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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Life in Chennai #9: Survival Skills I Learned in the Last Couple Weeks

1) How to send letters by air mail at the post office
The elaborate, exotic process: it is exactly the same as sending regular mail, just with more stamps. So it wasn’t really that exhilarating. To be honest, I’m a little suspicious that it is that easy as handwriting “airmail” on the top of the letter and adding some more stamps, but that is what they assured me at the post office. The mail wasn’t from me though, so I’ll count this one as “learned” when I have proof it arrived and by air mail.

2) Why people walk slower in the tropics
Because it is hot and sticky. All the time. I still retain much of my Northeaster stride never really losing it despite many years in Vancouver. Summer is coming though, so that might finally kill the habit!

3) How to buy things from the chemists
I know what you’re thinking. “Oooh, the chemist, you intrepid world traveller, you!” But this is a more daunting task that it first sounds. You see, chemists (aka pharmacies aka druggists as they are variously signed) in Chennai don’t have nice aisles to browse searching for what you might want, maybe check the packages, compare “extra strength” vs. “long lasting” brands. Instead they consist of a small street-facing room crammed top to bottom with boxes and haphazard products and a counter barring the front that you approach (this incidentally is the same format for the magazine shop, the snack shop, the bootleg DVD shop, etc.). You can’t look and pick something out – you have to ask the guy (or as is usual, the small army of guys crammed in the tiny space) what you want and have him dig about and produce it for you. So there is an obvious need to get over any vestiges of embarrassment or privacy (because also like everywhere else in India, you will never be the only person at the small counter shopping at the moment so your neighbours will also all know. That’s life here for everything). Man, you thought it was bad buying tampons or cold sore medication at home! It also basically means you need to know what exactly you want, what it is called, and failing that, what the underlying active ingredient is. Now, I know the generic names for the basic painkillers (I play sports), but everything else I only know by brand names non-existent here. And if you don’t know the name, you rhyme off your list of symptoms and hope they have sufficient basic medical training or at least have been working there for more than a week. I’m sure the whole system works for the locals, but as I said, it is one of the most daunting of lifestyle elements to tackle as a foreigner living overseas.

I was asked to pick up something for a colleague who was feeling ill. I was originally hopeful, as I had the actual name of a possible product to buy. Great, easy errand on my way back from lunch. Of course, they didn’t have it. Course not. I never really expected them to, because that would be actually helpful. So I explain (and have to mime) symptoms of fever, chills and tiredness/weakness. It is like medical charades, but with happy pills for the winner! My goodness, I am not sure I am comfortable with being responsible for this! But in the end a foil pack of gel-cap pills is produced that is allegedly (one of my favourite words, BTW) equivalent to what I had wanted. I might have worried about the lack of original packaging if I hadn’t been here for several months already. I pay the asked Rs 21 ($0.54 for those counting) to assuring head wags and slightly worriedly return back to work with the pack. But Hema seems happy with my choice, accepts the proffered change and takes one of the pills with a glass of water. She’s still alive and looking fine this week so I supposed they helped her get through whatever she was fighting.

A few days later, when I myself need something, I drag my housemate John down around the corner with me to help. I needed some antibacterial ointment cream and didn’t want to come back with, well, cold sore cream or anything.

4) That the price of packaged goods in India are listed on the packages.
See my previous post for details on how I discovered this useful lesson.

5) That hot glass looks exactly like cold glass.
OK, no, I didn’t actually learn this one last week here in India. I learned this one way back in chemistry lab at school, but it has always been one of my favourite all-purpose tidbits of advice, so I thought I’d share it.

6) That batting a Square Leg to the boundary for a four with 2 balls on the over is a good thing...I think...

The Cricket World Cup is on! The Caribbean nations of the West Indies are hosting 16 teams for the sports top honour. Yes, it’s cricket fever and I’m getting enough of it to finally gain an appreciation for the sport. And I’m finally learning the rules and scoring, perhaps one of the greatest survival skills here.

I was actually somewhat disappointed that because of the time zone difference to the West Indies, matches are all at night so I haven’t had the chance to see the city truly come to a grinding halt for matches. But with matches running to 2am or later in the evenings, that at least explains why people have been looking tired in the last few weeks. Traffic was noticeably light going home yesterday (Mar 23) as people settled in for the 7pm start of the critical match against Sri Lanka. It was a do-or-die elimination match so was very important. Shops were shutting their doors and people hurrying home as I passed. Sadly, the home team India lost and are out of the tournament, a major disappointment for one of the major cricket nations.

A few specific things I’ve recently picked up:
- “Innings” is singular. This makes no sense to me considering the English are the founders of both the sport and the English language. The Americans sorted it out much smarter with a baseball “inning”. Silly English.
- Getting someone out is called a “wicket” regardless of whether it involved the wicket being knocked off. It took me a while to catch onto that.
- I don’t have the attention span to watch the full 6+ hours of a One-Day International (ODI) match. But what is funny is that ODIs are considered “short” since proper Test matches usually last 5 days.
- Canada has a cricket team. We’re not that good, but we showed well in our match against England last week. Completely unsurprisingly, most of our players herald from the Caribbean.

And I have to admit, now that I’m getting the hang of the rules, arcane statistics and subtle strategy (true of a lot of major sports really), it is an interesting and exciting game. But proving I still have much to learn, I still have no idea what for example this report in the newspaper The Hindu is talking about...

1 comment:

Anil P said...

Cricket is a breath on hold in India :)