Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Happy Joy Joy

Short story:
I had a s*&t day from 9:30-6:00 at the Chennai Immigration Office but walked out with my papers. Am writing this from the airport--I successfully got through customs, thank God. I am on my way to meet my sweetheart in Barcelona to begin our much-delayed vacay.

Long story:
Sunday, I woke up, had a nice breakfast, and was picked up by Deva and his wife and three children for a great day at the zoo. There will be a separate post about that fun trip. Sunday night, I just laid low and got ready for what proved to be a crash encounter with Indian bureaucracy. I woke up early Monday morning to make sure I had all the documents I thought they could possibly ask for. I was having trouble printing my boarding pass on so I called them and am so glad I did because the agent I had spoken to on the phone over the weekend only held my spot but did not book me on the flight on the 4th. So I got that all worked out, was emailed the confirmation, and was able to print my boarding pass which turned out to be crucial in the events of the day. I was at the immigration office by 9:40 but was already 10th in line at least. I waited half an hour to get to the front, where I was given an application form and asked to go to the back of the line to fill it out and put my papers in the order they wanted. So, I do that, wait another 20 minutes or so to be told that I need passport photos, a copy of a certain page in my passport, and a certified check from a bank made out to the immigration office for R1470 (about $30). So, I leave with Deva and get all these things done....and of course each thing takes ten times the time it should. One incredibly frustrating trend my friends and I have noticed about India is there are about 5 people assigned to do one job but most of them just stand there and do nothing, so even though places are overemployed, they don't operate efficiently at all. It's just crowded. So, I go back to the agency, wait in line again for 10 minutes or so, and am told to go to a different room to see Clerk 5. The line for Clerk 5 takes up about half the room. So I wait about 2 hours to see Clerk 5, a pretty lady with a permanent scowl on her face. In fairness, her job totally sucks. I plead my case, stating that I was only here to study yoga for three weeks, have no plans of coming back, my husband is waiting for me since Saturday in London by himself, and that I have a flight tomorrow morning. She seems shocked by this but writes something down and sends me back to the first office. I enter that office (at this point it's about 1:20), and it's empty. The worker is chatting with a couple of this friends. I come up to him, say that Clerk 5 sent me back to him and he says, "Oh, see here on your paper (and points to my application), application for registration closes at 12:30 pm." At which point, I drop my upper arms to the table in prayer pose and BEG him to give me a spot. "Please, sir. PLEASE. PLEASE. PLEASE." His friends laugh, he barks, "Fine. Writes down 93 on my paper and shouts Clerk 4." Deep breaths. Deep breaths. I wait in line for another hour or so to see Clerk 4 and plead my case to her. She is upset that my letter of registration from the school is not the original copy. I, in fact, never had an original copy--just what was emailed to me, which is what I presented. She takes the check, gives me a receipt, my papers, and a paper. She tells me to come back at 5:00. So, I leave the immigration office (at this point it's about 3:00) completely losing my mind. The office is supposed to close at 5:30. I have no idea what's going on. I ask Deva to take me to the KYM to obtain an original copy of the letter. Explaining my situation to the kind administrators there--seeing my first glimpse of the whole day of compassion in their faces--I lose it. I ask them to come back to the Immigration Office with me in the afternoon. A wonderful, kind man named Raj volunteered. I asked if there was anywhere I could grab a quick sandwich or something (they don't really do sandwiches here) so they offered to bring me a veg puff, a curried vegetable mixture in some puffed pastry. I was so thankful for their kindness. I gobbled up my veg puff and then Deva drove me and Raj back to the Immigration Office. I presented my original copy of the letter of registration from the KYM which they seemed pleased with. They told me to sit down til 5:00. So, at 5:25, I'm completely losing it again--freaking out because I think they're going to shut down in 5 minutes and there's still 20 people in the room waiting for their clearances and passports. Finally she calls me and gives me my passport with the letter. I thank her and leave, exuberant. Raj says, "Let's just look at it and make sure everything's right." Thank God for Raj. They had written my maiden name on the document--they did not notice that my name was amended at the back when I got married even though I told her and included the copy of that page in my documents. We went back--but now I'm thinking they won't reprint it because it's so late--she snaps at me, "How was I supposed to know this?" I said, "Well, I told you and I included it." She threw my papers at me, insisting I point them out...which I do and she backs down a bit. She reprints and we walk out, spent but satisfied.

The Yoga Sutras talk about dukha, which translates to bad space. It refers to the space in your chest when you are upset, uneasy, anxious, sad--when it feels as if your chest does not have enough space. I experienced a lot of dukha these past few days, so even though I was starving and exhausted, I went for a swim. It's amazing what 30 laps can do for your mood! I took a nice shower, got a great dinner of carrot-cinnamon soup, roasted salmon, vegetables, and wild rice plus a big glass of red wine.

I went to bed at 10:00, with my alarm set for 1:30 AM. The dukha was back, though. I woke myself up in worry about immigration at 12 midnight and could not go back to sleep. I called my husband because he always makes me feel better. I decided to just get up, do the rest of the emailing and printing I had to do, got a cup of coffee, and was picked up at 2 by Deva for the airport. Deva is so great--have I mentioned that? I asked if this time he would be willing to go into the airport with me just in case things went wrong. He replied that he was already planning on doing just that. So, I check in, wait in line at immigration, and step up to the counter. I give her my passport, she swipes, stamps and hands the passport back to me.

She didn't even ask for the document.

At this point, I just have to laugh. I chalk it up to just another adventure and a reminder of how great we have it in the U.S. I will never complain about the DMV again, I swear.

A thank you for all the people who helped me--Deva, Geetha, Ron, Raj, and T Swaminathan from the KYM, and all of you who sent me your positive thoughts. I truly felt them all.

A Dukha-Free Suzy

Chennai Zoo

Deva, his wife, and three kids picked me up at the hotel in the morning. It was a great greeting of smiles and excitement to see this 'Auntie Suzanne' that daddy had been driving around for three weeks! Deva's wife brought these flowers for me and put them in my hair. They smell amazing.

The zoo was very crowded as it was Sunday, but it is an expansive setting so most of the animals had a lot of room to roam, graze, etc. Here are some of the animals we saw.


White tigers:

Exotic birds

A big cooped up hippo

I'd never heard of these:

White peacocks

Couldn't help take a picture of this sign

This sign did not inspire confidence. Also I would really like to know what the Etc. are exactly!
Finally some pictures of the family

I'm Stuck in Chennai. No, really.

Sadly, this update is not as fun!!! I was supposed to fly out of Chennai at 5:30 this morning, so I got to the airport at 2:30 in order to give myself plenty of time. Checked in smoothly. When I reached the immigration desk, however, things went awry. I was asked for my 'Letter of Registration.' I did not know what that meant--I said, "I had to submit that to obtain the education visa. I have completed the three-week program studying yoga here in Chennai and now I am on my way out." He sent me to another officer. "Letter of Registration, please." Um....same thing. Sent me to another corner to sit and wait for more help. I'm thinking, "I don't know why they'd need the Letter of Registration at the KYM but if they let me onto a computer, I can just print that out for them." Oh, boy. Little did I know it was way more complicated than that! A lady came over and explained to me that I need a Letter of Registration from the Indian Embassy, and that I was told upon entering the country that I needed to do that.

Flashback: I've been on a plane for 24 hours, stood in an immigration line for 1 hour, and have finally reached the immigration desk to enter Chennai. She asks me for my letter of registration--I tell her that I submitted that in order to obtain the visa and I don't have it printed out. (Again, I'm thinking she means from the school.) After some more heavily accented English, and me continuously saying, "I'm sorry? Can you repeat that??" she waved her eyes at me and let me pass. All this time, I thought she was scolding me for not presenting a printout from the school....

Flashforward: In tiny tiny little cursive letters on my passport, there's something written about a registration letter. I explain to the lady at the Chennai airport this morning that I had no idea what she was talking about--that I was only here for 3 weeks and have no plans on coming back, that my husband is on his way to London to meet me there. She says "Okay, hold on" and walks away. She comes back to tell me that she has spoken with her supervisor and that this is a formality they cannot waive, that I cannot fly, I must go back into the city, and in the morning (Saturday morning) go to the Immigration Office with a printout of my letter of registration from the KYM in order to get a letter of registration from the Immigration Office. She reassures me that they are open today and that it will be no big deal.

So, I call my driver who turns around to come retrieve me from the airport and get dropped off at my hotel again. I call the KYM to explain the situation and they, too, tell me that this will be easy and not to worry. Great, I think. I book a flight for the next day--it's a little detour but no big deal really. So when 9:40 comes around, Deva picks me up and we go to the immigration office. The doors are open and there's no line--I think, "Awesome. I'll be first and get this done right away." The inner doors are locked and some man comes in and says, "They're not here today. It's a holiday." "It's a holiday. Come back Monday."

I called the US Consulate and spoke to a nice woman named Michelle who regretted to tell me that there was nothing they could do--that I just have to wait til Monday.

Meanwhile, Brian has checked in and can no longer cancel his flight, so he's on his way to London.

I really needed a laugh, so Deva and I went to the mall and saw Zookeeper which was exactly the perfect thing. We got some ice cream and did a little shopping. I went for a swim and did a nice yoga practice. Tomorrow we are going to the Chennai zoo with Deva's family.

There's nothing to be done but wait now. I could use any prayers/positive energies/crossed fingers/well wishes for all to go according to plan Monday morning. I am set to fly out early Tuesday for London and then right to Barcelona. Hopefully I'll have a glass of Sangria in my hand by 8:30 PM Tuesday night.

I am still trying to find the lesson in all this--for right now, I'm just trying to reframe it to think that somehow, it happened for the best. It reminds me of a story that Meneka Desikachar told us in Yoga Philosophy class...

There was a King in India who was meeting with a holy man. The king was slicing some fruit and cut his hand. The holy man said, "Good!" The king replied, "How can you say good? I cut my hand! I am bleeding!" and sent the holy man to jail, to which the holy man replied, "Good!" The King left confused and incredulous at the holy man's response. During this time, there were roving tribes looking for human sacrifices. They came across the King, captured him for their human sacrifice, but let him go when they saw the cut on his hand as they need an unblemished specimen to please the Gods. The King, realizing what had happened, went to the jail and released the Holy man. The King said to him, though, before he let him go, "I understand why you said 'good' now when I cut my hand, but why did you say 'good' when I sent you to jail?" The Holy man, of course, replied, "I am not cut! They would have sacrificed me!"

So I am choosing to think that this happened for the best, somehow. At the very least, it makes me feel better and ends my pity party. And perhaps I dodged some bullet somewhere, somehow. Either way, I'm making the best of this situation and trying to enjoy these last bonus days here in Chennai.



St. Thomas Basilica

This past Sunday, Justine and I visited St. Thomas Basilica. St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, came to India in AD 52, died as a martyr in AD 72, and was buried here in Chennai. This church is built over the Tomb of St. Thomas. You may know St. Thomas by his nickname, 'Doubting Thomas.' There are only three churches in the world built over the tomb of an apostle--one at the Vatican, one in Spain, and this one.

That's me

We decided to go 'all in' and go to Sunday mass in English. I gotta say--it was pretty funny. Imagine my surprise when expecting a traditional Catholic Mass to hear the 'Revival Singers' singing songs in a style I can only describe as a mix of Boogie Woogie, 80's Pop, and Smooth Jazz. My favorite, though, was the song Sing, Shout, and Clap where nobody sang, shouted, or clapped.

After Mass, we went to the Tomb underneath the church. No photos were allowed but I did take one of this sign. So there you go. You're welcome.

It was basically just a room with pews, and at the front a glass wall surrounding a mannequin of Thomas with some dirt underneath. It was still cool to see, though.

After that, we went to the museum where we saw this relic that supposedly contains the spearhead that was used to kill him and some bone of St. Thomas.

There was also this letter from the Pope declaring Thomas a Saint. Sucks to make a typo.

And finally, there was this creepy Santa.

After church, we walked down to Marina Beach, the second-longest beach in the world. On the walk down, there's a pole (I don't know if the pole in this picture is the pole) called the Pole of St. Thomas. Anyway, legend has it that St. Thomas erected this pole as a mark to prevent the sea from encroaching the land, thus saving the life of the people living near the shore. Faithful Catholics here believe that when the Tsunami struck on December 26th of 2004, it was the pole that saved them. City Planners of Santa Monica, I think they're onto something. Now where can we find a Saint??

Pet the Dog, Screw in the Lightbulb (Helpful Instructions on Indian Dance)

Hellooooo! I hope this blog finds you well. Thought I'd check in and give you an update on this week. Wednesday, a few of my classmates and I went to the Museum Theatre in Egmore to see a dance performance by the Parijat Desai Dance Company, based out of New York City. Choreographer Parijat Desair blends Indian classical and Western contemporary dance. The first act was called "Make Space," set to electronic music by South Asian American artists--it was much more modern and 'sculptural.' The second was called 'Songs to Live For' which explores Hindustani love songs with a lot more Western partnering. We were all glad that we came to see such a unique and beautiful performance.

The only drawback of this evening was this:
Yep. That happened. It wasn't great.

The rest of the week at school was good. One day, Megan and I wore the same kurta to class.

All the cool kids shop at Fab India, you know.

Friday night, my friends Monica and Justine came by my hotel for drinks and dinner. The hotel hosts a 'Meet and Greet' with 'nibbles and cocktails.' We spoke with these two sales rep (the woman, Sarah, is who hooked up us up with the dance show tickets).

Me and Justine....pic with young, gorgeous Monica came out blurry....too bad....;)

Saturday, I had an early morning appointment with an Ayurvedic doctor. As things tend to happen here, first we went to the wrong doctor, then when we got to the right doctor, they had told me the wrong time! Luckily, though, the doctor came in to see me since I was there. If you're unfamiliar, Ayurveda, translated to 'a complete knowledge for long life,' is a traditional Indian medicine. According to Ayurveda, everyone is a combination of three dosas, or types, made up of different combinations of the elements. The goal is to have all three dosas balanced for optimum health. We all tend to lean more towards one or two dosas. Once you have been diagnosed with a dosa, you can regulate your diet and lifestyle in order to appropriately balance for yourself. This is a very elementary explanation as Ayurveda is extremely complex. Anyway, I wanted to see an Ayurvedic doctor (one who my school called 'the best in India') to learn my dosha. After taking my pulse, he diagnosed me as Vata-Pitta, which I was surprised to learn since I thought I was Pitta-Kapha. I asked for recommendations on how to eat, etc, but he told me since Indian food is so different from American food, he could not give appropriate advice. I will have to pursue this on my own. Anyway, this was a great experience even if I do not do much with it.

This is in the Ayurvedic pharmacy. He prescribed me this brown sludge to take twice a day!

An interesting side-note, when shops or offices provide mineral water, they have a community cup which you pour into your mouth without touching, as Deva is so graciously demonstrating!
He's such a sport!!!

This provided me with a nice little chuckle this morning while having my coffee and fruit. Rashes, lazy husbands....aye aye aye!!!

Chennai Week

Just some random shots from throughout the week!

Family of FIVE on a motorbike! Christians here wear white to church,
hence the matching outfits.

The Theosophical Society in Chennai boasts the largest Banyan tree in the world. If you are unfamiliar, the branches of the tree grow out, then little shoots drop down from the branches. Those shoots attach to the ground and form another trunk. The tree just keeps spreading and spreading. It's a beautiful site to see!

I just thought this description of the Vegetable Jal Fraize was adorable.
Very typical of the English colloquialisms used here.

Lunch! Gobi Masala (Cauliflower in Indian tomato sauce) over rice with Garlic Naan bread.
Delicious but really heavy--yoga was tough after this lunch, even with a 3 hour lunch break!

There is a nice private school across the street from the KYM. The other day, I watched some boys playing. They were using a rock as the ball and a textbook as the bat! Kids always find a way to play no matter what. A nice reminder to create our own fun!

See that brown spot? That's just a huge cow resting on some garbage on the side of the road.
No big deal.

Tonight, some classmates and I are going to see some contemporary dance at the Government Museum's Theatre. I will try to sneak a few pics if I can!

xo, Suz


Nandri means 'Thank You' in Tamil, the language spoken in this area of India. I have a lot for which to say Nandri...

Like fresh coconuts on a hot day:

Tiny bookshops with great books on Ayurveda, Yoga Philosophy, and Sanskrit

And Indian sweets!

Something I really appreciate and respect is how deeply ingrained spirituality is in daily life here. Everywhere you look, it seems, is a little shrine, a temple/church/mosque, a bumper sticker, or some other reminder of the Divine. For instance, in my friend's apartment, these are on the fridge. You find this kind of thing everywhere:

After a great but tiring week of class, three classmates and I were ready for a little respite from the chaos of Chennai. So, we headed to Mahalabipuram, a town on the coast, for an overnight stay. On the way, we stopped at Dakshina Chitra, a little village they describe as "a non-profit community service project of the Madras Craft Foundation for the promotion and preservation of the cultures of the diverse people of India with emphasis on Tamil Nadu, Keala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka." Artists from different villages in the surrounding counties have stands where they showcase their artwork and crafts. It was a really special place.

Afterwards, we checked in at the Chariot Hotel, which looked promising. We had a nice lunch and a swim in this massive pool.

When we went up to our room, though, they called us back down to the front desk, telling us that we are not allowed to stay four people in a room and that we must buy another room. Long story, blah blah blah, we left this place for another beautiful hotel that had been recommended to us called Ideal Beach Resort. We had already told Deva, our driver, that we wouldn't need to be picked up until the next day, so he went with a friend to a movie. So, we started walking to Ideal Beach. At one point, two cows were headed towards us and a motorcycle was headed towards us in another direction. Intending to go between the cows, I waited for the motorbike to pass. When I turned around to start walking between the cows, he was much closer than I anticipated. We were both a little startled but he brushed it off with a flick of his tail and I with a deep hearty laugh! We eventually found a rickshaw to take us the rest of the way to Ideal Beach, where the service was much better. We had a great evening getting to know each other over dinner and drinks. The next day, we explored the resort a little further. Ideal Beach is located on the Indian Ocean, which is beautiful. The waves and currents are rough, so we just stuck our feet in the cool water but even that was nice and refreshing in the sweltering heat!

Next, we did a little shopping. This is a picture of us at a stone carving shop where I found a great Patanjali statue!

Next, we hit up some temples.

On our way to the next temple, we saw this beautiful carving stone on the side of the road. Notice the Patanjali! (He's on a snake with a snake hood in front of the elephant).

Lastly, we hit up the Shore Temple, called so for obvious reasons.
Thanks again to our wonderful driver, Deva, who takes good care of us!