OK. Day one in Chennai. I slept in a bit this morning and didn’t get out of bed until 8 but I got myself together to venture out before it got too hot outside. My i-touch came in very handy as my apartment here is equipped with wi-fi and although the location service couldn’t find where I was, I was able to use the map to figure out where to go. Of course there are no road signs so names of the streets make no difference at all but the i-touch map showed some of the bigger landmarks so I could check them off as I walked down the street. My neighborhood is very residential and in a nicer part of this neighborhood of Chennai called Mylapore, just a few kilometers from the beach. I have a lock for my room, my apartment, and there is a security guard downstairs so I feel pretty safe. There is a police station about half a block down the street and about five blocks from the apartment is a Citibank. Having settled on this apartment without knowing where it was at all, I don’t think I did too badly.
But what made me more excited than anything else, is a string of fruit stands and two grocery stores about three blocks away from the apartment building. One grocery store is called “Spencer’s” which I believe, is a national chain. It’s small but had most of what I was looking for. It felt a bit “upscale” and they had their own store brand products. In Bangalore I saw a grocery store that stocked all kinds of imported goods but this one had mostly Indian products or foreign brands manufactured locally. With all the time on my side, I really enjoyed my first real visit to an Indian grocery store. When you’re in Italy, you see aisles dedicated to nothing but pasta. In Spain, I saw huge sections of the store just for olives. Here in India, you get an entire aisle for rice, another for beans, lentils, and chickpeas. The entire back wall of this Spencer’s was nothing but spices. I saw jars and bottles of ghee. Paneer (they translate it as cottage cheese) in plastic bags, cream, curds, milk, yogurt (dahi), and other dairy products I normally don’t see in the U.S. Everything looked good but I didn’t want to commit to anything until I checked out the other store. So I went across the street to “Nilgiri.”
If Spencer’s is D’Agostinos (a slightly overpriced and mediocre grocery chain in NYC, definitely not as fancy as Citarella, Whole Foods, or Dean and Deluca but a nicer neighborhood place) I think Nilgiri is Gristedes (a basic, a bit run-down looking grocery chain in NYC). Nilgiri’s colors are green and white, where Spencer’s are orange and white. Nilgiri had almost the same exact products as Spencer’s but it had decidedly less panache than the polished competitor across the street. Even the shoppers at this place seemed a bit more “working class.” I noticed that at Spencer’s there were some foreigners where as at Nilgiri, I only saw locals. It was a bit dusty (at Spencer’s someone was constantly sweeping the floor) and the florescent lighting seemed a bit dimmer. I don’t know what it is but I felt more comfortable to take my time and explore at Nilgiri. I poked and prodded, I squat down to examine the bottom shelves. I thought of getting a small bottle of Spencer house brand honey but at Nilgiri, I saw a bottle of honey from a local producer with an address in Chennai so I immediately pick that up. I’ve been really enjoying having porridge here in India so I looked for some oats and what did I find? The smiling face of the good old Quaker Oat’s man was everywhere in the cereal aisle. I bought a giant container. Along with the oats, I got a huge tub of seeded dates (600g for 55 rupees: 1.3lbs for $1.20USD), a loaf of wheat bread (less than $0.50USD), a tub of yogurt ($0.35USD), some tea, and local Indian snacks (peanut brittle, sesame balls).
Earlier in the day while I was walking by a small street market, I saw a guy taking crates filled with pouches of milk and loading up his motorcycle. I asked him whether the milk was for sale; ever since I had raw unpasteurized, un-homogenized milk at the ayurvedic retreat I’ve been a tad bit obsessed with milk. Normally I don’t drink cow’s milk at all but this was really good stuff! I was hoping to find some in the market to buy but this guy told me that the milk wasn’t for sale, but he was taking it all to Spencer’s. So naturally I noted the package design and I bought my milk at Spencer’s. For fruit, I went to a stall and picked out some bananas, a large papaya (it’s on the dining room table wrapped in newspaper for the next 24 hours or so for it to ripen), and a lemon, all for 45 rupees (~ $1.00USD). Having had a lot of delicious yet cheap meals, I knew that you can eat cheaply and eat well in India. Now that I’ve had a grocery shopping experience here, I can understand how the meals can be so inexpensive. Cheap raw ingredients and really cheap labor get you very affordable meals.
I also walked around to locate the school where I start tomorrow and went to a hotel called AMS Raj Sundar to check it out (it was a possible long-stay option). While I was in the lobby of the hotel, I met two other women (British and French) who are also studying at KYM. Foreigners are so easily spotted here…
For lunch I had another great thali meal at a local restaurant and I returned to the apartment to find my roommate Elizabeth. Another student at KYM, she’s an American from California living in Spain. The two of us decided to get ourselves Indian mobile phones so we went out and got a couple of plastic toy looking cell phones for $20. What is remarkable is that with the purchase of my phone came a calling plan that affords me FREE incoming calls FOREVER. I get 10 minutes of local (state-wide) outgoing calls everyday for six months. The guy at the store told us that the charge for a local call is less than 1 rupee ($0.02USD) and international calls are also very cheap. No wonder every single person in India has a mobile phone!
Overall a busy but a productive first day. I have a few posts I need to finish for Mysore and Bangalore, but school starts at 7AM tomorrow so I’m going to call it a night. Well, after I catch up on the news for a few minutes. I have a TV in my room and I just put on BBC world news. What is all this about Egypt?