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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Some updates on our friends, Wave 1C...

The temperature has been getting a little cooler in Chennai in the last few days, and I think that everyone has really appreciated it. Instead of the usual 40C and 80% humidity, we have been experiencing some high 20s in the morning. It's a nice change...

Our friends in Wave 1C have been doing well, and I thought I would post of a few more pictures of them, hard at work:

They really are a great group of people and I'm really happy to have had the experience to work with them... I will post more a little later!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A typical training day

Well, we've been here for a few weeks, and Initial Training has started in earnest. Since we are a small team of three, and are still waiting for our floor walkers, we decided to split up our classes according to our specialities, as it reduces the amount of preparation we have to do on a daily basis. A typical training day in Chennai goes a little bit like this:

- Wake up around 8h00-8h30
- Head for a morning swim in the hotel pool for about 30 minutes
- Get some breakfast at the hotel restaurant
- Review course material for the day
- Change for work
- Meet in the lobby of the hotel around 14h45
- Meet our driver, load up our bags and head to the Training Centre at 15h00
- Drive to the Training Centre for about 45 minutes
- Preparation time 15 minutes
- Beginning of class at 16h00
- Break at 17h30
- Lunch at 19h00
- Break at 22h30
- End of training day at 00h00
- Meet our driver, load up our bags and head to the hotel
- Drive to the hote for about 45 minutes
- Arrive at the hotel at about 0h50
- Drop off our bags, change and meet at the hotel restaurant 1h15
- Sleep 2h00-2h30

Although we are working what is essentially a night shift, I have had some difficulties adjusting to it, and still wake up in the morning, rather than sleeping in, which would be the smart thing to do. Anyhow, this is the routine for the week, and while we are free on weekends, there is enough preparation to keep us working both of those days in anticipation of the next training week.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A little more on the Taj Connemara...

And of course, I got the chance to take a few more pictures of the hotel this morning (there seems to be a lot of interest in this really great place); the Taj Connemara is a very old hotel, and has been around for over 100 years. Here is a picture of the very beautiful lobby:

Due to the excellent daily maintenance of the hotel, I am certain that it will continue for another century. Here is a picture of the small sitting area, near the interior garden:

And finally, another beautiful floating flower arrangement:

These floating flower "pizzas", as we have come to refer to them, are arranged in several places throughout the hotel. Finally, as we leave every day, we are greeted by this beautiful representation of Shiva:

After doing a little research (Indian mythology is somewhat more complicated than the more familiar Greek mythology), I learned that Shiva (sometimes knows as Shiva the Destroyer) is considered the oldest and the youngest; the eternal youth as well as the infant. He is the source of fertility in all living beings. He has gentle as well as fierce forms. Shiva destroys evil and protects good. He bestows prosperity on worshipers although he is austere. He is omnipresent and resides in everyone as pure consciousness.

I am continuing my study of this truly fascinating mythology, and I will add more information as I learn it...

Our friends from Chennai...

A lot of people have indicated their desire to see some of our friends from Chennai, and I thought that I should most definitely share some pictures. This is my group of friends, also affectionately known as Wave 1C:

The following picture is of Louis's group of friends, known as Wave 1B:

Sadly, I have not yet taken a picture of Renaud's group of friends (yes, you've guessed right, Wave 1A...). I will some more pictures tomorrow evening and post them when I get back to the hotel.

Until tomorrow...

Some new friends have arrived in Chennai

I would like to extend a warm welcome to our two friends, Alex and Martin, that have arrived in Chennai very early this morning. After a long trip, they have arrived with no terrible incidents (except the loss of some luggage). We are of course hopeful that this luggage will eventually be found, but as many already know, lost luggage in airports is very similar to lost socks in a dryer!!!

Once again, a warm welcome to some good friends!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A cooler day in Chennai...

After an evening of temperatures hovering around 38C, it was nice to wake up and note that today's high should be only 33C, a nice change. I took a few moments to take a some pictures for your enjoyment:
The picture above is of the hotel's main entrance:

And the following are of the pretty light traffic just outside of the hotel:

Here is one of the really nice atrium in the hotel, right next to the interior garden:

And as we leave the hotel every day, we are greeted by the statue of Ganesha:

In Hinduism, Ga' symbolizes Buddhi (intellect) and 'Na' symbolizes Vijnana (wisdom). So Ganesha is considered the master of intellect and wisdom. Ganesha is also known as the Lord of Good Fortune, so every morning, flowers are arranged on the statue in thanks.

I have to go, but I will add more a little later!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Apologies for the lack of recent updates...

I just wanted to take a few moments to apologize for my lack of updates in the last few days, as I have been fighting off a small bout of bronchitis. With the considerable air pollution in Chennai, and my penchant for American cigarettes, I have really not helped myself. As I am currently feeling much better, I will be in a position to continue to provide some daily updates to this travel blog.

Until later today!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A special evening in Chennai...

Good evening all; I apologize for not posting anything sooner today, as it was a fairly busy day! Today was Manon's last day with us in Chennai, and because she greeted us at the airport, I thought it was only fair that I could be there to see her off. Preiya was taking her to the airport, but I thought that it might be nice to get a picture on her last moment at this great hotel. Unfortunately, although the hotel staff is in my opinion some of the best I have ever had the opportunity to meet, they are not excellent photographers. Combined with the 30C temperature and the 75 percent humidity, it was not the greatest picture:

As I was not working with our Indian friends again today, I spent the day speaking with the many people I have met in the hotel. I had the pleasure of having an early dinner with some Japanese business men I met today; although there was a serious language barrier, we managed to have quite an enjoyable time. At the same time, there was an important Egyptian delegation at the hotel for a very fancy wedding. As I walked through the hotel, I was invited to partake in some absolutely excellent food with these very nice people.

A quick stroll through Spencer's (the shopping mall next to the hotel) allowed me to find a couple shirts. For those who have never had the pleasure of shopping in India, let me tell you that the level of tailoring here is far, far above what can be found at home, for a fraction of the price.

Anyway, I expect Renaud and Louis back any moment, so good night to all and until tomorrow.

Monday, June 12, 2006

And it begins...

Today was the first day that my friends and I began to officially work... Well, let me rephrase that. My friends are beginning to work today, and I only begin on Wednesday. Due to unforeseen circumstances, one of our three schedules begins a week later, and the guys thought that I could begin later. We have reworked our schedules so as to take advantage of everyone's expertise, and I will be delivering some material for my friends while they do the same for me. I am really looking forward to hearing about their day!

On another note, I took my first swim in the hotel's pool:

Although somewhat refreshing, I can tell you that it almost feels like the pool is heated. The sun is so strong here that it is impossible to walk with bare feet on the patio surrounding the pool without burning your feet severely. I also took some time to get a little sun on my pasty, white body (obviously, in small doses only, as the UV index here is off the scale!!!). And let me tell you, my bright orange swim trunks have been a real hit with the staff here!!! Everyone who has seen them has commented positively on them!

I think it's also worth mentionning that the flowers here are absolutely gorgeous:

There are so many varieties, of all shapes, colours and sizes. The staff of the hotel creates daily arrangements in the small interior garden and throughout the hotel, as you can see below:

I've just come back from lunch and a great discussion with Gopinath, my favourite waiter, so I think I will go back outside, grab a little cappucino (which gives Starbucks a run for it's money) and get a little more sun! I've planned to spend the evening reading over my material in preparation for my turn with our Indian friends!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

World Cup Fever and another day in India...

Although I had been invited to the German soirée, I decided to head to Distil, the hotels' very trendy bar. As the World Cup is presently on, the bar was packed with patrons, to watch the main game of the evening, England vs. Paraguay. Pretty good match, which ended 1-0 for England. I stayed to watch the second match, which was Sweden vs. Trinidad and Tobaggo, and it turned out to be a great match indeed, although the final score was 0-0.

On Sunday, on the advice of our friend Preiya, we visited a South Indian cultural center, called Dakshina Chitra. A 30 minute drive from the hotel, and we arrived. Let me tell you, it was a very warm day indeed, although a very enjoyable one. We learned a tremendous amount of information regarding South Indian culture, architecture, clothing and more. The entire complex is built of several old South Indian buildings, which I learned were moved from several parts of South India and brought to this center, piece be piece. I took several photos, and I thought that I might share a few with you:

And on a sad note, I am beginning to feel the effects of our wonderful friend, the common cold. I think a small epidemic has started, as Louis is also feeling the effects. I guess that a little too much recycled from the airplanes must have contributed. I just hope that Renaud doesn't go through the same thing! We will just have to see...

Friday, June 9, 2006

Our second day in India...

India is really an interesting country; there is so much to see, to hear, to smell and taste... And it truly is a diverse culture. For those who are not aware, there are 22 official languages spoken in India. The primary language in Chennai is Tamil Nadu, although as our friend and contact Lorraine indicated, the primary language of India is Hindi. Lorraine indicated that she only spoke 11 of the 22 languages!!! I guess being bilingual just doesn't cut it here. Interestingly enough, Sanskrit, which is probably one of the oldest recorder languages (3500 years), is the basis for every Indian language, which probably explains how one could possibly speak 11 languages.

We took some time to visit our partners today, and view their training facilities; let me tell you that the drive was a real blast, and really is not for the faint of heart. I counted no less than 20 really close calls, and maybe 30 times where we came within an inch of trucks, cars, motorcycles, mopeds, bicycles and of course, the ever present autorickshaw:

The visit to the Training center, which is located in Velachery, was really a great experience. After a couple of hours, it was time to return to the hotel, and we experienced what is bound to be a fairly common occurence. An unfortunate motorcycle rider was hit by a bus that simply did not stop on an obviously red light. Since almost no riders wear helmets, and the impact was almost 30km/h, I can tell you that it was a pretty tough to watch. The funny part to this story is the traffic officer (which are stationned at every important intersection), running not to the injured motorcyclist, but rather to the bus driver, who he then suddenly clubbed into submission for his error. Lorraine indicated that there are deaths on a daily basis on the streets of Chennai, and I believe her.

Since I've only had about 4.5 hours of sleep today, I am going to hit the sack in a few minutes, but I wanted to get something up on the blog for today. I will take some time tomorrow to add more, as our hosts are planning a trip for us, to view the region known as Madurantakam.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

We have finally arrived in India...

Just thought that I would let everyone know that we had arrived in Chennai, India. The trip, although long, was not that bad! Getting through customs and picking up our baggage was a breeze. Our contacts were waiting for us (although our flight was almost 45 minutes late); as we stepped out of the rather humid airport, we hit the much more humid weather outside (at 1h30am). Our contacts were not kidding when they told us that driving here was interesting! There is no real concept of traffic laws here; most drivers simply honk the horn and flash their headlights to indicate that they are about to overtake. Turn signals are simply not used, and everyone drives at whatever speed seems appropriate to them! It was a blast getting to the hotel!

The hotel is very old, and has some very interesting history. It was previously the residence of the Raj (in the pre-independance days of India), and then became a very luxurious hotel in the days of the English colonisation. With constant improvements, the Taj Connemara has become one of the most luxurious hotels in all of Chennai. The level of service here is beyond description; I have never in my entire life, had so many people waiting on beck and call for any possible request I might have.

Here are a couple pictures of the hotel:

These are only a few of the pictures I have taken so far; I will update the blog with more details of the hotel in the coming days.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

We have arrived in Frankfurt...

Just to let everyone know, we have arrived in Frankfurt... We had a pretty uneventful flight, and we have a couple of hours before the next one!

The Business Class lounge has a number of interesting amenities, such as on tap beer and unlimited gummy bears!?:

I also realised that I had not taken a picture of myself since we left, so here is one, 13 hours into our trip and about to leave Frankfurt:

Since we couldn't get a clear view of the plane that would take us to Chennai, I snapped a picture of this other 747-400, just like ours, as we were about to leave:

I also got the chance to snap a couple of pictures as we were about to take off:

We had really clear weather when we left Germany, so I snapped a couple pictures of Frankfurt and the German countryside:

I also took this particular picture for Nathalie, as I thought she might enjoy the view from the level of the clouds:

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

It's crunch time...

So now we are a couple hours from the beginning of our voyage... Almost 18 hours flying, and overall, about 26 hours; I imagine that we will also take a couple of hours to get out of the airport and get to the hotel when we get to Chennai. I was getting a little concerned about the weight of my luggage, so I broke down and bought a scale; good news, my bag weighs in at 66.5lbs!!! Both of my carry-on bags are below the 12lbs mark, so I can safely fit a few more items. I'm a little wary of the scale, as it seems to be exagerating my own weight!!!

I also took a few minutes to get some last purchases, such as a voltage converter and a Compact Flash card reader. I want to be able to get the pictures out of my camera and posted here! I have to be at the airport at 13h00 today, and I have a few last things to take care of, so I will go, and post more if I can today!

See you all in a month and a half!

Monday, June 5, 2006

About where we are going...

I realised that I have already mentionned that I was going to Chennai, I have never bothered indicating where exactly it was located:

Here is a link to the Wikipedia page on Chennai, which contains quite a bit of excellent information. On the way there, we get to fly over a number of different countries on the way, although I am not exactly sure about the flight plans. If I get some details on them, I will make sure to post them.

One day and counting...

Strange that with all the planning that went into this trip, I find myself running around, with some last minute shopping and preparations. I realised that both pairs of shoes that I wanted to bring along are falling apart; it'll teach me to get cheap shoes from a discount outlet!! Today's to-do list includes getting new shoes, getting a haircut (already have a real job, so that part is done!), packing my bag and stopping by work to set up my list of contacts, leaving an out of office message, leaving a voicemail message and picking up a few office supplies...

A pretty full day if I say so myself, so off I go; I will add more later!

Sunday, June 4, 2006

A new toy for Mac Mini owners...

Although add-on drives have been available for the Mac Mini since almost day one, Miglia Technology has announced the availability of TVMax, an add-on drive with a twist; it has some very interesting digital video recorder functionalities while it perfectly matches Apple's Mac mini:

TVMax lets Mac users watch TV in window mode or full screen, convert VHS tapes to DVD quickly and easily and best of all, TVMax records in MPEG-2, MPEG-4 and DivX formats. When bundled with EyeTV 2.0, TVMax is also ideal for iPod Video owners thanks to the exclusive One Click iPod export function.

TVMax is bundled with EyeTV 2, which lets users watch, pause, rewind and skip forward live TV, schedule recordings, access online TV guides, edit recorded TV shows and more. TVMax is also supplied with an infrared remote control. The TVMax is priced at US$249.

Some luggage details...

I found out that one of the airlines we will be flying has different limitations for luggage; Air Canada, which we take for the first leg of our journey, has a limit of 3 pieces of luggage, with a maximum weight of 70lbs. a piece, while Lufthansa, which we take for the second lef of our journey, has a limit of 2 pieces of luggage, with a maximum weight of 70lbs. I had planned on having two carry-on baggage and one piece of luggage, my big rolling duffle. But I took the precaution of packing my regular duffle bag, just in case I bring some things back from my trip (such as some of the equipment we sent ahead of us, or perhaps a boatload of knick knacks for people back home. Although I have received no special request, I know a few people that would probably enjoy a little souvenir!

While on the subject of luggage, I picked up a Fast Track Rolling Duffle from Mountain Equipment Coop; here's a picture from their site:

I have to point out that this was a gift from my dad and his girlfriend, for my birthday. This was the bag that I had selected and that fit all of my specific criteria (and being bloody difficult, my criteria can be pretty specific). I highly recommend it currently, just for the excellent quality of construction. I have yet to travel with it, but I think that my little trip will really put this bag through its paces. I picked the 120 litre size, to leave ample room for anything I might want to fit in there; trust me, there is enough space in there to fit more than I could possibly carry or drag. I am planning on packing today, and get that out of the way first and getting a feel for the weight and volume of the bag. Then I will simply have to concern myself with the last minute details of the trip. I will make sure to add some more information before I leave...

Friday, June 2, 2006

And a few more changes, part 2...

Of course, the expected changes happened this morning; we are changing hotels. Apparently, The Royal Meridien is not all that it appears to be, so we will be relocated to the Taj Connemara, which is apparently much nicer. Here are a couple of pictures:

As soon as we arrive, I will post some larger and more detailed pictures!

My itinerary...

So today is the last day I go to work until I leave on Tuesday; I have a fairly full schedule today, with two meetings this morning before I have to give a presentation in the afternoon. The guys from the team and I also thought that it might be nice to go for a couple drinks, and have a last minute chat... As I received my itinerary yesterday, I thought that I would also share some details about that, so here goes:

Ottawa to Toronto: Leave at 16h00 and arrive at 17h05

Toronto to Frankfurt: Leave at 18h10 and arrive the next day, 7h35

Frankfurt to Chennai: Leave at 11h30 and arrive at 23h45

Total travel time = 26 hours!!!

Should be an interesting experience, to say the least! As I had mentionned previously, I went to pick up my Visa on Wednesday afternoon; picking up the Visa took all of five minutes. Unfortunately, it was not exactly a great day, as we also found out that our preparation week had been removed from the schedule; this will make things a lot more difficult, but not necessarily impossible. Roll with the punches, as they say!