Saturday, August 12, 2006

Notes on Chennai

I have been very busy all week. Too busy to blog. We have literally worked from 10am to midnight daily-- if you count our working dinners. Although we have spend some time in Indian homes. The first was a few days ago when we stopped by a Swedish family's house. They have lived here almost 13 years. A few nights ago we stopped by our designer's house to view his art gallery. His work is excellent-- what I would consider decorative abstract style. I would love to buy a triptych for our new house, but I have no clue how to get them back to Norway. I also feel like I would be exploiting him, even at his asking price. He lived with his wife's parents. Tonight we ate dinner at another employee's home, and met her husband, two children, and her mother. Her kids spoke better English than most of our employees. It was a little uncomfortable since they had already eaten, so the watched us eat. Also, the glasses and plates had a little water on them when our food was served from being washed. That always makes me EXTREMELY nervous. I didn't eat much. I was obsessed with thinking about the source of that water. If it was tap water, I will have a hellish flight home tomorrow night. My presumption is that she knows better. Tap water will even make Indians ill, but my understanding is that quantity matters, and many locals can tolerate incidental doses of it. Nonetheless, it is nice seeing how real people live--- particularly our employees. It is nice to know they live comfortably. We see people of all types everywhere, and I have no idea what our people do or where they go when they are not at work. Tomorrow is my last day here for awhile. Already we are discussing when I will return.

Tomorrow night we fly back to Norway. The flight leaves at almost 2am. It is a horrible time to fly. I am guessing the plane will be empty, since the Indian Independence Day is on the 15th. Each year the State Department warns Americans about being in India. It isn't related to any particular intelligence other than the fact that terrorists love to show off on Independence Day. As for the flight, we can use a carry-on, but no liquids or gels. That is fine with me. Last time my boss had to send his laptop into the checked luggage, he never saw it again. I pity the poor Americans who cannot take their laptops with them. The damage/baggage loss waivers won't cover the price of a missing laptop, and there is no choice. Historically they have recommended NOT to check fragile or essential items. Now they are forcing people to do so-- and they are basically uninsured. Seems like a genius business model.

I find the US airlines' reaction to the recent news in the UK to be a bit extreme. While I want safe travel as much as anyone, life goes on. To live in fear is to let terrorists "win." Still, I don't understand the terrorists' fascination with planes. There are far less secure targets available that can provide even more damage. It seems that they have converged on airlines in a cat and mouse game, as a way to snub their noses at the safety precautions that have already been put in place. Still, it never seems to end.

When I look at Tamil Nadu, the Indian state where Chennai is located, the population is mostly Hindu. Last night we waited for a table at a hotel bar/nightclub, and it seemed odd to see women wearing pants and sleeveless tops. Southern Indians dress very modestly. A local hotel was shut down for two weeks when a photograph of an Indian couple kissing was published in a local paper. When we walked by the hotel bare where it occurred, there were two huge signs forbidding cameras in the bar. Western movies are censored so they do not show kissing on screen. Most of the women wear saris around here. Young people of both genders usually live with their parents until they are married-- and even then, they often continue living with a parent. Love marriages are almost non-existent. Rather, they are almost always arranged. Young people in generally accept these cultural values. Despite the emergence of a thriving middle-class, traditional values are still intact. They are not at war with the world. I see countless Hindus with marks of various colors on their foreheads to denote a ritual to their demigod. These people are taking their economic and social transformation in stride. Meanwhile, just to the north is Pakistan, where it appears most of the London terrorists have their roots.

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