Monday, October 20, 2008

Local Life – October 15

This morning everybody on the ship either left for the Taj Mahal, a local homestay, or for adventures on a train (unfortunately for that group, the Darjeeling Unlimited left out the warning for travelers against burglarizing prostitutes. Email for that story.) This exodus left me and the twenty other students still on the ship to fend for ourselves and find our own entertainment in the city that threatens our lives with each street crossing and enforces an 11pm curfew.
I had originally planned on spending the day with two girls in my International Health class to research the prevalence of eating disorders in India (if anybody has any research suggestions here – my grade and parents would greatly appreciate it). In classic rickshaw fashion, however, we were all separated from the start, leaving me alone in a market bargaining for items I would never buy, simply because I made a game of seeing just how low in USD I could get a certain shirt or skirt. If I couldn’t get the price below 2USD, I lost.
Just as boredom was settling in to the point that I was about to actually spend some money, Giri, my genie in a bottle, appeared out of nowhere.
“You! You! Are you Semester at Sea? From the ship?”
“Umm yes…”
“I LOVE Semester at Sea!”
“Okay…I mean…obviously…we overpay you like ten times the amount for each rickshaw ride. Like you could probably retire the day we leave Chennai.”
“No no! Like really love SAS!”
At this point, Giri pulled out a notebook from his front breast pocket and proceeded to flip through pages full of comments such as: “Giri is the best rickshaw driver EVER! – Stephanie, SAS Fall 2002”
After reading through dozens of SAS reviews dating back almost a decade, I decided to test out the best rickshaw driver ever.
With no plans for the day at all, I settled in (in crash-ready position) and told him to take me around. And boy did he take me around – we went to the beach, his mosque, his favorite restaurant, various stores and markets; he let me drive his rickshaw and took me to a very clandestine snake verse mongoose fight. We had a debate about politics and religion (my new pastime is convincing foreigners that Obama’s “change” campaign isn’t exactly what they all seem it’s cracked out to be) and ended the day with me being allowed to add an anecdote to his notebook. We also exchanged addresses to send pictures and postcards to.
Unfortunately, when I got back to the ship and started raving about how fabulous my day with no plans ended up being, I learned how very uncreative my plans were. It turns out that just about everybody I spoke to had had the same experience. All twenty of us, with no plans, had latched onto rickshaw drivers for our personal tours of the city. One guy even invited his rickshaw driver out to dinner with the group of us that night. So my second day in Chennai was awesome, but disappointingly unoriginal.

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