Friday, 30 January 2009

Temple Noise Revisited

Tonight, as I walked home the back way, at the half-way point, I was very aware of music blaring from the trees. Well, Indians think of it as music - not me. But I felt smug in the thought that the temple that deafened me previously would next be torturing eardrums when I'm back in the UK in April. Of course I'd forgotten that there's more than one temple capable of slinging PA loudspeakers up in the coconut trees. Apparently I pass it every day but it's so small I hadn't noticed it and, although I saw the Malayalam banners go up a couple of days ago, I hadn't realised what they were for. It's punching well above its weight in terms of the volume of sound coming from it.

I should be pleased that this time there's no speaker pointing directly at my house, but I'm not. Instead, they've put speakers either side of the place. I'll admit that the noise is slightly less than last time but it's still loud. I doubt parents of young children appreciate it.

I went up to complain. I was told that it was only 5am to 10pm, Saturday and Sunday. Oh, and tonight too. "People like it! All religions! Hindus, Muslims, Christians....". Well, sorry mate, this person doesn't. Telling him that in my country he'd be locked up didn't cut much ice. And he wasn't too perturbed by my threat of turning up outside his house and beaming rock music at him. But I knew all along I was on a hiding to nothing - this is their culture and if I can't cope with it I should get out.

I can cope. When I got home I put on my music and turned the volume up. If I'm to be deafened at least it will be by my choice of noise!

Monday, 26 January 2009

Fifty Four Today!

Just a random pretty flowerIt's my birthday. Happy Birthday me! They've called a national holiday but I can't claim the two are connected. It is Republic Day which is when the new constitution came into effect (1950-01-26), two and a half years after independence (1947-08-15).

Anyway, back to me. FIFTY Bloody FOUR! I'm trying not to think about it. I wish there was a brake somewhere I could apply but the years just keep on slipping by. I really dislike getting old, but I guess you'd have to be pretty weird to actually like it! Hey, I'm not THAT weird! It's one of the reasons I'm doing what I'm doing here in India - having fun while I'm still able!

I could have spent today in front of my laptop but I thought 'sod it', let's go to the beach! And that's what I did. I put on some swimming shorts and Tee-shirt and took off. My face and feet are fairly brown but the rest of me is lily-white which only encourages me even more to keep my trousers and shirt on! But today I decided to throw caution to the wind. It helped that it was overcast so the power of the sun was a little reduced. It actually rained later on - the first rain we've had for two months.

At the beach I met up with Jelle the surfer dude from Belgium, with his little entourage of 12 or 14 kids from SISP. His friends from home had donated old boards which he'd somehow got through customs by paying a bit of baksheesh so most of the kids had a board and could get on the water. They were having a whale of a time!

Jelle at the back, with many of the SISP surfer kidsI bobbed about in the waves, some of which were very powerful, and fell over a few times but it was good fun. The kids loved showing off their prowess. I noticed some of the older ones using their new-found cool to chat up the girls! Jelle and I were getting along nicely and the thought that there was a generation between us hadn't crossed my mind until he told me his father and I were born the same year. Sobering, but not getting me down.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Perspective Drawings

This drawing shows you the kind of thing I'm trying to do with the students in Classes A and B. These are the older student/workers and our older full time students. The youngest is a very able 13 year old though most are 16-20. I've been doing a simpler version of this two-point perspective of a book on a table for a few weeks now. In the latest version shown here I introduce thickness for the cover and some suitable square lettering. I'll set this as a test for them this coming week, probably after one lesson to demonstrate the new features. Usually I get them to leave in the construction lines and they have great fun colouring in the bounded areas with psychedelic colours. I try to encourage their creativity!

... and this is my single-point perspective of a street of concrete Keralan houses, complete with auto-rickshaw!

... and finally, my single-point perspective of a room with TV, sofa, pictures, and recessed windows and door. Not too sure about that sofa.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Computing at SISP

It's been quite a good week at SISP, though I couldn't wait for Friday 6pm to come. Days are just a bit too long for this old codger. It's constant too - I can't just slope off somewhere for a break or a cuppa. There are no free periods and I'm expected to turn up promptly for the classes of course. But I do get Thursday afternoons off (from 14:00) so mustn't grumble too much. When I first started I agreed to having Tuesday afternoons off too, returning for the tuition classes at 16:00, but by the time I got home it was time to come back, so I quickly dropped the tuition. Now, with one staff member down, I feel I must help on Tuesdays.

Four mornings a week (from 9 to 10) and on two or three lunchtimes (from 1:30 to 2) I run "computer classes" for the staff. These are basically just computer familiarisation exercises for the workshop staff and some teachers, but the social workers need something a bit more advanced. They range in ability from those who can't operate a mouse to those who know how to produce a report with a word processor but not a lot more. The workshop ladies can't see the point of it all so need a lot of encouraging and praise. Actually they are quite nervous of using computers but, little by little, I'm winning them around and they are becoming less daunted. They feel as if they are achieving something, which is great! And they prefer my style to the previous teachers, which is better still!

The very able ones are using spreadsheets. I'm struggling to keep one step ahead of them when it comes to producing charts and graphs. Active tables in Word documents are going to be interesting particularly as I don't use Microsoft Office at home, and I think the programs used at SISP are knock-off. With the "Help" disabled it kinda complicates things!

I'm glad they don't have the Internet at SISP because the older kids would be downloading all kinds of stuff. It's bad enough at the moment just keeping the computers' disks tidy. And given a nice clean desktop you can bet that by the end of the session the older students will have put up some passionate message of undying love, embellished with flowery fonts and flying hearts, and shortcut icons will have appeared from nowhere! And menus too - how do they do that?!

Monday, 19 January 2009


It's late. It's dark. You're tired. Your taste buds have been desensitised by too many curries. And you've just coated your teeth with mosquito repellent...

Yuk! Yuk! Yuk! Yuk! Yuk! .............

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Photos Inside My House

Here's a floor plan and some photos of the inside of my house which I took at the beginning of December. The floorplan is drawn to scale - the hall really IS 8m x 3m! There's a large table at the far end of it on which I have my laptop, speakers, and a load of junk. There are two plastic patio chairs in the house - they are a very common feature in this part of India.

You can't really miss the cobwebs! They were there when I moved in and got progressivly sootier from the candles I was using during power cuts. In fact so black with soot that to remove them left a real mess of smears on the ceilings and walls - which I left while considering my options. I've removed them now, you'll be pleased to hear! I had to do something as the population of spiders was expanding exponentially. Black smears are easier to live with!

The small bedroom is 3m x 3m and was a bit tricky to photograph. It would be fine for me to move into if anyone, or any couples, want to come and stay - hint, hint!

You might notice those spray guns in the shower room and bathroom. They're instead of loo paper - it's really too humid for paper. Actually the sprays are a luxury - most places make do with a plastic jug and a bucket of water! The mixer taps and shower look great, don't they? They don't work, of course. You can have either hot water or cold, and the pressure isn't enough to get more than a dribble from the taps. This is where the bucket and jug come in handy!

There's a lot of empty space in this house but I like it. It suits me just fine. It costs Rs.6,000 a month which is about £83. It was £71 when I first arrived but the exchange rate plummeted from 84 to 72 Rupees to the £. Whatever, it's still cheap!

Nuisance Calls

A few weeks ago, on a walk around Kovalam Beach, I met an Indian woman called Bini. She was acting as a guide for a Norwegian bloke and I only spoke to her because children from SISP had latched onto them. This is something the beach children tend to do because by mixing with relatively wealthy foreigners they sometimes get given gifts like pens, a few rupees, chocolate or clothes. I know for a fact that they get given clothes, but they're never seen wearing them, probably because their parents sell them or because they attract more sympathy if they look poor. Anyway, Bini was in her thirties and had studied English to Masters level, so she said, and was looking for a teaching job. I told her what I did at SISP and we exchanged phone numbers so that I could contact her if a job came up at the school. For a few weeks there was nothing, then I started getting phone calls. The phone would ring once or twice and then stop. Immediately after one of these calls I rang back, and my call went unanswered despite letting it ring for ages. Then I got another couple of brief rings, and that evening I got a text from her. It said exactly:
"Hai how are u ? Do u remember me .I have met u in kovalam. Gud night dear."
I didn't reply. Nor have I answered the numerous brief phone calls I've had since, some just one ring long. I think/hope she's taken the hint now. If you had a Masters in English wouldn't your standard of SMS-ing be higher? No one calls you "dear" in their first message, least of all an Indian woman, unless they want something. What's with the crazy brief phone calls - unless she wants me to phone her back because she has no credit? She sounds like a nutter to me.

[Update: the calls finally stopped 7 months later. Yes, seriously!]

I use Airtel as my phone provider. They must have sold my number on because I am constantly pestered by advertisers. Now, if I bother checking at all, I just look at the number and don't answer. Or I'll pick up but don't listen. If I'm in a noisy classroom, as I often am, I try to imagine the response of the caller. Trouble is, it's often an automated voice, but then at least it will have cost them something for disturbing me. But most often I just ignore the calls. One other problem is that the signal strength in my house is very variable so, if I do notice a call I want to answer, I have to rush outside with my handset.

Airtel gave me a number to send a "START DO NOT DISTURB" message to, and I used it as soon as I registered with them but it just bounced back some code and I wasn't able to figure out what to do with it. Same thing happened several times. But I've just tried yet again and this time they tell me I have been successful (yippee!) and the nuisance calls will stop ... in 45 days' time (D'oh!)

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Blackout and A Sleepless Night

Had a power cut last night. Although they happen every day, it's unusual in the night. It means that the ceiling fan stops working and so the mosquitoes start appearing, I hide under the sheet and everything gets hot and sticky. And the fan's noise no longer masks out the cockerel's crowing, the goat's bleating, the noises from the temple, the horns, or the noises from creatures of the night. Needless to say, I didn't sleep much.

It was a little odd: last night a group of shouting men had gathered around the electricity pole outside my house maybe 30 minutes before the power cut. And this morning, at eight o'clock, when the power was restored, I heard a loud bang and saw huge sparks followed by a cloud of smoke come from the top of that same pole. It may be my suspicious mind but I just wonder if the men were up to no good. Or perhaps they were working at 11pm, in the pitch black with no torches? That would account for a connection cock-up! Anyway, I like this kill-or-cure technique of fault-finding - if the circuit breaker opens because there's a fault then close it again and hold it shut until the fault goes away. The fault exploded in a shower of sparks but I got my power back!

At six this evening, two guys appeared on a motorbike, looked around for a bit and then pointed up at the pole. They went away, turned off the electricity again and then returned with a tool - a short rope through a small piece of wood. One guy climbed the concrete post just using his bare feet and arms, wriggled through the maze of phone, electricity and telecomms cables, and then wound the rope around the pole to make a footrest. That supported one foot - the other foot he propped against the wires. He then proceeded to separate out the wires by hand and snap off the branches of trees which had also got entwined in this bird's nest of cables. I admired his confidence - he didn't test first to prove that the cables were dead before climbing amongst them. Quite amazing! The power eventually came back again, just in time for the scheduled "load-shedding" rolling blackout.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Early Awakening

I slept really badly last night. I don't know why. I have my suspicions about the pickles and sauces that the grandmother next door gives me at breakfast time which I eat in the evenings. God knows what's in them! I do get some peculiar dreams...

I don't use an alarm - I judge the time by the light coming through the curtains. If I can see their outline then it's time to get up. Generally it's some time between 05:45 and 06:15 which is precise enough. The old lady brings me chaia between 06:30 and 07:00 and I have to be at SISP by 09:00 which, incidentally, is late compared with my old UK routine. Anyway, I could see the window's outline very clearly, though my body was telling me it was early - and my body was right. 04:45. Urgh! Had someone suddenly fixed the street lighting? Did the person across the road have her lights on? No! It was a full moon and perfectly clear skies, and the moon was shining incredibly brightly into my window!

When this kind of thing happens I just have to get up. If I go back to bed I will generally toss and turn until it's time to get up so I may as well be up. If somehow, miraculously, I go back to sleep, I will wake too late. But, here in this house, there's little chance of sleeping late. The lorries, cars and rickshaws find it necessary to sound their horns at the people walking (going to pray or work?), even though the vehicles must, presumably, have their lights on, and make enough noise as it is. The pedestrians are surely already well aware of their presence, unless they're sleep-walking. Don't get me wrong - there's not much traffic between 21:00 and 06:00, but a single blaring horn at 2am is very disturbing.

I decided to make an early chai. In the kitchen I found three house geckos! These little lizards are not stupid and hurry off whence they came. There are no vents in the kitchen so where had these come from? Well, two scuttled out through the vents in the hallway. The third went through the hall, through my bedroom, through the bathroom and out of the window!

It's 05:50 - time for a shower.

20 minutes later I was up on the roof with camera, trying to spot the moon. The sun comes up really quickly here so no time to lose... but the mists had risen and people had lit their small, smelly, smokey fires. No moon to be seen!

Exploring the Ditch

This morning I decided to explore that ditch I mentioned yesterday. It snakes round the back of Kovalam Junction and I had presumed it would only be a few km long and served to stop excessive surface water reaching the plantations in the valleys. Now, having walked 5 or 6km of it I have to admit I don't know what it is!

It's like a mini canal with no water in it. It's not big enough to take boats except, perhaps, skinny ones. At its shallowest it would be one metre deep. At its deepest, about ten metres! It's a substantial bit of engineering and must have taken a lot of planning. There's at least one proper sluice gate and even an aqueduct. There are little bridges across it but no locks - well, none that I came across anyway.

A rough path runs alongside it which made it easy enough to walk but a mountain bike would have been better and would have allowed me to explore further. I passed two prayer halls within shouting distance of each other, each emitting loud Hallelujahs. Near one I had a conversation with a bible-carrying lady. She said the ditch went to Neyyar Dam - which turns out to be 40km away and is, frankly, highly implausible.

I passed the huge "Animal Rescue Kerala" Centre. It had some impressive buildings, some possibly residential, and the website boasts a beautiful setting. I hope the animals appreciate it! Two crazy-looking, wild-haired women came out with a bunch of out-of-control dogs, none on leads, and proceeded to yell at them in European English. Didn't they know that these Indian dogs speak only Manglish?

At one point a bridge crossed the ditch, and the path from it immediately climbed about fifteen metres. I wondered if there might be a lake up there so took a look. It turned out to be a quarry; a huge hole in the ground, with a road spiralling down the walls from the top. I had the mad idea that the "canal" might have been used to convey rocks on miniature barges to somewhere like Vizhinjam Harbour which has a huge artificial sea barrier. Vaguely possible I suppose... but there were no passing places for barges... unless they returned by road. And it would have to be very flat - which it appears to be. And there would have to be a good water source - which there is in the form of old flooded quarries. I suppose it just might be feasible.

Or could it be to carry surface water to a drinking water reservoir near the coast. Extracting water near the heavily-populated beach areas would surely lower the water table and allow salt water to pollute the drinking water. This now sounds the most plausible explanation to me.

As the ditch is very long and continuous I now don't think it can be to deflect surface water from the lower plantations. Why not just have a number of small ditches at convenient locations and avoid the palaver of aqueducts and sluice gates.

I'm intrigued! I wonder if I'll ever discover the correct explanation!

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Getting Personal on the Way to Work

On my walk to work yesterday a young Indian man drew level with me and proceeded to chat. His conversation went something like this:
"You with family?"
"Why no married? No like sex?". In less than one minute he was talking about sex. Indians are like that - they get very personal very quickly. Usually though, I get as far as saying I'm divorced and then get a lot of sniggers and knowing looks, though what exactly they are surmising I'm not too sure.

I've mentioned it before - that I found an off-road route to work. It takes me on a path alongside a drainage channel, away from the traffic and generally very peaceful. The channel is lined with concrete and there are little bridges every so often. Where the bridges aren't frequent enough there might be a coconut tree trunk laid across it, or sometimes a path cuts diagonally down and back up the channel. The concrete is in a bit of a sorry state and the ditch is dry and full of weeds, but it's still probably quite effective in doing whatever it's meant to do. I presume it's meant to deflect excess rain water away from the banana and coconut plantations which are a bit lower down the valley. The channel is probably more than two miles long and I haven't come across the ends yet - I'll have to explore it one day.

The path route is pretty level, but the road route gradually climbs up to Kovalam Junction. As that's where I'm ultimately heading, it means there's quite a steep bit for me to clamber up at the end. But just before that, there's an area between the path and the road which has been earmarked for a stretch of dual carriageway. It's been cleared at some point and is now covered in low bushes. Some of these big, pretty, yellow flowers grow in the bushes. I think they're some kind of clematis. They're so big that they tend to droop, especially if there's been a heavy dew overnight, but they still look really beautiful.

As I walk along I can hear the traffic on the main road - cars, lorries, buses, and a lot of motor bikes and autorickshaws which are indistinguishably wasp-like. Motor bikes here are generally between 100cc and 150cc. You do get the occasional Enfield 500cc bike thumping along, but most are small, even the ones carrying three or four passengers!

And the other thing I'll hear is the breaking of stones with hammers. There's an area at the side of the road where lorries dump their rocks to be broken up by a squad of ladies and one or two men, all working under the shade of propped-up woven palm-leaf panels, hammering away through the day for a pittance. The men have the big hammers and deal with the bigger rocks. From this distance it sounds like a kind of ticking or chipping; from close up you can see it's back-breaking graft.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Feeling Much Better!

Having "vented my spleen" a bit yesterday, I'm now feeling much better! Thanks to Chris and Mark who were both concerned for me and phoned - it's much appreciated!

I finished off making my English lesson plans yesterday - they were a bit more detailed than really necessary but that's OK. I felt good that I had some idea of what I'll be doing.

It was great to see the children at SISP today. They were quite excited and reasonably happy to be back. Many were wearing their new clothes, the ones given them by the school, and looked very gay and colourful. (That's "gay" in it's original sense, Mark!) And I was very pleased to be given a space in the teachers' cupboard in which I can keep my bag or materials for class. I have finally arrived!

I've had some brainwaves about what to teach the IT classes. It stems from having bought a little camera for the SISP kids to use. One project for them could be to reproduce the exploded diagram of the camera's controls and sockets. Another project could be for English - to produce a mini personal profile. Then to take photos, get the kids to cut and re-size them and put the photos and profiles together. This could lead to talk of how a digital camera works and the making of a pinhole camera. It could also help me remember all the kids' names!

But first, the exploded diagram needs a 3-D drawing of the camera, and the kids know nothing about perspective so that's what I introduced at today's IT class. Using a blackboard is quite difficult without a long straight edge for drawing the construction lines and vanishing points, but that's what I had to do. Then I got the kids to do the same with MSPaint and it was a doddle. Very successful!

I can continue this with single vanishing point and double vanishing point drawings. If nothing else, colouring in something like a house drawn in perspective, keeping all the construction lines as boundaries for the coloured blocks, can produce some very spectacular images!

Saturday, 3 January 2009

In Which I Vent My Spleen

A shitty few days. This place is getting to me. The traipse around Trivandrum last Thursday on all the rough "pavements" has left my right foot aching. It's the foot I injured in an accident a few years back. Because it aches I have to rest it, and when I then put weight on it again it hurts like hell until I've used it for a bit. I've not been able to sleep properly, partly because of it, which has left me tired and irritable. And the constant noise - horns sounding in the night, the heavy trucks crawling past, the neighbours squabbling, the f*ing cocks crowing, temple noise, Indian music blaring from nearby houses, the smoke from burning rubbish, bloody Indians themselves and my own stupidity... it's getting me down.

Last night I managed to leave the pressure cooker on the heat all night so that it had boiled dry this morning, turned brown and wasted God knows how much gas. That's pissed me off. How could I be so stupid as to forget it?!

And those loudspeakers I bought really are rubbish. There's no mid-range so voices are muffled.

I went up the road yesterday to the tailor's shop and found that, no, she didn't sew shirts. But the woman she was chatting to had no money so could I give her some for a cup of tea? No, I bloody well couldn't!

A bit further on I had lunch at Dhara Restaurant near the timber yard and that was good. It's more like a works' canteen and full of local men who observed me from a distance. Rs.25 for a tasty Keralan fish "meal" is a bargain.

I then went down to Lighthouse Beach the back way, through the plantation bit which was nice and quiet, with a few Indians working in the fields or washing clothes in the stream. I headed for Coconut Restaurant for a coffee, and found a good seat with sea views. Only then, after I got settled, this loud American came and joined the three people next to me. It was very clear he was trying to pull the girl with his obnoxious chat-up lines and bollocks about being a good honest bible-reading boy. "My bible is always open... You can trust me! Don't you like me?" insincere crap. Then he called over the staff by yelling "boy!" across the whole restaurant. Anyway, he was just loud and American, which always winds me up, but the others seemed to be lapping it all up. He then turned to me, with his big wrap-around shades, holding his friend's expensive camera, and beckoned me over. "Would you mind taking our photo?" "Yes, I would." "OK, come over here, just press this button." "No, you misunderstand. I really WOULD mind taking your photo." "...Oh..." He then went very quiet. Oh, how VERY satisfying! It didn't last, he was talking shit again within a few moments, but I felt I'd scored a little victory.

On the way back home I passed an old woman street vendor who I have sometimes seen if I go a back way to work. There, at her home, she has a little scheme going with the local kids - if they spot me they run to her house and yell for her to come. She is always asking me for money. She wants a loan to buy fruit which she can sell to the tourists for a profit. "Why won't you lend me the money? You have money, don't you? I will pay you back! You don't believe me, do you?" And so it goes on. It's the same every time. Usually it's just school kids asking "School Pen?" or "Rupees?" or "Chocolate?". My response is always negative as it just encourages them. If they look desperate I will give money, but never normally. If I get into conversation with anybody I tell them I never give money. I only give my time, and I give that through SISP. They don't understand but too bad. Anyway, this old woman had clearly found the money, or had got the fruit on credit. She greeted me like an old friend, but then it's "Would you like a fruit salad? I'll make you one! Why not? Don't you like my fruit?" and then it's "Why don't you sit here and chat, and I'll make you a salad..." Yeah, like you're not trying to stitch me up! I made my excuses and got away.

On the way back I called in at Veeju's, the hairdresser. He did me a cut for Rs.50 which I am sure is over the odds but he takes his time and does a good job so I don't mind too much.

I don't know what's right or wrong, I just try to do my best, but the feeling that everyone is trying to rip me off is very wearing.

I've just thrown a coconut at the cockerel, the neighbour's music has stopped, and I've vented my spleen here. I'm feeling better! Now I've got get down to some lesson planning for next month...

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Happy New Year!

I feel I can wish "Happy New Year" out loud now, although Indians have been saying it for the last five or six days. They miss off the "Hope you have a"! Several strangers wished me it today and in one shop I was even given a piece of celebratory cake!

Today I needed to travel to Trivandrum to buy loudspeakers for my PC and, as I had ripped a shirt during the Christmas Eve tug-of-war, I needed to buy shirt material. I set off early from the bus-stop outside my house.

The route took us through parts I've never been before. I hesitate to call them villages or rural areas - one village pretty much runs into the next. There were lots of stops and the bus was absolutely crammed full. It felt so top-heavy that I think we only just avoided toppling over on one sharp corner. I stood right at the front with my view forwards obscured by the destination board and the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation visor banner. If I crouched a bit I could see OK, so that's what I did, and managed to avoid feeling travel sick. The driver did his best to make the journey smooth - he had to double declutch on every gear change and the brakes really snatched. And he wasn't one of those drivers permanently leaning on his horn. Since I was right beside him I was able to thank him when we finally arrived. He was quite pleased, I think!

The problem with getting there early was that none of the shops was open! The chai wallahs were serving, of course, but the shops didn't open till 9:30 and, even then, they didn't really get going until 10:00. I hadn't anticipated this because Indians seem a pretty industrious bunch.

I had researched computer loudspeakers on the Internet, but could I find them?! I traipsed everywhere - not only were there very few PC shops but the ones that there were didn't have them! After asking a few likely-looking geeks I finally found a little enclave of electronics shops with plenty of home-entertainment systems or PA systems or loudspeaker enclosures but, as it happens, very few speaker systems for PCs. I did see a shop which sold Sony amplifier enclosures into which the unscrupulous owner presumably fits any old electronics, but no Logitech speakers! I realised I had done this arse-about-face. I should have found out what was available in Trivandrum first, and then selected from that, rather than selecting from all current models on the market, and finding it not available.

Then I had a brainwave! I would go to an Internet cafe and check out the ones I could find! Nothing is ever quite that simple but I got there in the end. The Amazon reviews for the Altec Lansing speakers were the best so I bought those. They cost about £14 and, now they are home, that's about what they were worth. Rubbish! But the best of a bad bunch. The acoustics of this marble-floored hallway don't help, I suppose.

As I mentioned, I wanted to buy shirt material too. Although ready-mades are easily obtainable, I've got this idea that it would be nice to buy Indian cotton and have a shirt made up by an Indian tailor. It's cheap to do, too. There's a chain of textile shops called "Ramachandran" and I found the material there. Finding buttons was another matter. The shop assistants couldn't tell me where to get them - well, they did suggest places but they were all wrong! You would have thought that with five or six textile shops, all in close proximity, that either they would sell buttons themselves or some one would know for sure where to buy them, but no. I think it was a case of the Indian trait of suggesting something, anything, because suggesting nothing is considered rude or unhelpful. Wrong!

Waiting to return at the bus stop in Trivandrum, a rickshaw driver snuck up beside me and two other white folk and started trying to negotiate a deal for taking us to Kovalam. The bus costs about Rs.10 while the rickshaw is usually about Rs.200-250. He seemed desperate to do a deal. So much so that he dropped the rate to Rs.20 for each of the three of us just as the bus pulled in. We agreed but even on the short walk to the rickshaw he was trying to wheedle out of the deal! And then, on the way, he tried to renegotiate. These guys are really artful and a law unto themselves! But we stuck to our guns and I, at least, paid Rs.20 when I got out at the first stop at Kovalam Junction.