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???