Still, trip-wise this was a banner day. I succeeded in getting out of the hotel for something other than going to work for the first time today and I did it twice! I also took my first pictures of my environs. So you, gentle reader, will benefit from my experiences.
At work, since things were slow, the woman that I'm taking the place of wanted to do a little last-minute shopping before she returned to the States. So a couple of the guys, she and I went out on a short expedition in the middle of the day. We stopped at a music shop where one could find interesting things like Kenny Rogers filed in their "Jazz" section, devotional chants to Ganesh and other Hindu deities and, of course, the latest in bootleg DVDs and VCDs alongside the latest in Hindi pop. I'll probably go back or go to a similar place because, actually, the chants for Ganesh looked kinda cool.
The trip to this place and back to the office was by a conveyance called an auto-rickshaw. This is a three-wheeled scooter with one seat for the driver and a bench seat for the passenger(s). It's basically a small cab and, while they have meters, the meters never operate. You negotiate a price with the driver for where you want to go. I figure that, as a very white person, if I get a price that's about double what an Indian man would pay, that I'm doing pretty good. In any case, they are very cheap, plentiful and convenient.
At the end of the work day, I was invited to dinner with Kim, the woman from St. Paul that is returning on Sunday, and a few of the guys from work, most of whom I met when they came to St. Paul for training last year. I was going to catch the hotel car back from work along with the three other Americans that were in the office. I did this yesterday and ended up waiting about an hour for the two women to finish their business and get down to the car after I was ready to go. So tonight, I picked a time leave. Gave them a two-minute warning and then just left and took an auto-rickshaw (auto for short) back to the hotel.
One of the cardinal rules of traveling with a group is that if the group has come to a decision that we are going to Y location and X time, if you are not there at X time, you are left behind. In this case, it was me leaving most of the group behind, but dammit, I had a dinner date!
The auto ride back to the hotel was mostly uneventful, except that the drivers of this conveyances are typically short-ranged. This meant that they guy that took me back didn't know my hotel, only the major intersection near it (the Gemini flyover). So he stops just past the Gemini flyover, I pay him and I wander up the street a short ways where I see a man in uniform, carrying a rifle, approach me. I address him in a friendly fashion and say that I'm looking for the Park Hotel. He says I can't be there. I inform him that I don't want to be there, I want to be at the Park Hotel. Confusion due to language barrier abounds and eventually, a second uniformed man confers with the first and with the rickshaw driver and they all figure out where my hotel is. I hop back in the rickshaw and am sped over to my hotel with little fuss. I find out later that I almost wandered on to the grounds of the American consulate, which explains the guards with guns. All, told, though, I got back to the hotel in one piece and it only cost me 100 rupees. (I found out later that was exactly double what an Indian would pay. Perfect.)
Once back at the hotel, I had them engage a cab for me to get to the restaurant to meet my friends. The restaurant was a place called "Mainland China," that did pretty authentic Chinese food. I had a chicken egg roll with red bean paste that was quite tasty, some rice with vegetables, chicken and egg served as the base for the spicy chicken dumplings and heavenly, savory lobster that rounded out the meal.
Here's a photo of the platter on which the lobster was presented:
After dinner, I returned to the hotel and ran into the rest of the group from the States that I knew i the lobby. Two of them, the committed couple Tom and Mika that I like a lot (Tom and I share a birthday), were getting ready to go to work and everyone else was having a couple of drinks, getting ready to head to the nightclub attached to the hotel. It seems that, in Chennai, the only night-life in the city is associated with the big hotels. Each has a restaurant, bar and nightclub that is associated with it (if not more than one) and these are the focus of late-night entertainment in the city. The political winds in Chennai, however, are volatile and because a woman was killed by a drunk driver a few months ago, the laws about when you can serve alcohol were being more strictly enforced. They are just starting to loosen up again and so while The Leather Bar in the hotel closes by midnight, its associated night club, Pasha, stays open until 3:00 a.m.
I figured that I would be worth seeing what the night life in Chennai had to offer, especially if it was so close to the hotel, so I stashed my camera in my room and headed down to join the outing. I also had the second motive of getting a chance to try some Indian whiskey. I met a couple of Danish students last night and one of them was also a whiskey drinker and suggested I try the local spirits. They are not subject to the crippling tax that imports are and she suggested they were quite good. I figured they were worth a try and, at worst, couldn't be worse than the other blends I've tried.
Pasha was quite an experience. A mix of house/dance/trance music and hip-hop with occasional Indian influences pounded out over a very Saturday Night Fever dance floor that was crowded with ... men! I haven't seen this many men dancing in a disco since I drove bus for the "recruiting drive" the Saloon held one year the bused men from the U of M downtown. They were not good dancers, mind you, but they were enthusiastic and uninhibited.
So I ordered a drink of a local whiskey (Royal something or other, I didn't quite catch the label) and it was surprisingly good. A perfectly drinkable blend that was not quite The Famous Grouse (the only other blend I find worthy of drinking), but was reasonably palatable and lacked the grain-alcohol nature that even the most expensive blends seem to have.
Still, not my kind of music and not my kind of scene, so I stuck it out for three drinks and then headed back here to the hotel to make this update and get some sleep.
Tomorrow, some guys from work are taking Kim and I out to a park in the morning and then one of the women from work has invited us, Tom and Mika over to dinner at her house in the evening. Should be a full day of fun, presenting many opportunities for photos.