The trip to Chennai, India has been amazing so far! The people are very hospital, according to Julie, the food is very good (I opted to bring my own food, even though I really like Indian food, since my stomach sometimes acts up on the road), and the culture is so present. Most places I’ve visited in the world have become so inundated with American culture that the true cultural integrity is lost. This is not the case with what I’ve seen in Chennai so far. Sure there are some American stores - on the way home the other evening I saw a big Levis, Nike and Puma store on Chennai’s version of Yonge street - but the essence of India is present everywhere. I really appreciate that.
And because of this adherence to culture and to Indian ways of being, some things seem so foreign to me having been raised in a complete western, urban experience. My first shock came when leaving the airport, and seeing so many people (I feel like I keep saying that phrase ‘There are so many people’ because there are - always and everywhere!) dressed, in general, so differently than we would dress and using so many different modes of transportation - from the van to the car to the vintage Rolls Royce to the tuck-tuck to the bike. We were escorted by the tournament welcoming committee to a taxi which was to take the 2 of us (and a ridiculous amount of luggage given I was going to be doing my own cooking) to our hotel.
Let’s just say that arriving in India at night and taking a taxi driven by what I was sure was a depth-perception challenged driver, wasn’t all that bad, given that we’ve driven in taxis all around the world, some place which I swear don’t observe the traditional rules of the road (or at least the westernized version). Driving off the main lit highways onto sketchy backstreets I must admit was scary. But, we made it to our nice Savera hotel and I was in bed by 2am after a 10 or so hour flight from Brussels. Needless to say, sleeping was easy that night, at least for me. Julie chose to take a shower and all she could smell was the stinky shower water as she went to bed.
The next morning we awoke to a beautiful day in which we didn’t do very much. We slept in past breakfast, but that was ok since I had brought oatmeal and my own hot plate! We then got some inexpensive massages, to work out all the kinks of flying. Finally, we headed over to the site after the heat of the day with our new friends and training partners from Belgium. That’s where the 2nd culture shock really set in. We pulled up to the beach and saw a fenced in area which we assumed was the beach site (we were correct). The sight that lay before me when I walked up the rickety wooden steps and down the ramp into the site will never be forgotten. I’m sure I mutter some sort of expletive of astonishment (hopefully not to loud or not to vulgar) since I was in shock with what I saw. Take a look at the top of this blog and you’ll get a good idea, but nothing is quite the same as seeing a grandstand made completely of sticks, skinny tree trunks and planks of food in person. Really, it was a work of art, but so shocking for me to see when I’m used to metal grandstands that appear to have much more structural integrity.
I asked the tournament organizer how long it took, to which he immediately replied ‘They are safe!’. It wasn’t really what I asked, but given the sensitivity around what was happening up north in New Dehli with the commonwealth games site, I could understand his quick reply. Again I asked, “How long did it take to build them - they’re beautiful?” to which he answered 1 week. Wow, a week to put together grandstands from scratch! So amazing. Not sure if I trust them still, but boy can I appreciate them. The rest of the site was different as well: instead of traditional tents for the players/media/officials etc. area, instead they used pieces of sheet metal attached to wood frames (they have since covered the metal with a blue fabric which makes it look much more appropriate or something). The whole site was then squared off by the same sheet metal in the form of a fence, then painted a turquoise colour, which consequently didn’t take too well to the sheet metal such that all of our balls have blue stains from coming into contact with the walls.
One of the amazing cultural experiences thus far has been taking part in an Indian fashion show, on center court on Sunday evening. There were about 1000 people or so in the stands, watching the Bollywood dancer performances, professional fashion show and us, the beach volleyball players turned Indian fashion models. This morning they selected some athletes to be measured for saris, and by this evening they had them all finished in time for the show. It was so much fun to get our hair and make-up done, and to have someone dress us in intricate sari fashions. It’s amazing what they can do with one piece of beautiful fabric. There seems to be an infinite number of ways you can wear a sari! All the women looked so beautiful, and the men looked so handsome. Then we got to show it off to our adoring fans - ha! Man did they cheer for us . . . it was quite a rush - I was too shy to ham it up more!!!
I mentioned above that it can smell pretty bad here, and it was actually the smell of my room that made it hard for me to sleep last night. I was convinced that what Julie smelled the first night was not the remnants of stinky water on her body, but instead the old mattresses on which we were sleeping. Every time I turned over I seemed to smell it more. I was so convinced that I even asked the front desk if we could switch mattresses. Tonight, before going to bed, I was insistent on finding the smell . .. I even risked my nose by smelling the mattress! But, it didn’t smell . . . maybe they changed the mattress afterall, I thought (things are a bit slower here to get accomplished I find). Then I smelled it again - where was it coming from? I searched around with my noses, and found some shorts I wore the first day . . don’t know what I sat in or did with them but they STANK!!! So it wasn’t the mattress afterall, but my shorts . .quite embarassing.
Training has been great. Not as hot as I expected, but definitely humid. I sweat a lot. Thank goodness for my eload and my UV water purifier. The sand very shallow, but I’m hopeful that the organizer will rectify that before play begins on Tuesday. I’m super excited to play under the lights, as the games will be played from 2pm til midnight - I don’t ever think I’ve played that late!
I’ll do my best to keep updating this site as the week progresses, as I’m sure that many of you are as intrigued by India and the tournament here as we are. We’re so happy to have all of you sharing in this experience with us!!