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Post About India

January 06, 2008 —

Below is a copy of an email that I sent out from India on October 18, 2007 about my journey and experiences there.

So it's now my 4th day in India and I thought I should send an email. Plus, I got sleep last night and am not struggling to stay awake during the breaks in my class. This is a long email simply because I wanted to record this stuff for my own records and figured while recording it, I might as well send it out as a status email. As they say: kill two birds with one stone.

I got into India on Monday morning around Midnight after a very long set of flights (~25 hours of travel time from Santa Barbara to India). The best part was that my luggage was not lost! At the airport, I met my driver (who is my personal driver for the week) who took me to the hotel. By the time I got to the hotel, it was around 1am on Monday. After barely noticing how nice the hotel was, I popped half an Ambien and fell asleep... to awake at 5am. I wasn't meeting my driver until 8am. I laid in bed for a good hour before conceding that I was not going to fall asleep. I started watching some TV and got caught up on world events in India, Hong Kong and Australia, the three English speaking places nearby that the English news covered. This was of course unless I wanted to watch cricket on ESPN or the other 5 cricket channels covering a repeat of THE SAME MATCH.

Finally I met my driver and we proceeded to drive the 5 or so miles to the company's office in 30 minutes. This was my first taste of driving in India. It was so late the night before that the roads were almost deserted and I the driving didn't seem too weird. In Brazil, I thought those drivers were crazy. I'm pretty sure Indian drivers win the craziness battle. I don't think I'd like to drive myself in India. First, there are motorcycles and mopeds everywhere. Second, the people (men and women) zigzag everywhere. And not just the people on the two wheels! Cars and trucks and busses too! They are apparently allowed to do this because of the overwhelming use of horns. I thought that horns were overused in Brazil, and now Brazil looks like the drivers use their horns as sparingly as possible. Here, excessive horn use seems very necessary because of the way people drive. People need the horn to tell someone that they are about to zip by them, or that the truck in front of you is about to push you off the road as it moves to the left, or that the auto-rickshaw in front of you is going to slow while driving down the center of the road and you want to pass it. In addition, there aren't many traffic rules, or the rules that do exist aren't followed. I'm glad that someone else is doing the driving for me. It is interesting that the ~5 miles to the office from my hotel takes at least 30 minutes and up to 1 1/2 hours simply because there are just so many vehicles, motorcycles, mopeds, people and bicycles using the roadways.

Upon arriving at the office, I was presented with a bushel of flowers. Yes, a bushel. I still haven't decided what to do with them and they are slowly dying in my hotel room. The class went smoothly enough the first day, though some people in the class had a hard time understanding my "accent", and I theirs. For lunch we had the Indian specialty, Dominoes pizza. This quite surprised me as I was expecting traditional South Indian cuisine. Though the pizza wasn't bad, I asked my hosts if we could try to stick to more traditional foods since I can get Dominoes in the states (which I did have on the previous Friday night at home). After little sleep and Dominoes for lunch, the rest of the afternoon went by quick. I'm pretty sure this was because I was partially asleep. I can specifically remember points of time where I don't remember what I had previously been talking about. However, I seemed to be getting the information across fairly accurately, at least from my questions and observations.

Since then, I've gotten slightly more sleep. In an effort to adjust to the time, I haven't let myself go to bed before 10. However, I keep waking up between 4 and 5am. I think it's the fact that India is 12 1/2 hours different than home, which is like suddenly deciding to be awake the opposite of what you normally do. I've tried with and without Ambien with the same success. Finally, last night, I was able to sleep in to a bit after 6 (without the use of drugs), which felt like heaven as I got a full 7 1/2 hours of rest. Today I feel like a new person, and am quite confident I will be able to finish the afternoon fully conscious.

The people here in India have so far been very nice. In fact, they tend to stop walking and stand against a wall and nod at me while saying "How are you today sir? Have a good day, sir.". It feels a little weird because almost everyone does it, which makes me feel pretty uncomfortable. I really don't like it when I'm walking, and someone notices me coming, stops whatever they were doing just to acknowledge me. I feel like I've been inconveniencing so many people just by walking around. Also, I've never been called "sir" so often, by so many different people before. This is really a new experience for me. I guess I'm not used to a life of luxury and service. Between the luxury hotel and the office I'm at, I have constant food and beverage service. At the office it feels especially weird because I think that the engineers I'm teaching don't even have access to the services I get. And it all happens right in front of them.

In my class, most of the people are very quiet and seem almost intimidated by me. I'm reminded by my experience in Germany while visiting my buddy Jan. Some of the people I met in Germany had never met an American before and were nervous about using their English skills because they didn't want to be embarrassed. It took some alcohol before they opened up and started talking to me. I get the same feeling of nervousness here with some of my students. I'm pretty sure I'm the first American many of them have ever encountered, and even though English is an almost universal language here (almost every sign is in English), I think the students have trouble getting over their fear of speaking with me.

So far my explorations of Chennai haven't been too exciting. The sun sets before 6pm, and I get out of work at 6, so I've got no daylight to really do much exploring (the mornings have been spent attempting to fall back asleep, catching up on work or reading about where I should go for my vacation days). Last night I did decide to explore on foot around my hotel. I went for a little walk, and got myself into a position I'd like to describe as down a dark road in an unfamiliar place. I wouldn't consider myself lost, as I knew how to get back to where I had started, but I had gone several miles along the loop I was walking, and so turning around wasn't an option. Plus, I knew that I was very close to completing the loop since my sense of direction and position is superb. So I had to wander around some sketchy, dark places, with various people staring at me from driveways or the occasional motorcycle honking at me as it past. If it wasn't for the fact that I had my Nikon and ~$50 in Indian Rupees (a lot of money) with me, I wouldn't have been nervous. I'm pretty sure I could have taken anybody that attempted to grab my stuff, but I didn't want the situation to come to fisticuffs. Besides the dark alleys at the end of the walk, the walk was interesting as I got to see a wider spectrum of life in the city. Something I've noticed that contrasts with my experience in Brazil is the absence of physical separation of wealth. What I mean, is that in Brazil, there is definitely a poor community and a wealthy community; the neighborhoods are separate. Here in India, I have not been able to see that separation. While the social separation of wealth does still exist, I feel that the poor live right next to the wealthy. I am not sure if that is simply because Chennai is more populous than Rio is, and so there just isn't space to create that separation, or if there is some other factor I'm unaware of. Even in the newer, supposedly more expensive neighborhoods, there are still government subsidized slums, which apparently rent for somewhere around 100 Rupees per month. These units have a single room that also contains a kitchen. The bathrooms are shared between units. As a comparison, my hotel room is 10,000 Rupees per night. These buildings are right next door to buildings of the same size but where rent can be over 50 times as expensive. Walking around also give one an idea of some of the poverty in India, which I'm really glad I get to see; it makes me appreciate what I've got so much more.

Since Chennai is more of a business oriented city, and is a city that was pretty much founded by the British as a trading post, so it doesn't have many interesting Indian places, I've been planning on going somewhere else in India. As of my flight departing for India, I had no idea where to go or what to do. But now I have finally decided what my plans are after my class is over. From some suggestions of students in my class, I'm going to be taking a flight to Delhi in the north of India. Near Delhi is Agra, also known as the home of the famous Taj Mahal. Since I don't have a specific plan to return to India, I've decided that I really should try to see one of the original 8 wonders of the world. I know very few people who have even been to India, yet almost everyone knows about the Taj Mahal, so seeing it in person has to be pretty cool. I fly out of Chennai on Saturday morning at 6:30am and then am planning on spending most of Saturday in Delhi exploring (what, I'm not yet sure), and then all day Sunday exploring Agra, i.e. the Taj Mahal. There are also a large number of other sights to see in Agra as well. Then on Monday, I'll be flying out of Delhi back to Chennai at 6:30am. Since I have all day Monday to do stuff, I'm planning on visiting some nearby towns/cities to the south of Chennai that have cool temples and cave paintings. Then I come back to Chennai for my 1am flight on Tuesday back to the US. I'm really looking forward to those three days seeing a wider variety of India.

I've kept a GPS log of my current travels (from the US to India, from the airport to my hotel, from my hotel to work and from work to my hotel), and I've even uploaded that log to my website which you can check out at http://www.chrisstreeter.com/travel.html. In the right column, click "display" next to the India trip to display the tracks and waypoints. Then feel free to explore where my plane flight went and where some of the places in Chennai I've been. One thing that currently doesn't work with the website is that it doesn't show gaps in my track log; places where the GPS did not have signal, and so couldn't record where I was. This is unfortunate because it looks like Iran is blocking GPS signals over its whole country (the line over Iran is very straight when you zoom in on because my scripts just connect the dots, where there is one dot on each end of Iran). The whole time we were flying over Iran, I couldn't get a GPS signal. However, as soon as we left Iran's airspace (or very close to leaving it), the GPS signal came back. I'm not positive that the signal was actually being blocked, but it sure seems likely given that the country is Iran. I haven't done any research to see if this is actually the case, but I'd be interested to know if they do actually block GPS, or if it is possible. I guess Iran doesn't want any GPS guided missiles or airplanes coming at it. I'm planning on keeping a log of my upcoming journeys as well, and those should be available sometime after I reach home.

So again, was just killing two birds with one stone by writing an email this long, so kudos to you if you made it all the way through.

By Chris Streeter

Tagged: travel