, fruit salad, and americanos. We even had syrup for the french toast (98% corn syrup, 2% maple syrup)! Nicely done, kids. Nicely done.

18 October 2007

Mooji (the dog formerly known as Bhooji)

Just had a lovely “Lassie” moment with the office dog, Mooji.

Riding my bike back to work after a lunch-break filled with errands, I encountered Mooji on the main road, sniffing away at a trash pile. I called to him, and he ran along side me as I cycled to the office. He barked, I laughed, and I could almost hear the orchestral soundtrack playing in the background. As we turned the last corner, Mooji suddenly caught sight of two large cows blocking the Tara gate. He dashed ahead, barking and jumping about wildly. The cows merely snorted and chewed their cud. As I pulled into the office, I congratulated Mooji on a guard-dog job well done. He wagged his curly tail a few times before lying down to nibble at his flea bites. I think this makes us friends.

12 October 2007

Gaining Momentum...


I am grateful that the Nobel committee has so publicly acknowledged that the fight to stem climate change is a worldwide effort with ramifications as large as the concept of "peace" itself.

Keep fighting the good fight!

10 October 2007

Life as a Series of Anecdotes: Part Two

As friends and family can attest, I am notorious for overextending myself. I love to commit to ten dinner parties in a two hour period. I love to think I can train for a marathon and work two jobs and save the whales all at the same time. I also love to make unrealistic exercise goals for myself, and am thus inevitably laden with guilt and self-loathing when I do not accomplish said goals. Why shouldn’t I be able to rise every morning at 6am for a 6:30am yoga or martial arts class? I only abhor the mornings and think a reasonable time to start work is 10am and cannot possibly understand how anyone functions without caffeine in a typical workplace.

So when I decided to bring both my yoga matt and my inflatable exercise ball to India, it was most certainly a decision made by Jenn-the-Overextender. However, I am happy to report that I use my yoga matt 4-5 times per week and I manage to get to martial arts class 2-3 times per week. Surprisingly exciting! And yesterday I decided it was high time I blew up my purple exercise ball and had regular conversations with my abs (we have never really been on speaking terms because I was always too enamoured with beer. Le sigh.).

An inflated exercise ball proved to be a difficult thing to obtain. I did not bring a pump (smart) and so I accompanied Ari to our local bike-repair stand (consisting of a wagon under a tree with a dirty tarp strung from the branches to provide some shade). This man took one look at my pathetic, deflated ball and immediately told me – in Tamil and without being prompted – that he was not the fellow for the job. He helpfully gestured further down the road, repeating “right side, right side.” After Ari’s bike tires were sufficiently full of air, we continued on in our quest.

The lovely thing about our neighbourhood is that many of the locals are now quite used to seeing my pallid face roaming about, and look to help me whenever I appear even slightly confused. So as we stopped at various stands and stalls along the road, many different men were very glad (and not at all surprised) to direct us along to the mysterious place that would fill up an exercise ball. Finally, we found a bike stand that looked remarkably similar to the first, but who had a tiny attachment for their pump that gave them the competitive edge. Much to my chagrin, this tiny attachment was of no use with my ball. As first one man, and then two, and then three gathered to blow up the damn thing, spectators would pass by and offer their suggestions for how best to get the air to stay in. An older, half-naked gentleman smoking a cigarette paced between his fruit shop and the bike stand, muttering directions and looking rather sceptical. After about 10 minutes of heavy pumping, the ball was sufficiently inflated (and sufficiently dusty), and there was a mutual feeling of satisfaction in a job well done. I tipped 5 rupees on the 5 rupee labour charge, and let one of the men bounce the ball like a beach toy (which I’m sure was what they all assumed it was).

Let it be known that I did not let such an adventure go unwarranted: I did an ab workout this morning before breakfast. Making that a habit? I’d rather have an I.P.A…

09 October 2007


Happy Birthday to Scott Elsey and Seth Oranburg! Thinking of you both in South India!

08 October 2007

We often cannot explain why we love the things we love...

Pianissimo Pêche

  • One pack Pianissimo pêche (peach menthol cigarettes)
  • One 500mL bottle of C.C. Lemon (70 lemons’ worth of Vitamin C in every bottle!)
  • Three packages of tragically stale sesame mochi with red anko (Tesla’s favourite)
  • One blissfully fresh large mochi ball with anko (devoured immediately)
  • One packet of green tea
  • One packet of strange yet delicious almond toast/cookie/brittle substance
  • One juice-box filled with sake
  • One miniature can of Kirin, the Japanese beer
  • Two packages of what might have once been mochi but arrived at my door as slightly moldy slush.
  • One beautiful photo of Tesla taken in a photo booth

These are the contents of the world’s most thoughtful, lovely and timely care package. On September 4th, Tesla (who is teaching English in Japan) mailed me a care package the likes of which had never been seen before. While the typical parcel takes about 2-3 weeks to arrive, I had honestly given up hope for this gift from Koriyama. I had visions of lazy postal workers in Delhi delving into my mochi with ravenous delight, smoking the peach menthols and philosophizing on why India had not embraced vending machine culture. What I completely underestimated was inter-Asian prejudice; from my limited experience, I find Indians wary of the Japanese, whom they believe are heathenistic raw-meat eaters. Perhaps no one in the Delhi postal service would dare try Japanese rice and bean paste for fear of sashimi. I also forgot that the Japanese overpackage everything to the point where you cannot actually discern the contents of an item from its external appearance. A moment in which I am grateful for the inherent and quirky differences between cultures!

The real climax to this elusive Japanese care package story comes on the morning of Saturday, October 6, 2007. Ari, himself eager to retrieve a parcel from home, rose early to beat the “rush” at the nearly-local post office. As he was rummaging through the backroom of forgotten packages for his box of personal affects, he found Tesla’s shipment just sitting there!! Eureka! A discovery akin to those of Copernicus or
Newton (needless to say, Ari has accumulated an endless supply of brownie points and a juice box filled with convenience store sake). He also earns “I told you so” rights for his prediction that the package would only arrive after I had given up all hope and on a day when I was not thinking about it. Nicely Done.

So many, many thanks (and a few tears of awe – reminiscent of those shed on the Shink) to Tesla for her wonderful present. The C.C. Lemon, as always, was the perfect hangover cure. The one ball of fresh mochi was all I hoped it would be. And the peach menthols will certainly be a welcomed break from my dangerous flirtation with a beedies addiction.

04 October 2007

Three Months and Counting!

Booked my flights to Thailand today!! I leave Chennai on Jet Airways at 5:50am on Sunday, January 6th, fly through Kolkata, and land in Bangkok at 4:15pm local time (about 4 hours after the Mirmo and Kovitz arrive). Best early Christmas present I could have given myself.

Bring on the debauchery! Any bets on whether or not I can bring myself to leave paradise after two weeks???

29 September 2007

Running Fool

In an act that certainly felt more normal than it would have four weeks ago, I went for my first run in Chennai today. I initially woke up to my 6am alarm with the intent to attend a 6:30am martial arts class. But five minutes into my bike ride towards the beach, I realized that it was actually “cool” enough outside to go for a run. *Note to reader: Up until this morning, I have been unable to drag my sorry ass out of bed before 8:30am. Neither construction workers nor honking traffic nor humid, stale air could force me from my cot until the last possible minute. So today’s exception was quite notable!

Besant Nagar (our neighborhood) is an entirely different universe before 7am. My only fellow exercisers were all over 40 years of age: power-walking brahman men with bright white tennis shoes who swarmed about the seaside boardwalk. Cardiac health is practically a new fad here in South India, and one only adopted by retirees and those with enough money to live a healthy lifestyle. Billboards advertise life-after-heart-surgery, cereals and aryuvedic products claim to ensure a healthy heart, and obesity is an oft-discussed disease. (I actually learned a crazy statistic the other day: one in four diabetics on the planet is an Indian.) Here, wealth often manifests itself as obesity – if one has money, one can afford to eat often and much. Also, I’ve never passed a sweet shop that wasn’t swarming with customers. It is both curious and disturbing to watch elements of Indian culture interpret North American and European obesity as a mark of prosperity. There are, of course, many Indians who react against such an interpretation (the power-walkers, the yoga and martial arts practitioners), and like I said, health-consciousness has arrived on the scene in a craze quite like bellbottom jeans or American (Indian) Idol.

Back to my run: I took about forty-five minutes to run to the beach and back. I passed a temple clanging its bells and applying tikka paste to the horns and foreheads of some local cows. I breathed in air pungent with fresh fish, dog feces, cow feces, human feces, and mystery feces. Dressed in sneakers and work-out clothes, the auto rickshaw drivers knew to leave me be. An elderly foreign man who was walking in the opposite direction gave me a stern glare, as if he had hoped to be the only pale-faced outsider that morning. I saw a motorcycle carrying three men and their tennis rackets, dogs sleeping in piles on the beach, and games of frisbee, volley ball, and soccer along the Bay of Bengal. It was so quiet, relatively cool, and I felt as if I was seeing my neighbourhood for the first time…again. I’m so glad to have the chance to renew my love and appreciation for the area, as this week I had begun to feel a bit stuck (I blame the rain on Thursday).

Today we’re working a half-day at Tara (in preparation for our bosses’ departure for the Frankfurt Book Fair next week, and because of the state-wide strike on Monday). Then I’m off to the tailor, the post office, and the grocery store. We’re having a few new friends over for dinner tonight, and I’m finally exposing to the world my newfound love of South Indian cooking. I’ll be sure to post my favourite recipes here soon.

Happy Early Birthday, Gandhi-Ji!

27 September 2007

"Finding roaches in the pot..."

Ari and I have reached an unspoken agreement regarding our particular roles in the household. Should the world’s largest cockroach enter our kitchen or bathroom (such a thing occurs with some regularity), Ari’s task is to either immediately leave the room or climb on the tallest piece of furniture and survey the scene with great dismay and perhaps a groan or two. My responsibility lies first in the panicking, then in the spraying of the world’s largest cockroach with undue amounts of roach killer, and finally in the disposal of the world’s largest cockroach in the dirt outside (Last evening, Nina took over that final step). While these roles hardly seem equal or fair, they are what they are. Ari is a pansy and I am a cold-blooded murderer. Such is life at Old 21/New 8 10th Cross Street.

Update: We do in fact get The Hindu every morning. To use Kovitz’s phrase, “I’m the provider!”

26 September 2007

A cycling blog (4 pockets!) dated 22 Sept. 2007

Cycling in this city is exhilarating! Weaving between people and motorcycles, adding the ring of my bell to the din on the streets, feeling a rush as I pass by the buzzing shopfronts. I rode my bike to the very outskirts of southern Chennai today. I wanted to find the Shivananda Yoga Center (where they hold intensive classes, meditation retreats, etc). It was about a 30 minute bicycle ride, and what a way to see my neighbourhood!I'vebeen fighting a cold all week that came on full-force last night. But following a great deal of Sudafed and some local remedies, I felt at least somewhat capable of taking a day alone, for myself. After I snuck in to the Theosophical Society and hid out in the “Liberal Catholic Church” grounds to write in my journal, I grabbed a few idlys and headed south.

I took a detour to search for the news shop that sold the previous Tara interns their subscription to The Hindu, India’s equivalent of The New York or London Times. All I had to go on was a receipt that was taped to our refrigerator and used as a note to eulogize a four-legged, two-anused chicken (don’t ask!).

In Chennai, the addresses are literally composed of lines such as “21/81 Behind the Water Tank, Thiruvanmur, Chennai” or “56 76 K.K. Road, next to Mr. A’s house, Besant Nagar, Chennai.” So everyone has to ask for directions. After several attempts at finding the elusive newstand, a very nice young engineer on a motorcycle informed me that his friend and neighbor owned this shop and he would be happy to take me there! He brought me to a narrow back alley – so narrow, in fact, that I had to leave my bike at the entrance in order to fit between the buildings. After a bit of searching, we found the home of the owner of the newstand. Said owner was out delivering papers. However, his wife and four-year-old son informed me that he would bring over our first Hindu tomorrow and that he would call me in the evening to confirm. The amazing thing is that without having randomly asked the particularly kind engineer, I would never have found the home of the man who sells newspapers from a shop of which nobody knows the address. This is every-day Chennai! And it works! Somehow everyone gets their paper every morning and a man can make a living selling subscriptions to one the most widely circulated newspapers in the world out of his backalley apartment.

So with the newspaper subscription tentatively secure, it was southward-ho! Using a city map left to us by our Tara predecessors (honestly, we could not survive without the various resources they passed along!), I made my way down the coast. To my surprise, I passed through neighborhoods and by an Italian Restaurant (Bella Ciao) that I had thought was quite a bit further away. It was reassuring to discover that friends and food were not as distant as I had been told to believe (there is a strange obscuring of distance within the Chennai expat community that I do not yet understand; some places are actually quite far but articulated as “close-by,” while other areas are “so far away” and yet I can cycle to them without complaint).

Along the ride I passed hoards of dragonflies, grazing cows, fishing villages, Ganesh and goddess temples, women with 100lb bags on concrete on their heads, and countless other people, places, and things. As I left the city proper, the environment grew lusher, more resort-like. I found the Sivananda Center and learned about their various yoga programs, took some time to observe a class, and wandered about the surrounding neighborhood.

The ride home was all the more exciting, as I knew where I was and could focus more on the sights and sounds of the trip home. It was around 6pm and the Saturday evening rushhour had begun. I was competing for road space with auto rickshaws, cars large and small, fellow cyclists, pedestrians, buses, and the occasional animal. I wove in and out of traffic, I rang my bell and yelled at those who brushed past too close for comfort. Almost home, I came to one of the few traffic signals in the area. With the other bicycles, I jockeyed and dodged my way between the cars and motorcycles to get to the front of the pack waiting for the green light. The signal changed, and we all charged forward en-mass, horns and bells ringing our forge ahead. It was thrilling and really made me feel as if I was a part of the chaos instead of merely a witness to it.

As I smiled and rode on, an auto rickshaw driver pulled up next to me and told me that at my speed, I could charge 100 rupees (a lot for an auto) “no problem!” We then raced to my house, bike versus auto, and of course he let me win. It was the funniest moment. It was also the first time an auto driver had interacted with me in a way that did not somehow involve a money transaction – again, another moment of feeling more local than foreign, although I no doubt drew the driver’s attention because of my overt foreignness. Ahh well. It was fun nonetheless. And again I end my day madly in love with India.