Monday, April 14, 2008

First Awesome Weekend

So this weekend, although it was officially the third weekend, it was really only the first weekend where any of us were capable of staying up more than three hours consecutively, so a nice full Saturday and Sunday were planned, and I must say executed quite successfully. (You can't see it, but I'm patting myself on the back right now).

Saturday
Although the remnants of our somewhat brutal 7pm to 4 am shift were still marring the beginning of the day, by about 3:30 we were up and at 'em. Our driver met us at the hotel entrance, I'm really finding it difficult to become accostomed to saying "our driver". I feel like I should be at least southern, or at the very least Jessica Tandy, to have a driver, but I digress. We headed out in the opposite direction from the way we usually start and ended up at a store called Nalli. We walked in and were quickly ushered into the store, and shown everything, until Rachel showed up, then she set things straight. She's been in Chennai for a couple of years now, and is a native of India, and seriously the best person to have with you while shopping to ensure you don't get ripped off. We set straight to work, Sari Shopping. And yes, it's such serious business that it does require capital letters! Essentially, the sari is really just one long sheet of material. It's like going into Joanne Fabrics and saying you want 6 yards of fabric, only this fabric is hand-woven silk and beautifully embroidered, in the more expensive cases. However, saris, since they can be everyday wear as well, have a range of materials and decoration. The silk is worn more for formal occasions, where as there is also a lighter, chiffon type of material since it gets so hot in Chennai that women buy for less formal use. But hey, we were shopping for a wedding, my first Hindu wedding, so I was heading straight for the silk. Then it's just down to what color and what kind of detailing you want. They range from 1500 rupees to 7000 rupees. Since I am the daughter of an accountant and a mother who saves coupons, I didn't go for the cheapest, but I also figured I wouldn't go too extravagant. I bought this gorgeous deep eggplant color that weaves into a gold color, and is almost irridescent. I'm pretty excited. Then it was off to the tailor's to get my blouse fitted. Finally, it was time for the boys to shop, but we didn't go to a specialty shop for them, just the local mall, Spencer's plaza. See, formal occasions are alwasy easier for boys! I get a whole store, and a tailor, and they get, "do you need that in small medium or large?"

Overall, a mall is a mall, is a mall and everyone loves to spend their time there on the weekends. Spencer's was full of families and local shops, as well as the major chains, like Nike, Reebok, and Adidas. I went into this boutique which had some pretty awesomely unique shoes and thought, oh man, this is great, I'll bet I can get them for cheap! and picked them up to check out the price and saw that they were 18,900 Rupees, which roughly translates to 500.00 if I'm not mistaken. You can imagine how disappointed I was when I realized that although my country code had changed, my obsession with high priced fashion had not, and as always I was stuck with champagne taste on a beer bottle budget. Oh well. I replaced the shoes to their shelf and thanked the man, as I wiped the tears from my eyes.

I also discovered the beauty of the date on Saturday, at least the beauty of the date that comes in a nut form. At a smoothie shop in the mall, I tasted what was named the Sheik Shake, which was basically a milkshake blended with dates, and was quite possibly the best dairy-based dessert I've had in quite a while.

Sunday
I must admit that, usually, if I'm visiting a place, I don't like to be easily identified as the "tourist". I like to blend in. I find it makes it more difficult for people to take advantage of you. Here though, it's way too difficult for me to blend in, especially when my pale pale skin glows even more with the sheen of sunscreen. So Sunday was given over to complete tourist spots.

The first was Kanchipuram. It is a town known for its elaborate temples and silk sarees. About an hour and a half from the center of Chennai, it's still in Chennai state, but far from the city. We arrived, and I suddenly had this image of China town. Although the temples are still houses of worship, they're also tourist attractions and have brought merchants just trying to sell their wares, gold plated Vishnu's and Ganeshes that can dangle from your review mirror. We removed our shoes before we even got out of the car, because although they're trading, it is still sacred ground. On going inside, there was a beautiful elephant, with a painted trunk. We found out it had learned a pretty neat trick.

The elephant, I'll call her Lola, was able to take a coin from a person's hand and in return grant a blessing by placing her trunk on your head. It was pretty amazing actually. Lola also had a master, or as I call him, a "pimp" who would make sure that Lola always gave all of her earnings over to him. It was really amazing the speed with which Lola was able to take your coin and tap your head and move on to the next person. Unfortunately, the temple itself was only open to Hindus, so we were unable to see the inside, but the square outside was more than enough to keep one occupied for a period of time.

After the temple we stayed in Kanchipuram and had breakfast, which for me, consisted of Masala Dosa, which is basically like a crepe rolled up with a masala mixture of potatoes and spices inside. Except apparently it only came in giant size. I've never seen anything so massive in my life! At least not to eat in one sitting.

After breakfast we headed back to the outskirts, passing small villages and random houses and fields and fields of cows, and even 2 monkeys! Arriving at our second destination, Mammaliapuram, which is essentially the remanants of a 7th century temple. It was a hike to the top of the fortress, but then looking out over everything was pretty amazing. There's a giant lighthouse, and you can see the very blue ocean, not so far away.

In another area of the park, there is another set of carvings, the 5 rathas, which are the 5 chariots of the 5 sons of one of the gods. These are all supposedly carved from the same giant stone, and I must admit are really impressive. They very in size, the largest chariot for the oldest brother until you get to the tiny chariot for the baby of the family. It made me pleased to be an only child because I knew, not only would I get the biggest, I would get all 5, and sorry for my Uncle Dave who would have gotten the tiniest chariot indeed, with 7 older siblings!

By this time it was about 2:30 and we headed to the beach, but man, it was hot. I can't lie. I finally understand why people don't do much during the days in Chennai. All you really want to do is be out of the air conditioning long enough to snap a few photos. People were even ignoring the "do not swim" signs and diving headfirst into the sea, and I didn't blame them! The beach was crowded and like any good boardwalk, crammed with people selling things that you think you need at the time and then get home and realize that you should have bought groceries instead of a horn made out of a seashell with your money. I didn't buy anything, but it was difficult at times to fend off the salesmen. Just keep your eyes forward and only communicate when absolutely necessary, thank you New York City for teaching me that lesson!

After the beach, there was a welcome respite from the sun at the Crocodile Park. I realized just how pale I was when an Indian family wanted to take a picture with me, I think just because I was so pale! It was pretty amazing, so of course, I obliged. Think of how disappointed they'll be when they find out I'm not Angelina Jolie, and just a random American! It was so hot that the crocs weren't really doing much more than sticking their nostrils out of the water, so we then headed to a jetty where you can either take a motorboat, a row boat or a paddle boat. A motorboat was decided by all, mainly because the idea of rowing a boat was ludicrous at this point, and off we set on a very pleasant journey down the backwaters of the sea.

All in all, a pretty delightful weekend, lots of photo ops, and crocs, what more could a girl ask for?!

P.S. still try to kick Kristy Lee off of American Idol this week, come on guys, I'm relying on you, I can't do anything halfway around the world!

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