Chennai, 16-20 Oct 2012
(To be accurate, a hotel in Chennai, since I never saw the city)
So this was the first trip I've ever made to the subcontinent, for work too. Admittedly, its not a destination I have every considered for vacation every before.
And there were many apprehensions-- food, safety, cleanliness etc. I even bought snacks in case there was nothing "safe to eat"--- you can't blame me, after hearing stories; I also swore not to eat anything uncooked.
Turns out I needn't have worried. I barely had chance to step out of the Hilton the whole trip-- although I was still super paranoid and brushed my teeth only with mineral water, and avoided all cut fruit or salads and heaven forbid, sushi! (there was a Japanese convention in the same hotel, and the Japanese guests didn't seem to have the same qualms though-- although they could have just been sick of Indian cuisine)
Hence, I broke the curse of Delhi Belly-- a case of runs that every first time visitor to India was expected to contract without fail.
Unfortunately, I didn't have much chance to experience much of Chennai-- although I did catch glimpses of it travelling from airport to hotel to restaurant. Flooded streets, power shortages, traffic jams--- all attributed to the early advent of the monsoon.
My one true immersion was getting to try different types of food and most of it was pretty delicious, but also heavy on the stomach, so I could only try so much. Favourites are sweet corn fritters and apam (a sweet rice pancake)! Gonna be looking for that back home :)
The worse part of the trip was the flight out. There was some ridiculous rule that you had to get a security stamp for all carry-on luggage but this was not explained so ended up back- and- forthing with the security. Never a good idea to argue with the airport authority, but then again, a sleep-deprived traveller is also a force to be reckoned with. Fortunately, the matter was resolved when a passer-by offered a spare tag.
Takeway from the trip: I received a bit of education about Indian culture though from my Indian colleagues. One example is marriage. Most of them have very resolute ideas of what marriage should be-- arranged is good (parents know best, and it limits the amount of lying/social desirability that either side does in the dating game), man must be older than the woman by 5 years (so that he would never have to see his wife ageing more than him); women should have children 1 year into marriage.
It's interesting to have strict social norms, and to have no qualms about following them. I particularly enjoyed speaking to the ladies to hear their views. (There were only a couple of them around). Educated up to their ears with MBA, and modern girls all, they felt it was perfectly alright to have their futures planned for them by their parents, and even welcomed it as a "load of their minds". Pretty cool and made me think how different social norms change perceptions entirely, for in Singapore, match-making is something you may be ashamed of.
As if turned out, I didn't have time or occasion to spend any money at all. However, I did buy a book at the airport while waiting for my delayed flight. Halfway through R. Narayan's The Vendor of Sweets now, and really enjoy how the author brings to life the flavour of small-town India and its inhabitants. Shall be getting my hands of Indian literature more now.
Don't have many pictures of India to showcase, but just noticed how interesting that there is a common colour theme throughout!