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Jun 10

Written by: Jennifer Kumar, Cultural Adjustment Coach
Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Traversing Trivandrum 2006

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          part 2 of 2006 Kerala Journeys Travelogue, Part 1- Kerala Landing 2006 

Day 1
Due to jet lag, I woke up at 3am and watched channels in a variety of languages: English, Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu. English channels are MTV (Indian version, many programs in Hindi), Star TV (which has English shows from different countries), HBO and Hallmark Channel. I like to watch the Indian channels with film music on it. One thing I realized is that the influence of other languages on Malayalam is noticeable, some of the songs shows on Malayalam channels featured Tamil, Hindi or English songs, rather than Malayalam. I heard that Tamil film songs are popular in Kerala due to the upbeats and choreography.

 Well, at about 5am I noticed faint music in the distance. I was able to hear through the raindrops a prayer called Suprabhatham (good morning to god). I went to the dining room and sat in a small chair to listen to the song. It was a spiritual experience. It brought tears to my eyes because this is why I like India. The spirituality is everywhere. I listened to the prayer, then went back to sleep at 6. I came to find out later that at around 6:30, the nearby churches and mosques turn on their prayers, and it becomes a competition as to who has the prayers that can be heard the farthest. Since all the holy buildings are outside the army school walls, it is relatively quiet for us. If you lived near these holy buildings, it would take time to get used to the cacophony!

In fact, this state (Kerala) has the most Christians of any state in India. People say that the religions are in a three way split here, 1/3 Hindu, 1/3 Christian and 1/3 Muslim. I don’t know the statistics. There used to be a big Jewish population also and there is a Jewish synagogue in Kochi. So unlike where I studied, there was a Hindu temple on every corner, here temples seem few and far between. There are plenty of Mosques on the main road.

Today we went to Varkala. It is about over an hour drive from their house through small towns. Varkala's sandy, rocky beach sits next to a cliff. The interesting thing about this beach is that one section of this beach will be closed off to locals in December and January, so foreigners can enjoy it in “peace”. In most parts of India, if at all, women wear saris and salvaar kamiz to the beach, not bathing suits. So, when foreign women come to the beach in bikini and swimsuits, the locals come and ogle at them. To prevent this during high tourist season and to respect the foreigners, the police keep the locals off the beach and may fine people to keep them away. There were shops and ayurvedic spas, and plenty of tourist shops selling various things like clothes, tapestries, statues and other things (we found semi precious gems, for example) on the cliff. To get to the top of the cliff you have to walk up the side of the cliff. Part of the way is the hill itself, dirty, rocky and slightly tough to climb. As it gets a little steep, they have put cement stairs there for the remainder of the climb. This is how all of us, including dad, climbed up. He came up in one go, not out of breath at all. I was out of breath. I hope I am in good shape at his age.

On top, we spent quite a bit of time looking at semi precious gems and got some amethyst for the house. It was cheaper there. We also went to get some hot drinks afterward (tea, coffee, etc). I found out later that the waiter there was a bit confused, as he would only take an order full of one drink- only tea or coffee for the 8 of us. That means if one wanted tea and rest coffee, he wouldn't do it. It is weird, yet very comical. Why give us a menu card with all the variety of drinks if you can only give the same drink to everyone? I wonder if they treat foreigners in a big group like that. Far as jiju’s friend’s knew (who are local to Varkala), this is the only place they have faced this situation!

Day 2
This was a lazy morning. I again woke up early due to jet lag, then slept again until 8:30. They have tea before breakfast. Morning tea is usually lemongrass tea - made with fresh lemongrass from their back yard and a teaspoon of regular tea powder and sugar. It has a light brown color (due to a small amount of regular tea powder lightly boiled into it) and good smell and taste. Herbal tea, and teas without milk added are considered out of the ordinary in most parts of India. In fact, it was quite a change for me to see Jiju and Didi drinking herbal tea as when they came to US last year and was introduced them to herbal tea, they couldn't handle the taste and even tried to put milk in it. Now they often drink tea without milk and have milk tea only for visitors.
At about 9:30am Jiju goes to work. The car with driver comes to pick him up. Before he gets in the car, the driver affixes a flag to the hood of the car, making it an official ride, though he rides literally less than a mile to his office.  Around this time one guy comes and sweeps the cement road in front of their house and their circular driveway. This makes the place look so neat. In afternoons one guy comes to trim the bushes and plants, taking about 3 hours most days to complete this. After this, we lazed around in the morning and they had a Hindi movie called Munna Bhai and watched that. I tried to watch, but no subtitles, I actually went for a nap. Then we ate lunch late about 3pm.

Around 5pm we went out for shopping to a three story clothing shop called Aiyappas. Aiyappa,  is a god famous in Kerala. This shop had its own parking lot in the basement of the shop.  I soon realized I was spoiled with good and easy shopping when I was in Chennai. In comparison to my experience in Chennai, people were not helpful in this store and the quality of the saris was not so good. You had to actually search through lots of dresses to find good patterns and good quality fabrics. We decided on two saris a silk sari and a cotton one.  After this we went out for dinner. Food was very good; the menu had foods from other parts of India. After this, we went home. It was late by that time, so our day ended here.

Day 3
Driving in Kerala is not like driving in Delhi, and definitely not like driving in America, my husband found out this morning! As he attempted to get us on the main road from Vet road, by taking a left, he stopped at the intersection. Not a rolling stop, nudging out into the intersection like everyone else, but a full stop. The initial five vehicles going in both directions kept moving, but after that, people got confused on the main road and began to slow down. A few people even tried to wave him in. I guess they thought there must be something wrong with him! Finally, defying all driving laws I have seen anywhere, the cars, including a big lorry and a bus, came to a full stop on this busy main road and allowed us to take our turn comfortably!

This experience proved to Krishna that driving in Kerala is a unique experience. Sure, he’s driven in other places in India, mostly Delhi, but Kerala has its own unique styles. The only rule is drive on left, but even that sometimes doesn't happen. Anything goes.  It is not a law to wear seatbelts and generally people don't wear seatbelts.  You also have to use your horn a lot here, and he doesn't like to beep the horn.  And, of course, we quickly learned never to come to a full stop, keep on moving, even if you’re rolling at a pace slower than a turtle, at least you’re moving!
Tuesday morning about 11am we went out to the photo studio to get our digital photos transferred onto CDs. On this outing, I went with Didi to the beauty parlor to get my eyebrows done. Here they don't wax or pluck, they do this thing called threading. The lady uses regular thread like you sew with and they form it with their hands into something like scissors and are able to put it in such a way it picks up your hairs and cuts them, they also use scissors to trim. During the threading process, there was stinging, pain and reddening, that brought tears to my eyes. Also, it eased the stinging when the other lady in the shop or I pulled by skin taut to ease the stinging. Didi was concerned it was painful. It was a bit during the process, but unlike waxing which leaves my skin red, tender and stinging up to several hours after it’s over, threading only hurt while it was going on. Soon as it was over, there was no pain, reddening or tenderness. The other thing I liked about threading in India was that in India thicker eyebrows is women like. Pencil thin eyebrows are not common here. Since I prefer the thicker eyebrow design, I did not have to worry and explain how I like it, like I do in U.S. Of course, the other benefit to this was that it only cost 14 rupees (30 cents). Didi said where they used to live the beautician came to her house and did it for half this price!

After this we went to what they called "Margin Free shop". This is like the Kerala Walmart. Far as the family knows, Margin Free shops are not in any other state in India. The concept is like Walmart- try to sell things at the cost the store purchases it at. It is like a department store, but they don't sell clothes, they sell food, kitchen ware, beauty products, health products (western over the counter and ayurvedic medicines), herbal teas, some small knick knacks.

Day 4
Silence in the Studio Please About noon today we got to see a very interesting place called KINFRA Film and Video Park. Basically it is film studio- a place to make movies from shooting to editing and screening. It has been built on land purchased from the army school, so it is just behind the school. You need to get special permission to come here; it is not a tourist place. Each and every building has its own staff and they have to be ready to guide you.  Because Jiju is in the army and it is on army property, we got permission to go inside. The land was purchased by three famous Malayalam film stars- Mohanlal, Mamoothy and forgot the third. These actors are there sometimes, but not on this day.  The first place we saw was where they screen new films. The theatre seats were very comfy, they reclined, had cup holders and the leg space was generous. The theatre had surround sound, which I guess is kind of new to this state. (What we take for granted.) They screened two movie trailers for us; one in Malayalam and English, the English was “Bad Boys 2”- with Will Smith. I have never heard of “Bad Boys 1.” In this theatre they will have an international film festival in December. Most likely public is not invited here. Then we saw some of the scenery of the place, a reservoir for their water supply that was scenic, then some houses on the property. The property was very scenic, hilly with plenty of grass, greenery, landscaping and of course, coconut trees. They have built special houses on this property they will use for filming movies.  There was a building full of glass reflective windows (outside). We couldn't go in because it wasn't completed yet. They will make animation films in that building.  Then we saw the editing building. This building has a large wooden Siva (god) statue. I think it is over 20 feet tall, carved out of one single piece of wood (teak wood).  There was a house behind this building the actors stay in when they come here. No one was here today. In front people were mowing the yard with a lawn mower. I guess this is a rare sight (people don't really have yards in India), so we decided to take a picture of that. Next we saw the building they actually make the movies in (negatives and film reels). That was very interesting. They showed how they expose negatives through chemicals and the stages from blank negative to negative with picture and that the sound negative is a different negative and how they combine the two to make one reel with both picture and sound.  The campus of this place was huge; the roads were very wide with islands of trees and grass dividing the sides. Some of the parking lots had tiled parking spots, like marble. I don't know for sure that it was marble, but it looked like marble. After this we came home.

Part two of two 2006 Kerala Journeys Travelogue, Part 1- Kerala Landing 2006 


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