Thursday, 30 June 2011

MII- Made In India

HTemp:  38c
Rain:       0.0"
`-$:         44.67

One of the best things about visiting or living in another country is seeing what's for sale.  Not the familiar tourist souvenirs such as rugs, brass junk or wood tchotchkes.  We're talking everyday products.

Here's glue.  The graphic is great and so appropriate for India: Two elephants trying to pull something apart.  Fantastic!

You also discover regulation differences (or terms: 'calorie' now labeled 'energy').

Here, all items must include the max retail price, and for perishable items, the production date. Getting ripped off and buying expired items has been a problem here, so now there are regulations.

MRP stands for Max Retail Price.

This package was produced on May 7, 2011 and sells for a max `32.  About 71¢.

Finally, there's nothing more satisfying than buying local junk food.  Naturally, some Western snacks are here (Hello Pringles), but what's the fun in scarfing the same, when you can nosh the new?:

Both get our seal of approval!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Coming Out In Chennai

HTemp:  39c
Rain:       0.0"
`-$:         44.77

As a reporter, Sarah covered marches and protests for years, but that little objectivity thing prevented her from taking any sort of public stand on political or social issues.  Last weekend, we got to participate -- joining members of the Consulate at a gay Pride March along Chennai's Marina Beach.  Consulate members represented GLIFAA (Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies).

Some 350 people awash in rainbows and carrying signs in both English and Tamil that read "I Support My Son," "Straight but Not Narrow," and "Born Straight But Refuse to Hate," joined the march.  The 2011 March was the third annual in Chennai -- considered particularly remarkable for such a traditional and conservative area of India. The crowd was larger than last year's -- and included more family members and supporters.

Some pics from the day:

Sarah with her game face on

Masks worn to shield identity (really)

Doublemint Madras twins

The march

Attending police (Or extras from a Robert Palmer video?)
James flying the colors

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Pinching The Carbon Footprint at Home

HTemp:  38c
Rain:       0.0"
`-$:         45.00

Probably out of necessity, our apartment -- and others -- have a few design elements geared to energy efficiency.  With rolling blackouts in effect (more on that subject later) and the water delivered rather than serviced by a grid, every kilowatt and gallon is precious.

First up is in the kitchen:  It appears to be just another cabinet above our sink.  But open it up and it's a nice drying rack, ready to drain. Nifty:


Separate A/C units for each room are common in other parts of the world and India is no exception.  Easy to turn off when you're not in the room:


Also common but with an added efficiency step is the hot water heater design.  We have four separate units, one for each of the bathrooms and another in the kitchen for the sink and clothes washer.  Similar to the A/C units, there's an on/off switch near each heater so you only turn them on when you need them:

Switched down means 'ON' here in India


Finally, if you want to go native, you can save a lot of toilet paper.  There's a hose near the toilet figure out the rest and decide how efficient you want to be:

Monday, 27 June 2011

3br, 3bth, Frnshd Apt, Bg Kitn, Offce, 2 Blcon

HTemp:  38c
Rain:       0.0"
`-$:         44.97

Our own little Taj Mahal.  Check it out:

Living Room
Dining Room

The sea of marble



The place is great.  Bigger than our digs in Miami. Clean, new, move-in ready.  Maybe the furniture is not our taste, but that's a small quibble compared to being able to walk in, unpack and start living.  Definitely a step up from our previous stop, corporate housing in Arlington, VA.

Right now we're living with what we brought on the plane (yes, including knives) and a welcome kit of dishes and linens that the consulate provides.  In another week we should get our UAB (Acronym guess, anyone?) and then the HHE will show a few weeks later, if Somali pirates don't delay its arrival.

For apartment features, India is more forward thinking in efficient design than the U.S.  We'll show some of the related details next.....

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Last Stop, Chennai

HTemp: 38c
Rain:  0.0"
`-$:  44.99

Our final stop and residence for the next two years, Chennai.  As usual, we arrive around midnight and the trip from the airport is a blur of dimly-lit buildings and fast moving traffic.  No highways, no grid, no skyline, just block after block of mysterious structures.  It looks a little desolate, but you can tell from the haphazardly-parked vehicles and the streets crammed with carts and piles of trash, that things come alive with the sun.

Looking East toward the Bay of Bengal.  The tall buildings are on the beach

Chennai does not have a skyline.
Buildings top out around 20 stories and there's no central concentration of them.  Due to random urban renewal, a 20-story office or apartment building can stand next to a one-story concrete bunker of a store built in the 30's.  While there's zoning for commercial versus residential, taste and building size don't seem to be regulated.

What passes for a street or neighborhood sign.  A bit random.

We live in a neighborhood in South Chennai called Bishop Garden.  To make things a little more confusing, the street we're on is also called Bishop Garden.  It's tree-lined, not noisy, and features old semi-deco style houses mixed among more modern apartment buildings like ours.

A bit deceptive- the area is more urban.  And smells it.

There are trees to offer a little shade when walking to commercial streets but only random sidewalk  expanses, both in appearance and width.  Stroll at one's peril would be a good slogan to heed.

Our apt. is the second floor and part of the third

The apartment building is a rock fortress, concrete bones covered in stucco and plaster and then tiled in marble.  Wood is reserved for occasional trim and doors.  In such a hot, humid town, the developer knew what materials work best to stay cool.  More on the inside of our apartment coming up.

Being from Miami helps serve as a good reference for Chennai: traffic, weather, beach, flora.  Chennai's architecture is similar to Little Havana and the surrounding western neighborhoods.  Sprinkle it with more dirt and trash, some overall traffic/people mayhem and a random layout, and you'll have a good idea of our new home.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Delhi Slicer

HTemp: 38c
Rain:  0.3"
`-$:  44.99

We arrive in Delhi around midnight, tired and ready to sleep.  It is nice to be in India.  Our bags take forever to show, but the shuttle is there, traffic moves (but who are all these people on the road at this hour?) and the hotel is in our sights soon enough.  And then the guards.  And the barricades.  And then the engine/trunk search.

Welcome to Fort Hyatt.
The view from our hotel window.  They say Delhi is like Los Angeles...

Stranded along a highway and set back from the road, the Delhi Hyatt is its own compound with its own rules for access, designed around the multi-national business visitor.  No one wants an incident.  We go through a hand bag check and a metal detector.  The luggage will be brought up separately.

Only three of four bags arrive.  There's a problem.  "Why do you have knives in your bag?" the nice woman who checked us in asks.  How do we explain that most of our belongings are weeks from arriving in India and what we've included in our four bags are items we needed immediately? And having a few kitchen knives, pardon the pun, made the cut?  The truth does not bring the bag and so it sits in lock up until we check out.  So much for cooking in the room.

Bathroom Break

A nice touch in Delhi Airport's otherwise non-descript modern, endless shed of a terminal, are the bathroom entrances.  Besides the usual stick man/woman signs, there are floor-to-ceiling outrageously glossy and perfected photos of Indian youth representing the corresponding sex in the doorways as you enter.

Each restroom has a different person but each image is as universal as the previous one.  It's a nice Bollywood touch to a usually drab environment.  

Friday, 24 June 2011

Brouhaha in Brussels

HTemp: 38c
Rain:  0.3"
`-$:  44.95

Our red-eye from JFK landed on time in Brussels and our first taste of India, Jet Airways, pushed without delay.
As fresh as one can look at 3am EDT
We dutifully waited for our row to be called, but when that never happened, we sheepishly approached the agent and asked if we could board the plane.  She laughed in surprise that we'd been waiting to hear our row number, because, she said, "No one else ever does." Welcome to India!

Takeoff was smooth but about 10 minutes into the flight we notice flight attendants speaking sharply to a passenger and quickly subduing him.  We haven't left Belgian airspace and we have an international incident?  They grab extra seat belts to strap him down.  He starts yelling in Spanish about his Barcelona Futbol team.  The plane yawls, the sure sign of turning around.  The pilot announces such.  We land back in Brussels,  swarms of security invade the plane, then a frantic search for his bag, passengers rushing the bathrooms, refueling and finally off again 45 minutes later.  So much for extra sleep in New Delhi.

Before taking off again, an attendant got on the P.A. and was kind enough to have all the passengers, "search around your seats, as one of the federal agents has lost his mobile phone."

Nothing to see here, folks, just your average futbol drunk causing mile high mayhem...

James couldn't help thinking about a verse in a Bob Dylan song while the above events unfolded.  A star to whoever names the song:

I left Rome and landed in Brussels
On a plane ride so bumpy that I almost cried
Clergymen in uniform and young girls pullin’ muscles
Everyone was there to greet me when I stepped inside
Newspapermen eating candy
Had to be held down by big police
Someday, everything is gonna be diff’rent
When I paint my masterpiece

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Hello World!

HTemp: 37c
Rain:  1.5"
`-$:  44.89   

Welcome to Hello Talalay, a place to track the worldly wanderings of James and Sarah Talalay.  Sarah is now in the Foreign Service as a Consular officer stationed in Chennai, India.  That's the US State Department and formerly the city of Madras.  It's her first posting; James is along for the ride as the EFM (any guess on what those initials mean?  There will be heap o' acronyms along the way...).  We're here for two years.

Part travel guide, part diary, part vanity project?  How-to?  Who knows?  We don't.  Yet. We'll take inspiration from a line in the movie, "A Serious Man" --  "Embrace the mystery".

Before Chennai, there was a quick stop in NYC, where Sarah had a few meetings, while James got to roam the city.  So how about a stop at the UN for a little prep for our future?

It was a bit of a sleep walk of stats and propaganda but North by Northwest was much in mind and seeing a fine example of the International School of Architecture was a delight, albeit a slightly sad one as the UN has never been renovated and is now showing some deep scars.  But a couple of nice details:

Escalator with scalloped stainless steel sides

Bench moderne, linoleum floor, ripped seat.  Will turquoise make it through the renovation?

So long USA, onto Chennai (by way of Brussels and New Delhi but who's counting the stops?)