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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Life in Chennai #1: Home sweet (new) home

My hat is currently hanging at N 013º 05.798' E 080º 12.033' - that’s the new centre of my Universe, the new chimney for Santa, the new base for my operations or, more specifically, the roof of my apartment. According to my GPS (I brought it along hoping to get some trekking in after my contract), my new apartment is 12,728 km from my last. The number itself isn’t important – I already know I'm far from home – but it is kind of fun to see in little black numerals just how far.

Home for me is a nice little 3-bedroom apartment, with a nice young couple. I’ve got my own room about twice the size of my last, a bed, a ceiling fan that currently keeps the room liveable, an A/C unit if something stronger is needed, a metal wardrobe to hang my stuff and currently, a little gecko clinging to the outside of my window. Ooop, he’s gone now. I wonder if geckos eat mosquitoes? I silently hope so. I have access to the roof, hence the GPS reading. It’s not a bad view. I should think about bringing a chair up here…

My building is at the dead-end of my street, which makes it fairly easily to give directions to in the autos-rickshaws (autos). My street has seen better days though. It has not survived the season’s rains well and there is currently a couple buildings being re-built so there are some serious potholes and piles of sand, gravel and bricks. My street is shared with 3 cats, probably a dozen stray dogs and a pair of chickens. The free-roaming chickens are actually not normal where I live. My housemate was surprised when I pointed them out the other day. But this being Chennai & India, they are not unexpected either. I smile and say hello to them when I pass in the mornings.

Chennai itself is not a particularly lovely city. It is rather gritty due to the 100% humidity every day of the year and the ever-worsening air pollution. It is a fast-growing city, which means it has all the usual issues: too much traffic, no infrastructure, housing prices that are getting out of hand and most people are from somewhere else. There are no skyscrapers and very few tall buildings. It is rare to see one over 8 stories. None of the streets go even moderately straight. Within an area the streets might be numbered, but it is unlikely for them to be numbered consecutively or according to a direction. But then again, very few streets have any sort of sign, so it doesn’t seem to matter anyway. Most drivers seem to navigate by landmark. So it is quite challenging learning where things are and next to hopeless to know how to get someplace you’ve never been.

The weather currently is quite nice: warm to slightly hot 30-33 deg C, but muggy during the day, pleasant in the evenings. The monsoon rains have just about stopped. I’ll take what I can get now as it supposedly gets unbearably hot come May (and this is from the locals!). I suppose it is another incentive to get my project done on time & get the hell out of dodge and northward.

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