Saturday, 25 August 2007

Pondy and Parachutes

It has been a while again! More travels, and even more work - and the result is less blogging, despite more and more experiences and wonderful moments to share.

I had a great visit to Pondy Bazaar (fantastic shopping street in Chennai) with camera and my friend J who was visiting from Kathmandu. I had never been brave enough to take my camera before and snap away at the incredible sights there so her visit was a welcome opportunity for both of us. Then a visit to the real Pondicherry, and more sights. Immediately followed by a truly special and inspirational visit to the Andamans .......... and another month disappears.

On the negative side, I realise that taking technology for granted is akin to pride coming before a fall. I find myself unable to upload anything more than a zillionth of a minibyte in any 24 hour period and therefore I can't quite get the photos on the the site yet.

So here is a starter. J needed hair oil - and was given this, the latest, trendiest hair oil.....

"Parachute Hair Oil"

....... clearly for flyaway hair!

Friday, 3 August 2007

ok folks, so fasten your seatbelts and HOLD TIGHT!! Part One

Ok folks, so fasten your seatbelts and HOLD TIGHT!! This has been a long long time coming! It is now over a month since i got back from Dhaka and I promised I had tales to tell. Mostly travel tales. So here we go….

Let’s start at the very beginning…. And we did! Our flight to Calcutta from Chennai left at an unbelievable 5.45 am. Why? A very good question. And one I don’t have an easy answer for. Or any answer for. My colleague’ B’s daughter put it beautifully. At 04:15 am she told B “Ippa poga venam Ozhunga morning aana udane po!”. Don’t go now! “Go when it is proper morning” The little girl insists to B that wherever she goes and however early it be, she should not leave while she is sleeping. She tells B “Wake me, brush my hair and teeth and bathe me without disturbing my sleep”. A wise young girl - even with a two hour flight we arrived in Calcutta airport before 7 am. Our flight had been pretty turbulent and at one stage even the crew looked alarmed when ordered to stop serving and "SIT DOWN NOW"! One air stewardess threw herself into the nearest seat to her own alarm and that of all those who could see her. Nonetheless, turbulence allowed our eventual pre daybreak arrival in Calcutta. Our connection on to Dhaka left at 14.10 according to schedule. Schedule was late. We checked in to the airport “lodging facility” and waited until we could check in. And there began drama Number 1.

We checked in for our flight – at last! After a long and strangely time extended wait in the “holding rooms”. We noted that our flight was actually late because of the incoming flight from London. I didn’t think anything of if. But I should have! Why would a long haul international incoming flight delay impact on our little 28 minute hop over to Dhaka? A VALID question……………albeit in hindsight. To be fair my attention was diverted by a huge and unexpected drama at immigration. I had calmly produced my papers with my usual “best smile” and was not surprised when I was asked for my Registration documents. No problem. I continued my smile. I am a cool wee law abiding citizen, and I had all my registration, immigration and any other papers all in order. The immigration man was indeed happy – and so was I. Until he mentioned in passing, that all was in order, and that I was very welcome to stay in India (my extension papers noted a stay extension) but that I could not return to India on the same visa. WHAT????? I mentioned (equally in passing) that I was going to Bangladesh for work reasons and would be returning to India in a few day‘s time. Fine he said. Make it before the 26 June (my departure was 24 June -return on 29 June) and there will be no problem. Well fine – I should leave the day after I arrive - the day my work starts then? Yep. Oh shit@!!!! In my gentlest and humblest fashion, I tried explaining that the immigration officials I had dealt with had very clearly reassured me that I would still have multiple exit and entry facilities on my stay/visa extension. If there was a problem then the best solution was that I do not in fact leave India and should return to Chennai. However, finally he spoke with his big big boss. And went off to get my papers signed by the very very big boss to confirm that I could in fact return to India and that my papers were valid. Yes, I could not only leave India, but I was also entitled to return and would have a stamp and signature to confirm this. Fantastic! So finally I passed through immigration and on to the departure lounge. Then I made the mistake of looking at my documentation. All it said was that I had left India on the said date!!!! Oh well too late now for action – just enough for worry, my best skill! To my amazement, as I passed into the departure lounge I saw a familiar face – a pal, C, from Kathmandu! To the astonishment of my colleagues we exchanged kisses, hugs and fond and simultaneous hellos and farewells as they were heading on the Kathmandu flight. My attention diverted, I did not realise that our flight was becoming more and more delayed…..

Finally, we realised that our flight (incoming London flight) had not only arrived, but was ready to depart. So finally we walked through the walkway and onto – a HUGE AIRBUS!!! Not what we expected for the 28 minute hop to Dhaka. OK, so I expected a small aircraft and a few passengers – to match to small, motley crew waiting in the departure lounge. So where did all these people come from on this HUUUUUUGE plane? We were on a really big airbus and after a half kilometre walk through the aircraft to the rear of the plane, we arrived at our seats. The plane was like a disaster zone. It was filthy and totally chaotic. Firstly we had to gently ask a sleeping family to move so we could sit down in the seats allocated to us. They had been travelling (as had most of the plane’s passengers) since London and they were tired, fractious and not amused at having to move for the last few minutes of their flight. Furthermore they had been on the ground for around three hours waiting for the motley group of passengers for this final leg to Dhaka. They found their original seats, and other passengers tossed aside blankets and looked for their belongings and mobile phones stowed safely the previous day in Europe.

Finally we all seemed to find our seats and settle for our onward short flight. And in this settled state we had an interesting surprise. Still on the ground and as the “fasten your seatbelts” and “prepare for departure” announcements were made we had an amazing surprise. The crew made its way hurriedly down the plane – SERVING THE IN FLIGHT MEAL!” seriously. This really was something totally new to me. So do we stow our trays or try to eat off them?? Doesn’t matter – just hurry up and EAT!!!! So we did. We stuffed the sandwich and cake down our throats, put our juice in the pocket and as the crew swept down the aisle collecting the trays only a few moments after distributing them, we were checked for seat belts being fastened and tray tables stowed as the lane careered towards the runway for take off.

S o that was interesting? Well not enough. Now it started to get really interesting…. The staff were clearly pretty exhausted and stressed after the overnight and long haul flight. Oh – and grumpy! I can’t blame them and I am glad I don’t have to do their job. So I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when the farce called take off unrolled. The crew were by this time at their stations for take off. Fine. Just a pity the passengers weren’t! Have you EVER been on a flight when passengers were standing in the aisle when the plane has COMPLETED its taxi to the take off runway? (It happened to me once in Nepal but that is another story – equally scary). Did I say passengers? Yep. And did I mention one particular passenger in the aisle standing upright – at take off – WITH A BABY ON HIS SHOULDER?

Now it starts to get really scary right? By this time the plane was accelerating and preparing for take off – the crew were screaming at all passengers to sit down and we were all trying to finish off our in flight (pre-flight meal) from our seat pockets…………… By some miracle dad sat down – with the wee one in his lap ( we are all sweating and screaming by this point) just in the nanoseconds leading up to take off. Maybe it was just a bit uncomfortable standing in the aisle while the plane is careering down the runway at full speed, maybe he heard the screams of the crew. Whatever the case he sat down and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. Finally the plane took off and once the ding dong allowed the cabin crew to leave their stations they all descended on naughty dad. They screamed at him and admonished him for not sitting down. But nobody seemed to really care. Everyone (except a small minority of us) had been travelling all night, then were treated to a three hour stopover at Calcutta /Kolkotta Airport. The final 28 minutes into Dhaka were an inconvenience and not to be taken seriously – by passengers or crew – just had to be suffered until final arrival. (Luckily the flight crew seemed to take it very seriously and I sincerely hope they were protected from the soap opera inside the cabin). This was very clear by the announcement welcoming us to Dhaka which consistently (in Bangla, Hindi and English announced our flight arrival time inaccurately by 2 hours and 30 minutes).

SO - WELCOME TO DHAKA............................

PS –the Nepal story – I was flying in to Pokhara airport a few years ago – a regular if spectacular but pretty scary journey of 22 minutes by air or 8 hours by road. One foreigner had boarded the 19 seater craft and not taken his seat for take off. He set up his video or whatever camera on a tripod. In the aisle of the 19 seater?!? We asked him to sit down for take off. His reply? He said he had got “special permission” from the pilot to remain standing and film take off. That was one of the most stupid and selfish acts I have ever seen. I hope his footage was good because his selfishness placed the crew and fellow passengers at considerable risk. As the plane ascended rapidly at take off he was lucky to retain control of his equipment – and we were lucky not to be caught up in his private and selfish act. I tell myself I would do things differently now – I am a few years older and should be a little wiser. I hope I would have the courage to tackle this selfishness and reckless behaviour………..

Pool chatting

Maybe I didn’t solve the boat chatting riddle – but I think I have discovered a new sport.

I was enjoying my swim the other evening, sharing the pool only with one other person. This time my fellow swimmer was a young woman, accompanied by another woman who looked after her towel, locker key and mobile phone while she was in the pool. Well for the first ten or fifteen minutes she did that. Then the mobile phone rang, the girl handed it to my co-swimmer, who spent the remaining time that I was in the pool (more than twenty minutes) standing in the water, bathing cap and goggles on while she chatted on her phone!!!

Never mind boat chatting – anyone for pool chatting?!

Feeling blue? Or in the pink?

When I worked in Nepal I went through a phase where I thought I was losing it. There were the prettiest flowers on a bush outside the meeting room window of our office, and I could never remember if they were blue or pink.

One day I could stand it no longer and asked a totally bemused colleague, "What colour are those flowers?" He looked at me in a manner which was delivered in an understandably patient and delicate way - the way you would deal with a child learning their colours or a very elderly relative, and he said - "They are blue"

I saw these flowers on the way to work the other morning here in Chennai- the same flowers and they were also blue.

However this time, I knew what was coming. I took this picture to show that they are blue. Then on the way home I took another photo of the same flowers, in the fading daylight. In Nepal I had dragged my colleague back into the meeting room later that same afternoon and demanded - "Now what colour are the flowers?"

I could see his patience wear thin until he looked out of the window and his face crumpled in puzzlement - "They are - PINK?" And they were! So now I knew for sure that these amazing flowers start the day blue and by the end of the afternoon they are pink. I have no idea (yet) whether they suddenly change at some magic hour, or if gradually as the day progresses, they transform into pink flowers!

But they do in Kathmandu and they do in Chennai! Any explanations?