Tag Archives: Chennai
Chennai doesn’t have many of the everyday luxuries that folks back home are used to: instantly hot showers, clean drinking water from the tap, a bug-free/dirt free/mosquito free home. Everyone’s feet are constantly dirty because you just can’t keep the dirt out, no matter how much you clean. But when you really want to just get away and pamper yourself, you can always turn to The Park! The Park is a fancy hotel that has a decadent spa on the top floor that’s one of the best in India. Arun had suggested getting massages a few weeks back, so on Saturday Hannah and I decided to treat ourselves. We each had a fantastic 1 hr massage, followed by a 30 minute sea salt body scrub. A tiny Asian chick got up on the table with me and got all the kinks out of my shoulders and back. Even though I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as when I sat at a computer for 8 hrs a day, I still had some knots from traveling and really enjoyed the massage. It was my first time getting a body scrub, and I also loved the total exfoliation. What a great end of the trip splurge.
After that royal treatment, I met my aunt and uncle on my dad’s side who live in Chennai. They picked me up and took me to a delicious dinner at the Breeze Hotel across town. I loved hearing stories about my dad and my grandma from them. My aunt even said that my grandma was the best mother-in-law ever, and we know that those two don’t always go hand in hand together. It was such a pleasure to catch up with them – because of the distance, I’m not as close to my dad’s side of the family as I’d like to be. I hope that changes soon with more frequent visits.
(Jasmine strands from The Breeze Hotel)
On Sunday, the royal treatment continued as all of us returned to The Park Hotel for their delicious buffet brunch with unlimited drinks. Not a bad way to spend time with my four cousins who I don’t get to see nearly enough! I definitely recommend hitting up The Park Hotel for their spa or restaurants (or actual hotel rooms if you can afford it!)
(Variety of chutneys from The Park Hotel)
Total cost of Swedish massage + sea salt body scrub = $80 (including tip)
(to all those that appreciate dad jokes – this one was especially hilarious because my dad and his brother obviously have the same cheesy sense of humor)
Me: Oh, cows! I really want to take a picture of them, but are they going to charge me??
Uncle: Yes, they’re going to charge you 10 rupees for taking a photo.
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This stone car was created after the Temple Car of Thiruvarur, Tamil Nadu. There are two, 7ft tall stone elephants that pull it, and the chariot itself is over 100 ft high. The intricate details and colors on the roof are simply amazing, and the huge wheels are said to be carved out of one giant stone. We snuck up to the top level to get a closer look and made it out right before security closed the roof off.
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During these last two weeks, I’ve been involved in many conversations regarding STEPS, one of the children’s homes that Hope ToRCh is working with. I’ve seen photos of them, heard about the history of the orphanage, met with one of the owners, etc. So on Saturday, I was so excited when Arun asked me if I wanted to stop by STEPS and meet the girls. STEPS is home to sixteen little girls between the ages of 5-8 yrs old. In addition to bringing Diya, we also decided to bring Isabel, Arun’s 8 year old California blonde daughter (their white lab). At first, the children were terrified of Isabel, but after Arun showed them some tricks with Isabel high fiving, crawling, and rolling over they started to become bolder. By the end of the evening, they were running around the yard chasing her while she soaked up all the love and attention. The owner’s brother was visiting and had come from Canada with a small camera crew that he knew in order to get some footage of the orpahange. At first I was excited and I picked up my camera ready to take some photos along side them and try to pick up some tips on lighting and technique… until they quickly burst my bubble and dragged me into the filming with the girls instead. Tara, the founder (and mother of the girls) was also in the video, and the footage was simple enough: holding hands with the girls and chatting with each other while we slowly walked down the road. Isabel, our mascot, was to lead the gang herself. However, imagine trying to get 16 girls and an excited labrador to cooperate with a camera crew — it was a little chaotic to say the least. But regardless, hopefully whatever they filmed will give some good publicity for the orphanage and spread awareness about one of the bigger issues in India.
The girls themselves are fantastic. All very sweet and loving, excited to have guests over to show off their toys and cuddle up next to. One of the younger girls was busy being fascinated by my long hair. These girls are easy to fall in love with, and I hope to visit again. Meeting the girls also gave me a new determination towards finishing some of the fun paperwork that Hope ToRCh is doing for STEP before I leave in two weeks. Volunteering with Hope ToRCh has definitely been a learning experience as I’ve been put hard to work with all of these business plans and agreements.
Next weekend, we are hoping to visit another orphanage that Hope ToRCh is working with – I’m really looking forward to it.
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When someone passes away, they wrap the body in white and cover the person with flowers, garlands and sandalwood. The funeral procession includes friends and family that walk through the streets with the body, often going by places that are of special significance, before ending up at the crematorium. Lydia thought it was morbid that I wanted to photograph this, but I thought it was a beautiful celebration of someone’s life. Hindus believe in reincarnation, so the funeral is also seen as a celebration as well as a memorial service.
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Last week, I briefly mentioned that my cousins, Arun and his wife Lydia, are in the process of starting up a non-profit organization here in Chennai. Hope ToRCh, which stands for Hope To Reach Children, is a non-profit, project-based organization that seeks to aid existing orphanages in the Chennai area as well as in other parts of India. To give you some background information, many children in India are at risk of being mistreated or abandoned. For one, because the dowry system is still widely used, many people value baby boys over girls, and many baby girls are left without a home. Child trafficking is also still a rampant problem, especially in North India, and children that are rescued from that end up homeless. Other times children come from abusive families or are left at orphanages if their parents cannot afford to take care of them.
Arun and Lydia have been living in Chennai for the last five years and have adopted two beautiful children through India’s adoption system. One of the main reasons they decided to leave Southern California to move here was because they felt strongly compelled to give their time, energy and resources to aiding the children here. Over the years they have made strong ties with several orphanages and they are now in the initial stages with starting their own NGO. Some of the projects they are currently working on with one orphanage in particular include funding for private school tuition (public schools in India are free, but private schools are far better in terms of curriculum and opportunities made available to students) and creating and implementing a monthly newsletter which publicizes the work the orphanage is doing as well as its needs and volunteers opportunities.
When I was deciding what countries to visit during my travels, the main reason I decided to spend a month here in India was so I could contribute however I could to get this organization up and running. The process is long and arduous, and there’s a mountain of paperwork, proposal writing and editing that needs to be done. At best I can hope to make a small dent in the work during these next few weeks. Then again, the more research I do about these orphanages and the more conversations I have with my cousins about their goals for this organization, the more addictive the work becomes. Just by talking to them you can see how passionate they are about the mission of this organization and how invested they are with the orphanages they work with. Even now, at 2:30am on a Saturday night, I am up trying to complete one of the many tasks Arun has set for me. Well, that and blogging about it of course. I will keep you posted on our progress, and will also post more information and photos in the coming weeks. Hopefully within the next few months Hope ToRCh will have ways for you to contribute as well if you would like. Stay tuned.