You win some, and you lose some. Here are some of my recent wins and losses in and around Madurai:
1) Win: I went to Thekkady for a few days before Diwali. “Thekkady” is Malayalam for “heaven on earth” (well, it should be)because the temperature is perfect (around 50 degrees at night), there are chocolate and coffee plantations, and there are Aryuveda clinics where you can get an hour-and-a-half massage plus a steam bath at the end for less than you would pay for dinner and a drink in Boston. You can also go on elephant rides in the jungle, which I did because, let’s face it, that would make the most epic Facebook profile picture ever.
2) Loss: I lost my camera before downloading the pictures. Facebook profile pictures…. gone. So here’s a picture of an elephant, and a picture of me. Now imagine me sitting on the elephant. Amazing, right?!!
3) Loss: I spilled tea on my Macbook Pro and it will no longer turn on.
4) Win: I found an Apple-authorized service center in Madurai. In Madurai! I had asked all my co-workers (including the IT guy) if there was one in town, and each had said no. Such answers are understandable—Madurai is often called “a village of a million people” because, while the population has gotten quite large, it retains a small-town feel and does not have the amenities of a large city. For example, Café Coffee Day (the Indian Starbucks) has stores all over Delhi (sometimes right across the street from each other); Madurai has just one (though I’ve heard rumors of a second). Thus, I thought I’d have to travel to Chennai (8 hours by bus) to get my laptop fixed. However, it turns out that, two years ago, an Apple-certified repair shop opened here (although no one seems to know about it). I went and they tested my laptop. They said that the tea fried my motherboard and that they could replace it for me within a few days. Win!
5) Loss: The new motherboard would cost $1600, more than I paid for the computer itself. An international calling frenzy to Apple India, Apple US, and stores all over both countries ensued (the result is still pending).
7) Win: The hospital near my office is great and there is a very nice orthopaedist there who put on a cast. Also, I learned that Americans are totally being ripped off—I got an x-ray for $50 out of pocket (and, later, a CT scan of my head (don’t ask) for $60).
8) Win: I obtained my residency papers from the local police. I am officially allowed to be in India.
9) Loss: It took two and a half months, several trips to two different police stations, countless phone calls, and almost a bribe. All this for a letter that could have taken no more than five minutes for the police guy to write.
10) Win: I found Christmas. I’ve always loved this time of year—cold weather, catchy songs, and colorful decorations. But my usual holiday spirit has been confused in South India. No ice. No snow. No neighbors putting up gaudy Christmas lights that use up more electricity in one night than I receive from the Tamil Nadu government in a week (power cuts!). But my bosses invited me to their church for its annual Christmas Choir Concert, and I got to hear Jingle Bells! Silent Night! And Feliz Navidad (with a Tamil accent)! They even did a rockin’ version of one of favorites, Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Check it out: (the sound quality is not amazing, but neither is my camera. sorry!)
11) Loss: It’s December and it’s still in the nineties. No White Christmas.
12) Win: Ted and I have been baking cakes. Doing this without an oven is surprisingly easy (a trick I learned in Kenya), but since most people here don’t know how to do it, we get to look like geniuses by giving people what is actually just an average chocolate cake from a box. Several people have told us that we should open a bakery. Given the current state of the American legal market and the fact that I don’t have a job lined up after this fellowship, that might not be a bad idea.
13) Loss: None. How can you lose with chocolate cake?
14) Win: I live in a city that has this temple: