My Magnum Opus/ An Opening Farewell

Trip Start Jul 03, 2008
Trip End Dec 07, 2008

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My Magnum Opus/ An Opening Farewell


Hey All!  So it's
August 12, 2008, and I've been living in the Foreign Students Hostel for about
a month, which has been overall a pleasant experience, but not without its
bumps.  What shall transpire in the next
few pages is simply some of my reflections and experiences.  For those of you who are more "cut to the
chase" feel free to skip to the last two paragraphs, I shan't be offended.

 The hostel arrival was a mixed bag.  We traded in our vagabond lifestyle for that
of routine and the security that comes with routine.  The rooms are actually fairly big, with two
beds, a private bathroom, and some other accoutrements. I'll post some pictures
to illustrate this for you all.  The
rooms, while nice, were not clean.  I
don't mean a bit of dust, I mean there was rat droppings scattered around the
room.  This lead me to embark on a
maniacal Martha Stewart-esque kick the next day, investing heavily in new
sheets and cleaning products.  But hey, I
have a private bathroom (roaches and all) and a huge room all to myself, so I
can't complain.  They are mercifully
equipped with A/C units also, a luxury only known to my hostel.  The hostels occupied by the Indian students
have no AC and aren't quite as plush.  We
have food delivered (by motorcycle) 3 times a day.  It's usually just a huge pot of rice and a
sauce or two, accompanied by chapatti, the south Indian tortilla.  It gets a little monotonous but we also have
some hotplates and a microwave, so cooking for ourselves isn't a big deal.

            My hostel
mates are an awesome cast of characters. 
There's Leo, a French student who's working on a
degree in computer science.  He's an
awesome guy to chat with, but he has had a tougher time here than many of the
rest of us.  South Indians are used to
white people, but in many cases, Leo is the first black guy any of them have
ever seen, and don't understand that a black person can also be French.  It's interesting to talk to people who have
such a limited scope of understanding. 
The irony of course is that Leo is just as dark as some of the darker
Tamils.   Then there are Berenice, Julie,
and Morganne, all three of whom are here for a year, but all are a lot of fun
and have a great sense of humor, so I know they'll have no problem. Across the
hall is Lorena, our most polyglotic member (Spanish, English, French, German)
who is Columbian but goes to University in Germany.  We also have a new member, Cecille, who is
joining the faculty of the French department for the next year or so as a
student teaching project.

            Living here
defies any expectation I had.  While
roadside mud huts and ubiquitous poverty abound, the people of this land (for
the most part) still carry themselves with pride and dignity not seen
elsewhere.  Even the maids of our hostel and
university workers, many of whom support families on around $1/day, are
unbelievably friendly and gracious. 

            I've become
so numb to bad driving, I fear for myself when I get back to the US.  Indian drivers use the horn more than the
brake, and a typical streetscape has more near-misses and goat-dodging than the
latest Hollywood action blockbuster. It's truly a sight to behold.

            I am
thankful however, to be where I am. 
Though Tamil Nadu is quite conservative and extremely poor, the City of
Pondicherrry is part of the Union territory of Pondicherry, meaning it is
directly controlled by the central government in Delhi, thus reaping tax
benefits and kickbacks unbeknowest to the surrounding region.  The French only relinquished control over the
place in the latter half of the 20th Century, thus many aspects of
French life hang around, especially in street signs, restaurants, bakeries,
etc.  This only applies to the tiny
"French Quarter" or "White Town" (as the locals call it) section of the city.  Thanks to the lovely exchange rate, a
three-course dinner for 3 at one of the best French places in town is only
$25-30, including drinks.  There is also
a great DVD store, where you can buy movies, including ones that aren't out on
video yet or still in theatres (wink wink). 
The quality is usually pretty fair, but the other night during a viewing
of The Hulk a black figure obscured the picture for a few seconds
towards the end of the film.  We laughed
and realized it was someone getting up to go to the bathroom in the theatre
where the pirate filming was taking place. 
But hey, they only cost about 60 cents a pop! Despite these
conveniences, the most fun way to shop is at roadside vendors and the mammoth
Sunday Market, a several-street extravaganza, where you can haggle to your
heart's content.  A creative use of some
Tamil and Hindi can usually bring the price down 30%.  For the truly cutthroat there is the ultimate
trump card: the feigned walk-away. This usually creates a panic in the vendor
who has spent the last few minutes enticing you relentlessly, and will cause
him to cut as much as 60%.  Use caution:
this is a dangerous weapon, only to be used for items you actually want, otherwise you shall garner a "boy who cried wolf"
sort of reputation.

            I have, at
times, been hit with some serious pangs of homesickness. The distance and the
culture shock were a tough combination to deal with, and at times, the notion
of pulling the plug and coming home did drift into my mind like a fog, clouding
my rationality.  Granted, coming home
would have been the easiest and most comfortable route, but in the end, I'm so
happy that I decided to stick it out.  I
figure that there are very few times in my life where I'll have an opportunity
to live here with such flexibility, thus I needed to capitalize on this.   Besides this, I'm really starting to fall in
love with this place.  For all its
faults, it has an authenticity and a sort of "divine chaos" that I find weirdly

            This entry
is my effective retirement; but not from ALL entries, just the more daily
sort.  Now that I'm attending class full
time I think it would be considered cruel and unusual punishment if I were to
post thoughts of y daily life (Got up, ate, went to class...) for everyone to
read.  NOT good reading material. This is
not to say that you shouldn't check up occasionally.  I'm heading to the cities of Bangalore and
Mysore in the state of Karnataka soon, so I shall have some pictures and
stories for y'all very soon.  I will
probably be fairly centrally located between September and mid-November, but
after finals are finished my Dad is coming over to visit and joining us on a
lightning-fast blitz through north India that shall include Darjeeling,
Bodghaya, Varanasi, Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra in around 12 days.  It'll be fast but wonderful to see my Dad and
share the experience with him, I'm really looking forward to it.

            I've really enjoyed the work to
maintain this blog, and I hope all of you have enjoyed reading it.  Thanks so much for keeping tabs on my
journeys and be sure to stay tuned for more! 
I appreciate all the comments and emails as well! Take care and be well!
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edah on

Hi Moosh-My compliments to you re the cleanliness of your abode--I am amazed. Did you take a course on room cleaning?

Give serious thought to getting a patent on yous creative use of the local fare to make a taco. It could become a craze in India--they may even name a town or building inyour honor.


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