Thursday, July 28, 2011

Madras a hatter

It's been a few weeks since I last posted anything, which is partially due to laziness, and partly due to a last-minute trip to India as I continued my ex-colony tour. I think it's taken me these few weeks just to digest all the food that I ate while I was there. A little tip for anyone travelling to India, or anywhere notorious for causing digestive discomfort to tourists, by eating constantly all week, I must have overpowered any bad food by sheer volume of other food. Just remember the chemistry rhyme: the solution to pollution is dilution! An unfortunate side-effect of this strategy though is I seemed to gain a few kilos in just one week; and I'm sure most of that was ghee and sugar. It's easy to see why India has such a world renowned hospital system since diabetes and atherosclerosis are a national guarantee.

As soon as I arrived in India it was like being in a different world. Even in Singapore you see different faces, hear different languages and feel different cultures all having an influence but India is very very very Indian. For someone travelling on their own that was a little disorientating but it was a lot of fun. With Mahesh, his brother, and their friends showing me around all week I think I got to see a lot more of Indian culture than a tourist could usually get to see in such a short trip. Even after just arriving I was thrown into the deep end. Airports are usually pretty cosmopolitan places but waiting outside Chennai airport I was really the only white face; no surprise that an impressively persistant Hilton hotel greeter came up to ask me about 5 times whether I was the 'Mr English Name' on his name board. After a pickup straight out of a sitcom (Mahesh emailed a photo of the guy who would be picking me up, but he couldn't come so I just knew the guy would be wearing a green t-shirt) and seeing the physics-defying phenomenon that is Indian Traffic we went straight to Mahesh's engagement party. This really set the tone for the entire week; a whirlwind of meeting lots of friendly people, lots of interesting culture, smells and colours, and lots and lots of food.

From what I saw I couldn't make my mind up as to whether Chennai, and India as a whole, is trying to build itself up or tear itself apart. There is so much growth but still a lot of poverty so that old buildings never seem to get repaired since it's easier to build a new one. This results in quite odd juxtapositions; luxury mansions beside mud and sticks shelters, IT companies beside a stall selling paan, Audi 4x4s beside cows.

It was nice to see the older history preserved, notwithstanding a few hundred years of British influence, the traditions in India, and especially in the South, stretch back a long long time.
There is really a sense that there is a classical civilisation still alive as the ancient temples, statues and rituals are still revered in modern Indian society.

It was nice to catch up with Mahesh, and reassuring to see how fat he'd also gotten after a few weeks in India, and I wish him luck with his marriage.

Photos: Mahesh and Sneha at their engagement, Chennai rooftop view from Mahesh's Aunts' flat, colonial-era architechture at Madras university, Palava architechture at shore temple at Mahabalipuram.

Bonus photo - 4 men and a crab

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Simple pleasures

This week has been a week where I feel like I've gotten back in touch with the simpler pleasures in life.

Firstly, I've been very much enjoying fruit. Even the dreaded durian.

Secondly, having just switched from night shifts to day shifts I've been sleeping with the shutters open and the air conditioning off; enjoying the novelty of waking up with the sun in the morning and feeling refreshed, being able to eat breakfast at breakfast time, and dinner at dinner time.

And thirdly, having mused a little recently about what things might have been like in Singapore during the great days of the British empire, I had a bit of a taste of it when going for high tea at the Ritz Carlton. I've been to a few similar high tea buffets here now (more 'English high tea' in 3 months here than in 25 years in England) but the Ritz is possibly the most classy. Being waited on in quietly luxurious surroundings, enjoying a mix of the familiar and exotic, and with a beautiful lady at my side and live lounge music in the background is a nice break from the hectic world outside and won't have changed much in style and content since the days of the Raj. Although I doubt if they had coffee-bean shaped ice cubes made out of frozen coffee then.

It's perhaps a sign of my 'Singaporeanisation' that all these things seem to centre around food.

I've also reacquainted myself with the simple pleasure and feeling of achievement after completing a long run. Which is good since I'll need to start some serious training now I have officially entered the Singapore Standard Chartered Marathon! 150 days until the 4th of December. I better begin in earnest...right after the next part of my Empire tour to Chennai next week.