Three lovely ladies moved in next door today. I know they are lovely because they are my fellow yoga students at KYM, and I got the three of them to move in next door by introducing them to my landlord. Now I am surrounded by yogis and yoginis night and day! We wanted to celebrate their moving in (they’ve been living at a hotel for the past week +) and today was Nadia’s birthday (one of the three women), so we decided to go out to dinner. I walk home by taking a slightly different route each night and it was on one of those walks that I found a Thai restaurant last week. I took a note of it and when I came home, I googled it to see if there were any reviews of the place. It turns out that it is considered the best Thai restaurant in Chennai! So it was just a matter of time before I made my way over there for some Tom Yum soup.
It was the first place that came to my mind when we were thinking of a place to go for dinner tonight. When I mentioned it to our little group, they all seemed to liked the idea so on the way home last night I stopped by the restaurant and made a reservation for us. The restaurant was beautiful and the menu was fantastic, with tons of vegetarian options. Today at school the word of us having dinner to celebrate Nadia’s birthday spread and our little celebratory party grew to a group of ~20! Luckily when I called the restaurant in the afternoon they were happy and able to accommodate us. I drew out maps and walked people through how to get there since rickshaw drivers don’t really go by street names or addresses here. You need to give them landmarks or better yet, you call the restaurant and give the mobile phone to the rickshaw (or taxi) driver so that the people from the restaurant can provide better directions to the driver. That’s mostly what happens for private addresses or lesser known restaurants and shops. The only other option is to name the best known landmark closest to where you want to go and either you direct them from the landmark (almost everyone can understand “straight, left, right”) or you get off and walk the rest of the way. Tomorrow night I’m meeting a friend for dinner at a place I have never been to before. I will likely ask to be dropped off at the nearest big hotel and from there look for the restaurant I need to go to. It’s similar to what I used to do when I lived in Tokyo but back then I would receive a hand-drawn map via fax from the restaurant, which take it with me to hand over to the taxi driver. I’ll know for sure when I get to Tokyo in May but I’m sure they all use GPS now, and hand-drawn maps are all in the past.
With the dinner reservation and directions for the restaurant settled, it was time to figure out the birthday cake. In my neighborhood, there is a surprisingly large number of bakeries but since I don’t like desserts (or anything sweet for that matter) I haven’t tried anything at all. What would be a cake from an Indian bakery be like? I took a leap of faith and called a bakery that happened to be located next to the Thai restaurant. It took a while for me to explain that I was looking to have a birthday cake for this evening. I’ve been in India for almost two months now but I still have a tough time understanding the heavily accented Indian English. I think it goes both ways though, as the man on the phone with me did not seem to understand what I was saying either. After three phone calls and about 20 minutes of explaining myself to the patient bakery worker, I wasn’t sure whether a cake would be waiting for me at all. But I did order a chocolate birthday cake with the phrase “Happy Birthday Nadia” on it. While I wasn’t sure whether there would be a cake, I was definitely certain that there would be some kind of a spelling mistake on the cake if there was a cake. I think the Happy Birthday part was easy enough. But when I got to “Nadia” and had to spell it out N. A. D. I. A. five times and then say “N as in Nancy, A as in Apple, D as in David, I as in India, A as in Apple” twice more, I knew I was in trouble. Things got comical for me when the bakery guy wanted to have my contact information and asked “please madam, your good name?” I told him my name, started to spell it out, only to realize it was just silly. So I told him that my name was not important, that I would just come by this evening to pick up the cake for Nadia. I hung up the phone, smiled to myself and began to imagine all the possible spelling errors this cake could have.
My afternoon classes went by quickly and I hurried home to shower and get over to the bakery (which is adorably named “French Loaf”) When I arrived at the bakery and asked for the cake, I thought all three workers looked puzzled. Then finally one of them said he might have a cake for me and walked out of the bakery. huh? He walked past the Thai restaurant where I was going to meet everyone and just disappeared. I didn’t know what to do so I stood outside the bakery and waited… and I greeted some of my friends from KYM as they made their way into the restaurant… until the bakery guy reappeared with a cake box. The moment of truth! He brought the box closer and the two of us stood outside in front of the store under the awning. He lowered the box to show me what they put on the cake. It read, “Happy Birthday Nantia”
I had to laugh. When I pointed out how badly they spelled her name on the cake, he just said he was sorry. If there was an option of fixing it, it wasn’t brought up to me. So I paid for the cake and carried it over to the restaurant. I thought it was funny and hoped that the birthday girl would find it amusing as well. After all, isn’t this something to remember for a birthday she celebrated in India?
We had a fantastic Thai meal and we all agreed that we’ll need to make a return visit. Our group took over almost an entire room and had a great time getting to know each other outside the school. When the cake was served and Nadia saw how her name was spelled, she did laugh. And then we all took turns singing Happy Birthday in everyone’s native language since at dinner, we had people from Greece, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Taiwan, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, and Indonesia. I love our mini UN of yoga practitioners!
As for the chocolate cake, it was delicious.
Benjarong: 146 TTK Road, Alwarpet, Chennai 600018 Tel: +91 44 2432 2640