Thursday, June 29, 2006

assertiveness training

The fun (and the spending too much money) continues. Last night the cool British couple that we met in Mamalapuram were in Chennai, so we went out to Zara’s again, and then to this very hip nightclub called Pasha. The evening was pretty interesting, but for now I will start with obtaining transportation there because I think it’s a rather illustrative anecdote of one aspect of my life here.

We wanted to get a ride to Zara’s in an auto-rickshaw, which are the little three-wheeled vehicles that are used as taxis. This is what they look like:

The thing about the rickshaw drivers is that they will almost certainly try to rip you off if you’re white, because they figure you probably don’t know any better. But since we’ve been here for a few weeks, and since we go to the same or similar places repeatedly, we have a good sense of how much we feel that we should pay (it’s probably still more than a local would pay, but hey, we can afford it, so I really don’t mind). So you have to haggle with the drivers to get a reasonable price. Our tactic is to decide how much we’re willing to pay beforehand, and then start about 20 rupees under that and talk them down as they talk us up. The most effective way to get a good price is to start walking away, and even if they call your bluff and let you leave it’s not hard to find another rickshaw.

A rickshaw has a front seat for the driver and then a bench behind that will more or less fit three people. M, E, and I sort of have to squeeze together to all fit (mostly because my hips are huge), but it’s not really uncomfortable, other than the fact that we’re sweating on each other. So for the five of us, we decided M would sit on my lap and cool Brit boy would sit on cool Brit girl’s lap, and we’d just sort of cram ourselves in for the ride. A couple rickshaw drivers wouldn’t even let all five of us into one rickshaw (which is funny because I’ve seen rickshaws with literally nine or ten Indians packed into them), but there was one driver who agreed to take us in one rickshaw but wanted to charge us Rs. 100. The driver is one of the regulars on our street and has taken us places before, so we know him a little bit. E talked him down to 80, but we wanted to pay only 70, so E politely persisted in saying that we would only pay 70. I was looking the other way and didn’t see this, but according to E, the guy raised his eyebrows and stared at him rather derisively and condescendingly and said, "You make joke?" as though E was stupid and ridiculous for suggesting such a low price (when in fact Rs. 70 is quite reasonable).

Let me pause for a moment to say something about E, since most of you don’t really know him. He is incredibly kind and infinitely patient. You all know how annoying I am, and he’s been spending practically every day with me for nearly a solid nine months, and he puts up with me serenely and with good humor. He doesn’t raise his voice (well, not in anger–he raises his voice all the time to sing annoying songs that then get stuck in my head) and he doesn’t lose his temper. Not usually, anyway. The cultural adjustment has been trying for him, as it has been for me, because people are always getting in your face trying to sell you something, trying to rip you off, etc. As E puts it, "I feel like I have to be an asshole and I don’t like doing that."

So anyway, the rickshaw driver was being a jerk and insulting E, but I didn’t really notice. What I did notice is that E suddenly said, a little loudly and very sharply, something to the effect of "Fuck you. I don’t want a ride from you anyway. Just get away from me." I was totally scandalized. He says he just sort of snapped, and that it almost never happens to him in the U.S., but it’s happened a few times in India. I think I know what he means. I’ve also found myself feeling more hostile toward people that I expect to try to take advantage of me. I had an experience with a rickshaw driver where he wanted me to pay extra because he took me to the wrong place, and I said I’d give him 20 rupees more and that was it. I needed to give him 70 total and all I had was a 100 rupee bill. The driver claimed to have only 13 rupees of change, so I got out of the rickshaw to go up to a little store to get some change. So soon the rickshaw driver is following me and has magically produced 30 rupees to give me in change. Without even really thinking about it, I gave him the 100, snatched the 30 away from him, and said, "You lied to me about not having change, and you lied to me about how much the toll was (there’s a toll road between Mamalapuram and Chennai and they tell you the toll is Rs. 50 but it’s really 45, and they try to keep your Rs. 5 of change), and you think I’m just a stupid American tourist and that I don’t know any better, but I do, and I really don’t appreciate your behavior." And then I stalked off as he was no doubt cursing at me in Tamil. I’m not even sure why I was so angry; I guess things just start to build up. Already that morning the guy at the guesthouse tried to charge me for 6 nights instead of 5, and the guy with whom I negotiated to get the rickshaw ride from Mamalapuram to Chennai told me that it would be more expensive to go to Saidapet (the neighborhood in Chennai where the OI office is) when I know damn well that Saidapet is farther south and therefore closer to Mamalapuram than a lot of other places in Chennai.

The hostility and aggressiveness is a weird side of me, and from what I can tell, a weird side of E too. It’s good because it makes me feel confident and assertive when I’m able to say, "No, Saidapet is in the south. It should be cheaper, not more expensive." But on the other hand, I have to remind myself that for as many Indians who are trying to cheat me and getting in my face, there are so many who have been incredibly kind and helpful (one example: the guy I buy water and TP from in Mamalapuram directed me to another store where I could put more money on my phone. I was going to buy water from the first guy, but all I had was a 500 rupee note, so I said, "I’ll buy the water on my way back" and he said, "No, it’s okay, you take the water now, pay me on the way back."). And of course I can always think back to the women at yesterday’s group meeting, or all the helpful people at OI, and then I feel downright warm and fuzzy about this country again.

As with my last Indian inconvenience, there is a happy epilogue to the story, which is that we found a driver who would take all five of us in one rickshaw for Rs. 70. He turned out to be a nice, funny guy, and we got him to take this picture of us all crammed into the rickshaw:

And in addition to the 70 rupees, we also gave him a one dollar bill, because he found out that three of us were from America and many Indians really like getting foreign money, especially dollars. So in theory we spent 115 rupees on the ride, but when people are kind and honest, you want to give them more, you know? And E’s little outburst was pretty hilarious to the rest of us, especially since he’s normally so calm and agreeable.

On an entirely unrelated note, isn’t this a great picture of E and I?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

group meeting

So, after a little rebellion, a little football-watching, a little beer, and a lot of sleep, I snapped out of my funk and came back to Chennai on Tuesday morning, where I met E and M at the OI office. They seemed surprised to see me, especially E (and especially because I got there earlier than they did, and I had come all the way from Mamalapuram). We fine-tuned the survey a bit more, then we went to a borrower group meeting to observe and to pre-test the survey afterwards. The basic idea with pre-testing is that you make sure the questions make sense and are interpreted correctly by the people who are answering them.

The group meeting was very interesting. As I mentioned before, all OI borrowers are women (technically, OI is just the sort of an umbrella organization--the actual MFI is called IMED, which stands for Intermission Micro Enterprise Development or something like that). Anyway, the women form groups of usually about 20 borrowers, and they each get an initial loan of somewhere between Rs. 1000 and 4000 (US$22 to 89). Group leaders are responsible for collecting weekly repayment (probably Rs. 20-40 per week) on Sundays and depositing the money into the group's joint bank account. IMED is given checks drawn against the account which they cash every week to receive the repayment (BJ says this repayment situation is far from ideal, but there were a lot of problems with how IMED was working, and that's why Jim and BJ are there working on fixing them). Anyway, during the meetings, they take role, pray (it seems a little weird to me, because a lot of the women are Hindu, but IMED and OI are Christian organizations, so it makes sense), and the loan assistant person from IMED does a training session. The meeting we went to had a lesson about confidence. It seemed pretty cheesy based on what was being translated to me, but these are women that are generally in need of confidence and impowerment, so I think it's a good thing.

All of the women were incredibly kind and open. They all sit on the concrete floor (the meetings take place in one of the borrowers' homes) but they gave us chairs to sit in and welcomed us very warmly. Afterwards we used our OI helper to translate the survey and administer it to two of the women, which went pretty smoothly and was extremely helpful in making a few additional edits. They insisted on giving us tea and cookies (best tea I've had since I've been here, and the cookies tasted like those Girl Scout shortbread cookies, which I love) and had us all sign the group's guest book. It was really cool to be at an actual microfinance group meeting, to meet the women and hear about their microenterprises and their lives. One woman told a story about how her husband is a drunk and beats her and her children, and it was clearly very upseting to her, but moments later she seemed joyful and silly, joking with the women around her and telling E (through our translator) that he needed to shave (she was right).

So, I'm feeling really good about our project again and very excited about meeting and interacting with more borrowers. It is a huge privilege to be able to attend their meetings and survey them, and I'd like to learn to say that in Tamil so I make sure it gets across. We emailed a potential translator today, we have an appointment with someone that can help us hire enumerators on Friday, and we have our release form written, so things are really coming together. And the cool British couple is in Chennai tonight, so we'll go out and have some fun.

I'll try to post more pictures soon. I have some of Chennai and some of us being goofy. Only one of the computers in the internet place near us will talk to my computer, and it isn't working right now, so we'll see how that goes.

all better

I'm back in Chennai and things are much, much better. I still want to be an economist and for the most part I really like the Indian people. I want to tell you all about it, but I'm in a rush at the moment so I just wanted to say I'm fine and no longer freaking out. And I want to give a shout out to T and Rebel for their words of comfort and concern (and to B for the phone call). More very soon!

Monday, June 26, 2006


E and M are in Chennai. I'm still in Mamalapuram. I'm not supposed to be. I can't explain exactly why I'm still here, but it's possible that I'm having a minor freak-out. Very minor. Nothing to be concerned about. Maybe the final stages of cultural adjustment? Maybe wondering whether I really want to be a development economist? There are still a couple Westerners here that I know (the dutch guy, the documentary chick, some random French stoner) so I'm not exactly all alone. And plus I'm a beloved regular at two restaurants and one little shop (where I buy the necessities: water and toilet paper).

I'll go back to Chennai in the morning.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

post script

E is feeling better, and he took all of his Cipro, so hopefully no more relapses. M got a very sweet email from Romeo and is on cloud 9 again. I have a phone and a phone number; I won't post it here for obvious reasons, but I'll send out an email.

european friends, shopping, and random things on fire

We are in Mamalapuram again. Have I mentioned how much I love it here? The awesome British couple that we met last time we were here are back here again, so we've been hanging out with them a ton. We also met another fabulous British woman who is the assistant producer for a documentary about India that the Discovery Channel is producing (note to Muffin: yes, I got her email address), and this cool Dutch lawyer guy who made piles of money and has been travelling around the world for the last two and a half years. It's amazing how many Europeans, in many cases rather young ones (the aforementioned awesome British couple are only 19, but seem quite mature and well-adjusted), seem to take long holidays in South Asia or Africa. We hardly ever meet other Americans, and if we do, they're usually volunteering or working or studying like we are.

So, I did some shopping. I bought a cute red, pink, and gold silk wrap-around skirt (Rs. 150/US$3.33), a silver anklet, a very interesting-looking pendant with three peridot stones (that's my birthstone), peridot earrings (total for all the jewelry was Rs. 1050/US$23.33), and a red and black enameled box to put my share of my dad's ashes in (Rs. 300/US$6.66, which I felt was kind of a rip-off, but I really liked the box, I felt guilty about haggling excessively for someone's final resting place, and when I get home I'm eager to take the ashes out of the spice jar, purchased by my brother at Linens 'n' Things for $1.99, in which they currently reside). I might buy a new lungi (like a sarong, basically) from the woman who keeps harassing us out on the street to look at her stuff. Oh, and I bought a stone pendant carved into the shape of the "om" symbol (Rs. 40/$0.89) from some guy on the beach who kept bugging us.

My section of the survey has been revised per my advisor's comments, and he seems basically happy with it, so after a few more minor changes and some comments from Jim and BJ at OI (which we will get Monday morning) it will be ready to translate. Translating it into Tamil and then typing it into Tamil will take a while, and then we have to pre-test it to make sure the questions make sense and ellicit the answers we want, and then we have to hire ennumerators (people who speak Tamil and English to actually administer the survey) and then all systems will be go. The process of finding ennumerators and a translator has been started, but it will take some time to get it all done and I don't think we will be able to begin surveying this week like we'd hoped. On one hand, we're basically getting done everything that we should be, and we're doing it in a fairly reasonable time frame, but on the other hand, this place deeply saps my motivation, and I know we could be working faster. I'm having a difficult time because I don't like Chennai much, so I feel sort of hot and gross and unmotivated a lot of the time that I'm there. Here in Mamalapuram, I feel great, but I'm having too much fun to get much work done (although I did get up at 9 a.m. when the internet place opens to email the survey revisions to our advisor, despite the fact that I was up until nearly 6 a.m. the night before, so I'm trying to be dilligent, at least).

Some Indian guy just came into the internet place with a green coconut that had a hole cut in the top and something stuck in the hole and lit on fire, creating what looked sort of like a coconut candle, but with a bigger flame. What this is, I have no idea.

I'll try to update more often; my access to internet is generally good; it's mostly laziness that keeps me from posting more frequently. Oh, and also this is probably going to cost me 40 WHOLE RUPEES. That's right, I'm paying nearly a dollar to keep you all informed. You're welcome. =)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

daddy's girl

Poor E is sick again, so we didn't get much done yesterday (don't ask me why M and I couldn't get work done...India has really sapped my sense of urgency for getting things done). But the good news is that E is doing much better, and as of this morning our survey is finished! Yay! Now if I could only get my flash drive to work on a computer that also has its internet working, we could email it to our advisor. This internet place is starting to drive me nuts, because the internet is always going out, and some of the computers have old operating systems that won't do what you want them to. But it's cheap, it's air conditioned, it's nearby, and I have no reason to believe any other internet places are more reliable, so oh well.

I had sort of an interesting cultural experience two days ago. E and I wanted to get Indian sim cards for our cell phones so that we can use them here cheaply, so one of the office helpers at OI, this very nice older Indian guy, took us to the Airtel store to buy them. We were getting prepaid sim cards, so we pay for the cards and then pay for the minutes before we use them. So in theory, they should require that we provide little or no information to them. But hey, maybe India wants to keep tabs on who has a phone. No problem. So at the Airtel store, they took copies of our passports, the Indian visas in our passports, and a receipt from Broadlands Lodge to prove that that's where we're staying. Then we filled out forms. Then the woman at the Airtel place called in the information to someone. I thought we were all set, but then I discovered that the woman wouldn't activate our cards until we provided a passport-sized photo to attach to our applications.

I like to think that normally I'm fairly patient and tolerant of bureaucracy and hassles and such. After all, I was once a bureaucrat myself. But for some reason I just sort of snapped, and I started channeling my dearly departed father, who had little tolerance for anything that he felt was pointless or illogical. I asked the Airtel woman why she needed a photo of me. "For proof," she said. "Proof of what?" I asked. I can't remember her exact response, but it was some sort of circular non-answer like, "Of your identity" or something. "But I'm standing right here, and there's my passport," I said.

So E dragged me out of the office, fuming, and the helper from OI took us on a sweaty 10 minute walk to a place where they take photos. On the way, I tried to find out from him why the picture was necessary. "For proof," he said. "Proof of WHAT?" I said. We went back and forth a bit, and finally he said, "Because this is how it is done in India." Ah, the truth comes out. He asked, "They don't require a picture in US?" and like the smug, obnoxious American that I apparently am, I told him that no, in the US they don't ask for a bunch of unnecessary information when you're getting a prepaid cell phone, and they NEVER ask for a picture.

Anyway, we got to the photo place, where I discovered that we had to buy a minimum of 8 passport-sized photos. "Why?" I asked, knowing that there is no meaningful answer. Besides, at that point I was just being petty, because to have my picture taken and 8 photos printed cost Rs. 80, which is less than US$2. I resigned myself to my fate and placated myself by refusing to smile in my photo. And E cheered me up a little by saying "Well, it's good that we have extra photos, we might need one later if we want to buy an ice cream cone." We walked back to the Airtel office and procured our Indian sim cards, only to discover that they won't work in our phones because we need some kind of software upgrade. "You need to go to the Motorola store," the Airtel woman tells me, but despite the fact that I ask, she can't be bothered to find out where the Motorola store is. They are not all about the customer service in India. In fact, I'm starting to feel as though the Indians that are nice to me are doing so because they know I am a rich white person and they want something from me, and if they don't want anything they aren't particularly nice to me. This is, of course, an overgeneralization, and it's also a reaction to being a comparatively rich minority in a country that's culturally very different. But I do find myself feeling more annoyed and jaded. Hopefully that feeling will pass soon.

The epilogue to this story is that it turns out that we can buy an Indian cell phone for Rs. 500 (US$11), so we're just going to do that instead of going through the hassle of making our phones compatible. When I get my cell phone (probably today) I will email the number to y'all.

more pictures!

My mojito from Zara's.

M and Romeo at Zara's.

The server lighting one of the Frenchie's cigarettes at Zara's.

Beach at Mamalapuram. Like everywhere else in India, filled with garbage.

At our guest house's restaurant in Mamalapuram with some fellow travellers and locals we befriended.

A fishing boat that was clearly donated by Catholic Relief Services after the tsunami. These are all over the beach. Seems funny that CRS feels the need to advertise.

More CRS fishing boats.

More travellers we met in Mamalapuram. That old guy with the tattoo was trying to do a trick with his beer and he spilled it all over himself.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


Me on the bus on the way to Mamalapuram

Lakshmi Lodge, our guest house in Mamalaparam. Our room is just to the right. We LOVED those swinging chairs.

Another shot of Lakshmi Lodge

The beach at Mamalapuram

An intersection in Chennai

More pictures soon...I'm having trouble uploading more pictures to blogger right now, so that's all for the moment.

work and play

Well, we've been living a bit of the high life since we got back to Chennai on Thursday. On Thursday night we went to sort of an American-style pub called the Bike and Barrel. By India standards it was pretty obscenely expensive--I paid Rs. 800 (about $17.70) for three glasses of wine (a pinot noir made in India--not too bad), dinner (pasta with chicken and shrimp--yum!), my share of an appetizer (something called "potato nachos" which tasted like tater tots with cheese and peppers on them), taxes, and tip. And I suppose I was also paying for the privilege of sitting in air conditioning for three hours and watching the England-Trinidad and Tobago football match (England won by scoring 2 goals in the last seven minutes of the game--very exciting). The only annoying part was that the music was quite loud, but they did play an entertaining selection of random, often cheesy, often old American hits. The highlights:

  • You're the Inspiration by Chicago
  • Dancing Queen by Abba
  • Caribbean Queen by Billy Ocean
  • Stayin' Alive by the Bee Gees
  • Faith by George Michael
  • Maneater by Hall & Oates
  • All I Want to Do is Make Love to You by some annoying chick (note to B: I nearly died when this song came on)

As if that wasn't luxury enough, on Friday night we went to an even swankier place. First, let me rewind a few days back to Mamalapuram and give you an update on M's love life. There were these three French hippies staying at our guest house, and M kept exchanging looks with the really cute one. Eventually she met and started hanging out with them, and a little romance blossomed between "Romeo" and her. As luck would have it, they were planning to head to Chennai about the same time we were, and also planning to stay at Broadlands Lodge, which is where we're staying too.

So they arrived Friday night, and we decided to go to Zara's, which is a hip tapas place. I found it rather entertaining. First of all, they have a dress code which forbids men from wearing sandals. Since that's all the Frenchies (as we affectionately call them) brought to India with them (and reasonably so, I feel), the restaurant actually gave them shoes to wear while they were there. The servers were very attentive, and I almost peed my pants when M got out a cigarette and a server rushed over and lit it for her. And they had cocktails! With ice! After drinking a lot of lukewarm Kingfisher (a local beer--their slogan is "The King of Good Times"), my mojito and my whiskey sours were wonderful. A little too wonderful, in fact, because I had a few too many. This was coupled with the fact that I hadn't eaten since breakfast and all I had for dinner was 3 shrimp, a piece of "bruchetta" (actually spaghetti sauce on bread, but it was still good), and a piece of fried paneer (Paneer is a soft Indian cheese, a little bit like cottage cheese but it has smaller curds and tastes much better. The fried paneer was sort of like the Indian version of fried mozerella sticks, and it was YUM). So I was pretty wasted last night, and I'm pretty hung over today. And we spent a ton of money. I think it came out to an equivalent of around $35 a person.

So, no more splurging for Jenn. At least not for a little while. In the meantime, we managed to get some work done finally. On Friday we went to the Opportunity International (OI) main office to meet some people and get some more information on how things work. The main person we're working with is a cool guy named BJ (that's not actually his name, but in keeping with my "privacy" policy, I'm just using two of the letters from his name). He just finished an MBA in economic development, one of the requirements of which was field experience, which he got by working for OI in India on a contract basis. After he was done with his MBA program he decided to extend his contract with OI, so he's been here since last September and plans to be here until this coming September. He's 26, and his parents are both from India, but he was born and raised in the US. He's really nice and really helpful (in fact, E and I are in his air conditioned apartment right now, using his wireless internet connection on our laptops).

Anyway, going to the OI office was great. We looked through some borrower application forms to get a sense of what the women do (all the borrowers are female) and what sort of information OI collects about them. After reading a couple books and more than a dozen journal articles on microfinance, as well as studying it in class, to actually see the pictures of the borrowers (there's a picture on their application) and see the information about them was really exciting. I felt like I was looking at pictures of rock stars or something.

Today E and I went to a coffee shop (more AC! yay!) and started rewriting our survey (Romeo is leaving Chennai tomorrow, so we told M she should spend the day with him instead of working). We made pretty good progress, and are going to try to finish it tomorrow.

I will be posting some pictures in just a few minutes...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

tiredness and the world cup

We're still in Mamalapuram. We were supposed to go back to Chennai today, but decided to stay one more day because we love it here. I think we'll be spending lots of weekends here. Our favorite restaurant is called "Le Yogi" and it's advertised as serving "franco-indian" food. Basically it's Indian food plus crepes. The service is ridiculously slow (it's just one cook and one waiter), but the atmosphere is wonderful (you take off your shoes, and most of the tables are low so you sit on cushions on the ground; there are paper lanterns and usually a nice cool breeze). I've been having the egg and cheese crepe for breakfast, and alternating between prawn noodles, prawn rice (both of which are technically Chinese), and prawn curry for lunch and dinner. I do love my prawns.

So far, I've had mercifully few encounters with large insects. In fact, I was starting to fantasize that all the cockroaches in India were small. Then yesterday E mentioned that there was a huge cockroach in his bathroom, which of course freaked me out. So when M and I got back to the guest house I checked our bathroom, and lo and behold, a 2-inch-long cockroach (with creepy inch-long antennae) was crouched on the sink next to M's toiletry case. I called M in for backup and we managed to kill it, with minimal girlish shrieking, using my Lonely Planet India guide.

I mentioned in my last post that we've been watching World Cup matches. I have, as I'm sure most of you know, no interest whatsoever in football*, but M and E both do, so I've been watching with them, and I'm starting to get into it. The US got positively trounced by the Czech Republic last night, which was sad, but just a little while ago Korea beat Togo, which I am celebrating on behalf of my dear Korean friend H. The restaurant at our guest house finally got their TV working, so tonight we're watching just a few yards from our rooms rather than on the beach at Bob Marley. India is only about 4 hours later than Germany, so we can watch the matches live at a reasonable hour.

So things are great, except for the fact that I'm exhausted all the time. I think it's a combination of jet lag, the heat, the sunburn I managed to get, and the fact that so far we've mostly just been hanging out (today I actually went over a little bit of the data that Opportunity International gave us, but we haven't written our survey yet). I've been going to bed anywhere between 8:30 and midnight, and usually waking up really early, like 4 or 5. I lie in bed for a few hours, then I fall back asleep from around 7 to 9 (or in today's case, 11:30). Around 5 p.m., I become profoundly sleepy and usually take a nap of some sort. Right now it's 9:15 and I'm hoping I can stay awake long enough to watch the France-Switzerland game, which starts in about 5 minutes.

I have pictures to post, but I keep forgetting to bring my camera cable down to the internet cafe with me.

*football = soccer, for all you yankees

Sunday, June 11, 2006

around the world

I've been making notes in my journal so that once I finally sit down in front of a computer, I can remember what I have to say about my various experiences. So our journey begins a few days ago, back in the states...


Muffin drove me to the airport and saw me off with much love and good advice (he's an experienced Southeast Asia traveller). There's this whole bizarre procedure where you have to get your checked luggage screened before you check in at the counter, so I waited in the wrong line for a while. Then M arrived at the airport, we determined which lines to stand in and in which order, and made it to our gate shortly before our flight started boarding. Our first flight was the longest, 14 hours, and thanks to the valium I borrowed from M, it was heaven. I think I slept for 8 hours.

Chiang Kai Shek International Airport, Taipei, Taiwan

We landed at around 6:45 a.m. local time in Taiwan, where we had a very brief layover before getting back on the same plane and heading to Malaysia. We walked around a bit, used the bathroom, and sat in a little airport restaurant drinking a Heinekin. During the flight from Taipei to Kuala Lumpur, I read Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, which was recommended to me by my dear friend R, and which I found bizarre, engaging, and enjoyable.

Empress Sepang Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Our otherwise incompetent travel agent managed to get us a free hotel room for our 8 hour layover in KL, so we had a free curry lunch, showered, and lounged around in air-conditioned comfort for a while before returning to the airport. M was beside herself with happiness when she discovered a Yankees-Red Sox game on the TV in our room.

Chennai, India

Our arrival into Chennai went smoothly. By the time we were ready to board our final flight, we'd been awake for a while and were both quite sleepy. Exacerbating this was the fact that we each consumed nearly a Schefke* at the KL airport before boarding. Needless to say, we slept through the whole flight. We don't even know how long it was. We did notice, before we passed out, that we were the only white people on the plane. The upshot of this was that the majority of the people on the flight were Indian nationals, so the "Foreign Passports" line at immigration was quite short. The kind woman who stamped our passports was very concerned about the two of us travelling alone, and very relieved to find out that we were meeting a male friend in Chennai.

I've only spent about 13 hours in Chennai so far, and a good half of that was sleeping. We met up with E the night we got in, chatted for a while, and went to bed. When we got up we had a traditional Indian breakfast (something called Puri, which is a sort of curry-esque potatoe and onion mixture that you eat with lightly fried, puffed-up flat bread. Yum. And it cost less than 50 cents (it cost 18 rupees; $1 = 45 rupees). After breakfast we looked at a couple guest houses in the area to find one better than the one where we'd stayed that night. Then we took a taxi to the central bus station, where we boarded a bus to Mamalapuram, a coastal town just 50 km (30 miles) south of Chennai.


Anyone who has travelled in a developing country will not be surprised that it took nearly 2 hours on a bus to get to a destination 30 miles away. We've been staying at a charming little guest house here, hanging out on the beach, watching World Cup matches on what seems to be the only TV in town (located outdoors at an establishment right on the beach called the Bob Marley Restaurant), and sampling the various restaurants in town. I'm still having a bit of trouble with jet lag, but I'm working on it. The ocean is a perfect temperature: whereas it's usually too cold in California (and certainly in Oregon), and it was a bit too bathwater-warm in the Gulf of Mexico, the Indian Ocean is about the temperature of tap water--warm enough to be inviting, but cool enough to be refreshing.

There's more to say, but this post is rather long already, and the ergonomics of this computer are set up for someone much shorter than me, so I'm going to go before the cramp in my shoulder gets worse.

*1 schefke = 4 beers. Definition courtesy of B.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

very quick update

Well, I made it to India safely, and it's great, and I have a ton of stuff to say about it, but we're on our way to have a late breakfast, so I'll have to post later. Just wanted to say hi and let anyone who might be reading this know that I arrived safely and things are wonderful so far. More soon.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


I've been having Muffin give me some advice on how to take better pictures. One of the first things he taught me is the rule of thirds, which is a compositional guideline that involves mentally dividing your frame into thirds using both vertical and horizontal lines, then placing your subject(s) at the points where the lines cross. I practiced with this picture of my shoes (I didn't pose them like that, I just tried to frame them in such a way as to create good composition), and I sort of like the way it turned out.

Nine hours left until I leave. I'm basically all ready to go. I bought a new backpack because one of the straps on the old one was about to rip off, and because I found one that was relatively cheap and has almost all the compartments and things I wanted. Also it's red, and how fun is that? I got it at this surplus store near Muffin's apartment. They also had long underwear, army fatigues, and pistol cases, but I didn't buy any of those things.

If I stumble across internet access en route, I'll post again. Otherwise, see you in India.

a little more real

So far, the prospect of this trip has been fairly abstract. I'm excited and I'm nervous, but I've been experiencing those emotions in sort of a theoretical, cerebral way, as opposed to actually feeling them. But I got an email from E tonight giving M and me advice about getting from the airport to the place where we're staying, and it's becoming slightly more real that I'll be in India in less than 48 hours. Although I've been to South Asia before, I'm slowly getting the impression that India is a lot different than Sri Lanka, and there will be quite a few challenges (the first of which is to be assertive enough to not get ripped off by the taxi driver that takes us to the hotel from the airport).

But it's late, and I'm exhausted, so I better go to sleep. More tomorrow.

Monday, June 05, 2006


Isn't she adorable? These aren't the best pictures, but it can be hard to get her to sit still while you're trying to take a picture of her. Oh, and also I'm the worst photographer in the world. That might have something to do with it too.

Well, I haven't posted in a while, but very little of interest has happened. I've been hanging out with the fam, playing with the dog, and corresponding with E a little about our research. Things seem to be going well for him so far in India. The people at Opportunity International, which is the MFI with which we will be working, sound extremely nice and helpful. We're figuring out which lending branch we will be surveying borrowers from, and when and where we will be doing the surveys. There are all these things you have to consider when choosing groups from which to sample in order to avoid ending up with results that are spurious. It's all fairly involved, and I'll explain some of it later.

Tomorrow morning I'll go down to LA and spend the next two days with my best friend Muffin. And then I leave. Woo hoo!

Thursday, June 01, 2006


I arrived in Bakersfield yesterday evening, and I've belatedly come to appreciate the balmy, breezy weather that I left behind in San Francisco. It's not even all that hot here, at least compared to how it could be (or how it will be in India); I think it was only about 90 today.

My ma's puppy Emma, who is about 5 months old now, has grown significantly since I was last here. She is big enough to swim in the pool now, and although she's quite boisterous, she seems to already be a little more calm than our last dog, Hannah. Or maybe her rambunctiousness isn't as annoying yet because she's still pretty small. Anyway, I will post a picture as soon as I get one downloaded onto my mom's computer, because she's freakin' adorable.

I went to Target today to get some of the last things I need for India, including a flash drive, a thin towel, and yet more sunscreen. I now have 4 different kinds of sunscreen: some oil-free stuff for my face, some waterproof and sweatproof spray-on stuff, some waterproof and sweatproof gel (because I forgot I had the spray-on stuff and because I will probably need two bottles anyway), and a little sunscreen stick (looks like lip balm but quite a bit larger), which I will keep in my bag for reapplication. It is my intention to be particularly fanatical about sunscreen this summer, especially given all the cancer-related badness that's gone on around me in the last year.

Well, sunscreen is about as exciting as it gets around here at the moment, so I'll stop writing now.

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